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Mind, Brain and Body

Bachelor’s course taught by Francis Heylighen in the program for philosophy students


This course deals with the processes of desiring, thinking, feeling, perceiving and acting that characterize the human condition. These processes are presented in an integrated manner, as different aspects of an individual, seen as an autonomous agent interacting with its natural and social environment. This allows overcoming the dichotomies that have traditionally dominated Western thought: 
mind / body, 
reason / intuition, 
individual / society, 
thought / action... 

Humans are characterized as living beings that evolved from animals. These animals had the capacity to experience, act, learn and know, but not yet to think rationally. The original state of humanity is that of hunter-gatherers, living in small groups, in direct dependence on nature. With the origin of language, humans developed the ability to communicate symbolically, to register and transmit knowledge, and to reflect on as yet hypothetical situations. This gave them the ability to develop an ever-expanding culture, society and technology, thus however losing much of their connection with nature. 

Human intelligence and consciousness are a combination of rational, symbolic reasoning, with subjective, intuitive, embodied experience. People instinctively strive for the satisfaction of their basic needs, self-actualization, and happiness. They each have a unique personal and social identity, which together determine their self-concept. They search for meaning in their interactions with the world. Part of this meaning will be provided by their worldview. 

Topics covered include:

  • living beings as autonomous agents
  • humans evolved as hunter-gatherers
  • emergence of agriculture, societies and technology
  • fundamentals of cognition: perception, knowledge, intelligence
  • neural networks as model of processing in the brain
  • rational symbol systems as substrate for reasoning
  • limitations of rationality
  • consciousness and subjective experience
  • personality and intelligence
  • individual vs. social identity
  • the challenge model of health and fitness
  • conditions for need satisfaction and happiness
  • construction of meaning and worldviews

Extensive, illustrated lecture notes with a bibliography can be freely downloaded:

Heylighen F. (2020): Mind, Brain & Body: an evolutionary perspective on the human condition (CLEA, Vrije Universiteit Brussel)