The human brain is subjective and reflects the life of a being-in-the-world-with-others whose identity reflects that complex engaged reality. Human subjectivity is shaped and in-formed (formed by inner processes) that are adapted to the human life-world and embody meaning and the relatedness of a human being. Questions of identity relate to this complex and dynamic reality to reflect the fact that biology, human ecology, culture, and one's historic-political situation are inscribed in one's neural network and have configured its architecture so (...) that it is a unique and irreplaceable phenomenon. So much is a human individual a relational being whose own understanding and ownership of his or her life is both situated and distinctive that neurophilosophical conceptions of identity and human activity that neglect these features of our being are quite inadequate to ground a robust neuroethics. (shrink)
'Representation' is a concept which occurs both in cognitive science and philosophy. It has common features in both settings in that it concerns the explanation of behaviour in terms of the way the subject categorizes and systematizes responses to its environment. The prevailing model sees representations as causally structured entities correlated on the one hand with elements in a natural language and on the other with clearly identifiable items in the world. This leads to an analysis of representation and cognition (...) in terms of formal symbols and their relations. But human perception and cognition use multiple informational constraints and deal with unsystematic and messy input in a way best explained by Parallel Distributed Processing models. This undermines the claim that a formal representational theory of mind is 'the only game in town.' In particular it suggests a radically different model of brain function and its relation to epistemology from that found in current representational theories. (shrink)
Concepts are basic elements of thought. Piaget has a conception of the nature of concepts as informational or computational operations performed in an inner milieu and enabling the child to understand the world in which it lives and acts. Concepts are, however, not merely logico?mathematical but are also conceptually linked to the mastery of language which itself involves the appropriate use of words in social and interpersonal settings. In the light of Vygotsky's work on the social and interactive nature of (...) children's thinking and the nature of language as an essentially public currency of rule?governed signs, we are led to reconstrue conceptual mastery as the acquisition of an interactive and interpersonal repertoire of tools which introduces the child to the world of those who educate it. In this way we come to see the elements of mind as constitutively involving that activity in which the determinants of meaning constrain and direct the child's linguistic development. (shrink)
The ability to feel pain is a property of human beings that seems to be based entirely in our biological natures and to place us squarely within the animal kingdom. Yet the experience of pain is often used as an example of a mental attribute with qualitative properties that defeat attempts to identify mental events with physiological mechanisms. I will argue that neurophysiology and psychology help to explain the interwoven biological and subjective features of pain and recommend a view of (...) pain which differs in important respects from the one most commonly accepted. (shrink)
Abstract The language of consciousness and that of brain function seem vastly different and incommensurable ways of approaching human mental life. If we look at what we mean by consciousness we find that it has a great deal to do with the sensitivity and responsiveness shown by a subject toward things that happen. Philosophically, we can understnd ascriptions of consciousness best by looking at the conditions which make it true for thinkers who share the concept to say that one of (...) them is conscious. This depends on consciousness being manifest. When we also note that manifest, flexible and exploratory responses to one's environment are the basis of concept use, an a priori link between concepts and consciousness is forged. The brain structures subserving such responses are complex but crucially involve the multi?tracked and cross?linked information processing to be found in the neocortex. This function draws on the motivational and orienting activity arising in lower brain systems but orchestrates that into an articulated structure of behaviour control. The conclusion is that human consciousness is an umbrella term for complex and animated mental activity which makes extensive use of many different perceptual systems and also of the social milieu within which human cognition develops. (shrink)
It has been argued that 'brain bisection' data leads us to abandon our traditional conception of personal identity. Nagel has remarked: The ultimate account of the unity of what we call a single mind consists of an enumeration of the types of functional integration that typify it. We know that these can be eroded in different ways and to different degrees. The belief that even in their complete version they can be explained by the presence of a numerically single subject (...) is an i1lusion.l Parfit has adopted a similar position, contending that patients with 'split brains' become two separate 'streams of consciousness' and thus that our normal sense of personal identity, or at least 'what matters' about personal identity is constituted by psychological relations between connected conscious experiences2 It is claimed that in 'split brain' patients certain of the relations are disrupted and that we thus see clearly that the nature of the unity that is normally present does not reside in a single subject with a given identity, but in the connectedness and continuity that normally obtains. Parfit draws on two sources of support for these contentions: the first is the actual events that transpire after a human being is submitted to the operation of sectioning the corpus callosum (or 'brain bisection'), and the second is the imaginative consideration of various scenarios involving graded mental and physical discontinuity, and the 'fission' and 'fusion' of persons. I shall do little more than argue that the actual data will not sustain the interpretation put on them. (shrink)
Free will seems to be part of the romantic echo of a world view which predates scientific psychology and, in particular, cognitive neuroscience. Findings in cognitive neuroscience seem to indicate that some form of physicalist determinism about human behavior is correct. However, when we look more closely we find that physical determinism based on the view that brain events cause mental events is problematic and that the data which are taken to support that view, do nothing of the kind. In (...) fact that view meets some substantial objections which turn on the role of the contents of our thoughts and experiences in explaining our behavior. When we look at mental or psychological content we find it is governed by rules and not just causal laws. Rule-following is an activity which invokes the role of the thinker as rational agent and this is not a causal type of explanation. The fact that the thinker as agent is important means that when we invoke the way that a subject thinks about the world, we conceive of that subject as located in a socio–cultural context. This in turn requires that we recognize an explanatory circle according to which neither brain science nor social science can claim priority in explaining human behavior and it follows that, for the purposes of psychological explanation and the understanding of the brain as an organ subserving a system of representation, we are bound to regard human beings as reasoning beings who exert some control over their own behavior and not just as physical systems. This defeats the causal determinist position. (shrink)
In discussing Disembodied Persons we need to confront two problems: A. Under what conditions would we consider that a person was present in the absence of the normal bodily cues? B. Could such circumstances arise? The first question may be regarded as epistemic and the second as metaphysical.
