Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Mind-Body Problem: The Brain as filter for universal Mind

The official scientific view of humans is we are just lumps of meat and consciousness is just a side effect of a ferment of activity in a certain part of any given lump of meat. There is however an increasing body of evidence that indicates mind is not just activity in the meat we call our brain.
Kastrup [1] presents an overview of the filter theory of consciousness. Kastrup is not concerned with quantum physics but the filter theory is consistent with the requirements Dossey cites theoretical physicists as claiming to be essential features of mind required by quantum physics. It may also be consistent with the notion that a complex 8 dimensional space time metric known as Complex Minkowski Space may offer some explanation of Psychic Phenomena [3[.
The filter theory of consciousness explains not only why mental events are normally correlated with neural activity but also helps explain those times where mental activity seems to be independent of the brain and indeed of space time. Normally mental experience is strongly correlated to brain state. There is a lot of evidence that under unusual conditions this correlation breaks down which suggests either that the brain does not cause all mental experience, or, and Kastrup considers this more likely, that the brain is not the cause of mental states.
This is consistent with a view this author has held for a long time, that the brain is an interface used by the mind to drive the body, a notion consistent with the apparent hijacking of subjects's free will by using electrodes connected to the brain to control a subject's muscles contrary to their will: such an experiment is like remotely controlling a car that is normally under driver control.

Free will and the Unconscious

The idea the mind is not an epiphenomenon of neural activity is consistent with experiments Libet carried out which showed that the unconscious mind could initiate a voluntary action [4] . His experiments do not show that free will is an illusion, merely that at times the will that produces an action is that of the “unconscious” mind, not the conscious mind: the term “unconscious” here presupposes something about the part of the mind. that initiates the action. Many people are aware of doing things without knowing why. Sometimes these actions seem irrational but turn out to have a reason. For example one famous hunter of the early 20th century was noticed that while walking along a road in India he had crossed to the other side and back again. The next day he retraced his steps and found that where he had crossed a tiger had been resting by the roadside. He concluded that his unconscious mind had noticed signs a tiger was there and had made him cross the road to avoid the risk. It seem difficult to accept that the “unconscious” is truly unconscious in the normal sense and perhaps it is better to talk of Primary and Secondary consciousness. If that approach is taken the secondary consciousness would be of a different kind from the Primary consciousness and not be limited by space and time as indicated by the cases mentioned in [5] . The different quality of secondary consciousness would explain why its workings are not normally accessible to Primary consciousness. In many ways the unconscious is like a second person in the body who behaves as a polite guest . Most of the time. But, like having the Queen of England living in your house, occasionally they can demand certain actions of you.

Mind and Neurons

Brain states and mental experience normally go together. A pint of Beer changes both your mental state and the state of the brain. Stimulating some parts of the brain alter ones subjective experience. But for all the evidence of correlation between brain state and subjective experience correlation is not causation. Brain state may cause Subjective experience or vice versa, or both may be caused by a third event. Large numbers of firefighters tend to appear at large fires, but that does not mean the firefighters caused the fire.


Problems with Materialism

The materialist view is that our subjective experience is caused by the state of the brain. The precise nature of the map between brain states and mental experience is left unexamined. If experience arises from the firing of brain cells then it should be possible to link experience to the firing of certain sets of brain cells. Kastrup notes that observations show an inconsistent or even contradictory association. This can perhaps be explained by assuming that experience is produced by the firing of a subset of all the cells that fire when the subject is experiencing something. This is already getting messy as an explanation. Furthermore some neuroscientists think experience originates from unobservable quantum processes in structures known as microtubules.
One major problem with the materialist view, is that it is impossible even in principle, to deduce the properties of a mental experience from the properties of matter. This is known as the explanatory gap or the hard problem of consciousness. Since it is impossible to determine a mapping between neurons and mental experience any mapping is as good or as bad as another and can be used to support the materialist paradigm. Or presumably to attack it. It is not therefore possible to claim that observations support the materialist paradigm. Kastrup concludes that materialism does not at present provide a causal chain from matter to mind or an explanatory framework for the mind body problem.
There are many atheists who hold to the materialist view point more as a matter of Religion than Science. Indeed many of them feel that to abandon the materialist viewpoint would validate Religion, something against which they revolted at an early age. Leiter [6] says of skeptics he has observed
‘‘Each one who has disclosed personal details of their formative years, say up to their early 20’s, has had an unfortunate experience with a faith-based philosophy, most often a conventional major religion. Very often their family or community has (almost forcibly) imposed this philosophy on them at a very early age; but then as they matured, they threw off this philosophy with a vengeance, vowing at a soul level never to be so victimized again.”
It therefore seems plausible that the materialist paradigm is not embraced on purely rational grounds by the Scientific Community, and that deviant observations like those mentioned by Kastrup are ignored in an effort to minimise cognitive dissonance.

The Filter Theory

Even in the early days of Quantum Theory it proved impossible to remove the consciousness of the observer from an experiment. Kastrup cites other researchers as having found powerful physical evidence that nothing physical can be explained independently of the associated mental experience. Consciousness cannot therefore be derived from matter but must be an irreducible fundamental entity. This shows that militant atheists are right to fear any evidence that threatens the materialist view for it raises the possibility of a “Mind Before Matter” universe[7] and the possibility Religion may be “true”, for if consciousnss is fundamental and irreducible Mind must exist before and indeed be able to exist independently of matter.
But if this is the case why are mental states and brain states so strongly correlated MOST of the time?
The Filter Hypothesis is that the role of the brain is to localise consciousness, pinning it to the space-time region of the body so that Mind is “Trapped in Time and Sealed by Thought” [8]. The brain therefore adjusts perception in accordance with the situation of the body in order to further survival of the body.
When not localised by the brain consciousness is unbound and it may be able to travel anywhere or anywhen or further.
Kastrup considers the brain as an evolutionary mechanism to capture, constrain, and put to use an otherwise unbound and irreducible aspect of nature: subjective experience itself, just as plants evolved to capture sunlight and use it for their own ends. Of course there is the logical possibility that consciousness decided to create brains for some unknown purpose, but this possibility cannot be examined here: it would open too many cans of worms.
The Filter Hypothesis implies that the brain SELECTS conscious experience in terms primarily of the needs of the body. This relates to some earlier speculations by the Author [9] that the universe may be like a multiple image hologram and the brain selects the “angle” at which it is viewed. It leaves open the question of how the brain selects experience for psychological needs, particularly dysfunctional ones.
The Filter Hypothesis implies all possible experiences ( possible worlds in Quantum Theoretic terminology) exist already and are merely selected by the brain. The brain processes that are normally correlated with mental experience are just the traces of the filtering at work, just as the activity of circuits in a television are the traces of the machine selecting a particular channel.
For there to be a survival advantage the Mind must also be able to affect brain structurem and there is evidence this is the case. Kastrup cites experiments where subjacts have been able to reverse brain pathologies just by directing conscious intent, and in The Shallows Nicholas Carr points out that simply using the internet or driving a taxi alters the structure of the brain. Such a feedback loop is difficult to contemplate, perhaps even paradoxical, in the materialist paradigm, but straightforward in the prior-consciousness paradigm.
This phenomenon, known as “self directed neuroplasticity” should be like a red rag to a bull to materialist skeptics because it weakens arguments against psychokinesis.


Predictions from the theory

Kastrup makes the following predictions for the Filter Hypothesis.
  1. Since each brain selects only a small subset of possible experience the rest becomes the unconscious and since the amount selected is infinitesimal compares with the amount rejected, the unconscious will be almost identical for all brains therefore there is a collective unconscious.
  2. Transpersonal non-local subjective experiences may happen when certain brain processes are interrupted or deactivated.
Both predictions contradict the materialist paradigm. The second prediction is consistent with the experience of meditation students who find they develop psychic powers, and with that of those who go on shamanic journeys. Meditation students are advised to ignore these powers because they may seduce the student and reinforce the ego not help dissolve it.

The Wrap

The Materialist mind-body paradigm is not supported by observations. Further it has foundational problems such as the hard problem of consciousness.
By contrast the Filter Theory is supported by observations, does not raise the hard problem of consciousness, though the mechanism of interaction between consciousness and the brain is unclear ( morphic resonance may be a step forward in this direction), explains those mental experiences not correlated with brain activity and why consciousness and the brain are so tightly correlated MOST of the time.
The theory has a lot going for it and deserves further investigation.

Further reading

[1] A Paradigm-Breaking Hypothesis for Solving the Mind-Body Problem, Bernardo Kastrup, Paranthropology 3 (3) July 2012 page 4
[2] Space, Time and Medicine: Larry Dossey, Shambhala Publications Inc (1 April 1982)
[3] The Speed of Thought: Investigation of a Complex Space-Time Metric to Describe Psychic Phenomena ELIZABETH A. RAUSCHER AND RUSSELL TARG Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 15, No. 3, pp. 331–354, 2001
[4] Scientific evidence that you probably don’t have free will
[5] Sorcery: J. Finley Hurley Routledge & Kegan Paul 1985 ISBN 0-7102-0292-X
[6] Organized Skepticism Revisited, L. DAVID LEITER, Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 18, No. 4, pp. 661–664, 2004
[7| The Secret History of the World, Jonathan Black, Quercus; 2 edition (29 July 2010)
[8] This is a line from a track on Arthur Brown's album Galactic Zoo Dossier
[9| The Holographic multiverse
[10] The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember
Nicolas Carr, Atlantic Books (1 July 2011)
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