I recently received my 23andMe results and was intrigued by various sets of genes responsible for ‘me’. Below are the results:
Nothing is particularly surprising. However the results really got me thinking. At this point in my life, I consider myself to be a mind-body dualist, meaning that I believe in a non-physical component of the human being, as opposed to a materialist, who believes our physicality is the extent of our existence. You can call this non-physical component a ‘mind,’ ‘soul,’ or ‘essence.’ While the composition of our physical bodies is determined by our pre-existing genetic code and the circumstances that our bodies encounter, what determines the composition of our minds? This question delves into deeper questions about the nature of the non-physical mind.
There are numerous approaches to dualism; however, for simplicity’s sake, I’ll outline the distinction most interesting to me: that between property dualism and substance dualism. One interpretation of property dualism gives the brain credit for our thoughts and mental states; however, acknowledges the probable existence of a non-physical mind. This mind may simply be the ‘divine spark’ that makes us humans, but would not allow us to, for example, continue thinking about physical matters after we die. Substance dualism, the view popularly argued for by René Descartes, gives the non-physical mind credit for the entirety of our mentality. While neuroscience has more or less disproven substance dualism, it has not conclusively done so meaning that part of our mental dispositions could still be attributed to our non-physical minds. If this is the case, my question is what differentiates one mind from another? If the mind is more than simply a ‘spark’ interacting with our physical brains, it must derive from something that came before us. It might have its own genetic code for all we know. Unfortunately, making any progress at all on this question relies upon making far more progress on the basic, currently unanswerable questions of mind-body dualism.