Saturday, April 11, 2009

Brain-Mind Duality: Implications and Issues

I want to look at mind in another way today, more comprehensively that earlier, thus from a rational as well as an empirical point of vantage. These views seem to be in conflict, hence we have “issues” to discuss. The rational approach produces the conviction that mind can’t be an “emergent” phenomenon; it must, it seems, come from another realm. The empirical approach, by contrast, teaches us that a material faculty—the brain—is “almost” always associated with mental activities. I want to record my reasons for putting quotes around the “almost,” but I’ll do that later. Here I want to focus on the difficulties of the brain-mind linkage generally.

From a logical point of view, mind is immaterial, above nature, “metaphysical,” in fact. But if that is so, and reason says so, what is it doing in a body? Why can lesions in the brain block any evidence of it? Why do people sometimes lose their memory after injuries? Why does schizophrenia render individuals defective?

Heads: If mind is transcendental, why does it need a chemical tool?

Tails: But let’s turn that around and show the other side of the coin. If mind is just an emergent property of matter, then what in the name of heaven does life want? What explains the deep urge in matter to wish to become conscious, to struggle, to experience joy, to undergo the humiliations of aging, to suffer, and finally to go out like a candle and turn back into matter once again?

These are the two faces of the coin. Throughout history, people have favored heads over tails. Times like our own, casually materialistic, have also recurred at intervals (usually when civilizations were decaying), but never have masses of people actually adhered to materialism in large numbers in ancient times. Epicureanism is a prominent earlier example. Only small elites, enjoying ample wealth, have ever done so, and not all members of those. Our age is unique in one way only. Thanks to fossil fuels, large majorities have risen high enough from subsistence so that materialism can be accepted by relatively large masses of people, at least passively. The majority of mankind, even in the twenty-first century, still calls for heads. The polling evidence for this is accessible here for the United States and here for the world.

I expect to discuss in other posts the traditional arguments, doctrines, and speculations that attempt to present explanation for the more plausible argument, namely that material bodies make sense for a transcendental agency. They all demand models of the cosmos. Here I simply note the fact by way of introduction.

I’ve discovered, mulling these matters over for years, that other more down-to-earth issues are of considerable interest once we brush away the materialistic explanation and at least for argument’s sake accept the transcendental nature of mind. Most of these issues are in empirical, experiential category. They either support or complicate the explanation. One example and I’ll close.

The core of this example is consciousness and sleep. Where is consciousness when we turn in for the night? If it is extinguished, it would then seem to require a fully functioning brain to manifest it at all. But that would also imply that brains come first, hence mind is an epiphenomenon. This happens to be a favorite materialistic argument, and any one on the other sides is obliged to address it. Now for a corollary. If consciousness remains intact during sleep, why don’t we remember anything about those periods? That question hides a number of others connected with memory, some of which I’ve already touched upon earlier: how are memories stored, how are they retrieved, how are they lost. And what do we find pro or con in studies and writings related to the paranormal.

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