Thursday, May 12, 2011

326: The Brain and the Mind - Body problem

In 1994 Antonio R. Damasio, one of the world's leading neurobiologists, published his book "Descartes' Error - Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain". Because I was teaching my computer classes at an Academy of Fine Art, I was completely unaware of this important fact.

All subjects we are discussing here today have emerged in neurobiology, evolutionary psychology and the philosophy of mind during the past 25 years, if we take the important work of Patricia Churchland "Neurophilosophy" (1986) as a milestone.

But Descartes (1596 - 1650) was born more than 400 years ago? Yet, the modern conception of the philosophy of mind begins with his work.

This French philosopher articulated a crucial distinction between two kinds of substances, mental and physical. This was a really convenient solution for a growing problem.

The world had become a world of physical science in his time. No longer was the world explained by referring to the Hand of God or mysterious witchcraft or alchemy.

The world had become a world of mechanically explicable processes, simple chains of cause and effect, a world where the saying became stronger and stronger: "I first want to really see it, before I gonna believe it."

In 2003 Damasio published another book: "Looking for Spinoza - Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain". In Dutch the title became "Het Gelijk van Spinoza" (The Rightness of Spinoza). A reference to Decartes' Error.

Was Descartes in error? In fact extracted the mind from matter by his famous "Cogito, ergo sum." (I think, therefore I exist.) For existing you only have to be aware of your thoughts. You don't need a material body for that…… that "material body" can be just an imagination, a thought itself.

So he came to the conclusion that the physical realm contains all those things made of matter, which occupy space and are governed by the laws of physics and….

that the mental realm contains those things that are essentially mental: hopes, emotions, imaginings, and consciousness.

For this conclusion he had strong arguments: a basic principle from Leibniz, the “indiscernibility of identicals”: If two things are identical—if two things are the same thing—then anything true of one is true of the other.

Descartes argued: I can doubt that I have a body or any part of a body. I can even doubt that I have a brain—maybe that is part of the illusion. I cannot doubt that I have a mind.

There is, therefore, something true of my mind that is true of no part of my body: I cannot doubt that I have it.

It follows by Leibniz’s principle that my mind cannot be my body or any part of my body. My mind cannot be my brain.

And thus was DUALISM born. Physical things, Descartes says, are always extended and occupy space. Mental things do not have physical dimension in the same way.

Spinoza as a youth he first subscribed to Descartes's dualistic belief that body and mind are two separate substances, but later changed his view and asserted that they were not separate, being a single identity.

He contended that everything that exists in Nature (i.e., everything in the Universe) is one Reality (substance) and there is only one set of rules governing the whole of the reality which surrounds us and of which we are part.

That is why Spinoza definitely was not liked by the church. Descartes had his problems with the church, but his dualism saved the soul and gave the physical realm to science.

In 1984 John Searle, a leading philosopher of mind, formulated the problem of Dualism thus:

At the moment, the biggest problem is this: We have a certain commonsense picture of ourselves as human beings which is very hard to square with our overall 'scientific' conception of the physical world.

We think of ourselves as conscious, free, mindful, rational agents in a world that science tells us consists entirely of mindless, meaningless physical particles.

Now, how can we square these two conceptions? How, for example, can it be the case that the world contains nothing but unconscious physical particles, and yet that it also contains consciousness?

How can a mechanical universe contain intentionalistic human beings – that is, human beings that can represent the world to themselves? How, in short, can an essentially meaningless world contain meanings?

Was Descartes showing us a real problem or was he really mistaken and made he us look for centuries in the wrong direction?

