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A Sincere Call for Responses

ATTENTION: Religious and spiritual folks who read this blog, I have a question for you and I am very interested in your responses. This is more than idle curiosity, however, for it cuts to the core of both spirituality-as-such and of what I plan on studying in my return to college.

What is your response to (and/or explanation of) the strongly apparent necessity of the physical brain to metaphysical mind? Neuroscience more and more finds direct correlates between brain states and mental states; how does this affect you and your worldview? Do you have any particular religious and/or philosophical responses? In short, what does this seemingly causative relationship from “brain” to “mind” mean?

I have my own ideas, here, but I’m looking for the ideas of others. Please share!

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  1. peterkiernan
    January 12, 2012 at 3:26 am

    If it is true to say that the scientific method is based on the observance of natural phenomena and the construction of models from this that aim to accurately predict the behaviour of natural phenomena in given circumstances than the only statement that I find philosophically valid in neuroscience is ‘when the subject reports experiencing conscious states we observe this kind of activity in the brain’ – in which case there can be no discussion within science as to the proposed connection between observed neural states and subjectively experienced conscious states. The conclusion that ‘conscious states really are just neural states’ is based on a philosophical argument, the following philosophical argument ‘the material world is all that exists, therefore all phenomena can be explained by appealing to the material alone, an appeal to anything beyond the material is groundless necessarily’ – any scientist who accepts this position would have no business even discussing such a proposed relationship between neural and conscious states as for the empirical scientist there are only neural states to speak of. There is nothing to connect neural states to conscious states factually because we have no understanding of what conscious states consist in, thus far there can only be the reduction of conscious states to physical, neural states that is there can only be the elimination of the language of conscious states from our vocabulary. So really from my point of view neuro-science isn’t explaining conscious behaviour at all, it is instead providing a rival, physicalist narrative which hopes to eliminate the need to appeal to a conscious mind ‘proper’.
    Consider the argument that choices are made in the brain previous to action and that this can be shown to be the case in concrete experiments – these experiments strike me as hopelessly invalidated by the use of non-scientific terms like ‘choice’ in the context of conflicting accounts of behaviour, how can we even determine when [as in what precise moment in time] a subject has made a choice – what does it even mean for a subject to make a choice (in a distinctly non-material way, for here there are two rival accounts be juxtaposed)? The scientist can only refuse to discuss consciousness to the extent that there are no given grounds for it that are harmonious with the current materialist account of the universe, the scientists can only refuse to speak that kind of language. If a material account of conscious life can supplant entirely the non-scientific language we use today to describe our conscious existence than the project to reduce all phenomena to purely material explanations will succeed greatly, if not than it is more likely that the entire materialistic account will have to either unravel in order to continue dealing with consciousness, or acknowledge limitations by recognising the existence of consciousness but admitting an inability to discuss it meaningfully within the natural sciences.

  2. January 15, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    I’m a neuroscientist, and would like to look at some of the points raised in the above comment:

    “The conclusion that ‘conscious states really are just neural states’ is based on a philosophical argument, the following philosophical argument ‘the material world is all that exists, therefore all phenomena can be explained by appealing to the material alone, an appeal to anything beyond the material is groundless necessarily’ – any scientist who accepts this position would have no business even discussing such a proposed relationship between neural and conscious states as for the empirical scientist there are only neural states to speak of.”

    This suggests that the contents of consciousness are simply not amenable to *any* form of scientific enquiry- that they are necessarily outwith the domain of the scientist. This is not the case – e.g. it is possible to test the accuracy of a person’s memory for a list of words they have been shown- a simple example where some aspect of conscious representation is easily measurable. Or it is possible to ask people to rate the intensity of their emotional responses to unpleasant images. In both these cases it is possible to look for correlations between,say, the activity of particular brain regions or circuits (as measured with functional neuroimaging), and the aspect of consciousness being measured e.g. people who report greater emotional arousal may show greater activity in the amygdala, a brain structure implicated in fear. But of course I would accept that this such an approach is very tentative- clearly there is an enormous gulf between asking someone to rate how scary they find something, and having direct experiential access to their conscious world.

    “So really from my point of view neuro-science isn’t explaining conscious behaviour at all, it is instead providing a rival, physicalist narrative which hopes to eliminate the need to appeal to a conscious mind ‘proper’.

    There are individual neuroscientists who take the reductionist view that mental states are the same thing as physical states. Many do not, however, so this is not a driving agenda for the discipline. Probably it is generally true that there is more internal debate within disciplines than may be evident when seen from outside. There is now a whole strand of ‘consciousness science’ which absolutely acknowledges the reality of consciousness but seeks to uncover a biological and mathematical basis for it. This field is even more tentative than that outlined above, admittedly, but it shows that there is not a general rejection of consciousness per se among scientists.

    Personally I would not talk about ‘rival’ narrative: to take again as an example the experience of fear- knowing more about the neurochemical processes relevant to the biology of fear in no way ‘explains away’ the experience of fear or the language, myths, symbols, rituals etc that people use to portray it, discuss it, explore it, confront it, etc. (Even if there were to be some mathematical model that precisely modelled people’s experiences, people would still be having experiences). Rather these things (the biology and the psychology of fear) are like two sides of the same coin- or more likely, two faces of some immensely complex polygon.

    http://thehauntedshoreline.wordpress.com/

    • bluefeathers
      August 4, 2012 at 5:42 pm

      One of my favorite quotes …”knowledge is useless without understanding.”
      However simple that sounds I feel it to be vital to existence.

