Author Topic: Applying science to the mind  (Read 995 times)

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Offline jaimehlers

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Applying science to the mind
« on: November 01, 2011, 09:31:06 PM »
This doesn't have anything to do with current events, but it's something that I've been thinking about for quite some time.  Science is based on using the scientific method with observations and experiments in order to get results we can analyze and compare.  In order for the results to be valid, the data that goes in has to be consistent; observations can't change from moment to moment, and experiments have to be repeatable.

So, how does that apply to the mind and to the emotions?  I mean, we can sort of determine the chemical nature of emotions, but that's just a form of biology.  It isn't very useful for understanding how the mind itself works.  And for that matter, it's very difficult to apply an objective methodology to something that shifts as much as the mind does.  To cite an analogy I read, it would be a bit like if atoms could argue, fight back, run away, sulk, plead, throw tantrums, and learn terminology to use in arguments[1].

I'm mainly just curious what people think.  I don't have any really good ideas about this.
 1. Of course, they can't do any of that, but this illustrates part of the difficulty of getting a handle on the mind.

Offline One Above All

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Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #1 on: November 02, 2011, 01:29:52 AM »
Science is based on using the scientific method with observations and experiments in order to get results we can analyze and compare.

True.

In order for the results to be valid, the data that goes in has to be consistent; observations can't change from moment to moment, and experiments have to be repeatable.

Not true.
Observations can and do change from moment to moment[1]. The point of an experiment is that it needs to be repeatable and its results consistent every time the experiment is performed, not consistent all throughout the experiment.
 1. Exempli gratia: Experiments that proved evolution a long time ago.
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Offline Emergence

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Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #2 on: November 02, 2011, 02:07:48 AM »
So, how does that apply to the mind and to the emotions?

Well, actually it is a lot more difficult to determine the "chemical nature of emotions" than to grasp them on a spacial, temporal and phenomenological level.But it's all just Biology, which is all just Chemistry which is all just Physics, which is all just Mechanics on some level or other.  :P

The scientific study of the mind does of course suffer from the same general restrictions as nearly all experimental research does, at least in Biology: In order to be able to have a closer look at the specifics, we need an experimental setup that is controlled as much as possible. This need for control forces us to take a very reductionist approach to the experimental design. The most effective experiments atm. are those that are quite simplistic (yet clever) in their setup. There is some effort to come to a more wholeistic approach with the study of naturally behaving subjects. But that one is still tough.

What we can - and do - do in order to nail down the elusive nature of emotions and thoughts is threefold (probably i forget some things): We use experimental designs that force the mind into a certain pattern after determining a baseline state (where changing emotions and thoughts by their random appearance for the outside viewer accumulate to "noise" from which a forced pattern nicely separates), we investigate (more or less) clearly identifiable disorders (deviations from "normal" functions of the mind) in as much detail as possible and determine the physiological differences of the brain (as "substrate" of the mind) compared to the "normally functioning" organ, an finally we compare self reports of a mental status in certain situations and compare these among each other.

Beyond that, there is the possibility of feeding the data we get from the approaches described above into simulations to see whether the ideas we get of the overall network-architecture of the brain (and even of the mind) are correct by looking at the results of the simulations and comparing them to our predictions.

Even though the brain, and with it mind and emotions, is quite complex, from what i learned over the years i conclude that by and large our brains, emotions and minds are much less chaotic, random and "indeterminable" than we would like to believe.

Browse this blog  a bit, and you might get a better and more complete idea of how and from what directions scientists approach the research of "the mind": http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/
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Offline jaimehlers

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Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #3 on: November 02, 2011, 08:59:27 AM »
Well, I'm not trying to say that understanding the chemical and biological processes of the brain wouldn't be quite helpful in its own right, but the problem is that understanding how the brain works will only go so far in explaining how the mind works.  It's maybe a little bit like if we were trying to perform scientific experiments on the air inside a balloon, but we couldn't directly detect it, only indirectly through the measurements we could take on the balloon itself.

There was an experiment which used a brain scanner to show that the brain would pick out one of two images (left or right) several seconds before the mind would actually make the decision of which one to pick.  An impressive result to be sure, and I have no doubt that it will make a big difference in the long run.  The problem is that the experiment only covered a very simple decision, left image or right image.  How would it work with a much more complicated decision, one that couldn't be broken down into "left brain, right brain"?

Offline Emergence

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Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #4 on: November 02, 2011, 03:24:22 PM »
Well, I'm not trying to say that understanding the chemical and biological processes of the brain wouldn't be quite helpful in its own right, [snip]

Believe it or not, but i don't think that the "mind" exists separate from brain functions in any way whatsoever. What you say therefore makes as much sense to me as saying "We can - to a degree - understand the chemical and biological processes of the heart, but this won't help us much in understanding the nature of blood-circulation."

To me, 'the brain' is the organ and 'the mind' is the process it generates, just as 'the heart' is an organ and 'the blood-circulation' is the process it generates. Can we learn everything there is to know about blood-circulation by singularly studying the heart or vice versa? Of course not, because there are many links to other organs, structures and processes that we need to study, too. The same goes for the brain and the mind, too. But we can evaluate the mind as a pattern (generated by the brain and all other interacting systems) and conclude some very basic and important rules about the brain and the other way around. To me "the mind" is nothing mysterious or elusive. It is at least as apparent as blood-circulation and not that much harder to investigate in principle.


Quote
The problem is that the experiment only covered a very simple decision, left image or right image.  How would it work with a much more complicated decision, one that couldn't be broken down into "left brain, right brain"?