The Discussion

[13:22] herman Bergson: We'll discuss that in the next lecture...:-))
[13:23] Zinzi Serevi: ok interesting..:)
[13:23] herman Bergson: If you have any question or remark...the floor is yours
[13:24] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): we seem to be driven to think that like should have a meaning
[13:24] Zinzi Serevi: it has a meaning when we give it and only then
[13:24] herman Bergson: what do you mean aristotle
[13:25] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): when we look for meaning, why would there be meaning?
[13:25] herman Bergson: Yes..but what is meant to say is that when giving a meaning to is a representation in our mind of the intended object
[13:26] herman Bergson: No...we create meaning by reflecting on the world around us...
[13:26] herman Bergson: That is a special about consciousness...
[13:26] herman Bergson: We can represnt the world in our mind
[13:26] herman Bergson: And think about it....
[13:27] herman Bergson: We have the word chair....and we can think about it, even when there is no chair around...
[13:28] herman Bergson: But that is just one of the complex faculties of the mind
[13:28] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): yes its objective representation in our subjective minds
[13:28] herman Bergson: What it is all about today is our weird experience....
[13:28] herman Bergson: that we really have the feeling that the mind , our consciousness is something apart from our body
[13:29] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): of course I feel that is true
[13:29] herman Bergson: And descartes took it one step further....
[13:30] herman Bergson: He even thought that the mental was not material...
[13:30] herman Bergson: Next lecture I'll show you that it got him into serious trouble
[13:31] herman Bergson: serious
[13:31] herman Bergson: Hi Ciska:-)
[13:31] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): thought can not be touched, how could it be material?
[13:31] Ciska Riverstone: hello & sorry :(
[13:31] Ciska Riverstone accepted your inventory offer.
[13:31] herman Bergson: yes Aristotle...that is the odd thing....
[13:32] herman Bergson: how to understand that....
[13:32] herman Bergson: material things are visible...thoughts seem to be invisible for instance
[13:32] herman Bergson: and another thing....
[13:32] herman Bergson: we all can see the objects around us....
[13:32] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): like love we can only touch the objective manifestations of it
[13:32] Siggi Ludwig (ludwig.john): you cannot touch thoughts but you can prove that there is happening something in your brain
[13:32] herman Bergson: but nobody can see my private thoughts
[13:33] herman Bergson: Oh sure Siggi....
[13:33] Zinzi Serevi: thank god..:P
[13:33] herman Bergson: Dont worry...we'll get to that definitely
[13:34] herman Bergson: But the question is ..more or it Descartes or is it Spinoza :-)
[13:34] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): but is the brain only reacting to our minds?
[13:34] herman Bergson: No Aristotle....the brain generates the mind....
[13:34] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): thought must be the creator
[13:35] Siggi Ludwig (ludwig.john): or the brain must be the creator of mind
[13:35] herman Bergson: The brain is just an interesting biological process....
[13:35] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): the brain is just a machine
[13:35] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): brain
[13:36] herman Bergson: that is a metafor Aristotle...
[13:36] herman Bergson: what do you mean by it?
[13:36] herman Bergson: The brain is a biological organism ...not a machine
[13:36] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): yes the fuel is the mind
[13:36] herman Bergson smiles
[13:37] herman Bergson: Well..that will gonna be a debate Aristotle....for the future...
[13:37] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): yes, it is just a feeling I have
[13:37] herman Bergson: for I 'll try to hold the thesis that the brain generates the mind.....or in other words...the mind is a feature of the brain
[13:38] Mick Nerido: I agree the mind spings from the brain
[13:38] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): LOL, I am in opposition to that of course, but have no proof
[13:38] herman Bergson: That is not a problem Aristotle....
[13:39] herman Bergson: But I think your opposing view will be fundamentally put to the test in the coming lectures :-)
[13:39] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): I only seek proof that I am right or wrong
[13:39] herman Bergson: But you knew that I made my basic assumptions clear in the very first lecture of this project :-)
[13:40] herman Bergson: Well...right or wrong….don't know whether that is the right way to approach the issue....
[13:40] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): yes, just traveling with you to the end :)
[13:41] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): if someone offrs proof then I am able to refine my philosophy
[13:41] herman Bergson: We know little ..and philosophically we are constant in debate with reality
[13:41] herman Bergson: I think it is more a matter of plausability....
[13:42] herman Bergson: and from that respect..productivity for scientific research for instance
[13:42] Mick Nerido: Duality is dead, mind and brain are one?
[13:42] herman Bergson: sssttttt Mick.....
[13:42] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): I am merely a pirate collecting treasure
[13:42] Ortwin Sveiss: but when we ourselves are real, how can we debate with something we´re part of?
[13:42] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): who said duality is dead, the one who want it to be dead?
[13:42] herman Bergson: .
[13:43] herman Bergson: mean ..the mind is evaluating the mind?
[13:43] herman Bergson: Ultimate bellybutton staring???
[13:43] Ortwin Sveiss: yes
