Thursday, May 28, 2015

How the mind uses the brain

In this post I'm going to present a model of dualism. I'm not going to spend much time defending it. I've defended aspects of this elsewhere. And I don't want to get bogged down in supporting arguments.
I think it's useful to explain a certain way of looking at issues. Provide a model. 
According to classical theism, God is timeless and spaceless. I agree.
That raises the question of how to interpret statements about God interacting with the world. God coming and going. Having conversations with Abraham or Moses. 
This, of course, is an issue that crops up in open theism. And open theism serves as a warning against naive hermeneutics. 
I think the short answer is analogous to how a novelist relates to the story. A novelist exists outside the story. He doesn't physically interact with the characters, time, or space of the story. 
Rather, a novelist is involved in the story by writing the story. He's responsible for everything that happens. Directly or indirectly, he causes everything that happens. He controls events. He directs the outcome. 
Sometimes a novelist can write himself into the story by making himself a character in his own story. In that respect, he exists at two different levels. He still exists outside the story. But he has a counterpart within the story who represents the novelist. His counterpart speaks like the novelist, thinks like the novelist, believes whatever the novelist believes. Has the same viewpoint as the novelist. His counterpart can even know everything the novelist does. 
In addition, I'm a Cartesian dualist. An interactionist. I think the soul is immaterial. Same thing with angels and demons. But there is some Scriptural evidence that angels have the ability to materialize. 
In popular Christian discourse, we speak of "casting out" demons. An out-of-body experience. The soul "separating" from the body at death. 
I think popular usage is innocuous so long as we don't derive metaphysical conclusions from popular usage. Otherwise, it's misleading. But it's a convenient shorthand.
However, I don't think the soul is literally in the body. Rather, I think the soul uses the body. The mind uses the brain. 
Neuroscientist Wilder Penfield employed the following analogy: the mind is to a programmer as the brain is to a computer. Likewise, neuroscientist John Eccles talks about "how the self controls its brain." My point is not to expound or endorse the details of their respective positions. I'm just sketching a general way of framing the issue. 
There are various ways of illustrating this relation:
i) Telerobotics. Remote-control signaling. We might say the body is to the aerial drone as the mind is to the operator. The operator is "linked" to the drone. He directs the drone. The drone does what he wills it to do. But he is not in the drone. 
Telerobotics involves teleoperation and telepresence. Through wireless communication, it's action at a distance.
ii) Virtual reality. If all your sensory relays are hooked up to VR equipment, the only thing you can perceive is the simulated world. Your sensory perceptual system is patched into the program. That's all you hear, see, and feel. 
That's in spite of the fact that you are not actually a part of that world. You exist outside the program. And if you are disconnected from the equipment, you resume your perceptual awareness of the external world. But it's one or the other at any given time. You can't be simultaneously conscious of both.
That analogous to visionary revelation. In his altered state of consciousness, the seer is only aware of the visionary scenes. But once he emerges from the trance, he resumes his ordinary sensory perception. 
Let's compare these illustrations to a haunted house. Let's view a ghost as a disembodied mind or disembodied consciousness. 
What would it mean for the postmortem soul to go back to the house where the decedent grew up? Two things:
i) It's a matter of what the soul is thinking about. He remembers the house. In his mind, he "goes back" there. That's the object of his mental concentration. That's what he's aware of. 
ii) In addition, he can act at a distance. He has the ability to point his thoughts and intentions in the direction of that location. Project power. Make things happen–within the limits of a finite agent. 
For instance, we might view this as a preliminary punishment during the intermediate state. He is condemned to hang around the scenes of his past, as a passive, frustrated spectator. He laments the past. Laments his loss. Cut off from the life he knew. He can enviously watch others doing what he used to do, but he can't participate. That's before the day of judgment, when there will be a total separation between the living and the dead, the saints and the damned. 
Many miracles are essentially mind over matter. Psychokinetic or telekinetic. Where an agent is able to will a change. He needn't be in physical contact with what he brings out. 


  1. But there is some Scriptural evidence that angels have the ability to materialize.

    Steve, would you also say demons could potentially materialize too? Could claimed (paranormal) ectoplasm be a possible example?

    1. Either materialize or cause things to materialize.

  2. Extremely intriguing ideas! Thanks, Steve. :-)