In my honest, uncensored opinion there are no "harder decisions" that our brain could handle in any meaningful form. I personally think this is why our societies, architecture, language and engineering is so highly structured. The almost ridiculously high degree of structure - in my opinion - serves the purpose to break down our lives in "yes" or "no" decision chunks our meat-mind can handle. Of course the brain can rapidly process such decisions and even do some simultaneously - thanks to the modularity. But the decisions that do come into the focus of our attention are mostly of the "yes or no", "black or white" or "activation or inhibition" variety. And if there are more than two basic options, there are often many that are not nearly as strong as the most basic two. If by chance there would be more than two nearly equally strong decisions, it seems to me that the decision becomes random and is afterwards justified by some kind of post-hoc confabulation[1].

Of course i think that this tendency to artificially structure the chaos to break down decisions into a manageable, simple "option-landscape" is only a reflection of the brain's evolution from simple "on-off" decision "bio-machines" (think: flagella control in chemotaxis and such).

The experiment you described - excluding the "left brain - right brain" part, which sounds like a gross oversimplification to me - even serves as evidence in my mind: If there would be so much more to our "minds" how could see possibly be pressed into such "forced choice" scenarios so easily? Think about it ...  :D   
 
Face it: The mind likes its decisions (and worldviews) "black or white" with a side of random chaos, because it can't handle "grays" very good.



^^^ All of the above should - without question - be taken with a generous amount of grained salt, because the author underlies the same restrictions he tried to put into such awkward words. ^^^
 1. A process i see as similar to what is described here for split brain patients: http://brainmind.com/Confabulation.html
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Offline Nick

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Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #5 on: November 02, 2011, 04:01:23 PM »
Science is the devil's workshop.
Yo, put that in your pipe and smoke it.  Quit ragging on my Lord.

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Offline jaimehlers

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Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #6 on: November 02, 2011, 05:24:31 PM »
Emergence:  As you might have guessed, I disagree with you.  I'm perfectly willing to grant that the mind can't operate separate from of the brain (since it has to have the brain's hardware to do anything at all), and that if the brain goes, the mind does as well.  But there's a difference between that and saying that the mind is nothing but the hardware of the brain.  There is such an enormous difference between the brain and the circulatory system that while I understood the purpose of your analogy, it doesn't work very well at all.

You said the brain was the organ and the mind was the process.  I can accept that definition.  But the fact that a process is dependent on the hardware does not mean that the process is nothing but the hardware.  Some of them are, such as hardwired reflexes and unconscious skills that happen below the level of thought, but those can't really be considered as part of the mind; they're separate processes entirely.

So I don't agree with your idea that the mind is nothing more than the brain.  The mind depends on the brain and can't exist without it, but the mind can go much, much further than the relatively limited "yes/no" structure of the brain.  The structure of our daily lives is convenient and useful, and it certainly makes things easier, but it isn't strictly necessary in the way that you think it is, because the mind is not strictly limited to only what the brain itself can do.  Otherwise, the idea of having a mind and being able to think makes no sense.  If the brain does it all, then it could do without the mind entirely, and all the stuff that goes into keeping the mind active and going could be put to other purposes.

I can't exactly prove what I'm saying anymore than you can, but I think the idea of the mind being greater than the brain, even though it's dependent on the brain, explains how humans act much better than the idea of the mind being completely superfluous as you suggest.

Offline dloubet

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Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #7 on: November 03, 2011, 12:58:03 AM »
How about the idea that the mind is the emergent property of the electrochemical activity of the brain. It's like the flocking of birds or bats. Simple rules that result in a complex and unplanned group behavior that looks choreographed, but isn't.

The funny thing about flocking is that if you try to simulate it with simple rules applied by virtual individuals, you get real flocking behavior. The "simulation" results in real flocking.

I'm betting it would be the same with a sufficiently sophisticated model of the brain constructed of virtual neurons. There's no reason I can see that you wouldn't get real consciousness.
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Offline jaimehlers

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Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #9 on: November 03, 2011, 10:52:31 AM »
jaybwell:  Given that I know that beheaded chickens will run around for a time if they aren't securely held, I guess a botched job of beheading a chicken might result in something like that.  But chickens aren't humans.  I strongly doubt you would see a human body with most of its brain removed staggering around and acting like a normal human.  Maybe breathing and keeping the heart beating, but it wouldn't be doing stuff like that chicken did.

dloubet:  Right, but birds and bats tend to rely almost exclusively on hardwired instinct, so the "simple rules" model works.  For that matter, it's not terribly difficult to predict what a mob of people will do (because mobs don't think, they just react).  But an individual human's actions are virtually impossible to predict using any model.  You can get an idea of the general things someone will do by watching past behavior, but the specifics are for the most part not predictable, and not simply from the idea of a 'randomness' tiebreaker.  It's like taking the concepts of simple determinism and simple randomness and mixing them together into something that is far more complicated than the sum of its parts.

Offline albeto

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Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #10 on: November 03, 2011, 12:02:03 PM »
Emergence:  As you might have guessed, I disagree with you.  I'm perfectly willing to grant that the mind can't operate separate from of the brain (since it has to have the brain's hardware to do anything at all), and that if the brain goes, the mind does as well.  But there's a difference between that and saying that the mind is nothing but the hardware of the brain.

