The rise of cognitive science: A survey of the most relevant historical landmarks

Perhaps you have heard someone talking of minds as computers. In Venezuela, it is common to hear people saying stuff like “let me process that” (déjame procesarlo) as if they were some sort of machine. But why do people sometimes think about themselves in this way? Why do some philosophers believe that minds are […]

The rise of cognitive science: A survey of the most relevant historical landmarks

Weight loss misconception

Photo by Freepik.com

Weight loss is always trendy. Experts speak about fat loss (and not weight loss).

Fat is a stored energy. The increase of the body fat percentage is a symptom or an indicator of an underlying cause.

The underlying cause is simply the non utilisation of energy which ended up being stored.

In other words, the real underlying cause is a weak muscle.

Therefore, instead of preaching weight loss (or fat loss) which is everywhere on social media, the focus should be on muscle strengthening.

Pump that muscle and let it take care of body fat.

Muscles are the anti ageing (or ageing gracefully) weapon!

The mind body connection IV

mind-spirit-body

Following my three last posts on the mind body connection dilemma, it is interesting to present the Monadology as a monistic approach to answer the question of this connection between two highly different dimensions, the body and the mind.

The Monadology (a monad means a single unit) is one of the 17th century German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz’s best known works representing his later philosophy. He tried through his work to answer the question of the mind body connection as asked through dualism by 17th century French philosopher Rene Descartes as you can check by clicking on the link of my post: The mind body connection II

The monad, the word and the idea, belongs to the Western philosophical tradition and has been used by various authors. Leibniz declared that there are indefinitely many substances individually ‘programmed’ to act in a predetermined way, each substance being coordinated with all the others. This is the pre-established harmony which solved the mind-body problem, but at the cost of declaring any interaction between substances a mere appearance.

The system of Leibniz is monistic. The universe is made of monads that are simple substances interacting with one another by following a certain hierarchy. The degree of perfection in each case corresponds to cognitive abilities and only spirits or reasonable animals are able to grasp the ideas of both the world and its creator. Some monads have power over others because they can perceive with greater clarity, but primarily, one monad is said to dominate another if it contains the reasons for the actions of other(s). Leibniz believed that any body, such as the body of an animal or man, has one dominant monad which controls the others within it. This dominant monad is often referred to as the soul.

Being directly influenced by the 17th century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza ( to check Spinoza’s philosophy, please check these links: Ethica Spinoza, and What Spinoza taught me about my body ), Leibniz uses his theory of monads to support his argument that we live in the best of all possible worlds. He uses his basis of perception but not interaction among monads to explain that all monads must draw their essence from one ultimate monad. He then claims that this ultimate monad would be God because a monad is a “simple substance” and God is simplest of all substances not being able to be broken down any further.

Leibniz offered a new solution to the mind-matter interaction problem by positing a pre-established harmony between substances: the body is mere perceptions, which are all contained in a soul’s complete concept. The soul and body interact and agree in virtue of the pre-established harmony, maintained by God.

The mind body connection III

mind-spirit-body

Following my two posts on the subject (I and II), our study reached monism as a critic of dualism.

Monism:

Originally mono, one, monism believes that we are made of one dimension, either the body (or matter) or the spirit. For monism questions the explanation offered in the dualism spectrum. To a certain extent, dualism is more metaphysical than logical or scientific. In both forms of monism, empiricism is the basic foundation.

So, what are we, and what is the universe, according to monism?

The materialistic monism:

As commonly known, materialism on a larger scale is the matter as foundation. It can cover for example economy as a basis for a political system like Marx’ historical materialism. As much as it can be the physico-chemical analysis of all that exists. Democritus found that any matter is made of atoms. So materialism takes matter as the only explanation.

For decades, medical science considered humans (or any living being) are the result of their genetic heritage, their DNA. Now we know that there is more to that with epigenetics. Western medicine is still somehow biochemical in its diagnostic and prognostic. It all relies on chemical, hormonal and metabolic reactions. Same goes for neuroscience; it studies what is referred to as the mind as a secretion of the brain.

Without digging deeper in materialistic monism, one can observe that its analysis is brutally realistic, all in a causal reaction, which helped science in general to evolve. Scientific empiricism and invention of tools go hand in hand: tools let science became more accurate and precise and science helped tools to be scientific and smart, better known as technology (techné = tools; logy= logos= reason and science).

The more enigmatic is the immaterialist monism.

