Stephen Harrison (1986) The Mind/Brain Problem. Privately published.
Contact the author for copies at Leibnoza@starpower.net
See also Stephen Harrison's Transcendental Physics web site.
Interested persons upon learning of the title of the present book, ask what it is all about. I customarily give them a few minutes of explanation, only to be greeted at the end by a perfectly blank stare. I wish a candid camera could have witnessed all these performances. Put end to end they would make for an hour of the most hilarious entertainment. ... Evidently the problem has about it an elusiveness which puts it beyond the reach of most, and the plain man can hardly be blamed for failing to come to grips with it. But what of the professional philosopher? I find myself scandalized by the complete ignorance of most with respect to the very concrete entity of their own nervous systems, and of the Mind/Brain problem along with it. In God's name, how can you approach the great questions of the Cosmos, of the nature of Being and Reality if you haven't first formed a clear idea of what's inside and what's outside, and what part your own Brain plays in supporting your ruminations?
What caused the relationship of Mind to Body to become a problem were the increasingly mysterious disclosures of neuroscience - made mostly during the past 100 years. Yet even from the start, there was something very mysterious about vision. This naively seems to be an inwards-out rather than an outwards-in process, in which the soul appears, to the subject, to flow out of his eyes to directly engage the objects which it greets; yet the encounter is purely cognitive, the soul being unable to manipulate or otherwise directly influence the objects grasped in the act of vision. ... A second straw-in-the-wind that all is not well with the posture of naive realism was afforded by the phenomenon of dreaming. How is it that the mind, on its own, can so completely, vividly, and convincingly mimic the kind of interactive perceptual experience known so well inordinary waking existence?
Instead of turning away with embarrassment from the phenomenon of consciousness, Science ought to be asking: what is it about Mind that demands for its existence and support those objects structured in the way in which we have discovered brains to be? Here indeed is a sterling opportunity for Science to repay its debt to Philosophy - a dept, incidentally, which is rarely acknowledged.
p. 1.3 - 1.4
Though in principle scientific, the problem is unusually sweeping in scope and involves the introduction of categories (such as consciousness) which don't easily integrate into the traditional scientific world-view. This, I believe, puts it substantially beyond the competence of the scientific intellectual; he is ill-equipped to cope for just too many reasons:
Whether he knows it or not he is a logical positivist, not having heard that this monster was long ago slain by Popper. He believes this frees him from the 'taint' of metaphysics, never realizing that to adopt the null posture is very much to take a position. To believe otherwise is to assert that zero is not a number or that there is no difference, when playing bridge, between maintaining silence, and saying 'no bid'.
Very closely connected is his unwillingness to allow a decent place for a priori processes and principles, continuing to believe that empiricism can somehow be made totally self-supporting.
He is an arch-conservative, insisting that the framework of science as we now know it is complete, seeming to forget how deep in its tradition is the occasional step-function advance.
He is dogmatic! The freedom and openness of scientific enquiry is quite strongly circumscribed; and questioning of the metaphysical and epistemological under-pinnings of the whole scientific enterprise is out of bounds.
He lives in modal penury, limiting his total scheme of things to matter and motion (plus only the tautologies of mathematics) - perhaps adding mind as an 'appearance'. For our present purposes the most important consequence is his refusal to accept mind on anything like its own terms. This dismissal is far from neutral, having about it a ferocity reminiscent of the odium theologicum of Medieval times.
Under the guise of exercising a befitting humility he never passes up an opportunity to undermine man's image of himself and of his potential as an Ens Spiritualis.
Finally, his high intelligence carries with it an Achilles heel. His fascination with articulate detail, and above all with symbolic processes, inevitably draws him away from the wood and into the trees. He ends up mistaking facility with words for a mastery of ideas. In consequence, in discoursing on the great themes of philosophy, he sounds like nothing so much as Sid Caesar talking German. [For the benefit of foreigners and for citizens too young to remember, Sid Caesar, in the absence of a knowledge of foreign languages can, after a brief exposure to a foreign tongue, utter what sound like authentic sentences in the same idiom. His performance has a significance beyond its entertainment value, in demonstrating the high degree of separability of sound patterns from their meanings.]