Are you suggesting the mind is the hardware of the brain plus something else (soul, perhaps)?  If so, experiments would be able to isolate some aspect of this but as it turns out, experiments have so far shown the details of the mechanics of operation.  Is there any evidence that you are aware of to suggest the existence of a soul or other mechanism? 

You said the brain was the organ and the mind was the process.  I can accept that definition.  But the fact that a process is dependent on the hardware does not mean that the process is nothing but the hardware. 

Unless there is something else, like the existence of a soul or other supernatural component, why would the process be anything more than the mechanics of the hardware?  And if there is something else, like the existence of a soul, how could you determine it is the soul and not a force in the universe otherwise known as karma or something else?  How could this component by identified if it exists beyond the natural world (and therefore is unavailable to observation in the natural world), and why aren't the physical mechanics that explain details acceptable as explanations? 

Some of them are, such as hardwired reflexes and unconscious skills that happen below the level of thought, but those can't really be considered as part of the mind; they're separate processes entirely.

But they're still part of the brain's hardware and do contribute to more sophisticated decision making processes.  A person whose brain naturally seeks more stimulation than their peers will make choices that reflect this hardwired reflex, even if the person is unaware of this hardwired reflex.  This explains why some people thrive on adventure while others find those same experiences stressful.

So I don't agree with your idea that the mind is nothing more than the brain.  The mind depends on the brain and can't exist without it, but the mind can go much, much further than the relatively limited "yes/no" structure of the brain.  The structure of our daily lives is convenient and useful, and it certainly makes things easier, but it isn't strictly necessary in the way that you think it is, because the mind is not strictly limited to only what the brain itself can do.  Otherwise, the idea of having a mind and being able to think makes no sense.  If the brain does it all, then it could do without the mind entirely, and all the stuff that goes into keeping the mind active and going could be put to other purposes.

So it must be a soul, or karma or some other supernatural operation manipulating decisions, right?  The more we recognize the mechanics of the brain, the less these hypotheses fit.  Because there is as of yet no reason to suggest they exist other than an appeal to tradition, they can't be applied to the equation.  Interestingly, the equation works without them and the results are more accurately explained without them. 

I can't exactly prove what I'm saying anymore than you can, but I think the idea of the mind being greater than the brain, even though it's dependent on the brain, explains how humans act much better than the idea of the mind being completely superfluous as you suggest.

But what he's saying can be proven.  The devil is in the details, as they say, and he's explaining how those details are being exposed.  You might be interested in this blog post by Sam Harris, neuroscientist who talks about the mystery of consciousness.  Essentially, this field of neuroscience is doing what you're asking - discovering just how (the mechanics) the brain works.  This includes the mind, as indeed "the mind" is a function of the brain. 

Offline jaimehlers

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Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #11 on: November 03, 2011, 01:49:30 PM »
Albedo, go back for a moment and look at your post.  Who was it who was talking more about the soul, you or I?  I was trying to stay focused on a hardware/software analysis, and I wasn't trying to suggest that there was "something else" involved.  You seem to have assumed that I was and based by far the majority of your post on what you thought I must have been talking about.

Offline BaalServant

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Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #12 on: November 03, 2011, 01:56:01 PM »
To sum up my take on what I've read about the mind, I think about the mind as a model.  The better the model is, the better the mind can use it to make predictions of what will happen next.

Subconsciously, (to me just another word for the background processes)  there is not just one model going on.  There are a plethora of universes being modeled involving all sorts of processes - the flocking style rules that dloubet mentioned and patterns mentioned by Emergence as well as all sorts of other applications of the data coming in. 

dloubet also posited "that the mind is the emergent property of the electrochemical activity of the brain."  I think this comes into play as a process of all of the background processes that are making the plethora of universes.  Every process is a tiny tidbit of all that could be brought to the foreground of your mind.  Each of these processes that resides in a chemical setting also emits an em resonance.  The more prevalent a resonance is, the more likely it is to be settled on. 

The model, then, (basically, your experiencing of consciousness) is constantly being updated by the various sensations and thoughts that win out.  What's felt as a flow in time is simply the constant updating your mind goes through.

This poorly written armchair philosophy is my attempt at describing my explanation for the em activity in the brain.

I'm guessing it's a similar process that takes place in the processing of a fly's compound eye - each of the images get reported to the brain, and the important details are sorted out and presented to the fly's consciousness.

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Offline jaimehlers

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Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #13 on: November 03, 2011, 03:42:49 PM »
BaalServant:  That makes sense.  We do something similar with our senses; our eyes and ears certainly pick up more information than our conscious minds are aware of.  I think there are three general categories of processes; the unconscious ones which keep us alive (and happen regardless of any other brain functions), the subconscious ones which operate in the background, and the conscious ones that we're aware of.  I think part of the reason the mind is so complex is because the processes are not automatically locked into conscious and subconscious.  Conscious processes can go into the background, and subconscious processes can come into the foreground.  And I think we would find that if we mapped the conscious processes at two relatively close times, that most of the conscious processes would still be there during both times, but some of the processes would have moved between the background and foreground.

That being said, I don't think we can say that the mind is nothing more than the brain's hardware in action.  The activity of the mind is much more complex than can be explained by simply watching brain activity.  For example, someone can watch brain activity when a person thinks about something, but that gives nothing more than a very general picture of what's really going on.  Because it isn't just which parts of the brain are active, but which neurons, in what order, and perhaps even how many times a given neuron is triggered.  A single neuron may be nothing more than a yes/no decision gate, but it's a decision gate that can react to a huge number of triggers and connects to thousands upon thousands of other neurons.  That doesn't work well with the idea that the mind can't ultimately handle anything beyond very simple yes/no decisions and that our lives are structured to give us those yes/no decisions.

