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What if the mind is the TV station and the brain is the set?

Mario Beauregard

Here, a reviewer of The Spiritual Brain comments,

I would like to believe that the mind can survive death. This is because, as the after-life state-of-being is completely unknown, it frightens me a little. Not a lot, because it’s inevitable and I’ve accepted that –- but let’s just say that I will be very pleasantly surprised if I found myself somehow still conscious following a decoupling of mind and body. It’s truly a shame that the evidence doesn’t really support that outcome.

The mind -– that is, personality, sense of morality, emotions, memories, etc. -– can be altered from the outside. We can give you a full frontal lobotomy and wipe out your emotional responses, no matter how much your “mind” would like to produce them. If parasites burrow deep into your brain somehow and destroy your hippocampal area, you’ll be severely handicapped in forming and retrieving memories, no matter how much you might like to remember things. We can give schizophrenic patients dopamine-altering psychopharmacological drugs and see their debilitating symptoms lessen with treatment. This evidence -– and more -– leads me to believe that the mind is created by the body. Just like much of the current neuroscience community currently believes, I believe that most of my various mental states are a by-product of my chemical constituents at any given moment. Sure, I can influence these states mentally, but that process too seems like it fits the bill for a chemical state.

One interesting thing that Beauregard mentions within The Spiritual Brain is that perhaps the mind itself is healthy – but trapped within a malfunctioning brain. It’s interesting because I hadn’t considered that possibility, but more on that later.

Medical literature contains many examples of that, which is why many great neuroscientists were not materialists. Some think of it as the TV set theory of mind: The mind broadcasts, like a TV station, and the set either works well or doesn’t. There’s a lot of feedback from the set’s environment too. If people don’t like the show, it goes off the air If someone throws a brick through the screen …

Despite his uncertain sympathies, this reviewer gives the Brain four stars.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

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27 Responses to What if the mind is the TV station and the brain is the set?

  1. A question: “perhaps the mind itself is healthy – but trapped within a malfunctioning brain” – what would it mean for a mind to be “healthy” yet “trapped within a malfunctioning brain”?

    In what sense would that mind be healthy?

    (BTW, this thread might be a good new home for gpuccio’s ID theory :))

  2. …the case of Mr. I, the painter who loses his color vision, really struck a chord with me. To lose something that enables your artistic life is frightening and devistating. Mr. I’s whole life and career was built around the richness of color and using color in his paintings to express himself. It made me think of what it would be like if I lost my hearing. As a singer I couldn’t imagine my world without music; without being able to hear what was coming out of my mouth. It’s a nightmarish thought and I don’t know how I would react if something like that happened, especially late in life. What was facinating about this particular case was how Mr. I adapted after some time to his new condition: his world in shades of grey. Sachs writes how Mr. I gradually became a “night person” and would travel to different cities and explore the world at night. Mr. I’s color memory quickly began to disolve and he learned to see in a whole new way. In a way that was “highly refined”. Mr. I describes how textures now stood out to him, he could read licence plates from four blocks away, and enjoys the richness of his new world. What was extremely interesting to me was, three years after his injury, when Isreal Rosenfeld suggested that Mr. I might be able to restore his color vision, Mr. I declined. “…he found the suggestion unintelligible, and repugnant. Now that color had lost its former associations, its sense, he could no longer imagine what its restoration would be like. Its reintroduction would be grossly confusing, he thought, might force a welter of irrevelant sensations upon him, and disrupt the now-reestablished visual order of his world”.

  3. Nice example, Petrushka :)

  4. This evidence -– and more -– leads me to believe that the mind is created by the body. Just like much of the current neuroscience community currently believes, I believe that most of my various mental states are a by-product of my chemical constituents at any given moment.

    I have yet to come across any substantial objections to this. It’s often said that we’re positing a designer who can do who knows what and who knows how. And it’s true.

    But applying that to this subject, which is outside of ID, why attribute all of this to a designer and then rule out consciousness and free will in a three pound mass of cells and neurotransmitters?

    I’m quick to point out a bias toward evolution, but any supposed evidence regarding the distinct separation of mind and brain is similarly biased toward religion. Not just any, but religion that believes in an immortal or otherwise separate soul.