      You are a scientist of sorts, I a novice ,in all honestly with all due respect feel most of ‘truth’ ,laws and or schools of thought are based off theory and in my mind I feel it silly to create a foundation of laws built on conjecture and maybe misunderstanding the mechanics of ‘existence’ and why we have intellect. For it is akin to the lesson of “The Tower”.

      Most anyone who studies philosophy eventually hit a wall when really reaching deep with no end, like my partner says, like a bunch of crazies in the loonie bin trying to convince one another they have the answers and ‘know the way’.
      Spirituality and religion with their parallels as well as pits and falls (traps you ask me) ,create more questions or befuddlement then shedding light on the HERE AND NOW.

      Yet maybe there is a reason for these traps of illusion,or as I call it a coping mechanism.

      What does it all mean? Why does it matter?

      That is the answer I think, the process the discovery , the PERSONAL journey and the parallels we share as humanity are more than we care to admit. Then again who sets the rules? An invisible agent who yearns for sacrifice and chants, rituals, and charms? Not wisdom to me at least.As many in the know realize parables and mythologies are very attractive and we all like to relate to at least one person , no matter how sociopathic we all yearn to be LOVED unconditionally and be understood.

      I am grateful to have learned so much from my predecessors and my kin and through my journey I find others appearing along side as we are (all eventually) summoned to the call we answer the universe and the continuity of our predecessors quest. The procession of struggle and turmoil, the lessons imbedded in misguided venture. I like to say that when a lesson is painful we have that to remind us of the lesson and hopefully never repeat the folly abound.

      Sorry if what I say is ‘reaching’ or written poorly ( I am a high school drop -out, self-taught I say). Peace and I support all you one your journey and hope to make the next phase ‘better’.

  3. January 16, 2012 at 11:04 am

    Just to emphasise that there are scientists who do not buy into completely reductionist materialism on this issue- I was sent a flyer for this today:

    http://www.herts.ac.uk/events/The-Francis-Bacon-Lecture-2012.cfm

    “Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Mankind
    Neuromania is based on the incorrect notion that human consciousness is identical with activity in the brain, that people are their brains, and that societies are best understood as collections of brains. While the brain is a necessary condition of every aspect of human consciousness, it is not a sufficient condition – which is why neuroscience, and the materialist philosophy upon which it is based, fails to capture the human person. Since the brain is an evolved organism, Neuromania leads to Darwinitis, the assumption that, since Darwin demonstrated the biological origins of the organism Homo sapiens, we should look to evolutionary theory to understand what we are now; that our biological roots explain our cultural leaves. In fact, we belong to a community of minds that has developed over the hundreds of thousands of years since we parted company from other primates.”

    Tallis is a superb writer, I hope I can make this.

  4. January 16, 2012 at 8:42 pm

    I want to thank you both for giving me such full responses! I have not yet had the free time to fully digest them, but I did want to make sure you knew that I had received them and appreciate your time and thought. A fuller reply is in the works.

  5. Christopher J.P.S. Roberts
    January 27, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    It’s an interesting question, and one that should be asked.
    I know that some skeptics are quick to raise points along the lines of “if you can poke someone’s brain, and they feel the presence of God, then it obviously means that there is no God, and it’s just in your brain.”
    My response to that, however, is that our feelings ultimately originate in the brain, and they’re not any less real for it.
    For me, it logically follows the “mind” requires “brain” … after all, if it didn’t, why would our sense of self flee just because we die?
    That being said, I also see the temptation there to deny the soul or any continued essence following death.
    I suppose the way I relate to it is like this:
    I have a body, I have a soul. These things are distinct, but interwoven, and who I am is a mixture of the two, my uniqueness is derived from both of these things.
    Yes, the chemical things going on in my brain affect my sense of self, but perhaps that this the mechanism with witch I interact with the unseen world around me.
    After all, a chemical change requires a stimulus, yes?

    • bluefeathers
      August 4, 2012 at 6:25 pm

      Well if one can only see or understand/explain something in relation to their senses and reality then that is pretty narrow thinking.

      This world is rife with paradox and we let others decide for us because their numbers (or bulling tactics) convince people to join in the folly.

      We can only understand what we need to ‘know’ and what the mind is capable of here in the place and phase of existence. Yet I am so happy to see some folks don’t let the ‘passion’ overthrow their rational faculties.

      The place is always changing and growing and revealing the confounding then back to the ol’ drawing board. I once read that ‘god’ hides his face for it is the only way to conceal that which we are not meant to know (yet) . peace

      • bluefeathers
        August 4, 2012 at 6:31 pm

        I should have proof read this last post more thoroughly,sorry.

        (corrections)

        “Well if one can only see or understand/explain something in relation to their senses and what they view as reality then that is pretty narrow thinking to say we should be ‘moving forward’ in this haughty manner. I sincerely wish that humanity as a whole could adapt to the fact NOTHING STAYS THE SAME FOREVER and make that the one constant law.”

        “This realm is always changing and growing and revealing the confounding then back to the ol’ drawing board.”

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