Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Mind Not Reduceable To Brain part 2

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Empirical Data:
There is No Empirical Data that proves reducibility


            Both sciences and the general public have come to accept the idea that the mind is dependent upon the brain and that we can reduce mental activity to some specific aspect of the brain upon which it is dependent and by which it is produced. Within this assumption neuroimaging studies are given special credence. These kinds of studies are given special credence probably because the tangibility of their subject matter and the empirical data produced creates the illusion of “proof.”[1] Yet EEG and MRI both have resolution problems and can’t really pin point exactly where neural activity is located.” In short, neuroimaging studies may not be as objective as some would like to think. There are still large gaps between observation and interpretation – gaps that are ‘filled’ by theoretical or methodological assumptions.”[2] Learning is not hard wired but is the result of “Plasticity.” This plasticity is what allows us the flexibility to learn in new situations. This means that most of our neocortex is involved in higher level psychological processes such as learning from experiences.[3] Our brains are developed by new experiences including skills acquisition.[4] Exercise and mediation can change the brain.[5]
            Classical psychological reductionism assumes the mind is essentially the brain. Mental behaviors are explained totally in terms of brain function. Mental states are merely reduced to brain states.

But while it may be true that certain psychological processes are contingent on some neurophysiological activity, we cannot necessarily say that psychological processes reduce to ‘nothing but’ that activity. Why not? – Because much of the time we are not dealing with cause and effect, as many neuroscientists seem to think, but rather two different and non-equivalent kinds of description. One describes mechanism, the other contains meaning. Understanding the physical mechanisms of a clock, for example, tells us nothing about the culturally constructed meaning of time. In a similar vein, understanding the physiological mechanisms underlying the human blink, tells us nothing about the meaning inherent in a human wink (Gergen, 2010). Human meaning often transcends its underlying mechanisms. But how does it do this?[6]

Reducing mind to brain confuses mechanism with meaning.[7]
            Raymond Tallis was a professor of Geriatric medicine at University of Manchester, and researcher, who retired in 2006 to devote himself to philosophy and writing. Tallis denounces what he calls “neurohype,”  “the claims made on behalf of neuroscience in areas outside those in which it has any kind of explanatory power….”[8]

The fundamental assumption is that we are our brains and this, I will argue presently, is not true. But this is not the only reason why neuroscience does not tell us what human beings “really” are: it does not even tell us how the brain works, how bits of the brain work, or (even if you accept the dubious assumption that human living could be parcelled up into a number of discrete functions) which bit of the brain is responsible for which function. The rationale for thinking of the kind – “This bit of the brain houses that bit of us...” – is mind-numbingly simplistic.[9]


Specifically Tallis has refernce to experiments where the brain is scanned while the subject does some activity and the differences are attributed to some structure in that part of the brain. Tallis is highly skeptical of this method.


Why is this fallacious? First, when it is stated that a particular part of the brain lights up in response to a particular stimulus, this is not the whole story. Much more of the brain is already active or lit up; all that can be observed is the additional activity associated with the stimulus. Minor changes noted diffusely are also overlooked. Secondly, the additional activity can be identified only by a process of averaging the results of subtractions after the stimulus has been given repeatedly: variations in the response to successive stimuli are ironed out. Finally, and most importantly, the experiments look at the response to very simple stimuli – for example, a picture of the face of a loved one compared with that of the face of one who is not loved. But, as I have pointed out elsewhere (for the benefit of Martians), romantic love is not like a response to a stimulus. It is not even a single enduring state, like being cold. It encompasses many things, including not feeling in love at that moment; hunger, indifference, delight; wanting to be kind, wanting to impress; worrying over the logistics of meetings; lust, awe, surprise; imagining conversations, events; speculating what the loved one is doing when one is not there; and so on. (The most sophisticated neural imaging, by the way, cannot even distinguish between physical pain and the pain of social rejection: they seem to “light up” the same areas!)[10]


Hal Pashler’s study, University of California, San Diego is discussed in an an editorial in New Scientist, he is quoted as saying  “In most of the studies that linked brain regions to feelings including social rejection, neuroticism and jealousy, researchers … used a method that inflates the strength of the link between a brain region and the emotion of behaviour.”[11]

While no empirical data proves reducibility, some empirical data seems to support irreducibility. The mind cannot be reduced to the brain alone.

Some empirical data supports claim:
Irreducibility


            There are, however, empirical data that imply that brain is not necessary to mind. One such datum is the humble amoeba. They swim; they find food they learn, they multiply, all without brains or brain cell connections.[12]  Various theories are proposed but none really answer the issue. Stuart Mameroff (anesthetist from University of Arizona) and Roger Penrose, Mathematician form Cambridge, raise the theory that small protein structures called microtubules found in cells throughout the body. The problem is they don’t cause any problem with consciousness when damaged.[13] Nevertheless, the amoeba is a mystery in terms of how it works with no brain cells. That leads to the recognition of a larger issue the irreducealbity raises the question of consciousness as a basic property of nature. Like electromagnetism, there was a time when scientists tried to explain that in terms of other known phenomena, when they could not do so they concluded that it was a basic property and opened up a branch of science and the electromagnetic spectrum.[14] David Chalmers and others have suggested the same solution for consciousness.


