The mind/body problem

It truly amazes me that some of the most amazing minds (John Searle, whom I have a lot of respect for, Hobbes, Stephen Hawking) accept the materialist thesis, which runs: there is no immaterial spirit controlling matter. The brain is all there is. We humans are just machines. Input stimulus, output action.

Now, I’m not sure if materialists believe that for every stimulus there is one inevitable reaction just as in a computer, for example if you write this formula into Excel =a1&b1, it will inevitably combine whatever text is in a1 and b1 into whatever cell the formula is written in. Or if they believe that for every stimulus there is a probability that a set of actions will occur. But it doesn’t really matter, because both theses have problems.

Let us consider the following analogy. We know that the human brain is composed of billions of synapses firing per second. For our purposes let’s just simplify the human brain into a set of 2600 synapses, 100 numbered and 26 lettered. And we also have to reduce the number of stimuli available in the real world down to the same number, moreover, it doesn’t matter what stimuli actually exist in the real world, it only matters what stimuli that human brain can distinguish.

Ok, good. So let’s say for example that if Goethe wants to write the lines:

Ueber allen Gipfel is Ruh
In allen Wipfeln spuerest du kaum einen Hauch

then the following code has to be entered into his brain:

a77 j54 k90 d33 s21

Now, how is that code supposed to enter into his brain? Do the materialists really believe it is because he encountered the following stimulus:

u64 d33 y13 t34?

Immediately we encounter difficulties with the materialist thesis. If Goethe wants to continue and complete the poem then everything depends on the outside world. Admittedly poets throw away a lot of poems, scratch out words, and have to put their pen down and come back to the work. But at the end of the day, the stimuli they observe or encounter have very little to do with the poem’s composition. If poetry composition were dependent on certain stimuli lining up at the right time, then no poem would ever get written because stimuli do not obey any order.

The problem with the materialist thesis is that it has no way of explaining how separate, independent materials coordinate with each other to form patterns. A true materialist should believe that the material, individual units do not talk to one another, do not get together and make plans, are completely oblivious to one another, and, lastly, are not conscious. If they disagree with any of those statements I would like to know about it.

Good. Let’s take another thought experiment. Let’s imagine we’re viewing Brownian Motion in action. We’re looking at 100 particles bouncing around in a cube. Then, all of a sudden, the chaos stops and all 100 particles form a perfect circle. How did they do that? The only possible answer is that some mind which is capable of ruling over the particles commanded them to coordinate as such. And yet this is exactly what the human brain does when a person draws a circle on a piece of paper. Our minds our capable of commanding synapses within us to fire in such a way that our body performs certain actions.

Again, let us say that the code for drawing a circle was:

a67 b68 c69 d70 e71

The only way that code can be written is for a human mind to write it. Perhaps you could say that if you keep waiting that code will turn up, but this is not possible, since the human body performs numerous coordinated actions throughout the day, all of them requiring a precise code. A material unit only has command over itself, if that. How are material, independent units supposed to command each other so that coordination happens?

One last example. Leaves falling is a lot like Brownian Motion, only less random. Any human who walks down the street and sees a pile of leaves forming a perfect circle, immediately understands that the leaves did not do that by themselves but that a human put them there. The human body is the mind, the leaves are the brains synapses.

Only an immaterial force can coordinate the brain’s activity.

If every synapse fired without knowing what the other synapses were doing, the human brain would accomplish nothing.

Seems like your whole post depends on the faulty assumption that materialists don’t allow for internal mental feedback. As such, your reason for disagreement is incorrect. Feedback is allowed for by materialists.


you didn’t answer the central thesis of my post: how do individual material units coordinate.

Moreover, you didn’t even define what mental feedback is.

i don’t have to define it, you did. you defined it in what i quoted. that’s why i quoted it.

now it’s time for YOU to be more specific about this. what do you mean? give me an example. first thing that comes to mind for me is DNA/RNA. but, you go ahead and specify what you mean for me.

for separate individual units to coordinate there has to be some form of communication system, I would think, if you know of another possibility let me know. Well, if that’s true, then you’re stuck with the problem of where the communication comes from. So the materialists thesis fails here.

I asked for an example.

and what i asked for you did not provide

they coordinate by being connected. a brain isn’t as simple as a computer. They have a lot of similarities but ultimately a computer is second to the brain for a multitude of reasons. Just about every function of the human brain has been defined. It’s all there. How we see, how we talk, how we create meaning. These different parts of the brain are responsible for separate parts of ourselves. Each work in conjunction with each other to create the mind. The mind isn’t yet explained but a lot of it’s functions are. The remaining mysteries are awareness and the quality of experience. Definitely very odd subjects, but functionality doesn’t have much to do with it. Read some neurology basics, it’s very interesting. It’ll go into detail explaining how and why the brain works the way it does, it’s all very complicated so you’'ll have to excuse me for this short answer. The brain has input information which decides actions, the input information isn’t just gathered by the senses. Whatever is consciously thought of is also part of what is used for input. (I think this is what was mean by mental feedback.) the process which your conscious sees but no one else does.

i can’t answer your question without the information i asked for. it’s necessary for the answer. i need to know specifically what sorts of things you’re talking about when you say “individual material units communicate.” are you talking about neurons? or something else?