    Neither scientific acceptance of ID nor religious belief in God or the Bible require belief that our mind is separate from our brain. Sometimes people don’t keep them separate, but they are.

  5. The chief mistake of materialists in dismissing the mind-body problem is that they mistake cause for effect. “Oh look, our MRI scanner consistently picks up a surge in brain activity in such and such lobe when you hate romantic thoughts! Ergo, love is just molecules bumping molecules!” I will grant that each and every emotion and thought can in principle be traced to a corresponding chain of reactions in the brain, but not that that is all there is to the story. Materialist philosophy gives us flimsy statements like “love is a chemical reaction,” to explain away the obvious reality of this thing called subjective experience, and miss the point by a country mile. Love is not a chemical reaction. Anger is not a chemical reaction. These things are PRODUCTS of chemical reactions. Experiences cannot be reduced to mere mechanistic physics playing out, because they are not themselves those mechanical reactions. Though our experiences are closely related to and dependant upon physical processes, we must be careful not to mistake cause for effect. I repeat, our minds are PRODUCTS of physics, and yet something entirely different from physics. Tu comprend?

  6. 6

    Some think of it as the TV set theory of mind: The mind broadcasts, like a TV station, and the set either works well or doesn’t. There’s a lot of feedback from the set’s environment too. If people don’t like the show, it goes off the air If someone throws a brick through the screen …

    Changes in the brain seem to affect the mind at a much deeper level than this theory allows; if the mind and brain are not the same, they’re at least much more thoroughly entangled than this. I’ve never taken any particularly interesting drugs, but I did have a fairly high fever once, and it was pretty clear that my mind wasn’t working right…

    It’s as though a loose connection in a TV set made the picture frizz out for a moment, and when it came back all the characters were looking around, saying “What was that???” Or as though turning up the brightness on the set could make all the TV plots and dialog smarter (tried it; didn’t work). Mind-as-transmitter/brain-as-receiver theories just don’t allow this short of influence.

  7. Where is that story from, Petrushka?

  8. So then, from where does the mind receive it’s content that is supposedly broadcast to the brain? Is there any evidence that the brain broadcasts back to the mind?

  9. Medical literature contains many examples of that, which is why many great neuroscientists were not materialists.

    Citation needed.

  10. paragwinn:

    Evidence?

    Each sensation is evidence that the brain “broadcasts” tp the mind. And each action is evidence that the mind “broadcasts” to the brain.

    I suppose we have known that for millennia. Where is the problem?

  11. I see nothing in Christianity that requires thinking the soul is disembodied. I was required to learn an recite a creed the included the phrase “the resurrection body and life everlasting.”

    I’m fairly certain this is shared by most Christian churches.

    There’s also a famous lone from Job”

    “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that he will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God!”

    A line frequently set to music.

  12. Petrushka,

    That is a little-known truth. Based on the entire Hebrew scriptures, if you were to ask Noah or Moses or Solomon about disembodied human souls they would look at you like you had two heads. The Hebrew word for “soul” means a living thing, whether human or animal. Souls get tired, hungry, and the Israelites were even told not to touch a dead soul.

    Newer Bible translations deliberately obscure it. Adam became a “living being,” while the animals are “living creatures.” But it’s the same word in both places.

    Under Christianity it became possible for a human to die and be resurrected as a spirit. This did not mean they already were such a spirit, or that God intended this for all people. It was called a “new creation.” But Jesus famously said the meek would inherit the earth.

    The concept of the immortal soul was popular in Greek philosophy and over time was adopted, along with countless other pagan teachings and practices. But as you have observed, it is not a teaching of the Bible.

  13. I typed that post before coffee. The typos are embarrassing. More than usual, which is a lot.

  14. People have believed in ESP and psychokinesis for millennia, but it’s still BS.

  15. That’s a pretty fallacious line of argumentation, Petrushka.

  16. Not as fallacious as simply asserting something is true contrary to all evidence.

  17. “all evidence” or all evidence YOU accept. Look, I’m not saying the disembodied soul is proven by any means, nor is it necessary for MY Christian faith. But there is enough debate within the neuroscientific community (not to mention whatever implications QM MIGHT have on the debate) for “the soul hypothesis” to warrant more than the casual brush-off you seem to give it.

