Richard G. Petty, MD

Dissing Descartes

Every clinician has been asked the question, “Is the pain in my body, or is it all in my mind. Am I imagining it?” I have seen countless students and young doctors get themselves into a hopeless tangle over that question. And the answer to “is it the body or the mind?” should be “Yes.” If a person is suffering, they are suffering, and pain coming form the mind is every bit as real to them as pain coming from any other part of their anatomy.

But hidden within this question is a mistake that can be traced back to the French philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes who, in 1641, proposed that there was a neat split between the soul and the body. He actually envisioned an independent soul that inhabited and interacted with the body by opening little trap doors in the brain. This later became interpreted as a neat split between the mind and the body. He was by no means the first person to propose this. Twelve hundred years earlier Numidian-born Theologian, Saint Augustine of Hippo proposed something very similar. This idea of a clear split has informed our thinking for over three hundred years, yet it is probably wrong. And as with the opening question about “is my problem in my body or in my mind,” it has great practical implications: falsely locating the nature, origin and priority of symptoms.

Another practical implication of this artificial split is that by imagining a mechanical clockwork universe divorced from mind or spirit, we have removed value and meaning from the world. Indeed, some scientists take an extreme view, and say that there is no place for value, purpose or meaning in the universe, and that they are simply artificial creations of the mind. I have had some interesting discussion with people who have gone to far as to say that consciousness itself is no more than a set of reflexes in the brain. It will not surprise you to hear that I believe that they are wrong. when scientists say that they have found that the temporal cortex of the brain lights up when someone is having a religious experience, that does not mean that you can reduce a person’s faith and belief to a lit-up piece of brain. It is merely that the area of the brain corresponds to the experience.

I am a firm believer in the notion of nonduality, that essentially there is no fundamental distinction between mind and matter. Consciousness is the primary underlying force in the Universe. There is a very good resource here. So why do I take this position?
1. Personal experience of nonduality
2. The insights of modern theoretical physics
3. Independent, empirical research from a number of reputable scientists around the world. I have just constructed a list of recommended books at You can access it here. If you take just a little time to examine the research reported in these books, I think that you will begin to be convinced as well.

“The energy of the mind is the essence of life.”
–Aristotle (Greek Scientist and Philosopher, 384-322 B.C.E.)

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About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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