The Mind-Body Problem

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Besides the problems already mentioned in the foregoing Essays in this Series, relating to the very possibility of a Substance-Accident Metaphysics, there is yet another Problem, namely the Mind-Body Problem.
This problem I would like to have been solved before continuing the evaluation and revision of the Substance-Accident Metaphysics.
A solution is however not within reach, and that's why I will treat it as just a problem. And because I treat it that way, this whole website by itself becomes a rather 'nature-oriented' treatise. Some would prefer it to be called a 'physical' treatise. This means I take the possibility into account that human beings ontologically belong entirely into the same order of Being as the rest of Nature. Anyway, I deal with human beings insofar as they are natural things, and as such I accordingly do not place man into the center of my considerations, i.e. I do not place him at the focus point of the worldly events. As knower of course he enjoys a central position, but this website is not meant to be an epistemological treatise. However this does not mean that I will deny or skip all matters which are specifically human, nor does it mean that those matters are not allowed to occur in my considerations. Wherever they should be explicitly investigated, they will be investigated.

The following debate, concerning the Mind-Body Problem, the reader can take to heart, and judge for himself. We shall encounter this issue and related issues in other Essays of this website as well.
I hope it provides stuff to think about.

The Mind-Body Problem, Critique of the Dualistic Position

Especially in the older philosophical systems we encounter a certain view about the ontological status of man, a view that should be reflected on once again, especially because we now know much more about our probable origin. This view I will call the Dualistic View. This term seems first of all to point to a complete separation of Body and Mind. They belong to basically different spheres of Being, but are in humans -- strangely enough -- present together.
A related traditional view asserts to be non-dualistic. The mind (or soul) is essentially united with the body, forming one whole. This soul then is something like a final 'in-formation' of a material substrate. But when one to such an extent distinguishes this 'form' (which in-formed the human material substrate) as to contrast it sharply and fundamentally -- namely as 'spirit' -- with the corresponding 'form', which is the final in-formation in higher animals, then a Dualism, be it more hidden, is nevertheless held, because the last in-formation in man is supposed to be spiritual in nature, while in animals it is not. Consequently I will call this second position dualistic too.

Several objections can be raised to a dualistic view -- neither of which however is, according to me, decisive. These objections are based on the following :

  1. A -- with respect to metaphysical conclusions -- misleading use of language.
  2. The results of the investigation into Artificial Intelligence (AI).
  3. The evolutionary developement of man out of (the organic) Nature.
  4. Complexity.
1. Use of Language
We are inclined to believe our own language.
Terms, like "this crystal", "my brain", are applied by us to signify things. They refer to a subsistent thing, which can, in these cases, be pointed to by the finger. Now the use of language can be suggestive, it suggests for instance that terms like "my spirit", "my soul", "my self-consciousness" also refer to subsistent things, and, in the same way, terms like "my immaterial soul". So it suggests with "my soul" and with "my body" two subsistent entities, of which the former is sharply contrasted with the latter concerning their way of being.
However that what is signified by the term "my soul", which we can equate here to "my mind", is, according to me, a high-level phenomenon, namely a (global) behavior of my brain (which is a part of my body). The term does not refer to that behavior in the form of local activities of the individual neurons (braincells), which is a low-level behavior (of the brain), not experienced by us. What we do experience is a resultant of a very complicated system of neuron-neuron interactions, a (neural) system that is fully integrated with the rest of the body.
So the term "my soul", or "my mind" for that matter, signifies a high-level property (or function) of the brain, and as such the soul is not subistent, i.e. it is not a thing, existing by itself.
Every part of our body is (still) some complicated subsystem (of biological elements), and can, by reason of that, be indicated and described at several (complexity) levels. These levels can be either purely descriptive, or structural in nature (See the Essay on Structural Levels in the present Series).
The brain is such a part of our body and it is complicated indeed.
The term "Mind-Body Problem" originally refers to two items, Mind (Soul) and whole Body. But in the present context "body" can legitimately stand for "brain", while "mind" should be -- as has been said -- equivalent to "soul". And in this context "body" is, according to me, a low-level description (a low-level term) of mind. It refers to the complicated and active system of neurons, that we can also call the brain, while "mind" refers to the corresponding high-level description of that same phenomenon. So here we distinguish two levels with respect to the description of one (overall) phenomenon.

