The Mind-Body Problem

  • Andrea E. Cavanna


The argument that Descartes’ form of dualism (substance dualism) on the mind-body problem is incompatible with mind-brain interaction has been referred to as ‘the scandal of Cartesian interactionism’. The identity theory is a monistic approach that claims to be more in line with the developments of modern neuroscience, as it reduces mental states to underlying brain states (reductive physicalism). An alternative approach to the mind-body problem is offered by the theory of eliminative physicalism or epiphenomenalism, a stronger version of monism claiming that mental states are not reduced to brain states but are eliminated altogether as mere appearances (epiphenomena). The most important problem of all kinds of identity theories is sometimes referred to as the explanatory gap or the hard problem of consciousness. The possibility that qualitative features of conscious experiences (qualia: the way it subjectively feels like to have experiences) are irreducible to underlying brain states would make the mind-body problem intractable. Qualia, as well as meaning, are also the main problems of functionalism, a more recently developed perspective that offers a solution to the mind-body problem based on cognitive science and artificial intelligence by resorting to the analogy of software/hardware. Although it would appear that most neuropsychiatrists implicitly endorse some kind of identity theory, current descriptions of neuropsychiatric conditions commonly use dualistic/Cartesian assumptions, as the separation of material and mental spheres is deeply rooted in both ordinary and scientific language.


Dualism Functionalism Identity theory Mind-body problem Reductionism 

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrea E. Cavanna
    • 1
  1. 1.Dept of NeuropsychiatryUniversity of BirminghamBirminghamUnited Kingdom

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