Mind-Body Dualism as Applied to Supernatural Agents: The (Dead) Emperor’s New Mind or Chicken Little

I recently had an animated discussion with one of my colleagues about the wide spread application of mind-body dualism and its many variants in the cognitive science and psychology of religion. My interlocutor asked me why, if I was so right that psychologists who claim the folk intuitively represent supernatural agents in accord with mind-body dualism are wrong, then why are we still discussing it (as in “why is it still being discussed/supported in the literature”)? To be honest, I don’t have a good answer for this. I have always taken myself to be pointing out something so very simple and obvious that no one could miss it—that is the emperor is not wearing any clothes! On the contrary however, many of my colleagues who are still committed to some form of folk, intuitive mind-body dualism as explaining the psychology of supernatural agent representations act as though I am Chicken Little, proclaiming that the sky is falling after being hit on the head by a falling acorn. And, just to throw in another strained analogy, when enough people tell you that you are crazy, you start to believe it. To me, it is an issue of credibility for the cognitive science and psychology of religion. If the theories we propose fail to explain how our chosen topic—religion, specifically supernatural agents—appears in its natural and cultural settings, then whatever they might be theories of, they ain't theories related to our topic (and you can always tell when a philosopher is serious: he uses the word “ain’t”).

When I first published “Descartes Mistake: How Afterlife Beliefs Challenge the Assumption that Humans are Intuitive Cartesian Substance Dualists” in 2008 (also available here), I believed two things: (1) that I was fortunate that no one beat me to the punch on pointing out something so obvious in print; and (2) that my colleagues would see that not only did these points apply to afterliving deceased, but to supernatural agents in general and that would be the end of that.

In that article, and subsequent ones, I pointed out how and why mind-body dualism is an inadequate theory to capture the folk intuitive representations of the afterliving deceased, from the strongest Cartesian version, to the weaker versions which used less defined notions of (disembodied) person, soul or essence. All of these explanations suffer from one key problem; they fail to capture how the folk intuitively represent supernatural agents in their natural, cultural settings. To date, all of the prominent theories concerning supernatural agents in the cognitive science and psychology of religion either flat out deny that these agents are (intuitively) represented as embodied, or give a greatly diminished role to the body. The problem I see is that every religion about which I know represents (most all of) their supernatural agents as embodied in various ways—iconography, mythology, funerary rites, rituals, etc. (an obvious and limited exception being the theologically correct description of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God). But, even if that is not evidence enough, let me bring it down to a personal level: first, am I cognitively neuro-atypical in representing my deceased loved ones hugging each other when a new one arrives in whatever supernatural realm into which they go? Second, am I intuitively challenged for not being able to represent Ganesh, the Hindu elephant-headed god, as disembodied? Or, would it take advanced level cognitive gymnastics even to attempt to represent either of those scenarios as involving disembodied minds? If I were talking about rare examples or atypical representations, I could understand everyone’s reservation about resurrecting the body in the cognitive science and psychology of religion, but as it stands, very few see the emperor’s naked body. And, to be clear here, I am not denying that humans cannot think in terms of mind-body dualism; I am only arguing that it is not the intuitive position which fosters belief in supernatural agents.

To my mind, there are two issues that underlie the hesitancy to embody supernatural agents (or recognize their embodiment); the empirical evidence gathered thus far, and trying to figure out what to do about the physical dead body of the deceased. (There is a third that I sometimes think might be in play, and that is a reluctance on the part of scientists—especially junior ones—to rock the boat.) Allow me to discuss these in turn.

