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In this document, readers will see that as evolution theories have given creationists something to contend with, neuroscience

is giving soul theorists a lot to think about.


Brain and Mind

A reconstituted excerpt from The Mystery of Mind Author: Peter M.K. Chan
All rights reserved

Nowadays, most of us would take for granted that it does not really take a soul to have a mind. To have a brain is already sufficient. The question is: how could something that looks like bean curd and ice cream actually become conscious, remember, and think? In the following, I will try and capture in one small nutshell what neuroscience has come to tell us about correlations between brain and mind. One good way to begin is to register a bit of scientific history. The first thing I should like to note is that no later than religious candles and joy sticks had begun to burn, certain ancient searchers for the material wherewithal of consciousness and mind were already quite busy with their work. It was at one time the opinion of some that as life is associated with the warmth of blood, what renders the body conscious must have something to do with the heart. But there were also others who had already managed to see that the cognitive aspect of a human being is in fact intimately associated with nerves and brain. One case in point is that the ancient Greek Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.) was already aware that brain degeneration destroys sanity. Another is that the Roman physician and physiologist Galen (129-199) had also

come to figure that consciousness must have something to do with the cerebrospinal fluid (or psychic pneuma as then called) that surrounds the brain and the spinal cord. It was also to his credit to have discovered that what conveys tactile information to the brain is a system of nerve fibers (nowadays known as the somatosensory nervous system), and that these are distinct from those that radiate from the brain by way of the spinal cord for muscle control (or the motor nervous system as it is now called). As a matter of fact, he already knew that while lesions in the former would produce localized tactile blindness, damage to the latter would bring about paralysis. In other words, he already had a general understanding that cognitive deficits of one kind or other are actually related to the neurophysiological infrastructures of the body-brain. But the significance this ancient bit of neurology was not generally appreciated until the 18th century or thereabouts when experimentation with living animal brains really came into its own. One of the first to make philosophical purchase was the French physiological psychologist, Julien Offray de La Mettrie (1709-1754). In addition to noting that the level of animal intelligence is closely associated with the size and complexity of brains, and that the difference between humans and other animals is not really one of kind but only of degree, he also ventured to suggest that the dependence of mind on brain is clear for all to see. Therefore, he concluded, there is no need for any other thinking substances other than brains to account for the wherewithal of consciousness and mind. About a century or so later, the German physician and physiologist Friedrich Buchner (1824-1899) also struck a similar theme. It is that since the effects of brain lesions and vivisections on animal behavior are already indisputable, the dependence of mind on brain is no longer something that could be denied.

Unfortunately, both of these modern materialist ventures were not very profitable. Under pressure from the then influential religious establishment, Le Mettrie was driven into exile, and Buchner was pushed from his professorial chair. So much for those who believed that they and they alone were dwellers in the kingdom of truth and love. But then, by the early decades of the 19th century, neurologists had also come to suspect that different parts of the animal brain might be responsible for different cognitive functions. Postmortem examination of the human brain, and brain surgery carried out a century or so later, also indicated that this is also true of the human brain. For instance, it was found that damage to some part of the somatosensory cortex (horizontally across the top of the brain) would produce loss of tactile sensations (of temperature, pressure, pain and so on). What was even more astounding is that stimulating this cortical area electrically would produce in the subject phantom bodily sensations. On the other hand, damage to the visual cortex (toward the back of the brain) would render a person visually impaired in one form or other. Similarly, lesions to the hippocampus (an inner or sub-cortical structure) would bring about varying degree of memory deficits or amnesia as called. It was findings such as these that had given rise to the belief that different cognitive functions are carried by different parts of the brain (Penfield 1975). This was also the root of what has come to be known as the functional center theory. (Readers who are not familiar with the basic infrastructure of the brain are advised to read footnote 5.1 before moving forward.) However, over the last fifty years or so, further probes and closer looks into the brain have led neurologists to believe that the correlations between

