Monday, May 09, 2005

The Physical Mind

It's remarkable how deeply ingrained our common-sense dualism is. For example, a comment on an old post marvelled that "willpower alone can reshape the connections in [our] brains." Talk of 'mind over matter' seems almost magical to us, until we recall that the mind is matter. As I responded to the above comment, "It's certainly interesting that the brain can modify itself in such a way -- but it's no more metaphysically remarkable than the fact that I can scratch my own hands."

Anyway, I just wanted to reinforce Dr Lisa Saksida's lament:
I wish people understood that there is no mind/brain duality. Specifically, I wish people understood that there is no such thing as a purely psychological disorder. Every event in your psychological life, and therefore every psychological change, is reducible in theory to events and changes in your brain. We should therefore not judge people differently, according to whether they are considered to have a 'psychological' as opposed to a 'neurological' problem.

Though as Chris sensibly adds:
we also have to recognize that just because something is manifested physically doesn't mean we can treat it by just throwing medicine at it.

Which brings us back to the 'mind over matter' issue -- it might well be that the best way to solve a physical problem is through psychological means. There's nothing "magical" about this, we simply need to recognize that the mind is one way among many (cf. drugs or surgery) to interface with our brains. I find this interesting because it's so easy to forget.

2 comments:

  1. "Every event in your psychological life, and therefore every psychological change, is reducible in theory to events and changes in your brain."
    I never understood how or why philosophers/scientists adhere so strongly to this claim. Isn't this itself a scientific hypothesis? Isn't there evidence that could be found in favor or against this claim? Say someone believes that they feel depressed, but exhibit none of the outward behaviors, neurological or otherwise, that typically accompany the feeling of depression. No matter how much they test and poke and prod, this person seems content, but they constantly avow that they feel depressed. Are philosophers/scientists really going to tell this person, "You don't feel depressed"? Now, this is not to say that such a scenario will ever actually occur in our world, but do we have any reason to believe that it won't? All philosophical arguments I have heard so far that contradict me seem logically weak, sophistic, or in denial of the facts. I'd love to be proven wrong on this one, but I just can't see how that could be accomplished.

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  2. I agree Ian that it is technically impossible to prove that ALL 'mental/feeling' experience always has a neural physical counterpart, as i once commented elsewhere.
    But what else is one to assume when it is clear in more detectable cases such as hearing and seeing, that large amounts of neural activity occur in response to incoming stimuli, and that layers of visual sorting can be determined .. and similarly in other brain functions?

    This brain however, still cannot understand how, as was said, "mind IS matter" or.. " that the mind is one way among many (cf. drugs or surgery) to interface with our brains."
    I get a logical hiccup when I try to think that one concept "mental/ experience" is the same as another concept "physical form/energy".
    Hmm. which only proves my ignorance i guess. Clarification from someone would be useful

    David L

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