I have never had a disagreement with the evidence. In fact, the evidence across all the experiments which have probed intuitive representation and continuation of mental states over physical body states for deceased individuals fall exactly how I or anyone else who has spent much time considering these issues would expect. My objections have always been directed at the theoretical interpretations of this evidence as a type of mind-body dualism which is boosted by the constraints of the specific methodologies employed. It is not that I think that supernatural agents eat or digest or excrete or sleep or perform a variety of other assorted mundane biological tasks (even though I can imagine it)—it is simply that those are not tasks that I (under standard conditions) represent them as doing. Most of my representations deal with them engaged in some social task such as hugging, talking, holding hands, or watching over me, from which their embodiment easily flows. This is why I have called this type of representation “social embodiment.” In the same way that I do not imagine a fictional character digesting unless it is integral to the story, or imagine one of my loved ones on the other side of the ocean as farting unless that is part of their “humorous” personality, these types of representations do not readily enter my mind. Contrariwise, most fictional characters and our representations involving our presently living absent loved ones capture them doing something socially significant. As David Lewis once put it, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did not have to point out that Sherlock Holmes had two nostrils for us to represent him as such. Nevertheless, how often has any of us represented Sherlock Holmes sitting on the toilet (unless it is in one of stories I have not read). And, how would we intuitively answer if asked whether Sherlock Holmes needed to defecate? If we did not think so because he is, after all, a fictional character, would it be correct to conclude that our representation of Sherlock Holmes is disembodied? I think most reasonable people would agree that our representation is not of a disembodied Sherlock Holmes. So, why is it when we use the same imaginative processes to imagine our deceased loved one or another supernatural agent that some would say they are disembodied such that they only have mental states?

Additionally, other experiments which have probed the relationship between the mind and the body through such thought experiments as imagining oneself as dead or imaging a mind transfer of oneself or another into another body or object have again all produced evidence with which I have no dispute. Again, to be clear, I have no objection to the evidence at all. The problem I have is theoretical. Some claim that these experiments support a type of intuitive mind-body dualism. The problem is that these are reflective tasks, not intuitive tasks. I have never denied that we, humans, can think in terms of mind-body dualism; only that it is not our intuitive position.

This brings me to the second issue. In what sense can or would we say that Sherlock Holmes has a physical body (putting aside actors playing the character)? We don’t really think he does, but we do provide him an imaginary body based on both his textual descriptions and our common knowledge of human physiology. Thus, when Doyle describes Holmes as holding something is in hand that is significant to the story we don`t immediately wonder from whence his hand came! We tend to imagine fictional characters as having the necessary body parts to act in ways relevant to the story. The same goes for those real living people who are currently outside of our perceptual field. Our imaginings of them (what I have called offline social reasoning) usually involve them being somewhere doing something of social significance. Thus, if something that is usually a mundane biological task such as eating becomes socially relevant because it is that person’s birthday, we are more likely to imaginatively represent it, in the same way that the afterliving deceased are represented as eating on el dia de los muertos because it is socially relevant.

But, we are not imagining the afterliving deceased as using their physically dead and buried body as performing these tasks. This, methinks, is the cognitive obstacle that many researchers have had difficulty overcoming, especially in the case of the afterliving deceased. What to do with the dead physical body? Here I think there is a number of confusions taking place. First there is a confusion between the biological conception of death and the secular conception of death. Second, if we claim that the individual is still somehow alive after the death of his physical body, then it must involve some sort of dualism which does away with the physical body. Third, researchers fail to see the difference between a physical body and an embodied representation. Again, I will take these in order.

There are two conceptions of death which I think are often confused in the literature: the secular conception of death and the biological conception of death. The secular conception of death holds within it a scientific assumption that when biological functions cease, particularly in the brain, then the mind ceases to exist, thus annihilating the individual. The biological conception of death, however, simply describes how we determine whether a creature is alive (but perhaps sleeping or unconscious) or whether it is dead. The biological conception of death, as it has long been discussed and applied in the literature, only deals with how we, and other animals, recognize dead bodies. The essential intensions of this concept is the cessation of agency from the body, that death of the body is irreversible meaning that a dead body will not come back to life, and universality meaning that all physically living things die. The biological conception of death says nothing and suggests nothing as to the fate of the individual whose body that was. This is one of the reasons why afterlife beliefs come in so many flavors.

But surely the next question that comes to mind is, “how is that not supporting some sort of dualism since the individual is somehow surviving the death of his or her body?” Here is where confusing the biological conception of death and the secular conception of death becomes really misleading: whereas the biological conception of death is applicable only to the physical body, the secular conception of death makes the further assumption that the individual has ceased to exist because the body is dead. But, just because physical bodies die does not mean that we believe that individuals cease to exist. On the contrary, all of the experiments regarding afterlife beliefs have demonstrated that we intuitively believe that humans survive death. So why, oh why, do some researchers think that the secular conception of death becomes intuitive as we become older, especially since the cross-cultural evidence does not support such a folk secular conception. Contrariwise, what the anthropological record shows is that we folk view death of a person’s body as a change in that person’s location.