brain and mind are not really as straightforward and neat as the functional center theory suggested. To begin with, if the routing of some major neural pathways is anything to go by, what was once thought to be functional centers could also be construed as mere relay stations. For contrary to expectation, many sensory pathways just do not converge onto one specific location, but diverge and terminate in different parts of the brain. It is thus not easy to square this kind of routing design with the functional center theory. For another, with the coming on stream of sophisticated monitoring and imaging techniques, such as EEG (electro-encephalography) and MEG (magnetic-encephalography) capable of measuring neural activities in the brain by means of either scalp or implanted microelectrodes, as well as PET (positron emission tomography) and functional MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) capable of detecting changes in cerebral blood flow and glucose consumption; to identify the loci of on-going neural activities and map their interactive relationships is no longer a speculative exercise. For this reason, it has also become rather apparent to all concerned that the functional center theory could not possibly be right. For instance, as far as visual perception is concerned, it has come to be known that there are at least two separate neural pathways projecting from each of our eyes by way of the thalamus into the primary and secondary visual cortex (usually referred to as V1 and V2). But contrary to expectation, that is not where they terminate. Instead, they branch though other parts of the occipital cortex (of which V1 and V2 are only parts) and diverge further into two other locations altogether, namely, the parietal cortex (between the somatosensory and the visual cortex) on the one hand, and the temporal cortex (at the side of the brain) on the other. Another thing is that even though it is generally

known that bilateral loss of V1 (to both hemispheres) would mean total loss of sight, some blind patients concerned are yet able at times to avoid objects or even duck when something is thrown at them. This curious phenomenon and other variations of the same are generally referred to as blindsight. Lesion to other parts of the occipital cortex (V2 through V5) would also bring about other forms of visual deficits, such as failure to see motion or loss of color vision. Of particular interest is what is known as the discotheque effect. Sufferers of this defect are not able to see continuous motion. What they see are seemingly momentary and disconnected events. And lesion to part of the temporal cortex is also known to be associated with the inability to recognize objects, including once familiar faces. What this means is that the holistic function of sight is not really carried by just one single contiguous cortical area as previously thought. As far as imaging techniques are now able to tell, seeing actually involves the simultaneous activation of as many as thirty cortical areas of various sizes. It is becoming rather clear therefore that each of these may only be responsible for the cognition of one aspect of a visual experience, such as color, shape, motion, brightness, and so on. Even though such considerations do not necessarily negate the fact that what is usually refer to as the primary visual cortex is still the dominant receiver cum relay station, it certainly means that for any holistic visual experience to occur, the interactive participation of many other neuronal assemblies in some neighboring parts of the brain need also be involved. As it turned out, this kind of associative partnership also appears to be the style of other neuronal operations. The reception of tactile information, such as the feelings of touch, pressure, pain, temperature, limb position and so on, also appears not to be the work of just

the somatosensory cortex. Other neuronal areas and clusters are also known to be involved. What goes for sight and touch goes also for other cognitive functions. For instance, it is now known that the hippocampus is involved more with episodic memory. Although bilateral hippocampal lesion (to both sides of the brain) has left some sufferers permanently incapable of recalling events, their procedural memory or know-how has yet remained intact. Not only that, it is also suspected that long-term episodic memory might have something to do with the temporal lobe as well. Short-term or working memory, on the other hand, appears to be associated more with the frontal and the prefrontal cortexes. Injury to or degeneration of these areas may deprive a person of his ability to keep tract of the immediate past and its relevance. It all goes to show that the function of memory too is not carried by just one specific location in the brain. Conversely, it also means that many anatomical parts of the brain are not specifically responsible for just one specific cognitive task. For instance, the language cortex on the left frontal lobe, known to involve with speech, is also found to have something to do with behavioral sequencing. Damage to this part of the brain would bring about difficulty not only with speech, but also with bodily movements. The cerebellum, long believed to be concerned with the coordination of bodily motion, is found also to be involved in the learning of other skills. Likewise, the basal ganglia (the malfunctioning of which is implicated in Parkinsons and other diseases) is not only involved with the execution of bodily moments, but other cognitive tasks as well. Similarly, the hippocampus, long believed to be the consolidator of episodic memory, is now also thought of as serving many other functions. Furthermore, the neural wherewithal of declarative memory is also found to be rather complicated. As we are now told, in addition to the

hippocampus, it may involve the prefrontal cortex and the language areas as well. The message is therefore this. There are no functional specialists in the brain. All major organs of the brain are generalists of sorts, with hands on more than one job. As it turned out, this new way of thinking about how the brain works is also found to be consistent with the fact that no major structures of the brain is composed of just one type of neurons, but many types and sub-types suitable for different functions and purposes. What can be concluded from all these is not just that the functional center theory is not fine-grained enough. But more importantly, that cognition is not a location business. It is associated rather with processes interactive between various neuronal structures that are located in different parts of the brain. Thus, for what neuroscience is now able to tell, it is no longer to be taken for granted that where the brain first receives and relays must also be where it gets. Rather, the cognitive aspect of a person is to be seen as being realized upon the joint effort of many neuronal groups and the interactive processes of their extensive routing systems. (Once again, readers should see Footnotes 5.2 on the nature of neurons and their synaptic connections before moving forward.) The eural Correlates of Consciousness For what neuroscience is now also able to tell, the most noticeable difference between a conscious and an unconscious brain is cerebral blood flow and glucose consumption. These are globally reduced in all types of unconscious brains. That explains why if we want to make somebody unconscious, a tight neck-lock, as I am sure you know, should be able to do the job. Surgeons of course have their more fanciful ways of rendering their

