Brain, Mind, and Body

This blog post is another in the series inspired by the book, The Scientific American Brave New Brain.1 That book presents a table contrasting the way the brain once was regarded, the way it is presently regarded and some conjectures about what tomorrow might hold. This blog also draws upon a recent book published by National Geographic,2 which will be reviewed in a subsequent post.

According to The Scientific American Brave New Brain, brain, mind, and body are separate. Now this was true quite some time ago. According to the National Geographic book, the ancient Egyptians thought the brain to be worthless, thinking that the heart contained the soul and the mind. Although there seemed to be some dispute regarding this among the ancient Greeks, Hippocrates wrote that “The eyes and ears and tongue and hands and feet do whatsoever the brain determines. It is the brain that is the messenger to the understanding [and] the brain that interprets the understanding.” So it was fairly long ago that it was believed that the brain and the body were linked.

Apparently, it was not until Descartes came along that the mind was addressed. His famous cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I am, made the mind central. External reality was not known directly but rather was interpreted in the mind. Good science, as well as successful negotiations with and in the environment are dependent upon our internal reality being in some correspondence with external reality. There still is some question as to what is meant by mind. Is it consciousness? What role does it play. Some might contend that consciousness is epiphenomenal, that it is like a movie playing in our head for our own entertainment. They would argue that the brain determines our decisions and behavior and that consciousness has no role. This is a rather extreme view that will be addressed in later posts. Brave New Brain contends that the current belief that brain, mind and body are intertwined and inseparable. That, indeed, is the current consensus.

Brave New Brain offers the conjecture that tomorrow brain, mind, and body are enhanced by machines and computers. Here a little thought might give rise to the question, “are not our brains and bodies already enhanced by machines and computers?” There are already seemingly countless machines aiding our bodies, and computers aiding our minds seem to be omnipresent. I believe that Brave New Brain is offering the conjecture of sci-fi type interventions of machines and computers along the lines of Kurzweil’s singularity.3 Kurzweil believes that in the near future technology will advance to the point where silicon chips will replace neurons, that we shall transcend biology and become effectively immortal. Kurzweil himself has change his lifestyle and diet to extend his life to the point where technology will be ready to take over before he dies.

It should be noted that an enormous leap is involved here. We have the conscious experience of our own senses and minds. And we can look at electronic recordings of our minds and senses and view brain images of our mind and senses. Nevertheless, we have no understanding of how this occurs other than to say our consciousness is an emergent phenomenon. Whether consciousness will emerge from silicon is a very large question indeed.

1Horstman, J. (2010). San Francisco” Jossey-Bass.

2Sweeney, M.S. (2010). Brain The Complete Mind: How It Develops, How It Works, and How to Keep It Sharp.

3Kurzweil, R. (2006). The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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