The use of language veils this difference of levels, as a result of which one views "soul" (in the sense of "my soul"), and "body" (in the sense of "my body"), as two subsistent things, while in fact it concerns only one thing, that admits (as has been said) of (at least) two levels of description.
We could perhaps describe what "mind" (soul) should really mean :
Mind is a phenomenon residing on a high organizational level, that as such could be independent of a specific substrate. If this is correct every appropriate substrate could generate and support this phenomenon ( = a certain type of behavior ). This substrate must however be of sufficient complexity, i.e. it should be above a certain threshold of (degree of) complexity.
Perhaps recent research on Artificial Intelligence can help us further, in order to better understand the nature of Mind.

2. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Research into AI has, to be sure, made some progress, but is not yet been able to solve the Mind-Body Problem. And maybe this will never happen, probably because one does not possess adequate unequivocal criteria which could decide whether or not intelligence (and, preferably, together with the associated emotionality) is actually produced (by a computer). We still don't have good definitions of "mind", "intelligence", "spirit", etc.
When we nevertheless want to take up the challenge of answering the question "what is Mind?", then we must follow a "bottom-up" approach, which means that we should not start from a definition of "mind". Such an approach implies that we should shift our attention to the cause of Mind, i.e. to the brain.
As a natural neural network the brain is Mind-at-the-lowest-level (bottom), and from this level the investigation into Artificial Intelligence should proceed. If we ever want to understand the complexity of the brain, then the final validity test, relating to such an understanding, should show the possibility of simulating the diverse functions of the brain by means of a 'computational machine'. Only thereafter we should see how those functions integrate into one whole. And perhaps only then a definition of "mind" could be within reach. Such a simulation should not however consist of preprogrammed brain functions. These functions should originate concurrently within the ongoing simulation, as high-level emergent phenomena, which were not present (as being preprogrammed) on the lower level (bottom).
The core of the problem of Mind and Consciousness is well expressed by the philosopher John SEARLE, cited in Frontiers of Complexity by Peter COVENEY and Roger HIGHFIELD, 1995, p. 280 :

" The secret of understanding consciousness is to see that it is a biological phenomenon on all fours with all other biological phenomena such as digestion or growth. Brains cause consciousness in the same sense that stomachs cause digestion and in neither case we are talking about something spiritual or ethereal or mystical or something that stands outside ordinary physical processes in the world. The two biggest mistakes, and at bottom they are both the same mistake, is to think that consciousness, because it is private, subjective, touchy, feely, ethereal, etc., cannot be part of the ordinary sordid physical world of drinking beer and eating sausage. The second big mistake is to think that it is all a matter of computer programs. "
The new, fresh approach of recent AI, with respect to brain functions, namely by means of artificial neural networks, means that explicit programming is abandoned : Those functions are, within this new approach, not preprogrammed anymore. Nevertheless one or another algorithm ( = prescription, see NOTE 1 ) is always implemented to specify the dynamics of the learning process, just like the instructions, residing in the DNA, specify -- to be sure, very indirectly -- the architecture and the general dynamics of learning processes. But as soon as artificial neural networks have been set up, then they learn, by experiencing the world with which they interact.