Well to be totally honest with you I don’t really understand most of what you’re saying partly because you’re not defining your statements in a precise manner if you try to define them at all. However I will as then try to understand what you’re saying in particular areas of your post. Don’t worry though you say some quite good things.

I don’t understand what you mean by code. You said for Goethe to want to write particular lines he has to have a code entered into he’s brain. Well what is a code? A code is a series of symbols representing different things. Let’s try to understand what these different things are. A symbol might represent a category such as birds or sub category such as sparrows. So symbols can be categorical. Symbols can also represent various patterns between categories in the sense it notes these patterns. This is a relationship lacking in effect or affect. A relationship with effect may be two dogs barking at each other. An exp of a relationship lacking in effect with a pattern between them would be cats Jane and Jill both being cats. The category Jane and Jill are both part of the category cats because they have a pattern relationship between them. This is what makes categories sub categories because of this relationship. We’ll call this the PRCSC symbol. In other words the Pattern Relationship Category Sub-Categorization symbol. And the pattern could be denoted as x and the categories as a and b. In other words PRCSC1= axb.
However lets not get in to this any further. What we can say here is that symbols can denote relationships, categories- sub and full, and that symbol statements can denote a relationship while the individual symbols represent the elements of that relationship. So symbols represent categories and relationships. That’s it. Even actions are relationships. So what were looking at is the larger symbols you could say in that they contain more. Such a symbol contains a relationship with an action in it. Such as the man jumped over the hole. He had a relationship to the hole by jumping over it. Smaller symbols could be just actions. These are the symbols that don’t represent the largest whole things can be in. So this is a code.
However why does Goethe need a code to write a couple of lines. He has an understanding of the categories and relationships that are signified in he’s lines and that’s why he’s able to write them. But where is the code why would the brain need code to function. Isn’t it more likely that simply the synapses are these things and that’s it. For exp synapse1 is the imagination of the image category dog and synapse2 the imagination of the relationship bark at x. You combine these two together into an image of a dog barking at x.
Perhaps the brain works like it can remember images say and can take elements of these different images and creates different images. Now I don’t know how it does this but it certainly doesn’t rely on code only synapses. If it relied on code we’d have a “conscious” awareness of that code. That would be mathematics. It has to be conscious as the material of code is symbols which are things we learn and “imagine” so code can’t be subconscious. The only code existent is mathematics which is where we get the idea of code from.
It is only tempting to imagine the brain thinking “entirely” in code because that allows us to believe that the brain is understanding what it’s doing. It is but code really isn’t how it does that. Understanding comes from bundling together categories and relationships or dividing or merging categories. But this is all the work of synapses not code. Understanding changes evolves.

On reading through the posts thus far, I am led to observe that Kyle2000 is asserting that the “materialist thesis” is very much flawed. Indeed

… indeed that

Even a brief reading of generalised literature concerning “Materialism” (in the philosophical context), will reveal a diversity of conceptualisations of the term. I suggest it is reasonable to assert there are two distinct though related positions: i). Monist Materialism - which maintains that there is only matter; all that may be discerned, and the very act of discerning, is consequential upon such matter and its properties; ii). Dualist Materialism (or Dual Theory), posits a distinction between ‘mental’ and ‘physical’ aspects of the matter, while maintaining their inseparability in a complete description of reality and is thus still, essentially, a monist ontology.

Kyle2000 concludes that

This remark in concert with remarks about the inability of “individual units” of matter (that is the material) to communicate and co-ordinate - with the conclusion that this requires some mind which is capable of ruling over “particles” (e.g. matter?), together imply that he thinks there exists such a “mind”.

Now clearly, if we are to assess the merits of such a claim, there is much that we must be able to ascertain e.g. i). The existence of this ‘mind’; ii). The nature this mind - its location, extension etc.; iii). How we may determine if there is more than one mind - and if so, how their respective influences may be known.

None of the above should be taken as indicating I accept Kyle 2000’s arguments. I do not. Perhaps I should have addressed them first? But for now, I would be interested to hear where Kyle 2000’s claims are leading. Incidentally, My own position is essentially that a ‘dualistic-monist materialist’, who ultimately maintains that whether or not human beings can ever definitively know about the issues raised, they are not yet in a position to do so.

