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Mind-Body Problem

  1. Feb 19, 2015 #1
    I hope this is the right forum to post this question. In discussion with some friends on social media regarding various biblical interpretation and someone made the point that death will introduce all to God’s plan for the afterlife. This led me to query exactly what the afterlife is, a question that was met by a variety of ideas. And THAT led me to a short Google search of firstly biblical interpretation of the nature of the soul, which in turn led to reading about the mind-body problem and concepts of monism/dualism. I confess to not having known there was any major uncertainty around the relationship of mind to body.

    Please note that I am not at all religious - this is a genuine question about science. It's just that I often find myself arguing with friends of that persuasion…

    Anyway, I had sort of imagined from my own introspection that it would be clear that the mind arises from the functioning of the brain. A moment’s consideration illustrates the extent to which consciousness and indeed the sense of self depends on the functioning of one’s brain. Injury, drugs, genetic malformation and so on all serve to change or limit the way one’s brain works, and consequently the character/personality/quality of thought displayed. Even more to the point, life experience or even genetic inheritance would seem to play major roles in the development of the personality.

    To me it is evident that the emergence of ‘mind’ and its qualitative properties is intimately tied to the function of the brain.

    But in my admittedly brief reading I learned that thus far no clear theory of mind has yet been properly articulated. My question is - is that really the case? What is the current state of the mind-body problem as science sees it? Is there any theory of mind or consciousness close to general acceptance? And to what extent has a metaphysical explanation for the mind been ruled out (here I am more thinking Platonic ideas than religious views).

    Bear in mind I have no more acquaintance with this stuff than a few Google searches!
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 19, 2015 #2


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    We don't discuss religion or philosophy here, any discussion will need to be about known science, anyone wishing to respond, please stick to science in peer reviewed studies.

    Thank you.
  4. Feb 19, 2015 #3
    But the guy is saying that it is not religious and yes it is philosophical( metaphysics).

    Graeme I am also fascinated with the consciousness question.
    Though at the moment I have no answer for this but have you searched wikipedia-consciousness .
    I guess you may have read it already.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2015
  5. Feb 19, 2015 #4
    Yes, I've read a few of those sorts of discussions and also read several philosophical treatments. I don't think I am asking about the nature of consciousness itself, more about the extent to which modern science has satisfied itself that consciousness arises from physical processes. Although I don't follow a lot of the philosophical discussions, I gather that the sense is that because 'mind' is an immaterial property, or so it seems, then it might somehow exist independently of the brain in some way. But to me that's no better than invoking God and some kind of 'spirit'.

    Not being able to quantify mind itself doesn't seem to me a barrier to examining how mind is related to body, or more specifically brain. If the qualitative properties of the mind are intimately linked to brain function than we surely are seeing a causal link. I wondered at the extent to which this has been established. My feeling from everything I have read (and that's not much admittedly) is that there seems a remarkable lack of anything substantial in that regard other than ideas and guesses. I wondered at what hard evidence has been gathered or what physical models have been proposed? Or is this a 'wicked' problem that resists the scientific method?
  6. Feb 19, 2015 #5
    I have no clue at the moment.
  7. Feb 19, 2015 #6


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    This has been the operating assumption of most of neuroscience, neuropsychology, and psychiatry; it's not particularly controversial in the main stream. Of course, there's still a lot of work to be done on the details (they've been coming along for decades now with increasing momentum in the last decade or two). Christof Koch is one of the well-known neuroscientists (he co-authored paper on consciousness with Francis Crick). I believe it was they who coined the term "neural correlates of consciousness" which serves as our main piece of evidence for monism:


    Varela wrote a paper on large-scale integration in the brain and its relationship the "unified cognitive moment":


    There's also Friston, who frames the problem more in terms of information theory:


    Probably an integral prediction of monism is that we should be able to predict the choices people make by brain activity, despite people feeling like they're freely choosing:

  8. Feb 19, 2015 #7
    Thanks Pythagorean, some useful sources there that I will endeavour to read. My guess is that a lot of it may go over my head - I found ploughing through some philosophical texts on the matter very heavy going indeed.

    One of the things I found from my short research was a certain lack of detail around how a mind could arise from the physical. I gather as you note above that relationships have been established between brain function and mind function but there still seems to be a big hole when you get to the matter of a mind being a cohesive unit that arises from a whole bunch of dispersed physical processes. So while it's one thing to say that x part of the brain is known to result in y mental effects, it's quite another to say that a complete functioning conscious mind should spring into being from the collection of x's.

    I may be splitting hairs unnecessarily due to my very sketchy grasp of the subject, but I am more curious about what models of mind have been proposed and how do these explain why purely physical mechanics should give rise to a largely immeasurable phenomenon. Let me restate, I am not trying to discuss God or souls or whatever. I am firmly of the idea that the mind arises from the brain and would definitely be in the monism camp. But in considering the matter myself, I do wonder at the extent to which 'mind' has been quantified and what evidence there is for it springing only from the brain.

    I read one article that noted that even quite simple organisms appear to have some kind of internal process which allows them to exhibit behaviours that seem indicative of an integrated sense of purpose. How complex does a brain need to be to produce a mind, how would one quantify that, and is it necessary for a mind to be self conscious?

    I'll give your sources a shot and see if that takes me further.
  9. Feb 19, 2015 #8


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    Where else in the body are you thinking thoughts can come from and why? Remember, we discussed this, speculation is not allowed, philosophy is not allowed ,you need to furnish appropriate peer-reviewed studies when you post. If you do not stay within the guidelines, this thread will be closed. Please post the scientific research where you read that the brain is not responsible for thought. If you don't have such a source, then please don't post completely unsubstantiated and mistaken thoughts.

    After a private discussion with the OP, he is wanting a philosophical discussion on possible alternative locations of thought. Thread closed.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2015
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