patients unconscious. As we are told, surgical unconsciousness is brought about by the incapacitation of neurons that constitute what is known as the reticular formation of the medulla on the brain stem. It is by putting more and more of these neurons out of work that one would begin to lose sensation before sliding gradually into surgical unconsciousnesswhen breathing would have to be sustained with the help of artificial respirator. And if this situation were allowed to persist indefinitely, a person could descend into coma and eventually die. As a matter of fact, experimentations on animals and other clinical evidence have also shown that lesion or serious damage to this part of the brain stem would also bring about the same effect. From what has also come to light, a number of neuronal formations (clusters of neurons) on the brain stem are actually associated with the ups and downs of consciousness, including dreams and unconscious sleep. Some of them would fire in a steady and continuous manner when an animal is awake, and stop firing when the animal falls asleep. Others would produce a sudden burst of firing whenever the animal enters a novel environment or when something unexpected happens. In either case, such firings would release, by way of a web of far reaching nerve fibers (or axons as called) a variety of crucial chemicals (also known as neuromodulators) to the sub-cortical as well as the cortical regions of the brain. Of some of these chemicals concerned, seretonin is known to be indispensable for sleep. An inadequate supply of which is link to the propensity for hallucination (the seeing of ghosts for instance) as well as manic depression. Similarly, while a decrease of actylcholine is known to be associated with dreamless sleep, its increase is essential to the transition from dreamless to dream sleep and eventually the return to wakefulness. On the

other hand, dopamine is known to be associated with general arousal and restlessness. Its deficiency would invite Parkinsons disease. Even though the exact function of each of these neural chemicals or combinations of such is still not fully understood, it is generally accepted that this dispensing activity of the brain stem is intimately associated with the coming and going of consciousness. However, this is not to say that the ground zero and wherewithal of consciousness has thus been identified. For what is already known of those who are brain-dead, it is quite evident that in the absence of many other working and interactive neuronal structures, all that could be had from the brain stem alone is nothing more than just a vegetable kind of existence. To that extent, the most that could be said is that in addition to its being indispensable for many critical biological functions (respiration, heart beat, and so on), the dispensing activities of the brain stem are indeed essential for the realization of consciousness. But as we all know, an essential condition is not necessarily a sufficient condition. For the best of what neuroscience is now able to determine, the neural correlates of consciousness are indeed very complicated. Many would agree that the most comprehensive attempt toward identifying the neural basis for many of our cognitive functions is that of Gerald Edelman. The seat of consciousness, he says, is confined within the perimeter of neuronal interactions between the cortex and the thalamus. For this reason, this proposal of his has also come to be known as the corticothamalus hypothesis. Readers will note that the site earmarked is quite a large chunk of the brain, encompassing many of what was once believed to be functional centers. Several reasons are offered for the hypothesis.

For one thing, this is the arena where the cortex appears to interact intensely with the sub-cortical structures, thus making it an ideal kind of place for the coming together of internal hedonistic conditions and sensory inputs from the environment. For another, the thalamus, which is long suspected to be a central hub of the brain, is not only the first port of call for the various sensory inputs, but is also very well connected with different areas of the cortex. For what has also come to be known, as many cortical areas (which are themselves interconnected) sink their axonal conduits into the thalamus, the thalamus also sends projections back directly to the areas concerned, forming what may be construed as a multi-circuit direct communication system. In Edelmans view therefore, what appears to be at work here is a kind of reverberating interactive system in which what happens to one part of the system will automatically be propagated to its other parts and vice versa. Further, it is also Edelmans view that since thousands of neuronal groups and their processes from different parts of the brain are involved therein, it is also to be expected that the rhythms of this system must be highly diverse and not likely to be synchronized. For instance, it is known that while neurons in the sensory areas usually fire at high rates, those in the prefrontal cortex are more restrictive in their range of firing. This kind of diversity, according to Edelman, is what conscious experience requires, i.e., in stark contrast with the high amplitude and synchronous EEG patterns as recorded during epileptic seizure and unconscious dreamless sleep. But Edelman is careful to emphasize that not every neural happening within the corticothalamus system must necessarily be an instantiation of consciousness. In his opinion, only those processes that are sustaining and fast enough to integrate within

