Monday, May 05, 2014

Mind is Not Reduceabel to Brain. (part 1)

Image result for metacrock's blog brain

            This topic is of great importance for believers in God because it encompasses almost every facet of the territory upon which the battle over belief is fought. It impinges upon what one believes about the ability to be good or to refuse sin, the freedom of belief vs. the view that belief is just a side effect of bad psychology, the nature of religious experience and its veracity, even the after life. This topic should be of great importance to non believers as well as it impinges upon our ability to understand ourselves as free agents capable of governing ourselves, and as individuals who would seek the meaning of our lives and the expression of self in art. I suspect also that the determinist/reductionist view point encourages atheists in their materialism and rejection of the soul.


            Ideological and philosophical types of reductionism seek to reduce human consciousness to a level of side effect produced by brain chemistry; to do this reductionsts will lose the phenomena that describe an irreducible consciousness. This is done by employing the standard reductionist tricks of re-labeling, re-describing, and bait and switch. The bait and switch is primarily a replacement of consciousness with brain function. Phenomenoloigcally consciousness might be thought of as the awareness of self, others, nuance, place, time, ambiance, and the feel of perception. In place of this the reductionist places the way the brain functions, and puts it over as consciousness. The reductionst, assumes there is nothing to consciousness that is not produced by the physical apparatus of the brain. This just puts in place the outgrowth of the physical apparatus minus the aspects of consciousness the consciousness supporters talk about then points to those brain function aspects as proof that this is all there is; after all this is consciousness. Whereas in fact all they are doing is removing consciousness and pointing to the aspects they want to support as proof because those are the aspects they can get at through their methods. This is something like a prosecutor at a trial replacing the evidence with his own briefs then saying “well see the evidence is so in line with my briefs that it proves my case.”
            The debate about consciousness stacks believers in unique irreducible nature of human consciousness against those who think that consciousness can be reduced to mere brain chemistry. This is not an issue of theism vs atheism; major positions allied against the reductionism are also materialist positions, as well as God-believing positions. On the side of the mind are materialists such as property dualists, Functionalists and supervenience theorists. Property dualists are often mistaken for theists by the term “dualist,” yet they are not true dualists they don’t believe there are two levels of reality but that each property can have dual aspects. Functionalists hold that mental states are functional states but mental properties cannot be identified with mental biological properties. Supervenience says that mental life correlates with physical body.[1]
            Perhaps the major source for this kind of reductionism where brain/mind is concerned is the now classic work Consciousness Explained by Daniel Dennett.[2] Dennett is a master of the bait and switch, using a vast amount of data about all sorts phenomena based studies dealing with brain function, all the while asserting that it’s explaining consciousness with which he does not even deal. I urge the reader to see the article by my friend Lantz Miller who wrote it for the academic journal that I once published; Negations: an Interdisciplinary Journal of social Criticism.[3]  Dennett seems to say “we are all zombies, no one is conscious.”[4] Kevin B. Korb seems to think this is just Dennett’s attempt to motivate the reading, sort of a shock effect by taking an extreme position.[5] Be that as it may Dennett represents the functionalists position. Functionalism, introduced by J.J.C. Smart and U.T. Place, is the thesis that mental states are identical to some particular brain states.[6] If the goal of Dennett is the old positivist’s dream of clearing away the clutter so science can get on with its work, the clutter he seeks to clear away is twofold, two positions stemming from the brain/mind questions as dealt with by philosophy: (1) mental states cannot be shared since the physical make up of our brains cannot be shared (Korb uses the term “goo”).  (2) the dualistic homuncular theories which had been advocated by many dualists. That idea suggested something like this, there is a part inside us that has the true brain function and that part really understands our motivations, even though we don’t. This gives way to an infinite regress as there has to be a homuncular thinker inside to give the powers to the first homunculus and so on.[7] This latter view can work out to be one of the tricks of reductionism, redescribing an otherwise valid position in terms of “homuncularism.” Atheists on the internet tend to call anything that involves internal states “homuncular.”
            Even though dualistic options are no longer defended, hold over ideas remain and obscure the valuable reductions. Korb sums up:

