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Descartes' Concept of The Soul


The Pineal Gland

Descartes’ concept of the soul has been studied by philosophers and thinkers from all over. And rightfully so, because few individuals have exerted a more powerful influence on Western philosophy, psychology, and science like Descartes has. If one were to take the one hundred most important and influential people in the history of Western Culture, Descartes’ name would most certainly make that list.

The person whom influenced Descartes the most, would himself most likely make that one hundred most influential people list as well: Plato. Plato believed that what separated humans beings from animals was that we possessed souls. According to Plato, the reason human beings were capable of kindness, empathy and compassion to one another was because we possessed souls - ‘psyche’ is the Greek word for the word soul - ‘psychology’ steams from this same Greek word....

Although Descartes was a philosopher and mathematician for the most part, he was very much interested in physiology and human anatomy. By the time John Locke came into the picture, the word ‘soul’ had been replaced by the word ‘mind’; both Locke and Newton are considered by many authorities to have been two of the most important thinkers of ‘The Enlightenment’ period; Galileo and Descartes are considered by many authorities to have been two of the most important thinkers of ‘The Renaissance’ period....

Descartes thought that people were composed of a body and soul. He felt that without souls, human beings were essentially robotic entities (reductionism...) with no spiritual purpose whatsovever. Picture a typewriter (a word seldom used these days) sitting on top of a desk - this was Descartes’ concept of what human beings would be like if we didn’t possessed souls. Furthermore, it wasn’t until the time of Locke that people started to understand that we think with our minds instead of our hearts - just like mind, the heart was another synonym for soul.... Descartes was not the first person to have taken interest with the 'pineal gland', but he was the first person that researched it in great length, calling it “the seat of the soul.” According to Descartes, the pineal gland was separate from other parts of the brain, and this is what caused it to act as an agent of sorts. He thought that because a person cannot have more than one thought at a time, the pineal gland discerned our thought process. Descartes believed that stimuli needed to be united in the human brain before being considered by our soul (pineal gland). Ironically enough, Spinoza (Descartes’ most important detractor....) attacked Descartes by saying that he had always taken a great deal of pride in doing thorough and extensive research on concepts, how then did he come about something as silly as this?... Baruch de Spinoza, was along with Locke and Newton one of the most important thinkers of The Enlightenment - Spinoza was arguably more religious than Descartes was, yet Spinoza severely criticized Descartes for not having done his homework in researching this idea of where it is that our souls are supposedly located....

Locke was not too convinced with Descartes about where it is that our thought process originates from (although he agreed with Descartes that we think with our minds, he didn't fully agree that the pineal gland had any connections to our souls); Locke thought that everything we humans being knew had to be learned at one given point or another in our lives. The idea that human beings come equipped with a soul from God that is fully operational and ready to take on the world at around age six or so, was something that Locke strongly disagreed with. Locke then decided he was going to find out how it is that our minds actually function. That is to say, how is it that we learn information and accumulate knowledge. Locke was one of the first individuals in history to discard the idea that we think with our soul, instead he felt that our brains/minds was how we think, process, and store any given piece of information....

One of the things which made Descartes exceptional was how he approached concepts and philosophical ideas. He was a nitpicking and fastidious researcher that stopped at nothing until he reached a conclusion. Many of Descartes’ followers such as: Locke, Kant, Freud, Jung and Marx were surprised as to how it was that Descartes came about this esoteric concept of the human soul....


somethgblue from Shelbyville, Tennessee on July 29, 2013:

what famous guitar player is cited for quoting the phrase "Knowledge Speaks, Wisdom Listens"

John Sarkis (author) from Winter Haven, FL on March 08, 2013:

Thank you, Carozy. I'm glad you enjoyed my article. Take care and have a great weekend.


carozy from San Francisco on March 07, 2013:

I found this article very interesting.

John Sarkis (author) from Winter Haven, FL on June 04, 2012:

Hi tammy, thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.

You're really smart! I didn't know this about Descartes. I did know that he influenced Newton to a great extent; Descartes was one of the first scientists to observe pigeons. He observed the difference between when a pigeon is doing "their business" while resting on a pole vs. doing "their business" while flying; the "business" falls to the ground differently. Scientists say this was a precursor to Newton's laws of gravity.

Thanks again and take care of yourself


Tammy from North Carolina on June 04, 2012:

I love philosophy and philosophical debates. I think that there is something to Descarte's theory when you consider the properties of the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Energy cannot be created or destroyed. It can move and change forms. This makes me think of the energy in the human body as the soul. It is never destroyed. Very interesting!