fractions of a second are likely to have the chance of realizing consciousness. It is therefore more likely that only a subset of activities in this dynamic system is directly efficacious for consciousness. That is also to say, while any group of neurons within it may sometimes be efficacious for consciousness, it may also at other times contribute only to processes of the unconscious or subconscious kind. What this means is that the ground zero of consciousness, or dynamic core as he called, is likely to vary continuously in accordance with the rapidly shifting relationships among the neuronal groups and assemblies concerned. It is therefore not to be assumed that consciousness has got to occur in any one fixed location within the brain. (Edelman and Tononi 2000) The eural Correlates of Memory As to the neural wherewithal of memory, much has also come to light in the last fifty years or so when open brain surgery came into its own. Such a drastic procedure, as we are told, is still the most effective way of dealing with serious brain injuries brought about by stroke, car accidents, or gunshot wounds. Further, for reason that such damages incurred are usually rather messy and likely to involve more than just one region or part of the brain, it is necessary for neural surgeons to stimulate parts of the brain electrically to try and ascertain the extent of cognitive damage (as per cognitive response or lack of such by the patient) before they put their knife and other equipments really to work. The neurologist Wilder Penfield was a pioneer in this technique. In the 1960s, as the story is still being told, Penfield discovered that stimulating a certain area of the cortex (the temporal lobe) would result in patients undergoing dream-like experiences. Some of these were

reported to be vivid recollections of events in the past. As a matter of fact, when Penfield stimulated the front-surface regions of the temporal lobes on several occasions, some patients concerned reported that they seemed to be reliving some of their past experiences. One of the patients, for instance, recalled being in her kitchen listening to her young son playing outside. She was also aware of neighborhood noises including those of passing cars. But the most impressive example must belong to a young woman who heard a song being played with instruments. What is even more surprising was that whenever the same area was stimulated, she heard the same song. The music was so clear to her that she thought that it was phonograph music being played in the operating theatre At the time, in consonant with the then prevailing functional center theory, many were led to believe that the neural seat of memory had come to be located. However, other investigations have shown that stimulating the same spot does not necessarily bring about the same experience. Not only that, stimulating other sites may also re-enact other type of experiences. There is therefore reason to believe that the neural grid of memory is really located in any one place, but rather distributed here and there throughout the brain. For what has also come to be known, the hippocampus is one of those neural structures that are critical for memory formation. This was dramatically and tragically brought to light in the 1950s by a young patient who was severely epileptic. For purpose of arresting his condition, his hippocampus on both sides of his brain was removed. As a result, although cured of epilepsy, it was found that even though his memory of events prior to the operation was intact, new experiences were yet quickly forgotten. In other words, his short-term memory had become totally impaired. However, he was

still able to learn new skills, except that he would have no memories of having practiced on any such skills before. What he had lost is now usually referred to as declarative memory. His procedural memory, which is known to be associated with other neural structures, such as the motor areas, the cerebellum, and the basal ganglia, was not affected. So, there we are, such are the neural correlates of memory. Taking out any of these neuronal assemblies or their interconnections will have direct consequences on what can or cannot be recalled. That raises a couple of interesting question. Why is it that an electric probe is able to activate the recall of experiences by the brain? How does the memory of anything get to be retained in the brain? An answer to these questions must begin with the fact that almost a century ago, the Spanish neuroanatomist Ramon y Cajal was the first to suggest that learning might have something to do with the strengthening of connections between neurons. But this suggestion was not seriously taken up until the 1940s when the neuropsychologist, Donald Hebb, came onto the scene. He discovered that neurons in a disc (a bit of brain in vat) could still respond to stimulation; and that the more frequently the stimulus is applied, the easier it would be for the neurons to activate. Furthermore, if the same stimulus were to be maintained, the response of these brain cells would also become easier to solicit. They tend, as it were, to take on certain inclinations or dispositions to activate. Hebb called this conditioning effect consolidation. And it was on this basis that he further proposed that learning and therefore memory must have something to do with the conditionality of neurons or assembles of such to either intense or repeated stimulation.

