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The following debate, concerning the Mind-Body Problem, the reader can take to heart, and judge for himself. We shall encounter this issue and related issues in other Essays of this website as well.
I hope it provides stuff to think about.
Several objections can be raised to a dualistic view -- neither of which however is, according to me, decisive. These objections are based on the following :
The use of language veils this difference of levels, as a result of which one views "soul" (in the sense of "my soul"), and "body" (in the sense of "my body"), as two subsistent things, while in fact it concerns only one thing, that admits (as has been said) of (at least) two levels of description.
We could perhaps describe what "mind" (soul) should really mean :
Mind is a phenomenon residing on a high organizational level, that as such could be independent of a specific substrate. If this is correct every appropriate substrate could generate and support this phenomenon ( = a certain type of behavior ). This substrate must however be of sufficient complexity, i.e. it should be above a certain threshold of (degree of) complexity.
Perhaps recent research on Artificial Intelligence can help us further, in order to better understand the nature of Mind.
2. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Research into AI has, to be sure, made some progress, but is not yet been able to solve the Mind-Body Problem. And maybe this will never happen, probably because one does not possess adequate unequivocal criteria which could decide whether or not intelligence (and, preferably, together with the associated emotionality) is actually produced (by a computer). We still don't have good definitions of "mind", "intelligence", "spirit", etc.
When we nevertheless want to take up the challenge of answering the question "what is Mind?", then we must follow a "bottom-up" approach, which means that we should not start from a definition of "mind". Such an approach implies that we should shift our attention to the cause of Mind, i.e. to the brain.
As a natural neural network the brain is Mind-at-the-lowest-level (bottom), and from this level the investigation into Artificial Intelligence should proceed. If we ever want to understand the complexity of the brain, then the final validity test, relating to such an understanding, should show the possibility of simulating the diverse functions of the brain by means of a 'computational machine'. Only thereafter we should see how those functions integrate into one whole. And perhaps only then a definition of "mind" could be within reach. Such a simulation should not however consist of preprogrammed brain functions. These functions should originate concurrently within the ongoing simulation, as high-level emergent phenomena, which were not present (as being preprogrammed) on the lower level (bottom).
The core of the problem of Mind and Consciousness is well expressed by the philosopher John SEARLE, cited in Frontiers of Complexity by Peter COVENEY and Roger HIGHFIELD, 1995, p. 280 :
" The secret of understanding consciousness is to see that it is a biological phenomenon on all fours with all other biological phenomena such as digestion or growth. Brains cause consciousness in the same sense that stomachs cause digestion and in neither case we are talking about something spiritual or ethereal or mystical or something that stands outside ordinary physical processes in the world. The two biggest mistakes, and at bottom they are both the same mistake, is to think that consciousness, because it is private, subjective, touchy, feely, ethereal, etc., cannot be part of the ordinary sordid physical world of drinking beer and eating sausage. The second big mistake is to think that it is all a matter of computer programs. "The new, fresh approach of recent AI, with respect to brain functions, namely by means of artificial neural networks, means that explicit programming is abandoned : Those functions are, within this new approach, not preprogrammed anymore. Nevertheless one or another algorithm ( = prescription, see NOTE 1 ) is always implemented to specify the dynamics of the learning process, just like the instructions, residing in the DNA, specify -- to be sure, very indirectly -- the architecture and the general dynamics of learning processes. But as soon as artificial neural networks have been set up, then they learn, by experiencing the world with which they interact.
Crucial for studies concerning brains and their emergent properties is, as has been already indicated, the phenomenon of learning. In simulations therefore, algorithms should be used which are genetical in nature, and non-deterministic : They evolve towards a more or less open end ( NOTE 2 ). Here artificial neural networks play a significant role, because they are able to learn.
The investigation of the brain, in vivo, in vitro, as well as in silico (the latter refers to computer simulations), is still going on, which means that not too many conclusions can yet be drawn from it.
Nevertheless more and more evidence seems to point to the mind being an emergent phenomenon, originating from continually changing interactions of billions of biological elements, WITHOUT ANYTHING BEING ADDED, no "vis vitalis" ("life-force"), no "vis spiritualis" ("spiritual force"), or whatever.
Although there could exist "Separate Entities" (i.e. entities, separate from matter, hence immaterial entities, residing in some immaterial sphere of Being, but not Platonistically conceived ( NOTE 3 )), man wholly belongs to the concrete 'non-separate' world, just like his fellow creatures -- centipedes, orchids, lobsters, giraffes and what you have.
And a human being appears to be sufficiently complex an organism to support emergent phenomena like consciousness, and "We believe that there are good reasons to suppose that a sufficiently complex machine could one day emulate intelligence and consciousness, the most sophisticated hallmarks of the most evolved of biological species." (COVENEY & HIGHFIELD, 1995) ( NOTE 4 ). The very possibility of such a simulation, then is an indication for the mind to be in line with all other physical processes (which can also be simulated). It is however no more then an indication.
This could be stated by the authors mentioned on the basis of how Nature most likely is : Her 'creatures' have come to be by virtue of complementary generating powers of self-organization and evolution, without addition of spiritual entities.
