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The Table Video

William Hasker& Gregg Ten Elshof

How Mind Interacts with Body

Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Huntington College
CCT Scholar-in-Residence and Executive Board Member / Professor of Philosophy, Biola University
February 7, 2013

William Hasker (Huntington College) addresses the question of how immaterial minds can interact with physical bodies.


You know people… People sometimes they hear great fuss about mind to body interaction. How can that work, they say. Well first of all it’s as much a fact of our experience, our daily experience, as anything that we experience. I mean, I decide to lift my hand, my hand goes up. I pinch my finger and it hurts. I get seriously injured, it hurts a lot. It’s just totally a fact of constant, every day experience that our thoughts and our body mutually affect one another. So if your theory makes it hard to accept that, then it’s more likely that there’s something wrong with your theory than that are experiences so totally misleading. At least that’s the way I do philosophy. If there’s something, if there’s a belief that is hard-wired into our system as it seems and a theory tells us that that belief is false, I’m gonna look really hard to see if the reasons for concluding that the belief is false or that compelling.

So I think it’s totally a fact of experience that mind and body do interact. Now if you want to say well, “How does that work?” Well there’s a kind of naive assumption here, which we, I’m thinking, that we understand in general how cause effect actions work. But like it or not, and I’m just thinking so, according to your contemporary science, our most basic, our most fundamental physical theory is quantum mechanics. But if you ask how cause and effect works in quantum mechanics, the basic truth is, and experts in the field will say this, nobody knows. Nobody really understands why their world works this way. It just does. I mean when you get down to the basics, we can see that certain things happen and apparently certain things happen because of certain other things but it really escapes us as to what’s going on. And it seems to me, I think it’s arguable and even in familiar cases, what we think is our understanding is more familiarity based on habit. The classic example is shooting pool balls against one another and it looks like you can understand perfectly well that when one ball hits the other, well, it communicates motion, it goes off in a certain direction. If you’re a good shot it goes in the pocket and so on.

But why does it happen that way? I think at bottom, it’s just we’re used to it happening that way so we know what to expect. So it feels comfortable, so we think we understand it. Of course you could go down into maybe the molecular structure of the pool ball if you know something about that, and you could tell the story down there. But at the end, at the bottom of all that, you just have to say that’s the way it works. That’s just the way the world goes. So the idea that there’s some… I guess I wanted to say yes there is a mystery about how the mind and the body interact, but that’s just part of the bigger mystery of how does cause and effect work in general in all sorts of cases and understanding is limited. We can go deeper and deeper but at the end, we always get to a mystery that we don’t grasp. Which is not to say that it’s contradictory or absurd or doesn’t make sense but we are the ones who made all this.