Markus Gabriel Is Fighting Neurocentrism One Brain at a Time

Markus Gabriel Is Fighting Neurocentrism One Brain at a Time September 28, 2018

Don’t confuse the brain with the self.

I Am Not a Brain, declares the title of Markus Gabriel’s latest book. Gabriel is associated with the New Realism, and his preference for emphatic titles was evident in his previous work, The World Does Not Exist. However, Gabriel is no mere provocateur. In his lucid, subtle and witty essays, he persuades the reader to think about things in a new way.

Brain Brain Go Away

In his latest work, Gabriel takes aim at how we conceptualize consciousness in our millennium. We’re used to hearing, especially in the atheist blogosphere, that consciousness and free will are illusions derived from the workings of the brain. Our cognition evolved as human society developed, so the story goes, and now neuroscience can tell us everything about human endeavor. Gabriel denies this reductive approach to selfhood, which he calls “dehumanization from below.”

The basic idea of neurocentrism is that to be a minded animal consists in nothing more than the presence of a suitable brain. In a nutshell, neurocentrism thus preaches: the self is a brain. To understand the meaning of “self,” “consciousness,” “will,” “freedom,” or “mind,” neurocentrism advises us against turning to philosophy, religion, or common sense and instead recommends investigating the brain with neuroscientific methods—preferably paired with evolutionary biology. I deny this and thus arrive at the main thesis of this book: the self is not the brain.

Neuroscience or Neuroscientism?

This is the predictable result of the scientism I’ve been criticizing all along: when a hammer is your favorite tool, every problem becomes a nail. Society wants easy answers for complex questions, and since science can explain the bones of our inner ear, we assume it can provide an exhaustive explanation for every facet of human endeavor. If anyone points inadequacies in the explanation, then we brand him or her a science-denier and move on. In this way, we believe whatever we want to believe while preserving our self-image as freethinking skeptics.

No one, not even Markus Gabriel or me, disputes that a brain is necessary for conscious human endeavor. However, the difference between necessary and sufficient reasons is relevant here: particularly when we’re trying to explain something as human and subjective as consciousness or choice, hard anonymous causes aren’t the end of the story. Consciousness is all about the pictures we create of ourselves and our culture, and those pictures are dialogues with social and scientific realities.

In the course of this rigorous but readable book, Gabriel takes us through the philosophical legacy of the self and how different cultures have defined it. It’s clear that concepts like consciousness and selfhood aren’t things, phenomena that can be detected through empirical inquiry. The only reason thinkers like Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris deny that things like consciousness and free will exist is that science only describes the underlying conditions for their existence. There’s no way to falsify the idea that we’re conscious, and no way to model mind in a mind-independent way.

Escape from Responsibility

Gabriel calls his approach neo-existentialism, and makes clear that the motivation for neurocentrism is that it allows us to evade responsibility for our decisions and for inequities in our societies. Assuming that our behavior is fully determined by physical states in our brain, and our societies develop according to the inevitable logistics of differential reproductive success, derives from and reinforces a sense of moral complacency. That’s what pseudoscience is all about: employing the mere trappings of science to push an agenda. The social order is secure when we’re convinced that we’re nothing but meat machines, and we only define ourselves as employees and consumers.

Just think about the popular idea that love can be defined as a specific “neurococktail” or our bonding behavior be reduced to patterns trained in prehistoric times in which our evolutionary ancestors acquired now hard-wired circuits of chemical flows. In my opinion, these attempts are really relief fantasies, as they defer responsibility to an in itself irresponsible and non-psychological machinery which runs the show of our lives behind our backs. It is quite burdensome to be free and to thus figure that others are free, too. It would be nice if we were relieved of decisions and our lives played out like a serenely beautiful film in our mind’s eye. As the American philosopher Stanley Cavell puts it: “Nothing is more human than the wish to deny one’s humanity.”

I highly recommend Gabriel’s book to anyone interested in the philosophy of mind, the subject of free will, and the interface between science and society.

Are we our brains? Do we have free will? Is this just philosophical navel-gazing, or do our answers to these questions have consequences for society and the environment?

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  • Anat

    Where do you get that Dennett denies that consciousness and free will exist? He denies libertarian free will because he doesn’t see a naturalistic way for it to happen, but he emphatically argues that a free will worth wanting exists.

  • Sorry for the confusion. Dennett thinks that consciousness is an illusion, and Sam Harris thinks free will doesn’t exist.

  • Raging Bee

    Basically this guy seems to be asserting what he wants to believe about human consciousness, free will, and responsibility; and I really want to agree with the assertion, at least in the abstract. But does he really have any evidence for it? Or is he just saying we have to believe these assertions in order to consider ourselves free and responsible agents?

    Expedit esse deos, et ut expedit, esse putemus. I don’t have (much) problem with that, but if he slips into saying we have to believe in god(s) or supernatural this or that in order to be moral beings, then that’s just “atheists have no morals” v.6.1 or so, and that new iteration of old bigotry will have to be resisted.

  • Nope, nope, nope. Gabriel’s not a mystic or a crackpot. He’s not talking about any supernatural numbnuttery. He’s just stating the fact that human consciousness is more than brain chemistry.

    You’ve got it backward: it’s science cheerleaders who are writing checks that neuroscience can’t cash, then dismissing all qualms by shouting, science science science! If neuroscience provides a true and complete account of consciousness and human decision making, I haven’t seen it.

  • Jemolk

    Actually, I would suggest that the brain is sufficient but not necessary for consciousness. What really matters is the looping, recursive, self-referencing patterns of information, not what material substance they’re stored in. The brain is that material substance for humans, and the information is encoded in it through various configurations of gray and white matter in ways that as yet we can only begin to guess at. If it was encoded instead in computer chips, that would be perfectly fine; no relevant differences would appear.

    This also seems a good place to introduce the idea of levels of description. At a lower level of description, we can describe all human actions in purely the chemical reactions of the brain. However, at a lower level of description as well, we can also describe a room solely in terms of configurations of quarks, and in doing so have that description be complete and entirely accurate. We don’t even need to descripe electrons, neutrons and protons, let alone atoms, let alone furniture and walls. But that description is not useful. In point of fact, it’s pretty damned worthless despite its perfect accuracy and absolute simplicity in entities posited. This makes it a profoundly inadequate description. If this is so, then why should we not posit consciousness as a level of description of the functions fulfilled in humans in the brain? It is, after all, a more usable description, and as such frequently a more worthwhile description, than dealing solely in chemical reactions. See, we don’t need to posit anything more for the description to describe everything in exacting detail, but I believe we DO need to posit something more to have that description fulfill its function as a description. To have the description be descriptively valuable, descriptively complete. Not because we can’t describe everything without it, but because we can’t make sense of the description without it. And at the end of the day, is a description we can’t make sense of even a meaningful description?

