Is there evidence that the "mind" can work independently of the "brain"?

Based on this post, SeekingCatholic and I will be discussing and debating any evidence that the “mind” can work independently of the “brain”.

If anyone has anything to contribute please feel free to post.

SeekingCatholic, please let me know where you would like me to start. Or, if you want to, you can start. Just let me know how you want to proceed.

Thanks and God bless you. :slight_smile:

It must be quite a few years ago now. On British television there is a science program called Horizon. The tag line of this particular episode was, “Are scientists beginning to allow themselves to think the unthinkable?”

In America there had been a woman who needed to undergo major surgery of some kind; I can’t remember all the details now. But for some reason, again I can’t remember why, conventional anaesthesia was not possible. So the surgeons hit upon the idea of using a Russian technique whereby the body is packed in ice
and cooled down until all brain activity ceases. In that condition the chemical reactions which would normally cause irreversible brain damage in minutes, in the absence of oxygen, take a couple of hours to happen, and that gives the surgeons a window of opportunity during which surgery can be performed. Now with a complete absence of any brain activity whatsoever, it ought to have been self evident that no conscious experience was possible, and certainly no out of bodyt experiences if the conventional explanation for them is accepted. In the event, however, it transpired that after the operation the woman was able to give the doctors a detailed description of everything that had been going on in the operating theatre during the operation.

Gives some food for thought concerning those in vegatative states, and people who experience NDE’s :thumbsup:

This is the Pam Reynolds case, which you have exaggerated greatly. There is no evidence the NDE experience occurred during the exact time of EEG flatlining, in which there would have been “complete absence of brain activity”; in fact it certainly occurred significantly before. And no, she did not give a detailed description of everything that had been going on in the operating room during the operation. She did accurately recall an operating room conversation. She did recall some visual details, but they aren’t convincing since that information could have been deduced or inferred through othe means.

(From the previous post)

BTW, saying that all human behavior can be reduced to mental activity in the brain itself is a form of materialism that directly goes against Catholic belief.

So saying that it’s wishful thinking that the “mind” can (and does) work independently of the “brain” really is going against Catholic teaching.

It’s late so I’ll check in tomorrow to see what’s up.

A little clarification is in order first. The claim I am making is that mental activity, of whatever nature, is correlated with brain activity. The traditional Thomistic view is that the external organs provide sensory data to the (immaterial) intellect, which has certain (immaterial) faculties such as memory, imagination, reasoning, etc. This is obviously just plain wrong, based on the data from neuroscience. All of these things are correlated with brain function. For instance, memory is correlated with activity in the hippocampus. Reasoning is correlated with activity in the frontal lobe. The reason why teenagers act so impulsively is that their frontal lobes (which are the last to develop) and connections to the frontal lobes are not fully developed yet. Mathematical cognition is associated with activity in a variety of regions, such as the parietal lobe. And so on. Whatever function you wish to name, I can give you the brain regions correlated with it. And these findings are all well backed up by functional MRI, PET, magnetoencephalography (MEG), or electroencephalography (EEG) data.

There is not any body of evidence, nowhere near the body of peer-reviewed published studies supporting the above, which provide anywhere near solid evidence that the mind can (or does) function independently of the brain. That is wishful thinking. I have seen nothing except anecdotal OBE/NDEs (out of body/near death experiences). Even then, where is the evidence these experiences are in fact not correlated with brain activity?

If this going against “Catholic belief or teaching” (although I know of no official teaching on the matter) then maybe (like geocentrism) it’s time for it to be reformed, for the mass of evidence is piling up and up. However, this does not mean “all human behavior can be reduced to mental activity in the brain”; it means all human behavior is correlated with mental activity in the brain; human behavior can be an emergent property of such activity which is not necessarily reducible to such activity.

Now that is interesting. Do you have any links for further inquiry?

There’s no doubt that many things do correlate with brain activity. I never said there was no correlation with brain activity at all.

