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The Relationship Between Body and Mind

Szasz, as Ryle, claims to be an opponent of dualism. However he seems to be much more interested in the principal difference between body and mind than in the fundamental unity of both. Perhaps this is because to date research on the body and the mind remains separate. In Szasz’s view it will always remain so. The body and the mind are separate concepts, referring to totally different types of phenomena, so the term “illness” cannot apply equally to both. The mind cannot be ill as the body can. Illness of the mind can only be metaphorical, a manner of speech. He has no choice but to reach this conclusion because without it he cannot support his view of illness as a physicochemical disorder. However, by postulating that the mind cannot be ill but the body can, he brings about a breach between the two. Mind and body are not only separated as research objects, they become separate objects in general, obeying different rules, and responding totally differently to life’s events.

In his study of the meaning of physical feelings, Szasz posits from a psychoanalytical point of view that the ego can view the body as an object. This way the body is accorded a status comparable to that of other people and objects with which the ego has a relationship. (Pain and Pleasure, Chapter 5) While an anamnesis is being recorded, the mind functions as a road map that is to direct the physician to the lesion. “The patient reports on his affective experiences. His feelings function as pointers to his body-as-psychological-object.” Speaking about the conditions that influence and limit human freedom, Szasz counts the body and its properties as external conditions, contrary to the mind, which is an internal condition. (See 2.2.) The first of these positions can still be held to mean no more than that the ego is capable of being objective towards its own body. The second is reasoned not from the point of view of the ego, but from that of the observer of the facts. A person is not his body. He has it and has to take it into consideration. Repeatedly Szasz posits, for instance in discussing abortion, that man owns his body, it is his property. Here too he stresses the nature of the body as an object. (Ideology and Insanity, Chapter 7) Quite interesting is the analogy Szasz repeatedly makes to illustrate the difference between the body and the mind. As this analogy is found at different places in his work, we are justified in assuming that it expresses fairly exactly what Szasz means. (This analogy can be found in the preface to the 1975 revised edition of Pain and Pleasure, and in numerous other publications.) “Mental diseases are metaphorical diseases, that stand in the same sort of relation to bodily or literal diseases as disliked or disapproved television programs stand to defective television-receivers.” Let’s analyze this analogy further, paying special attention to the nature of the relationship between a television program and a television set.

In the analogy, the mind is the program producer and the body is the television set.
  1. The program is created independently of the set that relays it;
  2. The program is not influenced by the set;
  3. The program can be observed in other ways than through the set, such as at the studio where it is being filmed;
  4. The program is broadcast regardless of whether the set is turned on;
  5. If the set is out of order, it can be replaced and exactly the same program will still be received;
  6. There is an unequivocal phenomenon that brings about the contact between the broadcast and the set. That is the electromagnetic wave, and as we know, it travels only in one direction, from program to set;
  7. One broadcast reaches many sets identically.
It is obvious that the relationship between a television program and a television set in at least these seven ways is totally different than that between the body and the mind. The “program” of the human mind cannot be made independent of the body, but is most fundamentally influenced by it. On the other hand, the body’s actions are strongly dependent on the mind’s “program.” The “program” of the psyche cannot be made visible or observable in any way, except through the body and behavior. Apparently a separate studio where the mind makes its programs is lacking. In addition, we cannot envision a situation where the body is “turned off” while the mind continues to function. The opposite is impossible as well. A television set can be turned on even when no program is being broadcast, but there is no comparable situation compatible with life that the body functions without the mind. Nor is it imaginable that the body is “out of order” while the mind, totally independently of the body, continues to function. Finally, little is known about the “connection” between the body and the mind. In Ryle’s terminology, it is not sensible to speak this way about the connection between the body and the mind, as they are locked in a meta-relationship. In conclusion, the analogy, which does not apply in at least seven essential ways, suggests that the body and the mind are much more loosely associated with each other than can be justified by reality. Furthermore, in this analogy, the body and the mind are presented as two different though connected entities. This is indeed a dualistic view of man.

The analogy suggests yet another implication. One may disagree with a program or find it disgusting. That is quite different from finding it fragmented, illogical, or unintelligible. This difference is admittedly problematic because opinions about a program’s logic or comprehensibility can vary greatly. Szasz maintains that communication, also that of psychotic people, is meaningful, sensible, and purposeful. He is not the only one. A lot seems to depend on the attitude one has while watching the program. Does one try to identify the differences between programs that are unintelligible and those that are? Or does one look for similarities? Or does one try to understand the program by assigning it an interpretation of one’s own? More will be said about this problem is in Chapter V, 3.4.3.

From the above we can draw the conclusion that although Szasz claims not to hold a dualistic view of humanity, in fact he does. He is led to that indirectly by the theoretical imperative to study physical and mental phenomena along different pathways.
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