The immaterialist monism:

Georges Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, “was one of the great philosophers of the early modern period. He was a brilliant critic of his predecessors, particularly Descartes, Malebranche, and Locke. He was a talented metaphysician famous for defending idealism, that is, the view that reality consists exclusively of minds and their ideas. Berkeley’s system, while it strikes many as counter-intuitive, is strong and flexible enough to counter most objections. His most-studied works, the Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (Principles, for short) and Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous (Dialogues), are beautifully written and dense with the sort of arguments that delight contemporary philosophers. He was also a wide-ranging thinker with interests in religion (which were fundamental to his philosophical motivations), the psychology of vision, mathematics, physics, morals, economics, and medicine. Although many of Berkeley’s first readers greeted him with incomprehension, he influenced both Hume and Kant” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

As an early empiricist himself, Berkeley’s theory was about the spirit/the mind and not the matter. In a counter-intuitive objection to his contemporary philosophers and peers, he believed that matter in itself is unknown. We know what exists through our perception. Had we perceived things differently, we would’ve had a different knowledge. To Berkeley we are a mind. Not that he denies the existence of outside matter nor our own body, but all our knowledge of them is perception based and subjective.

The influence of Berkeley nowadays, to a certain extent, would be epigenetics or how we perceive and interact with the outside phenomenons. To extrapolate a bit, the yogic philosophy is more about energy, perception, chakras and meditation.

In conclusion, what is the mind body connection? Does the mind control the body or is it the other way around? Let’s say that one won’t work without the other; they are both in a complete fusion. This is where psychosomatic explanation comes into hand: if my mind is not ok, my body will react; also, if I am sick, my mind won’t be alert. The importance of this very old dilemma of the mind vs. the body is not only for the sake of knowledge but for ethical treatment. It’s not about who is right and who is wrong; it is about perception, perspective and action.

 

 

The mind body connection II

Following my first post on the mind body connection that you can read it by clicking on this link: http://the mind body connection I I will discuss dualism.

Before digging deeper on dualism, there is a point in making a detour by the brain that was not aforementioned. As it is widely known, the brain is the most complex organ and mechanism. It is compared to an automatic device for control and computation. It is no strange that a clinical death is recognized as the death of the brain.

The brain is “the portion of the vertebrate central nervous system enclosed in the skull and continuous with the spinal cord through the foramen magnum that is composed of neurons and supporting and nutritive structures (such as glia) and that integrates sensory information from inside and outside the body in controlling autonomic function (such as heartbeat and respiration), in coordinating and directing correlated motor responses, and in the process of learning”. In further definitions, the brain is the equivalent of the mind, the intellect and the intellectual endowment. The problem of the mind body connection lies in the brain:

Are the mind and the brain the same? Is the mind inside the brain, therefore inside the body? If it is so, how can their relationship be established?

Dualism:

Here dualism would attempt to answer these complicated questions. Dualism comes from the word duo, meaning two; dualism is a philosophical and a religious current stating that humans are made of two different dimensions, the spiritual and the matter, as in the mind and the body. In this system of beliefs, the mind is “inside” the body, which explains the idea of the immortality of the soul in certain religions.

Plato was among the first to highlight the idea of the mind (or the soul) being originally in the transcendent Ideals. The soul would fall and incarnate in a body; therefore the mind is trapped in the body which becomes “the tomb of the soul” according to Plato. His philosophy and teaching was always about the urge of the mind to escape the body to reach Ideals through their contemplation.

However, Plato’s radical dualism doesn’t explain how the mind and the body, so divergent in their respective natures, are able to connect. Plato’s influence was and still immense on monotheistic religions, on the medieval scholastic philosophy but also on actual system of thoughts. Think about the dilemma about abortion or euthanasia for example; ethics would come into play here depending on the definition of an embryo as a growing soul or as cells reproduction. Two definitions would give two ways in treating the problem bio ethically.  

20th century French philosopher Henri Bergson suggests a more flexible dualism which can explain the mind body connection. To make it short, there is no mind without a brain as an organic and neuronal basis. In order to explain the connection between the two dimensions, he compares the brain to the instruments of an orchestra and the maestro to the mind. He suggests that music, made possible by the maestro and the orchestra’s instruments is wider than the musical instruments themselves. In other words, no instruments no music. In addition, no maestro would lead to a cacophony. The maestro leads and manages all sounds to produce a symphony (sym= with; phony=voices/sounds). That being said, the mind, the intellectual endowment, thoughts, feelings, emotions are the final results of the osmosis or the synthesis of multiple micro functions of neurons, hormones and chemical actions and reactions.

So far, cerebral imagery can trace organic activities but not thoughts and ideas. The content of an idea can’t be traced so far and hoping it will never be traced by artificial intelligence for freedom of thoughts would be in danger.

Criticizing the metaphysical aspect of dualism in approaching the mind body connection, monism will fire back more “logical” statements: we are not two dimensions but one: the body or the mind. Then what is the materialist monism (the body)? And what is the immaterialist monism? Monism will be discussed in a further post.