Psychophysical parallelism

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In the philosophy of mind, psychophysical parallelism (or simply parallelism) is the theory that mental and bodily events are perfectly coordinated, without any causal interaction between them. As such, it affirms the correlation of mental and bodily events (since it accepts that when a mental event occurs, a corresponding physical effect occurs as well), but denies a direct cause and effect relation between mind and body. [1] This coordination of mental and bodily events has been postulated to occur either in advance (as per Gottfried Leibniz's idea of pre-established harmony) or at the time of the event (as in the occasionalism of Nicolas Malebranche). On this view, mental and bodily phenomena are independent but yet inseparable, like two sides of a coin.

Philosophy of mind branch of philosophy on the nature of the mind

Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the ontology, nature, and relationship of the mind to the body. The mind–body problem is a paradigm issue in philosophy of mind, although other issues are addressed, such as the hard problem of consciousness, and the nature of particular mental states. Aspects of the mind that are studied include mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness, the ontology of the mind, the nature of thought, and the relationship of the mind to the body.

Causality is efficacy, by which one process or state, a cause, contributes to the production of another process or state, an effect, where the cause is partly responsible for the effect, and the effect is partly dependent on the cause. In general, a process has many causes, which are also said to be causal factors for it, and all lie in its past. An effect can in turn be a cause of, or causal factor for, many other effects, which all lie in its future. Multiple philosophers have believed that causality is metaphysically prior to notions of time and space.

Gottfried Leibniz's theory of pre-established harmony is a philosophical theory about causation under which every "substance" affects only itself, but all the substances in the world nevertheless seem to causally interact with each other because they have been programmed by God in advance to "harmonize" with each other. Leibniz's term for these substances was "monads" which he described in a popular work as "windowless".



Psychophysical parallelism is a third possible alternative regarding the relation between mind and body, between interaction (e.g., dualism) and one-sided action (e.g., materialism, epiphenomenalism). [2]

Mind combination of cognitive faculties that provides consciousness, thinking, reasoning, perception, and judgement in humans and potentially other life forms

The mind is a set of cognitive faculties including consciousness, imagination, perception, thinking, judgement, language and memory. It is usually defined as the faculty of an entity's thoughts and consciousness. It holds the power of imagination, recognition, and appreciation, and is responsible for processing feelings and emotions, resulting in attitudes and actions.

Mind–body dualism Philosophical theory that mental phenomena are non-physical and that matter exists independently of mind

Mind–body dualism, or mind–body duality, is a view in the philosophy of mind that mental phenomena are, in some respects, non-physical, or that the mind and body are distinct and separable. Thus, it encompasses a set of views about the relationship between mind and matter, and between subject and object, and is contrasted with other positions, such as physicalism and enactivism, in the mind–body problem.

Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all things, including mental aspects and consciousness, are results of material interactions.

Parallelism is a theory which is related to dualism which suggests that although there is a correlation between mental and physical events there is no causal connection. The body and mind do not interact with each other but simply run alongside one another, in parallel, and there happens to be a correspondence between the two but neither causes the other. That is to say that the physical event of burning your finger and the mental event of feeling pain just happen to occur simultaneously — one does not cause the other.

In his 1925 book The Mind and its Place in Nature, C. D. Broad maintains that parallelism is, "The assertion is that to every particular change in the mind there corresponds a certain change in the brain which this mind animates, and that to every change in the brain there corresponds a certain change in the mind which animates this brain."

C. D. Broad English philosopher

Charlie Dunbar Broad, usually cited as C. D. Broad, was an English epistemologist, historian of philosophy, philosopher of science, moral philosopher, and writer on the philosophical aspects of psychical research. He was known for his thorough and dispassionate examinations of arguments in such works as Scientific Thought, published in 1923, The Mind and Its Place in Nature, published in 1925, and An Examination of McTaggart's Philosophy, published in 1933.



A prominent version of parallelism is called occasionalism. Defended by Nicolas Malebranche, occasionalism agrees that the mind and body are separated but does not agree with Descartes's explanation of how the two interact. For Malebranche, God intercedes if there was a need for the mind and body to interact. For example, if the body is injured, God is aware of the injury and makes the mind, or the person (subject of experience), feel pain. [3] Likewise, if a person wants to move their hand, i.e. to grasp an object with their fingers, that want is made aware to God and then God makes the person's hand move. In reality, the mind and body are not actually in contact with each other, it just seems that way because God is intervening. Occasionalism can be viewed as parallelism with divine intervention so to speak, because if God did not mediate between the mind and body, there would be no interaction between the two.

Occasionalism is a philosophical theory about causation which says that created substances cannot be efficient causes of events. Instead, all events are taken to be caused directly by God. The theory states that the illusion of efficient causation between mundane events arises out of God's causing of one event after another. However, there is no necessary connection between the two: it is not that the first event causes God to cause the second event: rather, God first causes one and then causes the other.

