Much of the intellectual history of psychology has
involved the attempt to come to grips with the problem
of mind and body and how they interact.
While the philosophical distinction between mind and
body can be traced back to the Greeks, it is due to
the influential work of René Descartes, (written
around the 1630’s) that we owe the first systematic
account of the mind/body relationship. When Descartes'
friend and frequent correspondent, Marin Mersenne,
wrote to him of Galileo's fate at the hands of the
Inquisition, Descartes immediately suppressed his own
treatise. As a result, the world's first extended
essay on physiological psychology was published only
well after its author's death. In this essay, he
proposed a mechanism for automatic reaction in
response to external events. According to his
proposal, external motions affect the peripheral ends
of the nerve fibrils, which in turn displace the
central ends. As the central ends are displaced, the
pattern of interfibrillar space is rearranged and the
flow of animal spirits is thereby directed into the
appropriate nerves. This is the reason he has been
credited with the founding of the reflex theory.
Descarte was the first to talk about mind/body
interactions, and thus had a great influence in later
psychologists and thinkers. He proposed that not only
body can influence mind, but that mind could also
Years later, the work of Nicolas Malebranche was
probably the most influential provider of
occasionalism. Occasionalism deals with the
contradiction that if the nature of causality is such
that causes and effects must have a necessary
connection and be of a similar type, then mind/body
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