Dennett shows that the homuncular concept retains a powerful grip on the imaginations of many, perhaps most, cognitive scientists. While explicit dualism and homuncularism are (no doubt properly) `endangered' theses, a great many theories and judgments advanced by cognitive scientists rely at some point upon there being a magical place in the head where everything comes together---in what Dennett calls the Cartesian Theater. This concept is pernicious in a variety of ways. For one thing, it leads to lazy analysis: if we can rely upon some arbitrarily complex central process to clean up our functional loose ends, we needn't be very careful about specifying whatever functional processes we do provide. But worse, this Cartesian Materialism (functionalism with the Theater at the center) again leads to infinite regress: if there is a theater where consciousness is `projected', then there must be an observer viewing the projection (else why bother with the theater?). As before, we will find it difficult to understand this observer: if the theater and its audience are needed to understand conscious processes,
then an `inner' theater and `inner' audience will be needed to understand the observer, and so on. But if the theater and its observer are not needed to understand conscious processes, then why introduce them in the first place? As Dennett notes, the best place to stop an infinite regress is usually at the beginning.[8]

The opposition of the functionalists to the Cartesian theater is the opposition to a center of internal control where the subject makes a conscious decision or carries away an awareness of his own internal states. As an alternative to the ‘center’ (the Cartesian theater) Dennett proposes the idea of “multiple drafts.” This idea says that the version of what is perceived is contrastingly re-written. The drafts are edited and reedited endlessly and passed along through endless processes.[9] So there is no one key center perception. While this is highly reductionist, it takes out the conscious control of the subject. It loses phenomena of consciousness as our own experience tells us that we do take part in editing some of the drafts. It’s also problematic because it’s a reprise of the homuncular concept. Who is writing the drafts, a little reductionist inside the brain?  The true position of Dennett is ambiguous, although no doubt he does believe that consciousness reduces to brain chemistry.
We know this from 150 years of neurology where you damage areas of the brain, and faculties are lost… You can cease to recognize faces, you can cease to know the names of animals but you still know the names of tools…What we’re being asked to consider is that you damage one part of the brain, and something about the mind and subjectivity is lost, you damage another and yet more is lost, [but] you damage the whole thing at death, we can rise off the brain with all our faculties in tact, recognizing grandma and speaking English![10]

Atheists on the popular level use this argument quite a bit. From that premise, that brain damage means destruction of consciousness, they conclude that consciousness is reducible to brain chemistry and imagine a complete factual basis for the supposition. They have created a bogus science of neurology which they imagine has already answered all questions and proved conclusively that consciousness is reducible to brain function. This is far from a done deal. Science is just getting started on understanding the brain, despite what popular atheism wants to believe. This fact is stated bluntly by one of its expert teachers, Vitzthum in his lecture to the Atheist culb: “Since how the brain actually works is today one of the least-understood and most hotly-debated subjects in science, I'd like to explain briefly the most promising of these theories and in the process finish my discussion of philosophical materialism.”[11]
            The position that mind is reducible to brain and that it is proved by neurology is far form a proven position. Moreover, the brain damage argument is a weak argument. There are better arguments to be made by documenting brain function through neurological evidence, even though that is not proof. The brain damage argument is almost separate from any scientific evidence as we can observe the connection between damage and loss of consciousness without any scientific equipment. Either way the bran damage argument proves only that brain is essential to accessing consciousness, not that consciousness is reducible to brain function.  The access argument can be illustrated with the following analogies. We can destroy computer hardware such as the monitor and that eliminates or blocks our access to soft ware but it doesn’t’ mean that soft ware is hardware or that software is erased by the damage of hardware. The logic of the brain damage argument can be applied to prove that television programs are not broadcast through the air waves but originate in the tv box. After all if we damage the box, take out parts or what have you, we don’t get the picture or the sound or the program. By the logic of the brain damage argument proves that he signal originates in the box.

Mind irreducible to brain function

            By way of explanation of the two sides, I will take property dualism as representative of the pro-mind side, on the proviso that it’s not the only position. Panpsychism can be thought of as a subset (one of four types) of property dualism.[12] I will compare them with John Searle’s article “why I’m Not a Property Dualist.”[13]
            Searle summarizes the property dualist position:

(1)  Empirical reality exits in two categories, physical and mental.
(2)  Because mental states are not reducible to physical states they are something over and above the physical. The irreducibility in and of itself is enough to demonstrate that there is more than just the neurobiological.
(3)  Mental phenomena do not constitute separate objects of substances but rather are features of properties of a composite, such as human or animal. Thus humans or animals have two types of features or properties, mental and physical.[14]

