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From Brain to Consciousness to Mind--the biological basis

 
 
xris
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Sep, 2009 05:34 am
@ACB,
Im not doubting the human brain has increased in size and has advanced through evolution, when it became consciously aware, is very speculative and how much aware other animals are of their own ego is not for me to dispute in detail.

When humans became what we would consider human by the evidence they leave, is determined by such evidence as rock art, from the megalithic period. They leave tantalising works that give clues to their humanity but does that tell us less or more? The human species could from its original foundation have made that giant step that other creatures have not experienced. Does that show spiritual maturity grows with the species and all creatures are making that weary way to nirvana?or we have been invested with it from the start?

Why is it we hold the power to determine when our fellow creatures do not? Why can we not determine the seat of our ego? These are not just scientific problems of observing our electro chemical jelly, the physical could be reflecting the spiritual growth and our ego is driving evolution. I just dont know but im certain science has not concluded its findings and as far the human experience is concerned, he is just scratching at the skin.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Sep, 2009 05:46 am
@KaseiJin,
Even if there is a continuum of development in an evolutionary sense (which I have already agreed there is) the human mind is nonetheless different in kind to the cognitive abilities of animals because of its rationality, capacity for abstract thought, and its understanding of its own mortality.
0 Replies
 
Aedes
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Sep, 2009 07:17 am
@xris,
xris;94024 wrote:
If you want to talk in scientific terms, then consciousness arise from the ability of the brain to conceive of its ego. If that's it for you and all those who can not have the twinkling of a doubt about their firmly held beliefs, what more can be said?
Clearly the experience of consciousness is greater than the sum of its parts, and I don't believe any scientific explanation captures that experience, even if it can be completely explained in scientific terms. This has to do with a separate topic, the cognitive concept of the sublime, in which unfathomability becomes central to our consideration. Much metaphysical speculation is borne out of unfathomability, whereas science addresses that which we CAN fathom.
Zetherin
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Sep, 2009 07:34 am
@Aedes,
Aedes;94051 wrote:
Clearly the experience of consciousness is greater than the sum of its parts, and I don't believe any scientific explanation captures that experience, even if it can be completely explained in scientific terms. This has to do with a separate topic, the cognitive concept of the sublime, in which unfathomability becomes central to our consideration. Much metaphysical speculation is borne out of unfathomability, whereas science addresses that which we CAN fathom.


And we shouldn't criticize science for not addressing those things which are unfathomable. Much metaphysical specualation (excluding ontology, which science can at least be applied -- defining physical entitities. although one could say that the nature of being is just as "uncapturable") is simply out of the scope of the scientific method.

I only point this out because I see many make the mistake of thinking science should be evaluating these types of things. Sigh.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Sep, 2009 03:26 pm
@KaseiJin,
Well in that case, I declare 'no contest' from my viewpoint. My only objection is always to those scientists who believe that the biological account of consciousness leaves nothing further to explain ('nothing-but-ism' I have heard it said). If there is a recognition of the existence of areas of understanding beyond the scope of science, I don't have an argument to pursue.
Aedes
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Sep, 2009 03:28 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;94123 wrote:
My only objection is always to those scientists who believe that the biological account of consciousness leaves nothing further to explain.
I think that for even those who believe that, they're perfectly fine, legit, and not worthy of objection if they're speaking from the standpoint of scientific epistemology.

Scientists who generalize about existence in their public and popular communications do so with the authority and perspective of a scientist, but without the rigor of science. But I don't see why this is any more objectionable than a priest or a mystic doing the same thing.
0 Replies
 
Zetherin
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Sep, 2009 04:32 pm
@KaseiJin,
jeeprs wrote:
My only objection is always to those scientists who believe that the biological account of consciousness leaves nothing further to explain ('nothing-but-ism' I have heard it said)


Keep in mind you're objecting against a particular mindset, nothing to do with scientists per se.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Sep, 2009 06:03 pm
@KaseiJin,
Well I understand that, but it is a fairly dominant mindset in the current landscape.

I am a pluralist and believe that one of the unique advantages of modernity is the dialog between a number of different perspectives on issues such as this. Often these perspectives will be diametrically opposed but this in itself is a very fruitful source of insights. What bothers me is the triumphalist perspective - "AHA - now we know!" - no matter which side is making the claim. (Although I suppose having said all of that, I will always remain antagonistic to philosophical materialism.)
salima
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Sep, 2009 06:28 pm
@Aedes,
Aedes;93871 wrote:
People who have abstract, non-biological views of consciousness have never been able to account for the following points:

1) Damaging the brain will reliably alter consciousness

and

2) You cannot demonstrate the consciousness in a being that lacks a functioning brain.