  • Raging Bee

    So what additional element is he asserting?

    Also, what legitimate “qualms” are being dismissed “by shouting, science science science!”?

  • Raging Bee

    Um…why did someone’s rather long comment suddenly vanish so shortly after being posted?

  • Um, you know, that human decision making isn’t determined solely by neurochemistry. Is that a wild, anti-scientific claim? Or is it just a fact?

    Lighten up. No one’s knocking science here. It’s like anyone who says that physics, or genetics, or neuroscience don’t explain everything about human endeavor might as well be singing about angels or something.

  • Jemolk

    Disqus is being Disqusting again, apparently. It decided my comment was spam. Who the hell knows why.

  • Jemolk

    Um, you know, that human decision making isn’t determined solely by neurochemistry.

    The better formulation of the statement you’re denying would probably be that the necessary information utilized in human decisionmaking is encoded in our neurochemistry. I think we have good reason to believe, given our current level of understanding, that what is encapsulated by our neurochemistry is sufficient as a descriptor of the causes of consciousness. We also, I believe, have good reason to say that it is not necessary, because other substances could carry the same information as well, and it is the information that relevantly describes our consciousnesses in any meaningful terms. If I am correct, then the problem is not that we don’t have the relevant data; it’s that we’re interpreting it in the wrong fashion, at least in pop science contexts. Neurophilosophy is much more likely, I’d suggest, to have answers at the level of description you’re looking for than neuroscience, because neurophilosophy incorporates the findings of neuroscience as well as complex philosophical reasoning. I find myself particularly enamored of the descriptions given in I Am a Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter.

  • For some reason your posts keep getting stuck in the spam filter. I approved the ones that were in there from today. Sorry for the inconvenience.

  • Raging Bee

    YMMV, of course, but I don’t recall anyone actually saying “physics, or genetics, or neuroscience explain everything about human endeavor.” We also have psychology, psychiatry, anthropology and sociology — if any “science fans” have dismissed those sciences out of hand, I haven’t heard of it.

  • Raging Bee

    You didn’t use the words “socialist” or “socialism,” so it probably didn’t flag the word “cialis” in it, like it did with a LONG comment of mine many years ago.

    Discuss is wonky. Disqus amongst yourselves…

  • Anat

    Personally, I don’t see what the difference between ‘real’ and ‘illusory’ consciousness is. If consciousness is the ability to tell oneself a story about one’s own thinking then what difference does it make what is mechanistically underneath that capacity?

    As for free will – we can easily circumvent that, as Dennett proposes: People get to choose whether they are going to be held responsible for their actions or not. Those that prefer not to be held responsible lose any privilege that society considers one that requires responsibility. The system can be engineered to work at graded levels of responsibility if that makes more sense. Also, people may choose to use any kind of medical and other technological hacks that enhance their ability to act responsibly in order to gain access to said privileges. (Of course this creates a bit of a problem with constitutional states that define as rights some things that require responsibility, and this needs to be addressed.)

  • I hear all the time that physics or science or neurochemistry explains everything. One of my amigos who doesn’t post much here anymore went on record as saying that the laws of physics are sufficient to explain human consciousness. It’s not like I think consciousness violates the laws of physics or anything, just that physics doesn’t have the explanatory power to tell us much about the organic activity of the brain, let alone what it means to be a conscious, aware being. That kind of overstatement is really common in the com-box.

  • Raging Bee

    So they’re saying that IN THEORY physics explains everything, but in practice they’re admitting we can’t get physics to explain everything, at least not in the foreseeable future. I can sort of get that, as long as they’re just letting that point slide, and not saying “…therefore psychology, psychiatry, sociology, etc. are bunk.” (Was that what the banhammered commenter was saying?)

  • Raging Bee

    If it was encoded instead in computer chips, that would be perfectly fine; no relevant differences would appear.

    That would only be true if the chips were wired to have exactly the same neural pathways and connections a human brain has. And no one has ever made chips like that — who would want a PC whose motherboard acted more like a drunk-uncleboard?

  • Nomad

    just that physics doesn’t have the explanatory power to tell us much about the organic activity of the brain, let alone what it means to be a conscious, aware being.

    Sure it does. But we’re unable to understand it because of the complexity of the system.

  • Nomad

    There’s a difference between “human decision making isn’t determined solely by neurochemistry” and “physics, or genetics, or neuroscience don’t explain everything about human endeavor”. This feels like an attempt to move the goalposts mid comment.

  • Jemolk

    As I said, as long as the information is the same, the material is irrelevant at the level we’re speaking of. As you point out, as of this moment at the very least, the information is very much NOT the same. That may or may not be a good thing, depending on how the ability to essentially create living humans would be used.

  • Do you disagree with either of those statements? If so, why?

  • That sounds like a cop-out to me. It seems like you’re saying that because physics is applicable to such a wide variety of phenomena in our physical universe, we should assume that the laws of physics can explain things like subjectivity, emotions and values. And if I ask how that’s even possible, you shrug and say, “It’s complicated.”

    To me, it’s like saying the laws of physics can explain everything about a baseball game. Sure, physics explains a lot of things about what happens during a baseball game. But it would be ridiculous to claim that they explain everything, even the strategy, emotions, anxieties and intuitions of the people playing the game. Um, wouldn’t it?

  • Raging Bee

    That’s why we have other branches of science, such as psychology and sociology, to explain more complex things at a more complex level.

  • Nomad

    It seems to me that you’re blinded by the concept of consciousness, you seem to have a strong need for there to be something else.

    But take consciousness out of it. Let’s talk about, say, the roll of a die. Does physics explain it? If I throw it onto a table, can we predict what number it will land on? No? Does that mean there’s a special, unmentionable *other* thing that has to be invoked to explain it? Or do we lack the perfect knowledge of the system necessary to predict its behavior?

    I could do this all day. Do the laws of physics solely explain the behavior of hurricanes? If so, why are our models so inaccurate? Does that mean that there’s something else influencing their behavior that I dare not mention? Take the bobbling nature of a rolling football. It’s impossible to predict what it’ll do, it’s a chaotic system. Does that mean physics is inadequate to explain its behavior?

  • Nomad

    I only agree with the first comment because chemistry isn’t the only thing happening in our brains, there’s electrical activity too. And of course you have to have knowledge of the structures of the brain and how it all works. But I don’t expect that’s what you meant. Our brains are meat computers, I’ve seen nothing to indicate that this isn’t the case.

