THE MIND BODY PROBLEM

The previous part hints that life may have a non-material aspect to it, but the criterion of coherence demands more direct support for such an assertion. Although it may apply to other life forms, the most conducive way to approach this issue is by focusing on human beings. This has the advantages of being able to refer to one's personal experience and to utilise the ability of language. So, examining the so-called ‘mind-body problem' (how mental processes are related to bodily states or processes) seems the best starting point. An additional benefit is that this ‘problem' is also democratic. Unlike the mysteries of the universe or subatomic particles that require equipment available only to a few specialists, everybody has access to shis own mind.

Before the various options are considered though, a modern myth related to this subject must be addressed. It consists of the claim that science has already solved or is close to solving the riddle of consciousness and its relation to the brain. The myth is perpetuated by some scientist (e.g. professor Semir Zeki) but more often by non-scientists (such as philosopher Daniel Dennett) or the media. It is true that science has made a great contribution in recent years to understanding the structure and functioning of the brain, but this is a different matter. In fact, science is no closer to solving this problem than it was fifty or more years ago, when the interest in the subject re-surfaced. The consensus of the speakers at the 1995 conference in London, Consciousness - its place in contemporary science, was that ‘science really did not understand anything about consciousness - what it is, how it evolved, how it is generated by the brain, or even what it is for' (Sutherland, 1994, p.285). The issue is not that science is not there yet, and that only more study and more sophisticated instruments are needed. More fundamentally, with the current methodology, science is unlikely ever to address this problem fully and adequately. The commonly accepted criteria for data in a scientific analysis are that they are objective, public, and replicable (leading to predictability). However, consciousness has some unique characteristics that render these criteria inadequate:

 

The first person perspective - the present scientific methodology favours observation, but the mind is not open to external observation. The mental is private, non-accessible to the outside, objective, public sphere, unlike physical objects or phenomena. It is intimately and directly accessible to its ‘owner', but not to others (a report is already second hand data). Güzeldere, a professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, writes (1995b, p.116):

...from the outside, the first-hand exploration of the consciousness of others just seems to be out of the reach of ordinary scientific methods, others' experience being neither directly observable nor non-inferentially verifiable.

 

Non-spatiality - the other problem is that the materials of consciousness are non-spatial. They are not located in any specific place nor do they take up a particular volume of space; they are not made of spatially distributed parts nor have they spatial dimensionality; they are not solid and some of them don't even have a shape (e.g. the ideas of love or freedom). Since they are non-spatial, they are in principle unobservable. The view of some scientists that the appearance of non-spatiality is a kind of illusion seems so far to be baseless. It was discovered a while ago that certain sets of neurons process lines, angles or simple geometrical forms, but this is a far cry from even the simplest mental images. Nobody has yet managed to find in the brain anything that even remotely looks like a house or the grandma that one can imagine or remember. It has been proposed that the brain, in theory, can produce something similar to holograms, but this has never been detected, so its spatiality cannot be taken for granted even if the premise is correct. Thus, it is reasonable to accept that mental events as such are unobservable from the third person perspective, and for all practical purposes, non-spatial until shown otherwise.

 

Qualia (qualities that experiences such as feeling pain, seeing the colour green, or smelling a flower consist of). There is clearly a difference between the particular behaviour of nerve cells associated with pain for example, and the actual experience of pain. Even materialists such as Koch, admit that ‘there seems to be a huge jump between the materialistic level, of explaining molecules and neurons, and the subjective level' (1992, p.96). To paraphrase philosopher Chalmers, however much knowledge neuroscience gains about the brain, there will still be an ‘explanatory gap' between the physical and subjective realms. Experimental work on perception, for instance, only relates to the contents of consciousness, not to the experience itself. Neuro-science can explain, to some extent, how sensations can be ‘translated' into electro-magnetic impulses, but it does not say anything about how these impulses are translated into images, thoughts, feelings (not to mention that humans are able to create them too). Put simply, science has not found mental events in the brain. The best it can do is to provide a detailed map of the physical processes that correlate with specific subjective states. No neurological theory explains why brain functions are accompanied by them.

 

The contribution of science should not be underestimated, but the inevitable conclusion is that science, on its own, cannot truly solve the mind-body problem. Bearing this in mind, various possibilities of the relation between the brain and mind can be examined.