Mind, Brain, Monism, Dualism
The Engine of Reason, The Seat of the Soul (MIT Press: 1999), p. 322.
You came to this book assuming that the basic units of human cognition are states such as thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, desires, and preferences. That assumption is natural enough: it is built into the vocabulary of every natural language. And each state is typically identified by way of a specific sentence in one's natural language: one has the belief that P, or the desire that Q, for example, where P and Q are sentences. Human cognition is thus commonsensically portrayed as a dance of sentential or propositional states, with the basic unit of computation being the inference from several such states to some further sentential state. ¶ These assumptions are central elements in our standard conception of human cognitive activity, a conception often called "folk psychology" to acknowledge it as the common property of folks generally. Their universality notwithstanding, these bedrock assumptions are probably mistaken.
The Engine of Reason, The Seat of the Soul (MIT Press: 1999), p. 9.
But who, in that case, can be watching this pixilated show? The answer is straightforward: no one. There is no distinct "self" in there, beyond the brain as a whole. On the other hand, almost every part of the brain is being "watched" by some other part of the brain, often by several other parts at once.
The Engine of Reason, The Seat of the Soul (MIT Press: 1999), pp. 18-9.
The religious hypothesis of mind-body dualism has been in trouble with evolutionary biology, and with several other sciences as well, for more than a century. It didn't need any special input from artificial intelligence or neuroscience to make it scientifically implausible. I bring it up here only because it is a clear example of a popular and important belief currently under siege by modern information. And because its example may be repeated. The fact is, there is a much more intriguing area of current conceptual commitment, one more likely to be affected by emerging cognitive theory in particular. It lies even closer to home and is even more widespread, if that is possible, than mind-body dualism. It is our current self-conception: our shared portrait of ourselves as self-conscious creatures with beliefs, desires, emotions, and the power of reason.
Paul M. Churchland on the Brain said...
The Engine of Reason, The Seat of the Soul (MIT Press: 1999), pp. 3-4.
Your brain is far too complex and mercurial for its behavior to be predicted in any but the broadest outlines or for any but the shortest distances in the future. Faced with the extraordinary dynamical features of a functioning brain, no device constructible in this universe could ever predict your behavior, or your thoughts, with anything more than merely statistical success. ¶ So one need not fear being reduced to a clanking robot or an empty machine. Quite to the contrary, we are now in a position to explain how our vivid sensory experience arises in the sensory cortex of our brains: how the smell of baking bread, the sound of an oboe, the taste of a peach, and the color of a sunrise are embodied in a vast chorus of neural activity. We now have the resources to explain how the motor cortex, the cerebellum, and the spinal cord conduct an orchestra of muscles to perform the cheetah's dash, the falcon's strike, or the ballerina's dying swan. ... On this matter of conceptual development there is especial cause for wonder. For the human brain, with a volume of roughly a quart, encompasses a space of conceptual and cognitive possibilities that is larger, by one measure at least, than the entire astronomical universe. It has this striking feature because it exploits the combinatorics of its 100 billion neurons and their 100 trillion synaptic connections with each other.
V. S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee (HaperCollins Publishers: September 1999), 352 pages.
Neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran is internationally renowned for uncovering answers to the deep and quirky questions of human nature that few scientists have dared to address. His bold insights about the brain are matched only by the stunning simplicity of his experiments — using such low-tech tools as cotton swabs, glasses of water and dime-store mirrors. In Phantoms in the Brain, Dr. Ramachandran recounts how his work with patients who have bizarre neurological disorders has shed new light on the deep architecture of the brain, and what these findings tell us about who we are, how we construct our body image, why we laugh or become depressed, why we may believe in God, how we make decisions, deceive ourselves and dream, perhaps even why we're so clever at philosophy, music and art. Some of his most notable cases: * A woman paralyzed on the left side of her body who believes she is lifting a tray of drinks with both hands offers a unique opportunity to test Freud's theory of denial. * A woman who hallucinates cartoon characters illustrates how, in a sense, we are all hallucinating, all the time. Dr. Ramachandran's inspired medical detective work pushes the boundaries of medicine's last great frontier — the human mind — yielding new and provocative insights into the "big questions" about consciousness and the self. ~ Product Description
Timothy O'Connor and David Robb, eds. (Taylor & Francis: Aug 2003), 596 pages.
A comprehensive anthology that draws together leading philosophers writing on the major topics within philosophy of mind. Robb and O'Connor have carefully chosen articles under the following headings: 1) Substance Dualism and Idealism 2) Materialism 3) Mind and Representation 4) Consciousness. Each section is prefaced by an introductory essay by the editors which guides the student gently into the topic in which leading philosophers are included. The book is highly accessible and user-friendly and provides a broad-ranging exploration of the subject. Ideal for any philosophy student, this book will prove essential reading for any philosophy of mind course. The readings are designed to complement John Heil's Philosophy of Mind:A Contemporary Introduction.