    My only disagreement with the second statement is the same thing I’ve said below. We lack the perfect knowledge of the system required to explain “everything”. We have to resort to crude approximations such as psychology. This isn’t intended as a smear against psychology, but it is a crude approximation. Biology is the same thing. Physics is what determines how our body behaves, yet we can’t accurately predict whether a drug or other treatment will work or not until we test it. We don’t have enough knowledge of the system to predict how it will react.

  • Nomad

    I agree. But I have a feeling that those aren’t the other things we are being told are needed to understand these phenomena.

  • It seems to me that you’re blinded by the concept of consciousness, you seem to have a strong need for there to be something else.

    You guys have been bashing fundies for so long you just assume that anytime someone questions science, it’s only to shove religion or mysticism into the equation. That’s not the case here. No one here believes in gods or souls, no one here is pushing mystical-schmistical numbnuttery.

    I don’t mean to characterize the physics-guy as saying that physics has complete predictive power or anything. That’s obviously not practical. All I’m questioning is his claim that the laws of physics are sufficient to explain consciousness, and it seems like nobody wants to rise to the challenge of demonstrating that they do. He dodged the question by declaring that I had the burden of proof to show how he was wrong; you just handwaved away the question by saying it’s real complicated.

    What I’m trying to do is get reasonable people to admit that there are plenty of things physics explains, and plenty of things physics doesn’t explain.

  • Our brains are meat computers, I’ve seen nothing to indicate that this isn’t the case.

    No? Your brain just runs programs, it doesn’t love and decide and dream and regret and hope?

    If you think that human cognition and consciousness are mere programming and data processing, well, I guess we just disagree. It seems that you’re infatuated with metaphors, and you don’t have the same qualms about being dehumanized as I do.

    The final chapter in Gabriel’s book was about freedom, and he made it clear that the attitude that we’re just meat machines serves a political purpose; it makes it possible for us to evade responsibility for our beliefs, our behavior and our societies.

  • Nomad

    I don’t need to deny my existence as a physical animal in order to define myself as human.

    What makes you think “running programs” can’t include loving, and dreaming? You’re still assuming you conclusion here. All these things cannot be of the physical, you say, so therefore they’re presented as evidence that human consciousness cannot be purely physical. But assumptions are not evidence.

    he made it clear that the attitude that we’re just meat machines serves a political purpose; it makes it possible for us to evade responsibility for our beliefs, our behavior and our societies.

    Well isn’t that familiar. It reminds me of when Christians say that atheists only profess to not believe in God so that they don’t have to be accountable to him. This just does not follow.

  • Nomad

    No one here believes in gods or souls, no one here is pushing mystical-schmistical numbnuttery.

    I wouldn’t know your motivations, but it’s hard to miss that you’re using the same arguments that the religiously minded do.

    What I’m trying to do is get reasonable people to admit that there are plenty of things physics explains, and plenty of things physics doesn’t explain.

    And I’m trying to understand what you mean when you say “things physics doesn’t explain” but you won’t respond at all, instead preferring to get up on your soapbox and deny religious motivation when religion wasn’t even mentioned. Methinks you doth protest too much.

  • I already said, in terms of a baseball game, there are lots of things physics explains: the result of opposing forces between bat and ball, the trajectory of a fly ball, and so forth. But the laws of physics don’t explain the rules of the game, the psychological states of the players, the strategy of the coaches, and things like that. There’s nothing supernatural about these things, and they don’t violate the laws of physics. But they’re not explained by recourse to the laws of physics, and I find it a little silly to dispute the point. In the same way, the meaning we ascribe to conscious, subjective experience isn’t something physics can explain. If you disagree, by all means, explain what it’s like to be a conscious, minded being using only the laws of physics.

    Accusing me of religiosity is always the first, middle, and last resort of the science fans who post here. If I’ve posted anything about the supernatural or any mystical stuff, let me know. But consider yourself warned.

  • What makes you think “running programs” can’t include loving, and dreaming? You’re still assuming you conclusion here. All these things cannot be of the physical, you say, so therefore they’re presented as evidence that human consciousness cannot be purely physical. But assumptions are not evidence.

    If you keep moving those goalposts, I’m worried they’ll fall over and hurt you.

    I objected to your claim that the brain is just a meat computer. Do computers love, regret, dream? Now you’re making it sound like I’m saying these things aren’t physical activities or something. I’m not making that claim or anything like it.

    And like I just said to you, I get a little miffed when people claim I’m talking like a Christian. If I’m not supporting your team, I guess I’m rooting for the other one? That just does not follow.

    I wanted to make the point that comparing humans to machines is dehumanization. If you disagree, then I guess we’re just going to have to agree to disagree.

  • Nomad

    I objected to your claim that the brain is just a meat computer. Do computers love, regret, dream? Now you’re making it sound like I’m saying these things aren’t physical activities or something.

    You denied that physics could explain them. Do you know of any other physical processes that are beyond the realm of physics to explain? Raging Bee has provided one way that that could be true, by invoking higher level processes that are too complex to be studied by physics alone, disciplines like sociology and psychiatry and whatnot. But so far as I can see you haven’t responded to any of those comments, so I don’t know if that’s what you mean or not. Your cageyness with respect to what this *other* thing is that is required makes me think that it is not.

    It’s almost as if you’re being hyper literal here. Of course a brain is not literally a computer as we understand the concept. For one is is far messier, and the noise and uncertainty is likely a part of how it works. But I still stand by my statement that we’ve never discovered anything about the brain that gives me any reason to believe that anything about our consciousness is not explainable by treating it as a biologically driven machine. You see this at nearly every level of the human body that you observe. You try to make hay out of the fact that no computer has so far been able to do some of the things our minds do, but that may only be temporarily true. I do not know if a computer equivalent of human consciousness is possible, but it’s trivially easy to demonstrate that a lot of things that were once thought of as the domain of living beings is being mastered by machines as well. Could a machine recognize a human face a hundred years ago? Now I’m told that a friend of a friend has a somewhat creepy sounding doorbell system that recognizes the faces of visitors and announces them by name if it’s previously “met” them. We may now conveniently write such behavior out of the definition of consciousness, but I’d wager that it was attributed to the concept before machines started encroaching on that territory.

    I’m looking for something a little more than “it isn’t currently happening”. I’m looking for a reason why it cannot happen. You claim that there is something more that is required, but you will not say what that thing is or why you believe it to exist. You simply insist that what we have is not enough. I need something more than that.

    You continue to insist that that would be “dehumanization”. I don’t believe that is true, but then it would depend on your definition of human. I take a more pragmatic view, whatever we are found to be is by definition “human”. But furthermore you are now committing the fallacy of the argument from consequences. So what if it is? Does that make it incorrect? You present no evidence that it is, you simply explain, again and again, that you don’t want it to be true. That does not make it so.

