How To Make Mind-Brain Relations Clear

Journal of Consciousness Studies 17 (5-6):135-160 (2010)
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The mind-body problem arises because all theories about mind-brain connections are too deeply obscure to gain general acceptance. This essay suggests a clear, simple, mind-brain solution that avoids all these perennial obscurities. (1) It does so, first of all, by reworking Strawson and Stoljar’s views. They argue that while minds differ from observable brains, minds can still be what brains are physically like behind the appearances created by our outer senses. This could avoid many obscurities. But to clearly do so, it must first clear up its own deep obscurity about what brains are like behind appearances, and how they create the mind’s privacy, unity and qualia – all of which observable brains lack. (2) This can ultimately be done with a clear, simple assumption: our consciousness is the physical substance that certain brain events consist of beyond appearances. For example, the distinctive electrochemistry in nociceptor ion channels wholly consists of pain. This rejects that pain is a brain property: instead it’s a brain substance that occupies space in brains, and exerts forces by which it’s indirectly detectable via EEGs. (3) This assumption is justified because treating pains as physical substances avoids the perennial obscurities in mind-body theories. For example, this ‘clear physicalism’ avoids the obscure nonphysical pain of dualism and its spinoffs. Pain is instead an electrochemical substance. It isn’t private because it’s hidden in nonphysical minds, but instead because it’s just indirectly detected in the physical world in ways that leave its real nature hidden. (4) Clear physicalism also avoids puzzling reductions of private pains into more fundamental terms of observable brain activity. Instead pain is a hidden, private substance underlying this observable activity. Also, pain is fundamental in itself, for it’s what some brain activity fundamentally consists of. This also avoids reductive idealist claims that the world just exists in the mind. They yield obscure views on why we see a world that isn’t really out there. (5) Clear physicalism also avoids obscure claims that pain is information processing which is realizable in multiple hardwares (not just in electrochemistry). Molecular neuroscience now casts doubt on multiple realization. Also, it’s puzzling how abstract information gets ‘realized’ in brains and affects brains (compare ancient quandries on how universals get embodied in matter). A related idea is that of supervenient properties in nonreductive physicalism. They involve obscure overdetermination and emergent consciousness. Clear physicalism avoids all this. Pain isn’t an abstract property obscurely related to brains – it’s simply a substance in brains. (6) Clear physicalism also avoids problems in neuroscience. Neuroscience explains the mind’s unity in problematic ways using synchrony, attention, etc.. Clear physicalism explains unity in terms of intense neuroelectrical activity reaching continually along brain circuits as a conscious whole. This fits evidence that just highly active, highly connected circuits are fully conscious. Neuroscience also has problems explaining how qualia are actually encoded by brains, and how to get from these abstract codes to actual pain, fear, etc.. Clear physicalism explains qualia electrochemically, using growing evidence that both sensory and emotional qualia correlate with very specific electrical channels in neural receptors. Multiple-realization advocates overlook this important evidence. (7) Clear physicalism thus bridges the mind-brain gulf by showing how brains can possess the mind’s qualia, unity and privacy – and how minds can possess features of brain activity like occupying space and exerting forces. This unorthodox nonreductive physicalism may be where physicalism leads to when stripped of all its reductive and nonreductive obscurities. It offers a clear, simple mind-body solution by just filling in what neuroscience is silent about, namely, what brain matter is like behind perceptions of it.



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Mostyn W. Jones
University of Manchester (PhD)

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