Consciousness & the Brain

No holds barred discussion on the Buddhadharma. Argue about rebirth, karma, commentarial interpretations etc. Be nice to each other.

Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Bhusuku » Wed May 30, 2012 12:23 am

Thanks, Malcolm! I thought as much...
I really hope you'll share more of your translations, otherwise I'll have to hurry up with learning tibetan :reading:
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby dharmagoat » Wed May 30, 2012 12:44 am

Acchantika wrote:
dharmagoat wrote:But neuroscience has revealed how so much of a person's mental functioning can be attributed to specific brain activity.

No-one has disputed this.

Dechen Norbu wrote:Of course the brain is deeply related with mental functions, but the materialist conclusion doesn't follow. Experiment with your TVset. Remove a few components and see what happens. Tweak them hard and measure the results. Then happily conclude that the TVset is producing the information instead of transmitting it, shout it to the world, and end up looking like a clueless git. Well, this is what materialistically minded scientists are doing. I'm not saying this is what happens with consciousness, because it's more complicated than that, but it serves to show how your conclusion doesn't follow.

It is my understanding that Dechen Norbu rejects any evidence suggesting that the brain produces mental events, believing instead that the brain acts in a more passive role. I am surprised that he accepts the idea that "mental functioning can be attributed to specific brain activity", instead of merely being associated with it.

Jnana wrote:
dharmagoat wrote:Bugger the conclusions. The raw data is convincing enough.

Okay, what raw data? And what does it convince you of?

The raw data of fMRI scans showing a correlation between activity in specific areas of the brain and certain mental functions is convincing of mental events being produced by the brain. The fact that these same correlations occur in reverse when certain parts of the brain are stimulated indicates that the brain is creating these events and not simply channeling them.

If consciousness is being equated with awareness and therefore considered to be distinct from mental function then there is no disagreement. However, it would appear that a number of posters consider consciousness to relate to mental phenomena in general.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Wayfarer » Wed May 30, 2012 2:03 am

dharmagoat wrote:The raw data of fMRI scans showing a correlation between activity in specific areas of the brain and certain mental functions is convincing of mental events being produced by the brain.


Pardon me for interjecting, I am new here, but I have a question about this point.

When you say 'raw data', what is being referred to? Presumably, these are such things as images on x-ray films or on computer monitors, are they not? They are like diagrammatic representations of neurological activity, aren't they? Dots on a screen, or on a film?

So, in themselves, these are not 'thoughts', are they? They are interpreted by observers who are very skilled in neurobiology and so on, who impute certain meanings to this data, and who claim there is a correlation between the data and the act of thinking.

Without this act of imputation, the 'raw data' itself has no particular connection to a brain, except insofar as an observer is able to make these connections via the interpretive act.

So I often wonder, how is this data any more representative of what the act of thought really is, than any other symbolic representation, even language itself. Here too, in order to establish the connection between the symbol and the referent, there needs to be an interpretive act.

But it seems to me that this interpretive act is never something that is revealed in the raw data.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Dechen Norbu » Wed May 30, 2012 2:18 am

dharmagoat wrote:
Acchantika wrote:
dharmagoat wrote:But neuroscience has revealed how so much of a person's mental functioning can be attributed to specific brain activity.

No-one has disputed this.

Dechen Norbu wrote:Of course the brain is deeply related with mental functions, but the materialist conclusion doesn't follow. Experiment with your TVset. Remove a few components and see what happens. Tweak them hard and measure the results. Then happily conclude that the TVset is producing the information instead of transmitting it, shout it to the world, and end up looking like a clueless git. Well, this is what materialistically minded scientists are doing. I'm not saying this is what happens with consciousness, because it's more complicated than that, but it serves to show how your conclusion doesn't follow.

It is my understanding that Dechen Norbu rejects any evidence suggesting that the brain produces mental events, believing instead that the brain acts in a more passive role. I am surprised that he accepts the idea that "mental functioning can be attributed to specific brain activity", instead of merely being associated with it.

Jnana wrote:
dharmagoat wrote:Bugger the conclusions. The raw data is convincing enough.

Okay, what raw data? And what does it convince you of?

