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The Mind of Man

  1. May 23, 2005 #1
    The Mind of Man

    There are many of us here at the Physics Forums who seem to think that the mind of man is nothing more than an emergent property of the electrochemical processes that go on in the physical brain; that any computer of sufficient size and complexity would develop consciousness, self awareness and a mind; that there is not something more to the mind and that it solely resided in the physical brain and has no real existence of its own.
    I have thought about this, read about this for some time now and at first did not really know what I thought of this topic. I have reached an opinion if not a conclusion that all of the above is wrong. It does not reflect reality as I see it and makes no sense in light of what I do know, have experienced, read, heard and seen. The following, in part, is what has led me to the belief that I now hold.
    The mammalian brain has been around for some 130 million years, the physical brain of lesser animals for much longer. All of these brains work on the same principle of electrochemical interconnections and interactions. Mammals have emotions and some can at least recognize themselves in mirrors and pictures . They can reason to a degree and solve problems. They make and use tools. They change their immediate environment by building and digging houses, nests, dens, dams, hives, mounds etc. and have been doing so for millions of years. Yet none but one has ever advanced beyond these relatively simple capabilities.
    Homo Sapiens have been around for what 40-50 thousand years? I was told by an anthropology instructor at collage that humans are the only animals that have no instincts, innate complex behavior patterns, when they are born. Ants and bees, who live in complex societies also, behaviors are almost all instinct. Humans are therefore forced to think from the moment of birth, if not before. We have to learn everything including learning how to learn as well as think and reason. We have no instincts to fall back on.
    We have yet to decide exactly what it is about humans that make them different from the other animals. What is it that makes us humans? I say it is our mind. Our mind is that something else that is different, something else or more that is the difference between humans and the rest of the animals. Our mind along with our spirit and soul is what makes us different, human. I don’t necessarily mean supernatural, mystical or metaphysical spirit and soul, but, the spirit or soul of man that makes us creative and inventive, that makes us builders and explorers, that make us searchers and wonderers. Most animals are curious, but none are driven like Man to discover the Universe, how and why it works as it does, how and why we work.
    I think that this is far more than just an emergent property or reaching a threshold of complexity. There is a quantum leap between Man and animal that cannot be explained by simply adding more of the same until some magical unexplained plateau is reached and Walla we suddenly have Mankind withal of his abilities, talents and creativeness. It is possible that a thousand monkeys with a thousand typewriters would within a thousand year type out Hamlet but how long would it take one chimpanzee to intentionally sit down and write by hand just one Shakespearean sonnet.
    None of the above proves nothing nor does it make our minds different from our brain processes. I was at a loss to understand why I believed that our minds were something more than just the electrochemical processes of our brains until I came across two verifiable documented case of out of body experiences. I know that this is controversial and a number of you will dismiss it as so much hog wash. I also know that I have written of this before. One case I saw on TV, the Discovery Channel, I think.

    1. A little girl was hurt in an accident and was being prepared for surgery in the emergency room of a hospital. She had already been anesthetized and was unconscious. A surgical nurse came down to check on her to see if see was ready to go to surgery and what needed to be done. The surgical teams wore red hats and were the only one in the hospital who did so. The little girls got through the surgery fine and was recovering well. The surgical nurse in her street clothes stopped by do see how she was doing and say hi. The little girls said; “I know you. You’re the woman in the red hat.”

    2. This was told to me by a friend and coworker that I had know for years. He had injured his knee in high school and it would go out on him occasionally. A few years after graduating from high school he had another accident and injured his knee again this time very badly. He was being prepared for surgery in the emergency room and had been knocked out with drugs as he was in severe pain. After surgery and he had become conscious again his parents began to tell him what the doctor had said what they were going to do and how long it would take to heal along with the prognosis. My friend interrupted them and told them everything that the doctor had said as well as what questions they had asked and what they had said. He told me that it was as if he were floating above the scene in the corner of the room looking down on his parents, the doctor and his body below. He was conscious and aware and knew that he was seeing his own body. He could hear and see everything going on it the room and remember everything after waking up.