Nicolas Malebranche philosopher

Nicolas Malebranche, Oratory of Jesus, was a French Oratorian priest and rationalist philosopher. In his works, he sought to synthesize the thought of St. Augustine and Descartes, in order to demonstrate the active role of God in every aspect of the world. Malebranche is best known for his doctrines of vision in God, occasionalism and ontologism.

Pain type of unpleasant feeling

Pain is a distressing feeling often caused by intense or damaging stimuli. The International Association for the Study of Pain's widely used definition defines pain as "an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage"; however, due to it being a complex, subjective phenomenon, defining pain has been a challenge. In medical diagnosis, pain is regarded as a symptom of an underlying condition.


According to Baruch Spinoza, as explicated in his Ethics, the two attributes of God of which we have cognizance, namely thought and extension, are not causally related. Rather, they are two different ways of comprehending one and the same reality. Thus, the human body has a corresponding idea, which is the human mind or soul. Whatever happens in the body always occurs in tandem with contents of the mind. Since everything that exists is a modus of God, Spinoza's concept represents a monist account of parallelism, contrary to Leibniz's pluralist version.

Baruch Spinoza Dutch philosopher

Baruch Spinoza was a Jewish-Dutch philosopher of Portuguese Sephardi origin. By laying the groundwork for the Enlightenment and modern biblical criticism, including modern conceptions of the self and the universe, he came to be considered one of the great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy. Along with René Descartes, Spinoza was a leading philosophical figure of the Dutch Golden Age. Spinoza's given name, which means "Blessed", varies among different languages. In Hebrew, it is written ברוך שפינוזה. His Portuguese name is Benedito "Bento" de Espinosa or d'Espinosa. In his Latin works, he used Latin: Benedictus de Spinoza.

<i>Ethics</i> (Spinoza) philosophical treatise written by Baruch Spinoza

Ethics, Demonstrated in Geometrical Order, usually known as the Ethics, is a philosophical treatise written in Latin by Benedict de Spinoza. It was written between 1664 and 1665 and was first published posthumously in 1677.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz German mathematician and philosopher

Gottfried Wilhelm (von) Leibniz was a prominent German polymath and philosopher in the history of mathematics and the history of philosophy. His most notable accomplishment was conceiving the ideas of differential and integral calculus, independently of Isaac Newton's contemporaneous developments. Mathematical works have generally favored Leibniz's notation as the conventional expression of calculus. It was only in the 20th century that Leibniz's law of continuity and transcendental law of homogeneity found mathematical implementation. He became one of the most prolific inventors in the field of mechanical calculators. While working on adding automatic multiplication and division to Pascal's calculator, he was the first to describe a pinwheel calculator in 1685 and invented the Leibniz wheel, used in the arithmometer, the first mass-produced mechanical calculator. He also refined the binary number system, which is the foundation of all digital computers.


German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz concluded that the world was made up of an infinite number of life units called monads (from the Greek monas, meaning “single”). Similar to living atoms, monads are all active and functioning. As there is naturally a hierarchy in nature, monads vary in degrees of intelligence. [4] Some are more specialized and are more capable of having clearer and more distinctive thoughts opposed to monads that are simpler in structure. Next to God, humans possess the monads that are able to exhibit the highest level of comprehensive thinking. However, humans possess many types of monads, varying from very simple to very complex forms, which explains why the ideas we experience at times differ in clarity. [5] Monads according to Leibniz can never be influenced by anything outside of themselves. Therefore, the only way that they can change is by internal development, or more specifically, by actualizing their potential. He believed monads never influence each other; it just seems like they do. Whenever we perceive a monad to be the cause of something, other monads are created in such a way as to seem like they are affecting the other. According to Leibniz, the entire universe was created by God to be in a pre-established harmony, so nothing in the universe actually influences anything else. [6] Looking at psychophysical parallelism in that way, you could imagine the mind and body as two identical clocks. The clocks will always be in agreement because of the pre-existing harmony between them, but will never interact. And like the two clocks, no interaction or causation among the monads that make up the mind and body is necessary because they are already synchronized.

Monad (philosophy) philosophical concept

Monad refers, in cosmogony, to the Supreme Being, divinity or the totality of all things. The concept was reportedly conceived by the Pythagoreans and may refer variously to a single source acting alone, or to an indivisible origin, or to both. The concept was later adopted by other philosophers, such as Leibniz, who referred to the monad as an elementary particle. It had a geometric counterpart, which was debated and discussed contemporaneously by the same groups of people.

