The Pineal Gland

Bridging the Gap Between Matter and Soul in Descartes’ Philosophy

The sixth Chakra is the energy emanated from the Pineal gland…but the Pineal gland is pure matter…but what is matter if not molecular vibration driven by an unknown force…according to Descartes, the body and the immaterial soul, the principle of thought and will, are separate substances. To explain how there is an interaction between them and how the soul, through the will, can guide the body, he resorts to a gland, which he calls gland H in his treatise on Man: this is the pineal gland, known in Greek as konàrion and in Latin as conarium, or the “pineal gland,” as commonly translated by Descartes due to its resemblance to a pinecone. In some letters from 1640, Descartes defines it as “the seat of the soul and the place where all our thoughts occur.” In his work, Descartes describes it as connected to the brain by small arteries in humans, through which animal spirits enter, and then exit to direct the movement of muscles and other limbs through the nerves. However, in his treatise “The Passions of the Soul,” he no longer depicts it as connected to the brain by arteries; instead, it floats in the cerebral substance and reacts upon contact with the animal spirits (which move it), reflecting them towards the nerves. It is through the agitation of this gland that the movements of the body encounter the soul, generating those particular perceptions (which Descartes also calls feelings or emotions) that are the passions. The following passage gathers the fundamental steps of Descartes’ reasoning: after defining what the passions of the soul are, he explains the role of the pineal gland, how the passions are excited in the soul, their effect, and the power of the will to select the active responses of the subject to the passions.

R. Descartes, “The Passions of the Soul,” arts. XXVII-XXIX; XXXIX-XXXII; XXIV-XXXVI; XL-XLI, in “Philosophical Works,” edited by E. Lojacono, Turin, Utet, 1994, vol. II, pp. 611-616; 618.

Art. XXVII: The definition of the Passions of the Soul. After considering how the passions of the soul differ from all its other thoughts, it seems possible to define them in general as perceptions or feelings or emotions of the soul, which pertain particularly to it and are caused, sustained, and reinforced by some movement of the spirits.

Art. XXVIII: Explanation of the first part of this definition. They can be called perceptions when we use this word in general to signify all thoughts that are not actions of the soul or volitions. However, it should not be used in this sense only to denote evident knowledge. In fact, experience shows that those who are most agitated by their passions are not the ones who understand them best, and that they belong to the number of perceptions that the close union between the soul and the body renders confused and obscure. They can also be called feelings, as they are received in the soul in the same manner as the objects of external senses and are not known in any other way by it. But they can be even better called emotions of the soul, not only because this name can be attributed to all the changes that occur in it. The passions are particular thoughts caused by movements of the spirits. They are obscure perceptions, feelings received from the outside, emotions that forcefully alter the state of the soul.

Art. XXXI: There is a small gland in the brain where the soul exercises its functions more particularly than in other parts. It is also necessary to know that although the soul is joined to the whole body, there is nevertheless some part in it where it exercises its functions more specifically than in all the others. It is commonly believed that this part is the brain or perhaps the heart; the brain because it is related to the organs of the senses, the heart because it is as if the passions are felt in it. However, upon careful examination, it seems evident to me that the part of the body in which the soul immediately exercises its functions is not the heart at all, nor the entire brain, but only the innermost of its parts, which is a very small gland located in the middle of its substance and suspended above the duct through which the spirits from its anterior cavities communicate with those of the posterior cavities, so that the smallest movements occurring in it greatly contribute to altering the course of these spirits, and conversely, the smallest changes that occur in the course of the spirits greatly contribute to changing the movements of this gland.

Art. XXXII: How it is known that this gland is the principal seat of the soul. The reason that convinces me that the soul can have no other place in the whole body except this gland where it can exercise its functions immediately is that I consider that the other parts of our brain are all double, just as we have two eyes, two hands, two ears, and ultimately, all the organs of our external senses are double. Now, since we have only one simple thought of the same thing at the same time, it must necessarily be that there is some place where the two images that come through the two eyes or the other two impressions that come from a single object through the double organs of the other senses can unite into one before reaching the soul, so that they do not represent two objects instead of one. And it can easily be conceived that these images or other impressions unite in this gland through the spirits that fill the cavities of the brain, but there is no other place in the body where they can be united in this way, except insofar as they have been united in this gland. […]

Art. XXXIV: How the soul and the body act upon each other. Let us conceive, then, that the soul has its principal seat in the small gland in the middle of the brain, from where it radiates throughout the rest of the body through the spirits, the nerves, and even the blood, which, participating in the impressions of the spirits, can carry them through the arteries to all the limbs. They relate to the soul but do not have their cause in it, as volitions do, but in the spirits. The point of connection between the soul and the body is the pineal gland, moved by the spirits. This gland is the only part of the brain that is not double; it is where the images and thoughts must unify. From this seat, the soul acts upon the body through the spirits, nerves, and blood.

De Luise, Farinetti, “Lezioni di storia della filosofia” © Zanichelli editore 2010 UNIT 3 French Philosophy of the Seventeenth Century Scuola Zanichelli