Something else along this same line has since also come to light. It is that when stimulation is administered for an extended period of time, the excitability of certain neurons, as well as their overall rhythm, can actually be sustained to last for hours, and in some cases, as we are told, even days. This is particularly true of neurons from such places as the hippocampus. This phenomenon has since also come to be known as long-term potentiation (see footnote 5.3 for related details). But the message is still the same. It is the peculiar nature of neurons to become more in tune with or operationally biased toward stimulus to which they are accustomed. Of this phenomenon, its underlying neurochemical mechanism is also by now fairly well understood. What activation of a sustaining kind excites, at the level of neurons, is the influx and efflux of ions across the cell membrane. It is processes such as these that dictate the actual potential (or propensity to activate) of the neuron concerned. For what neuroscience is now able to tell, it is in situations such as this that plugs of the cell membrane could be opened such that not just sodium, but other elements such as calcium would also flood into the cell. And calcium in particular, as we are also told, is a very powerful and versatile agent. It promotes many activities inside the cell body. As a consequence of this kind of intrusion therefore, it is quite likely that certain other cellular mechanisms could also be triggered, bringing about other change in the overall synaptic activities of a neuron. It also means that alteration of this kind is bound to reset the synaptic propensity of a neuron, or the orientation of a group of such, for some time to come. Now, it goes without saying that this peculiar ability of neurons to take on and maintain their operational dispositions of a persisting kind could indeed

be construed as the neural memory of the brain. And for reason that such dispositional bias is also subject to influence by the chemical environment in the brain (as already noted in Footnote 5.2), it could also be surmised that any significant change to this environment in any lasting sort of way is also bound to alter and even overwhelm some of the neuronal activities that are already in force. By the same token, any intrusion of new influences with either stronger potency or longer duration would also tend to change to some extent some of the neuronal interactions and activities previously established. It is circumstances such as these that are likely to usher in changes of neuronal behavior, resulting in a kind of temporary de-conditioning of longer-term commitments. In this regard, the role of certain neuromodulating chemicals (already alluded to in the previous Section) is by now also fairly well understood. For what has also been brought to light, their presence can induce short-term changes in synaptic performance by rendering what is inhibitory, or not in speaking terms, to become more in tune or vice versa. What this means is that the short and long-term tenure of memory must be earned not just on the intensity and constancy of sensory stimulation, but also the strength and duration of chemical influences that neurons and assembly of such have come to endure and enjoyfrom within as well as without. In this connection, what must also be registered is that the role the amygdala and its emotional juices in the consolidation of long-term memory is by now also fully appreciated, though still not so well understood. As readers can see therefore, for what neuroscience has come to find, the bare essentials of what might take to erect a neural model of memory is already in place. To begin with, it is quite consistent with our commonsense understanding of why some events are

remembered for so long, while others are forgotten so soon. For all we know, only two types of experiences are more likely to be remembered (some vividly) for any length of time. They include those that are repeatedly encountered, and those that are accompanied by strong emotional or adrenaline responses such as the blushing or greening of face, if not also excitement in organs and limbs. More often than not, what is of no threat to our survival or self-esteem does not seem to leave any lasting trace. It seems to me therefore that this kind of correlations between the making of neural memory and what we know about memory on the basis of recall are simply too close not to suggest that there must indeed be some intimate relation between the two. As a matter of fact, general consensus now is that in view of the susceptibility of neurons to become habitually bias to what they are accustomed, some intelligible clue has in fact been brought to light as to how our nerve infiltrated body, as dictated by the impulses from the brain, could have eventually come to acquire bodily and verbal skills. It has also allowed us to understand why what was once well remembered could have come to be forgotten. It is due to the withering away of neurons and/or certain of their synaptic connections for reason of the brains failure to provide the critical balance of chemicals that are essential for the maintenance of a healthy neural environment (as indicated by the likes of Alzheimers disease and senile dementia). By the same token, failure of memory formation as brought about by the use of drugs (such as scopolamine or imipramine) could also be understood in terms of their neutralizing or disruptive effects on the brains normal chemical and synaptic activities. But more importantly, the following philosophical points could also be drawn. (1) It is no longer appropriate to think of the brain as having to keep

its memory in some specific neural stores or grids. Many parts of the neural infrastructure are by nature already functioning as a kind of memory store or grid. (2) Memory retention should no longer be understood metaphorically in terms of imprinting or encoding, as many are still inclined to do. It is rather a matter of neuronal conditioning brought about by repetitive sensory experience in conjunction with certain crucial modulating chemicals in the brain. This kind of gradual revamping, if I may be allowed to say so, is brain-washing of a very real kind. (3) To recall is not to retrieve from neural discs or files, or to decode anything digital. It is simply the reactivation of certain relevant neuronal assemblies or associations of such. Under this light, free recall would have to be understood as the reactivation of assemblies whose well-drilled rhythms and connections are still well preserved. The recitation of a childhood poem and the humming of a well-sung tune are stock cases in point. Cued recalled, on the other hand, would be the reactivation of something else with which the assembly concerned is somehow only indirectly associated or predisposed. Further, the inability to remember at all in whole or in part could in turn be explained by the depopulation of neurons for reason of age or lack of use, or alternatively, the withering away of old synaptic connections for reason of chemical abnormalities that have come to prevail in the brain. But this is not to say that every technicality about memory and memory retention could now be neurologically understood. For instance, how has the brain really managed to keep track of the temporal order of events as recalled is still something that we do not understand. But this is not to say that neuroscience has nothing at all to say about the matter. For what has also come to be known, our ability to remember temporal