The relationship between "causal" and "meaningful" (Jaspers) influences on behavior is explored. The nature of meaning essentially involves rules and the human practices in which they are imparted to a person and have a formative influence on that person's thinking. The meanings that come to be discerned in life experience are then important in influencing the shape of that person's conduct. The reasoning and motivational structures that develop on this basis are realized by the shape of the neural processing networks (...) that constitute the mature human brain. This implies that meaning is not only realized by brain micro-structure but, in part, explains its workings. This in turn entails that in psychiatry we must continue to avail ourselves both of neuropsychology/neurobiology and of dynamic/meaningful explanation. Keywords: brain and mind, causality and meaning, cognitive models, meaning, mind and brain, neuropsychology and meaning CiteULike Connotea Del.icio.us What's this? (shrink)
The legalisation of euthanasia creates a certain tension when it is compared with those traditional medical principles that seem to embody respect for the sanctity of life. It also creates a real need for us to explore what we mean by harm in relation to dying patients. When we consider that we must train physicians so that they not only understand ethical issues but also show the virtues in their clinical practice, it becomes important for us to strive to train (...) them in virtue rather than mere knowledge. We can only do this by conveying a real sense of the needs of the patient and an ability to relate to patients as people not problems. Such attitudes take shape in a training programme in which practical situations are explored and discussed and the limits of scientific medical responses to those challenges are exposed. Keywords: bioethics education, euthanasia, moral judgment, training, virtue CiteULike Connotea Del.icio.us What's this? (shrink)
We view a human being as a mental and spiritual entity and also as having a physical nature. The essence of a person is revealed in our thinking about personal identity, quality of life, and personal responsibility. These conceptions do not fare well in a Cartesian or dualist picture of the person as there are deep problems with the idea that the mind is an inner realm. I argue that it is only as we see the thoughts, actions, and interactions (...) of persons as necessarily involving physical entities in the world whose nature is not completely captured in scientific descriptions that we can understand our existence as mental and spiritual beings. (shrink)
Wittgenstein shifted from a picture theory of meaning to a use-based theory of meaning in his philosophical work on language. The latter picture is deeply congenial to the view that language and the use of our hands in practical activity are closely related. Wittgenstein's theory therefore offers philosophical support for Corballis's suggestion that the development of spoken language is the basis of dominance phenomena.
The problematic features of the cognitive function of patients with brain damage are often taken to indicate that such persons have split or dual consciousness. An intentional or cognitive theory of consciousness which focuses on the structure and contents of conscious experience makes this thesis look quite unattractive. Consciousness is active and directed toward objects and in the human case it shows an internally reflective structure based on the abilities required to grasp and use concepts. On this view, consciousness is (...) a way of referring to the active, integrative, conceptualizing activity of a human thinker in a world of other objects and persons. When we look at consciousness this way and re-examine, in the light of that analysis, the performance of split brain patients, one sees such persons as individuals afflicted with internal difficulties in their information processing capacities but neither as split consciousnesses nor as split minds. (shrink)
Libet's experiments, supported by a strict one-to-one identity thesis between brain events and mental events, have prompted the conclusion that physical events precede the mental events to which they correspond. We examine this claim and conclude that it is suspect for several reasons. First, there is a dual assumption that an intention is the kind of thing that causes an action and that can be accurately introspected. Second, there is a real problem with the method of timing the mental events (...) concerned given that Libet himself has found the reports of subjects to be unreliable in this regard. Third, there is a suspect assumption that there are such things as timable and locatable mental and brain events accompanying and causing human behaviour. For all these reasons we reject the claim that physical events are prior to and explain mental events. (shrink)