Searle takes issue with this in that he ascribes the categories to just one world. There are not two sets of characteristics. We have one world, everything is physical, but we can describe it in a number of ways. Searle may be thought of as part of the pro-mind side, but he is not a property dualist. He explains why in terms of the problem of the mental and the causal. If the mental is removed from physical then it can’t play a causal role. Ultimately he’s going to argue that the conventional terms are the problem because they invite us to discuss the issue in dualistic ways. So Searle accepts the premise of the reductionists that everything is physical and material but he can’t be called a reducationist because he also recognizes the importance of ontology. He says in terms of neurobiology there is one world and consciousness is a product of the causal process. On the other hand, since descriptively our mental states are not reducible or accessible by others there is an ontological dimension that can’t be reduced. He seems to take the ontological as a descriptive dimension. As argument against the ramifications of Property dualism he lays out a dilemma. If consciousness is closed from the physical realm its not part of the causal mechanism and that means our behavior has nothing to do with consciousness. The alternative is that if the conscious is part of the causal it creates a dualistic causality in which case each action has two explanations, the mental and physical.[15] It seems rather coherent to me to appeal to the mental as motivation for movement and to the physical as the actual mechanics of carrying out the “enabling legislation” so to speak.
            I agree with Searle that a large part of the problem is the dualistic nature of language. We are forced into categories of dualism by the way we are led to speak about the distinction between physical and mental. I can accept Searle’s position, even as a Christian, with the proviso that we can’t understand God and God is obviously an exception to what we know and could contradict all of it. The qualities in humanity that make us “eternal sprits” and put us above the realm of the mere physical can be described in functional terms rather than taken as “essentialist.” That is to say, we can see “spirit” as mind, and mind as mental phenomena without positing a discrete entity or ghost in the machine. On the other hand I hold back from commitment to Searle’s position due to one question that he doesn’t seem to answer. When we say “consciousness” do we mean the actual awareness, or even the texture of mental awareness that comes with mental states, or do we mean the apparatus that makes that texture possible? That seems crucial because if we mean the apparatus then I would agree with his position in so far as we stipulate for biological life only; for biological life consciousness is rooted in the neurobiological. We need not confine our understanding of the texture of awareness or the function of awareness to biological life. If the texture is what we mean by “consciousness,” then it could be much more vast and irreducible to the neurobiological. This is an explanation of the term “source of consciousness.” That term I apply to God.
            I think Searle is wrong in assuming that two dimensions of human being (mental and physical) make for two causes in every action. One cause beginning with the motivation (mental) and working itself out as a cause over two dimensions of our being. That argument is not proof that mental can be reduced to the physical, nor does the threat of being dualistic disprove the reality of dualism. David Chalmers has an argument, or several arguments, for the irreducealbity of consciousness.[16] Chalmers observes that consciousness escapes the reductive net and is not easily reduced to the physical by the assumptions reductionists make. It’s natural to assume that everything reduces to the physical that consciousness supervenes upon the physical. No physical explanation can wholly account for the nature of consciousness. The argument is in what I call the “texture” or the “conscious nature” of consciousness itself.[17] Chalmers argues that consciousness does not logically supervene upon the physical. The reductionists pull a biat and switch by demonstrating the reduction of brain function to the physical, obviously, then speaking as though they have demonstrated that consciousness is the same as brain function when in fact they have no such demonstration. The very nature of consciousness resists such a demonstration, yet the reductionist is often blind to this fact because they can’t stop identifying consciousness with brain function.
            Chalmers full argument entails the theory of the supervenient but he also makes arguments without it. He says one can do it either way. I will avoid the complex and highly specialized issue in order to keep it simple; otherwise I am apt to become confused. He sets up the arguments so that they can be made and make sense without the supervenient analysis.[18] The basic argument is grounded in the nature of consciousness which is seen in the so called “hard problem,” the inability to explain the nature of consciousness without losing the phenomena of consciousness. To illustrate the hard problem Chalmers constructs the notion of the philolophical zombie. Philosophical zombies differ from Hollywood zombies in that they are not mindless automatons who can’t think wondering about doing someone’s bidding. They are identical to us in every way so they cannot be identified as such externally. The only difference is they don’t have mental states or the “texture” of consciousness. They can think they can react logically and reason but they don’t have the mental experience going on inside. The zombie can’t feel the good morning but she can say “good morning” and in a way that implies that she means it. It doesn’t matter weather such zombies are actually possible or not. This is not a possible worlds argument its really more of an analogy that illustrates the distinction between consciousness and brain function.[19] The upshot of the zombie thing is that one could have all the brain function to memic everything humans do, but still lack consciousness and that illustrates that consciousness is not explained by brain function. If the organism with all the brain we have lacks the texture of consciousness then the two don’t share the same properties one is not dependent upon the other.  Of course the opponent will argue that we are making more of consciousness than we should and that in imagining a world of such zombies we are inherently putting in the mental states just in ascribing to them our behaviors. The burden of proof is on them to prove that there is nothing more to the texture of consciousness than behavior.[20]
            The epistemic asymmetry of consciousness affords Chalmers a powerful argument. Conscious experience is a complete surprise given the relationship between mathematics and the rest of reality. That is to say, if not for our actual experience of consciousness we could never theorize or guess as to its’ existence just based upon scientific knowledge about brain function or the physical world. A world of philosophical zombies in which there was no experience of consciousness with all the scientific understanding we have could never come to realization that consciousness must exist for some beings somewhere.