    While the above are controversial, I know, and are not scientific evidence as such, it shows that the mind is more then just the physical brain and it’s processes and that the mind and brain, while they are interactive and both effect the other, they are capable of separating and the mind can still function, retain consciousness, identity and awareness even while the brain is unconscious.
    I know that the two examples above are not isolated incidences that have never been duplicated elsewhere. While uncommon it is not rare. I can only accept these as true and real and therefore conclude that there is indeed something more to the Mind of Man than just a bunch of chemical doing the same thing that they have been doing for millions of years in every animals brain since the physical brain came into being.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 23, 2005 #2
    Perhaps u will find this interesting:
    http://www.nidsci.org/articles/mitchell_hologram.php [Broken]

    Btw i agree with u. I have read many near-death-experiences and OBEs and i also believe many are true.
    There is some evidence that suggest these NDEs have a trancendental cause:
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  4. May 23, 2005 #3
    Royce: I'm still sitting on the fence on this one/.
    I want to believe like you do.. it could even have implications
    of life after death..the real question is does the mind live on outside the body after death in some form or another...
    at first glance the answer is no!!..
    at a 2nd glance ,well maybe..you and I will know, sooner than later..
    we will die way before science can know for sure..
    there will either something or nothing..
    its my great hope,that I will go on to another great adventure.
    just like this life has given me..
  5. May 23, 2005 #4
    I'm not sure this is a case where absolutes can be argued. The brain is an electrochemical machine. It does create emotions and is responsible for memories. This is a science forum and science relies on the observable. More people here will believe what there senses can tell them then you will find in other places.

    I'm not convinced that NDE cannot be reasonably explained by science. I thought that NDE were only possible with a brain dead patient. (one who registers no brain activity) The cases that you describe the persons are only unconscious. They can still hear and maybe see and could possibly retain those memories.

    I think a large part of what separates man from animal is the metaphysical. The ability to make judgements on the unobservable. The ability to understand metaphor allows us to interpret things in a way that is meaningful to us. With a greater capacity for creative thought we also increase our understanding of the universe. As we begin to understand, the mystical becomes the scientific. The process involves more than just the senses.

    I'm also not sure that human beings have no instincts. For example, children have a certain period of their growth where they are programmed to learn language. If they miss this period, as in the case of feral children, then they will have difficulty in learning any language. Human instincts are not based on how well we can hunt and survive in the wild like an animal. They are based on survival in a human environment, which often have more basic animal counterparts.
  6. May 23, 2005 #5
    PIT2 and Huckleberry, I'm not talking about near death experiences, though I have no doubt that they are real and a true indication of life after body death on Earth. While neither you nor I have experienced it, so could not have observed it, others have and many report nearly the same experiences. I am not prepared to label them all as liars and hoaxers as many are sincere honest people with nothing to gain and quite a bit to lose. Science cannot explain consciousness how could it possible explain NDE's.
    What I was talking about is out of body experiences which is simular in that the identity, consciousness, sense perceptions and memories occur outside the body often with the subject looking down at their own unconscious body and recognizing it and other people, hearing and seeing everything going on within the room and remembering it clearly later. This is not the same as NDE.
    There is no explanation for it other than the consciousness leaves the body as a person at that level of deep induced unconsciousness is usually not aware of anything and remembers nothing. Some say that they can do it at will and call it astral journeying. I am not sure that I accept all that they say but again I am not prepared to say that they are liars.

    merak, in so much as the mind is ourselves, our identity, possibly our soul and/or spirit I have to say that I firmly believe that we, something of us, live on after our bodies die. It is more than faith. It is a conviction but like you I will not know until it happens or I will know nothing and be nothing.
    Last edited: May 23, 2005
  7. May 24, 2005 #6
    I know NDE is not the same as OBE, but in many Near Death Experiences, people do have an OBE.
    An NDE typically starts as an OBE, as the person experiences popping out of his body.
    Next they can observe the room their body is in, or even remote locations.
    After awhile they see a light, enter another realm and have that part of their experience.
    Then they return and see the real world from an OBE perspective again.

    Some NDErs have even been able to witness events (from an out-of-body perspective)that occurred during their period of clinical braindeath. These observations were subsequently verified to match reality. This even happened to blind people.

    These persons arent just unconscious, they are clinically braindead!
    Last edited: May 24, 2005
  8. May 24, 2005 #7


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    Your argument seems to be relying on an outdated notion of naive realism-- i.e., that we directly perceive what is really out there in the world. But this view is no longer tenable under mountains of contrary evidence from the cognitive sciences. We directly perceive a model of the world constructed by the brain; we do not directly perceive the world itself. At best, we perceive the external world indirectly, by means of this cognitive model.