Even if we were able to precisely map brain activity to individual neurons, I still don't know that we could establish a good relationship between those chains of neurons and what a person was thinking about.  I think it's simply too complex to be able to come up with more than a general idea.  And when we're talking about something that complicated, trying to describe it as being able to handle only blacks and whites with the occasional coin-flip simply because individual neurons are solely yes/no doesn't make sense to me at all.  The brain isn't just a neuron writ large.

Offline pingnak

Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #14 on: November 03, 2011, 04:51:21 PM »
Change the meat machine, change you: You are the meat machine.

Unlike talk of intangible 'souls', this is falsifiable.  We see it demonstrated EVERY SINGLE DAY.

We have seen, oh so many injured brains.  The changes they make in the unfortunate 'souls' who suffer those injuries.

There is another way that this 'meat machine' concept is falsifiable.

Scan, process, copy your CNS (central nervous system), simulate it correctly, put it into a virtual body in a virtual environment.  I see no reason not to emulate the spinal cord down to peripheral nerves.  That's just a small fraction more to emulate in addition to the nerves in the brain.  It simplifies many things.  Where to put the sound signals.  Where to put the light signals.  Where sense and motor signals come and go.  Apply that to a model of the body, which the same whole body 'scan' to get the nerves could provide the specifications for.
http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-10-opensim-open-source-software-stanford-accurately.html

See if anyone can tell the difference.  If you're a writer, can the doppelgänger write?  If you're a programmer, can the doppelgänger program?  If you're a composer, can the doppelgänger compose music? 

Have friends and family quiz and chat with and interact with original and memorex over some medium that prevents them from telling meat from bits.  Video chat, or whatever passes for telepresence by then.

Much more intensive than the 'turing test'.  Many of the people should KNOW the person being emulated.

And then keep working on the sim.  Get smell, taste, balance, hunger, etc. working.  Until the person being simulated can't tell the difference, either.  Other than they can't be 'killed' by their environment, and can eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner if they like, with no ill effect.

See how long it takes them to figure it out.  Put into similar environments, the original might come to believe he's the sim.

The technical capacity to run this experiment in a computer is theoretically less than half a century away.  Though I think scanning technology of sufficient resolution to fully pick out all of the microscopic details of the brain necessary to gather the data to copy a mind is probably not going to develop apace with the computers.

Without the gooey, messy, temperamental biology, there's no reason a virtual image of a person, properly backed up, could not exist forever, once he or she has been successfully booted up.  Information does not have a shelf life, so long as the media containing it is maintained.  So the only catches in this is emulating the 'mind' process correctly, without growing the virtual brain into some demented state that needs to be reverted.

Even put the mind under version control to do virtual 'surgery'.  Improve it.  Nobody's going to nick an artery and have a bleeder.  Delete the wrong nerves?  Undo, or restore from an earlier version.  Software development is an iterative process.  So would be understanding minds, or any single mind. 

One could in fact work on a model of an injured brain to come up with treatments to apply back to the original.  Especially if they had an emulated image of the original from before the injury.  Put a 'chip' in their head to replace or stimulate the damaged parts.  Or perhaps replace the whole brain.  When you're talking about a brain-dead patient that still has a heartbeat, I wonder how many families would rather drop in a replacement brain from a backup scan, and have their loved one back among the living?  Or for that matter, why not a full body restoration?

And another gruesome little thought occurs to me:  I wonder how long after a brain stops working, that it could be scanned and modeled into a working virtual person?  If it hasn't been turned to mush yet, if it is still mechanically intact, then even though the cells all died and stopped working, the connections are still there, and the kinds of cells and connections are still identifiable.  Freshly found and refrigerated or otherwise preserved immediately.  Bringing a truly dead person back by booting them up virtually could be possible. 

Computers are good at picking over a zillion little details and reversing them.  You could, for instance, even figure out how swelling of the brain after a lethal concussion or infection damaged it.  And find where the connections broke.  Fit the puzzle back together, so to speak.  So eventually, you might even be able to 'recover' some of those idiots who had their heads frozen in LN2, by figuring out how the ice crystals damaged the brain, and virtually re-assembling the frozen mess back to some semblance of the original.  Certainly that brain would never be able to work any more, and would turn into goo if it was ever defrosted, but the contents might be recoverable.

And the possibilities don't stop.  Think and live faster than realtime.  Or slower.  Through generations of better hardware, and better software, too.  Be anywhere on earth in a second.  Well, give or take the time it takes to serialize all those bits, PLUS the ping time, and whatever error detection and resends have to happen.  A trip to Mars is pretty easy, once you're data, and the hardware is there to receive it.  Space travel for computer hosted minds becomes trivial.  Pack thousands of friends along, and a whole world to live on comfortably, into a pretty small and lightweight package that only needs electrical current to run.  And it can all be paused indefinitely, or run very slowly, to save power. 

Versus the life support for very few humans to live in a cramped can, and all of the redundant spares and tools to keep all of that working.  Air.  Water.  Temperature.  Food.  Power to run all of that, all the time.  It can be made relatively simple, but a very stinky, uncomfortable and spartan existence, while the humans waste away the whole time as they lose muscle and bone mass.  Humans could go to Mars within 50 years, but they couldn't stay there without an all-out effort to colonize Mars, and by the time they got back, they wouldn't be able to live on Earth without 'round the clock medical care, like VERY old people.  They might recover enough to live unaided after a year or two of therapy, but they'd probably suffer permanent frailty and weakness.  So throw in an 'artificial gravity' centrifuge, too.  Mass, mass, and more mass.



