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Now Playing at a Cartesian Theater Near You

Dualism Returns

WE’RE ALL INTUITIVE DUALISTS. IT CERTAINLY SEEMS that the world consists of two realms: the ordinary physical world of space and time and stuff; and the literally metaphysical (that is, beyond physical) world of the mind. Although this was undoubtedly everyone’s sense of things since the beginning of time, it’s now primarily associated with René Descartes, who articulated it in the 17th century, so it’s now known as Cartesian dualism. This immaterial realm is home to all metaphysical entities and forces (actually existing or not): the mind, soul, and spirit (whether or not these terms are synonymous); ghosts; God and the angels; Satan, devils, and demons; fairies, elves, and spirits; and fate, luck, destiny, and karma. Animals (according to Descartes) are purely physical beings, lacking both mind and soul, while people have both material bodies and immaterial minds.

Since the Age of Reason, however, secular, monistic materialism has become the dominant stance, in which reality (the world, the universe) consists of only one realm: the physical. (At least for the purposes of doing science. Some scientists who claim a belief in God assert that such belief isn’t incompatible with the principles of science.) Organisms, including human beings, are part of the physical world and biology is, at least in principle, reducible to biochemistry and ultimately to physics. In fact, as the science of psychology developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the mind was banished, at first only methodologically (because introspection proved an unreliable and highly suspect foundation for a science) but in time philosophically as well. Remarkably, the science of psychology (etymologically, the science or study of the psyche—the mind) was redefined as behaviorism— the science of behavior only! Even today, in academia, behavioral science (or the behavioral sciences) is essentially synonymous with psychology.

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About Skeptic

CAMPUS CRAZINESS: THE WAR ON SCIENCE No Barriers to Inquiry; I Am Not a Racist, And So Are You: An Unauthorized Peek at the Great Shaming Taking Place at an Institution of Higher Learning Near You, and Other Fireside Tales; Radically Wrong in Berkeley; When Secularism Becomes a Religion: The Alt-Left, the Alt-Right, and Moral Righteousness; When Science Becomes the Enemy SPECIAL SECTION — BIOLOGY & BEHAVIOR Canine Cognition: Did dogs become smarter through domestication? An interview with Dr. Brian Hare; Bird Brains: Are crows as intelligent as some scientists claim?; What Biology Can Teach Us About Crime and Justice ARTICLES: Gary Taubes and the Case Against Sugar; From Camelot to Conspiracy: Memory, Myth, and the Death of JFK; Now Playing at a Cartesian Theater Near You: Dualism Returns COLUMNS: The SkepDoc: Diet Sodas: Are the Dangers In the Chemicals or the Headlines?, by Harriet Hall, M.D. JUNIOR SKEPTIC: Ghost Ships, by Daniel Loxton