My inquiry is more in line with the idea that all thoughts originate from the brain itself.

Are you suggesting that our consciousness is merely an illusion created by our neural networks?

If so, then this is going against Catholic beliefs and implies that all origin of thought itself can be explained by material processes of brain functions.

Is this what you’re actually claiming?

I have to go to work soon, so I’ll be back tonight to see what replies come through.

No, not at all. However, it’s quite evident that consciousness itself depends on the existence of certain neural networks; otherwise, infants should be conscious. It’s clear that the development of consciousness is correlated with the development of the brain, and that brain function is correlated with consciousness (it’s why general anesthesia works). That doesn’t mean consciousness is itself a mere illusion or epiphenomenon. It’s a real reality in itself.

If so, then this is going against Catholic beliefs and implies that all origin of thought itself can be explained by material processes of brain functions.

Is this what you’re actually claiming?

I think so, yes. I’m claiming that the intellect is dependent on the body, normally speaking, for all its function (such as memory, imagination, etc.), not merely for having data presented from the senses. I’m therefore claiming a one-to-one correspondence between thought and brain function. There is no brain function without thought, nor any thought without brain function. And clearly there are types of thoughts (e.g. hallucinations) which have to be explained by material processes of brain functions; otherwise there could be no such thing as hallucinogens.

But you said “origin of thought itself” not “thought itself” so I have to somewhat hedge. If you had said “thought itself” yes I would say thought itself can be explained by material processes of brain functions, although I would maintain thought would be an emergent property (e.g. really existent and not merely an illusion). But “origin of thought” should correlate with “origin of material processes of brain function”, and this is not known. Why are there differing patterns of neuronal activity in different individuals? This is certainly not anywhere close to being understood.

Perhaps before we begin we should actually ask, “What is consciousness?”

More specifically, I’m wondering as to what actions result from the mind of a person and what actions result from the person’s brain.

For example, as Mario Beauregard notes in his book The Spiritual Brain, one might say, “I made up my mind to by a bike.” But people do not say, “I made up my brain to buy a bike.” On the other hand, some might say, “Bike helmets prevent brain damage.” But people do not say, “Bike helmets prevent mind damage.”

Many materialists seem to think that this distinction we make between our mind as an immaterial entity and our brain as a bodily organ has no real basis. I’m trying to discern if you hold this same materialist opinion. It seems to me that you do not hold this same opinion based on your answers given so far.

It’s clear that the development of consciousness is correlated with the development of the brain, and that brain function is correlated with consciousness (it’s why general anesthesia works). That doesn’t mean consciousness is itself a mere illusion or epiphenomenon. It’s a real reality in itself.

Then what exactly is that *real reality *?

Is consciousness a manifestation of the human soul?

If so, then what actions within any given person is a result of their brain and what actions within any given person is a result of their soul?

Can these actions be distinguished using science?

If consciousness is not a manifestation of the human soul then what exactly is that real reality?

I think so, yes. I’m claiming that the intellect is dependent on the body, normally speaking, for all its function (such as memory, imagination, etc.), not merely for having data presented from the senses.

Could you define ‘normally speaking’?

I think one has to keep in mind what John Heger once wrote…

The typical brain contains 100 billion cells—almost as numerous as the stars in the Milky Way galaxy. And each cell is linked by synapses to as many as 100,000 others. The synapses between cells are awash in hormones and neurotransmitters that modulate the transmission of signals, and the synapses constantly form and dissolve, weaken and strengthen in response to new experiences.

It is very interesting that within the average lifetime of a neuron the molecules of the neuron are replaced approximately 10,000 times, Yet human beings apparently have a continuous sense of self that is generally stable over time.

Dean Radin once noted, “All of the material used to express that pattern has disappeared, and yet the pattern still exists. What holds the pattern, if not matter? The question is not easily answered by the assumptions of a mechanistic, purely materialist science.”