relationships is crucially associated with the fontal lobes. Studies have shown that certain frontal lesions could affect the ability to sequence facts about the past, even when knowledge of those facts is basically intact. Thus, explanatory incompleteness aside, it is about time for everyone to see that what neuroscience has come to discover in the last fifty years or so is already more than all the soul theorists have done over the last two thousand. And there is also no telling as to what other explanatory breakthroughs may come our way before this new century is out. The point I am driving at is therefore this. Anyone who is still inclined to think that memory and thus personal-identity is actually carried by the soul, as propagators of religions are still trying to insinuate, is totally out of touch with the facts. And to think that we should all be able to look back and recognize ourselves from eternity is really more extravagant than trying to build a pie in the sky. As to how mental images and ideas are to figure in the neural structures and the interactions of neurons in the brain, I must invite readers to consult Chapters Five, Six, and Ten of my other work, The Mystery of Mind -- for the appropriate neurobiological cum philosophical treatments required. What does Correlation Imply? Now, let me assure the reader that I am not about to demonstrate any philosophical sleight of hands here. Strictly speaking, to know that workings of the brain are somehow correlated with the cognitive functions of mind is not to have shown that the cognitive nature of mind is caused or brought about by the brain. This is not what I am trying to convey. It must not be overlooked that on the basis of contemporary neurological evidence, insulting the mind (showing something extremely

annoying and disgusting for instance) could also bring about some noticeable change of activities in the brain (as per images from brain scans for instance). For what has also come to be known, insulting the mind intensively and repeatedly for an extended period of time might also reconditioned the neural activities of the brain resulting in abnormal behavior. Furthermore, it is also common knowledge that certain cognitive capacities lost (subsequent to brain injury) could sometimes be restored by way of re-education and conscientious (conscious) effort of the person concerned. Besides, the psychological effect of placebos known to medical science is also there for all to see. What I would like to convey rather is therefore this. Since many cognitive events are also known to be the antecedents of physiological eventssuch as a desire or belief will lead to behavior, and an intense desire or belief will sometimes motivate offensive verbal and physical behaviorit would be more circumspect to think that the cognitive nature of mind and certain neurophysiological activities of the brain might have to be construed as two operational aspects of one and the same neurobiological reality. That is to say, any major occurrence in one of these aspects is bound to reflect noticeably by the other. As such, the relationship between brain and mind should perhaps be construed not in causal terms, as many still are inclined to do. It should be understood rather in terms of this simple equation: that to do something with the mind is but another way of doing something with the brain and vice versa. In the philosophy of mind, this general approach toward taming the mind-body problem is generally referred to as two-aspect theory. (For a glimpse of the historical source of this theory, please see footnote 5.4) In my view, this is perhaps the only way to make sense not only of all the brain-mind correlations already

alluded to in the preceding Sections, but also to account for the benefits of meditative practices known to have on ones psychology as well as bodily health. According to the experts, it is due to the fact that any deliberate attempt to slow down or eliminate the more agitating of cognitive processes is but another way of down scaling the flow of certain negative juices in the body-brain. This is also why daily meditation is not only conducive to peace and balance of mind, but also beneficial to bodily health as wellfor the same reason that dreamless sleep is essential to a persons general well being. However, for soul theorists who are still stubborn, I must chip in another couple of astounding neuropsychological abnormalities for their consideration. These are usually referred to as hemineglect and alien-hand syndrome. Hemineglect is a strange cognitive deficit usually suffered by individuals with parietal lesions, and perhaps damages to other sub-cortical structures of their brains as well. These individuals would tend to ignore or become unaware of events on one side of the body. Some would even deny ownership of an arm or a leg, and even think that it must be the limb of some inconsiderate stranger. This is astounding because it certainly shows that in the absence of all the necessary neuronal parts and connections concerned, self-awareness of ones body as having four limbs would just go by the board in this way. Alien-hand syndrome, on the other hand, is a condition suffered by individuals who had to have their brains split. You see, for purpose of stopping them from intractable epileptic seizures, brain surgeons would sometimes have no alternative but to sever the band of neural fibers (known as the corpus callosum) that connects the two hemispheres of the brain. As a result, one side of the body (as controlled by the other

hemisphere of the brain) would have no knowledge as what the other side is doing. And sometimes, one hand would even work at crossed purposes against the other hand. The work of Roger Sperry and his colleagues in the 1950s and 60s had also shown that cats and monkeys whose brains were split could also behave in such conflicting ways. With respect to such cases, the interesting question that must be put to the soul theorists is this. Why should cutting the corpus callosum split a persons soul (however it is to be construed) into two minds, or should we say, two independent souls instead? Well, I think that if one is not to fall for the theory of demon possession, but to take into serious consideration of what is now known of half-brain individuals who have grown to lead fairly normal lives, it can only be concluded that half a brain (as long as it is not too old) is for practical purposes almost as good as one. It also means is that half a brain is in principle already able to support a mind. It is therefore closer to the truth to surmise that it does not take a soul to have a mind, and that having a functioning body-brain is already sufficient. A human person is not the composite of a body and a soul, but rather the body-brain he or she has and knows. Likewise, it is no longer justifiable to believe that our cognitive capacities are really the feats of any so-called universal power of consciousness. What that means is that minimal dualism (Aristotelian, Buddhist, and Judaic) must also be judged to be unreliable, in the light of what has already come to be known. For all soul believers therefore regardless of style, this crucial question must now be confronted. Which is more intelligible: to hold that body-brains are really conscious in and of themselves, or to entertain the idea that it is some kind of soul or cognitive agent lurking in their insides that makes them so? I shall leave it for the reader to fill in his or her own answer. All I wish to warn

is that those who are intellectually responsible (to themselves and to their descendents) should no longer just believe in what they like. What is no longer explanatorily functional should be relegated to the dustbin of misunderstanding without further delay. ===================
Footnote 5.1 On the Infrastructure of the Brain From the anatomical point of view, the brain has indeed quite a few organs. Speaking from the neck up (without being exhaustive or technical about it), located at the top of the spinal cord is the brainstem. This is constituted of a number of neuronal assemblies such as the medullar, the pon and the locus ceruleus. Riding behind the brain stem is the cerebellum (the small reptilian brain). Situated above these are major sub-cortical (mid-brain) structures such as the thalamus, the hippocampus, the basal ganglia, and what is generally referred to as the limbic system (known also as the emotional center of the brain) consisting of a group of minor structures such as the amygdala and the hypothalamus. One thing remarkable about these sub-cortical structures is that they all come in pairsone on each side of the brain. Mushrooming around and over all these is of course the cerebrum (the big mammalian brain). It comes with two hemispheres joined horizontally about the middle by a broad band of nerve fibers (millions of axons) known as the corpus callosum. Of the hemispheres, each of them has four connected compartments. These are usually referred to as the frontal lobe (behind the eye and forehead), the occipital lobe (at the back of the head), the parietal lobe (in between the first two), and the temporal lobe (on the side). The surfaces of these lobes are lumpy, and are coated throughout with layers of densely packed neurons. This thin coat in varying thickness is what is known as the cerebral cortex. As far as the human cortex is concerned, there are about fifty or so cortical areas, noticeable for reason of difference in cell composition and density. These are known as Brodmann areas, named after their early 20th century

geographer. Further probes into the brain have also revealed that these cortical areas are not only inter-connected. They also sink columns of axons downward into the mid-brain or sub-cortical structures. Similarly, while many sub-cortical structures too are found to be heavily inter-connected, some of them also project their axons directly back into the cortical areas. The most noticeable of these is the thalamus, the first port of entry for many of the conduits coming in from the sensory organs. That makes it look like a central interchange, one for each side of the brain. What also deserves mention is a web of long and penetrating axons that fans out from the brain stem. It reaches far into many parts of the brain including the cortex. According to the experts, it is this broad and embracing web of long axons that provides the entire brain with many of the crucial chemicals essential for its normal operation. In short, the brain contains not only anatomical structures big and small; but also neural pathways both long and short, occupying some forty percent of the human brain. Footnote 5.2 Of eurons and Their Connections As other kinds of cells, neurons also have their cytoplasm and genetic machineries. What make them different and special are two distinctive features. Stretching out from one end of a neuron is a long nerve fiber known as an axon. It is the outgoing route along which its activities are propagated. Branching off the axon along the way are some tributaries, with each terminating in what looks like a knob. Sprouting from its other end are thousands short tentacles or what are referred to as dendrites. This entire tree-like structure is packaged in a porous cell membrane. Another distinctive feature of a typical neuron is that its axonic knobs are positioned to make contact either with the dendritic endings of other neurons or directly with their cell bodies. These points of potential contact are synapses, also known as synaptic gaps. It is by means of such synaptic connections that one neuron is able to influence and respond to the activities of other neurons. The interactions between neurons are basically dictated by the on going chemistry along their cell membranes. As it has come to be known, when charged ions go in and out of the cell membrane, some difference of charge or voltage is bound to

