THE CONSCIOUS MIND
(The Hard Problem)
In considering the problem of the nature of the mind it is first necessary to take up a firm position on certain points.
1) One must discard the Descartian view of the dual nature of mind and body. Mental events are inextricably bound up with neural events in the brain and do not occur in the absence of brain activity in quite specific areas.
For example take Prosopagnosia (The area for recognizing faces).
Destroy that specific area by using a toxic drug like "Ecstasy" and thoughts normally processed there, cease to exist.
2) The binding problem and the problem of consciousness may be two facets of essentially the same problem, as everything does come together in the mind.3) The problem of mind must somehow be solved within the framework of the known laws of physics. There must be emergent properties of matter and energy which explain the mind without contradicting known physical law.
It is possible that this view, (Number 3 above), is wrong and that there are physical phenomena awaiting discovery. One must put oneself in the mind set which existed in about 1990 with regard to the state of classical physics when it appeared that we had a complete set of fundamental laws. At that time the existence of the then unknown phenomena of radioactivity could not possibly have been predicted. This does leave open the possibility of the future discovery of entirely new phenomena. At the present time the problems which are troubling physicists most, are concerned with the unification of the known forces and with showing that they are all manifestations of a single force. They are concerned with reducing the number of fundamental forces, not with increasing them. They are also trying to obtain a better formulation of wave mechanics and quantum theory in order to make them more understandable and less self-contradictory. The mystery of the mind may well be related to the mysteries of quantum theory. We will have to get as far as we can with what we know.
As a tentative starting point we adopt the view that the mind is a product of the process of evolution and that it would not have evolved if it did not have a function in enhancing survival. (See A.G. Cairns-Smith - "Evolving the Mind.") The mind takes a real part in decision making rather than just being an onlooker.
There are contrary views about this. Gazzaniga and others have pointed out that with voluntary movement, the neural activity which initiates it, begins before the apparent decision to move enters consciousness, perhaps as long as half a second before. This has been cited as evidence that there is no real free will. This is not absolutely conclusive, because there is still the possibility of various processes going on in parallel, coming together later. There may be an editing process occurring later on, making the final decision. There is evidence of such an editing function shown by the Phi phenomenon.
The Phi phenomenon concerns the persistence of vision. When a light is turned on and off rapidly, with dark intervals of 50 microseconds or so, it is seen as a continuous light. I actually constructed and tested an apparatus which confirmed these findings. The particularly interesting phenomenon with which we are concerned here is described as follows:-
A red and a green light, which are close together, blink from one to the other quite rapidly. Due to the persistence of vision you see a continuous band of light between the two. It changes to the other color when it gets half way across. The curious thing here is that the change of color is perceived as occurring before the second light actually got switched on, and this will occur as a one off phenomenon, before the brain has had the opportunity of learning what is about to happen. Obviously the eye cannot predict the future. The explanation is that there is an editing process which puts the whole episode together later, with persistence of vision and all, before it is presented to the conscious mind. This is quite possible if you have various things going on at different rates in parallel channels. A preparation for movement could be initiated in one channel and a "Go" signal could come later on in a parallel channel. There is actually quite a long time for this to be happening. Reaction time in response to a stimulus is often as long as one half or even a full second. In other words, with the Phi phenomenon things appear to happen in an impossible order and the same could be true of the Gazzanega phenomena.
The view tentatively adopted here is that the conscious mind is indeed in control, it is not a mere epiphenomenon, an onlooker. One is then permitted to believe that consciousness is useful to the animal. My further analysis is predicated on that view but of course this may be wrong.
This implies that there must be an interaction between the mind and physical processes, of mind over matter. This in turn implies the operation of some kind of physical force exerted by mental processes which is capable of causing the movement of molecules.
As we are seeking an explanation without postulating any essentially new and altogether unknown physics, it follows that we must make use of the known physical forces. These are described as having fields and this implies action at a distance.
The known fields of force are four:-
We should mention the "Cosmological Constant" as a possible further force but its possible scale of action is far too great to be relevant. The Cosmological Constant is the repulsive force on an astronomical scale suggested by Einstein to explain the expansion of the universe. This will not be considered further. I do not feel competent to discuss the idea of an "Electroweak" force.
We also have Van der Waal's forces but they are probably just a manifestation of electrostatic forces due to the exact positioning of electrically charged molecules. Their range is too short to explain the integrative function of he separate sensory modalities.
It is just possible that some new aspect of force might come out of the struggle which is going on in order to find some new force which unifies all of the others into one, by showing that all of the others are different manifestations of the new force. One current theory is that of ten dimensional superstrings. Several of the ten dimensions in the theory go unused and they are considered to be very small and in some way curled up in themselves. Maybe some new force in a new dimension conceivably could be of the required scale to provide integration but I am not competent to comment on this. I will have to proceed without considering this further at present.
The strong nuclear force is too strong and of too short a range to be relevant. It acts at the range of about a nuclear diameter.
The weak nuclear force which is concerned with radioactive decay is also too strong and of too short a range to be helpful. Gravity is far too weak to do anything at all at this range. It should be mentioned that we cannot be sure that gravity still obeys the inverse square law at very short distances as no one has tested it at distances smaller than about a millimeter. However it is exceedingly unlikely that gravity is involved with our problem. Van der Waals forces have to be considered. They are rather weak attractive forces between atoms and molecules. They are presumably weak electrostatic forces due to irregularities in electrostatic fields at a very short range due to the positions of atoms. They are a remote possibility for the integrating function but one cannot see them as being of sufficient range to serve as an integrating force over a distance of several centimeters. Here I refer to the difficulty raised by Semir Zeki, which has already been mentioned. This is the fact that various attributes of vision (Color, Form, Movement) are processed into quite separate areas and there does not appear to be a "Master Center" above this which could provide integration.
So we are left with electromagnetic forces as the only possible candidate for the role of "The Mind Force" and for cerebral integration into topographic form. According to our knowledge at the present time, the only way that the mind could act on matter is through electromagnetic fields. The forces available are electrostatic and magnetic, and there is also electromagnetic radiation, which combines both. In the absence of any new forces we are obliged to conclude that the phenomena of mind are basically electromagnetic. We must now try to see where they could be fitted in with what we know. It is difficult to see where to fit them in with the electromagnetism of Clerk Maxwell. However there certainly is room for them somewhere within quantum theory. That theory has a severe locality problem and there is also a locality problem with the brain. It is now necessary review how we stand in the light of modern physics.