To be found, here and there in psychiatric institutions are remarkable and engaging individuals who have come to be known as idiots savants. Those severely deprived of intelligence - to a degree demanding their institutionalization - they nevertheless display remarkable gifts and accomplishments. Some are mechanically inventive, some have remarkable memories, while others can perform astonishing feats of mental arithmetic - and furthermore apparently in some very unorthodox 'analogue' way which has so far defied explanation.
Now, this wise fool has his opposite number - the moronic genius. He is not confined to an institution for the mentally sick but is to be found alive and sober in the research departments of universities and other such institutions. He has a soaring IQ, a Ph.D. in a 'hard' discipline - and maybe even a Nobel Prize. But something is wrong; his powerful intellect seems to be decoupled from the necessary corrective of commonsense judgement. What he lacks, many a six year old already has. He is like a finely jeweled watch which, unfortunately, is free-running, indicating a time of day quite unknown at Greenwich - or anywhere.
I took as my point of departure the indubitable neuro-scientific discovery that the whole of conscious perceptual experience ... is separated from the Real World for which it is surrogate, the perceptual scene directly experienced being, in fact, in some sense confined to the Brain.
It is precisely here that we encounter the major sticking-point in current attempts to come to grips with the problem. Now, it is true that virtually all knowledgable intellectuals accept this statement at face-value. Yet, upon closer inspection it quickly becomes apparent that this belief as commonly held has a strange schitzoid quality; it remains an isolated, purely intellectual piece of knowledge which never connects with or influences perception as directly experienced - even in those moments of introspection in which the Mind/Brain relationship itself is being contemplated. In consequence, almost every informed intellectual - including the typical Neurscientist - remains a naive realist at the 'gut' level.
most of this volume ... is devoted to bringing the reader face to face with the true nature of Mind's place relative to the Cortex which provides the necessary substratum. That it should take so much effort to deliver a single insight is eloquent testimony to nature's perversity in so effectively covering her tracks, and to the overwhelming experience of vertigo and immurement to which the initial emotional acceptance of the belief is apt to lead.
Though not logically refutable, solipsism can only be dismissed as one instance of what C. D. Broad called "silly" theories - one that no-one, except the very clever or the very stupid could ever bring themselves to believe.
Quote from C. D. Broad:
...By a 'silly' theory I mean one which may be held at the time when one is talking or writing professionally, but which only an inmate of a lunatic asylum would think of carrying into daily life. ... It must not be supposed that the men who maintain these theories and beliefs are 'silly' people. Only very acute and learned men could have thought of anything so odd or defended anything so preposterous against the continual protests of common sense.
As a footnote to C. D. Broad I would urge that there is something intrinsically self-contradictory about the posture of Solipsism in that it presupposes the existence of that very external reality which it dismisses as illusory.
Torrance raises a closely analogous objection to the questioning of the rationality of the cosmos:
Quote from Torrance:
Here we are up against one of those ultimate boundaries of thought such as we reach when we ask a question as to the rationality of the universe; not only do we have to assume that rationality to answer the question. But we have to assume it to ask the question in the first place. We cannot meaningfully ask a question that calls in question that which it needs in order to be the question that is being asked.
We start, then, with this great paradox inherent in simple mundane everyday perception-
On the one hand is the overwhelming conviction that we directly know and control our own bodies, this knowledge apparently being extended beyond in vision which seems to reach forward from the eyes.
On the other hand is massive scientific evidence proclaiming that all experience, including these everyday perceptions, is actually brain-limited, is locked away. The real world outside is beyond direct access to consciousness.
Quote from Smythies "Beyond Reductionism"
Thus, when I sit in my chair examining my world of experience and ask myself 'where is my brain?', I may be mistaken if I answer 'within this head I experience here in my consciousness', for the entire 'body' that I experience in consciousness is, according to this theory, really inside my brain. ... This idea is one which we may hold when theorizing about other people's brains but it feels most uncomfortable when we apply it to ourselves.
Let us start, then, with Figure # (4.1) depicting a man inspecting a piece of real estate. Put yourself in his place, imagine you are standing in his shoes.
Figure 4.1 "Where is my brain?
Now I ask you "Where is the brain which is supporting your present perceptual experience (of the house)?" You will almost certainly point to your head. I now ask you to 'visualize' in your mind's eye just where your brain is and add this as a part of the perceptual experience you are currently having; perhaps Figure # (4.2) conveys the internal structure of this augmented percept. The illustration is essentially a triple collage composed of:
An outer frame: the external environment, consisting of the house and surrounds.
A middle frame consisting of part of the eye orbit as seen from the inside.
Finally, vaguely felt, is the cortex behind, but I think you will find that its concrete depiction in the illustration conveys something of the nature of the experience.
To discover where your brain really is, [look at] Figure # (4.3)
Entrapment into the vertigenous illusion described above comes about because of the highly polarized nature of the inner perceptual tableau. The part of the percept which is closest to home is the interior of the head - this is the region from which the Psyche seems to take its origin. Yet the evidence of the neurosciences compels the belief that the physical brain is, in a sense, exterior to the whole of the perceptual scene. The trap is now sprung; the experience of the resulting infinite cycle resembles nothing so much as a self-swallowing snake (depicted in figure (4.4)) and is all too apt to bring further attempts to confront the illusion of naive realism to a permanent halt. The scene is in-the-brain is in-the-scene is in-the-brain is in-.... ...etc., etc.
Figure 4.4 "Scene-in-brain-in-scene-in..."
Only after the Great Epistemological Illusion has been unmasked can one start to come to terms with perceptual scenes as something quite literally fashioned out of mental substance, and to strike the proper contrast between what they are and what they mean (i.e, stand for).
The experimental exploration of perception has increasingly disclosed the huge and top-heavy contribution of central origin; the thin incoming sensory stream at times resembles little more than a series of hints, a mere skeleton to be fleshed out by the anticipating Mind. The line between perception and hallucination is often a fine one. Despite this we make judgements of objectivity with perfect confidence, undismayed by the occasional blunder. This even survives the experience of dreaming that one is discussing this very problem - only to wake up! (The present writer has experienced this to one more level of depth, dreaming that he woke up, only to 'really' wake up later)!
The subjective experience of vision involves its own space which is nominally distinct from the body space of somaesthesis, both in its interior and surface aspects. Introspection directly and indubitably discloses this space to be hyperbolic, in the rectangular-hyperbole sense of the word. That is to say we here have an actually existent if mental, manifold, which has a metric which shrinks proportional to the distance from the point of origin, this being approximately where the psychye 'stands' in acts of visual perception. No equivalent space exists in the outside world. What we do find in the outside world are perspectives - as can be objectively captured by imaging systems such as cameras - which follow transformational laws having equivalent properties. I cannot but feel that a proper appreciation of the Mind/Brain relationship, with an acceptance of mental spaces as legitimate, actually existent structures with their own unique properties would clarify this confusion and in so doing, lead to the writing of a whole new and exciting chapter in geometry.
the experience of mirror viewing ... seems to split the psyche between two images of the body - the projected, reflected visual space, on the one hand, and the direct internal somaesthetic, on the other.
Quote from E. Kaila:
When shaving before a mirror do we actually shave the face we feel as our own or the other face in front of us in the mirror? All the time two faces are simultaneously perceived; the mirrored face, visible in the mirror space extending behind the mirror surface, and the real face, invisible to the perceiver and located as a physical object in the 'real' space in front of the mirror surface.