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The Theory of Mind-Brain Identity: what is it?

The Theory of Mind-Brain Identity: what is it?

September 13, 2022

The Theory of Mind-Brain Identity is one of the areas of study of the philosophy of the mind, which is, in turn, the branch of philosophy responsible for investigating and reflecting on mental processes and their relation to physical principles, especially those that take place in brain.

These issues have been addressed through very different proposals. One of them holds that mental states and their contents (beliefs, thoughts, meanings, sensations, intentions, etc.) are nothing more than neural processes, that is, the set of complex activities that takes place in a Concrete physical-chemical organ: the brain.


We know this approximation as physicalism, neurological monism, or Theory of Mind-Brain Identity.

What does the Theory of Mind-Brain Identity say?

The philosophy of the mind is responsible for studying and theorizing about the mind-brain relationship , a problem that has been with us for many centuries, but which has become especially acute since the second half of the 20th century, when computer sciences, cognitive sciences and neurosciences began to be part of the same discussion.

This discussion was already the first antecedent for what the American neurologist Eric Kandel would declare in the year 2000: if the 20th century was the century of genetics; The 21st century is the century of the neurosciences, or more specifically, it is the century of the biology of the mind.


However, the main exponents of the Mind-Brain Identity Theory are in the 50's: the British philosopher U.T. Place and the Austrian philosopher Herbert Feigl, among others. A little earlier, at the beginning of the 20th century, it was E.G. Boring the first to use the term "identity theory" in relation to the mind-brain problem.

We could still go a little behind, and find that some bases were conceived by philosophers and scientists like Leucippus, Hobbes, La Matiere or d'Holbach. The latter made a suggestion that would seem a joke, but that, in fact, is quite close to the proposals of the Mind-Brain Identity Theory: just as the liver secretes bile, the brain secretly thinks .

The Theory of Mind-Brain Identity contends that the states and processes of the mind are identical to brain processes, that is, it is not that mental processes have a correlate with the physical processes of the brain, but that , mental processes are nothing more than neuronal activities.


This theory denies that there are subjective experiences with non-physical properties (which in philosophy of the mind are known as "qualia"), which reduces the psychic and intentional acts to the activity of neurons. That is why it is known as a physicalistic theory or also as neurological monism.

Some fundamental principles

One of the central arguments of the Theory of Mind-Brain Identity is that only the physical laws of nature are what allow us to explain what the world is like, including the human being and his cognitive processes (that is why there are those who also call this theory "naturalism").

From here, proposals with different nuances are derived. For example, that mental processes are not phenomena with their own realities, but in any case are accessory phenomena that accompany the main phenomenon (the physical) without any influence on it. The mental processes and subjectivity would then be a set of epiphenomena .

If we go a little further, the next thing that holds is that all the things we call beliefs, intentions, desires, experiences, common sense, etc. they are empty words that we have put to the complex processes that occur in the brain, because that way the scientific community (and not scientific too) can be better understood.

And in one of the most extreme poles, we can find as part of the Theory of Mind-Brain Identity, the materialist eliminativism, philosophical position that even proposes to eliminate the conceptual apparatus with which we have explained the mind, and replace it with the concepts of the neurosciences, so that it has greater scientific rigor.

Are we more than a set of neurons?

One of the criticisms of this philosophical position is that the philosophical practice itself, as well as the construction of theories about the mind, could be denying themselves when they position themselves in physicalism or neurological monism, since, far from being theoretical reflections and rigorous scientific, the philosophy of the mind itself would be nothing more than a set of neural processes.

It has also been criticized for being a strongly reductionist stance , which denies subjective experiences, which may not be enough to understand a large part of social and individual phenomena. Among other things this would occur because practical level is difficult to get rid of notions such as feelings, thoughts, freedom, common sense, etc.because they are notions that have effects in terms of how we perceive ourselves and relate so much to the idea that we have of ourselves, as of others.

Bibliographic references:

  • Sanguineti, J.J. (2008). Philosophy of the Mind. Published in June 2008 in Philosophica, online philosophical Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 24, 2018. Available at // s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/31512350/Voz_Filosofia_Mente.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&Expires=1524565811&Signature=c21BcswSPp1JIGSmQ%2FaI1djoPGE%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename % 3DFilosofia_de_la_mente._Voz_de_Diccionari.pdf
  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2007). The Mind / Brain Identity Theory. Originally published January 12, 2000; revised May 18, 2007. Retrieved April 24, 2018. Available at //plato.stanford.edu/entries/mind-identity/#His

The Mind-Brain Identity Theory (September 2022).


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