  18. gpuccio,

    These statements require further explanation. When I pinch myself it is not self-evident that my brain is broadcasting to my mind. The explanation that what I feel is nerve signal being interpreted by my brain seems sufficient.
    The difference between the two words is hair-splitting. My mind is the function of my brain. You can have a brain but not a mind, but no human can have a mind without a brain.
    It’s like cars and transportation. Transportation includes cars, but a car that doesn’t operate isn’t transportation.
    I am my body, from head to toe. I can’t separate my self from by body, and I can’t separate my mind from by brain, even if I use different words to describe them in different contexts.

  19. And where on the EM spectrum would these signals occur? Hopefully it’s not at 900mHz or 2.4GHz

  20. ScottAndrews:

    When I pinch myself it is not self-evident that my brain is broadcasting to my mind.

    It is self evident that my brain is broadcasting to my consciousness.

    There is no evidence at all that consciousness is a function of the brain.

    Consciousness is defined from experience: we experience subjective events.

    You may think those subjective events are caused by physical events, but it’s only your opinion.

    Anyway, even if we agree not to impose our personal ideas to the other, consciousness remains empirically defined, and as such there is no doubt that physical events in the brain “communicate” in some way their form to consciousness, where they are represented as subjective events.

    This is self evident.

  21. gpuccio,

    That makes my head spin. I have to question it. Perhaps I’m missing something.

    There is no evidence at all that consciousness is a function of the brain.

    Perhaps I’m retreading old ground, but I’ve never heard of anyone getting knocked unconscious from a blow to the big toe.

    And I’ve never heard of anyone comparing conscious reactions to stimuli by attaching electrodes to someone’s big toe.

    I agree that the experience of consciousness is subjective. It follows then that our awareness of our experience of our own consciousness is also subjective. I think that’s true but I have no idea what it means.

    Could something be said of the fact that multiple people can inhabit the same reality and apparently share some common awareness? We see some things differently, but we don’t all perceive everything completely differently from everyone else.

    Our ability to function cohesively with another, even to speak and comprehend languages, is an indication that our consciousness is not purely subjective. We are individual and vary, but we perceive the same reality in mostly similar ways. When someone evidently does not we regard them as mentally ill or insane, not just experiencing a different subjective consciousness.

    This reminds me of when my sister stared in the mirror until she decided eyebrows didn’t make sense and shaved them off. Maybe sometimes we just think too hard.

  22. Scott:

    You make very goos points, that I have discussed in detail elsewhere, even recently (with Elizabeth, I believe).

    I will try to summarize here my thought, and if you want we can go on from that.

    I state that consciousness is a word that describes an empirical reality each of us experiences: the existence of subjective representations in our own consciousness. That is a fact.

    The, we go on to infer the existence of an outer world (very reasonably), and the existence of other conscious beings (very reasonably).

    Those are very strong, rather undisputable inferences. But inferences just the same. Our personal consciousness, instead, is directly perceived by each of us as a dimension where differenty forms are represented, and referred to one perceiving “I”.

    That’s why I say that consiousness is a fact, the mother of all facts. The existence of subjective representations in our personal “I” is a very objective fact. The existence of subjective representations in the “I” of others is one of the strongest inferences we make, and one that nobody (except solipsists) has ever questioned. I accept it as absolutely, reliably true. The same can be said for the existence of the outer world we percieve through our personal consciousness.

    So, at this point we have a map of reality which contains at least three kinds of entities:

    a) Our consciousness

    b) Inferred consiousness in others

    c) An inferred outer world (vastly shared, as you correctly point out, with other consious beings)

    Please, note that I am not “explaining” anything here, jhust describing the facts.

    Now, my point is simple: a sensation is an observable correspondence between:

    a)some event in the outer world (the object of the sensation and the physical events in the body originated by it, up to brain objective modification that ensue)

    b)a consious representation which has some reliable correspondence with the event.

