Mind from Body: Experience from Neural Structure

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Hardware represents software. Immaterial information is categorically distinct from its material substrate. Therefore, at one level of analysis, Descartian dualism is correct: information and matter, mind and body, are two different things. Nonetheless — as we will see — at another, higher level of analysis, it is clear that the mind and the nervous system arise interdependently, shaping each other, as one integrated process.

Mind, as I define it here, occurs in any creature with a nervous system. Humans have a mind — and so do monkeys, squirrels, lizards, worms, and dust mites. More complex nervous systems can produce more complex minds. But just as there is a spectrum of complexity of the nervous system, from the simplest jellyfish million years ago to a modern human, there is a similar spectrum of complexity in the mind. Or to put it bluntly, there is no categorical distinction between the mind of a millipede and a mathematician.

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The difference is one of degree, not kind. And how many mathematicians — or anyone, for that matter — could move dozens of limbs together in undulating harmony? First, when your brain changes, your mind changes.

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Everyday examples include the effects of caffeine, antidepressants, lack of sleep, and having a cold. More extreme examples: concussion, stroke, brain damage, and dementia.


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The brain is a necessary condition for the mind. Second, when your mind changes, your brain changes. Temporary changes include the activation of different neural circuits or regions when you have different kinds of thoughts, feelings, moods, attention, or even sense of self. Mental activity also sculpts neural structure, so changes in your mind can lead to lasting changes in your brain. Lately, numerous authors have tried to rebut beliefs in God e.

A delightful exception is the dialogue between Andrew Sullivan and Sam Harris. Whether religions are wonderful or horrible or both is not evidence for or against the existence of God. Critiques of religion e. Just because a creation story developed thousands of years ago turns out to be inaccurate does not mean that God does not exist.

Evolution does not need to be attacked in order to have faith in God. Then there are so-called proofs of the existence of God within the material universe e. On the other hand, since any God by definition extends beyond the frame of materiality, nothing in the material universe can disprove its existence.

You could endlessly rebut apparent evidence for the existence of God, but those rebuttals can not in themselves demonstrate that God is a fiction. At most, they can only eliminate a piece of apparent evidence, but in terms of ultimate conclusions, so what? As scientists say, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Further, a God outside the frame of materiality particularly a playful one could amuse herself by fostering rebuttals of seeming evidence for her existence in order to bug some people and test the faith of others: who knows? Most anything could be possible for a transcendental being, ground, something-or-other. So the fundamentally scientific attitude is to acknowledge the possibility of God, and then move on to working within the frame of science, which is plenty fertile as is, without resorting to God.

The causal neural correlate of consciousness CNCC; firing C-fibers in the diagram precedes in time the activation of the true NCC in the diagram, the true NCC is the activated central nociceptive system in the prefrontal-insular cortex. The preceding train of thought is, we believe, sufficient to demonstrate that the relation between states of phenomenal consciousness and brain states correlating with them cannot be causal, provided that a materialistic account of consciousness is correct.

Empirical studies of consciousness, however, do not always distinguish between the causal and non-causal relations of phenomenal and neural states. For instance, Gallotto et al. However, one cannot have both at the same time. These relations are fundamentally different. To avoid this confusion, it is profitable to distinguish between horizontal and vertical NCCs Hohwy and Bayne, Horizontal causal relations obtain between the proper NCC and its confounds, i. The notion of a vertical NCC concerns the very relation between a neural event and a phenomenal conscious state.

See Figure 3. Horizontal and vertical NCCs. The diagram distinguishes between horizontal and vertical relations and isolates the real NCC — neural event N 2 in the diagram.

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It is this event N 2 that is to be identified with phenomenal conscious state P. The diagram is based on Hohwy and Bayne , p. Horizontally, neural events N 1 , N 2 , and N 3 are related causally. The true NCC N 2 is thus causally involved in a horizontal structure of neural events.

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On the other hand, only N 2 is involved in the vertical relation between the neural event and the phenomenal conscious state P. This paper is about the vertical relations between NCCs and their corresponding states of consciousness. These relations cannot be causal because attempts to treat vertical relations in a causal manner lead to the confusions described above. To accept only non-causal vertical relations means that not only the simple and straightforward causality, but also the more nuanced causal relations such as emergence 6 cannot be admitted as vertical brain-mind relations.

Identity, on the other hand, is not a causal relation, and thus can, in principle, serve as an appropriate candidate for the relation between conscious states and their NCCs. In the following section we shall consider how a theory of identity for the mind-brain relation should look. This will inevitably require an inquiry into the notion of a mental and a neurophysiological type. Scientists searching for NCCs are measuring particular instances of mind-brain correlations, but this is hardly the end-point of their inquiry. They aim to generalize their findings.

They want to know not only the neural correlate of a particular phenomenal token, say, the sensation of a sour taste.

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To put forward an infinite disjunction of particular phenomenal-neural correlations does not sound an attractive research project! The hope is that by accumulating a sufficient number of particular NCCs, the scientists will be in a position to generalize the data in some meaningful way.

They will proceed by typing the phenomenal states into basic kinds and will try to assign to them broadly typed neurophysiological processes, carefully isolated during the experiments. This process needs to be repeatable both intrasubjectively and intersubjectively; hence it cannot stop at the level of individual tokens but must involve types. As Fink , p.

Even if the consciousness scientist sets herself relatively unambitious goals — say, she just wants to compile a list of some law-like bi-directional correlations between phenomenal and neural states — she will need to rely on some notion of phenomenal and neural type, for it will be types of states and processes that eventually have to appear in this list of systematic correlations. A general form of such bi-directional correlations will be, Whenever a phenomenal state of type A is present, a neural process of type B is present and vice versa. A solution to the vertical mind-body-relation problem, though, need not inevitably appeal to types.

Various forms of this stronger identity theory have been offered over the years Place, , ; Feigl, ; Smart, ; Lewis, ; Armstrong, ; Bechtel and Mundale, ; Polger, ; Polger and Shapiro, ; see also Gozzano and Hill, Debates within the philosophy of mind are quite extensive as regards the facets of the identity theory, its pros and cons see Polger, , for an overview , but very little attention has been given to the pivotal question of what the neurophysiological and phenomenal kinds are.

Most theorists participating in these debates use the notions of phenomenal and neurophysiological types only intuitively, without giving any explicit principles of individuation.

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The same can be said of the empirical scientists of consciousness. This absence of a common understanding of what constitutes a type is striking, given the centrality of the notion of type within both philosophy and neuroscience. Is pain a type of phenomenal state and the pain of a bee sting, the pain of a papercut etc. Or is the pain of a bee sting the type, and each individual instance of bee sting pain its token?