Updated: Dec 27, 2018
Mind-body dualism (the idea that the soul or 'consciousness' is separable from the body) has been an incredibly forceful idea in human history. It is forceful because it lets us hold on to the possibility of immortality: that we might 'live on' in some way even if our body dies.
In Nguni languages, rather than there being a dualism, there are three elements to a person:
umzimba – the physical body, which notably has the same prefix as plants and often rivers.
umoya - Your life force.
isithunzi - Your reputation/memory which lives on even when the life force (umoya) has left the body.
But the ontological separation of mind and body also poses a number of philosophical problems: how does immaterial stuff (consciousness) logically act upon material stuff (the body)? In other words, what is the relationship between our thoughts and our physical actions and experiences?
Contemporary health practitioners are increasingly exploring the linkages between mental and physical health. Long-term chronic illnesses, like heart disease and diabetes for example, are more common among people with depression, but also make one more vulnerable to becoming depressed. This suggests that our mind and body are intimately tied.