June 23, 2010

Mind as a Function of Brain

Filed under: Our World — boomaga @ 2:09 am

>The mind is nothing but an emergent quality of a sufficiently complex neural network. Consciousness exists as a physical brain-state, its spacial dimensions consisting of electrical activity, chemical interactions, and the tissues that support them.
This is true, but it’s reduction to the point of absurdity. It’s as though you’re saying the entire phenomenon of the global internet and its attendant culture emerged ex nihilo from a system of silicon transistors.     It’s emergent but not SELF-emergent – the mind may be shaped and defined by its container but is not its container as a container does not spontaneously generate its contents.    You’re ignoring any input of other biological systems, sensory stimuli, instinct, chemical and physical alteration, and of course human interaction, language and culture.

>The mind is not some metaphysical force or spiritually transcendent entity…

Well, see, yeah, but, you know, man, that’s like, pfft, now you’re hitting the wall of imprecise terminology – that which we call the mind has more definitions than you’re allowing for, depending on context – philosophy, literature, psychology and cognition… The mind wanders, the mind is eased, one minds himself, one loses one’s mind – these are just idioms but there’s a truth there.

> – it does not exist apart from the material structure of the brain.
Not yet. And we in 2010 can’t say that it never will – we should know better than that.  Sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic, and all…

What does it mean to drive (while you drive) ?

An automobile is a machine of metal and other materials that transports people and goods.    To “drive” is to operate that machine.

Now define what it means for YOU to drive – when you turned 15, getting the learner’s permit, when you turned 16, getting your license, getting / buying your first car, having a car break down on you at the worst time, driving to a party, driving with your gf/bf, driving to the drive-thru for foods, having sex in the car, turning the music up too loud, having all windows open, driving nowhere in particular out of sheer boredom, road trip on vacation, driving to/from your shitty job, driving to that incredible concert, packing up your possessions and moving to another city.

Now, given your experience in your lifetime of “driving”, what does it mean to you to drive, how do you feel about it, and what would your life be without ever having driven or being driven in an automobile ?   The answer is you’re incapable of imagining it because it’s part of your life since before you were born, your culture, and now (for better or worse) the entire planet.

So the mechanical definition of “to drive” doesn’t capture any of that flash of memories and emotions that the idea of driving creates in the subconscious when you speak the word.   Similarly, your mechanical definition of mind reduces it to a biological function no more profound than a pulse or an enzymatic digestive process.   Oh, it’s technically correct, but it wants very badly to imply that “mind” is illusory.       Let’s  say, in this case, a private, singular, personal experience of consciousness which is shared with no one else and which interacts with a universe outside its host via senses.    We agree that it is transitory, ephemeral, emergent, shaped or misshaped by all-too-delicate chemical balances.   Each is a product of circumstances:  genes and mutations, biological heritage, life experience, nutriment,  language, culture, economic class, history, peers, families, and self-motivated action.    It is commonly believed that there is, at the core of our consciousness, a soul, a quintessential self-identifier, which transcends nature or nurture and, it is hoped, biology and mortality.  ( I can’t claim to know of a “soul,” but our humanity is real and worthwhile and worth celebrating. )    And yeah, the brain hosts all that – not the heart or the liver, but that wobbly yellowy stuff inside our noggin, and a mighty delicate jello-salad it is, too.    But the mechanical definition of mind MAKES the brain the mind and the whole of the mind, and it’s just not as simple as that because the brain is unlike anything else in the body – it’s the showcase piece, it’s the raison d’etre.

Here’s a hypothetical:   two brains are each bisected at the corpus callosum, and then the left hemisphere of each brain fused to the right hemisphere of the other brain and vice versa, each replaced, and the patients revived.    Ignoring the biological near impossibilities of the scenario, not to mention the ethical problems and the unimaginable psychological trauma to which each brain may or may not prove resilient, what would the patients’ outlook be ?  Would they have two streams of consciousness, two inner dialogues, two opinions – two minds each ?   Or would each mind heal itself into a new identity ?    The brain can adapt to trauma, physical or chemical damage, and their personality may change, but when that person wakes up they may still have their memories and their body and their self-identifying narrative, and they’ll say, “I still feel the same.”      Until this hypothetical split brain experiment, each ME that’s ever walked the earth has been a one-and-only ME, a lone ME inside a skull  (though hopefully not having succumbed to egoiste solipsism).    Now here, for the first time, is a meeting of minds.   This isn’t an experiment for lab rats or guinea pigs – it must be a person who can be asked “Who do you think you are ?  Who do you feel like ?”

1 Comment »

  1. are you the guy from ytmnd?

    Comment by creem — July 26, 2010 @ 9:36 am

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