Recently it turned out to be possible, to 'see', in real time, by a technique called magnetoencephalography ( MEG ), a thought, occuring in a living person. Thus different centers in the brain are consecutively activated, between the moment of seeing for example a drawing of a cat, and the pronouncing of the word "cat". One can see which centers and on what moment ( SALMELIN, R., HARI, R., LOUNASMSAA, O., and SAMS, M., Nature, 368 463 (1994)).
Such results, obtained from real living brains, appear to supply evidence that there is nothing 'immaterial' involved in thoughts, in the sense that thoughts would belong to a fundamentally different sphere of Being ( NOTE 5 ).
Hence it appears that a certain philosophical position is incorrect, namely the dualistic position relating to the Mind-Body Problem, and this on the basis of results from Natural Science. If so, then we have a case in which we discover that the relevant 'metaphysical' problem, or position, is not a metaphysical problem after all, but a problem which belongs to Natural Science. The alleged insight in the relation between Mind and Body, as this was laid down in Philosophy, does not, as it seems, derive from the primary experience (i.e. experience, which, in the form of empirical presuppositions, precedes all other experiences), but from the primitive experience, and this is nothing else than experience, that should be further developed (i.e. theoretically processed) by Natural Science.
3. Evolution in and from Nature
" The dominion of the Spirit over Nature is wholly limited by natural laws."Linked with this, man is also not able to change the categorical structure ( = fundamental structure of Being, i.e. the set of fundamental determining ontological entities) of Reality.
(HARTMANN, N., Der Aufbau der realen Welt, 1940, p. 553)
" His dominion itself, however, is a superiority of a wholly different nature. He rules through his providence and purposiveness. Nature just is not purposive, she is indifferent with respect to direction and result of her processes. That's why she is defenceless against the aim of the Spirit, when it proceeds in strict accordance with her laws. It is -- to speak with Hegel -- the trick of intelligence, grounded in the category of purposiveness. Indeed it is a kind of cheating of the forces of Nature, done by man, while he lets them work for his purposes. And he can let them work for him, insofar as he, in accordance with their intrinsic aimless tendencies, selects from them the means for his purposes."Of course some small problem is involved in the expression "aimless tendencies". But these tendencies (which are nevertheless present) in Nature are very general, and only describable as "tendencies", after the fact.
(HARTMANN, N., Der Aufbau der realen Welt, 1940, p. 554)
Physical matter is constituted from a relatively small number of species of building blocks : The chemical elements (these are however not the final building blocks). But the combination of these building blocks results in an enormous number of possible chemical compounds. This phenomenon of combination repeats itself on a higher scale level in organisms : In the constitution of organisms (here on Earth) only 20 types of building blocks are involved, the amino acids. This is comparable with the building blocks constituting the content of books. Only some 30 -- letters and a few other signs -- building blocks are needed. The possibilities of significant combinations are however -- as we all know -- almost unlimited. Precisely the same applies to the 'alphabeth' of living bodies. In virtue of these well nigh endless possibilities of combination such a body can become increasingly complex, at worst limited by energetic constraints. With it also the functions of such bodies can become highly complex, subtle and powerful. Without support by this complex (physical) matter such functions are impossible. They originate by co-operation of thousands of already complex molecules. That's why many of those (complex) functions are not visible at a lower structural level. They are simply not present at such a level. Only at a higher structural level they become visible, because only there they are finally generated and maintained by the co-operation mentioned.
When we call these functions -- only appearing at a high organizational level -- , functions like consciousness, "immaterial", nothing will oppose that, because as such they are not concrete. They are abstracted, and only in this form immaterial. So living beings cannot exist until their physical matter has reached a certain degree of complexity, and of course also until certain energetical conditions are satisfied.
Hence we cannot separate these "immaterial" functions from their supporting substrate. A consideration of such a function is then a consideration of that substrate, it is true, but, that substrate seen at (i.e. from) a high structural level.
In fact almost all philosophical considerations about man are, according to me, considerations at (and from) a high level.
Despite the results, described above and elsewhere, relating to the Mind-Body Problem, we should continue to be receptive to alternative views (for instance an ontological dualism of body and mind), because Natural Science has hardly begun the study of the complexity of Life and Consciousness, and it is not beforehand excluded that there are set fundamental limits to a scientific treatment of Life, and especially of Consciousness, because perhaps there we have to do with immaterial ways of being. So we should not jump to conclusions prematurely, including the one presented above, relating to the Mind-Body Problem.
What could perhaps be concluded is the fact that we don't have yet sufficient reason to attribute to man a central position within a global metaphysical consideration, i.e. a consideration concerning the whole of Reality.
"[...] if one imagines the vanishing smallness of the human world with its limited span of history : how it, clinged to the, it is true, relatively stationary, but still transient condition of a planetary surface, has an ephemeral existence, not knowing whether at an unbridgeably great distance once again something like it exists under similar conditions."----
(HARTMANN, N., Der Aufbau der realen Welt, 1940, p. 525)
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