This is where offline social reasoning comes in again, and avoids the dualism trap. Our friends and family are not always within our perceptual field. But, they do not have to be for us to think about them. When we do think about them, we imagine them being somewhere doing something. In order to have such imaginings, we provide them a body with our imagination. This imaginary body has the necessary prerequisites for performing whatever tasks we are imagining the person doing. Is this dualism? Are wanting to say in the cases of our imagining a currently living but absent individual as somewhere doing something that she has left her body behind and become a disembodied mind? I don’t think any of us would reasonably say that such imaginings support mind-body dualism. So again why, when we use the same cognitive mechanism to think about our deceased loved ones, are some researchers wanting to call this dualism? And, again, are we really imagining the deceased as disembodied?

As a quick aside, I have also been challenged on the difference between these two types of embodiment on the basis that the afterliving deceased are imagined with supernatural powers such as being able to see over great distances or read our thoughts. But, that is a product of imaginative abilities in the same way that I can imagine my wife who is not currently in my perceptual presence as flapping her arms and flying to work. Does that imagining imply dualism?

One additional note with regard to the evidence. I am not denying that, as the experiments have been performed, that (what have been called) mental states do and should receive more attention. I just don’t think the break is between mental states and bodily states. I think that the break is between intentional and non-intentional states. This is one of the reasons that (what have been called) psychobiological states such as “hunger” make a robust appearance in these experiments, especially with children. Intentional states are not confined to the mental. They encompass the goals, desires, beliefs, rationality, and social behaviors of agents. So, whereas the mind-body dualism interpretation of the evidence has a difficult time accounting for why children are more likely to say that a deceased individual is hungry even though he does not eat, when interpreting this response using the Intentional Stance it is easier to see why the former but not the latter. Hunger is an intentional state that allows us to predict one’s future actions, or goals. Eating is less so, save in certain social situations. What I am trying to say is that it is natural for us, humans, to focus and think more on another’s intentional states than it is for us to think about his mundane, workaday, activities. (For an excellent discussion distinguishing these issues, see here)

I have also been asked why I care so much about this. The reason is because I see the potential of this misstep I have perceived of setting back research in the cognitive science and psychology of religion for an extended period of time unless these issues are sorted. If I am right, folk intuitive mind-body dualism is our version of phlogiston. The longer we hold onto this idea, if it is mistaken, the harder and longer it is going to be for us to sort ourselves out. Additionally, this will increase the likelihood of our discipline being ignored or castigated because what we claim religious representations are in our labs share little in common with religious representations observed outside of our labs.

Again, how does mind-body dualism account for Ganesh?

So, is the emperor naked, or was it just an acorn?


  • comment-avatar
    Chris Kavanagh 12 June 2015 (04:49)

    Interesting post Mitch, unfortunately this is my 2nd time writing this comment thanks to this site’s less-than-accommodating comment software, so I apologise if what follows is a little disjointed.

    I was mostly able to follow where you disagree with the ‘Born Dualists’ but at the same time found myself at several points doubting whether anyone would disagree with you on your fundamental arguments. I recognise that some researchers have posited a very strict diving line between the body/material things and a disembodied/immaterial mind. However, I was under the impression that the latter was understood to have the potential not only to leave but also to enter bodies, meaning that embodied afterlife portrayals were not ruled out. This is precisely what happens, for example, in many Buddhist reincarnation narratives (and Indian religions more generally), which involve a period of disembodied searching before entering the next bodily form. I am certain that you have looked into the literature and various researchers’ comments on these issues in much greater depth but I would be surprised to hear if anybody was explicitly ruling out or ignoring these kinds of portrayals. It would thus be helpful to know which researchers specifically reject your position?