From all the low-level facts about physical configurations and causation, we can in principle derive all sorts of high-level facts about macroscopic systems, their organization, and the causation among them. One could determine all the facts about biological function, and about human behavior and the brain mechanisms by which it is caused. But nothing in this vast causal story would lead one who had not experienced it directly to believe that there should be any consciousness. The very idea would be unreasonable; almost mystical, perhaps. It is true that the physical facts about the world might provide some indirect evidence for the existence of consciousness. For example, from these facts one could ascertain that there were a lot of organism’s that claimed to be conscious, and said they had mysterious subjective experiences. Still, this evidence would be quite inconclusive, and it might be most natural to draw an eliminative conclusion—that there was in fact no experience present in these creatures, just a lot of talk.[21]
If consciousness was dependent upon the physical entirely as a shared property of the physical it would be deducible immediately by its relation to the physical. We should be able to deduce anything that is physical by understanding its physical break down. We can’t even get at a definition of consciousness that doesn’t exclude the mental qualia and reduce to brain function. That is not an explanation (though its taken for one by reductionists) it’s nothing more than losing the phenomena and re-labeling.
            What Chalmers calls the most vivid argument against the logical supervienence of consciousness upon the physical is ‘the knowledge argument’ put forth by Jackson (1982) and Nagel (1974). The example he uses is that of a woman he dubs “Mary” who is the world expert on neurophysiology of color vision. She lives in an advanced time when science has all knowledge of the physical realm. Mary has been raised in a black and while room where she has never seen color. She understands everything there is to know about the physical processes of producing color but she does not know what red looks like. No amount of reasoning from the physical facts can tell her how red appears.

It follows that the facts about the subjective experience of color vision are not entailed by the physical facts. If they were, Mary could in principle come to know what it is like to see red on the basis of her knowledge of the physical facts. But she cannot. Perhaps Mary could come to know what it is like to see red by some indirect method, such as by manipulating her brain in the appropriate way. The point, however, is that the knowledge does not follow from the physical knowledge alone. Knowledge of all the physical facts will in principle allow Mary to derive all the facts about a system’s reactions, and its various abilities and cognitive capacities; but she will still be entirely in the dark about its experience of red.[22]

He reinforces this idea by reference to Thomas Negal’s famous article of the 70’s “What is It Like to be a Bat?”[23] All the physical knowledge about bats can’t tell us what it’s like to be one. That’s just multiplying examples at that point. We can’t know what it feels like to be a bat because we don’t have the consciousness of a bat. The texture of the experience is a point in consciousness. The reductionists sometimes substitute brain function for the actual nature of the experience of consciousness. Until they get at that they can’t get at the hard problem.  They argue, as does Dennett in Consciousness Explained, discussing the theory of multiple drafts proposes that consciousness is just an epiphenomenal illusion that results from the process of editing perception by the brain. It’s like a number of still photos shown in rapid succession that becomes a moving picture. So it is with the multiple drafts and the continuous flowing sense of consciousness. "You seem to be referring to a private, ineffable something or other in your mind's eye, a private shade of homogenous pink, but this is just how it seems to you, not how it is."[24] There’s a lot that could be said to this point, for example see Latnz Miller’s devastating critique of Dennett’s book in Negations. [25] Yet the most to the point criticism that can be made is that it’s not about consciousness. This is about the function of the brain. That doesn’t do anything to get at the nature of consciousness itself. Tending to brain function in this way does not prove that consciousness arises out of brain function and has no larger reference as a basic property of nature. The only thing it does prove is that conscious awareness is accessed through brain function.
            The issue of access is not the issue of causality. To say just exactly what is access and what is causing what, is hard to tell. It would be necessary to know that to resolve the argument either way. If there is a larger framework for consciousness than just being a side effect of chemicals in the head, such as a basic property or a principle of physical law or some such, then there must be some way in which what seems like an emergent property is actually connected to a larger principle. The fact that consciousness is communicated through brain chemistry is not a disproof.  It may be the case that the evidence for irreducibility doesn’t prove it either. It would seem that irreducibility is a good reason to think that consciousness might be a basic property of nature. While at the same time the link between access and brain chemistry is not proof that mind reduces to brain or that consciousness is wholly a side effect of brain chemistry. The organizing effect of mind also adds another valid reason to suspect that consciousness could be a basic property.

