General Question

mattbrowne's avatar

Gray matter generating conscious experiences: When will scientists solve the mind-body problem?

Asked by mattbrowne (31671points) July 22nd, 2009

From Wikipedia: The mind-body problem concerns the explanation of the relationship that exists between minds, or mental processes, and bodily states or processes. The main aim of philosophers working in this area is to determine the nature of the mind and mental states/processes, and how – or even if – minds are affected by and can affect the body.

Our perceptual experiences depend on stimuli which arrive at our various sensory organs from the external world and these stimuli cause changes in our mental states, ultimately causing us to feel a sensation, which may be pleasant or unpleasant. Someone’s desire for a slice of pizza, for example, will tend to cause that person to move his or her body in a specific manner and in a specific direction to obtain what he or she wants. The question, then, is how it can be possible for conscious experiences to arise out of a lump of gray matter endowed with nothing but electrochemical properties. A related problem is to explain how someone’s propositional attitudes (e.g. beliefs and desires) can cause that individual’s neurons to fire and his muscles to contract in exactly the correct manner.

Any thoughts?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

23 Answers

Zendo's avatar

Scientists will never be able to solve this enigma, as it lies outside the range of observable phenomena.

YARNLADY's avatar

About the same time we learn mindreading.

ragingloli's avatar

That is what people said about thunderstorms too.

“and how – or even if – minds are affected by and can affect the body.”
They do affect and are affected by the body.
There are a lots of cases where the physical recovery from an illness was improved by a positive mental state of the patient and vice versa.
And the fact that the mind is affected by the body is demonstrated by the effects of psychopharmaka, drugs, and certain experiments with electromagnetic fields, which all affect the brain and the alter the mind.
There are also cases where brain injuries or strokes permanently altered a person’s personality.

“The question, then, is how it can be possible for conscious experiences to arise out of a lump of gray matter endowed with nothing but electrochemical properties.”

The same reason it is possible for a collection of metal, plastic and silicon endowed with nothing but electrical properties to produce an image of this website on your screen.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

I would be interested to see the stats on the longevity of perpetual optimists versus pessimists.

whitenoise's avatar

Intriguing as it is, we still need a lot of research to even find out how the brain works on a more fundamental course level. We have now identified various parts of the brain that address various different tasks and we know what certain defects of the brain will lead to. It is still a huge step, however, from finding a more and better understanding of how the brain works to linking specific states from (parts) of the brain to specific states of the mind.

We are getting somewhere in that direction, though. Interesting research sparked by, amongst others, Dutch professor Dr. D.F. Swaab, has shown physical differences of the brain that come with homo- versus heterosexuality, gender identification and for instance a need to amputate (known as Body Integrity Identity Disorder). Another example is the identification of an area in the brain that when stimulated will produce a religious experience as good as any.

Notwithstanding how interesting this all is, I would like to use this occasion to ask everyone here, to see if they can help brain research. Brain diseases are still incredibly hard to treat and there is not enough reserch done. Donate money, or when you are living in the Netherlands, register as a potential donor at The Dutch Brain Bank (de hersenbank). This institute is leading in the world in prviding brain material for scientific research. This research is of paramount importance in our fight against very, very severe illnesses, both neurologicical, such as Alzheimer as well as psychiatrical, such as depression.

Jack_Haas's avatar

Robotics and emergent AI will provide interesting areas of discovery in the coming years. Experiments in robotics are already showing thought-action patterns disturbingly similar (and currently unexplainable) to ours (naturally I didn’t bother to bookmark the link grrr).

growler's avatar

I do not believe it will be solved soon, if ever, largely because each question we answer just reveals more questions to be answered. Advancing technology will do a lot to further our studies, but since we still don’t even know the nature of the mind I doubt we will make progress soon.

CMaz's avatar

It is easy to understand, not as easy to explain.
Basically it works just as your pizza example does.

mammal's avatar

Science utilises the body to observe the mind, this distinction is the modus operandi of the scientific approach, to suggest then that science could somehow bridge this gulf would therefore be paradoxical.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Jack_Haas – So will human minds and AI eventually merge into one?

