BB #17: Pointers!

Brain BubbleThis 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.

But today I started trying to get into Immanuel Kant (again), and that naturally led to a bit of Wiki Walking.

It was when I got to the article about the subject-object problem that a sudden brain bubble burst!

It's his fault. He started it!

It’s his fault. He started it!

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.

A different sort of pointer.

A different sort of pointer.

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!

David Chalmers: the face of modern philosophy!

David Chalmers: the face of modern philosophy!

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.

Machine... Mind?

Machine… Mind?

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!”

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

2 responses to “BB #17: Pointers!

  • indytony

    I have many thoughts, but will limit myself to one.

    As a “religious type”, I would agree that the basic answer to the question of whether the soul is separate from the mind is “Absolutely.”

    The question of how we can demonstrate this philosophically or scientifically operates from a flawed premise that we are given the capacity to truly know who we are.

    I contend, again in religious terms, that God intentionally restricts us from knowing certain things for our benefit (mostly, to keep us from destroying ourselves – which we seem hell-bent on anyway).

    Thank you for this thoughtful post. I believe (but can not prove) that it emanated from your mind and your soul.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      It probably is the case that we can never truly know who we are, but I’m afraid I’d tend to place the responsibility for that limit more in the scientific world (Godel, Turing and Heisenberg were all major contributors to theories about limits in our capacity to ever fully know reality). According to quantum physics, the universe is “fuzzy” and not, in principle, fully knowable. Of course, depending on the nature of ones beliefs, why and how the universe is that way is open to debate.

      Part of the problem with the idea that “God does this” or “God does that” (all for our benefit and to make us better people)… is that, exactly as you say, he seems to be doing a poor job of it. If God does participate in our daily lives, He seems to do so at great remove. (As I have said before, I have Deistic leanings, but I am not very Theistic at all.)

      Certainly this post came from my mind! The soul remains to be seen.

And what do you think?

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