    I’m also not fully convinced that the examples you provide rule out the significance or intuitive nature of dualistic thinking. As it seems that rather what you are demonstrating is that we can, and do, think of dead people and supernatural beings often as being embodied. This is certainly the case but it doesn’t mean we always perceive them as such. I can think of my dead relatives welcoming new arrivals to heaven with a hug, but I can also think of my dead relatives ‘looking after’ or ‘caring’ about surviving family members and this has little to do with imagining physical bodies. As someone raised Catholic I can also farily easily imagine God embodied in the person of Jesus but I can equally understand God as a disembodied force watching over and interacting with the world. While your argument that researchers have over-looked the importance of embodied representations of the afterlife and supernatural agents seems completely valid, this doesn’t seem to equate to mind-body dualism not being an important aspect of how people think about dead people and supernatural beings. For people to get to a new realm of existence will typically require some concept of a more ethereal entity/substance which can leave the body. And similarly, while deities might often be represented as physical beings in specific statues or stories, they are also equally commonly represented as an immaterial presence or force.

    However, with all of that said, when attempting to apply Barrett’s CI coding scheme to Japanese folk tales and religious stories I encountered exactly the kind of problems you present above. In particular, these stories quite frequently featured characters dieing but then carrying on their existence in a different realm. As you say above, the description seemed to refer more to a change of location than to emphasising a disembodied state. Moreover, in this material, typically the characters did not gain super powers and instead were represented with same kind of bodily restrictions they had when in their original bodies. The issue for me and the other coders was that in the coding scheme this seemed to represent a biological intuitive breach, since the character’s life was continuing after bodily death, but yet the original physical body was not brought back and the character had not transformed into a disembodied mind. Our solution was to code it as an intuitive breach for the single event- a spontaneous realm transfer- but then to ignore it for the rest of the narrative. However, this felt unsatisfactory as it didn’t really feel counterintutive to any of the coders, nor did the narratives emphasis this as an unusual aspect.

    This is just one illustration but I think it serves to demonstrate your point that in actual cultural and religious material embodied portrayals of the afterlife are fairly common and are canonical in traditions featuring reincarnation. This certainly needs to be addressed, but I don’t know that it means dualistic thinking is necessarily any less intuitive or important to understanding religious thought.

  • comment-avatar
    K. Mitch Hodge 12 June 2015 (12:25)

    Hi Chris,

    Thank you for your response.

    I also want to mention to whomever else might be following this or intending to respond that I will only have intermittent internet access over the next week, but I will do my best to respond when I can—meaning it very likely might be a delayed response.

    I am actually very glad that you brought up the issues that you did in your post because I think they demonstrate the cognitive “traps” into which researchers are falling that make them think they are seeing dualism when none is present. You bring up two central features to my counterarguments against dualism. First, if the individual is represented as leaving his/her dead physical body, how is that not dualism? And, wouldn’t the individual need to be disembodied if he/she was to enter another physical body through either spirit possession or reincarnation? I think it is these sorts of questions that are making researchers “see” dualism when none is present.

    First, there is a difference between a physical body and an imagined embodied representation. Let me provide an example that hopefully might clear this up. A few minutes ago I left my wife downstairs as she was looking at Facebook on her tablet so that I could come upstairs to my office and type out this response. Now, as I am sitting here thinking about her, I imagine her still downstairs looking at Facebook on her tablet. I am certainly not imagining a disembodied her looking at Facebook on her tablet. On top of that, it may very well be the case that as I am imagining her doing that, that she has in fact gone into the kitchen to make herself something to eat. Now, again, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for me to imagine my wife doing any of those things without a body. On top of that, just because I imagine my wife sitting on the couch looking at Facebook on her tablet when she, in fact, is physically in the kitchen does not mean that I am using some sort of dualism to process these thoughts.

    I am arguing that the same imaginative processes are happening when we think of our deceased loved ones. Sure, their physical body may be dead and buried, but we do not have to imagine them there just as I am not limited in where I can imagine my wife even though her body is physically someplace else. Would we want to call this intuitive dualism? I think not. Even worse, how would I be imagining my wife doing any of the things I imagine her to be doing without a body (albeit an imagined bodily representation)? Or, even more bizarre, would any of us be tempted to say that because of my imagining that my wife has two bodies?