Jack_Haas's avatar

Matt I think it’s inevitable. Most of the research being done right now aims at developing brain-computer interfaces. Visionary IT analysts like Guy Pearson and Ray Kurzweil have predicted connections between artificial and human brains, in particular the download of information from a human brain to a synthetic one as the most feasible way to reach immortality. Here are couple articles I bookmarked a while ago. Kurzweil’s predictions are here and Pearson’s here.

Note that there are efforts already underway to build a synthetic brain as powerful and complex as the human one. I found this about the blue brain experiment in Switzerland, and in the US there’s another research team working on carbon nanotubes to replicate human brain function. I found this interesting.

When you see how far computer power has come from the first cray supercomputers to NVidia’s Tegra these days, or even cloud computing, there are many reasons to be optimistic. Even virtual worlds will teach us more about ourselves as computing complexity allows to recreate more complex worlds and smarter AI. Maybe GTA XVI will allow us to understand more about our origins?

nebule's avatar

I’ve recently been studying this for my philosophy course (and incidentally got 88% on my essay for it yay me!) I read up on Kurzweil and many other philosophers and scientists and we also looked at AI.

I find it difficult to believe that science will never solve the mind-body problem…but insofar as managing to create consciousness I’m not convinced. DO ‘they’ know yet how the brain functions in terms of learning from scratch..experience and causal growth of neurons? And I’m not convinced that Kurzweil’s predictions about AI are believable but I couldn’t get through the entire book in the allotted time!

I’m about to purchase Daniel Dennett’s book on Consciousness (if anyone has read it I’d love to hear your thoughts…) as I’m going to be studying a higher level philosophy of the mind course next January. We really didn’t get enough time to concentrate on this part of philosophy…So anyway thanks for asking the question!! I’ll be able to get more insights now!

mattbrowne's avatar

I’m looking forward to watching the upcoming movie based on Ray Kurzweil’s ideas: (due end 2009)

mammal's avatar

It isn’t good enough to create a thinking computer, but it needs to be aware that it is thinking. That is a feature that would be awkward to incorporate

Jeruba's avatar

I edited an 800-page textbook in psychobiology that studied all aspects of the brain/mind question and ended without an answer.

nebule's avatar

you really do rock Jeruba!

Jeruba's avatar

<blush> Thanks, @lynneblundell.

My husband and I have read Dennett’s Consciousness Explained. Except for the parts that I missed when I nodded off while he was reading aloud (yes, we read it aloud), I found it fascinating and illuminating. It has changed my view of things ever since. Highly recommended if you have the stamina for it, as I think you must have, Lynne, to judge from your accounts of your studies. The parts about focus of perception and the roomful of Marilyn Monroes were worth the price of admission for the little lightning bolts of comprehension that it sparked.

nebule's avatar

OMG!!! I’vejust ordered that very book today!!

Jeruba's avatar

@lynneblundell, you asked for comments on it a few posts above.

nebule's avatar

oh…lol… perhaps there really are no coincidences…hee hee…I’d forgotten evidently! x

mattbrowne's avatar

@Jeruba – So might be the answer to my Fluther question: Never !?

Jeruba's avatar

I wouldn’t say never, @mattbrowne, because I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of our being studied by something that is not one of us. But as long as only human beings are doing the studying, and we are trying to examine ourselves using the organ that we are trying to examine, I don’t think we’re going to do a thorough job of it. So until we train computers to detach themselves from all the biases and limitations of their makers, or we have a report delivered to us by those little guys who’ve been doing the abductions and collecting specimens all these years, I don’t think we’re going to get an entirely satisfactory answer.

mattbrowne's avatar

Thanks @Jeruba. Always a pleasure to read your comments on Fluther!

Answer this question




to answer.

This question is in the General Section. Responses must be helpful and on-topic.

Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther