365 Journal Questions, writing therapy
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Week 18 Questions for Know Thyself 2019: Mind-Body Dualism

(This post is part of a weekly series for Know Thyself 2019, a 365 day journal project. Start here! I hope you’re enjoying the topics so far.  Now that we’re approximately a third of the year in, the concepts are getting a little more abstract!  Hang on tight – we’re about to get metaphysical!)

This Week’s Journal Topic: Substance Dualism


Where is the mind?  Is the brain just another part of the body?

Substance dualism is a fancy term for the belief that the mind and physical body are two different kinds of “stuff” in the universe. Think of the brain and mind.  The brain is physical substance, whose properties we can detect through scientific study.  For example, we can measure electrical impulses, chemicals, and understand the connections between cells.  The mind, however, seems to be a substance that really exists but is undetectable by scientific methods. The reference to the mind as a substance is controversial because although we have intimate subjective experience with it (we feel it), we cannot scientifically test its properties.  So how do we know the mind exists and how can we even call it a separate kind of “stuff”?


  • Physical
  • Measurable
  • Predictable and repeatable outcomes in scientific study


  • Non-physical
  • Consciousness, soul, spirit
  • (Free) will
  • Scientific tests are seen as impossible, unreliable/unscientific, subject to interpretation

People who think that there are two kinds of “stuff” – brain and mind – are called Substance Dualists. Dual means two. The big problems for the dualists are related to lack of evidence: 1) How do you prove the existence of something you cannot measure? and 2) How do you prove the connection between mind and brain – what kind of “real” force does the mind have in order to interact with the brain? and 3) If mind is non-physical, how is it “anchored” to a particular person?

Because of the difficult problems of dualism, some people deny the existence of a separate “mind” stuff. These people are called Substance Monists.  There are many types of monists but they are mostly all “materialist” monists – the world is made of material things and whatever it is that we think the mind is, well, it’s actually just the physical workings of the brain.  The disadvantage of the materialist monist view is that it doesn’t feel right to most of us.  We experience consciousness, will and the depth of our own minds – that’s got to account for some kind of evidence, right?

Journal Questions:          

  1. How do you experience the existence of your mind on a daily basis – what experiences do you have with consciousness, will, and soul?
  2. Do you feel as if the mind is a real thing that exists and is there a way to tell if it really exists? What do you think the mind is – is it real or just an illusion?
  3. Do your experiences of the non-physical count as good evidence for your belief in a separate mind substance – yes or no?
  4. What do you use to make decisions most of the time – are your decisions a result of the brain (i.e. physical impulses in the brain) or are they the result of mind (i.e., a special stuff or power)? A mixture of both? In other words, where do your decisions come from?
  5. How do you think that the brain and the mind are connected?
  6. What is a memory? A personality? Is this information the stuff of mind or brain?
  7. Would you consider yourself a substance dualist or a monist?  Do you think what we call the “mind” is simply brain activity?

How to Get the most out of Know Thyself 2019:

Don’t rush through the questions. Try to do only one question every morning, leaving space to add thoughts that might come up later during the day. The journal is designed to help you develop a consistent, daily practice of self-reflection.

If you liked this week’s post, please like or comment! I appreciate the feedback and use it to choose future topics. If you want to see more posts like this one, let me know!


  1. ” Would you consider yourself a substance dualist or a monist? Do you think what we call the “mind” is simply brain activity? ”

    Very interesting question.

    I tend to think that if the world is made of material things only (including subatomic particles and energy fields etc) and the mind is just the physical workings of the brain, then there could not be free will as in material world every thing is just cause and effect.

    But for myself, I tend to agree with Kant that material world or nature does not exist in itself and is only an appearance of the thing-in-itself (reality-in-itself).

    But I am open to logical criticism.

    What do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

    • If I had to commit to one or the other, I’d consider myself a substance monist. I’m not ready to commit to what substance is – I think we’re still working that out – but it’s intuitive to me that there can only be one, given the problem of interaction.

      What do you mean by realist? How would you describe that position?


  2. “What do you mean by realist?”
    As you know ‘realism and anti realism’ is a vast subject with different philosophers disagreeing with each other.

    The basic idea of my ontological realism is that whatever has objective existence is independent of human mind and contrary to science, I do not think that things like planet Earth, Sun and galaxies etc. have objective existence.

    For a detailed explanation, please read the following. I mostly agree with this article. (specially ontological realism)

    Realism and antirealism – Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy


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