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The Interrelatedness of Psychological and Physiological Activities

Scientific research and experiments have proved that psychological diseases affect the body, which also suffers from the sickness. On the contrary, the psyche is also affected by the body's chemical reactions. This indicates a reciprocal relation between psychic life and the life of the body.

Although this scientific theory is ascribed to the last few decades, both the points it contains have been explicitly mentioned in Islamic traditions and have a history of fourteen centuries.

The Commander of the Faithful, may peace be upon him, says about the effects of psychological ailments on the body:

It is surprising to what extent envious persons are negligent of the health of their bodies. 26

Grief and sadness have a wasting effect on the body. 27

Whoever submits to his anger and does not control it, advances towards premature death and destruction. 28

The Noble Messenger, may peace and God's benedictions be upon him and his Progeny, states the relation between the body's physiological processes and one's spiritual and moral character and disposition in these words:

Do not deaden your hearts by the means of excessive eating and drinking, for man's spiritual condition is like a farm, which is destroyed when flooded with excessive water. 29

One who gets accustomed to excessive eating and drinking becomes hard-hearted and lacking in compassion. 30

The Commander of the Faithful, may peace be upon him, also says:

The heaviness of food in the stomach has an evil effect on a man's intelligence. 31

The well-known scholar Dr. Carrel says:

Mental activities evidently depend on physiological activities. Organic modifications are observed to correspond to the succession of the states of consciousness. Inversely, psychological phenomena are determined by certain functional states of the organs. The whole consisting of body and consciousness is modifiable by organic as well as by mental factors. Mind and organism commune in man, like form and marble in a statue. One cannot change the form without breaking the marble.

... Everyone knows how human personality is modified by diseases of the liver, the stomach, and the intestines. Obviously, the cells of the organs discharge into the bodily fluids certain substances that react upon our mental and spiritual functions.

... The dependence of mental activities and physiological functions does not agree with the classical conception that places the soul exclusively in the brain. In fact, the entire body appears to be the substratum of mental and spiritual energies. Thought is the offspring of the endocrine glands as well as of the cerebral cortex.

The integrity of the organism is indispensable to the manifestation of consciousness. Man thinks, invents, loves, suffers, admires, and prays with his brain and all his organs. 32

Gardner Murphy, a contemporary psychologist, writes:

It is only the last few decades that it has become quite clear to what extent it is possible for emotions and attitudes, or, in other words, loves and antipathies, to be a reflection of the chemical reactions one's body.

Psycho-physiology clearly shows the bilateral and reciprocal relation between mental and physical life; that is, the functional relationship between the body's chemical reactions and mental states on the one hand, and between mental stimuli and physiological states on the other. Today we can no longer speak of the body and its vital chemical system as the fundamental factor governing psychological life. Rather, we should consider psychological factors as regulating the body's chemical system.

Or perhaps it would be better to say, as pointed out by specialists who have closely examined the problem, that throughout we are confronted with a psycho-physiological unit, in which sometimes the psychological aspect and sometimes the psychological and chemical aspect should receive the primary attention.

The dictum 'know thyself' today does not mean as it did in ancient times the unilateral dominance of a non-material principle over a matter devoid of life and consciousness, nor does it consist in a belief similar to that of the nineteenth-century materialists, who would say that the brain secretes thought in the same manner as the liver secretes bile. Today we look forward to an increasing recognition and acceptance of mutual co-operation between the psychological and chemical approaches to the study of man. 33


26. Nahj al-balaghah, ed. Dr. Subhi al-Salih, p. 508.

27. Al-Amidi, Ghurar, p. 654.

28. Ibid. p. 35.

29. Nahj as-fasahah p. 521.

30. Ibid. p. 573.

31. Al-Amidi, Ghurar, p. 24.

32. Carrel, Alexis, Man the Unknown (Bombay: Wilco Publishing House), pp. 138, 139, 140.

33. Murphy, Gardner, Human Potentialities (?), Raz-e karishmahha pp. 295, 297, 298.

Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"

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