  • Nomad

    I beg your pardon but the rules of physics are deeply involved with the strategies of the coaches. Again you seem to be trying to carve out a physics free niche in a way that makes no sense. And where physics gives way other disciplines of science take over to handle the higher levels of complexity. Have you no idea of how deeply enmeshed sports and science have become recently? Sports medicine, sports psychology, attempts to physically perfect various motions such as batting or swinging a golf club or even running. A coach that ignores physics is going to be a coach with a very poor record. He may not know he’s taking physics into account, in the same way that I very much doubt that a bird understands the aerodynamic forces that enable it to fly, but his world swims in physics.

    Accusing me of religiosity is always the first, middle, and last resort of the science fans who post here. If I’ve posted anything about the supernatural or any mystical stuff, let me know. But consider yourself warned.

    Again, I have accused you of using the same arguments they do. I do not know your motivations. You are now lying about my statements.

  • I beg your pardon but the rules of physics are deeply involved with the strategies of the coaches.

    Now you’re just being silly. Making a pitcher walk a good batter to improve his odds of getting the last out has nothing to do with physics.

    I can’t continue to engage with someone who’s being deliberately obtuse. See ya.

  • I objected to your claim that the brain is just a meat computer. Do computers love, regret, dream? Now you’re making it sound like I’m saying these things aren’t physical activities or something.

    You denied that physics could explain them. Do you know of any other physical processes that are beyond the realm of physics to explain?

    But physics doesn’t explain things like love and regret. If you disagree, don’t get petulant and accuse me of talking like a religious person, just describe love according to the laws of physics. If you can’t do that, just admit it was an overstatement and stop wasting my time.

  • Beware the siren song of totalism, where everything can be understood, so long as you ignore all the unnecessary details (which turns out to be most of them). (image from xkcd)
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f83e37446c069aa5701debb3a88265c9b874149f4b22a3afe277c70bac408a8f.png

  • “Our brains are meat computers, I’ve seen nothing to indicate that this isn’t the case.”

    All computers that we have ever encountered are programmed by a language with specific semantics referring to the resolution of mathematical or logical problems.

    Of what we know about the structure of the brain, it more closely resembles something like an ecosystem than a computer. Attempting to pose its operation as something like a computer would be incredibly inefficient at best and grossly misleading at worst.

    In addition, computers simply are not alive in the way that brains are. A brain is capable of growing and changing its own structure in a way that computers can’t- a computer, on its own, cannot use any other hardware other than what it originally possessed.

  • “I’m looking for something a little more than “it isn’t currently happening”. I’m looking for a reason why it cannot happen.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supercomputer#Energy_usage_and_heat_management
    All of our modern computer architectures are incredibly inefficient at simulating the firing of synapses (not astrocytes, or glial cells, just synapses), per watt of power consumed and heat generated. Supercomputers require something like 4 megawatts to simulate a tiny segment of mouse brain, and just the synapses in that mouse brain, and that’s not even talking about how the mouse brain interacts with the functions of a mouse body or how the brain itself grows and changes.

    Let alone an entire human, who is about 1000 times larger (let alone the extreme practical problems of creating a person who requires the resources of a nuclear powerplant, or ten, to live).
    We are simply not going to see complete people simulations any time soon for at least for a few centuries; our technology simply lacks the complexity required, and we simply lack the sophistication of understanding to implement it.

  • Kevin K

    What a load of anti-intellectual mush. There is no ghost in the machine. Every single thought you’ve had, and every action you’ve taken — volitional or not — is a product of the biochemical processes occurring in the brain and central nervous system.

    Any philosophy that argues otherwise is pure ignorance, probably created by someone who fell asleep in 9th grade science class.

  • What a load of anti-intellectual mush. There is no ghost in the machine. Every single thought you’ve had, and every action you’ve taken — volitional or not — is a product of the biochemical processes occurring in the brain and central nervous system.

    Any philosophy that argues otherwise is pure ignorance, probably created by someone who fell asleep in 9th grade science class.

    Well, it’s just like I said to someone else about the laws of physics and baseball. Nobody’s saying that anything about a baseball game violates the laws of physics or anything, it’s just that the laws of physics themselves only explain certain things about the baseball game. In the same way, the biochemical processes in the brain make our thoughts and behaviors possible, but they don’t determine them the way you suggest in your characteristically open-minded way.

  • It really comes down to whether you believe that different scientific disciplines are merely different layers of abstraction over a fundamental grounding in the material, or whether there are metaphysical entailments to these layers that make the disciplines fundamentally discontinuous and their individual descriptions of reality incommensurate with one another.

    There are some oddities to be found in the discontinuous nature of science; that useful layers of description don’t appear at every scale, but only at certain rather random scales. The efficiency of producing useful descriptions congregates around these scales and falls off sharply when it departs from them (e.g. biology and chemistry were both discovered and useful long before biochemistry was a thing, and the resources and effort required to do useful description is much lower in either parent discipline than the one that straddles them). Does this mean there is something fundamental that separates entities the size of an atom from entities the size of a bacterium? Also of interest here is that when different disciplines describe objects that are common among them, the way they are described are sometimes completely incommensurate (and usually even a bit contradictory). Ask a quantum physicist, a chemist, a biologist, an electrical engineer, and an astrophysicist to describe for you what an electron is to them and how it figures into the work that they do, and you aren’t going to be able to stitch a coherent picture together of what an electron is; It’ll have a ton of contradictions, non sequiturs, and suggestive gaps.

    Personally I think this might have to do with an emergent structural feature of physical matter reaching configurations of different types of complexity, exhibiting behaviors that make it much easier to describe at the level of that emergent behavior than under the terms describing any underlying mechanic. So perhaps the descriptions are irreducible, but they are still only abstraction layers and not responding to a different metaphysically real substance than physical matter in space-time.

  • //I think we have good reason to believe, given our current level of understanding, that what is encapsulated by our neurochemistry is sufficient as a descriptor of the causes of consciousness.//

    What are those good reasons? Nobody ever provides them. There’s a very good reason for this. It’s because they and you’re talking complete nonsense.

    Consciousness is supposed to come into being as the end consequence of physical chains of causes and effects. Such causes and effects are cashed out in the form of processes that we can measure; namely particles with physical properties such as charge, momentum, spin and so on, and their interactions. But at the end of such causal chains we get a sudden abrupt change from these measurable processes to subjective experiences such as, for example, the greenness of grass, the warmth of love, the smell of roses and so on. It seems we have an unbridgeable yawning ontological chasm between the termination of such physical causal chains, and such raw experiences. There is no appropriate mechanism, *or conceivable causal chain*, whereby such qualitative experiences *could* be created. The sensible conclusion then is to surely suppose that consciousness was there all along, and the processes within the brain merely affect its manifestation.

