The notion that human beings walk, talk, think, and do things because our brains control us is an argument that has been around for decades. It replaced the religious argument that the soul is what drives us or some divine spark ignited by a divine creator.
Now the average person accepts that the brain is a machine analogous to a computer, and when we believe that we have free will, we are mistaken. This view suggests we are like brain puppets driven by the mechanical operation of neurons. Robbed of free will, we only have to go a step further to see that even being conscious is an illusion. As long as the machine-brain is in charge, anything else we tell ourselves is just a story.
Yet the flaws in this argument have been pointed out many times.
Somehow the mechanistic model is the one that science sticks to. There are a few cracks in the shell, but the notion that Brain = Mind has tremendous sticking power.
We can invalidate the mechanistic view by breaking it down one point at a time.
Actually, neither option is correct. Our nervous system makes us unique on the evolutionary ladder, which is more than being a twig. Yet we are biological creatures, as if this needs stating.
It’s quite true that a scientific explanation for subjective experience has yet to be successfully formulated, but the very worst suggestion is that consciousness is an illusion, as if the only reality is electrical and chemical activity in the brain.
It’s obvious at face value that human beings have a mind while the molecules of water and organic chemicals that make up the brain do not. Making a bridge from neural activity to mind is very difficult, but to say, “Wait, I have the answer. The conscious mind is an illusion,” is nonsense. Without a mind, you wouldn’t even know that the brain exists. The brain doesn’t know it exists. A brain is just how the mind looks to an outside observer who has opened the skull to take a look inside.
Even the statement that a computer equipped with a camera can determine that grass is green is flat wrong. The wavelength of light that falls into the spectrum of green doesn’t become a color until processed by a nervous system. Photons have no color. Indeed, we have no idea if other creatures see green as green. What we do know for certain that a camera and a computer have no perceptual ability whatever.
Everyone has inner feelings, including the skeptics who deny they exist (notice how angry they get if their theories are refuted). When the limbic, or emotional, areas of the brain light up on a brain scan, nothing is being observed but oxygen flow to those cells. No actual emotion is being triggered. The opposite is true. If you get bad news and become sad, that’s the trigger that lights up the limbic system, not the other way around.
This point is flogged to death by skeptics who somehow believe they can accuse the brain of being faulty, fallacious, and unreliable while with the other hand relying on the brain and nothing but the brain for the existence of mind. Leaving this double-talk aside, the brain doesn’t build up models of anything. Models are mind-made, which is obvious unless you are stuck defending the brain as a thinking machine.
Actually, there is no information without the mind. Imagine a CD-ROM as it stores the symphonies of Mozart through the processing of digitized information. A mind has to create the storage, decided what to select, etc. The brain without instruction is as mindless as a CD-ROM, and to say that the world we perceive amounts to bits of information conveniently omits the part where the mind understands and experiences the world. Again, neurons are made of molecules, and molecules don’t create or listen to music. They don’t create any experience of the world, any more than the wood and ivory in a piano experience music even though music is played on a piano.
This notion that mind = information is at the heart of artificial intelligence (AI), but this idea falls apart, because without a mind, zeros and ones of information have no meaning. Only mind can turn digits into a computer language. To take the position that the brain is all that’s needed to build a model of the world would mean that zeros and ones figured turned themselves into a language all on their own –absurd.
In a nutshell, your brain’s activity is needed for you to perceive thoughts, feelings, and sensations. At the same time, thoughts, feelings, and sensations only have meaning because of the mind. Mind and brain work simultaneously and seamlessly.
Many human ills and difficulties can be traced to brain processes gone awry. Neuroscience knows what it’s doing technically, like a piano tuner called in to fix a piano. There is great good to be achieved by delving into the physiology of the brain searching for answers to crucial medical problems like Alzheimer’s.
If skeptics and mechanists believe that human beings are brain puppets, no harm has been done. It’s ultimately an empty notion. Meanwhile, the ability of the human mind to alter the brain, create new neural pathways, break down old conditioning, generate new brain cells, promote well-being, and even direct gene expression all points to the true frontier of neuroscience. The mind-body connection has never been as promising as it is today.
Reprinted from San Francisco Chronicle with permission
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