Friday, May 28, 2010

Finally, a complete solution to Mind/Brain!!!!

Well, it took a while, but I think I've finally got it.

The classic mind/brain problem is this: How does mind, which is basically thoughts, connect to brain, which is basically cells? Descartes, who was chronically cold and liked to work in the large ovens in which bread was baked, thought that the mind -- which he called soul -- and brain touched at the pineal gland, which is a little bitty organ in the brain. At the time, no one had any other idea what the pineal gland actually did, so it was freely available to Descartes, and just sitting there waiting for him to give it a purpose.

But the problem won't just go away. In fact, it is worse now than ever, because the neurological bozos won't stop doing those damn PET scans. Want to know why you think Mozart wrote wonderful music? Just look at how bright the music area lights up!!! The silliness of all this makes me cringe. It is the worst of mind/brain reductionism, the sort of pretending that there is information where there is none.

So, now, a new book: Alva Noe's "Out of Our Heads". He is a cognitive science type, and has an interesting but absolutely wrong-headed theory of mind. He says mind is the name we give to the set of interactions between body and environment, and that without those interactions, there is no mind. I oversimplify, but that's the idea. The clearest example of his way to think has to do with perception. There is a machine which aids blind folks by translating a TV image of what is in front of them into a pattern of small rods which touch the stomach of the blind person. The blind very quickly learn to recognize objects; more interesting, though, (and, of course, contradicting my abuse of the brain-light-up folks) is that the visual areas of the brain become excited when the machine gives information to the stomach. The system itself works well, but the device remains huge and immobile.

Noe equates using this device to seeing, and a wonderful equation it is. Clearly it is not hearing the objects, or smelling them, or touching them -- the blind person, in all but using eyes, is seeing the objects. To Noe, seeing is a certain kind of interactions with the world, not a set of nerve impulses originating in the eye -- more a set of events perceived through a set of cells. But he still is thinking of mind as a set of transactions, or processes, or something like that. No, no, no.

So, if he is so wrong-headed, and I am so smart, what is my solution to mind/brain? As usual, I think Wittgenstein had the best approach. Brain is a descriptive name of an object, with physical boundaries, and so on -- a thing. So far pretty easy. But mind is not. What are we doing when we talk about "mind"? When do we actually talk about "mind" in ordinary language?

Not very often. "He changed his mind". "Make up your mind". "You must be out of your mind". "What's on your mind?" And so on.

All have to do with the normative....elaboration of a framework of behavior. When we say "mind", we are attempting to enforce a (usually) unstated set of social regulations on internal process.

OK, so I don't have it fully worked out. But it is a beginning, and now, Alert Reader, is the time for both examples and counter-examples. Noe thinks "mind" is the name we give to process; I think that "mind" is an expression we use when we want to give voice to how we think choices should be made. Like beauty, and good, mind is in the eye of the beholder. Heh. But the cliche underlines my contention -- when we talk about the eye of the beholder, we are really are describing a set of norms, and sadly bemoaning the frequency of departure from them.

Let's go. Gimme something to work with here.

Now, having solved the mind/brain problem, I will move on to....oh, how about world peace? Or a cure for the common cold?

And, by now, Alert Reader will have discovered that Mr. Reasonable has made a second appearance.

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