    For instance, consider our normal, waking conscious experience. That our minds seem to occupy a region in space right behind our eyes and in our heads is not due to the fact that our brain physically lies behind our eyes and in our heads; rather, it is due to the fact that the brain constructs a model of the world from sensory data in such a way as to create this sense of embodiment. When you look down, the body you see is a perceptual model created by your brain, not your actual, physical body. Suitable modulation of brain activity can systematically alter this sense of embodiment, sometimes quite radically, which can only mean that brain activity is the thing subserving it in the first place.

    Consider the experience of dreaming. In dreams, we find ourselves experiencing strange, illogical, alien worlds. Sometimes we do not even occupy the dream space per se, and just experience it from a disembodied point of view. Is the only explanation for dreaming experience that our consciousness actually does wander off and visit strange worlds? Hardly! The best explanation is just that brain activity during sleep occurs in such a way as to construct a perceptual space-- the same general sort of activity that subserves the construction of the perceptual space experienced in waking consciousness.

    From here it is a small step to offer an alternate explanation for the phenomena you present in this thread. We certainly do not have to conclude that the mind really does distend from the physical brain/body. The more rational explanation is just that there is some sort of unusual modulation in the normal, perceptual space-constructing brain activity, in such a way as to create a percpetual space where the locus of consciousness does not seem to inhabit the perceptual model of the body.

    As for the recognition and recollection of facts presented during periods of unconsciousness-- if such reports really are accurate, they can be explained by noting that the unconscious mind is not completely dead to the world. Sensory information continues to be processed by the brain even during periods where a person is unresponsive. For example, the case where the person could recall a conversation held while he was anesthetized is not so different from the common phenomenon whereby a sleeping person incorporates sounds from his physical environment into his dreaming experience.
  9. May 24, 2005 #8
    Royce, I don't get your OP. You started off my listing all the animals than can do some of the things we humans can do (create, use tools, plan, etc) and then seemed in awe of the fact that we can do the same things (our inventiveness and creativity). Can you narrow down exactly what it is that humans can do that causes you to think there is a non-chemical explanation?

    Also, if we are born without instinct, why can newborn babies swim, cry, breathe, etc?
  10. May 24, 2005 #9
    I personally know of only the two that I referred to as being verifiable. I don't remember reading or hearing of any NDE that started out and ended as OBE's.
    Thanks for the information and additional support. Unfortunately it doesn't mean a thing as it has all been accounted for and rationalized in the post after your by Hypnagogue. It seems even dead brain can still function, perceive and store memories. Oh well, I said that it is controversial.
  11. May 24, 2005 #10
    My point was that animals do not create, are not creative yet do so many things that were at one time attributed to humans alone as the difference between humans and animals. Animals have not progressed or developed beyond that point where as humans have gone so much further and done and accomplished so much more. For example chimpanzee's DNA is 95% the same as ours and their brains are nearly as big and complex as ours yet the have never developed beyond the Stick Age. This is why I say that there must be something more.

    I questioned that statement too but was reminded that there is a big difference between reflexive actions and complex instinctive behavior.
  12. May 24, 2005 #11
    As reluctant as I am to question a bunch of Phd's building their empires or at least niches under the publish or parish mandate, I am being forced to do so. First it is their physicalist paradigm that the mind does not exist but is only a property of the physical brain function that makes them try with this convoluted theory to make the relatively simple processor responsible for human mentality and consciousness. Yes they are describing the functioning of the brain and how it physically processes data input from our senses. They have yet to discover how the physical brain brings all of these processes together to form the concept of a chair that is universal to all chairs regardless of shape, size color and type. Maybe this is where Plato's forms come in.
    I, really hate to bust their so carefully constructed bubble but what we perceive is reality after our brains have processed all of the sensory data and passed the information on to the mind. If our perceptions were not reality but an inaccurate model then what we have discovered, learned, and know of the physical world scientifically would not be nearly so accurate, verifiable or useful. Nor would one discovery lead to even more theories and discoveries.
    It seems to me that they are over complicating the issue and throwing in a bunch of extra steps just so they can rationalize and justify it to fit the physicalist view point. Where is Occam's Razor when you need it. As they say; "If you hear hoof beats in the American West don't go looking for zebras."