Offline pingnak

Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #15 on: November 03, 2011, 04:56:36 PM »
It should be noted that what can be 'observed' in the brain with current technology is only the tiniest fraction of what is going on in there. 

All of the trillions of 3D connections cooked down to a few gigabytes of false-color imagery, indirectly deduced by using blood circulation.  That's the state of the art of real-time brain activity scanning.

So saying that the mind can't be as simple as what the scans show is true, in that a pencil sketch would not be convincing evidence that a particular person can play piano.


Offline albeto

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Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #16 on: November 04, 2011, 10:01:14 AM »
Albedo, go back for a moment and look at your post.  Who was it who was talking more about the soul, you or I?  I was trying to stay focused on a hardware/software analysis, and I wasn't trying to suggest that there was "something else" involved.  You seem to have assumed that I was and based by far the majority of your post on what you thought I must have been talking about.

I wasn't trying to put words into your mouth, rather, I interpreted from your comments the inferred suggestion there's something "more" than the natural elements at work.   You made comments such as:

"But there's a difference between that and saying that the mind is nothing but the hardware of the brain." 

What is that difference if not "something more"?

"But the fact that a process is dependent on the hardware does not mean that the process is nothing but the hardware."

What besides the hardware (organ of brain and the physical work it does) is involved? 

"Some of them are, such as hardwired reflexes and unconscious skills that happen below the level of thought, but those can't really be considered as part of the mind; they're separate processes entirely."

Separate in what way?  If they are separate from the natural mechanisms, the only other option I know of is supernatural.  What am I missing? 

"So I don't agree with your idea that the mind is nothing more than the brain."

So what is this "more"? 




Offline Mr. Blackwell

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Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #17 on: November 04, 2011, 10:19:42 AM »
Perhaps our personalities are different. All things being equal, how we as individuals react to the chemical processes of our brains is different. We are not automatons. Even when you look at identical twins, from a biological perspective they are virtually the same in every way...except personality.
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Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #18 on: November 04, 2011, 10:45:23 AM »
I have two issues with the hard materialistic view of the brain/mind.  Perhaps someone here can help me reconcile them back into the land of the verifiable:

1) I think the standard material-only model (hierarchical network of interlinked weighted gates taking in inputs signals from the senses and propagating through the network ultimately resulting in some thought, or motor response, etc...) is tacitly based on an assumption.  Specifically, that consciousness arises out of the complexity of the network.  This to me is a big punt.  I look at it as being entirely as flawed as the creationist's position that evolution could not work due to the impossibility of spontaneous generation of unplanned complexity.  In other words, saying that consciousness arises from the complexity of the network is like throwing up our hands and saying: "we just don't understand something here".  I feel that at some level, this assumption is overlooked critically.

2) Is a wire conscious of the electrons passing through it?  The hard material view would imply: potentially.  Theoretically, then as stated above, you could build the virtual brain out of spare parts and wires and given a sufficient complexity, all of a sudden those wires would become self-aware once the whole jumble is plugged into a power outlet.  I think there is a difference between a nice model of electrochemical propagation and the AWARENESS of that propagation (to beg appeal to authority, Schrodinger also felt this).  At the very least, for me, the inclusion of some sort of quantum observer is necessary to bridge that gap.  This, to me, brings some reality to the model of the hierarchy by including process based aspects from the universe itself (i.e. we live in a quantum universe where the observer is important--so how can our brains work without those observer based aspects?).  So for me, it might be possible to build a complex physical model which could be made self aware given obeisance to some unknown mechanism for engendering awareness (in addition to the physicality of the model), but for instance, a software program, no matter how complex, could not possibly achieve awareness no matter how complex the program is--based on the fact that the hardware doesn't match that complexity.

I have personal beliefs concerning the resolution of these two issues (which I wont bother burding you with) but I was wondering if someone could just blast these two sticking points for me? 

Please consider that I am not a scientist and certainly not a neuro-.
« Last Edit: November 04, 2011, 10:47:12 AM by fungusdrool »

Offline screwtape

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Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #19 on: November 04, 2011, 12:14:15 PM »
1)... Specifically, that consciousness arises out of the complexity of the network. 

The alternative is a disembodied personality floating around, invisible, intangible, inaccessable except by a functional brain.  How would we detect such a thing?  How would we gather data on it?  The reason it is excluded from the model is because we have no evidence of it, no reason to consider it.

Is there another option besides a soul I am missing?

2) ... all of a sudden those wires would become self-aware

No, the wires do not become self aware.  A consciousness arises from the collection.  The cells of your brain are not self aware.  The collection of them and their various functionalites makes a consciousness that you label "fungusdrool".

The rest of your post did not make any sense to me. But, that could be because I know squat about quantum mechanics.
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Offline fungusdrool

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Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #20 on: November 04, 2011, 12:52:24 PM »
The alternative that I've forced myself to adopt, via a 15 year journey from a hard and fast materialist (astrophysicist) to a ... not sure what I am now, perhaps a baseless philosopher, is that the universe itself is awareness.

The universe exists to experience itself.  We are (one) agent by which it does this.  We are just meat--but meat with the right physical structure to focus awareness--think of our brains as antennae.  The awareness is not our own.  Perhaps we borrow it, like a bit of putty that is pinched off around the volume occupied by the neurons--or some neighborhood therefrom.