[1] Richard C.Vitzchum, “Philosophical Mateirlism.” The Secular Web, On-line resource, URL: visited 4/12/2012 from lecture given to atheist students association, University of Maryland, College Park, Nov 14, 1996.
[2] Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained. Back Bay Books, second edition, 1992.
[3] Lantz Miller. “The Hard Sell of Human Consciousness part 1. (no 3, Winter 1998)
_______________________________________________part II, (no 4, Spring 2002)
this is only going to be found on line. go to this URL:  see the menu on left side bar, click on winter of 1998, and scroll to the title "Hard Sell of Human Consciousness" by Lantz Miller, part one, then for part Two go to the 2002 issue and just scroll down until you see the title then sroll further to page number. It's well worth reading. If you really care about the top you must read this article.
[4] Dennett, ibid, 406
[5] Kevin B. Korb. “Stage Effects in the Cartesian theater: A Review of Dennette’s Consciousness Explained.” Pdf file published online, URL:  visited 4/16/2012.
Korb is at School of Computer Science and Software Engineering Monash University Clayton, Victoria 3168 Australia
[6] Ibid, section 1.1
[7] ibid, section 1.3
[8] ibid section 1.5
[9] ibid, section 1.6
[10] Sam Harris quoted by Luke Muehlhauser, “Sam Harris, Argument Agaisnt the Afterlife,” blog, Common Sense Atheism, March 15, 2011 URL:  the original quote is from a “You tube video”  URL:
[11] Vitzthum, ibid.
[12] “Consciousness,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Archives pages. Website URL: visited 1/22/11. Robert Van Gulick ed. and Copyright. (2004)
[14] ibid.
[15] ibid.
[16] David Chalmers, The Conscious Mind: In Search of a theory. England, New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. 3-5.on line version: Scribd, David Chalmers, The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Theory of Conscious Experience, webstie Department of Philosophy, University of California at Santa Cruz, July 22 1995, visited 3/1/11 on line page numbers apply.

[17] Ibid, supervenient specialized philosophical term that refers to the necessary sharing of peripheries between two existents when one is a subset of the other.
[18]  Ibid. 84
[19] ibid.84-85
[20] ibid. 90
[21] ibid,
[22] ibid
[23] in Chalmers, 90, originally in Philosophical Review, pp. 435-50
[24] Daniel C. Dennett, op cit, 329
[25] Lantz Miller, “the Hard Sell of Human Consciousness, and the recovery of consciousness in the nature of new language. part 1.” Negations: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Social Criticism. Issue 3, Winter 1998. On line copy: URL: (scroll down). For part 2 of Miller’s argument see the 2002 issue on the same site.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you when you talk about the bait and switch, which goes along with my theory that the materialist tries to lump consciousness with cognitive function, when really, they aren't the same.

Also, here is another angle that I just thought of, and it has to do with Phineas Gage:

Phineas Gage Wiki

After an accident that affected his brain, there were legends that he underwent major changes, but a lot of that may have been embellished.

And, after reading this experience on NDERF, I had an idea about that:

Stephen I experience

In this experience, Stephen describes a patient that became more foul mouthed and sexually uninhibited after he had a stroke. After I read that, I realized that it wasn't the brain changing him, but a part of the brain that wasn't around to inhibit him anymore that led to change in his behavior.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

That's a very good point.