In the study of the mind, there is a popular distinction between the ‘hard problem’ (how and why we have experiences or qualia) and ‘easy problems’ (perception, memory, sensory-motor control, etc.). However, even easy problems do not seem to be fully understood with the methodology that psychology and neuroscience use at present. As Patricia Churchland (herself holding strictly materialistic views) puts it:
“It is important to acknowledge that for none of the so-called “easy” problems, do we have an understanding of their solution… It is just false that we have anything approximating a comprehensive theory of sensorimotor control or attention or short-term memory or long-term memory. Consider one example. My signature is recognizably mine whether signed with the dominant or nondominant hand, with the foot, with the mouth, with the pen strapped to my shoulder, or written in half-inch script or in 2-ft. graffiti. How is “my signature” represented in the nervous system? How can completely different muscle sets be invoked to do the task, even when the skill was not acquired using those muscles? We still do not understand the general nature of sensorimotor representation. (1998, p.112)”
A dominant approach at the moment, cognitive psychology, has been a huge improvement to its predecessor, behaviourism, but it still does not go far enough. Firmly embedded in a materialistic paradigm, cognitive psychology has been enthusiastic about modelling the mind on the principles that govern computers (assuming that the brain is a very complex computer).
Serial and parallel processing in such models can account for some brain events, but this does not say much about the quality of our experiences such as pain or colour, feelings, humour, creativity, insights, understanding, etc. The philosopher of the mind Ronald Puccetti and neurophysiologist Robert Dykes (1978, p.337) point out:
…it appears that the more we learn about details of brain function, the greater the difference between these and the known qualities of sensory experience.
Furthermore, processes in a computer are of a mechanical nature and therefore essentially passive (a computer cannot make its own choices and be pro-active). In short, computers are not aware, and do not have a self and agency. Excluding these essential properties from the study of mind can provide at best an impoverished picture. A broader approach is needed.
Towards the end of the Mind-Body Problem part, we asserted that the mind is not a thing, but a set of processes that arise from the interface of the material and non-material aspects of the living organism. In this part, we will delve more deeply into examining this relation by considering the materials of the mind and the faculties that enable them (perception, memory, learning and dreaming as an example of auto-generating faculty). But first, we need to address what these materials consist of: our mental constructs.
The Mind Chapters
We can relate to the world directly or indirectly through mental constructs. Direct interaction is difficult to conceptualise but it is not that uncommon.
The Materials of the Mind
As is the case with the body, the soul also sustains itself and grows through interaction with the environment (which is mediated by the brain and the body during our physical lives).
The Intermediaries of the Mind
We will discuss in this part three mental faculties that enable experience and information: perception, memory and learning. We will also address dreaming as an example of auto-generating processes.
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