What he is talking about has not yet been clearly or sufficently defined by anyone. Neurons are the anatomical units of the nervous system, but are not the structual elements of its functioning. The structual elements have not yet been defined. It will probably be apparent when they are defined that they must be expressed in terms of invariants of relative activities between neurons is some manner embodied in relationships and interconnection and not in terms of separate anatomical entities.

Distinction is a matter of human interest and does not necessarily entail that distinct parts of a thing are also “separate”.

Though, I do agree that some manner of communication does exist as such. However, you’re talking of communication on a biological level, which is not so much a construct like ‘language’ (in my humble opinion). Perhaps it is best said that ‘communication’ (as you’re using it) arises out of necessity. Communication, on that level, is usually something of a cyclical process in living entities (as far as I can tell), meaning all we need is a catalyst to begin these biological processes and the communication roughly takes care of itself. I kind of think of this level of ‘communication’ like a Rube Goldberg machine [ ], rather than, say, two people talking. Some catalyst begins the process and triggers some initial component - let’s say an electrical impulse begins a heart beat, for example. That component triggers another by design - so, say, your blood begins circulating. That component triggers the next - say, your kidneys begin filtering the blood. And so on. Sometimes shit happens, like a blood clot (which can be incredibly dangerous), that the body is not intuitive enough to handle on its own (without killing you, that is) so we go to the doctor to intervene. This is proof enough that the level of ‘communication’ we are discussing is much more mechanistic and primal that something like language.

I realize that I’ve given a case for Intelligent Design in my explanation here, but I want to clarify that I do not actually believe that a design implicates, or necessitates, an intelligent ‘designer’. That is perhaps a discussion for another time.

But the poet also has the benefit of information recall, which he can use to refer to experiences and stimuli after they occur. Experience has everything to do with the poem’s composition.

Immaterial forces such as thought and consciousness allow for a greater capacity of coordination, but the brain is ‘hard wired’ in some respects (like a reaction to pain). The brain reacts to stimuli, which can be controlled and recalled at will by those who have learned to do so. In the beginning, as infants before development of the Ego, stimuli does invoke a more chaotic reaction in the brain, which we learn to refine as we develop. The brain itself learns through habituation, like muscle memory.

So, for example, say a child and grown man both experience a fall down some stairs. The child will likely be an inconsolable mess consumed by emotion, triggered by that sensation of pain. While, on the other hand, the man will likely show as little of his pain as possible and suppress his emotional response almost entirely (except maybe anger).

It seems that most of your case here is based on ontological questions that really have no answers (convincing speculation aside), so one could easily default to God in any of these instances. It is really a matter of perspective as to what explanation makes the most sense to you, but remember that “I don’t know” is a valid answer.

I know you don’t debate with mods, but if you’re interested in challenging your views, Ryle’s “The Concept of Mind” points out several strong arguments against dualism.

Exactly… and in a continual state of not-knowing Is there in you at any moment an entity which you call the ‘I’ or the ‘mind’ or the ‘self’? Is there a co- ordinator who is co-ordinating what you are looking at with what you are listening to, what you are smelling with what you are tasting, and so on? Or is there anything which links together the various sensations originating from a single sense – the flow of impulses from the eyes, for example? Actually, there is always a gap between any two sensations. The co-ordinator bridges that gap: he establishes himself as an illusion of continuity.

In what I, if I may, call your natural state, when thought is not interfering with what’s going on, there is no entity who is co-ordinating the messages from the different senses. Each sense is functioning independently in its own way. When there is a demand from outside which makes it necessary to co-ordinate one or two or all of the senses and come up with a response, still there is no co-ordinator, but there is a temporary state of co- ordination. There is no continuity; when the demand has been met, again there is only the unco-ordinated, disconnected, disjointed functioning of the senses. This is always the case when once the continuity is blown apart – not that it was ever there; but the illusory continuity – it’s finished once and for all.

Can this make any sense to the ‘self?’ It cannot. All that the ‘self’ knows lies within the framework of its experience, which is of thought. This state is not an experience. I am only trying to give you a ‘feel’ of it, which is, unfortunately, misleading.

When what functions is a primordial consciousness, untouched by thought, there is no co-ordinator, there is no linking of sensations, there is no translating of sensations; they stay pure and simple sensations. There is no knowing that they are sensations.

Is it likely that Kyle 2000 will respond to any of the posts arising from his initial contribution? If not, is it worth continuing?

I for one, am quite happy to pursue the issue of the mind/body distinction … perhaps by first establishing, for instance, what exactly is at question.

Meanwhile, I’ll bone up on Ryle’s The Concept of Mind … thanks for that suggestion Only_Humean.

There are a lot of good points being made in this thread. i’m extremely sick right now and will try to answer them tomorrow. plus i really have to focus on practicalities right now. i’m trying really hard to resist forums because i find them very addictive but the other day i couldn’t sleep so i gave in to temptation but nevertheless i intend to see this debate to its finish.