  • @Nomad. I think you need to study the mind-body problem and the philosophy and history of science. Rolls of dice are exhausted by everything we can conceivably measure. The same for hurricanes. The same for footballs. Consciousness has a qualitative element and hence it amounts to more than we can conceivably measure and hence is immaterial.

  • //No one here believes in gods or souls//.

    Now that I’ve arrived that’s not true.

  • Sorry, but you’re wrong. Read part 6 “Dualism” of my following blog post.

    http://ian-wardell.blogspot.com/2018/04/a-response-to-myth-of-afterlife.html

  • I try to encourage people to discuss the matters at hand at whatever length they see fit. Please don’t just drop links without comment.

    Welcome to DTA!

  • //I think we have good reason to believe, given our current level of understanding, that what is encapsulated by our neurochemistry is sufficient as a descriptor of the causes of consciousness.//

    What are those good reasons? Nobody ever provides them. There’s a very good reason for this. It’s because they and you’re talking complete nonsense.

    Easy now. The only problem I have with the neurocentrists is that they’re making it sound like neurochemistry alone is sufficient for consciousness. I simply feel this ignores the linguistic and cultural contexts of how we experience phenomena and ascribe meaning to it. I don’t consider consciousness supernatural or anything.

  • Jemolk

    Well, first, every alteration made to brain tissue or brain chemistry profoundly impacts our minds. In fact, it is so profound that in a known case (which I am alas having trouble finding the citation for right now, sorry, I’ll update you when I find it if possible), a brain tumor was able to turn a generally typical man into a pedophile. When the tumor was mostly removed, he reverted back to the way he was before. The tumor started growing back, and he went pedophile again. Then it was completely removed, and he went back to fully normal once and for all. In fact, I would go so far as to say that in every case where a personality has been radically altered and we looked into why, it was something to do with the brain being altered.

    Second, Occam’s Razor. Unless you can point to another mechanism by which these things can arise, I see no reason to suppose that our current ontology is necessarily incomplete. The specific mechanisms of the universe are under no obligation to make sense to you, me, or any of us.

    Third, levels of description explain the gap with ease. We need no more. Physical chains of cause and effect don’t begin or end with molecules or atoms or protons, neutrons and electrons. At one level, an asteroid collides with the earth, resulting in the mass extinction that finished off the large dinosaurs. At another level, one cluster of particles held together in a certain way careened into another, larger cluster of particles, causing the mass redistribution of particles in a (relatively, on a universal scale) small area. These both describe the same event. As to how we can be certain that our studies of brain construction are causal to our experiences as humans — because the correlation is complete and exact, and there is no further intervening circumstance from which both would result that we have yet identified, same as how we nail down causation elsewhere. No, we have not yet determined the precise mechanism. It will come. No, we do not experience it in terms of electrical impulses and chemical reactions. The dinosaurs didn’t experience the meteor strike in terms of particle physics either. That has no bearing on whether the event can reasonably be described in such terms at a lower level.

    Ultimately, for me it comes down to this last, though. I believe it is this separation of so-called ‘qualia’ from all other processes that is arbitrary. The rest of our understanding of the universe fits together as a cohesive system. What could be a reasonable basis for separating out one thing in specific, saying, yes, all that fits together fine, but there is a radical, unbridgeable separation here? What explanatory value is gained by this maneuver granting the human mind some sort of super special, unique status within the framework that is reality? I see none, and have never been offered any. This radical separation has a long history in Western thought, but I have yet to see a reason presented to believe it is anything more than a man-made gap in understanding for the sake of shoehorning in someone’s pet dogma where otherwise there would be no room. This needs justification. Why exempt this relation from a rule that works perfectly well everywhere else, the rule of cohesion of reality? Why posit a gap? Our level of perception alone doesn’t cut it. We do not perceive naturally low-level particle physics, yet we can accept that they dramatically impact macro-level events. Why is this different?

    I realize that last question may make people squirm. Welcome to philosophy. It’ll make you confront what you may not want to, and pose questions that cause you real problems, regardless of your view. Nevertheless, it is an entirely valid question to ask here. One of why we should accept the conventional framing that is favorable to your position, and why we should refrain from considering that framing a way of rigging the question. If you want to effectively dispute my position, you’re going to have to answer it.

  • Why do people assume that when we become critical of the machine metaphor or the computational metaphor, that we must be dualists?

  • Nomad

    And all this means… what, exactly? Can you explain what any one of those sentences means? I don’t think you can. “Rolls of dice are exhausted by everything we can conceivably measure” has no meaning. There’s no way to test this claim because it’s empty, it’s nothing more than a deepity. No? You disagree? So how you do “exhaust” rolls of dice?

  • Nomad

    All I’m questioning is his claim that the laws of physics are sufficient to explain consciousness, and it seems like nobody wants to rise to the challenge of demonstrating that they do.

    I already asked you if the laws of physics explain a roll of a 6 sided die. You failed to respond. I know you think you have a clever get out of jail free card, you can demand a degree of detail that neurology cannot provide. But can physics provide the same demanded degree of detail with a simple die roll?

    You know it can’t. Otherwise you wouldn’t have run away the last time I asked this very simple question.

  • Nomad

    I think it’s the point in which it’s stated that no field of science can explain it, and that something else, something unstated, is required. When the physical is denied it sure sounds like dualism to me.

  • Nomad

    I still encourage you to tell me if physics can “explain” the fall of a 6 sided die to the same degree that you demand that it must of the behavior of the brain to “explain” it. But you keep running away and accusing me of saying that you’re motivated by religion. Which I never said.

  • Nomad

    And score yet another point in the “unable to understand metaphors” file.

  • Nomad

    So what you’re saying is that real brains are too complex to be accurately modeled? If you look into the history of this thread you’ll see me saying exactly this, and you’ll find “shem the penman” claiming that it’s a “copout” to say so.

    Your move.

  • Nomad

    So explain the roll of a dice “according to the laws of physics”.

    I challenged you to do this before and you ran away and accused me of “moving goalposts”. That’s not what that means, but still. It’s quite obviously easier to explain that. So do it. I throw a dice against the table. It bounces and eventually comes up 2.

    Explain it to the same degree of detail that you demand that love and regret be explained.

    Put up or shut up.

  • Nomad

    Hey, chickenshit. You quite conveniently failed to continue quoting me when I pointed out that you lied about my claiming that you had invoked religiosity. Funny, that.

    You ran away every time I challenged you to do anything. You threatened to kick me if I implied you were religiously motivated after I went out of my way to make it clear that I was never suggesting that. I pointed out you were flat out lying and suddenly you decided you were done with me.

