Mind-Body Relationship According to Mulla Sadra

 Latimah-Parvin Peerwani

I. The concept of Soul

Soul (or mind), according to Sadra, is a simple noetic existence which is one of the Forms in the knowledge of God.[1] Now if it is the noetic or intellectual Form in the knowledge of God then why does it join the body? If it is intellectual Form then it is non-material so how can it connect to the corporeal body which is material? This was the dilemma for Mulla Sadra’s contemporary Descartes in the Western philosophy. Descartes’ concept of duality between mind and body subsequently affected the Western philosophic thought as well as the fields of medicine and psychology. This problem was raised in the Avicennan philosophy as well.

Prior to examining these issues from the point of Mulla Sadra’s philosophical psychology, it is deemed necessary to give some introductory remarks about Sadra’s concept of matter which includes the bodily matter. Matter, according to Sadra is something obscure and the lowest level of Divine Existence. Though it has a degree of existence, but it is a weak degree and consists of the potency for the existence of things emanated on it and get united with it as the unification of matter and form in existence, and the unification of genus and differentia in quiddity. Since it has some kind of being (or existence), so it has some kind of knowledge, will and power which are the attributes of the Existence and are concomitant to it wherever it is realized and however it is realized because the root (sinkh) of existence is one. Therefore matter has some kind of awareness according to the measure of its weak existence.[2] According to this concept, the matter or body is not something dead and passive, subject only to the external pushes of the efficient causation but the lowest level of Being having some purpose and desire. This was to some extent Aristotelian view of matter modified by Sadra according to his transcendental philosophy. For Aristotle as well, the mental qualities were inherent in all matter. Aristotle saw teleology, and purposefulness everywhere, as seen by Sadra.

Now Being or Existence, according to Sadra, from its highest level to its lowest, and from the lowest till the highest is one interconnected chain. All [existents and creatures] partake of this being at different level. Matter is the lowest level of being and higher than it is the mineral then the plant, then the animal and finally the man. Externally they are multiple but internally they are united with and connected to each other [in existence]. So the whole cosmos, according to Sadra, is Being with its attributes either intense or weak. Existence or Being has three basic levels, the intellectual, imaginative (or the soul-level) and natural level which are interconnected. All these three levels are reflected in man.

We come to the issue why soul joins the corporeal body being the noetic or intellectual Form. According to Sadra, the soul has an existence (kaynûnat) in the world of Intellect and an existence in the world of nature and sense. Its existence in the intellectual world is pure, and without any veil. But there remain for it many things from goodness which are not possible for it to obtain except its descent to the corporeal body and using the bodily organs. So its disposal in the particular body is not pointless, rather it is for the sublime wisdom which only God and those who are well-grounded in gnosis know.[3]

The soul at the beginning its being emanated on the body is a Form of a thing of corporeal nature and not an intellectual (immaterial) Form. “For how could it be!” says Sadra, “because it is impossible to obtain from (the union of) an intellectual [immaterial] Form and corporeal matter one corporeal species such as man without the intermediary of gradual perfection and transformation for that matter.” He further says: “The existence of the matter proximate to the thing is from the genus of the existence of its Form, because the relation of Form to matter is the relation of differentia obtained for the genus proximate to it.” So soul or mind at the beginning of its temporal creation is corporeal in being and of the level of the body[4] and its ruling-property is of the material nature which needs matter. It is obscure in existence and connects to the bodily matter which too is obscure in existence[5] “except that it has the potentiality to accept the intellectual forms which the body does not have.”[6] Now, as soul

comes into existence at the coming into existence of the body, it ceases to exist at the cessation of the body; in the sense, [the relation of] soul qua soul, the possessor of the bodily nature, [ceases] and its substance transforms into another kind of existence according to its substantial perfection directed towards the goal.[7] 

 Hence, as long as it is soul it has a dependent essential existence, and for this [dependent] essential existence it needs the body. It subsists through it by some of its natural and sensory faculties, and is connected to it through some kind of connection.[8]

Further, this connection of the soul and body, according to Sadra,

is an inherent connection between the two which is neither like the with-ness of two correlations, nor like the with-ness of two effects related to one cause in the existence where between the two [correlations or two effects] there is no attachment and connection. Rather, the inherent with-ness [of the soul and body] is somewhat like the matter and form, where there is no inseparability between the two...Each one needs the other in some way which does not entail any vicious circle [in argument]. The body needs the soul for its actualization, not for its particular [aspect] but for its absolute aspect. The soul needs the body not for its aspect of the absolute, intelligible reality, but for the existence of its individual entity and the creation of its soul-hood ipseity.[9] Now this soul-hood of the human soul which depends on the body is one of its (lower) modalities, and the preparedness of the body [to receive it] is the pre-condition for the existence of this lower modality of being and the engendered nature, which is the aspect of its indigence, need, contingency and deficiency and not the aspect of its necessity, independence and completion.[10]

Thus, human soul does not possess a complete individuality and separate (or immaterial) in essence [at first] and then the attachment to the body occurs to it because, from Sadra’s point of view, something immaterial and material cannot become attached to each other.[11]  

 “So, at the beginning of its temporal existence when it is emanated on the matter of the body, it is not an intellectual (immaterial) Form, but is like the sensible, imaginative Form”[12] and that is called soul, according to Sadra. “And as long as it is soul, it has relational existence. If it becomes perfect in its being it becomes an immaterial intellect, then the mode of existence changes for it,”[13] and then it is no more connected to the physical body. “Thus, human soul is corporeal in existence and disposal,” says Sadra “but spiritual in subsistence and intellection. Its disposal in the corporeal body is corporeal, and its intellection of its essence and the essence of its Maker is spiritual.”[14]


2. The concept of body and the interaction between mind and body


It has already been stated briefly that primal matter, according to Sadra, is the lowest level of Existence. It is mere potentiality but becomes actualized when Form, which is the soul, is emanated on it. In the case of human the bodily matter, accordi  ng to Sadra’s philosophical psychology, is the lower level of existence and the soul which is its Form is higher than it in existence. When the human soul emanates on the body then the matter of the body actualizes as human body. He calls the human body “corporeal Man” (al-insan al-jismani) or natural Man” (al-insan al-tabi‘i), the human soul “psychic Man” (al-insan al-nafsani) and human intellect “the intellectual or noetic Man” (al-insan al-‘aqli) accepting what the author of Uthulujiya,[15] who for Sadra was Aristotle, maintained. All three “Men” are connected to each other and each one has a set of perceptive organs which are not different from each other except in intensity and collectivity. As he states:

(9:63) These senses and faculties of perception and motion exist in the matter of the body as different existences because matter is the subject for the contrariness and division, and the substratum for the contradiction and difference. So it is not possible that the location of sight would be the location of hearing, nor the location of concupiscence would be the location of irascible, nor the instrument of striking would be the instrument of walking. Likewise by one part of man he may have tactical, sensory pain such as disharmony, and by another part he may have tactical comfort such as harmony. Further, we find that all these faculties exist in the station of imagination. The world of animal soul by distinct multiple existences is united in location.Rather, it has no [spatial] location [at all]… It has one sensus communis which hears, sees, smells, tastes, touches, a touch which is particular, a sight which is particular, a particular smell, taste and touch without [these faculties] being divided and separated in their location like the external senses. Likewise, it becomes passionate, angry, gets pain, becomes happy without any [of these powers] being disconnected and separated from being in harmony.[16]

In the external world of sense, he states, all of them are located at different places of the body, but in the inner world of sense they all are not in multiple places but all are in sensus communis.

Further, he says,

 we find that all of them exist in the station of intellect in a way being sanctified from being adulterated with multiplicity and differentiation; they transcend from being separated, divided and having bodily location or particular images. Despite that they are multiple in meaning and reality, and nothing is eliminated from them. The spiritual intellectual man and all his intellective parts exist in man as one in essence, multiple in meaning and reality. So it has intellectual face, intellectual eye, intellectual ear, and the intellectual limbs. All of them are in one [spiritual] place, there is no difference in [the place], as maintained by Aristotle in

Uthulujiya.[17]As for the relation of these three “Men” and their faculties, Sadra maintains, the faculties which subsist in the body and its organs which make up the natural or corporeal Man are the shadows and similitude of the soul and its faculties, whereas the human soul and its psychic faculties and organs are the shadows and similitude of the intellectual (or noetic) Man. “So this natural body, its organs and qualities are the shadows of the shadows, and the similitude of the similitude of those that comprise the intellectual Man.[18] Accepting what the author of Uthulujiya said, he states that in the corporeal Man there is the psychic Man and the intellectual Man. The corporeal Man “is connected to them, nay he is their icon (sanam). So he does some acts of psychic Man and some acts of intellectual Man.[19]

From the above view it is derived that, according to Sadra, the human body is in the soul and the soul is in the intellect. I mean, the human existence is comprehensive and has three basic levels, the corporeal, the psychic and intellectual. At the corporeal level, the human soul is corporeal and has corporeal body and corporeal organs, at the psychic level the human soul is psychic and has psychic body with psychic organs. Sadra calls the psychic body ‘imaginal body’, and at the noetic level, the human soul has noetic or intellectual body with intellectual senses. That human soul changes to different levels within itself from the sensory to imaginative and to intellectual. This issue is dealt at length by Sadra because the Muslim Peripatetic philosophers, including Avicenna, maintained that soul at the inception of its attachment to body is immaterial substance and does not change to different levels. As Sadra states:

What necessitates those thinkers who deny that the soul can change to different levels [within itself], can transfer from the sensory affairs to the affairs of imagination and further to those of intellect, is that every soul from the inception of its attachment to the body and at its temporal creation till the highest level of its separation [from the matter] is one thing in being intellect and intelligible, one substance which occurs under the specific human quiddity (mahiyah nu’iyah insaniyah).[20] 

Now, according to Sadra following Avicennan philosophy, since the substance of the soul is from root (sinkh) of the celestial world and the world of pure intellectual luminescence so it does not dispose in the gross elemental organs of the body except through the intermediary relating both sides. This intermediary is a subtle luminous body called the “pneuma” (ruh) which penetrates the organs through the nerves of the brain.[21] When any psychic quality occurs in the soul, its effect transcends from it to the pneuma, and through it descends in the body. Whenever the bodily state occurs to the body its effect rises from it to the soul through the pneuma. So the soul and body are parallel to each other and imitate each other due to the connection of cause and caused between the two in some way. Just as the substance of each one imitates the substance of the other, its quality the quality of the other, its passivity the passivity of the other, its transformation the transformation of the other, so is the case with the pneuma which is a barrier between the two. If the psychic quality such as pleasure is created in [the soul] be it intellectual or imaginative, either intellectual perfecting form or imaginative form, then due to it the expansion of the balanced pneuma is created in the brain, and through its mediation the excitation of the body, the manifestation of the clear blood, and the flushing of the face.

If the fear or pain is created in the soul, the pneuma constricts towards the interior, and through it the constriction in the body takes place [which is visible through] the paleness of face. So is the case with the rest of the psychic qualities and their occurrences in the body[22] and vice-versa, the abundance of pneuma results in cheerfulness and vivaciousness. Its decrease results in epilepsy, stroke, sadness, sorrow, and melancholia.[23] Thus this is one aspect of the soul-body relation.

3.  The effect of mental representation and imagination on one’s body

The faculty of imagination, according to Sadra, is a power of the soul that brings together sensory things, which have matter, shapes and forms, and intellectual matters which have no shape or form. In other words, it is cognitive imagination, or intelligence with shapes, forms and extension but it is immaterial. Mulla Sadra defines it as

 an inner power of the soul which is other than the intelligence; it is other than the external senses; it has other world which is neither the pure world of intelligence, nor the pure material world of nature and motion (pertaining to the physical body). The place of its disposal is the whole body, its domain is the first part of the last cavity (of the brain), and its instrument is the pneuma of the brain.[24]

In other words, imagination is a level of being and consciousness of the soul that is situated between spirit or intelligence and body. It perceives ideas in sensory forms. This level of the soul has five inner senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. This psychic faculty of imagination, according to Sadra, is immaterial.[25] As stated above, Sadra calls this level of soul the ‘psychic Man’.

God has created the human soul such that it has power to create the forms of things.

He has created the human soul an image for His Essence, Attributes and Acts, because He is far transcendent to have an equal but not from having an image. So He created the soul as His image with respect to essence, attributes and acts… He made it possess of power, knowledge, volition, life, hearing and sight and made for it a kingdom similar to that of its Creator, so that it is able to create and choose whatever it wills… However, though it is from the celestial kingdom, the world of power and the mine of grandeur and strength it is weak in being.[26]

But at the strengthening of imagination the human soul can affect its body by the mental representations (tasawwurat). As he states: A man with his powerful imagination of something detestable can bring about the change in his bodily temperament; create perspiration, heat, the secretion of semen at the thought of sexual object, or coldness at the thought of cold. So the imaginative soul of the person produces effects without the physical instrument.[27] Some other examples: He states,

When we desire to write and are determined, we do that when there is the absence of any obstacle. Its origin is the desire which is the mental representation [of writing]. If we mentally represent something pleasurable, joyful and we desire to obtain it the face blushes and the organs of the body are excited. If we mentally represent something fearful and surmise its occurrence, the color of our face pales, the body becomes agitated though the desired thing and fearful thing are do not concretely exist. Also, we observe that a man is steady in crossing over a log of wood [on the ground] which he comes across on the way. If it is placed as a suspension bridge underneath of which is a chasm, he has hardly any courage to walk over it except with great caution, because he imagines in himself a form of fall. [If his] imagination is powerful then his power of motion follows that imagination according to his innate disposition which obeys and follows the mental representations. Likewise are the mental representations of sex in dreams which result in the secretion of semen.

