Your Mind vs. Your Brain

A pile of snippets from Your Mind vs. Your Brain: Ten Things To Know,

Here are some reasons why they aren’t really the same:

1.Is the human brain unique in some way? Yes, but not so much in its structure as in the things we do with it. For example, the human, mouse, and fly brains all use the same basic mechanisms, which is a bit of a puzzle, considering the different things we do with our brains. […]

2.If the brain is so closely interconnected, wouldn’t people lose the ability to think if their brains were split in half or half cut away? This surgery is done to treat severe epilepsy. The brain adapts to what it must work with and the patient usually suffers only minor disabilities. Roger Sperry’s Nobel Prize-winning split-brain research convinced him that the mind and free will are real. And yes, some people think and speak with only half a brain. […]

3.Can people in comas, who show no awareness of their surroundings, really think? Yes! […] For example, in one study, “Remarkably, five patients were able to wilfully modulate their brain activity, suggesting that, though unable to express any outward signs of consciousness at the bedside, they could understand and follow the researchers’ instructions.” Generally speaking, they can hear us: Researcher Adrian Owen found that brain wave patterns when asked to imagine something, were the same as those of normal volunteers. [….]

4.Is a brain really needed for thinking? That’s a good question. At the animal level, maybe not. The “blob,” now on display at the Paris Zoo, engages in complex behavior without a brain. So does the flatworm and the amoeba and so do the many plant communications networks. […]

5.Can we develop tests of the brain for consciousness? Well, first, we aren’t really sure what consciousness is. […]

6.But wait. If the mind were real, wouldn’t we be able to control things by thoughts alone? We do that now with our bodies. And we can do it under other circumstances too if an electrical connection can be established. […]

7.Can brain scans read our minds? They can—in a dozen conflicting ways. […] The main thing to see is that “reading the mind” is more like reading the ocean than like reading the directions on a package. We would need to begin by deciding exactly what we want to know—and then go fishing.

8.Aren’t computer programs being developed that think just like people? No. There are a number of reasons why computer programs can’t and won’t think just like people. For our purposes here, the brain is not at all like a computer: Seeing the brain as a computer is an easy misconception rather than an informative image, says neuroscientist Yuri Danilov: “But as soon as you assume that each neuron is a microprocessor, you assume that there is a programmer. There is no programmer in the brain; there are no algorithms in the brain…” […]

9.Don’t neuroscientists say that the mind is just the brain? Many scientists believe that, not because of evidence, but because they are materialists. The evidence does not point in that direction. Thinking it through carefully, the idea doesn’t even make sense, as Michael Egnor points out: “How do we believe that there are no beliefs? If eliminative materialism is true, then their own belief in eliminative materialism isn’t a belief. It’s a physical state, a certain concentration of neurochemicals that we (the uninitiated) foolishly call a belief. So a disagreement between an eliminative materialist and a dualist isn’t really a disagreement at all. It’s just two different concentrations of brain dopamine or whatever. Exactly how these chemicals in different skulls get into a “disagreement” is left vague. At this point, you may get a bit uncomfortable, as you would if the guy you’re sitting next to on the subway starts talking about the fact that CNN is broadcasting directly into his brain.” […]

10.Do any neuroscientists doubt the consensus that the mind is just the brain? Yes, the great mid-twentieth century neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield offered three lines of reasoning for such doubts, based on brain surgery on over a thousand patients. A number of other neuroscience pioneers, some of them Nobel Laureates, arrived at that position due to their research. Here are four examples. […]

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