The relationship between the mind and the body has been an essentially philosophical question since the rise of philosophy. Dualism was a primary subject of interest for such philosophers as Aristotle, Plato, Descartes, Avicenna, and so forth. Muslim philosophers (Avicenna, Ibn Tufayl) claim that the human’s mind and body are distinct substances and can exist separately. Avicenna demonstrates such an assumption with the help of his famous flying man’ thought experiment, while Ibn Tufayl shares this knowledge as an axiom. 

Muslim physicians might be considered the most influential philosopher-scientists of the medieval world. One of them, Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā)  proposed to imagine a person created by God in mid-air: “in good condition but with his sight veiled and his limbs outstretched so that he is touching nothing, not even his own body” (Adamson). Furthermore, this person has no restored memories, i.e., his memory is empty yet. According to Avicenna, this person would not be blank and entirely devoid of sensory experience. Avicenna presumes that such a human being would be still self-aware.

Moreover, it seems that the concept of self-awareness is prominent in Avicenna’s philosophical ideas. Philosopher claims that all human beings are always self-aware, even when they are asleep or focused on something else (Adamson). It is quite possible that Avicenna conducted this experiment to show his disagreement with Aristotle’s concept of the soul as a part of the body. Aristotle claims the inseparability of the soul and the mind from the body. Furthermore, the philosopher is convinced that the soul relates to vegetative and animal functions. Therefore, if someone is not able to experience the body and its sensations, he or she will not have any access to the soul. On the contrary, Avicenna’s main thought is that bodies can be discovered only by senses, while the soul can be perceived at any time through self-awareness and various mental activities. Avicenna claims that the flying man would always have access to    

Avicenna made his famous “flying man” assumption to set a challenge to materialists: “show me how a body could be aware of itself without using sensation to do so” (Adamson). Mind and  soul are parts of the human body, but they can exist even if the body does not feel any sensations. The mind can be aware of its existence, think about different concepts, and create abstract models without sensations of the body. Furthermore, mind hypothetically can perceive its presence when it has no stored memories. As a result, Avicenna’s experiment slightly reminds Descartes’ concept of material and mental substances that exist separately and independently. 

Another mentioning of the mind-problem question in Muslim philosophy is connected to Ibn Tufayl’s, who wrote a philosophical romance Hayy ibn Yaqzan. Ibn Tufayl does not claim that the soul is distinct from the human body. Instead, he takes the independence of the human soul for granted. He also poses a range of questions concerning the moment when a human’s soul should leave the body. Furthermore, it seems that Ibn Tufayl presumes that the soul has power over the body. 

Mentioned Muslim philosophers were convinced that the soul and the body are two separate elements.

Anton Kurapov

Anton Kurapov

PhD, a professor assistant at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. Fascinated by the role of psychology in lives of people and simply astonished by the complexity of the brain and its functions.

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