    Yep. That’s convenient. You don’t deserve to mention any of the philosophy you paint your blog with. You don’t even understand basic logical fallacies. You don’t understand any of it. I understand that you like how it sounds, but if you knew what any of it meant you wouldn’t have gotten yourself into this point.

    But at the same time since you’re so ignorant and unable to communicate, there’s no point in my trying to deal with you any further.

    So actually, yeah… as you said, “see ya”.

  • Hey, chickenshit.

    I don’t know whether you’ve had too much caffeine or too few meds this morning, but quit being surly with everybody here.

    Why you’ve hectored me in three separate posts about my inability to explain the roll of a die using physics is anyone’s guess. I denied that physics gives us predictive ability, but I don’t think there’s anything about the movement of solid bodies through conventional time-space that physics can’t exhaustively describe.

    That’s different from consciousness, which isn’t a phenomenon but the way we experience and interpret phenomena. You accused me of having “a strong need for there to be something else” besides the laws of physics to explain our consciousness, as if I’m being unforgivably mystical or religious in asserting that physics doesn’t explain how brain meat produces our cognitive awareness and how we ascribe meaning to what we experience. I don’t accept—as I do with the roll of a die—that it’s all physics but there are too many variables to provide a way to neatly and concisely explain what’s happening with human consciousness. I think it’s self-evident that there are genetic and other biochemical things going on in the brain, nervous system, and the body that the laws of physics are inadequate to describe. I also think it’s obvious that the way we interpret experience is mediated through language and conditioned by culture, which aren’t physical elements at all and so can’t be reduced to explanations using physics.

    Feel free to stick around and discuss these things calmly and rationally, if you’re so inclined.

  • “Your move.” ?

    Really?

  • Shem and I agree that treating the brain as a computer is at the very least grossly inefficient at explaining the activity of the brain.

    Computers themselves are extremely easy to simulate inside of other computers, because what they are doing is “calculating” and the simulator is basically doing the same thing, but for other problems, like simulating the weather, or quantum mechanics in non-trivial molecules, is much harder, because neither the weather nor molecules are “calculating”.

  • Why do you believe that we are denying physics when we reject the computational metaphor?

    Even in chemistry or meteorology we don’t use the computational metaphor to describe the weather or molecules, does that make chemistry or meteorology dualistic in nature?

  • I just don’t believe that biology reduces down to computer programming. They are rather separate fields of understanding.

  • What I have learned about free will and the mind-body problem from scientists and philosophers is that (1) if one defines the concept as conscious control, free will is probably quite limited based on the physiological and other data, and (ii) the mind-body problem is not close to being solved. I used to think that mind = brain. After some study, I now think that mind = brain + X, where X is something or nothing. If X is something, I have no idea of what it is.

    At least I learned that it is problematic to think that unconscious matter (brain) alone can give rise to a mind . That said, I don’t even know what a mind is. Is it consciousness, self-awareness, free will, biological memory recall, some combination of all four, and/or something else? It is confusion about what X might be that I suspect leads most scientists to the materialist view that physical brain = mind because there’s not consensus evidence of what X is, or at least how it manifests itself.

    That said, some folks do believe in psi phenomena and argue that meta analyses of many studies prove it is real. They argue the statistics are valid for at least some psi phenomena. If psi phenomena are real, something I am unsure about, then X could be something that reflects an immaterial mind to some extent. @dcleve:disqus can explain the reality of psi phenomena in detail – I can’t.

  • Well said, and it seems that there is a simple binary to the inception of all the TOC/TOM debates: “mind” is just another ECC or it is X.

    Inquiry: we do know that the brain functions to “give answer Z to environmental conditions Y”, (chose those variables to avoid stepping in your X), from non-algorithmic discriminatory decision making. Not only is it error prone, it has been proven in a number of studies that it throws exceptions “with the appearance of intentionality” — for which I have no understanding or further comment beyond “that’s a shame”.

    Is it possible/plausible that the brain’s complexity of calculations gives rise to at least the appearance of the Man behind the curtain, or “mind” — or is this possibly all just another instance of the shadows dancing on the cave wall to an unsuspecting audience?

    (Evil Mastriani says:) Is it plausible that “mind” is just detritus, if one looks at the function of self-narrative as simply another machination of vanity enforced by the brain?

    ***An aside: scientists, especially in this domain, really need to stop with “unconscious” and “subconscious”; there is no subconscious, unless that is what is referred to as the “conscious”, and I do not believe that most people known that un used as a prefix means “not”. Rigor and specificity of terms would highly favor “non-conscious” as more descriptive and wholly unarguable.

  • Very well stated.

    After watching the debates between Dr. Sam Harris and Dr. Jordan Peterson, I find your response very appropriate. Having spent my half century of hominid existence reading everything science my brain can apprehend, those debates brought out this exact point — a point I had previously ignored/refuted.

    “Making sense” through description, story, narrative, metaphor … that is how homo sapiens continues, generationally, in a mechanistically driven, non-conscious Universe. We become meaning value driven narratives; many will assert that is sad or pathetic, but even Dr. Harris asserted clearly, and to no rebuttals, that there is no absolute rational agent in humanity, it cannot exist.

    Not certain if or how much that matters to TOC/TOM, but for living well, we certainly appear to require the “descriptive life”.

  • Hadn’t considered that mind just might be an ECC (essentially contested concept). I guess that is possible, given how much uncertainty there is, at least in the minds of some folks.

    Is mind detritus (an illusion?) forced by the brain? Good question. Brain ‘arises’ from evolution, so evolution therefore made it that way. That’s possible in theory at least.

    I wish I had a better handle on what is arguably empirically untestable here and what isn’t. The bit about psi phenomena confuses me. If psi is real, it may be weakly interacting with the material and thus the signal to noise ratio is very low, making it hard to look real to skeptics. Also confusing are the details of neuroscience of morality as S.M. Liao describes in his book, Moral Brains, The Neuroscience of Morality. That book, and others, suggest there are significant to severe limits to what empirical science could ever reach and/or the human mind can understand. Also confusing is the high caliber of critical thinking and logical rigor behind criticisms of a purely material mind that philosophers bring to bear on the mind-body problem.

    As far as nomenclature goes, I share your frustration. It has to be precise, or people talk past each other. On that point, I am reading the book The Rationalizing Voter by two prominent political scientists, Milton Lodge and Charles Taber. They sometimes use the term preconscious along with unconscious and conscious. What is interesting and conceptually new to me, is the concept that going from complete unconsciousness to full consciousness is a continuum or process of about 1000-2500 milliseconds starting from a political stimulus or trigger. ‘Full consciousness’ is a mental state that supports verbal explanations or rationalizations. Beginning at around 400-700 milliseconds, there is what the authors call preconsciousness where affects (positive or negative responses to the political stimulus or trigger) are detectable and partially verbalizable, e.g., ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but not fully conscious or explainable. I need to read more to figure out how they can state that based on empirical data, but I think there is some probative data.

