Saturday, May 13, 2006

The mind/body problem

Daniel Morgan said:

“ Steve,

I don't want to get too deep into this, as I'm ill-equipped to argue the philosophy of the mind. I'd love to hear your thoughts on two particular aspects thereof, though:
1) Why does brain alteration/damage/drug-induced biochemical changes cause distinct personality, behavior, and thinking changes, if the basis of these things is an immaterial agent? Just a short answer would be great.
2) Why are personality/behavior/thinking so well correlated to specific parts of the brain, and this can be verified by observing specific changes (eg those listed in (1)) to those particular loci, if the immaterial agent occupies no particular part of the brain?”

To begin with, I’ve already been over some of this same ground with you, Exbeliever, and Loftus once before:

So I don’t know what you think was lacking in those answers.

“What good reason is there to suppose that a soul is sending a "call" to your physical brain, and how is it transmitted, and how does this not violate the laws of thermodynamics? How can an immaterial "energy source" initiate the cascade of electrochemical changes to your brain, undetected? We can account for the "energy in = energy out", so whatever "spark" that comes from the soul to the mind, it apparently has no energy...therefore, how does something with no energy (or matter) interact with matter/energy, without affecting the total sum of matter/energy of the system?”

i) Since the soul is not an energy source, the laws of thermodynamics are irrelevant.

You continue to beg the question by assuming that causal relations must involve some sort of energy transfer and physical contact.

Dualism doesn’t operate within that framework.

ii) I’d add that causation is unobservable. We never see causation. We simply observe certain correlations in nature, from which we infer a cause/effect relation.

There’s nothing wrong with that inference, but causation remains invisible and intangible.

iii) Indeed, the materialist is substituting a disguised description for a causal explanation.

It's like attributing the phenomenon of falling bodies to “gravity,” or animal behavior to “instinct.”

Now, there's no doubt a correlation here (what goes up must come down) which calls for some sort of explanation.

But "gravity" (or “instinct”) is just a linguistic placeholder.

"Gravity" is not a causal explanation, but a disguised description of the correlation.

And different theories of gravity may be empirically adequate or even equivalent.

Likewise, we observe certain correlations between mental impairment and brain impairment.

That’s nothing knew. Inebriation and senile dementia are hardly novel scientific discoveries.

But to infer the causal dependence of the mind on the brain from this correlation is not a true explanation, but just a redescription or paraphrase of the observable correlation. It doesn't advance understanding.

For unless a physicalist can demonstrate for us how certain brain states actually give rise to certain mental states, his attribution is factually vacuous in the same sense that appeal to the law of gravity is just a tautology absent a demonstrable mechanism or even a theory that uniquely picks out the phenomenon.

And the materialist has been hitting his head against this wall for decades. It's been decades since Marvin Minsky began making triumphalist claims about how AI was just around the corner.

Well, if it's just around the corner, the block has a nasty habit of elongating to keep pace with the AI program.

Some have chosen to cut the knot through the solvent of eliminative materialism. Can a machine duplicate consciousness? A pseudoproblem, they say, for consciousness is an illusion. So there is no problem to solve. Hence, AI is a reality.

The stock objection to dualism is how interaction between unlike substances is possible.

(Actually, I regard THAT as the pseudoproblem. For it tacitly assumes the precondition of a causal medium.)

But I think we can turn this around. The reason that the materialist has been unable to show how brain states give rise to mental states is because (substance) dualism is true, in which case, only one half of the relation is ever observable.

That's why they can never construct a bridge from the one domain to the other. Half of the bridge remains invisible.

“I just see no evidence to suppose that there is a necessity for [superfluous] immaterial causality.”

Depends on what you take to be “evidence.”

The mind/body interface is not a direct object of perception or apprehension. Rather, it supplies a precondition by which we perceive and apprehend the world and/or our own mental states.

The evidence for dualism follows along such lines as:

i) The irreducible distinction between mental properties and material properties.

ii) Mental faculties which exceed physical constraints.

iii) Case-studies in parapsychology.

To pick up on some earlier questions before Danny dropped out of the debate:

“I am a bit confused here -- if you are in a chair with electrodes hooked to your brain, but have no idea which ones are hooked where, are blindfolded, and are not told what is going on [which is how these studies are often done], and are instructed to simply describe anything you feel or experience when asked to do so [some are "controls" where no stimulus was applied], it is a well-known fact that particular loci in the brain elicit particular memories, visual or auditory hallucinations, and temporal lobe stimulation is known to give "religious" experiences [think Dostoevsky...sp?].”

One of the striking features of cortical stimulation is that it actually exposes a mind/body, subject/object duality, for the patient is aware that what is triggering these memories is an external stimulus.


In 1961, Penfield reported a dramatic demonstration of the existence of a mind that is separate from the brain. He found that the mind acted independently of the brain under controlled experimental conditions. His subject was an epileptic patient who had part of the brain exposed. When Penfield used an electrode to stimulate a portion of the cortex, here is what he reported:

“When the neurosurgeon applies an electrode to the motor area of the patient’s cerebral cortex causing the opposite hand to move, and when he asks the patient why he moved the hand, the response is: ‘I didn’t do it. You made me do it.’... It may be said that the patient thinks of himself as having an existence separate from his body.”

“Once when I warned a patient of my intention to stimulate the motor area of the cortex, and challenged him to keep his hand from moving when the electrode was applied, he seized it with the other hand and struggled to hold still. Thus, one hand, under the control of the right hemisphere driven by the electrode, and the other hand, which he controlled through the left hemisphere, were caused to struggle against each other. Behind the “brain action” of one hemisphere was the patient’s mind. Behind the action of the other hemisphere was the electrode.”

This experiment (and others like it) demonstrates that there is both a mind and brain. Mind is more than just merely a byproduct of the brain.


i) But if the mind were the brain, then how would it enjoy the objectivity to distinguish the source of excitation—whether internal or external?

ii) I also recall reading that the memories triggered by cortical stimulation are so vivid and detailed as to be indistinguishable from the original experience.

But if memory is stored in the brain, then how is total recall over a lifetime possible given the limited storage capacity of the brain?

iii) Yet another difficulty for the physicalist is how to account for the persistence of long-term member despite the loss of brain cells over time.

And even if old brain cells are replaced by new brain cells, how does personal identity survive the interchange? How does long-term memory survive the transition? And how are they transferred from old microstructures to new microstructures?

“My sole point is, if the mind is the primary cause, I still just don't get why an immaterial mind is "compartmentalized" and somehow "correlated" to particular loci in the brain...?? I may just be too dense to get how your answer addresses this.”

Dualism doesn’t operate in a metaphysical void. God assigns a certain soul to a certain body. That’s how soul and body pair off.


  1. This is an incredibly interesting subject. Where can I read more about the relationship between the body and the mind?

  2. This has always been an issue for me. I could never find anything decent on the topic, until now. This article actually addressed the issue most pressing for me right now. I thank you! It opened my eyes. As with Mr. Schultz, I would also like to know where one can find good reading on this topic!

    God bless you!