Monday, February 12, 2018

Give up trying to explain the relationship of mind to brain

I attended a reading group today to discuss two quite technical papers by Georg Northoff. There is a Psychology Today blog, which makes clear that he is trying to bridge the gap between brain and experience. It's all very well to speculate about spatiotemporal psychopathology, but I think Kant was right that the link between mental and physical is an enigma that can never be solved.

Mind is of course enabled by brain, but it can't be reduced to it. Mind and brain need to be understood as a unity (eg. see previous post). Bodily organs are subject to the laws of physical necessity but consciousness is self-organising. An organic basis is, therefore, insufficient for understanding mental activity. Psychiatrists find it difficult to give up the notion that the understanding of mental activity must be derived from the brain. This doesn't make sense because such reductionism leads to the loss of meaning of human action (eg. see another previous post).


Anonymous said...

One of the speakers at the International Conference for Philosophy and Psychiatry is Georg Northoff. Who will be attending? A very small group of self defined 'experts' 'philosophers' and those who are able to obtain funding especially from institutions. How are these arrangements decided? So the cost for 'professionals' from high income countries is 660-760 dollars; for undergraduates 320-420 dollars. Is this a good way to use tax payers money considering that speakers and others''expenses'will be paid In this instance for a conference in Hong Kong. We live in a digital age - these jollies often for the same people who circlate around conferences national and international. A bit of philosophising about the ethics of this would be interesting. What is the definition of a philosopher?

MatjaĆŸ Horvat said...

Aristotelian-Thomistic thoughts on the issue:

“most participants in the debate between materialism and dualism, on both sides, simply take for granted a conception of matter inherited from Galileo, Descartes, Newton, and the other early moderns. On that conception, matter is essentially devoid both of teleology and of the qualitative features that common sense attributes to it. That is to say, there is, on this view of matter, nothing inherent to it that corresponds to the “directedness” toward an end (or “finality,” to use the Scholastic jargon) that the Aristotelian attributes to all natural substances. Nor are secondary qualities like color, sound, odor, etc. as common sense understands them (that is to say, as we “feel” them in conscious awareness) really out there in matter itself. What is there, on this view, is only color as redefined for purposes of physics (in terms of the surface reflectance properties of objects), sound as redefined (in terms of compression waves), and so forth. Matter on this conception is exhaustively describable in terms of the quantifiable categories to which physics confines itself.

Now for the Aristotelian, the point isn’t that the moderns’ conception of matter is wrong so much as that it is incomplete. The trouble is not with thinking of matter the way Galileo, Descartes, and their successors have, but with taking this to be an exhaustive conception, as something other than a mere abstraction from a much richer concrete reality. And if it is taken as an exhaustive conception, then a Cartesian form of dualism is hard to avoid. For to say that matter is essentially devoid of qualitative features like color, sound, taste, etc. and that these exist only as the qualia of conscious experience just is to make of qualia something essentially immaterial. And to say that matter is essentially devoid of anything like “directedness” or “finality” is ipso facto to make of the “directedness” or “intentionality” of desires, fears, and other such states also something essentially immaterial. Cartesian dualism was not a rearguard reaction against the early moderns’ new conception of matter, but on the contrary a direct consequence of that conception.”