The area of the mind has long been an area that has gotten philosophers and scientists in a flummox. Our current popular scientific worldview insists on a materialistic world that excludes the existence or relevance of any nonmaterial factors. For the consistent philosophical materialist, therefore, the mind must not have any existence that cannot be limited or defined in the brain. That is to say, only electrical or mechanical or chemical actions of the brain are real. That which is spiritual or moral is merely an epiphenomenon, in that view. (It should not be necessary to point out that this is not my own view, but it may be.)
Therefore, the problem for philosophers of mind is how can one deal with the physical consequences of non-physical phenomenon. The rapid rise of the diagnosis and (apparent) prevelance of mental illness suggests strongly that physical and mental processes have strong connections. For example, physical behaviors (like sex, drug use, and alcoholism) have an effect on the way the brain works. Additionally, anxiety and depression, which are psychological disorders (that I am sadly all too personally familiar with) have physical consequences and complex causes, some genetic and some environmental. This would imply that a philosopher of the mind who wished to deal with the moral issues of our thoughts and ruminations would have a relatively free reign to posit grand theories about how the mind works relating the physical and the mental together.
Now, it is difficult to determine the accurace of such grand theories, but at least they allow for investigation into a very thorny and serious problem. Showing causality with regards to issues of the mind is a very difficult issue, both scientifically and (even more so) politically. For example, let us assume that homosexual sex is related to brain changes. Morally (and politially), there is a huge difference between saying that sin (i.e. homosexual activitiy) changes the way the brain works, and saying that a brain is wired a certain way that leads to homosexuality. To test such theories of causality, to show the balance of the relationship between nature and nurture (all one, all the other, or some mixture of the two) would require longitudinal studies. To the extent that brain changes were the consequence of sinful behavior, it would imply that sin has a direct effect on the physical world, making it real scientifically, even by our current scientific paradigm. That would mean that people would have real moral responsibility for the state of their brains, and it would also have severe political consequences for those who advocated sin (which was leading to perverted brain function). Obviously, similar actions could be taken with regard to drug use, alcohol abuse, pornography, and a host of other moral sins. The question of causality has huge implications on responsibility, questions that we have not really even begun to answer in any kind of depth.
And it is in this study of the relationship between cognition and environmental factors that a fellow named Joseph Richard Crant (who is a frequent commenter on my blog) comes in. He has made an Einstein-like leap of associating mental and physical illnes with cognition with a theory that states that Cognition = ea^2 , where cognition equals the emotional response to “absurd” events squared. This would mean that those who were the best cognitively were those that had the highest sensitivity and response to their outside environment, particularly what was “absurd.” It is possible that this sensitivity and response might be, paradoxically, a gift of great intellect and cognition and a curse of greater emotional and “mental” difficulties as a result of the frequent rumination. Clearly those people, whom we often label “artists,” writers and musicians and the like, often show both high measures of mental health (in some areas) and high levels of mental stress (in others), especially with regards to mood disorders like bipolar disorder and chronic depression. Not surprisingly, we also find such paradoxical measures of both mental health and mental distress in (for example) Old Testament prophets who often ruminated the deeper matters of God’s judgment of sinful and rebellious man, with both great insights and terrible consequences on their own emotional states. This does not in any way invalidate the divinely inspired nature of such oracles as they presented, but it does suggest that cognitive insight may be both a blessing and a curse, even if the cursed aspects of it are temporary, ending with forgiveness and the reaching of an equilibrium state.
In order for such a theory to be valid, one would have to find a way to quantify such aspects as “rumination,” or “emotional response.” It would seem at least possible, through the use of ekg machines, to see the emotional response to absurd events as the brain activity in someone faced with a set of either manufactured or naturalistic absurd notions. It may even be possible, over the long term, to examine the brain response of people in longitudinal studies, showing which people had a greater sensitivity to the absurd, by comparing the brain response of different people to the same events over the course of months or years, and then relating that to their own emotional states.
It would appear more difficult, at least quantitatively, to define rumination, or forgiveness, some of the higher-order terms of this grand theory. Nonetheless, it may be possible to determine what aspect of “background” brain function was rumination, and it may be possible to determine physically if someone has held a grudge or feels resentful by their brain activity. Clearly such research would have massive implications, as it would make more of the “private” thoughts of mankind open to scrutiny by the outside world, thus making our emotional lives far more public than we may wish them to be. Nonetheless, the Bible itself often says of genuinely spiritual people that instead of responding immediately that they keep the matter in mind (see, for example, Genesis 37:11, Matthew 1:19-20, Luke 1:29). Such action appears to be related to spiritual health, and if it is possible to quantify this, it may be possible to demonstrate a physical component of emotional, mental, and spiritual activity. But it appears to be a very tall task, to say the least.