The late Sir John Eccles, a neuroscientist who won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1963 for his work on brain cell connections (synapses) and was considered by many to be one of the greatest neuroscientists of the twentieth century, was perhaps the most distinguished scientist who argued in favor of such a separation between mind, consciousness and the brain. He argued that the unity of conscious experience was provided by the mind and not by the machinery of the brain. His view was that the mind itself played an active role in selecting and integrating brain cell activity and molded it into a unified whole. He considered it a mistake to think that the brain did everything and that conscious experiences were simply a reflection of brain activities, which he described as a common philosophical view:

'If that were so, our conscious selves would be no more than passive spectators of the performances carried out by the neuronal machinery of the brain. Our beliefs that we can really make decisions and that we have some control over our actions would be nothing but illusions.[15]

Top Down Causation
confirming irreducibility

            Or downward causation, as seen in last chapter: “Top-down causation refers to the effects on components of organized systems that cannot be fully analyzed in terms of component-level behavior but instead requires reference to the higher-level system itself.” [16]




*problem of binding

            There is a problem with understanding what it is that binds together the unity of a conscious experience. We have many different kinds of conscious faculty at work in the process of being conscious, symbolic thinking, literal thinking, sense of temporal, sense of reality, and physical perceptions. Somehow it all gets brought together into one coherent sense of perceptions. How are the individual aspects, such as color, form, the temporal, and united into a coherent whole experience? Unification of experience is not achieved anatomically. There is “no privileged places of structures in the brain where everything comes together…either for the visual system by itself or for sensory system as a whole ” [17] McDougall took it as something that physicalilsm can’t explain.[18] Dennett and Kinsbourne recognize the phenomena marking top down causation and acknowledge it, they spin it as undermining unity.[19] The old approach was to assume there must be an anatomical center for binding. Without finding one the assumption was that it couldn’t be explained. Modern explanations of unity are based upon a functional approach.

The essential concept common to all of them is  that  oscillatory electrical activity in widely distributed neural populations can be rapidly and reversibly synchronized in the gamma band of frequencies (roughly 30-70 Hz) thereby providing a possible mechanism for binding.” (von der Malsburg 1995). A great deal of sophisticated experimental and theoretical work over the past 20 years demonstrates that mechanisms do exist in the nervous system and they work in relation to the normal perceptual synthesis. Indeed Searl’s doctrine of biological naturalism has now crystallized neurophysiologically in the form of a family of global workspace theories, all of which make the central claim that conscious experience occurs specifically and only with large scale patters of gamma band oscillatory activity linking widely separated areas of the brain. [20]


In other words if consciousness was reducible to brain chemistry there should be an anatomical center in the brain that works to produce the binding effect. Yet the evidence indicates that binding mechanisms must be understood as functions of various areas outside either the brain (nervous  system) or  in different parts of the brain which means it can’t be reduced to just a physical apparatus but is systemic and that is indicative of top down causation.

* Projective activity in perceptual process

            Our brains act as a sort of “word generating virtual reality system.”[21] That is the brain is constantly projecting and updating a model of the perceptual environment and our relation to it. Top down cross modal sensory interactions have been recognized as the rule rather than the exception, in perceptions, as several studies indicate (A.K. Engle et al, 2001; Shimojo and Shams 2001). [22] Evidence indicates that the ultimate source of projective activity may originate outside the brain. A great deal of knowledge is put into action for use in understanding language and in writing. Some researchers have advanced the view that the fundamental form of projective activity is dreaming.[23]

*Semantic or intentional content; word meaning and other form of representation.

This has been dealt with traditionally through reductionism. Representations were said to work by resembling things they represent. This was disproved by Goodman and Heil (1981). [24] In cognitive psychology there is a rule of thumb that meanings are not to be conceived as intrinsic to words, they are defined by the functional role they play in a sentence.  The major approach to the problem used now is connectionism, from dynamic systems theory. The meaning of a given response such as settling of a network into one of its attracters or firing of a volley of spikes by a neuron in the visual cortex is identified with the aspect in the environment that produces the response. This account can’t deal with abstract things or non existent things. There’s nothing in the environment to trigger it. Responses do not qualify as representations nor signs as symbols. “That something,” as Searl so effectively argued (in 1992) “is precisely what matters.”[25]


*problem of Intentionality

            Intentionality is the ability of representational forms to be about things, to reflect meaning and to be about events and states of affairs in the world. [26]  The problem of intentionality has plagued both psychologists and philosophers. Intentionality is inherently three ways, involving the user, symbols, and things symbolized. Searl tells us that intentionality of langue is secondary and derives from the intrinsic intentionality of the mind. “Intentionality can’t be obtained from any kind of physical system including brains.”[27]

