Friday, June 29, 2018

Still More on the Brain-Aware Mind

There is actually a lot of evidence that the mind is not the result of physical brain states but is instead the producer of physical brain states. While our brains can and do influence our mental states, the opposite is the more important situation.

We are not merely who and what our brains tell us we are, because our minds can tell our brains that we reject the brain's idea or belief. The most powerful example of this two-way influence comes from people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). In such cases, the brain constantly tells the mind that, for example, the person needs to wash his or her hands. At the same time the person, the mind, can know and realize that this compulsion is a false belief by the brain. Thus, mind and brain are not the same.

Even more dramatic is the fact that the mind can change the brain. Work with OCD patients revealed that patients could reduce their compulsions by telling their brains to stop the false urgings. When the brain told the patients that  they needed to wash their hands, the patients rebuked their brains and said something like, "No, I don't need to wash my hands." Realizing that their compulsions are not who they are, the patients separated themselves from the thoughts presented to the mind by the brain.

Our minds can move beyond both the brain and the current mind by committing to change and growth. Our minds can have vague thoughts, involving  future hopes, intentions, fears, plans, doubts, uncertainties. But our brains, if they produce brain states that involve fight or flight, or immediate or delayed action, cannot produce vague or future or doubtful states. Brain states must be definite.

The fact that we can analyze and criticize our brain's thoughts and suggestions causes us to realize that we are not our brains. We can say, "That's a dumb idea," when our brains suggest an unworkable solution to a problem. We can understand logically that we are not really in danger when we face an optical illusion that makes it seem as if we are walking a narrow beam over a deep chasm. And yet our brains generate a hysteria and shoot adrenaline throughout our bodies, crying, "You're going to fall and die!! Be careful!" And we think, "Shut up brain. You're wrong."

So, don't let your brain tell you what to do. It's speaking from its physical substance. Listen to your mind. That's where your soul and spirit live.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

More Comments on the Mind-Brain Dualism

In a previous post ("I Hate My Brain") I argued for the separateness of the mind from the brain by appealing to myself and my awareness that my brain is suffering from Parkinson's disease. I noted that I (my mind) used to be driving along in a very nice car (my brain), but that the car now had flat tires and sand in the gasoline. While my mind can still tell my body to turn over in bed or stand up from a chair, my muscles just aren't getting the message, because the needed brain cells (the ones that make and receive neurotransmitting chemicals) are dying off, thus making it increasingly difficult to move around. Adding the missing dopamine helps a lot. My mind knows this.

In fact, my mind knows that am taking replacement chemicals (carbidopa-levodopa, rasagiline, etc.), but my brain doesn't know it.

This argument for mind-brain separateness is known as the introspection argument. Our minds can look at, respond to, and even judge our brains. Here are some examples.

1. I am aware that I'm not as sharp as I was when I was younger and in school. I know my brain has lost some of its acuity.

2. Sometimes I can't find the right word. My mind knows the word and knows that it's in my brain somewhere, but I can't remember it right now. Later, my brain might put the word into my consciousness. (I once couldn't remember a friend's name. Now that is disturbing. But her name came back to me in a few minutes.) As a curious footnote, I  have noticed that when I'm searching my brain for a word, the candidate words my brain suggests are often nearby alphabetically. That is, it appears to me that my brain stores words in alphabetical order.

3. Sometimes I forget what I was going to say. When people are talking, I sometimes get a good idea, but before I can interrupt, I forget it. But my mind knows my brain is not performing the way I want it to and that I had the idea. If only I could remember it.

4. We can judge our brain's situation: our minds evaluate our brains. "My brain is not up to speed," we say when we feel groggy. Or, "There is something wrong with my brain today. I can't think."

5. Sometimes a person who has had an arm or leg amputated will feel pain in that missing limb. In such cases, the person's mind knows that the limb is missing and that the pain is coming from a false signal in the brain. "Stupid brain," they might say.

Our brains can malfunction in many ways, and our minds often know that. We can monitor our brains and judge when they are not working right, with the exception of severe malfunction, such as schizophrenia, where the brain is so broken that the person's mind can no longer distinguish between imagination and reality. My brother was severely schizophrenic, and since I once read that a sibling of a schizophrenic person has a 14% chance of becoming ill also, for many years I set my mind to watch my brain for any symptoms of hallucinations or delusions. And that is another example of the dichotomy.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

I Hate My Brain

Much debate has raged over whether our minds and brains are two separate entities or one single entity: Is the mind independent of the brain, thus allowing for the concepts of spirit, soul, and even free will, or is the mind--our thinking--just an epiphenomenon of the electrochemical operations of the brain? Monism or dualism?

As a person with progressive Parkinson's disease, I can testify that my mind is independent of my brain. In fact, my mind (that's me) is very disturbed with my brain as the brain cells continue to die, making my brain increasingly resistant to my mental commands. For example, I want to turn over in bed the way I used to (easily), but even though my mind is giving my brain the same command it always has, my brain is not listening or communicating the message to the appropriate muscles.

A helpful analogy is to think of me, my thinking mind, as the driver of a car. The car is my brain. In the past, I would tell my brain where to go (which muscles to move) and it would comply. I was driving on new tires, and powered by a peppy new engine. Now, however, even though I (the driver) tell my brain (the car) where to turn, it does't do that very well. The car is running on one or two flat tires, and there seems to sand and water in the gas tank as well.

Another indication of  the mind-brain dichotomy as evidenced in Parkinson's disease comes from word-finding difficulty. Some of the mind-brain unitizers (mind and brain are the same thing) have argued that words control our thoughts. We think of a word and then use it by pushing our thought into it. In other words, language precedes and therefore control thought, leaving us at the mercy of whatever words our brain produces after breakfast.

But as most people know, and Parkinson's patients in particular, we often know what we want to say, we are aware of the word that expresses the idea, but we just can't think of it, no matter how we obsess. So thinking precedes the verbalization of the thinking. Usually the clothing of words expresses the thought quickly, for the most part. But we all occasionally have trouble with matching the words to the thought. 

So, I am in the unenviable position of watching my brain deteriorate and do less and less of what I tell it to. This should be good evidence that my mind and my brain are not the same thing. Consciousness and will and thought are who we are, drivers of a car made of meat (our brains), that are subject to change.