    So, I think there is a tendency to think that because the deceased individual has left their physical body, that some sort of dualism must be at play because it is hard to reconcile how one can leave their physical body, but still be represented as embodied. The answer to me is simple and obvious: using the exact same imaginative embodied representations (through offline social reasoning), I simply supply the decedent with a body in the same way that I did with my wife in my imaginations of her, or as I do with Sherlock Holmes when I am reading about his adventures. So, it is important not to confuse this imagined embodied representation with the dead, physical body.

    As noted, a similar confusion occurs when trying to reconcile how one might think that a spirit has possessed another or that the individual is reincarnated. Here, I think the best way to think about this is the way such things are often depicted in movies: you see a “fuzzy” or translucent yet fully recognizable “embodied” individual stepping into the body of another. There is nothing wholly mental or dualistic about it. It is an embodied representation entering a physical body. This embodied representation might be thought of as immaterial in the loose sense of being translucent or even invisible (seen only by a few), but that is most assuredly not immaterial in the dualist sense. I could, if I so desired, imagine my wife stepping into the body of another, but would that mean I am employing some sort of intuitive dualism? What if I were to imagine her walking through a wall? Does that mean she is immaterial or disembodied? Not at all. Various superheroes are imagined to have such powers, but they are not represented as immaterial or disembodied beings.

    And to be clear again: I am not saying that humans cannot think in terms of dualism. I just don’t think it is their intuitive stance with regard to supernatural agents. I think such dualism is a reflective act often described in theologically correct versions of religious dogma. What is intuitive, methinks, is imagining the agent with an embodied form capable of carrying out its social commitments—thus, social embodiment.

    The reason this is important is because if we “see” dualism where it is not, we will make all sorts of inferences regarding the beliefs in supernatural agents that do not, in fact, match up with the historical and anthropological records.

    I also want to say that I have not listed my “opponents” in this thread because I don’t want anyone feeling like I have singled them, or called them, out. The last thing I want is anyone feeling like they must defend themselves or their work.

    Please forgive any typos. I did this in sort of a rush.

  • comment-avatar
    Natalie Emmons 12 June 2015 (16:41)

    Hi Mitch,

    Although you write that you don’t have an issue with the evidence, but rather with the theory of intuitive mind-body dualism being used to explain it, I do take issue with the evidence. This is because the evidence doesn’t make it clear what body is being represented when participants answer the questions- the physical corpse or the imagined spiritual form (that has been informed by religious testimony). This point has become especially salient to me as I have been coding Mormon children’s responses to questions about their prelife existence: I can see signs of them switching between the two “bodily” representations (spirit vs. earthly body) but cannot say beyond a doubt that this is what is going on except when they expliclty state that they were a spirit or in heaven. Given this issue, there is an interpration problem of the evidence. When participants deny body-dependent states (biological, psychobiological, perceptual states), are they denying them to the earth body or to the spirit body? When they attribute body-independent states (emotions, desires, epistemic states) are they attributing them to the earth body or to the spirit body? The latter question seems intuitively easier to answer because why would one attribute a corpse with mentality, but we still have no way of knowing whether a spirit body is in fact being represented when mental states are attributed. My work on Ecuadorian children’s prelife beliefs brings this point into focus. In the two cultures I tested, the children came from religions without any formal religious prelife beliefs. So when they ascribed themselves with mentality, it seems highly unlikely that they were representing a spirit in the traditional, religious sense. What then was being represented? All we know for certain is that an agent with a mental state was represented; when they justified their answers with social information, we can probably assume a social agent was also represented. But a mental/social agent capable of hugging someone, who knows? The evidence doesn’t lend itself to that level of intepretation.

    As we have discussed before, I have no problem with the position that dead agents or prelife agents are represented as social beings. I also don’t doubt that capacities that allow for social engagement are represented when it is viewed as relevant (arms for hugging, eyes for watching, ears for listening, etc.). My position on intuitive dualism has never been that a bodily form is always and completely irrelevant. My position is that the bodily representation is secondary and only becomes relevant once a mental agent is represented. Mental states will always take precedence because we are most sure that those things will persist beyond death: That for me is enough to say some form of intuitive dualism is at work. Other capacities will likely require contextual considerations, which you have already alluded to when you discuss how a spiritual form might be represented in order to carry out social obligations.

