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Intro l Brain l Sensation l Revolution l NeuroPhilo l Epilogue l Biblio

Neurophilosophical Inquiries

© 2024 by Wim van den Dungen

from : the living brainmind
to : the imaginal mindbrain, an evolution ...


In a few specific areas of investigation, philosophers are confronted with the brain :

• the relationship between the brain & the mind ;
• the distinction between perception & sensation ;
• the question of how religious experience roots in the CNS ?

In what traditionally is called the "body/mind problem", philosophers tried to explain how a non-material, non-spatial mind or "conscious thing", characterized by (a) the "unity of apperception" or the unified nature of the manifold of perception & mentation and (b) certain unique features such as (self)consciousness, awareness, intention, presence & sense of identity -feeding negentropic process-, relates to the material, spatio-temporal brain or spatio-temporal "extended thing" ? The latter features a non-centralized neuronal activity & plasticity, and responds to physical laws.

Thinking these relationships between mind & body, philosophers are confronted with the necessity to study the brain.

Today, it is fashionable for scientists & philosophers to adhere to the materialist tenet according to which the mind is merely produced, caused, secreted, generated etc. by the brain. The mind is merely an emergent property of neuronal activity.

This position has two severe problems, for (1) it cannot explain the unity of the manifold of conscious objects (the binding problem), nor (2) the functional differences between states of matter and states of mind (the asymmetry problem), leading to unacceptable consequences. If the unity of apperception (of sensate & mental objects) cannot be explained, then how to understand responsibility, free will & accountability ? Can the sentence "He is a murderer." have any meaning if it remains unclear who this "he" is ? If self-identity has no ontological status (the "I" can nowhere be found in the brain), then for the materialist the whole notion of a responsible agent becomes problematic, endangering ethics.

If the mental realm is unlike the physical, but indeed caused by the latter, then the emergence of the non-material out of the material needs to be explained, which fails. This last objection strikes at the heart of the materialist tenet : how can materialism, resulting from a self-reflection, explain this ability of the mind to watch itself without stepping outside the limitations imposed by the physical ? An objection already found in Greek philosophy.

The author tries to bring together arguments backing the case of interactionism, designating separate functional categories to both brain and mind, explaining how both interact. This allows for an important ontological difference to be made between matter & consciousness, between neuronal processes (both inside and outside the brain) & states of mind (clear awareness of sensate or mental objects). This leaves both physics & the human sciences intact.

From another vantage point, the neurophysiology of perception & sensation has consequences for epistemology and thus for the correct approach of scientific knowledge, demarcating it from metaphysics. This leads to the study of the sensory apparatus, the pre-thalamic processes & the post-thalamic cortical projections. Sensations are always conscious and bound to mental designation (labeling). Perceptions are pre-conscious and devoid of any such attributing activity. For example, eye-consciousness does not "see" perceptions, or the retinal transduction of electro-magnetic radiation into electrical impulses, but only what has been projected by the thalamus in the primary sensory area of the neocortex and subsequently interpreted by various cortical systems (secondary & tertiary areas, gyri, prefrontal lobes, etc.).

S(ensation) = P(erception) . I(nterpretation), with I ≠ 1.

Finally, can the brain be trained & perfected ? In what way does the proposed interactionism trigger changes in the brain resulting from volitional mentalities ? Are altered states of consciousness, as evidenced by parapsychology, anthropology, comparative religion, Shamanism, Yoga & mysticism, computable by the brain ? How to integrate recent psychosomatic sciences & biofeedback ?

To further explore the contents of these studies, click here

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initiated : 01 V 2003 - last update : 29 IX 2009 - version n°2