Yes, questions are begged by the above, such as how do wo demonstrate consciousness. But let's accept that there is some common understanding of what consciousness is, as opposed to some idiosyncratic definition of it.


can i get a little clarification please? not on the common understanding of what consciousness is, but on the two issues you have named, that is.

for your first point, i agree that damaging the brain will appear to alter consciousness, but does it more specifically alter the functioning of consciousness or the expression of consciousness? in other words, is it possible that it only alters the observable part of consciousness? but there is no way to account for the view that there is a part of consciousness that is not observable that will be met with satisfaction.

and second point, a being without a functioning brain...would that be someone in a coma? a child born with nothing but a brain stem? what kind of being is alive with its brain not functioning? what is it lacking in this being that means there is no consciousness? if there is no thought, if there is no evidence of dreaming? do you believe a person can remain biologically alive, or clinically alive or any other kind of alive you want to designate, without any level of consciousness?

---------- Post added 09-29-2009 at 06:07 AM ----------

Zetherin;94053 wrote:
And we shouldn't criticize science for not addressing those things which are unfathomable. Much metaphysical specualation (excluding ontology, which science can at least be applied -- defining physical entitities. although one could say that the nature of being is just as "uncapturable") is simply out of the scope of the scientific method.

I only point this out because I see many make the mistake of thinking science should be evaluating these types of things. Sigh.



nothing should be unfathomable...if we can think of the question, I think we can sooner or later comprehend the answer.

I believe science will some day discover other aspects of consciousness and reality, but whether or not they will be able to apply any scientific methods to measure or evaluate them is another question.
Zetherin
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Sep, 2009 06:41 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;94140 wrote:
Well I understand that, but it is a fairly dominant mindset in the current landscape.

I am a pluralist and believe that one of the unique advantages of modernity is the dialog between a number of different perspectives on issues such as this. Often these perspectives will be diametrically opposed but this in itself is a very fruitful source of insights. What bothers me is the triumphalist perspective - "AHA - now we know!" - no matter which side is making the claim. (Although I suppose having said all of that, I will always remain antagonistic to philosophical materialism.)


Only now have I finally begun to understand what you've been reiterating in your posts. And let me say: I agree with you for the most part -- I think those who won't even consider other standpoints from other schools of thought may be being a tad ignorant. It definitely benefits one to be a "pluralist", insofar as learning and considering a particular topic from opposing, or even just different, viewpoints.

But with that said, when a school of thought or method does discover or learn something, we shouldn't just dismiss them with the insinuation, "Noone can know!". What Aedes was trying to say is that those scientists have every right to say they know, because they're only trying to answer the question from their respective standpoint. They aren't claiming any sort of absolute knowledge, or whatever have you.

Quote:
but it is a fairly dominant mindset in the current landscape


It's a fairly dominant mindset in their landscape, as it should be. But, like you say, a seeker of truth shouldn't become arrogant and believe for a moment they "know it all". Clearly there are probably a multitude of other perspectives they've chosen (or haven't chosen) to not consider. A good scientist, no, a good thinker, should understand this, all the while acknowledging that no one method is going to be, or should be criticized for, not considering (working with) all perspectives! Let the scientists use their method and the philosophers use their methods, making sure we don't confuse the two. And more importantly, making sure we don't make presumptuous value judgments, such as this is "better", just on the basis of the method used!

salima wrote:
nothing should be unfathomable...if we can think of the question, I think we can sooner or later comprehend the answer.


The nature of some questions just makes them unfathomable. Like kennethamy's example: "How high is up?". Some metaphysical questions could be presented in a manner which makes them unfathomable, at least through the lens of the scientific method (actually, many do)!
Arjuna
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Sep, 2009 07:07 pm
@Zetherin,
A purely biological approach to understanding consciousness fails to take into consideration that biology itself is a category created by the mind.
Zetherin
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Sep, 2009 07:13 pm
@Arjuna,
Arjuna;94156 wrote:
A purely biological approach to understanding consciousness fails to take into consideration that biology itself is a category created by the mind.