    Back to my point on evidence, we do need more of it and novel studies to disentangle many of the issues that you raise. We also need more justification data to get at participants’ reasoning. Finally, we need more developmental data to see how beliefs change over time.

  • comment-avatar
    Hal Morris 22 June 2015 (04:36)

    A thought provoking article.

    I’m still puzzled as to why claiming intuitive dualism is important to those who claim it, and then again, how important is refuting it? Of course anything that is wrong but gets pride of place anyway in a complex and important body of theory is worth refuting, but is there more to it than that?

    I am considering what few H-G or H-G-ish ethographies I’ve read (these groups are nearly all tainted one way or another), and trying to put myself in a pre-agricultural mindset. It just seems like any material vs immaterial soul-stuff distinction that we conjure up is based on millenia of abstract thinking. Even the Babylonians, with their Gilgamesh, had a couple of millenia of living in a very different world from the hunter gatherers.

    I’ve heard of some Amazon dwellers having some worries that their souls wander around at night, and might not come back. But such beliefs seem kind of ad-hoc and incidental — not like an important wired-in distinction with some evolutionary significance. Their idea of matter, for that matter, would I think have to be based on the phenomenal and not rich with the sort of abstractions we have about the states of matter, and preservation of matter, so it’s not clear to me how it would be kept strictly separate from some other imagined realm.

  • comment-avatar
    K. Mitch Hodge 23 June 2015 (12:09)

    Hi Natalie,

    Here again, I don’t think there is a straightforward problem with the evidence—though most assuredly different types and more would always be welcomed—but rather the dualistic interpretation. Unless we are wanting to say that the children in your studies were actually remembering their prelife, or the children and the adults in afterlife studies are actually communicating with the dead, or that people are actually communing with the gods when asked to provide insights into the gods’ natures, then we are dealing, in all of these cases, with imaginative representations. I know that this is something that has been widely recognized in the literature, especially with regard to afterlife beliefs, but then it seems when actually talking about the imaginative representation, they forget some of the basics of the psychology of imagination that have been established through the years of both psychological and philosophical inquiry, such as the necessity of embodiment in imaginative endeavors.

    I do not doubt two things: (1) that the Mormon Children’s use of the word “spirit body” (if that was a term that they used) was the result of their parents’ testimony; and (2) regardless of having a name for this prelife state, their imaginative representations of this prelife state probably varied little from the Ecuadorian children (correct me if I am wrong, here). This is again unless you are claiming that these children are remembering their prelife, which I am sure you are not. The reason I can feel certain about (2) is because, as numerous works on imagination, fiction and pretense have shown human imaginations are still highly constrained.

    I also feel the need to point out that ALL agents have mentality, but that does not mean that the folk attribute to them what psychologists call mental states. Mental state is a clinical, theoretical term for which the folk need no cognate to understand and predict an agent. We understand and predict agents using what Dennett has called the Intentional Stance. This is important, as I alluded to in my initial post, because intentional states (which again the folk need hold no cognate) do not break in the same way that mental/physical dichotomy does, especially in accord with dualism. Again, a paper which does an excellent job discriminating between these issues can be found here. So, there is no need to say that one is a mental agent unless one is stating that the agent exists purely as a disembodied mind, and this, of course, would be question-begging. Another really important bonus of invoking the Intentional Stance over mind-body dualism is that the Intentional Stance preserves a key, widely accepted mechanism in cognitive science—that is, hyper-sensitive agency detection device (HADD)—in accord with its full anthropomorphic overtones (both mental and physical) as initially laid out by both Guthrie and Barrett. Mind-body dualism simply does not have the conceptual breadth to capture HADD as it has been formulated and defended. Mind-body dualism and HADD just don’t work together.

    Classing belief-desire states as body independent states and biological, psychobiological and perceptual states as body-dependent states is question-begging. To date, the experiments which have proposed this dichotomy have either done so artificially because of other theoretical commitments (e.g., Theory of Mind) or have discerned this by asking participants to engage in reflective tasks. As of now, there is no good reason to assume that the dividing line (intuitive or otherwise) is between body dependence/independence. It seems to be an artifact of the experimental design rather than a reflection of human intuition.

