For centuries, philosophers, scientists and researchers have sought to explain the complexities of the human mind, that intricate set of faculties that allows us to perceive our environment, form memories, think, feel and act with free will. Through their efforts, today we understand that much of what we have traditionally thought of as “Mind” is actually the result of chemical and electrical activity that is constantly taking place in different portions of our brains. Nevertheless, there is still much about human thought, feelings and consciousness that is poorly understood. For example, to this day no one really comprehends how our bodies interact with our emotions and to what extent that interaction affects our physical health.
Historians credit 15th century philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes with the first theory of an interaction between the mind and the body. Although Descartes believed that the they were separate, he proposed a hypothetical model in which the mind could communicate with the body and the body with the mind through a small piece of tissue located near the base of the brain called the pineal gland. This hypothesis was later disproved, but his fundamental belief — that the mind and body were separate but interrelated entities — remained a tenet of modern medicine for centuries to come. In fact, it has been only a little more than a decade since scientists in the field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) began to discredit those beliefs.
Despite Descartes early experimentation, it was not until the 19th century that famed psychiatrist Sigmund Freud first proposed a theory that explained the complexities of human behavior. A medical doctor with an interest in neurology, Freud explained human psychology in terms of unconscious, or repressed, urges and innate biological drives. Although the modern scientific community later dismissed many of his beliefs, his teachings form the basis of modern psychiatric theory and shape much of our understanding of human behavior and consciousness to this day.