    What I see are photons reflected off of my body into my eyes. My brain processes that data and my mind perceives my body and verifies it with other sensory inputs such as feeling and location awareness of my body again using processed data from my brain. I brain may create a model of sensory inputs but it has to create many such models and tie them in with its awareness of location and feeling and some where in my brain or mind I perceive the reality of my body. My body and brain interact and one effects the other just as my mind and brain interact and one effects the other. I can of my own mental volition change the condition and position of my body. My mind can make my body healthy sick or even die. My body's condition effects both my brain and my mind yet my mind can continue to perceive, be aware and remember even when my brain and body are deeply anesthetized, unconscious or even clinically dead according to EHI's post.

    So far as I know, I am always aware that I am asleep and dreaming. I also usually know when I am awake and my perceptions are real or not real because of optical illusions or sensory distortions. This comes from experience and my personal experiences are my ultimate test for reality.

    "some sort of unusual modulation..." is more rational than acceptance of experienced perception. My locus of consciousness does not lie in a perceptual model of the body. It is usually in my head behind my forehead but I can at times move it, not outside my body but to various location within my body.

    Such reports are accurate and verifiable. Now you question the veracity of me and people you know nothing about because it doesn't fit your preconceived model of the physical brain. This is scientific? Throw out or place in doubt any data that doesn't fit your theory or twist it to make it fit?
    Deeply anesthetized unconscious or clinically dead people are not asleep. Memory of anything that happened or any awareness is highly unusual and usually indicates that the patient is not anesthetized deep enough or coming around.

    I know that I sound harsh and aggravated here. I am not upset just emphatic.
    I knew that this challenge was coming and I've been here before. I also know the futility of arguing with a physicalist view point. I am a realist and I don't believe that it is naive. It is the physicalistic view point that ignores so much data, experience and information because it doesn't fit the physicalist paradigm.
    I have said it so many times before and will keep right on saying it until even I won't listen any more. There is so much more to reality than merely the physical and the physical cause and effect. You/they say ideas are not physical but are only the effect of physical processes. How then can anyone come up with a new idea, create something never seen, nor heard, nor read before or a new theory of a reality that he cannot and does not perceive but just some cause and effect subjective model created electrochemically in his physical brain cells?
    If the universe is deterministic and all is physical cause and effect how can anything new be thought of or created? Just like Materialism, Physicalism contains its own contradiction making it illogical and not reasonable. It is as much a leap of faith, faith in the strictly physical processes, as fundamental religionism's faith in the biblical God.

    There I've vented and feel much better now. Sorry it had to be you, hypnagogue, my friend, that I dumped on.
    Last edited: May 24, 2005
  13. May 24, 2005 #12
  14. May 24, 2005 #13
    On the anaesthetic thing, and this is an aside, my girlfriend works at a hospital and says that it is quite common for people to either claim to recall excrutiating pain or suffer severe mental breakdowns following intensive surgery on general anesthetic. There is the suspicion that many anesthetics paralyse the body and may block the formation of new long term memories, but do not actually make the person unconscious. Many of these people simply never recover emotinally, but have no memory of what made them this way. Apparently others can recall completely their experiences under anesthetic. What a nightmare that would be.
  15. May 24, 2005 #14
    Maybe u havent read many NDEs then, because there are hardly any NDEs without an OBE.

    Here are some quotes from the 13-year NDE study i posted earlier:

    source: http://profezie3m.altervista.org/archivio/TheLancet_NDE.htm
  16. May 24, 2005 #15
    lesion pieces of peoples brains and see what they do...
    Because most of such experiments are considered unethical neuropsychologists/surgeons are limited to how much they can
    explore the human brain.

    Also one of the defining factors of the human brain is the enlarge PFC which is apart of decision making and imagery(along with the parietal regions i think 7A and LIP) two important qualities in NDE and OBE.
  17. May 24, 2005 #16
    When I dream does imaginary light enter my eyes? If no light enters my eyes and yet I can still perceive objects then how can I possibly know if what I see when I am awake is not a figment of my imagination? All the senses can be fooled into reporting imaginary information that appears very real to the the mind.