    Another reason that I argue that the intentional stance is a better explanation for the effect that has been seen is because not only does the intentional stance encompass everything that has been labelled mental/body-independent states, but it also includes goal-directed behavior. (Keep in mind that even though the false-belief task has been coopted by Theory of Mind, it was initially designed to provide empirical support for the Intentional Stance, which it did precisely as predicted.) I have argued previously that there are two different but related reasons that some questions from the experiments in question received more continuity responses: (1) some states can only be understood as intentional (e.g., beliefs); and (2) adding a social object to the questions, such as does the subject still love his mother, activates the intentional stance (as was at least partially confirmed in Lane, J. D., Zhu, L., Evans, E. M. & Wellman, H. M. (in press, 2014). Developing concepts of the mind, body, and afterlife: Exploring the roles of narrative context and culture. Journal of Cognition and Culture.) Moreover, I am not, nor have I ever disputed that what have been called “mental states” do and should receive more continuity responses. My objection is limited to using dualism to explain this phenomenon. The reason is that beliefs, desires, emotions, and so forth are also intentional states, and by recognizing them as such, we avoid the added complication of dualism, and we can easily understand why bodily states/activities which suffer from low continuity responses is because the states/activities which, to date, have been inquired about, are not intentional states, save the states of hunger and thirsty which both received more continuity responses because they are intentional states. Calling them psychobiological and placing them on the body side of the dualist dichotomy makes these findings difficult if not impossible to explain. Yet, they are easily, simply and parsimoniously explained by the Intentional Stance.

    I also feel that it is important to mention that according to mind-body dualism, emotions should be classed under bodily states, and perception should be categorized under mental states. In fact, it is these very issues that raised Damasio’s concerns regarding the integration of Cartesian mind-body distinction in contemporary psychology and cognitive science. Thus, if you are going to appropriate emotions to the mental, what you are discussing is not really mind-body dualism any way. Psychologists are misusing dualism as it has been long established in the literature. Literary license or not, you can surely understand why that leads to more confusion than is necessary.

    Additionally, this could mean that there is no issue whatsoever regarding whether or not they are appealing to the earthly body or spirit body. It is simply a question of whether the question triggers the intentional stance in children in the same way that the false-belief task does. This is not to say that there might not be an issue between the two bodies, but if there is, it would more likely be due to reflective thought rather than intuition. Again, if I am imagining my wife flapping her arms to get to work even though she is actually riding the elevator to her floor, does this mean I am attributing two bodies to her? I don’t think we would say so, in this case. So why, when we are discussing the employment of the exact same imaginative processes in the context of afterlife/prelife beliefs do we think they are representing two bodies or disembodied agents?

    The fundamental difference between our positions is that you propose that what you call mental states will always take precedence over bodily states, and this can be interpreted as mind-body dualism. This requires, as you put it, that the participants have some sort of intuitive theory regarding what are bodily dependent/independent. And this, according to you and others, is because participants are surer that our mental lives continue. According to the more parsimonious explanation I am offering, intentional states (whether “mental” or behavioral) will always take precedence over non-intentional states, and no additional mechanism needs to be employed. In my interpretation, the participants are representing intentional agents, not mental agents. There simply is no mind-body divide to be explained because those terms are never put in play by an artificial, clinical and theoretical divide (i.e., mental states versus bodily states). In other words, interpreting these phenomena as it is currently popular to do in the cognitive science of religion as intuitive mind-body dualism is both question-begging and less parsimonious. It requires unnecessary theoretical apparatus.

    But again, these experiments are an exercise in our intuitive imaginings. No one seems to deny that. So why then are we neglecting the rich theoretical and empirical research that has been produced about the psychology of pretense? One of its main lessons is the fundamental necessity of embodiment, both of the imaginer and the imagined, to even begin a discussion of imagination.

    Again, the only conceptual ways I can think to avoid this is either (1) demonstrate that for some reason imaginings about prelife or afterlife are special cases that do not require such embodiment; or (2) claim that the children are either actually remembering their past lives or communicating with the dead.