John Sarkis (author) from Winter Haven, FL on February 26, 2012:

Scroll to Continue

Hi Somethgblue,

Please...I'm not as savvy about philosophy as I am about music, for example; however, I do enjoy philosophy very much...much more than I understand it, but getting better everyday.

Take good care of yourself, and I'll check this Schneider guy out...


somethgblue from Shelbyville, Tennessee on February 25, 2012:


If I maybe so bold, Rob Schneider is another hub writer who writes on these topics and is actually a professional, we enjoy the art of insulting each other so don't get the wrong impression in the comments section.

Sparkster also writes on some interesting topics (space and aliens) and Rafken is really good but more political.

Seems we enjoying expanding the mind.

John Sarkis (author) from Winter Haven, FL on February 25, 2012:

Thanks somethgblue for stopping by and commenting...appreciated.

I find your comments really interesting. I've been reading some of your hubs and do enjoy your explanations of events and so on....

Take care


somethgblue from Shelbyville, Tennessee on February 23, 2012:

Perhaps Descartes simple plucked his information from the Source Field, after all if one learns to trust your heart or soul is proof or evidence necessary, I say not only NO but Hell NO!

Does one need evidence to know 9/11 was/is a fraud, no simple by watching what was shown on TV was enough for me, the rest is just details.

Did Descartes know that Buddhist believe the soul reincarnates 49 days after death or that the Pineal Gland develops 49 days after conception?

I notice you do not offer links within your content and was thinking it would be handy to get a brief on Locke, Plato, Spinoza and others as your reading the text to further evaluate the information.

Some writers feels it detracts from the article but if I have to go to Google to familiarize myself with the players in the story I man not be back . . . food for thought!

I think it keeps peoples interest but what do I know . . . I believe in Aliens, Polar Shift and Hollow Earth.

John Sarkis (author) from Winter Haven, FL on February 14, 2012:

Thanks Mark, for commenting, as well as for your thorough analysis of my hub.

Spinoza was something of a pantheist, so his views were a bit different than Descartes. I too believe there's something spiritual about our existence that we cannot grasp. Call it the pineal gland, or whatever it is?... Perhaps we'll find out someday in the future.

Take care


markbennis on February 14, 2012:

Hello John,

I too do like to philosophise on the very same nature of where it is, the soul? From my personal research, and my own experiences have at this time come to a convincing conclusion that the heart area is the most powerful in ethereal terms and more connected to the higher aspects of the soul, or soul.

I have also found that the pineal gland is highly symbolised in esoteric language as being a gateway between matter and consciousness, or maybe the astral parts of consciousness?

The psychic medium between this world and the matrix that surrounds all of it, it’s a deep avenue of discussion and don’t want to deviate from your Hub so I will leave it their.

But to finish on a quote I made earlier I feel Descartes would understand its true meaning but maybe Baruch de Spinoza would not?

Quote Mark Bennis: ‘When we seek the knowledge, we are exercising our beliefs and through practise we gain an understanding, when we have found balance in our beliefs and understanding of it, we will reach a knowing that confirms all of it’.

John Sarkis (author) from Winter Haven, FL on October 17, 2011:

Hi Stessily,

Thank you. Yes, Descartes is one of the most important and influential individuals that has ever lived. He influenced science and mathematics as well....

I made some corrections to my novel about 'eternal recurrence', sorry...I'll bring it back again in a few days - I'm really glad you enjoyed it so much - getting support means a lot to me ;-)

Thanks again and take care


stessily on October 17, 2011:

John Sarkis: Thank you for your interesting presentation on this intriguing French philosopher! His interest in the pineal gland was quite startling to the Western mind even though that gland has long been understood and extolled elsewhere, such as anciently in India.

By the way, I've been reserving your story, "Jesus J. Mohamed and Eternal Recurrence", for a rainy day, and even though it isn't raining today I still decided to treat myself with Part 2. But where is it? I'm not finding any parts here.

Voted up + everything else

John Sarkis (author) from Winter Haven, FL on September 10, 2011:

Hello whoisbid,

Thanks for stopping by - hadn't heard from you in a while....

Yes, Descartes and Galileo were two of the most important men of the Renaissance....

Take care of yourself


whoisbid on September 10, 2011:

Descartes seems like one cool dude!

John Sarkis (author) from Winter Haven, FL on August 02, 2011:

Hi perfumepromises,

Yes, he's one of the giants of the Renaissance/Enlightenment....

Thank you and take good care


perfumenpromises on August 01, 2011:

very well written. Descartes has always been one of my favorite philosophers! :)

John Sarkis (author) from Winter Haven, FL on July 31, 2011:

Thank you much mkrandhawa - take care of yourself

mkrandhawa from India on July 31, 2011:

Great and well written hub....Thanks for sharing.

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