Atom smallest unit of a chemical element

An atom is the smallest constituent unit of ordinary matter that has the properties of a chemical element. Every solid, liquid, gas, and plasma is composed of neutral or ionized atoms. Atoms are extremely small; typical sizes are around 100 picometers.

Nature The phenomena of the physical world, and life in general

Nature, in the broadest sense, is the natural, physical, or material world or universe. "Nature" can refer to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general. The study of nature is a large, if not the only, part of science. Although humans are part of nature, human activity is often understood as a separate category from other natural phenomena.

See also


  1. Wikisource-logo.svg Walker, Leslie Joseph (1911). "Psycho-Physical Parallelism"  . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia . 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  2. Wikisource-logo.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Parallelism, Psychophysical"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 20 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 762.
  3. Hergenhahn, B. R. An Introduction to the History of Psychology. Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009. Print. p. 185.
  4. Hergenhahn, B. R. An Introduction to the History of Psychology. Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009. Print. p. 187.
  5. Hergenhahn, B. R. An Introduction to the History of Psychology. Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009. Print. p. 187.
  6. Hergenhahn, B. R. An Introduction to the History of Psychology. Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009. Print. p. 188.

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Epiphenomenalism is a position on the mind–body problem which holds that physical and biochemical events within the human body are causal with respect to mental events. According to this view, subjective mental events are completely dependent for their existence on corresponding physical and biochemical events within the human body and themselves have no causal efficacy on physical events. The appearance that subjective mental states influence physical events is merely an illusion. For instance, fear seems to make the heart beat faster, but according to epiphenomenalism the biochemical secretions of the brain and nervous system —not the experience of fear—is what raises the heartbeat. Because mental events are a kind of overflow that cannot cause anything physical, yet have non-physical properties, epiphenomenalism is viewed as a form of property dualism.


In philosophy, panpsychism is the view that consciousness, mind, or soul (psyche) is a universal and primordial feature of all things. Panpsychists see themselves as minds in a world of mind.

In philosophy, emergentism is the belief in emergence, particularly as it involves consciousness and the philosophy of mind, and as it contrasts with reductionism. A property of a system is said to be emergent if it is a new outcome of some other properties of the system and their interaction, while it is itself different from them. Emergent properties are not identical with, reducible to, or deducible from the other properties. The different ways in which this independence requirement can be satisfied lead to variant types of emergence.

Hugo Münsterberg German-American psychologist, philosopher and agitator

Hugo Münsterberg was a German-American psychologist. He was one of the pioneers in applied psychology, extending his research and theories to industrial/organizational (I/O), legal, medical, clinical, educational and business settings. Münsterberg encountered immense turmoil with the outbreak of the First World War. Torn between his loyalty to the United States and his homeland, he often defended Germany's actions, attracting highly contrasting reactions.

The Monadology is one of Gottfried Leibniz's best known works representing his later philosophy. It is a short text which sketches in some 90 paragraphs a metaphysics of simple substances, or monads.

Spinozism is the monist philosophical system of Benedict de Spinoza that defines "God" as a singular self-subsistent Substance, with both matter and thought being attributes of such.

Anomalous monism is a philosophical thesis about the mind–body relationship. It was first proposed by Donald Davidson in his 1970 paper "Mental Events". The theory is twofold and states that mental events are identical with physical events, and that the mental is anomalous, i.e. under their mental descriptions, relationships between these mental events are not describable by strict physical laws. Hence, Davidson proposes an identity theory of mind without the reductive bridge laws associated with the type-identity theory. Since the publication of his paper, Davidson has refined his thesis and both critics and supporters of anomalous monism have come up with their own characterizations of the thesis, many of which appear to differ from Davidson's.

Steven Nadler is an American philosopher. He is the William H. Hay II Professor of Philosophy and Evjue-Bascom Professor in Humanities, and Max and Frieda Weinstein-Bascom Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Leibniz's gap is a philosophy of mind term that is used to refer to the problem that thoughts cannot be observed or perceived solely by examining brain properties, events, and processes. Here the word "gap" is a metaphor of a subquestion regarding the mind–body problem that allegedly must be answered in order to reach a more profound understanding of consciousness and emergence. A theory that could correlate brain phenomena with psychological phenomena would "bridge the gap".

Mind–body problem open question in philosophy of how abstract minds interact with physical bodies

The mind–body problem is a philosophical problem concerning the relationship between thought and consciousness in the human mind, and the brain as part of the physical body. It is distinct from the question of how mind and body function chemically and physiologically since that question presupposes an interactionist account of mind-body relations. This question arises when mind and body are considered as distinct, based on the premise that the mind and the body are fundamentally different in nature.

Martial Gueroult was a French philosopher of the early and mid- 20th Century. His primary areas of research were in 17th- and 18th-century philosophy as well as the history of philosophy.

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