    That’s why I say that it is self-evident that “the outer world”, including the brain, is “transmitting” an informational content to “consciousness” each time a sensation takes place.

    Now, we must distinguish here:

    a) The informational content of the sensation, that is certainly derived form the outer events

    b) The representation itself, which is a modificaton in subjective consiousness

    IOWs, what I am saying is that consciousness “represents” an information coming from (and formally corresponding to) an outer event as a modification in conscious states.

    Now, you can say that the modifications of conscious states are the same thing as the outer event in the brain. That’s what strong AI believes. But that is just an “explanatory” theory which has no logic or scientific justification.

    I need not even have a theory which explicitly treats consciousness and matter as dualistic entities to state the opposite: just point out that we have two different entities in our map of the world (subjective consiousnesses and objective events), that both of them are certainly objectively real, that nobody has any idea of how a subjective consciousness could be explained by objective events, or vice versa, and that is the point we are at.

    But there is no doubt that there is a continuos exchange of data between those two empirical realities, in both directions. That can be easily inferred from the formal correspondences between outer events and subjective representations, both in sensations and actions.

    That’s what I mean when I say that it is self evident that the brain broadcasts to consciousness, and that cosnciousness broadcasts to the brain. We have always knwon that, since we expereinced our first sensation, or did our first conscious action. All the detailed acquisitions od neurophisiology, while certainly impoirtant and interesting, have not changed a iota about that.

  23. I will say it again:

    “There is no evidence at all that consciousness is a function of the brain.”

    Please, note that I use the word “consciousness” for freater clarity. The word “mind” is more ambiguous. “Mind” can refer to the contents of consciousness, and there can be no doubt that many contents of consciousness are a function of the brain.

    I hope that is clear.

  24. So when the corpus callosum is severed and you wind up with two consciousnesses unaware of what the other is seeing, do you have two disembodied minds?

    Or when brain damage results is fading of color memory, does the disembodied consciousness lose the ability to think about color?

    I’m just curious what you mean by “no evidence.”

  25. Forget it, he’s rolling.

  26. Petrushka:

    You don’t wind up with two consiousness. You wind up with one consciousness whose computational resources are compromised in a specific way.

    I paste here from Wikipedia the part about that:

    “Split-brain is a lay term to describe the result when the corpus callosum connecting the two hemispheres of the brain is severed to some degree. The surgical operation to produce this condition is called corpus callosotomy (not to be confused with colostomy) and is usually used as a last resort to treat otherwise intractable epilepsy. Initially, partial callosotomies are performed; if this operation does not succeed, a complete callosotomy is performed to mitigate the risk of accidental physical injury by reducing the severity and violence of epileptic seizures. Prior to callosotomies, epilepsy is treated through pharmaceutical means.
    A patient with a split brain, when shown an image in his or her left visual field (the left half of what both eyes take in, see optic tract), will be unable to vocally name what he or she has seen. This is because the speech-control center is in the left side of the brain in most people, and the image from the left visual field is sent only to the right side of the brain (those with the speech control center in the right side will experience similar symptoms when an image is presented in the right visual field). Since communication between the two sides of the brain is inhibited, the patient cannot name what the right side of the brain is seeing. The person can, however, pick up and show recognition of an object (one within the left overall visual field) with their left hand, since that hand is controlled by the right side of the brain.
    The same effect occurs for visual pairs and reasoning. For example, a patient with split brain is shown a picture of a chicken and a snowy field in separate visual fields and asked to choose from a list of words the best association with the pictures. The patient would choose a chicken foot to associate with the chicken and a shovel to associate with the snow; however, when asked to reason why the patient chose the shovel, the response would relate to the chicken (e.g. “the shovel is for cleaning out the chicken coop”).”

    As you can see, there are problems in connections between parts of the brain, and the representations in consciousness are correspondingly altered, but there are not two consciousnesses.

    The disembodied consciousness never loses its properties. It can always represent. But, as long as it is connected to a brain, it will mainly represent the information in the brain.

    Nothing of that is a demonstration that consciousness is a function of the brain

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