First, a philosophical review for those who need it: as a philosophical term the word “dualism” refers to the belief in a fundamental split between the mind and the body, and more broadly between the mind and the physical world. It is classically associated with Descartes, who in the seventeenth century proposed that reality consists of mind and matter as separate, primary substances, and also with Plato, who in the fourth century B.C.E. argued pretty much the same thing. It has been a source of endless philosophical, religious, and psychological disagreement and controversy throughout history, at least in the West, where it has had a particular hold on human thinking, and has even had political and economic ramifications, since our view of the relationships among and between the body, the physical world, and the self or soul impacts and informs everything about how we understand the proper arrangement and functioning of governments, economies, societies, and technologies.
This week a new element was introduced into this age-old debate when word surfaced of a forthcoming psychological study that has shown a link between believing in mind-body dualism and engaging in physically unhealthy behaviors. This would seem at first blush to confirm the longstanding claim by critics of dualism who say that belief in an immaterial soul with a life and destiny separate from the physical world inevitably leads people to devalue everything physical and thus engage in destructive behaviors toward themselves, other people, and the earth in general.