[13:43] Ciska Riverstone: *G*
[13:43] herman Bergson: Well there is an answer to that question....
[13:44] herman Bergson: A bit complicated..but I'll give it a try.....
[13:45] herman Bergson: We have two things..... the real world around us...that is...the answer to the question what is....we call it the ontology....
[13:45] herman Bergson: Hi Aya :-)
[13:45] Aya Beaumont: hello professor. =)
[13:46] Ortwin Sveiss: aha well with two parties a debate is possible
[13:46] herman Bergson: no no...wait...
[13:47] herman Bergson: the second thing we have is knowledge about what is....
[13:47] herman Bergson: that is called the epistemology....
[13:48] herman Bergson: The problem you refer to can a personal mind have objective knowledge of THE MIND, because he only has its own mind
[13:48] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): the argument within is between our subjective selves and our objective selves
[13:48] herman Bergson: exactly Aristotle....
[13:49] Siggi Ludwig (ludwig.john): I say brain and mind or consciousness is the same thing as e.g. fire and heat or fire and light
[13:49] Ortwin Sveiss: yes, and why should we separate ourselves or the knowlegde within us from ontology by introducing epistemology?
[13:50] Aya Beaumont: I don't know why having an understanding of our own minds would be any more impossible than say, touching one's own hand.
[13:50] herman Bergson: Fisrt Siggi.....there you touch the right button...we'll get to that in next lectures
[13:50] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): before each of those things you meantine Siggi you must place the Sun for either one
[13:50] herman Bergson: Yes Aya.....
[13:50] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): mentioned*
[13:51] herman Bergson: I am not introducing epistemology.....that we can KNOW things is just a fact ...and we call it epistemology in philosophical circles
[13:51] herman Bergson: but the whole issue is about subjective and objective....
[13:52] herman Bergson: can we have objective knowledge of the mind....
[13:52] herman Bergson: that is..knowledge..independent of a particular observer...
[13:52] Aya Beaumont: Whenever we do things, ourself is the one thing we always take into account. The mind, while obviously not able to have DETAILED information on how our minds work, we can learn the principles of it just fine.
[13:52] herman Bergson: Thsi is getting complicated.....
[13:52] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): surely modern science will invent a "mindscope"
[13:52] Ciska Riverstone: of the brain yes- but not of the mind.
[13:53] herman Bergson: There Ciska......!!!! that statement....
[13:53] Aya Beaumont: Yes, of the MIND. =) The mind is a direct expression of our brain.
[13:53] herman Bergson: Again a bookshelf long :-)
[13:53] Ciska Riverstone: not only one
[13:53] Aya Beaumont: There is, quite literally no difference between them.
[13:53] herman Bergson: I guess we better slow down....
[13:54] Ciska Riverstone: ;)
[13:54] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): the brain being organic tissue creates the mind?
[13:54] herman Bergson: Aya you tickle every nerve in me....but I can make them only fire in new lectures ^_^
[13:54] Aya Beaumont giggles.
[13:55] Aya Beaumont: Thank you, professor.
[13:55] herman Bergson: Yes least that I can say
[13:55] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): that is just a magical as the mind creating the brain
[13:55] Ciska Riverstone: yes
[13:55] Aya Beaumont: The brain is ALL that we are, and ALL that we are is the brain.
[13:55] herman Bergson: So let's summarize...
[13:55] herman Bergson: At least ortwin has a good point....
[13:56] herman Bergson: how can a subjective mind have knowledge of THE MIND....
[13:56] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): perhaps that is my problem, I have relegated the brain to be just a worker
[13:56] Aya Beaumont: And it's pointless to talk about a mind unless you equate it to the functioning of the brain. =)
[13:56] herman Bergson: I know...Aya...but it is the way you formulate your view which is a whole debate....
[13:57] Aya Beaumont: Heh. Okay.
[13:57] herman Bergson: which is a second issue we'll address in further lectures
[13:57] herman Bergson: You were really good....!
[13:58] herman Bergson: Well you put a few things on my desk to come up about with good explanations :-)
[13:58] herman Bergson: But don't worry..:-)
[13:59] Aya Beaumont: I look forward to those lectures then. =)
[13:59] herman Bergson: There are real good answers to our questions..
[13:59] Ciska Riverstone: did you read Alva Noe Herman?
[13:59] herman Bergson: No..not familiar with the name
[13:59] Ciska Riverstone:
[14:00] Ciska Riverstone: ;)
[14:00] herman Bergson: OK!!!
[14:00] herman Bergson: I love such input :-)
[14:01] herman Bergson: You really were a very good class today.....thank you all for your participation.....
[14:01] herman Bergson: Time to relax :-)
[14:01] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): Thanks Professor :)
[14:01] Aya Beaumont: Thank you.
[14:01] Ciska Riverstone: Thank you Herman
[14:01] herman Bergson: Class dismissed ^_^
[14:01] Zinzi Serevi: thank you
[14:01] Ciska Riverstone: have a great day or night everyone
[14:02] Siggi Ludwig (ludwig.john): thank you and good night
[14:02] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): goodnight Ciska
[14:02] Ortwin Sveiss: thanks herman
[14:02] herman Bergson: You too ciska
[14:02] Zinzi Serevi: bye Ciska
[14:02] Ortwin Sveiss: goodnight all
[14:02] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): I am off, good night everyone
[14:02] herman Bergson: Bye Aristotle...
[14:02] herman Bergson: take care
[14:02] Zinzi Serevi: yes me too good night
[14:10] Mick Nerido: Sorry i was busy
[14:16] herman Bergson: You were excused Mick...:-)
[14:17] Mick Nerido: I tried my best to be here it was a great subject today

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