Please elaborate further.
0 Replies
 
Aedes
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Sep, 2009 07:19 pm
@salima,
salima;94145 wrote:
for your first point, i agree that damaging the brain will appear to alter consciousness, but does it more specifically alter the functioning of consciousness or the expression of consciousness?
Both, as far as anyone can tell. The "functioning" of consciousness is measurable in ways other than its expression -- there are functional biologic correlates.

salima;94145 wrote:
there is no way to account for the view that there is a part of consciousness that is not observable that will be met with satisfaction
Well, it's dubious that what you're describing would be agreed upon as consciousness if there is no way to observe it at all. If something can't be observed even through second and third order effects, then how can you make the case that it even exists?

salima;94145 wrote:
and second point, a being without a functioning brain...would that be someone in a coma? a child born with nothing but a brain stem? what kind of being is alive with its brain not functioning?
I never said it had to be alive -- but you've already implied that consciousness requires a living organism.

But if you take someone brain dead, a child with anencephaly, someone who has had a major anoxic brain injury, and many other conditions, then you can NOT by any credible measure demonstrate that there is consciousness.

salima;94145 wrote:
do you believe a person can remain biologically alive, or clinically alive or any other kind of alive you want to designate, without any level of consciousness?
Yes, without question. I've taken care of one in the last week alone.

---------- Post added 09-28-2009 at 09:21 PM ----------

Arjuna;94156 wrote:
A purely biological approach to understanding consciousness fails to take into consideration that biology itself is a category created by the mind.
That's only relevant insofar as humans can do imperfect science. But just because we invented biology with our consciousness does not make the consciousness of studied subjects any less accessible to biology than anything else about them.
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Sep, 2009 07:24 pm
@KaseiJin,
Aedes;93871 wrote:
People who have abstract, non-biological views of consciousness have never been able to account for the following points:

1) Damaging the brain will reliably alter consciousness

and

2) You cannot demonstrate the consciousness in a being that lacks a functioning brain.


Yes, questions are begged by the above, such as how do wo demonstrate consciousness. But let's accept that there is some common understanding of what consciousness is, as opposed to some idiosyncratic definition of it.


Interestingly, studies in neuro-plasticity and subjects with physical abnormalities of the brain both demonstrate the ability of the brain to re-configure itself to adapt to (sometimes very dramatic) tissue loss, damage or congenital malformation.

Now, then, how does this occur? If consciousness is only an output of the organ, and the organ is damaged, what is it that re-configures the organ to compensate for this damage?

Conversely, persons with otherwise seemingly healthy brains can undergo irretreivable psychotic breakdowns and 'loose their mind'.

So both these kinds of phenomena would seem to indicate that brain configuration and mental capacity are not amenable to a mechanistic analysis where 'this part of the brain is responsible for that aspect of consciousness', would they not?
Aedes
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Sep, 2009 07:32 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;94162 wrote:
Interestingly, studies in neuro-plasticity and subjects with physical abnormalities of the brain both demonstrate the ability of the brain to re-configure itself to adapt to (sometimes very dramatic) tissue loss, damage or congenital malformation.
Note I did not say ALL damaged brains. Just sufficiently damaged.

jeeprs;94162 wrote:
If consciousness is only an output of the organ, and the organ is damaged, what is it that re-configures the organ to compensate for this damage?
This is basic biology, though. All organs can heal and compensate for injury in certain ways. If you have a stomach virus it will also heal -- so if digestion is the functional output of the stomach and consciousness is the functional output of the brain, then why should the recovery from tissue damage be any sort of mystery?

jeeprs;94162 wrote:
Conversely, persons with otherwise seemingly healthy brains can undergo irretreivable psychotic breakdowns and 'lose their mind'.
They're not otherwise "seemingly healthy" when studied closely; and even if they were, our lack of ability to predict this specific eventuality does not in any way negate the idea that it has a biological origin. I mean they thought that yellow fever was caused by loose morals until people actually studied it and found the cause.

jeeprs;94162 wrote:
ISo both these kinds of phenomena would seem to indicate that brain configuration and mental capacity are not amenable to a mechanistic analysis where 'this part of the brain is responsible for that aspect of consciousness', would they not?
I have to say I don't agree that either example supports this sort of conclusion.
Hermes
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Sep, 2009 07:44 pm
@xris,
xris;94024 wrote:
Why does it require the act of a higher power?


You said it would take, "more than my mortal hands" to uncover. This is a direct allusion to a higher power.

Quote:
So what do you wish for? those who make these scientific claims, to sit around agreeing with each other? I don't think so.


I do not wish for that. I and other scientists would like for nothing more than people to rationally make criticisms of scientific concepts, call out the mistakes and provide evidence contrary to what what said to be the case. Peer review is a vital part of the scientific process.