There are literally dozens of definitions and assumptions that would have to be laid out for me to come close to "proving" this point--or even just to convince you that it is not utter madness.  That's why I didn't want to mention it.  Take it as another alternative as absurd or more so than a soul.  But it is at least something else to put on the unfiltered docket of possibilities.

There are also tons of objections you could easily raise.  Among the primary set of objections is that we do not share awareness (at least not all the time).  So how can there be a universal disembodied awareness?  Shouldn't "I" be aware of the same thing that "you" are?  I have not encountered an objection to which I cannot (at least to my own satisfaction) come up with a plausible resolution.

I treat it as a working hypothesis for which I have not yet determined any tests for verifiability.

The reason I've adopted such an absurd position is simply because I have looked at many fringe cases that are dismissed by most mainstream scientists.  These cases do not fit into the "standard" model and as such are rejected outright because, at least, no one could get funding to investigate them (think: 'the sense of being stared at' al la Sheldrake).

Anyway, you asked....


With respect to QM: to understand the operation of a quantum observer it is only necessary to understand the double slit experiment (which you can wiki) with respect to the relational interpretation.  Or to just google "quantum observer".  Suffice it to state here that in carefully controlled situations, the result of an experiment can be altered solely based on whether it is observed at various points.




Offline albeto

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Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #21 on: November 04, 2011, 03:07:36 PM »

1) I think the standard material-only model (hierarchical network of interlinked weighted gates taking in inputs signals from the senses and propagating through the network ultimately resulting in some thought, or motor response, etc...) is tacitly based on an assumption. 

A rudimentary review of the history of science will show that this exploration of the mechanics of consciousness has been gathered from observation and verified or falsified through experimentation.  The prior assumption of a spiritual reality has been unreliable to explain the mechanics of consciousness. 

Specifically, that consciousness arises out of the complexity of the network.  This to me is a big punt.  I look at it as being entirely as flawed as the creationist's position that evolution could not work due to the impossibility of spontaneous generation of unplanned complexity.  In other words, saying that consciousness arises from the complexity of the network is like throwing up our hands and saying: "we just don't understand something here".  I feel that at some level, this assumption is overlooked critically.

It's not like neurology is as simple as say, sewing, where one learns a skill immediately and then practices.  It's a very sophisticated scientific field of study and I don't mean to sound flippant, but one not understanding it doesn't mean it's wrong.  There are ways to learn about the field.  A couple blogs have been provided in this thread already if I recall correctly, and one can explore at their leisure. 

2) Is a wire conscious of the electrons passing through it?

Irrelevant.

 
The hard material view would imply: potentially.

Based on what?

Offline albeto

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Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #22 on: November 04, 2011, 03:22:55 PM »
The alternative that I've forced myself to adopt, via a 15 year journey from a hard and fast materialist (astrophysicist) to a ... not sure what I am now, perhaps a baseless philosopher, is that the universe itself is awareness.

One of the values of experimentation is to separate observation of a coincidence vs. observation of a cause.  If, to take the old example, two church bells rang in a quaint town 8 seconds apart and a Martian were to observe them, it might conclude that one bell causes the ringing of the other.  After all, it's a logical conclusion based on observation.  If, however, that Martian were to conduct a simple experiment and prevent the first bell from ringing, it would observe the second bell is not in fact caused by the first.  Your understanding of the universe having a kind of awareness may be a result of observations made in your experiences, but can you point to any objective experiments that can support this conclusion?  If not, it's no more valuable than the superstition of fairies creating frost to gather on the grass in the morning. 

The universe exists to experience itself. 

Based on what evidence?  How have you determined the universe exists for this particular function?

We are (one) agent by which it does this.  We are just meat--but meat with the right physical structure to focus awareness--think of our brains as antennae.  The awareness is not our own.  Perhaps we borrow it, like a bit of putty that is pinched off around the volume occupied by the neurons--or some neighborhood therefrom.

I think rather, we are animals with freakishly complex brains that can and do find correlation out of any two or more events.  It behooved our ancestors evolutionary and is as hard-wired into our brains as flinching when we hear a loud unexpected crash.

There are literally dozens of definitions and assumptions that would have to be laid out for me to come close to "proving" this point--or even just to convince you that it is not utter madness.  That's why I didn't want to mention it.  Take it as another alternative as absurd or more so than a soul.  But it is at least something else to put on the unfiltered docket of possibilities.

This is a good idea to add to the ideas of "soul" or "karma" with regard to explaining the consciousness of the human mind, but if it is such an impossible thing to prove, or even support, why does it hold such sway?  I suggest it's because you have the kind of imagination that can identify events that seem to support it when interpreted just so.  I think it's the same cognitive illusion as finding a particular car "everywhere" when your car needs to be replaced, or finding information about a particular disease when your blood work hasn't come back from the doctor yet.  We tend to notice all kinds of things that our brains do not store in long term memory unless it has some kind of value and when everything else is ignored, this one idea seems to stand out quite a bit. 

There are also tons of objections you could easily raise.  Among the primary set of objections is that we do not share awareness (at least not all the time).  So how can there be a universal disembodied awareness?  Shouldn't "I" be aware of the same thing that "you" are?  I have not encountered an objection to which I cannot (at least to my own satisfaction) come up with a plausible resolution.

I'm not sure I follow. 

I treat it as a working hypothesis for which I have not yet determined any tests for verifiability.