Crucial for studies concerning brains and their emergent properties is, as has been already indicated, the phenomenon of learning. In simulations therefore, algorithms should be used which are genetical in nature, and non-deterministic : They evolve towards a more or less open end ( NOTE 2 ). Here artificial neural networks play a significant role, because they are able to learn.
The investigation of the brain, in vivo, in vitro, as well as in silico (the latter refers to computer simulations), is still going on, which means that not too many conclusions can yet be drawn from it.
Nevertheless more and more evidence seems to point to the mind being an emergent phenomenon, originating from continually changing interactions of billions of biological elements, WITHOUT ANYTHING BEING ADDED, no "vis vitalis" ("life-force"), no "vis spiritualis" ("spiritual force"), or whatever.
Although there could exist "Separate Entities" (i.e. entities, separate from matter, hence immaterial entities, residing in some immaterial sphere of Being, but not Platonistically conceived ( NOTE 3 )), man wholly belongs to the concrete 'non-separate' world, just like his fellow creatures -- centipedes, orchids, lobsters, giraffes and what you have.
And a human being appears to be sufficiently complex an organism to support emergent phenomena like consciousness, and "We believe that there are good reasons to suppose that a sufficiently complex machine could one day emulate intelligence and consciousness, the most sophisticated hallmarks of the most evolved of biological species." (COVENEY & HIGHFIELD, 1995) ( NOTE 4 ). The very possibility of such a simulation, then is an indication for the mind to be in line with all other physical processes (which can also be simulated). It is however no more then an indication.
This could be stated by the authors mentioned on the basis of how Nature most likely is : Her 'creatures' have come to be by virtue of complementary generating powers of self-organization and evolution, without addition of spiritual entities.
Recently it turned out to be possible, to 'see', in real time, by a technique called magnetoencephalography ( MEG ), a thought, occuring in a living person. Thus different centers in the brain are consecutively activated, between the moment of seeing for example a drawing of a cat, and the pronouncing of the word "cat". One can see which centers and on what moment ( SALMELIN, R., HARI, R., LOUNASMSAA, O., and SAMS, M., Nature, 368 463 (1994)).
Such results, obtained from real living brains, appear to supply evidence that there is nothing 'immaterial' involved in thoughts, in the sense that thoughts would belong to a fundamentally different sphere of Being ( NOTE 5 ).

Hence it appears that a certain philosophical position is incorrect, namely the dualistic position relating to the Mind-Body Problem, and this on the basis of results from Natural Science. If so, then we have a case in which we discover that the relevant 'metaphysical' problem, or position, is not a metaphysical problem after all, but a problem which belongs to Natural Science. The alleged insight in the relation between Mind and Body, as this was laid down in Philosophy, does not, as it seems, derive from the primary experience (i.e. experience, which, in the form of empirical presuppositions, precedes all other experiences), but from the primitive experience, and this is nothing else than experience, that should be further developed (i.e. theoretically processed) by Natural Science.

3. Evolution in and from Nature
Besides these reflections involving AI and relating to the Mind-Body Problem, the following might also be worth of consideration :
There is much evidence that man evolved historically, totally within the context of the organic Nature, to his present status (That took approximately some 2 million years or more). He evolved from certain primate mammals.
If this is correct, then it is not a priori to be expected that he will differ ontologically from the other natural things (Especially when we consider the possibility that life itself originated from inorganic material). His 'Form' then is formed-matter too.
Natural Science holds that all the parts of whatever human being, including their functions, have originated in a natural way from previous structures during a long process of adaptive optimalizations. In this sense man is an integral part of Nature. His 'Spirit' -- which here means the Objective Spirit (objektiver Geist), referring to human institutions like Science and Technology -- is not able to change the natural laws prevailing at lower levels (the physical and biological levels). He can, it's true, interfere in natural processes, but he does so on the basis of his insight and knowledge of the lawfulness of those natural processes, i.e. of the knowledge he has about prevailing natural laws : He harnesses this lawfulness for his own uses. The lawfulness itself cannot be changed by him. Let us cite a philosopher :
" The dominion of the Spirit over Nature is wholly limited by natural laws."
(HARTMANN, N., Der Aufbau der realen Welt, 1940, p. 553)
Linked with this, man is also not able to change the categorical structure ( = fundamental structure of Being, i.e. the set of fundamental determining ontological entities) of Reality.
Possible intervention in Nature, i.e. in natural processes, is of a different character :
" His dominion itself, however, is a superiority of a wholly different nature. He rules through his providence and purposiveness. Nature just is not purposive, she is indifferent with respect to direction and result of her processes. That's why she is defenceless against the aim of the Spirit, when it proceeds in strict accordance with her laws. It is -- to speak with Hegel -- the trick of intelligence, grounded in the category of purposiveness. Indeed it is a kind of cheating of the forces of Nature, done by man, while he lets them work for his purposes. And he can let them work for him, insofar as he, in accordance with their intrinsic aimless tendencies, selects from them the means for his purposes."
(HARTMANN, N., Der Aufbau der realen Welt, 1940, p. 554)
Of course some small problem is involved in the expression "aimless tendencies". But these tendencies (which are nevertheless present) in Nature are very general, and only describable as "tendencies", after the fact.
In the way described, man rises himself surely enough above the inorganic world and also above the organic (in the stricter sense) world. With him new phenomena appear, which we can call his psychic capabilities. These phenomena are not, just like that, reducible (all the way down) to the laws of Particle Physics, but are the result of co-operative collectivity of very many microscopic and submacroscopic entities, together making up the brain ( NOTE 6 ). Those psychic capabilities enable him to create institutions like Philosophy, Art, Law, Natural Science, i.e. to create a culture.
(The whole of) Nature itself apparently has the ability to create, each time resulting in a Novum. This Novum (i.e. a newly appearing phenomenon) however, is dependent for its existence upon (things that exist on) a lower level, but is with respect to its content (and as such) independent of those lower-level things, because those lower-level things (through the laws which inhere in them) specify only a domain of possibilities. The precise location within that domain is not completely determined by the lower-level laws. At any rate the facts seem to point to that.
All this is however far from certain, as is evident from the diversity of relevant theories.
Nevertheless it is, according to me, certain that we, when philosophizing (about the ontological status of man), cannot dismiss the fact of evolution on Earth. A part of the answers to questions concerning higher forms with specific functions, like self-consciousness, are to be expected from an investigation about the mechanism of this evolution.
But because evolution is a historical process which in almost its entirety has taken place in the distant past, without the presence of conscious observers, who have recorded their results and observations for posterity, it will probably never be possible to reconstruct its precise scenario, and because of this many philosophical questions will remain open.

