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The text appeared, with minor modifications, in the author’s book "Introduction to
Neurolinguistic Programming" published in Romanian in 2015.
The Body and the Mind are Systemic Processes
Gabriel Suciu, România
Gabriel R. Suciu is a sociologist. He is interested in NLP and creativity. He has written
two books – “Erving Goffman and the Organizing Theories” (2010) and “Introduction to
Neuro-Linguistic Programming” (2015) – and some articles, like: “Multiple
Intelligences” (2011).
E-mail: [email protected]
Plato has written about the problem of the soul in the dialogues Phaedrus and The
Republic. First, in the "Phaedrus" dialogue, Socrates presented the chariot allegory,
arguing that the soul is like a chariot with three parts: one part is the warrior that is
driving the horses to the battlefield; another part is a white horse, beautiful and noble;
and, finally, another part is a black horse, ugly and ignoble. Then, in "The Republic"
dialogue, Socrates explicitly presented the three parts of the soul as prevalent in one of
the three classes: a) the rulers who govern wisely are the driver of the chariot, being
dominated by the rational part; b) the soldiers, who are dominated by the passionate part,
distinguish themselves by bravery - these soldiers being the white horse; and c) the
craftsmen which are dominated by the appetite part and are characterized by thrift obviously they are portrayed in the allegory as the dark horse.
Later, Aristotle has restated the problem of the soul. While Plato considered that the soul
was an essence of people, for Aristotle the soul was a principle of life. Thus, in "On the
Soul" the philosopher of Stagira presented the three parts of the soul as being: the
vegetative part, the sensitive part and the intellective part. While the plants are made of
the vegetative part, the animals are made of both the vegetative part and the sensitive
part. Finally, the human being is made of, without any doubt, the three parts of the soul,
namely the vegetative part plus the sensitive part plus the intellective part.
In the Middle Age, René Descartes and Baruch Spinoza resumed the ancient dispute
about the soul. While Descartes said the body and the mind were two different
substances, the mind consisting of the intellective part, and the body consisting of the
vegetative part and the sensitive part; however, Baruch Spinoza considered that the body
and the mind were two attributes included in a single substance, being made of the three
parts mentioned above: the vegetative, the sensitive, and the intellective.
1. René Descartes.
René Descartes, who would later be called the father of modern philosophy, was a
Frenchman who was born in a small bourgeois family, and lived much of his life in
Denmark. His works include "Meditationes de prima philosophia" (1685), a work
considered by some as the most important of Descartes. Within it he made the distinction
between the body and the mind, those being two clear and distinct things: the body was
an extensive thing, while the mind was a reasoning thing. Therefore, René Descartes
distinguished between:
• Res cogitans, or the mind
• Res extensa, or the body
2. Baruch Spinoza.
Another philosopher of the Middle Age, Baruch Spinoza was born in Denmark, and lived
his entire life as an outcast, refusing titles and key positions in society, and preferring a
humble living. Spinoza, in the book "Ethica" (1677) was similar with, and different
from, Descartes. First, like Descartes, Spinoza wanted to put the science as the
foundation of the universe, this science being not the arithmetic, but the geometry. Then,
unlike Descartes, Spinoza believes that there is only one substance, and not two. This
substance was called God or Nature and was present in the world through Its attributes –
the body and the mind being two attributes - attributes that, in turn, had various modes.
Therefore, the substance could be known by all its attributes, but partly by its modes, this
distinction carrying the following labels:
• Nature naturans which was the substance ("God or Nature")
• Nature naturata with its two forms: a) the attributes among which it could be found
the body and the mind, and b) the modes.
The debate between the dualism - represented by René Descartes - and the monism represented by Baruch Spinoza – raged long time from then in philosophy and other
disciplines, such as psychology or religion. This is the reason why in the following
schema it is illustrated the difference between the dualism and the monism:
The body The mind
The body/
The mind
Closer to our time, Arthur Lovejoy resumes the distinction between the body and the
mind in his work published in 1936: "The Great Chain of Being". The main idea of the
book is that, from Antiquity to the Middle Age, thinkers have been fascinated by the
world ranking, ranking known as the "Chain of Life": the things in the universe are
ordered from God to Nothingness such that each lower level is included in each upper
level. But not the reverse: each upper level has something extra to each lower level. Even
if later, in modern times, this hierarchy, this "Scala Nature", will be more or less
abandoned, or – if you like – consciously forgotten, it can be visualized like that:
And closer to our time, Ken Wilber - in "A Brief History of Everything" (1995) presents the same "Scala Nature" as "The Great Nest of Being". This "Nest of
Being" is based on two concepts proposed by Arthur Koestler, namely the "holon" and
the "holiarchy", the first notion being presented in "The Ghost in the Machine"
(1967), and the second notion being presented in "Janus - A Summing Up" (1978).
Primo, a holon is something that is simultaneously a whole, but is also a part: is a whole
composed of parts, a whole that is a part for another whole. For instance, if you destroy
all the molecules in the universe, then the wholes they would form are destroyed - and
here take as example: the cells and the organisms. However, the parts of which the
molecules are formed can not be destroyed – and to remain to the same example, it is
worth mentioning the atoms. Secundo, a holiarchy is a hierarchy of holons – a hierarchy
resembling to a totem or a pyramid, if someone interprets it in terms of span; or looking
like Russian dolls – Matryoshka – if someone interprets it in terms of depth. And this
distinction can be visualized in two figures:
The depth of holiarchy
(The totem and the pyramid)
The span of holiarchy
(The Matryoshka)
Finally, as it was showed, the soul can have two meanings: first, the soul can be
understood as an essence of people; and, then, the soul can be understood as a principle
of life. In ancient times there were two names for the soul, namely “anima” and
“animus”, which were used interchangeably. And then, from the Middle Age, the
concepts of “the body” and “the mind” subordinated to the concept of the soul.
However, the everyday observation of the body and the mind that can have only one life
(being unusual to find any body without mind), was paralleled by the Christian faith by
which the body and the soul can exist separately, and it is common sense to talk of souls
without bodies. Even if these two things – the observation and the faith – have lived
together, their reconciliation has not occurred, a fact obvious, also, in Neuro-Linguistic
Programming (NLP). According to the gurus of NLP, the science can be based on two
main assumptions (from which many other assumptions can be derived), namely: “the
map is not the territory” – an assumption I discussed elsewhere; and “the body and
the mind are systemic processes” – the assumption around which revolve the ideas of
this article. Therefore, according to this psychological view it can only be used the
following phrase: mind and body have only one life ... a life that is systemic like the
Chain of Life, or the Nest of Being!
Aristotel (2005): ”Despre suflet”, Humanitas
Descartes, René (1997): ”Meditații metafizice”, Crater,
Lovejoy, Arthur (2001): ”The Great Chain of Being”, Harvard University Press
Koestler, Arthur (1976): ”Ghost in the Machine”, Random House
Koestler, Arthur (1978): ”Janus. A Summing Up”, Random House
Platon (1983): ”Opere”, Volume IV, Editura Științifică și Enciclopedică
Platon (1986): ”Opere”, Volume V, Editura Științifică și Enciclopedică
Spinoza, Benedict (1957): ”Etica”, Editura Științifică
Wilber, Ken (1995) ”A Brief History of Everything”, ColourBooks Ltd. Newleaf
Please check the NLP & Coaching for Teachers course at Pilgrims website.