When my son was an infant I had a million going theories to explain behavior that only I seemed to see.  It turns out he has an autistic spectrum disorder so those tiny, subtle clues were things I had noticed even if I couldn't identify them specifically.  Some of my theories turned out to be true (sensitivity to wheat, for example), most of them didn't but that didn't stop my mind from formulating these ideas.  I think that's simply how the human mind works.  However, you have a specific idea with no support and it really wouldn't take much to conduct an experiment to falsify it.  In fact, I recall Mythbusters doing experiments with this kind of thing (seeing if trees could recognize when other life, specifically chicken eggs, were destroyed).

The reason I've adopted such an absurd position is simply because I have looked at many fringe cases that are dismissed by most mainstream scientists.  These cases do not fit into the "standard" model and as such are rejected outright because, at least, no one could get funding to investigate them (think: 'the sense of being stared at' al la Sheldrake).

Perhaps they are dismissed by mainstream scientists because they lack any value.

Offline fungusdrool

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Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #23 on: November 04, 2011, 03:49:15 PM »
The prior assumption of a spiritual reality has been unreliable to explain the mechanics of consciousness. 

Is my view spiritual in any way?  I'm not, really.  It would be funny if my ideas were.

It's not like neurology is as simple as say, sewing, where one learns a skill immediately and then practices.  It's a very sophisticated scientific field of study and I don't mean to sound flippant, but one not understanding it doesn't mean it's wrong.  There are ways to learn about the field.  A couple blogs have been provided in this thread already if I recall correctly, and one can explore at their leisure.

I agree.  I intend on looking into them.  I don't think that I have all the answers, but I don't think anyone else has all the answers either.  Everytime I read a paper on consciousness I am struck by the slew of assumption made.  Usually those assumptions are in line with the established order and so they have some weight behind them.  I guess that naturally comes from a field of this complexity.  But I also do not accept a paper just because it is published.  And I don't accept what anyone says just because they say it.  Is there no place for skepticism in your worldview?  The way we advance in science must be to question established "facts".  If I read it and I don't understand it--that doesn't make it right either.

Does it not seem like a cop-out when one says: consciousness arise from complexity?  Is complexity magical?  Complexity arises from lack of organization.  Why is that well established science?  Is that not a reason the creationists site for some of their beliefs as well?
Perhaps there is a well defined explanation of which I am not aware?
Perhaps in one of those blogs you referenced?

I would love to be shown that a pure materialistic view is correct.
It would be so much easier to not have to postulate generally unaccepted ideas and have to defend myself in a discussion such as this, where we haven't even agreed on fundamental definitions.

Based on what?

Bad analogy, I guess.



Offline fungusdrool

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Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #24 on: November 04, 2011, 03:56:44 PM »
I agree with everything you say, Albeto.  As far as my "theory" is concerned, it is all human mind reaching.
However, it's what my brain did and so I posted it as a non-spiritual option not previously listed.

Offline pianodwarf

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Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #25 on: November 04, 2011, 03:57:44 PM »
I would love to be shown that a pure materialistic view is correct.
It would be so much easier to not have to postulate generally unaccepted ideas and have to defend myself in a discussion such as this, where we haven't even agreed on fundamental definitions.

You are correct that materialism is the prevailing viewpoint today.  However, it is not an assumption, or at least, it's not an assumption anymore.  Rather, it is a conclusion that has been drawn after several centuries of philosophers investigating the matter.  There are sound reasons that models of ontology which include any type of non-materialistic component are almost universally rejected today.
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Offline albeto

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Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #26 on: November 04, 2011, 04:13:14 PM »
Is my view spiritual in any way?  I'm not, really.  It would be funny if my ideas were.

Okay, but I think in general, history shows most cultures believed in a spiritual reality which has evolved to the major religions we recognize today as well as some, I guess you'd call it new age beliefs.  In any case, I wonder if in your view here the operation is supernatural or natural but the mechanics of which are not yet identified. 

I agree.  I intend on looking into them.  I don't think that I have all the answers, but I don't think anyone else has all the answers either.

Nah, of course not.  But we don't need "all the answers" to make a conclusion based on a measure of confidence that a certain belief is not a probable representation of reality.

 
Everytime I read a paper on consciousness I am struck by the slew of assumption made.  Usually those assumptions are in line with the established order and so they have some weight behind them.  I guess that naturally comes from a field of this complexity.  But I also do not accept a paper just because it is published.  And I don't accept what anyone says just because they say it.  Is there no place for skepticism in your worldview?  The way we advance in science must be to question established "facts".  If I read it and I don't understand it--that doesn't make it right either.

I think skepticism is great.  I wish I had applied more of it when theology was so attractive to me.  I suspect there is a mainstream scientific community because the evidence supports it. 

Does it not seem like a cop-out when one says: consciousness arise from complexity?  Is complexity magical?  Complexity arises from lack of organization.  Why is that well established science?  Is that not a reason the creationists site for some of their beliefs as well?
Perhaps there is a well defined explanation of which I am not aware?
Perhaps in one of those blogs you referenced?

I must have missed the comment about consciousness arising from complexity.  I agree, complexity is not magic, but I don't know why you say complexity arises from lack of organization either. 

Offline pingnak

Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #27 on: November 04, 2011, 04:34:09 PM »
Falsifiability is the key, really.

If you posit something that can never be disproven, that does not mean it's 'proven'.  Madmen and Christians make such pronouncements all the time.  It's pure noise.

There is always one more rock to look under for any such statement.

