This may be the first actual Brain Bubble I’ve ever posted! The original intent was to provide a mechanism for sudden (short) thoughts I wanted to record or put out there. But the BB posts quickly turned into mini collections of thought bubbles.
It was when I got to the article about the subject-object problem that a sudden brain bubble burst!
I’ll warn you (now that you’re “below the fold,” oops) that unless you have much interest in the mind-brain problem (the “hard problem of consciousness”) or in theories and philosophies of consciousness, this post won’t be hugely meaningful.
But stick around; you never know what you might pick up or find interesting.
Here’s the BB that hit me (I’ll explain it below for those who stuck around):
A counter-argument to the idea of separation between mind and brain is the question of just exactly how a non-material, non-detectable “thing” can play any role in the functioning of our physical world. Critics say there is nothing you can “point to” as the mechanism of the “soul” or the “mind.”
[Religious folks obviously have no problem with this; the soul is god-given and isn’t any more subject to the laws or logic of physical reality than god supposedly is.]
But this time, as I pondered that, it struck me that the physical world has many examples of what we might call “remote reference.” That is, a thing can be referenced from afar in ways that are not at all apparent on the thing.
As a trivial example, how many of my friends have my phone number programmed into their phone? Those are all references to me that are not apparent when you only look at me.
The actual (admittedly somewhat esoteric) analogy that occurred to me was with a programming object called a “pointer” (or “reference”). A program object can have any number of pointers (references) to it, and in many cases there is no way to detect those by looking at the object.
And yet these remote references can profoundly affect their target object. (Making the analogy a bit more striking than the phone number one.)
Another example for you database mavens is the Primary Key/Foreign Key relationship. Looking at the primary record, you have no direct way of knowing how many secondary records refer to it.
So, perhaps the mind-brain problem is similar. Perhaps our mind (or soul) has a “reference” to our brain and body. From the body side, there’s no way to physically detect this connection. It is only apparent from within the soul or mind.
So the next time you find yourself in one of those all-too-common bar arguments over the mind-brain problem, and if you run up against someone who makes the claim that there is no mechanism obvious for the mind… well now you have a good counter-argument!
If you made it all the way down here (indicating an interest) and are wondering what this is all about, it has to do with what is coined (by philosopher David Chalmers) as “the hard problem of consciousness.”
The question is, how does that collection of brain cells we all carry around between our ears give rise to the phenomena of experience?
For each of us, there is something it is like to experience blue or joy or saltiness. There seems no objective reason for this to occur.
And yet it does. Why? We have no idea.
Well, we have ideas… what we don’t have is a clue which one might be the right path.
As T.H. Huxley put it:
…how it is that any thing so remarkable as a state of consciousness comes about as the result of irritating nervous tissue, is just as unaccountable as the appearance of the Djin when Aladdin rubbed his lamp.
IF consciousness is merely the product of all that neural activity, then building a mind is just an engineering problem. Build the machine, and it will have a mind.
BUT, if there is something ineffable about the mind, particularly if it is somehow uniquely connected with being human (or living), then we are more than machines.
And as I said, if you have spiritual leanings (let alone outright beliefs), then the problem is easily answered. In fact, it’s kind of pre-answered.
The big objection to the idea that we are more than machines (absent the answer “god gave us souls”) is the question of, “Well, okay, where exactly did you say this soul or mind thing was? It doesn’t seem to be showing up in the MRIs or blood work!”
If there was link from the brain to the mind, then one would expect to find some sign of that link.
But what if the link is actually from the mind to the brain?
We do need to postulate some place for minds to be, but physics seems pretty comfortable with extra dimensions and multiple universes. I’m thinking there might be a place somewhere in all that imagination for our minds.
Which does bring a new interpretation to the question, “Have you lost your mind?”
“No, but I’m not exactly sure where it is currently located!”