*The Humunculus Problem

            The Homunculus was a medieval concept about human reproduction. The male was said to have in him little men just like him with all the basic stuff that makes him work that’s how new men get born. In this topic it’s the idea that we need in the mind another mind or brain like structure to make the mind work. The problem is it keeps requiring ever more little structures to make each one before it work; in endless regression of systems. Kelly and Kelly et al site Dennett’s attempt to solve the homunculus problem in the form of less and less smart homunculi until the bottom level corresponding to heard ware level end the recursion so it’s not infinite. (Dennett 1978)[28] Searl (1992) responds that there has to be something outside the bottom level that knows what lower level compositions mean. Cognitive models can’t function without a homunculus because they lack minds, as Kelly tells us.[29]


No homunculus problem, however, is posed by the structure of our conscious experience itself. The efforts of Dennett and others to claim that there is such a problem, and to use that to ridicule any residue of dualism, rely upon the deeply flawed metaphor of the Cartesian theater a place where mental contents get displayed and I pop in separately to view them. Descartes himself, James, Searl and others all have this right: conscious experience comes to us whole and undivided, with the qualitative feels, phenomenological content, unity, and subjective point of view all built in, intrinsic features. I and my experience cannot be separated in this way. [30]




[1] Brad Peters, Modern Psychologist, “the Mind Does not Reduce to the Brain.” On line resource, blog, 2/4/12
URL: http://modernpsychologist.ca/the-mind-does-not-reduce-to-the-brain/   visited 5/3/12
Brad Peters, M.Sc. Psychologist (Cand. Reg.) • Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
[2] Ibid.
[3] ibid
[4]Schore, A. N. Affect regulation and the origin of the self: The neurobiology of emotional development. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. (1994).
See also: Siegel, D. J. The developing mind: How relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are. New York, NY: Guilford Press. (1999).
[5] Peters, ibid.
[6] ibid.
[7] K. Gergen, The accultured brain. Theory & Psychology, 20(6), (2010).  795-816.
[8] Raymond Tallis New Haumanist.org.uk Ideas for Godless People (blog—online researche) volume 124 Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2009) URL: http://newhumanist.org.uk/2172/neurotrash  visited 5/9/12
[9] ibid
[10] ibid
[11] quoted by Tallis, ibid.
[12] Science Research Foundation, “Science at the horizon of life,” independent charitable organization in UK 2007-2012. On-line resource, UFL:  http://www.horizonresearch.org/main_page.php?cat_id=200  visisted 5/2/12
[13] ibid
[14] ibid
[15] ibid
[16] Mary Anne Meyers, “Top Down Causation, an Integrating Theme…” Templeton Foundation Symposium, Op cit. (no page number listed).
[17] Edward F. Kelley and Emily Williams Kelley, et al, Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century. Boulder, New York, Toronto: Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Inc, 2007/2010, 37.
[18] Ibid. 38, referring to W.McDougall, Proceedings of scientific physical research 25, 11-29. (1911/1961)..
[19] ibid. 38 refers to Dennette and kinsbourne in Consciousness Explained. (op cit) 183-247
[20] ibid, sites C.Von der Malsburg, “Binding In Models of Perception and Brain Function.” Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 5, 520-526. also sited Crick 94; Dehaene and Naccache,  2001; Edelmon and Tononi, 2000; Engle, Fries and Singer 2001; W.J. Freeman 2000, and others.

Engle, Fries, Singer cited in Pub Med: See comment in PubMed Commons below
2001 Oct;2(10):704-16.

Abstract

Classical theories of sensory processing view the brain as a passive, stimulus-driven device. By contrast, more recent approaches emphasize the constructive nature of perception, viewing it as an active and highly selective process. Indeed, there is ample evidence that the processing of stimuli is controlled by top-down influences that strongly shape the intrinsic dynamics of thalamocortical networks and constantly create predictions about forthcoming sensory events. We discuss recent experiments indicating that such predictions might be embodied in the temporal structure of both stimulus-evoked and ongoing activity, and that synchronous oscillations are particularly important in this process. Coherence among subthreshold membrane potential fluctuations could be exploited to express selective functional relationships during states of expectancy or attention, and these dynamic patterns could allow the grouping and selection of distributed neuronal responses for further processing.

 
[21] ibid
[22] ibid, 40, he sites A.K. Engle et al, 2001; Shimojo and Shams 2001;
[23] ibid,  41-42 sites Rodolfo Llina’s and Pare’ 1996 Llina’s and Ribary, 1994.
[24] Ibid, 42 see Heil 1981
[25] ibid, 43 see Searl 1992
[26] ibid
[27] ibid, see also studies, puccetti 1989; Dupuy 2000 discussion of issue form opposing points of view).
[28] Ibid see Dennett 1978 and Searl 1992)
[29] ibid
[30] ibid, 44















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