Of course this doesn’t mean there will never be an answer to this question. It does remain possible that purely materialist explanation exists to explain this. But I think this does raise some interesting starting points as primers for the discussion.

I’m therefore claiming a one-to-one correspondence between thought and brain function. There is no brain function without thought, nor any thought without brain function. And clearly there are types of thoughts (e.g. hallucinations) which have to be explained by material processes of brain functions; otherwise there could be no such thing as hallucinogens.

I’ll come back more on this later.

For now I would like to ask if there is anyway, using science, to distinguish between that which is considered a wild hallucination and that which is considered a mystical vision?

But you said “origin of thought itself” not “thought itself” so I have to somewhat hedge. If you had said “thought itself” yes I would say thought itself can be explained by material processes of brain functions, although I would maintain thought would be an emergent property (e.g. really existent and not merely an illusion).

Can some thoughts originate from the soul and physically manifest in the brain?

Can science even be used to discern this distinction of the origins of thought and the manifestation of thought?

But “origin of thought” should correlate with “origin of material processes of brain function”, and this is not known. Why are there differing patterns of neuronal activity in different individuals? This is certainly not anywhere close to being understood.

Ok. So then you would not agree with this quote below, correct?

The social, psychological and cognitive sciences remain stuck with pre-scientific words and concepts. For many of us the word “soul” is an obsolete as “phlogiston,” but scientists still use such imprecise words as “consciousness,” “personality” and “ego,” not to mention “mind.”

Perhaps it is time that, in science at least, “imagination” and “introspection” are remodeled or, preferably, retired. Artists can have fun with them, but the serious business of the world has moved on.

[RIGHT]Peter Watson[/RIGHT]

I don’t know if we are talking about the same case, but it occurred whilst the surgeon was actually performing the surgery. Nor is it clear in what sense it could have been “inferred by other means” given that the procedure (which she gave a visual description of) was new to the surgeon himself.

No, however it is dintinct from the brain, the concisiousness is causally, though not ontologically reduciable to neural activity and brain activity

I had a long argument about this with somebody on another forum. I won eventually. To me the central point seems to be that, no matter how closely you observe a physical process, you will still only be observing a physical process. You will not be observing the subjective experience of the person whose experience it is. The two are qualitavely different, and whilst the electro-chemical processes accompanying the experience of a pain (say) can be objectively observed by anybody standing in front of an EEG machine, the pain itself can only be subjectively experienced by one person.

The way I personally think of the brain is as the mind’s data processor, but what the mind IS, and how it interacts with the brain, nobody has even began to come up with a convincing answer to; dyed in the wool materialists least of all.

My personal hunch is that any attempt by the mind to understand itself may involve the kind of self referencing which can be a trip wire under any circumstances. But that is just my hunch.

Another thing which seems to me fallacious is the idea that you can explain SUBJECTIVE experience by observing OBJECTIVE reality. The fallacy would soon be noticed if you tried to do it the other way round, and tried to give an account of the physical universe, not by observing it, but through pure introspection.

What about Penfield?

He apparently electrically stimulated the brains of epilepsy patients and found that he could cause them to move their arms or legs, turn their heads or eyes, talk, or even swallow.

Each time this happened, however, the patient would say, “I didn’t do that. You did.”

According to Penfield, ’the patient thinks of himself as having an existence separate from his body.’

If their thoughts were simply produced by the stimulation of their brain it seems that they would not be able to distinguish between the actions that their brain produces and the actions their mind produces. The mind appears, on a scientific level, to be acting independently of their brain.

I suspect that evidence acceptable to a scientist could not exist, proof that is verifiable and could be repeated. Same for the existence of a soul and its survival after death. Otherwise, there would be no need for revealed truth.

To me, the question is like being asked whether the distinction between the particle nature of light and the wave nature of light has a “real basis”. These are complementary aspects of the same reality, not distinct, separate entities. The Descartian cleavage between “spirit” and “matter” or “soul” and “body” just doesn’t hold up to the evidence. Yet, just as attempting to describe the behavior of light as a wave only, or as a particle only, will fail, so will attempting a material-only or spiritual-only explanation of human behavior.