Further, if a sick person strengthens his imagination for health, he could become healthy; if a healthy person strengthens his imagination for sickness, he becomes sick.

 Sadra gives an incident, probably from the Canon of Avicenna, that,

 A certain king was severely paralyzed. The physician [who came to treat him] found out [through his diagnoses] that the physical treatment would not cure him. He requested the [king to be] alone with him. When he was alone, he confronted him by reviling him and abusing him in derogatory language so much so the king was very much agitated [and angered]. As a result the innate heat in him was kindled and became strong to expel the matter [blocking his blood-vessels creating paralyses]. So the cause of the cure was the mental representations [imagined by the king by his faculty of imagination].[28]

All these examples show the effect of mental representations on one’s own physiology, the correlation of positive and negative mental representation and intent with physiological effects.  

4. The effect of mental representation and imagination outside one’s body

At the perfection of its existential level the human soul, according to Sadra, can affect the level which is lower than it in the intensity of existence [through mental intent]. It can affect the matter by changing its form and giving it a new form; it can change a stormy weather into a blissful weather; it can bring about rains and thunderstorms; make the animals subjugate to it. His prayer is heard in this world (mulk) and in the celestial world due to his strong determination whereby he can heal the sick and quench the thirst of the thirsty in the drought-ridden area by bringing down rain or the creation of well-springs and lift the [heavy] bodies which other souls are not able to do. [All] this is possible, according to Sadra, because it has been affirmed that the bodies follow the souls and are affected by them.[29] If the human temperament becomes affected by the mental representations and imaginations, be they common imaginations or the imaginations intensively affective at the beginning of primordial nature of the soul, or have become [intense] gradually through habit and disciplines, then it is not surprising, says Sadra, that some souls have the divine power like the Soul of the world to which the elements obey like the obedience of its body. Hence, whenever the soul increases in separation [from the matter] and resembles the higher Principles, its power and effecting increases in whatever is below it [in the level of existence]. This is so in the case of the prophets, the friends of God [or saints], and it has been proved in metaphysics that matter is obedient to the existentially powerful souls and is affected by them.[30] Now such phenomena in modern times are considered to be part of parapsychology, but why and how they are caused? The parapsychologists do not have any clear answer.

Also, a powerful wicked soul’s effect can transcend another human body through its imagination and make that soul passive to it. It could corrupt it by planting the thought of killing someone or some animals which that person does due that effect. He calls that “evil eye”.[31] In modern psychology it could be called hypnotic-suggestion although the technique for the hypnotic suggestion is different.

The mental representation of such a human soul can also transcend to animals. For instance, says Sadra, “the beauty of a camel pleases an evil jealous person and astonishes him. So he mentally represents the fall of the camel. The body of the camel becomes passive by the [effect] of his imagination and falls immediately [on the ground].”[32] 



A viewpoint that has become more commonly accepted recently, both in abnormal psychology and in medicine is the psychosomatic viewpoint. It is also called the holistic approach to the mind-body problem and arose from the questions concerning the etiology of disease. Some diseases and mental disorders are clearly organic, and can be explained in physiological terms. Others are mental and behavioral disorders for which it is difficult to find a clearly defined organic cause; these are traced to psychological causes such as stress, anxiety, feelings of hostility and mental conflict. They show the intimate relationship between psyche and soma and form the basis for the psychosomatic or holistic viewpoint.

The holistic approach in medicine maintains that every illness, organic or mental, is an illness of the whole organism. Therefore the organism should not be considered as two separate entities, but as one unified, psycho-biological whole. This psycho-somatic viewpoint is to some extent in line with Mulla Sadra’s concept of mind-body relation.

In 1998, forty scientists from universities and research laboratories around the United States gathered at Swedenborg Chapel at Harvard University for a three-day conference jointly sponsored by the Institute of Noetic Sciences and the Harvard School of Medicine. Their focus: to examine and evaluate data on a remarkable phenomenon baffling to modern medical science. Preliminary data presented to this conference suggested that we are on the verge of an explosion of evidence to support the efficacy of distant healing through prayer or mental intent.[33] The issue for the medical scientist is: Is it possible in principle for individuals to influence by mental representations or prayer at a distance, the physiological function of a living organism? Can such an effect influence animals? Scores of controlled studies have demonstrated the correlation of positive or negative mental representations, individual thoughts, feelings and emotions with physiological effects. But how that happens? Are there certain biological pathways that are specifically affected by prayers, mental representations, and imagery? These issues have not been answered because still there is the shadow of Descartes’ philosophy of dichotomy between mind and body looms over these fields of knowledge. In one of the articles presented to the Harvard’s Mind/Body Institute by Lezotte, the author states:

 We must seek to understand the interconnection between mind and body and resist the temptation to reduce everything to observable measurable “science” as we see it was the very mistake made by our Enlightenment predecessors that caused dissociation of mind and body in the first place.[34]

In Sadra’s philosophy of mind-body relation one finds that the above issues are answered on the basis of his existential philosophy in which both matter and mind hold a degree of existence. There is nothing dead in the universe. The higher in existential intensity affects the lower in existential intensity. The whole cosmos is connected, interactive and alive due to existence. So he has brought together medicine, philosophy, physics and spiritual science in his thought and created a new picture of a highly connected and interactive universe. This is my preliminary research on the issue of mind-body relation from Sadra’s point of view. I hope the future research will shade more light on it.



[1]. Sadr al-Din al-Shiràzi (Mullà Sadrà), al-Asfàr = al-Hikmat al-muta‘àliyah fi al-asfàr al-arba‘a, Beirut: Dàr Ihyà al-Turàth al-Arabi, 1981, vol.8, p. 375. (3)

[2]. Ibid., vol. 2, p. 239.

[3]. Ibid., vol. 8, pp. 353-354 and Mullà iadrà’s glosses on the margins of Sharh hikmat al-ishràq by Qutb al-Din al-Shiràzi, lithograph edition (1313 AH), p. 445.

[4]. al-Asfàr, vol. 2, p. 331.

[5]. Ibid., vol. 9, p. 71.

[6]. Ibid., vol. 2, p. 331.

[7]. Ibid., vol. 8, p. 375.

[8]. Ibid., vol. 8, pp. 376-377.

[9]. Ibid., vol. 8, p. 382.

[10]. Ibid., vol. 8, p. 347.

[11]. Ibid., vol. 8, pp. 377-378.

[12]. Ibid., vol. 2, p. 330.

[13]. Ibid., vol. 8, p. 373.

[14]. Ibid., vol. 8, p. 347.

[15]. Uthûlûjiyà or Theology of Aristotle which has been identified to be the work of Plotinus has been an influential work in the Islamic Thought known to Muslim philosophers, theologians and Sufis. Mullà Sadrà had studied it thoroughly and he quotes from it in many of his works. He even attributes many of his own teachings, such as trans-substantial motion (al-harakat al-jawhariyah) to the author of Uthûlûjiyà. For a comprehensive account of this work, cf. The introduction by S. H. Nasr to Qàdi Sa‘id al-Qummi’s Ta‘liqàt bar Uthûlûjiyà , Tehran, 1976.

[16]. Ibid., vol. 9, p. 63.

[17]. Ibid., vol. 9, p. 69.

[18]. Ibid., vol. 9, p. 70.

[19]. Ibid. These passages from Uthûlûjiyà quoted by Sadrà appear in Abd al-Rahmàn al-Badawi’s Aflutin ‘ind al-‘Arab, Kuwait, 1977, third edition, p. 146.

[20]. Ibid., al-Asfàr, vol. 8, p. 344.

[21]. Ibid., vol. 9, pp. 74-75.

[22]. Ibid., vol. 4, p. 157.

[23]. Ibid., vol. 9, p. 76.

[24]. Cf. our article, “Mullà Sadrà on Imaginative Perception and Imaginal World”, in Transcendent Philosophy, vol. 1: 2, pp. 81-96.

[25]. Ibid.

[26]. Ibid., vol. 1, pp. 265-266.

[27]. Ibid., vol. 2, p. 183.

[28]. Ibid., vol. 2, p. 811.

[29]. Mullà Sadrà, Mabd’ wa al-Ma‘àd, edited by J. Ashtiyàni, introduction by S. H. Nasr, Tehran: Anjuman-i Shàhinshàhi-ye falsafe-ye Iran, 1976, pp. 482-483.

[30]. al-Asfàr, vol. 1, p. 275.

[31]. Mullà Sadrà, al-Shawàhid al-rubûbiyah, ed. S. J. Ashtiyàni, Mashhad, 1346 H.S., p. 344.

[32]. Ibid.

[33]. Targ, Elizabeth, “Distant Healing”, Noetic Sciences Review, no. 49 ,1999, p. 24.

[34]. “Healing Partnership”, Harvard’s Mind/Body Institute’s Review.


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