Introduction to the MIND/BODY problem part 2
The central problem of consciousness and mind again, is how it relates to scientific processes in the brain. The big challenge is to explain how the internal, subjective, and phenomenological sensation and experience of consciousness fits into the objective and external world of matter because no amount of scientific description will convey a subjective grasp of conscious experience.
At this point, we face three options to choose from when it comes down to the mind/body complication.
You can choose to be a materialist, a dualist, or a mysterian.
The materialist view is that the brain is the same as the mind. A materialist option is to close the gap between the mind and the brain. The mind isn’t anything immaterial or “soulful”, it doesn’t hover above our bodies and our brains, and it doesn’t continue to exist after we die. The divergence between the subjective and the objective in a materialist’s view is non-existence. Objectivity and subjectivity becomes united behind the phenomenological appearances. In other words, the materialists believe that there is nothing to the mind than the brain. The mind a physical organ (materialists are also called physicalists), a lump of flesh that is connected to the body; a very complicated and intricate organ, but an organ nonetheless.
What gives rise to consciousness – feelings of being “I”ness, dreams, desires, emotions, hopes, and memories are merely the result of neurons firing in patterns, going through their physical processes. Neuron phenomenon isn’t so fantastical as it seems, it’s just what the brain does. Neuron processes such as brain cells firing do not CAUSE or GIVE RISE to conscious experiences, they simply ARE conscious experiences. A feeling of happiness, for example, is nothing but particular clusters of neurons firing in particular patterns in your cranium. The feeling of happiness can simply be REDUCED to the physical processes of the brain, and that they are nothing but the firing of neurons. Once you know everything about my brain, how the neurons are fired and how the fibers are connected, then you should know everything there is to know about what’s on my mind, what my wishes and desires are, and what I am thinking of. The materialist assess that introspection and the subjectivity of pain, the way pain feels to YOU, is simply a source of error, self deception, and an illusion. Subjectivity can never be used to reveal the true nature of thoughts and consciousness. It can only be revealed and assessed by third person reductionism – the examination of what physically goes on inside a brain. In short, materialism ends up getting rid of consciousness, denying the existence of subjective feelings and phenomenological perspectives.
One reply to the materialists is this. Suppose that I am locked in, born and raised in a room deprived of colors. I never have any color experiences apart from black and white. Suppose that I am a gifted physicist and that I learn everything about the brain from textbooks and videos that lives in this confined space. There is nothing about the brain that I don’t know. I know what kind of neural firing gives rise to, and correlates to what kind of conscious states. But one day I am freed from my room and I go out into the world and see a blue bird. I will be magnificently impressed by the sensation that I get from seeing blue because I’ve now experience something new; something that I’ve never experienced before. I knew, from my experience as a physicist, how neural patterns that correlate to the color blue are fired and emerge. But despite all that knowledge about the brain, I still had no idea what the SENSATION of red feels like and what red LOOKS like. Therefore, I concluded, I did not know everything about the mind at all, basing my knowledge upon the brain. Therefore, the mind isn’t everything that the brain does. The mind isn’t the brain after all, because you can poke around my brain all day long, put me under the CAT Scan machine, know everything about how it secretes chemicals and what the chemicals are made out of, but you still can’t “see” what I am thinking and feeling or experience what it is like to be me. Therefore, materialism is false.
I wrote a little poem to illustrate this point:
“I know everything about your brain
its anatomy and chemical ingredients
I know where every neuron is located,
how it’s fired and connected.
I know every mode of its spatial aggregation
I even know the position of every atom
and its subatomic structure
But to know what’s on your mind
Is like beating up a dead shark
with another dead shark”.
Materialists try to bridge the gap between objectivity and subjectivity, between mind and matter, but the gap remains. The reason is that introspection does not reveal the mind to the brain, and that brains do not reveal the mind. It is not that subjective experiences and the act of introspection doesn’t tell us anything about the mental states, it is just that mental states are not reducible to neural states.
Materialism is the “scientific” view of the mind. If you talk to a lot of neurologists or doctors, they will most likely to be materialists. Materialism however, is not the common sense view. Most non-scientific folks, the everyday Joe that you talk to at church or in the ghetto, are probably DUALISTS.
According to dualists, the mind is distinct from the brain, and that there is no correlation or relationship between the two. Whatever the brain does has nothing to do with how the mind thinks. The subjective and phenomenological experiences of the mind are immaterial, and that they are genuinely distinct and separated from the physical activities that go on inside your cranium.
The philosopher René Descartes is famous for advocating this point of view about the mind/body problem. Descartes and the dualists assert that our minds are something unique and distinctive that immaterialistically hover above our brains and bodies. I have a feeling of what it is like to be me, and you have a feeling of what it is like to be you, how can this subjective feeling be reduced to axons, dendrites, and the secretion of chemicals in the brain? The reason that we cannot explain consciousness and mental states from looking at the brain is precisely because the mind cannot be REDUCED to the brain, and that mind states are essentially not dependant upon the brain.
Mind and consciousness therefore, according to dualists, offer an extra feature of reality, and that there are two separate bouts of interacting realms, the mental and the physical. The reason why the mind cannot be explained by the brain is the same reason why the knowledge of water does not explain wood: because they are two different substances – one liquid, and one solid. Anyone who believe in the “soul”, are automatically a dualists. The word “soul” is just another word for an immaterial “mind”. People who believe in the soul believe that, since it is a separate substance from the body, it will continue to exist after their death. This is one reason why dualistic view is popular among the masses – it gives people hope. The hope that there is more to us than our physical bodies, and that somehow we can survive our physical death because our “minds”, or “souls”, or however you want to call this immaterial substance are disembodied from us, and will not perish along with our temporal bodies.