Then what exactly is that *real reality *?

Denying the reality of consciousness is in the same la-la land as denying the reality of free will. It goes against everything we experience (since we experience anyway and can reflect on that experience, by definition we are conscious).

Is consciousness a manifestation of the human soul?

Then how come such consciousness isn’t manifested by a zygote? Clearly the question is a little more complicated than this.

If so, then what actions within any given person is a result of their brain and what actions within any given person is a result of their soul?

Can these actions be distinguished using science?

They are both actions of the brain and actions of the soul.

If consciousness is not a manifestation of the human soul then what exactly is that real reality?

Consciousness is a development of the human soul (coupled with a development of the brain) where it is now able to reflect on itself.

Could you define ‘normally speaking’?

Sure, based our normal experience of normal adults and children, and the results from neuroscience and brain imaging. There might possibly be an exception in near-death experiences. That is to say, things might begin to change when one begins the dying process, when (to use traditional terminology) the “soul is separated from the body”. The evidence isn’t persuasive and can be overhyped. Yet I’ll keep an open mind to the possibility. I know of no other situation besides NDEs where there is any evidence even suggesting that the soul operates independently from the body or from the brain.

It is very interesting that within the average lifetime of a neuron the molecules of the neuron are replaced approximately 10,000 times, Yet human beings apparently have a continuous sense of self that is generally stable over time.

Dean Radin once noted, “All of the material used to express that pattern has disappeared, and yet the pattern still exists. What holds the pattern, if not matter? The question is not easily answered by the assumptions of a mechanistic, purely materialist science.”

This seems silly at first glance, unless I’ve missed something. It’s the neuronal firing patterns correlated with the “sense of self” and the “pattern”. It’s like asking why you have the same car even though you replaced the spark plugs.

For now I would like to ask if there is anyway, using science, to distinguish between that which is considered a wild hallucination and that which is considered a mystical vision?

Perhaps. It may well be that the patterns of neural activation differ greatly between hallucinations and mystical experiences.

Can some thoughts originate from the soul and physically manifest in the brain?

Can science even be used to discern this distinction of the origins of thought and the manifestation of thought?

This is what would appear to be necessary from the traditional dualist paradigm. However, the alternative is not necessarily a radical monism which denies the reality of spiritual entities altogether. I would say the thoughts originate in the soul and in the brain at the same time. These are complementary aspects of the same reality. Science of course cannot directly detect anything spiritual, but only its physical manifestation, so a direct answer from science will not be forthcoming. However I will ask this question: if a thought does in fact originate from the soul, without any physical correlation necessary, why have a brain in the first place? Why is the only creature capable of consciousness, reflection ,and rational thought the only one with a neocortex?

Ok. So then you would not agree with this quote below, correct?

No.

Well of course he did. He was aware that his brain was being electrically stimulated. This proves no more than a doctor giving the knee-jerk test and the patient saying the doctor caused his leg to move.

If their thoughts were simply produced by the stimulation of their brain it seems that they would not be able to distinguish between the actions that their brain produces and the actions their mind produces. The mind appears, on a scientific level, to be acting independently of their brain.

All the patient is distinguishing between is volitional movements versus non-volitional movements. He can do this because he is aware of the TMS device (I assume it was TMS) and he is aware that he did not will his limb to move. This doesn’t prove in any way that the volitional part of volitional movement is independent of brain function. In fact we know there areas associated with volitional movement (e.g. supplementary motor cortex, associated with motor planning, and so on).

It seems to me this supports Ivan’s point. Moreover, painkillers couldn’t work were there not a one-to-one causal correspondence between the electro-chemical processes and the experience of pain. Shut down the electro-chemical process, and you eliminate the pain.