The raw data of fMRI scans showing a correlation between activity in specific areas of the brain and certain mental functions is convincing of mental events being produced by the brain. The fact that these same correlations occur in reverse when certain parts of the brain are stimulated indicates that the brain is creating these events and not simply channeling them.

If consciousness is being equated with awareness and therefore considered to be distinct from mental function then there is no disagreement. However, it would appear that a number of posters consider consciousness to relate to mental phenomena in general.

Qualia dude, qualia... the brain produces molecules and interactions between cells, not mental events.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Acchantika » Wed May 30, 2012 2:35 am

dharmagoat wrote:
Acchantika wrote:
dharmagoat wrote:But neuroscience has revealed how so much of a person's mental functioning can be attributed to specific brain activity.

No-one has disputed this.

Dechen Norbu wrote:Of course the brain is deeply related with mental functions, but the materialist conclusion doesn't follow. Experiment with your TVset. Remove a few components and see what happens. Tweak them hard and measure the results. Then happily conclude that the TVset is producing the information instead of transmitting it, shout it to the world, and end up looking like a clueless git. Well, this is what materialistically minded scientists are doing. I'm not saying this is what happens with consciousness, because it's more complicated than that, but it serves to show how your conclusion doesn't follow.

It is my understanding that Dechen Norbu rejects any evidence suggesting that the brain produces mental events, believing instead that the brain acts in a more passive role. I am surprised that he accepts the idea that "mental functioning can be attributed to specific brain activity", instead of merely being associated with it.


I didn't mean to speak for anyone else. If you are equating attributed to with reducible to then yes, there is much dispute about that. Neural correlates don't signify neural reduction; that's why they are called neural correlates, after all. Evidence for them is not the same as "evidence suggesting the brain produces mental events" - cum hoc ergo propter hoc.

Also, you removed the qualifier "so much of" to imply "all". This changes the statement quite a lot; versed this way, it is indeed disputed.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby dharmagoat » Wed May 30, 2012 6:35 am

jeeprs wrote:So, in themselves, these are not 'thoughts', are they? They are interpreted by observers who are very skilled in neurobiology and so on, who impute certain meanings to this data, and who claim there is a correlation between the data and the act of thinking.

The subject is either reporting a particular mental state when the scan is made, or is performing a specific mental task, so there is no need to interpret what the subject is experiencing based on the data. The 'thoughts' are part of the data.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Wayfarer » Wed May 30, 2012 6:42 am

still reckon it is not a thought, until a subject thinks it, and that subject is never amongst 'the raw data'. :smile:

Until that moment, then 'a neural event' is no more a thought than the words which say 'this is a thought'.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby dharmagoat » Wed May 30, 2012 6:52 am

Acchantika wrote: Neural correlates don't signify neural reduction; that's why they are called neural correlates, after all. Evidence for them is not the same as "evidence suggesting the brain produces mental events" - cum hoc ergo propter hoc.

Interesting... Wikipedia says this:
The form of the post hoc fallacy can be expressed as follows:
A occurred, then B occurred.
Therefore, A caused B.

But I have already indicated that the correlation between brain activity and mental state is a two-way relationship: A occurred concurrently with B; B occurred concurrently with A. One does not need to read philosophy to see that this is quite different. According to my reckoning it implies that A and B are one and the same.

Acchantika wrote:Also, you removed the qualifier "so much of" to imply "all". This changes the statement quite a lot; versed this way, it is indeed disputed.

Hair-splitting.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Acchantika » Wed May 30, 2012 11:32 am

dharmagoat wrote:
A occurred, then B occurred.
Therefore, A caused B.

But I have already indicated that the correlation between brain activity and mental state is a two-way relationship: A occurred concurrently with B; B occurred concurrently with A. One does not need to read philosophy to see that this is quite different. According to my reckoning it implies that A and B are one and the same.


Except that when we remove the part of the brain correlated with the activity, you can still do it, or learn to do it using a different part. Therefore, A and B are not one and the same if A's job can be done by C and still result B.

As Dechen alluded to, in either case you have created a bigger problem than what you set out to solve and violated parsimony. The consequence of which is that the equation is meaningless. If you cannot show how something quantitative and non-conscious becomes something qualitative and conscious then by trying to solve a problem of neuroscience you have created one of ontology and metaphysics. If they are different, what is their relationship? If they are they same, why do they share no properties? If one emerges, is it causative or not? If not, why posit it? If it is, we now have a second mechanism of interaction to explain, before we have explained the first yada yada yada
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Dexing » Wed May 30, 2012 12:40 pm

Acchantika wrote:
dharmagoat wrote:
A occurred, then B occurred.
Therefore, A caused B.

But I have already indicated that the correlation between brain activity and mental state is a two-way relationship: A occurred concurrently with B; B occurred concurrently with A. One does not need to read philosophy to see that this is quite different. According to my reckoning it implies that A and B are one and the same.


Except that when we remove the part of the brain correlated with the activity, you can still do it, or learn to do it using a different part. Therefore, A and B are not one and the same if A's job can be done by C and still result B.


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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Acchantika » Wed May 30, 2012 1:14 pm

Dexing wrote:
Acchantika wrote:
Except that when we remove the part of the brain correlated with the activity, you can still do it, or learn to do it using a different part. Therefore, A and B are not one and the same if A's job can be done by C and still result B.

*video*


Yes, this is an example of what I was referring to.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby dharmagoat » Wed May 30, 2012 2:24 pm

Acchantika wrote:As Dechen alluded to, in either case you have created a bigger problem than what you set out to solve and violated parsimony. The consequence of which is that the equation is meaningless. If you cannot show how something quantitative and non-conscious becomes something qualitative and conscious then by trying to solve a problem of neuroscience you have created one of ontology and metaphysics. If they are different, what is their relationship? If they are they same, why do they share no properties? If one emerges, is it causative or not? If not, why posit it? If it is, we now have a second mechanism of interaction to explain, before we have explained the first yada yada yada

Fair cop. My suggestion that mental function and brain activity are "one and the same" was an expedient I didn't expect to get away with. How about "two aspects of the same process?" The important distinction to make is that the two arise mutually, i.e. where there is one there is always the other. Conversely, no brain activity means no mental events, and no mental events means no brain activity. Causation does not occur because neither is causing the other, and any equation describing their relationship will be meaningless.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby dharmagoat » Wed May 30, 2012 2:40 pm

Acchantika wrote:Except that when we remove the part of the brain correlated with the activity, you can still do it, or learn to do it using a different part. Therefore, A and B are not one and the same if A's job can be done by C and still result B.

Let me be specific for a moment. It has been established that a small area on the frontal lobe of the left hemisphere known as Broca's Area is directly associated with language production. When a test subject is engaged in speech, activity in this area can be clearly seen. When this area is electrically stimulated its primary effect is to interfere with the subjects ability to speak. Although examples like this are very useful to demonstrate how mental function and brain activity are directly linked, the organization of the brain is seldom this obvious.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Bhusuku » Wed May 30, 2012 3:45 pm

dharmagoat wrote:It has been established that a small area on the frontal lobe of the left hemisphere known as Broca's Area is directly associated with language production. When a test subject is engaged in speech, activity in this area can be clearly seen. When this area is electrically stimulated its primary effect is to interfere with the subjects ability to speak.


I really don't know much about neuroscience, but AFAIK, the exact location of the Wernicke area has also been established for more than 100 years. Neuroscientists tested this area in similar ways to the test you mention regarding the Broca's area, and the results of these tests were seen as further compelling evidence for the function and exact location of the Wernicke area. However, just very recently they realized that they got the location of this area wrong by about 3 centimeters. How can that happen if these tests are so clear and unambiguous? And if neuroscience has to revise things they were certain about for more than 100 years, isn't it very likely that many other things they currently regard as facts will have to be revised sooner or later as well?
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby dharmagoat » Wed May 30, 2012 4:13 pm

Bhusuku wrote:I really don't know much about neuroscience, but AFAIK, the exact location of the Wernicke area has also been established for more than 100 years. Neuroscientists tested this area in similar ways to the test you mention regarding the Broca's area, and the results of these tests were seen as further compelling evidence for the function and exact location of the Wernicke area. However, just very recently they realized that they got the location of this area wrong by about 3 centimeters. How can that happen if these tests are so clear and unambiguous?