accumulate on opposite sides of the cell membrane. And when this difference of charge falls to a certain minimum, the neuron concerned will depolarize or fire. When that happens, certain chemical substances (known as neurotransmitters) will be emitted from its axonal endings across the synaptic gaps. In the process, some of these chemicals will latch onto the chemical receptors of other neurons on the opposite side of these gaps. Such latching on of neural transmitters, as we are also told, will in turn influence the influx and efflux of charged ions in the receiving neurons, and may cause them to fire as well. It is by means of such chemical cum electric events that one neuron gets to influence and respond to the activity of its synaptic neighbors and beyond. However, this is not to say that all fluctuations in charge or action potentials (as it is also called) would always succeed in encouraging receiving neurons to fire. As a matter of fact, whether or not neural firings will propagate must depend on two factors: the nature of chemical receptors concerned, and whether or not the surrounding chemical environment at the time is conducive. Under certain circumstances, according to the experts, some neurotransmitters will fail in their mission or even discourage the receiving cells to fire. It is therefore not to be assumed that the emission of neural transmitters would always result in a string of neuronal firings or spiking responses down stream. In the ultimate analysis, whether or not this will occur must depend on the efficacy of all the on-going synaptic events concerned, as well as other goings-on in the neural environment. Footnote 5.3 More about Long-term Potentiation This amazing discovery was made in 1973 by two neuroscientists Timothy Bliss and Terji Lomo who were working on the hippocampus of monkeys and rats. But interestingly, what these researchers found is that neurons could also become over sensitized toward exhibiting what may be described as long-term depressions, or lack of response due to over sensitization. Subsequently, as other researchers have also come to find, similar signs of neuronal habituation and over sensitization are also noticeable in primitive creatures such as sea slugs. It appears that as in the case of cognitive experience, there is also such a thing as too much of a good thing for even simple creatures.

Footnote 5.4 On the Two-aspect Theory In the history of modern philosophy, Spinoza (1632-1677) was the first to have argued that corporeality and mentality are not properties that pertains to two different kinds of substanceone material, and the other spiritual. According to him, they should be construed rather as two parallel manifestation of one and the same universal substance. As it stands however, this theory has also given rise to two misgivings. Does it mean that every single thing (a stone or a speck of dust for instance) would also have to be construed as being conscious in some way? And does it also mean that the universe would also have to be construed as being conscious in a very mighty sort of way? I am sure readers would appreciate that only a panpsychist (one who believes that everything is psychic in some ways) would go so far as to endorse and defend this kind of view. For this reason, many early 20th century thinkers were not sympathetic to this two-aspect theory. Instead, they would rather think of mind as a novel emergent property of complicated material organization such as body-brains. However, this is also not an easy position to elucidate. How does the complexity of any material organization manage to give rise to the cognitive nature of mind? Neither is it easy to understand how an emergent property such as mind is able to turn around and make calls on its own material ground to result in bodily behavior. These are some of the nagging issues that constitute what is known as the mind-body problem with which philosophers of mind are still struggling with today. The only difference is that compared to a century ago, much more is now known about the workings of body-brains and of correlations that exist between brain and mind. My own view is that in view of the biological nature of the neurological, it is perhaps better to go for an emergent two-aspect scenario. The emergent part is meant to keep panpsychism at bay. The two-aspect part will allow us to appreciate the relation between brain and mind, and the apparent efficacy of cognitive states in particular, in a different light. For the ins and outs of this emergent two-aspect approach, I must invite readers to consult Chapters Two and Ten of my other work, The Mystery of Mind.


Peter M.K. Chan is the author of The Mystery of Mind (published 2003), and Soul, God, and Morality (published 2004). Recently, he has also competed any work titled The Six Patriarchs of Chinese Humanism (copyrighted and available in ebooks, but not yet in print). For details regarding the above, please visit