  • Sounds like some excellent reading.

    One of the primary issues with neuroscience is that even with fMRI, they are capturing data of brain region activation, not precise neuronal activity. I’m certain it requires far more understanding than I am currently learned enough to understand, but even at my remedial level it gives rise to the inquiry:

    A brain region is still comprised of millions of neurons, what precisely is being informationally calculated, transcribed or “discussed” during those activation captures?

    If my understanding of current models is correct, the latencies are understandable. All stimuli reception occurs through corresponding regions after traveling through the amygdala, AIC, ACC and then “decisions processes” before final transference through the executive network for conscious attention. If current research holds, the value meanings emotionally are assigned prior to decision outcomes and conscious attention.

    That’s why I had great appreciation for your posts on black truths and dark free speech; they go directly to the amygdala and those types of hyperbolically emotional inputs cause executive network blackout. Propaganda is as malevolent and insidious of an human operation as there can be.

  • Put a logician further to the right of the mathematician, then a philosopher of metaphysics to the right of the logician, to complete the cartoon …

  • Liao, a philosopher (bioethicist, more precisely), raises exactly the same criticisms of fMRI in his book. fMRI is imprecise and needs to be combined with data from other analytic methods, and it can easily be over-interpreted without proper caution. BTW, Liao’s book is about half by actual neuroscientists explaining and defending their theories of morality and about half by philosophers critiquing the analytic methods, data and data interpretations.

    It would be great if Liao and his renegade philosophers would take up the project again with Lodge and Taber’s book. The combination of rigorous philosophy and social science is just fascinating.

    Lodge and Taber’s book is generally considered by political scientists and psychologists to be a major work and at the cutting edge of thinking about how people perceive inputs that elicit politically relevant responses and how their minds are influenced by unconscious biases. You are right, value meanings are assigned prior to decision outcomes. Conscious attention comes later, hence the book’s title, The Rationalizing Voter. That said, the book was published in 2013. That is worth noting.

    And, yes, it is easy to induce executive network blackout using emotional manipulation. That is why my definition of dark free speech includes it.

    Propaganda really is as about malevolent and insidious a human operation as there can be, short of very bad things like mass slaughter. If one holds that morals or values are important, one can argue that propaganda is as immoral as human behavior can be, short of the very bad things.

  • As Germaine noted, mind is an evolved structure, so no it cannot be detritus, or an illusion — unless you are abandoning the concept of evolutionary tuning based on causative benefit.
    Also as Germaine noted, conscious/non-conscious is not a binary, but a continuum. Learn and play ping-pong — it is initially entirely conscious — then more and more aspects of play become unconscious — but can be dredged up to the conscious level at will.
    What this process tells us, again applying the evolutionary tuning principle — is that there are some things that consciousness is better for, and others that unconscious neuroprocesses are better for, and the boundary between the two advantages is highly diverse, and we are greatly advantaged if we are able to shift it, and also sometimes operate in in-between modes.

  • Thank you for responding.

    Are you making no distinction between “mind” and “brain” or is there some other meaning being used that I do not apprehend?

    As per “illusion”, with due consideration of the expressly limited bandwidth capacities of the brain, somewhere between 100 – 500 bps, and the incalculable number of bits of data present in any environment — we live constantly in an illusory state. Our brain lacks the capacity to actualize any environment, bit for bit, so it “fills in the blanks” with some manner of perceptual approximations.

    I have not seen evidence that would refute that “mind” is not just a furtherance of enforced vanity through continual self-narrative. Which from a game theory perspective, is far more plausible as a successful behavior modifier, generally no greater energy cost and requires less “belief” than a non-material overlayer of some manner.

    I don’t see where I made conscious/non-conscious binary? The appearance of a continuum, from the empirical evidence we have, is just part of the illusory nature of perception predicated upon known latency states … well, and a brain that is utterly inept at persistent conscious attention to change, or “time”.

    Interesting commentary on the ping-pong process, do you have any links you can share? I would be interested in further reading.

  • Propaganda, in my personal estimation, is always the precursor to state misdeeds and criminality. (Especially if certain current state leaders are brought into the picture ::coughcoughillegitmateuspresidentcoughcough::)

    From my calculations, however errant, and with the inclusion that such requires malevolent intent from forethought towards malice — it is far worse than the consequent “bad things”. Speaking ethically mind, not legally …

  • Shem,

    I suggest several additional conceptual tools for you to use in your dispute with “science fans”, which might make it easier to communicate with them.

    One of the primary issues you dispute with is reductionism — the idea that everything is explainable in principle through physics. This is a core concept behind the “Unity of Science” movement — but has recently been abandoned by almost all philosophers of science. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-reduction/

    What is accepted instead is “pluralism” of science. There are separate disciplines, which are related, but they CANNOT IN PRINCIPLE be reduced to each other.
    Emergence is one concept which is under study, as a way to characterize how pluralism could develop. Our reductionists accept emergence only as a mental shortcut, when the full analysis may be too difficult to do. But there are multiple examples that have been found where top down reduction fails (multiple realizability as one example), and where bottoms up reduction fails (phase changes, and plausibly higher tier structures like macro scale objects). If reduction can fail based on logic criteria both going up, and coming down, then emergence is far stronger than just a “stand in” concept — and emergent structures are causal in ways the substrate is not.
    Another you dispute with is materialism — that there IS only matter. You noted baseball as an example — and things like strategy , the rules, etc. ARE NOT material, and cannot be. They are either informational, or algorithmic — and so fall under the ontological category of logic/ideas, not matter. You can do the same with science — its truth standards, the concepts of measurement, its methodologies of empiricism, and even the basic principles of logic, and causation, upon which it depends, ARE NON MATERIAL. This is entirely correct. And mathematicians, and logicians, by consensus reject the material nature of their disciplines.
    You further object to evolutionism. I suggest that this is not necessary. Accept non-reduction, emergence, and the independence of logic and information from matter, and evolutionary thinking does not lead to dehumanization. Karl Popper, Ernest Nagel, and Mary Midgley are all evolutionary thinkers, but it did not lead any of them to abandon humanism.
    You have also objected to empire-building by science, and the extension of methodological naturalism into non-science fields. I once more suggest this is not a fight you need to fight. Karl Popper, the most widely cited characterizer of the methodology of science — applied it to all aspects of his philosophy. And ended up advocating for pluralism in both science and ontology, and a fierce critic of “scientism”.
    The reductive materialists are, in asserting reduction materialism, actually in CONFLICT with the scientific process. They are disputing with expert consensus among philosophers of science on whether reduction is possible, and with the experts in multiple fields on whether those fields reduce. By asserting emergence is simply a convenient stand in solely for computational convenience – they are rejecting basically all studies of emergence. They are ignoring the essential role that logic plays in even developing materialism, much less the inability to reduce logic to matter. And they are ascribing materialist constraints on evolution and empiricism that the experts in both fields say are not actually present in those fields.
    I suggest that narrowing what you oppose from “science fan” to “reductive materialism” will give you fewer issues you need to dispute against, plus far more expert opinions you can cite that show your disputants to be anti-science themselves.

