Monday, 24 January 2011

Do we know that the mind the activities of the brain?

I was asked this:

"Neuropsychologists have for a long time now known that the mind is just the activities of the brain."

 One of the atheists is quibbling about the use of the word "known" he's a little pedantic, suggests "suggested"


According to modern philosophers, to know means:
- to have a belief
- that is justified
- and that is true
- and that is not coincidentally true.

So, for example,

- you can't know that fish swim unless you believe it or have a belief that that is the case.
- you have to be justified in this belief; e.g. you have to have seen fish do it, or seen it reported in a biology journal. So you can't know that fish swim unless you have good reason to think so.
- you can't know that fish swim unless they do in fact swim. So even if you've seen one fish swim, it's not enough, it has to be true that all fish swim, for you to know it. Otherwise you just believe it. Take god as an example. If you say you 'know' he exists, you can't say that. You can only say you 'believe' he exists. For you to 'know', it's not enough that you believe it and have reason for it. There must also be a fact of the matter.
- It can't be a coincidence that you just saw one fish swimming. There has to be a regular causal link between your belief and the facts. Eg if you happen to look at a clock and it reads 9am, and you believe it is 9am, and it is true that it is 9am, you can't be said to know that it is 9am unless the clock is also working. It may have just happened to have stopped at 9am the previous day; in which case you accurately believe that it is 9am, but you don't know it, because the clock could have stopped at any time, in which case your belief would be wrong. So the link from your belief to the truth is coincidental, so you don't know that it is 9am, you only believe it, and it is coincidentally true.

This is the standard definition accepted universally.

Now, as for knowing that the mind is just the activities of the brain, there are several fields of thought.
a) Central State Materialists - they believe the mind is the activities of the brain, that the mind requires the brain, and that the mind is identical with those activities, and that we do have mental states. The mind cannot exist without the brain.  This is Armstrong's view.
b) Functionalists - the mind is the activities of A brain, but any brain that is functionally identical and produces neural states will also produce mental states. So if your brain was hydraulic rather than neural, it would still be OK. The mind cannot exist without some kind of brain, even a computer will do. This is my former supervisor's view, agreeing with Lewis.
c) Eliminativists - the mind is the activities of the brain but mental states are an illusion that do not exist. The mind cannot exist without the brain.  This is Churchland's view.
d) Dualists - the mind and brain are two different things. Cartesian dualists go further: the mind and brain can be separated and the mind survive without the brain. This is the 'soul' theory. This is Descartes' and the Bible's view.
e) Epiphenomenalists - the mind is a side-effect of the brain and has no causal role. The mind cannot exist without the brain. Mental states are real but powerless. This is my view and Dennett's view.

Alright so, let's look at the definition of "mind" and "know" above, to answer the below.

Neuropsychologists tend to fall into one of the above camps except D. So for a neuropsychologist, some kind of brain is required to generate the mind. Whether the mind is causally efficacious is irrelevant. The point is: when the mind stops, the activity on the PET scan stops (Death). When certain regular things are thought of, regular areas of the brain light up under PET. Either this is a remarkable coincidence, and the activities of the brain just happen to always correlate with the activities of the mind, or, there is a causal relationship (Epiphenomenalism/Functionalism/Eliminativism), or, an identity relationship (Central State Materialism). Dualism can only survive in the light of this evidence by agreeing with say Searle who claims that the mind is a 'field' 'over the cortex' (Searle, 2000), and that that field might persist without a brain. I doubt it.

Let's see.

Neuropsychologists believe that the mind is the activities of the brain (Let's call this MB).
Neuropsychologists have reason to believe that MB, they have evidence that MB.
It is not coincidentally true that MB might be the case, since PET scans line up with thought.
But the last point is still up for debate: Is it true that MB? Philosophers will say "probably", and Neuropsychologists will probably say "yes", but some philosophers, certainly religious ones, deny that MB.

So do neuropsychologists "know" that the mind is the activities of the brain? I think he may be right, it's slightly strongly worded. It's probably best worded "have good reason to believe that" or "the evidence most strongly points to the view that".

 I however am more confident about this. I would say that since we've never encountered a disembodied mind (dualism), and since we've never encountered a thinking computer (functionalism), and since the mind ceases when the brain ceases, it's safe to say that the mind is the activities of the brain.

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