The way I personally think of the brain is as the mind’s data processor, but what the mind IS, and how it interacts with the brain, nobody has even began to come up with a convincing answer to; dyed in the wool materialists least of all.

Just why does the “mind” need the “brain” to do its data processing then, and what exactly does the “mind” do after the data is processed? Dualists don’t have very convincing explanations for mind-brain questions either. To my mind (or brain, if you prefer) the “mind” and the “brain” are complementary aspects of the same reality.

My personal hunch is that any attempt by the mind to understand itself may involve the kind of self referencing which can be a trip wire under any circumstances. But that is just my hunch.

But what about the attempt by the mind to understand that it can’t understand itself?

Another thing which seems to me fallacious is the idea that you can explain SUBJECTIVE experience by observing OBJECTIVE reality. The fallacy would soon be noticed if you tried to do it the other way round, and tried to give an account of the physical universe, not by observing it, but through pure introspection.

No one has an explanation for why the physical processes associated with pain cause the feeling of pain. However that is not a refutation of the brute fact that these processes do cause the feeling of pain, and that there is no feeling of pain without them.

I agrea

You will not be observing the subjective experience of the person whose experience it is.

Of course

The two are qualitavely different, and whilst the electro-chemical processes accompanying the experience of a pain (say) can be objectively observed by anybody standing in front of an EEG machine, the pain itself can only be subjectively experienced by one person.

Right, I don’t see anything here that disagreas with my claim, though I could be misunderstanding your objectios

I think that if nothing existed but the material, third persone ontological existence I would area.

I beleive there is a first persone ontology

Yes, but if the brain itself if the source of thought then one would also think that probing the brain to cause this would also cause the person to think they were actually doing it.

Think about moving your arm. Now move your arm.

See what I mean? You had an active thought which occurred prior to you actually moving your arm.

In these cases where Penfield electrically probed the brains of these people they did not actually have any thought which correlated to their action. Like you said, it was more like a reflex. However, we’re not really talking about a patellar reflex. There, the sensory neuron synapses directly with a motor neuron that conducts an efferent impulse to the quadriceps femoris muscle, triggering contraction.

In this example from Penfield’s studies, we’re talking about probing the very source of where the action originated from, the cerebral cortex of brain. The cerebral cortex is the structure within the brain that apparently plays a key role in memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought, language, and even apparently consciousness itself. He could make them move their arms or legs, turn their heads or eyes, talk, or even swallow. These are all voluntary movements.

And yet, unlike what I think you said before, no voluntary (or even involuntary thought) actually correlated with the physical activity.

All the patient is distinguishing between is volitional movements versus non-volitional movements.

But how are they making this distinction at all if the origin of thought itself is coming from the brain as many materialists insist must be the case?

What exactly is your view on this?

He can do this because he is aware of the TMS device (I assume it was TMS) and he is aware that he did not will his limb to move.

I disagree.

The patients were not able to know which area that Penfield probed. They simply had no idea what was coming next. In addition to this, I think they would have been able to make this distinction even if they did not know that someone was probing their brain.

I don’t think this is permissible in a scientific study. But there certainly there are true cases of demonic possession where people acted certain ways and knew full well that they were not doing them. They knew “someone or something else” was making them do what they did.

I think that “normal animals” (as opposed to the “human animal”) cannot make this distinction. I don’t think they could actually tell whether someone was “making them” move or not. I think they would just assume they were doing it all by themselves.

This doesn’t prove in any way that the volitional part of volitional movement is independent of brain function. In fact we know there areas associated with volitional movement (e.g. supplementary motor cortex, associated with motor planning, and so on).

My simple question is, *“Why didn’t a thought within the brain correlate to the physical action that the brain generated?” *

If you’re suggesting that the functions of the brain are no different than a patellar reflex, I would kind of agree…kind of.

I’m more concerned with what “mind” is internally (or externally) causing these patellar reflexes to begin with.

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