by Swami Krishnananda
The psychological structure of the human being is responsible for the instinctive urges, loves, passions, etc., manifest in the personality. Here, however, it has to be remembered that the mind-stuff, which is the repository of all psychological functions, does not work absolutely independent of the physical conditions of the body through which it operates. The physical, chemical and vital processes which determine the existence and function of the bodily organism have a great influence upon the workings of the mind, or the mind-stuff. That is, the studies of Biology have some relevance to those in the field of Psychology. Setting apart for the time being the extravagant demands of the Behaviourist school that psychological functions are only the effects of the exudations from the brain cells and the nervous structure of the body—a rank materialist approach to things—we may safely agree that the bodily functions have something to say in the matter of the functions of the mind. It is not unknown that serious physiological disorders can affect mental functions, even as excesses or deformities in the mental functions can affect bodily conditions. Biology and psychology are in a way sister sciences, one contributing to the other in a considerable measure. Enthusiastic zealots of the biological principles have gone to the extent of denying all originality to mind and consciousness and attributing all reality to the vital process alone, an elan vital. This, again, seems to be an extravagance of human enthusiasm, for a life process, even the elan vital, cannot produce mind or consciousness as its effect, for consciousness is never seen to be an effect of anything. In order that consciousness may be regarded as an effect, its cause must have consciousness present in itself implicitly, which would mean that the cause is potential consciousness, and it would then be pointless to say that the consciousness is an effect. Unconscious causes cannot produce conscious results, unless these unconscious causes themselves are hidden forms of consciousness. Biology is contributory to the higher studies in the progress of the evolution of life and is not a water-tight compartment holding all reality within itself alone. Botany or the study of plant life, zoology or the study of animal life, and anatomy and physiology or the study of the human organism, are comprehended in the science of Biology. The instincts for self-preservation and self-reproduction are the most insistent of the urges that manifest themselves in the plant, animal and human kingdoms. It is not without some truth that it is said that life sleeps in inorganic mater, breathes in plants, dreams in animals and wakes up in human beings. The study of biology cannot be completely separated from a knowledge of the basic principles of psychology, because the human organism has always behaved as a complex psycho-physical substance, with a mutual action and reaction between the bodily functions and the operations of the mental faculties. The theory of the Behaviourists that psychic functions are motivated by physiological reflexes and activities cannot be accepted since it is difficult for anyone to conclude that thought can evolve from matter. It is also not acceptable that body and mind are two entirely distinct realms of being with no interaction between them. Utter dualism hopelessly fails. Also, the theory of parallelism of movement and action by the mind and the body is also unintelligible, since parallels are not known to meet, at least in any empirical experience of the kind in geometry, and so, then, there would be no correspondence between the mind and the body, between thought and the physiological functions. It has never been an easy question for anyone to answer, as to what sort of relation there is between the mind and the body.
Biology and psychology are united in modern medical science for the reason that the behaviours of the body and the mind have not been found to be capable of being distinguished on scientific grounds. Rather, it was easily discoverable that the one tells upon the other in a certain manner and in a given type of intensity. We thus hear these days of what are known as psychosomatic conditions requiring a similar technique of handling them. The body-mind-complex is usually regarded as a single phase of human life, and biology and psychology again come out as two aspects of a single subject of study.
The solution to the problem of the relation between the mind and the body is perhaps to be sought in a deeper study of the sources of the human organism itself. Investigations in the field of astrophysics and the science of life at the biological level have revealed that the human individual is a developed form of what was originally a united substance, call it an atom or cell. In this primordial condition of existence it would be impossible to draw line between matter and consciousness, between body and mind, for here existence appears to be at the stage of an indistinguishable and subtle mass of mystery. Is it not a wonder that poetic genius, scientific acumen and philosophic wisdom which shake the world of mankind with their force of impact and power of conviction, should be hidden latently in a microscopic cellular form of sperm or gene or chromosome? How could one explain the presence of a mighty and wide-spreading banyan tree in an insignificantly small seed thereof? Could the origin of thought and the origin of the body be identical in its structure and formation? Would it be that the body and the mind are only two facets of the same crystal of an original reality, the two eyes of a single observing individual? How else is one to conceive reasonably that eluding relation between the mind and the body, which should make one hesitate even to use the term ‘and’ between them? This is precisely the answer we would get, whether we follow the scientist and accept his theory that from the nebular cosmic dust the galaxies, the solar systems, the earth, plant, animal and men are formed, or whether we listen to the doctrine of the Vedanta that from the Universal Compound of isvara, hiranyagarbha and virat, in which there was no distinction between matter and consciousness, body and mind, everything down to the blade of grass and the grain of sand on the ocean’s shore has been made manifest.
The chemistry of elements and of a living body, known as inorganic and organic chemistry, also may be said to be closely associated with biological functions. This fact is brought to high relief in the effects produced by the administering of chemically manufactured drugs into the human system and the chemical effect of organic substances introduced into the body of a human being. Here again we have revealed before us the mystery of the inter-relationship obtaining among chemical, biological and psychological functions. The bifurcation of these sciences into independent subjects unconnected with one another would thus be not proper. Chemistry is the study of the character of the molecular substances constituting the building bricks of all substances—earth, water, fire and air—whether these are studied in the external world or through the individual bodies they form by different permutations and combinations. Chemistry is also the science of the mutual reactions produced by substances when they are combined in a given proportion. Though the science of life does not appear to feel the necessity to pay any appreciable attention to the subject of chemical action and reaction of substances, whether inorganic or organic, it is hard to believe that the chemistry of the body has no relevance to its biological functions and incidentally to the psychological factors in an individual. As we go further and deeper, we would realise that every subject of study is connected with every other, all which are equally indispensable from one point of view or the other.
In the context of the psychological development of the human individual, in its relation to its biological features, it is essential to review those significant processes through which the individual passes in his evolutionary development and which may be regarded as inseparable from the human individual himself, basically. The biological life may be said to commence immediately from the seeds provided by the physical features and characteristics of the individual, so that the earliest stage of biological life, as far as the human being is concerned, is a sort of ‘brute consciousness’ scarcely separable from a kind of inanimate existence with premonitions of the dawn of a coming age of living and moving in the organic world. In this condition, consciousness may be said to be buried so deep in the material vesture that it would be practically impossible to decipher even its very existence. May we compare it to a state of sleep where consciousness is incipient? Perhaps, so. Like the huge banyan tree subtly lying latent in the tiny seed, the entire complexity of human existence lies potentially in the seed of future development.