There has to be some way (preferably many ways) to prove something is false.  A lot of crazy sounding things in general relativity were never taken on 'faith'.  They had to be testable.  So far, not much has been overturned, but even Einstein himself would be overjoyed if it was, because 'breaking' his model means we've learned something NEW.

To someone with an unfalsifiable fancy, disproving it (or even not believing in it) is typically a grave insult.  The worst kind of sin imaginable.  They will defend their idiot ravings to the death, and try to recruit more to support their rants beyond even that.

So we stick to 'materialism'.  If you can directly or indirectly demonstrate a 'body pilot' behind the brain, then we have discovered MORE MATERIAL.  That becomes PART of materialism.

Until we discover that material, it's silly to posit an invisible, undetectable 'body pilot', and expect anyone else believe in it.  Outside a cult.

To say the central nervous system is the thing is at least falsifiable.  We have all kinds of computational theory today that allows us to see the brain like a system. 

Not least all of the evidence that damage to a brain damages the motor skills, senses, personality and cognitive abilities of the person that the brain belongs to.  If a 'body pilot' is driving the brain, is it a complete idiot, completely dependent on everything stored and operated by that brain? 

It must be! 

Because seemingly everything that the 'body pilot' would 'be', quite apart from merely sensing and moving, appears to be directly impacted by injuries to the brain.

If an imaginary 'body pilot' is real, WHY THE FUCK does it get drunk?  Alcohol would impair motor and senses of the body, but not the immortal, spiritual, undetectable, etc. 'body pilot'.

WHY does its BEHAVIOR change when the brain is pickled or otherwise drugged?  When the brain is damaged in all kinds of different ways?  Motor and senses intact, but the 'body pilot' its self seems to be FUCKED. 

Why are there 'vegetables' of various levels of dementia and abnormality?  Shouldn't an invisible 'puppet master' still be able to operate the body as if it had not had a brain injury, as long as it could access the senses and motor skills?

So the 'body pilot', if it exists, doesn't seem to be able to THINK without an intact brain.  PLAN without an intact brain.  SPEAK without an intact brain.  Just keep going down the list of things, 'to be'.  Ultimately we find that 'body pilot' needs a relatively intact brain, TO BE at all. 

So if this 'soul' thing exists... what exactly does it DO, that it isn't completely dependent on that meat machine to do for it?

Offline fungusdrool

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Re: Applying science to the mind
« Reply #28 on: November 04, 2011, 09:04:04 PM »
There are sound reasons that models of ontology which include any type of non-materialistic component are almost universally rejected today.

Yes.  That is true.  However, I like to keep an open mind.  When we look back across the history of science, we see a slow but steady progression of upheaval.  Usually changes are progressive improvements, such as relativity.  Sometimes they are total reversals of commonly held ideas, such as Copernicus.

In general, I think we can be pretty sure that even our most solidly held ideas will be shown to be bunk if we wait long enough.  Especially when considering something as complex as consciousness.  This is really an awesome fact.  Our logic is only applicable to the time in which the logic execution unit (the brain) exists.  Change is the only real constant.

Hell, the damn bible may have actually made sense to those ancient barbarians who wrote it.

I'm not trying to push any hocus-pocus.  I don't believe in ghosts or goblins or gods.  I'm just trying out something different.  I do attempt to devise verifiable tests for my theories.  I don't know how to do that in this case, and perhaps I never will.  And perhaps I don't believe the crap myself.  But if we limited the set of allowed ideas to that which is safely within the accepted realm, we might still be sacrificing sheep to Zeus.

You have to have an idea before it can be verified.  I'm sorry for pushing one of mine while still in the less formal stages of construction.  I didn't want to have this view.  It is simply the only path that met all the criteria I had for the topic (origin of consciousness).

Think about Einstein (no, I don't think of myself as comparable...).  He used thought experiments.  Then they turned out to hold water when people thought up and finally executed the experiments.  I came to this idea in a similar way.  For me, there is a gap in the material model.  I still have never heard how you can go from a signal traveling through a network to awareness of that signal.  If you think just about that single gap for long enough, and your mind is creative enough (almost everyone's is), you might devise some interesting alternatives too.  Some percent of these theories will be shown to be bunk (close to 100%).  But that doesn't mean we should shy away from coming up with them.

In my case, by moving the conscious agent to a more fundamental position in the natural (essentially material) hierarchy of the universe, I was able to get around the issue of how a quantum observer can have an effect on an experiment and at the same time bridge that awareness gap that gave me so much trouble.

In this position (the universe is the conscious element and we're just "bags of mostly water" which borrow it) quantum's "spooky action at a distance" is no longer spooky.  And it makes more sense to me than mighty, miraculous complexity.

One thing that I have noticed about many non-physicst scientists is that they do not properly apply QM to their models.  I believe we live in a quantum world.  And I believe there is sufficient experimental evidence to back that up (google QM and experimental verification, if you don't believe me).  I've spent 10-15 years coming up with my basis for a quantum model for the mind.  It started from a great book by Penrose, 'The Emperors New Mind', which I read as a child.  I have issues with his approach and with Hammerhoff's, which builds upon it.

Do the models in the blogs referenced in this thread incorporate quantum mechanics into their worldview?  Possibly.  Most likely not (sorry I have not had time to read them yet).  People tend to shy away from QM.  I've been reading books on it as far back as I can remember, so topics like relativity and QM are old hat to me and at least partially incorporatable into many of my ideas.

Anyway, have great weekends.  TTYNW.