-----------------------------------

I'm sorry for being quite harsh in that last post Xris, and I would have responded sooner if I hadn't been given some 24 hour posting ban without being given notice.... ??? :whistling:

I'm a little frustrated with the moderation on these boards... I was quite happy to watch certain other threads go off topic for a thousand posts, since people clearly wanted to discuss certain generalities and that thread seemed to become the accepted hijacked place to be. Then there is another thread, ~200 posts, with almost the same discussion. Now, after a rather clear plea by the OP to not let this thread go the same way, 4 pages in and people are still discussing the SAME THING THE OTHER THREADS ARE.

This place has just become a soapbox forum, if indeed it was anything else, in which people who want to genuinely DISCUSS are being drowned out by a few who just keep posting their opinions repeatedly in various guises, with no attempt to, for example, appeal to existing theo-philosophical arguments to lend validity/engage in debate.

This thread was CLEARLY about biology and how it provides a foundation for consciousness. The OP wrote a very nice introduction to the evolutionary history of humans, and what happens? Posters start talking about the meta-question of whether biology can answer the question of consciousness. Then I get slapped on the wrists for calling this out. :Not-Impressed:

Science is not beyond reproach, but neither can you criticise it without learning and considered thought. Look at what the OP wrote, and see if you can find some holes there, not in one's own imagination, nor in a different topic unrelated to what is meant to be discussed.

Edit - Need to say that Zetherin is doing a great job trying to keep things on track.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Sep, 2009 08:03 pm
@Aedes,
Aedes;94165 wrote:
This is basic biology, though. All organs can heal and compensate for injury in certain ways. If you have a stomach virus it will also heal -- so if digestion is the functional output of the stomach and consciousness is the functional output of the brain, then why should the recovery from tissue damage be any sort of mystery? .


It would seem to me to be more difficult to explain brain function than say liver function because one would have thought that the liver operates uniformly throughout, whereas the brain, I thought, would have specialised sub-areas for particular functions. In other words, I would have thought the brain was considerably more 'internally differentiated' than were the other organs.
Aedes
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Sep, 2009 08:41 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;94173 wrote:
It would seem to me to be more difficult to explain brain function than say liver function because one would have thought that the liver operates uniformly throughout, whereas the brain, I thought, would have specialised sub-areas for particular functions. In other words, I would have thought the brain was considerably more 'internally differentiated' than were the other organs.
You're correct, but this is a technical matter, not an argument in favor of some sort of separability of an organ from its function.

And one can argue that other organ systems, especially the immune system, is of comparable complexity to the brain.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Sep, 2009 09:39 pm
@KaseiJin,
Well, the opening post does say, in part:

KaseiJin;93258 wrote:
In this manner, I argue the position that mind, and consciousness are robustly involved with, and foundationally determined by, brain, and that thus it is more accurate and especially fair enough to contend that they are foundationally biological concerns.


So as regards the phrase 'foundationally determined by': this would seem to assert a causal relationship FROM brain TO consciousness. However if you demonstrate that the activities - perhaps this could be called the 'tropism' - of consciousness can actually re-configure the brain so as to compensate for a material change in the brain, then you have 'downward causality', do you not? That is, something seems to have re-organised the functioning of the organ. What could this be, other than consciousness? And doesn't it show that consciousness must be, in some respects, causally prior to the brain?
Aedes
 
  1  
Reply Mon 28 Sep, 2009 09:48 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;94182 wrote:
if you demonstrate that the activities - perhaps this could be called the 'tropism' - of consciousness can actually re-configure the brain so as to compensate for a material change in the brain, then you have 'downward causality', do you not? That is, something seems to have re-organised the functioning of the organ.
I do believe that this happens, but despite sort of boggling the mind (the whole unfathomable, sublime aspect), there's nothing particularly unique about it when you look at other examples. We have all sorts of feedback systems both within cells and within the body. Partial loss of function results in compensation -- so if I cut out one of your kidneys, your remaining kidney will actually increase its glomerular filtration rate above its baseline and the glomeruli change histologically; hearts that survive a myocardial infarction can have some degree of remodeling and regrowth of the infarcted tissue; when part of the liver is removed or injured some biological stimulus/stimuli lead to regeneration.

So we see in stroke patients that some degree of lost function often returns in time, though not usually completely. Brain remodeling has been demonstrated, and people are now looking at bone marrow-derived pluripotential stem cells as a cell that can actually migrate to the CNS and develop into functioning neural tissue. Wild.

My whole point here is that it certainly would NOT be unique among human organs for the brain to find ways to compensate for a loss of function.
 

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