    I believe that I am awake right now, but if I were to suddenly wake up from this state and enter a state that felt more real then would I have to assume that my life was a dream? There have been many times that I have woken up from a dream only to discover that I was still dreaming when I awoke for a second time, or a third.

    I don't think hypnagogue was invalidating the experience of the two people you know that had unconscious memories of real events. Because they are unconscious does not mean that their senses have stopped registering information. This information is a part of the world that people agree to be real and is incorporated into the personal reality of the unconscious person. The only difference here is that upon awakening the person does no have a sense that what they experienced is less real than what they are experiencing now. They assume it is reality, and it may very well be accurate.

    What I am skeptical of is true NDE with OBE that are realistically accurate. All the sites that I've seen on this seem slanted towards the opinion that this is fact without offering much evidence. It doesn't make it not real. It just makes it a matter of faith. I am curious to learn more about it.

    If you were expecting this reaction then why would you create the thread? It seems you are already convinced of your beliefs. Is it important that you convince others? Why?

    Anyway, I agree with you that there is more to the world than the physical for exactly the reason I've listed here. We can perceive things as real that may not be real, and we can not be certain that what we perceive as real is just a perception. This leaves the door wide open for the metaphysical. But seeing as that it would be difficult to live in a society where nobody could agree on what is real we should at least attempt to find a way to communicate reality to each other. That's why there is logic, and why science relies on the observable, not the metaphysical.
  18. May 24, 2005 #17
    You have a point. There is also the fact that chimp and gorilla's DNA differ by 16% showing that humans and chimps are closer related than chimps and gorillas yet their behavior is by far more similar than chimps and humans.
    However, there are many things, behavior patters, between humans and chimps that are very similar such as hunting monkeys raiding other clans and murder. My point is that we are so similar and so closely related yet so different in or technical and creative abilities. I don't think that this can all be explained away by evolutionary or environmental differences. After all mankind is supposed to be out of the same Africa where chimps are now.

    I don't think that it is a delusion. I think that it is real. Our science, art music and buildings, our technology and continuing advancement in every field we undertake is rather Grand don't you think. Of course that is the work of the best of us but all of us are capable of understand and appreciating what we have accomplished as a species.

    Again you prove my point. Sheep - chimp - Mankind Which quantum leap is the greater with the least differences. Why does it have to be a supernatural consciousness rather than a natural consciousness, the mind of man, that makes the difference. If you use "supernatural" to mean beyond and above nature as in spiritual or mystical then I disagree. If you use "supernatural" the same way we use super structure, above the main deck on a ship or roadway on a bridge, and mean above the main body but still part of nature then I agree. I do not think the mind is biochemical or physical but mental and is interactive with the biochemical physical brain and body.

    Because as I said the evolutionary and DNA difference between a sloth and chimp are far greater than the differences between Man and chimp yet the chimps are still animals as is a sloth but mankind are humans.
  19. May 24, 2005 #18
    Thanks again, PIT2. You support my position better than I do. No I haven't read a lot about NDE. What I have read and seen on TV is fascinating and goes to support my spiritual beliefs. I find nothing unbelievable about them and my usual remark is; "Of course, what else would you expect?"
  20. May 24, 2005 #19
    Hypnagogue and I go back a few years and we have discussed, debated, argued over a number of different topics. It has always been in good faith and though we seldom agree we both enjoyed very much, for this reason I consider him a friend.
    I used these two examples in another thread a year or so ago to illustrate a similar point, and got much the same reaction. Some interested even fascinated, some true believers, and some who all but called me and the people reporting it liars and hoaxes. Others just contend that there are natural reasonable explanations for all of it. This last is stretching the point and ignoring things like PIT2 pointed out that even brain dead flat liners have report similar experiences.
    I may have over reacted and if I did I apologize.

    My only question remains, why does science ignore the verifiable duplicable experiences of sincere honest people, question their reliability, veracity and motives? There is a wealth of anecdotal information out there about every metaphysical topic yet it does not exist and is not evidence to scientist.
    Sure there is a lot of misinformation and hoaxers out there, even con artists, but then science's reputation and record is not pristine or spotless either.
  21. May 24, 2005 #20
    I don't think science ignores the metaphysical. There is much to be said about its psychological and philosophical effects. There just isn't much that can be done with it in the physical sciences because as you mentioned, the evidence is mostly anecdotal. Rigid thinking on both sides of the issue is probably another major difficulty.
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