Well …. I guess no one wants to bring ‘knowledge’ into the discussion here. Not that there’s anything mysterious or extraordinary about knowledge. Imo, it’s just labeling things: table, cold, drunk, happy, enlightenment, consciousness, etc.

The sense instruments, eyes, ears, etc., do not provide information about what they are transferring through their respective nerve conduits to the brain. Let’s pause here and recognize how amazing it is for the ability of life to do just that alone. So many things we take for granted simply because we don’t know anything at all that’s going on there.

From the standpoint of having no knowledge, the brain is unable to provide something to be translated or interpreted. It would seem to me that a past experience, which can be reduced to frames of knowledge, would be pre-required in order to have the ability to interpret. Iow, the brain has to learn how to interpret the conditions of the ‘reality’ into which it was born. If we, at this point in time, are still asking questions about what Reality is, all we can do is go along with whatever we are using at the time as a proxy reality. It takes a process of acquiring a lot of knowledge to experience just that, let alone any true, absolute Reality.

Imo, absolute reality is something that can never be experienced because of the desire to find out how to experience it. There is a demand to be freed from the obstacles that prevent one from experiencing reality. So long as the demand to be freed is there (can you see the catch 22 yet?) …. so long as the demand to be freed is there, it is that that is preventing the experience. The demand acts as the divisive element that keeps the subject separated from experience.

Ok, I’m starting to feel a bit better, hangover that’s all. I’m not a drunk but about once a year I forget that if I drink too much then I will get sick the next day.

Statiktech, you make same great points and I’m really glad you brought up the Rube Goldberg analogy because that is one of my favorite analogies for understanding so much in philosophy.

I think what you are saying is: because I don’t know, therefore God did it. I don’t think this is what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that coordination can only be achieved if an immaterial mind has a degree of power over various bodies.

definition of coordination: the regulation of diverse elements into an integrated and harmonious operation

Thesis: in a coordinated process each element must obey the instructions of the plan
Antithesis: in a coordinated process each element does what it wants

Thesis: constructing the instructions of the plan requires coordination
Antithesis: constructing the instructions of the plan does not require coordination

Thesis: to achieve coordination one body must have some degree of power over subjugate bodies so as to compel them to obey the plan
Antithesis: coordination can occur if each body is as equally powerful as each other body

Thesis: One body’s power cannot be located in another body
Antithesis: One body’s power is located in another body

This last thesis is very important and somewhat difficult to understand. We encounter the problem of infinite regress.

the dualist: where is the power to coordinate your hand to draw a circle located?
the monist: in the brain
the dualist: where in the brain
the monist: in the synapses
the dualist: where is the power to coordinate the synapses located
the monist: there is a chief synapse that coordinates the other synapses
the dualist: where is its power located?
the monist: in the neurotransmitters
the dualist: where is its power located
the monist: in the amino acids such as glutamate, aspartate, serine, or monoamines, such as dopamine and norepinephrine
the dualist: where is their power located?

Do you see my point? One body’s power cannot be located in another body. If you keep pointing to another body as the source of power then you just ask where does its power come from?

I’m not being rude but I really don’t see what you mean.

Let’s get back to the Brownian Motion example. If particles were suddenly to form a circle, that is a decision that is made once, therefore it can only be done by one being. One being has to come up with the idea to form a circle and that being must then “communicate” to the other particles where to move and then the particles must decide to obey the decision. If you can think of another alternative I am open-minded in considering it. Communication needs to be manifested in the real world through material, whether it be the material of arbitrary sounds such as spoken German, or Dolphin songs, or, well, I don’t know how ants communicate.

This is a very interesting and thoughtful argument. When you construct a Rube Goldberg machine, or a computer program, because both are really the same thing, the individual units are not talking to each other, they do not have wills, they are not alive and they are not conscious. In a RG machine, once the switch is pushed, the bodies are simply adhering to the laws of physics. No one would ever claim that the bodies in a RG machine are alive and that they have an independent will. The building of the RG machine, however, is done by an intelligence.

But the poet must choose to refer to that memory. It’s not

stimuli x67 y78 r98 t54

fire synapses
d44 f21 v78

which will recall memory
i88 u99 b44 y34

and force Catullus to write the line:

vivamus mea Lesbia atque amemus

I disagree. Experience is a factor but not the only factor.

So are you a dualist?

But is this learning a purely material process?

If I look at a 100 particles going around in a circle and I ask how is that they are coordinated and you say: “because they are connected,” well, yes, they are connected but how is that they are not floating around chaotically rather than obeying a rule which is: move such that you are always the same distance from a certain point.

So do you believe the mind is immaterial? and that it has power to manipulate the brain so that it in turn manipulates the body?

So where are these decisions located?