4. Complexity
Physical matter is constituted from a relatively small number of species of building blocks : The chemical elements (these are however not the final building blocks). But the combination of these building blocks results in an enormous number of possible chemical compounds. This phenomenon of combination repeats itself on a higher scale level in organisms : In the constitution of organisms (here on Earth) only 20 types of building blocks are involved, the amino acids. This is comparable with the building blocks constituting the content of books. Only some 30 -- letters and a few other signs -- building blocks are needed. The possibilities of significant combinations are however -- as we all know -- almost unlimited. Precisely the same applies to the 'alphabeth' of living bodies. In virtue of these well nigh endless possibilities of combination such a body can become increasingly complex, at worst limited by energetic constraints. With it also the functions of such bodies can become highly complex, subtle and powerful. Without support by this complex (physical) matter such functions are impossible. They originate by co-operation of thousands of already complex molecules. That's why many of those (complex) functions are not visible at a lower structural level. They are simply not present at such a level. Only at a higher structural level they become visible, because only there they are finally generated and maintained by the co-operation mentioned.
When we call these functions -- only appearing at a high organizational level -- , functions like consciousness, "immaterial", nothing will oppose that, because as such they are not concrete. They are abstracted, and only in this form immaterial. So living beings cannot exist until their physical matter has reached a certain degree of complexity, and of course also until certain energetical conditions are satisfied.
Hence we cannot separate these "immaterial" functions from their supporting substrate. A consideration of such a function is then a consideration of that substrate, it is true, but, that substrate seen at (i.e. from) a high structural level.
In fact almost all philosophical considerations about man are, according to me, considerations at (and from) a high level.

Despite the results, described above and elsewhere, relating to the Mind-Body Problem, we should continue to be receptive to alternative views (for instance an ontological dualism of body and mind), because Natural Science has hardly begun the study of the complexity of Life and Consciousness, and it is not beforehand excluded that there are set fundamental limits to a scientific treatment of Life, and especially of Consciousness, because perhaps there we have to do with immaterial ways of being. So we should not jump to conclusions prematurely, including the one presented above, relating to the Mind-Body Problem.
What could perhaps be concluded is the fact that we don't have yet sufficient reason to attribute to man a central position within a global metaphysical consideration, i.e. a consideration concerning the whole of Reality.

"[...] if one imagines the vanishing smallness of the human world with its limited span of history : how it, clinged to the, it is true, relatively stationary, but still transient condition of a planetary surface, has an ephemeral existence, not knowing whether at an unbridgeably great distance once again something like it exists under similar conditions."
(HARTMANN, N., Der Aufbau der realen Welt, 1940, p. 525)

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