  • I am a spiritual dualist, and consider that the brain packages summaries of its states and ongoing operations for the spiritual mind to monitor, and occasionally redirect. The System 1-System 2 model of mind described in “Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow” is an excellent mental tool in picturing how this interaction works. https://bigthink.com/errors-we-live-by/kahnemans-mind-clarifying-biases
    The process of learning a physical activity — initially consciously, then more and more unconsciously, with increasing skill and speed the more unconscious it becomes, but also with decreasing flexibility, was described by Karl Popper in “The Self and its Brain”.
    “Vanity” relative to an illusion is not an evolutionarily causal process, hence cannot be a valid explanation for consciousness.

  • Your request for examples of the failure of reductionism is appropriate. And can be met.
    Multiple Realizability was the first crack in the edifice of reductionism. By definition, one cannot reduce top down. Phase changes, and higher tiers of structures (one cannot get to — say — a pressure relief valve on a pneumatic system from the bottom up) show that one cannot predict the world from the bottom up. If neither top down nor bottoms up reduction work , in principle, then emergence has to be more than your mere computational convenience.

    The evolutionary test for epiphenomenalism and identity theory goes even further. Consciousness is an evolutionarily tuned phenomenon. Which means it must be CAUSAL — else it could not be tuned by selection. And we know that conscious events are only somewhat coupled to either neurology or processing — we do processing unconsciously, and we only sometimes attend to perceptions. Therefore sometimes we are unconscious when processing or sensing — and we therefore could have been entirely unconscious when either processing or sensing. That we ARE conscious — must mean that consciousness has a causal role INDEPENDNT of either the sensing or the processing. If consciousness is an emergent process from either neurology or processing, then it is a CAUSALLY INDEPENDENT emergent process. This would make emergence not only non-reductive, but also violate causal closure of the physical.

  • Propaganda, in my personal estimation, is always the precursor to state misdeeds and criminality.

    I think you are right. There are probably no exceptions, at least none I am aware of. Does state misdeeds and criminality require malevolent intent from forethought towards malice? I think so and we are seeing in in real time in America right now.

    Most of the big science guns I am aware who dare opine say most of it (at least 98%) is unconscious. Nonetheless, unconsciousness directs consciousness, and that is the data whether people like it or not.

    Yeah, I think you are right.

  • Thanks for commenting. I can’t defend your POV, logic and beliefs nearly as well as you can.

  • At least I learned that it is problematic to think that unconscious matter (brain) alone can give rise to a sentient mind. That said, I don’t even know what a mind is. Is it consciousness, self-awareness, free will, biological memory recall, some combination of all four, and/or something else? It is confusion about what X might be that I suspect leads most scientists to the materialist view that physical brain = mind because there’s not consensus evidence of what an immaterial X is, or at least how it manifests itself.

    Gabriel is of the same opinion: he realizes there’s no mind without brain. It’s the “neurocentrism” of our conception of consciousness and the self that strikes him as counter-productive.

    I’d say the X includes language and culture. The way we experience and interpret phenomena is unavoidably mediated by language, and conditioned by our culture’s concepts of meaning. These are complex matters, and they may be too daunting for the ambiguity-averse science fan. But that’s no reason to accept the oversimplified notion of the mind as just brain exhaust.

  • Language and culture do affect the mind. Are they strictly immaterial? Both are complex modes of information transfer and there is both ambiguity and surprising power inherent in both. Both require processing of at least sensory inputs and then reaction to them by the body-nervous system in the social and physiological context of the moment. Could that be all there is to X?

    As a matter of 1st impression, it seems reasonable to extrapolate that thought to believe that the human mind could consist mostly or completely of language, culture, the social context-situation (alone or in a family or other group), a person’s education, gender, race, political and religious beliefs and affiliations or lack thereof, emotional state-mood (happy, angry, bored, scared, disgusted, analytic, spiritual, etc), personality (e.g., hard working or lazy, curious or not, Bayesian or not, etc) and life experiences, a person’s neural wiring and moral values (as seen, e.g., by fMRI), and the person’s environmental status (cold or warm, day or night) and the physiological-physical status of the body-nervous system, e.g., old, young, hungry, thirsty, in pain, physically or mentally diseased, etc.

    As best I can recall at the moment, those are all things I believe are known to be factors empirically shown to influence the brain, thinking and behavior, and presumably the mind. The effects are manifested in influence on perceptions of reality-facts, and how a person’s mind processes the inputs both unconsciously and consciously.

    Could factors that detectably affect perception, thinking and behavior be what the mind is? If it is, is that a meaningful way to conceive of the mind or describe it? Some of those factors, e.g., personality and mood, seem to be immaterial, or at least subjective. If the mind is immaterial, is it necessarily 100% immaterial or could it be a dualist construct of some sort that includes another immaterial thought and behavior-influencing component? Or, is it the case that the concept of mind is an essentially contested concept that cannot be defined to universal agreement because it entails morals or values than cannot be resolved?

    For me at least, the idea that the mind is a list of things known to influence perception, thinking and behavior is rather comforting. That conception of mind is testable and falsifiable. It makes sense because there is empirical evidence to describe the mind with at least some precision.

    All that said, someone(s) surely posited the same idea long ago. It is obvious and lots of very bright folks have been thinking about this for millennia. Since the mind-body problem is far from being resolved for at least some people, either that ‘list of influences’ conception of mind is logically flawed or, maybe, the mind is an essentially contested concept.

    BTW, referring to the mind as ‘just brain exhaust’ is pejorative and affects how the mind perceives and evaluates the idea that the mind really is just brain exhaust. There’s the influence of language at work on the mind.

  • Koltiainen

    Hello. New commenter here!

  • “Explained” may be a midleading word for you. We often think “explanation” = “reductive description”. But if reductionism isn’t true, then explanation =/= reductionism.

    The evolutianry test case I outlined shows that conciousness is causally independent of the neruology and the functions of the brain. I ahve seen two valid solutions to what consciousness could be in this case:

    * spiritual dualism
    * strong emergent phenomena from neurology (where “strong” is the most powerful menaing of emergence which includes causal independence form substrate).

    I am a spiritual dualist. But that isn’t the only option here. Karl Popper was a strong emergentist.