The problem with dualism is that the mind gets cut off too radically from the brain. It assumes that the mind can go on and conduct its business without the machinery of the brain to assist it. And if the world contains subjective experiences and sensations, then how is it that they are able to interact with the normal physical entities and substances that fill up space and time? What kind of unknown principles govern the emergence of these subjective elements? In other words, how does the immaterial substance of the mind interact and govern our physical bodies and actions that are extended in space and time, given the fact that the two substances are distinct, uniquely, and unlinked to each other? If the mind is distinct from the brain, then isn’t it OK for you to subtract the mind from the brain and the brain still stays the same, without your consciousness? This results in a zombie; a being just like me physically, but with no mental life whatsoever. This zombie talks and act like me, even my best friend can’t tell the difference between the two. All we have done to create this zombie, according to the dualists, is subtract the immaterial “soul” from the brain while leaving the rest of the brain intact. What’s wrong with a zombie, you might say. Well, the possibilities of zombies imply that the mind doesn’t matter, and that it does not cause behavior. My zombie brother behaves and acts just like me, but has no mind of its own. If this is true, then how can it be that my MIND affects my behavior like the dualists think it does? Dualism, therefore, makes my mind into a lazy halo idling above my body, spectating over my behavior, yet has nothing to do with them.
The only solution to the dualism problem is to reduce the gap between the mind and the brain, so that it is not possible to cut off the mind from the body and leave the brain as it was. Therefore, the relationship between the mind and the body must be stronger and more correlated than a dualist might allow them to be. The dualistic view is rejected by science already. There is obviously a strong link between the brain and the mind. Brain damaged patients are always deficient in the mind. Damages to any part of the brain automatically obliterate mental faculties that correspond to that particular brain region, and that mental changes are always accompanied by brain changes. Minds must be connected to the brain, and have deep roots in them, and that the brain is what gives rise to the mind.
Now let’s turn to MYSTERIAN.
You can believe in the connection between the mind and the body without being confined to a materialistic point of view. The mind might be what the brain does, but that doesn’t mean that it is EVERYTHING that the brain does. Might not there be elements in the mind that does not completely correspond to the physical activities of the brain? Might not there be an UNKNOWN property of the brain that gives rise to consciousness and mind? If you take the stance in this position, that there are elements about the brain that we do not have access to, elements in which the mind corresponds to and partake in, then you are a mysterian.
Mysterians view that consciousness is a complete mystery, and that the understanding of phenomenological consciousness is beyond the scope of human intelligence. Most mysterians do not try to reduce consciousness completely to brain states and secretion of chemicals, nor do they conceive that consciousness and mind is a substance that is completely cut off from the brain. They believe that the materialists are right when they say that it is SOME property of the brain that generates consciousness, but they are wrong in the KIND of brain property they select. Consciousness cannot be explained solely based on electrochemical reactions and secretion of chemicals. There must be more to the brain than what our current understanding of the brain allows us to grasp. Mysterians also believe that dualists got it right when they doubt that the brain can completely explain the mind, but they are wrong to assess that no brain properties are responsible for the existence of consciousness. Mysterians believe that consciousness is somehow rooted in some parts of the brain, but not the whole brain itself.
The “unknowability” of this unique brain property that generates consciousness remains unknown because our brains are simply not equipped with the tools to understand this problem. We need a paradigm shift in the field of neuroscience and cognitive psychology to be able to solve this deep mystery; a qualitative leap that our brains are not evolved to take. Like I said before, our brains have evolved through natural selection to solve problems in regard to survival and reproduction, but it is not a pipeline to truth. You can try to give a calculus lecture to a cat, but the cat can never understand anything that you are trying to teach it because its brain just does not have enough power to do so. We are that poor cat when it comes to understanding the mystery of mind and matter because we simply do not have the intellectual edge to comprehend this matter.
I think this is why, despite the advancement in physics, chemistry, and other branches of science, philosophy continues to stall and philosophers continue to talk in circles. One of the deepest problems in philosophy lay in the philosophy of the mind, and the same questions and arguments continue to surface years after years, decades after decades. Maybe such philosophical investigations are hard not because they are divine, irreducible or meaningless, but that the mind of human beings simply lack the cognitive faculties so solve them. We are organisms with organs that function to serve and increase our chances of survival, to solve problems in regard to life and death, not angels or gods with answers regarding morality, free will, and sentience. There are a lot of tasks that we are not equipped to perform. We cannot see ultraviolet lights, yet they are all around us. We cannot hold more than 7 items in our short-term memory. We cannot bend objects with our mind or jump over skyscrapers. What makes us so sure that we can solve major philosophical problems such as free will and how the mind emerges from the brain? The Greeks had been asking the same philosophical questions thousands of years ago, and hundreds ad thousands of brilliant minds and thinkers have tackled the same problems ever since. But despite the advancement of sciences and technology and a lot of efforts, we’ve made virtually no improvements in regards to the major problems of philosophy.
A martian, or other organisms from other planets or universes who might be far more intelligent than us, might have the intellectual powers to solve the mind/matter problem, the way humans study ants and are equipped to understand how an ant colony functions. Just as the way that we will never go out of our way to pick up an ant and teach it about how its own colony works, a martian might never share with us what they know about problems such as free will and human consciousness. Even if they could and are willing to explain the solutions they easily grasp with us, we would not understand the explanations.