Having not yet done any background reading, I can only guess as to why the exact location of Wernicke's area has not yet been established. For a start, I expect that these areas of the brain are not as clearly defined in terms of their function as we see them in diagrams. The boundaries would be very vague and subject to interpretation, and there is likely to be a large variation across the population of test subjects.

If you find a link that answers your question, please post it.

Edit: It looks as though the location Wernicke's area has been revised simply because the new methods are so clear and unambiguous. Also, it appears that because brain imaging techniques are so straight-forward and non-invasive, they are now able to work with a much larger sample set.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby dharmagoat » Wed May 30, 2012 4:43 pm

Bhusuku wrote:...isn't it very likely that many other things they currently regard as facts will have to be revised sooner or later as well?

Invariably. That is what science does. It is a pity that religion doesn't do the same...

Here's a thought: Science is about new things, whereas religion is about old things. Why face backward when you could be facing forward?
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby undefineable » Wed May 30, 2012 8:43 pm

dharmagoat wrote:
Bhusuku wrote:...isn't it very likely that many other things they currently regard as facts will have to be revised sooner or later as well?

Invariably. That is what science does. It is a pity that religion doesn't do the same...

Here's a thought: Science is about new things, whereas religion is about old things. Why face backward when you could be facing forward?


Two aspects of the same thing? What about spirituality?

Most of us aren't really into this sciencereligion blah; human beings just yearn for a deeper understanding of their reality and seek it wherever their temperament feels the best chance of finding it. Neither science nor individual religions ever seem to see fit to revise their guiding principles (faith, experimentation, etc.), but atleast with religion-in-general you tend to see progress at that level as cultures advance, e.g. from the aryan gods through vedic Hinduism to to the progressive yanas of Buddhadharma as they unfolded (or alternatively to Advaita Vedanta). In fact, it's not always easy to see the links between the likes of Buddhism, the abrahamic religions, and old-time gung-ho paganism, whereas science (as opposed to quasi-RELIGIOUS philosophies inspired by scientific findings _ _ ) seems all of a piece.

As for eliminative materialism, few seem to see that it's just same old same old, still based on the natural desire to reach final conclusions that set the terms for life, the only difference being this time that enough (scientific) investigations have been collated to convince ourselves that we know how it all pieces together (despite the fact that only arguments based on empirical evidence, and none based on logic/intuition etc., are allowed). Compare: a) "There is no Reality But God (la ilaha la ilallah; Attributed to Sufism) with b) "There is no Reality but Matter" (Attributed to Science, ie. materialism, in the popular imagination). In both cases, the proposed single substance of Reality is described as mysterious (indescribable; only knowable by its properties/qualities etc.). In both cases, more inquisitive, clear-thinking types have long since gone beyond such simplistic cop-outs to propose, for example, that God might be the animating presence within all things, or that there are in fact no fundamental particles - and no matter but energy. Furthermore, I hope we can all reflect that anyone seeking peace of mind, particularly the light-heartedness that comes from believing that whatever course our actions take will have no long-term consequences for ourselves individually, will naturally find comfort in the belief that there is NO life after death. {Sometimes scientific findings are bound to support what people want to believe, despite the commonly-held mystical view that implies that it can't :rolling: }

I'm relieved that eventually the fact that Buddhism DOESN'T support an ordinary consciousness (i.e. a human/animal-level mind) absent a brain was remembered, information transfer from 'physical body' to 'mental body' (reconstituted from the 'subtle' anatomy of channels, winds and essences it's reckoned isn't it?) being a logical inference. Further to this, I don't see a problem with epiphenomenalism, except that a mind that can't influence the brain (via some kind of feedback loop of differing potential outcomes/decisions) eliminates karma.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Bhusuku » Wed May 30, 2012 9:55 pm

dharmagoat wrote:Here's a thought: Science is about new things, whereas religion is about old things. Why face backward when you could be facing forward?

Why not face to what's right here, right now?

undefineable wrote:(la ilaha la ilallah; Attributed to Sufism)

That's a standard Zikr. Sufis generally use "la ilaha illa hoo" (there is no god but him)
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby dharmagoat » Thu May 31, 2012 1:24 am

Bhusuku wrote:Why not face to what's right here, right now?

Good point. Of course. Thanks for the reminder.
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