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Registered: 05/07/04
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The mind/brain relationship and free will
    #3270764 - 10/24/04 08:45 AM (12 years, 6 days ago)

This one's known as the "hard problem" in philosophy, because its so damn hard.  The question is, how is the experience of mental states related to the firing of various neurons.  It occurred to me the other day that this problem is very relevant to the free will/determinism issue, because many of the proposed theories rule out the possibility of free will.

I think that free will could probably be characterised like this:

One's mental state changes one's brain state, and not the other way round.

By this I mean that it is our "will" that causes the neurons to fire, and not the neurons firing that causes our "will".  That would surely be free will.

Let me give you a quick outline of some of the more popular theories.

A famous one is Cartesian dualism, better known as substance dualism.  This claims that the mind is a different type of "substance" to the body.  Believers in souls/spirits whatever you want to call them believe in this.  A big problem with this is that it gives no credible explanation for how these two "substances" can possibly effect each other (interestingly, Descartes? response was to suggest that the two substances meet in the pineal gland).  Substance dualism allows free will.

Another version of dualism is property dualism, or double-aspect theory.  This says that there is one substance which has physical and mental properties.  For example, property dualism would claim that your brain has both physical and mental properties whereas your body has just physical properties.  Nevertheless, it claims, they are the same substance.  This theory stands a better chance of explaining how mental things affect physical things or the other way round.  This theory is free will compatible.

Next up is behaviourism, which says that all mental states can be explained just in terms of what behaviour they provoke.  For example, to say that John is sad is to say that John has a propensity to cry (or other behaviours associated with sadness).  For behaviourists, there is no gap between my understanding of my mental state and your understanding of my mental state so long as it is described properly in terms of behaviour.  I don't like this theory, because it rules out mental states having a real existence.  For example, I think that there is something that it is like to be me, if you see what I mean.  Similarly, presumably there is something that it is like to be a cat.  Behaviourism doesn't account for this.  Behaviourism is (I would argue, some may differ) incompatible with free will, as it leaves out the mental states that we would intuitively think were our "will".

Functionalism is a good one, in my opinion.  It says that there are "lower" and "higher" functions of the brain.  It claims that the brain is analogous to hardware and your mind software.  As a computer does various processes to calculate a maths problem, your brain similarly fires various neurons to produce a mental state.  The neurons perform the lower functions and collectively make the higher functions.  It would appear to me that functionalism rules out free will, because your mental states are dependent on your brain states and not the other way round.

I was thinking, drugs are an example of our brain state changing our mental states.  As is being in a coma, and various other examples.  THe question is, can there be some circumstances where this state of affairs is reversed, so our mental state causes our brain state to change.  If there are, then something like moving your leg would be one.  If we make the decision to move our leg before our neurons fire, then that would be good evidence to me for free will.  If our neurons fire before we make the decision, that would be good evidence to me for determinism. 

Anyone got any comments?  Particularly I would like to hear if anyone has any arguments against free will being ruled out by brain states taking the causal role.

:bye: :birthday:

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Re: The mind/brain relationship and free will [Re: deafpanda]
    #3272594 - 10/24/04 08:34 PM (12 years, 5 days ago)

Another possibility is that the mind/soul (anima) is an immaterial substance which animates the body. In this case the brain would be one of the organs which the soul animates. There really is no mind body dualism in the strictest sense of "dualism" because the human person is a unity.

I know this is not what you were looking for, but I think this simplistic Aristotelian explanation is still valid today despite all of our scientific advancements, and it is certainly compatible with freedom.

The real problem here is whether or not the soul exists as an immaterial substance. As the great Kant pointed out, this question cannot be answered either way by science. The existence of the immaterial soul, like the question of the existence of God, is an antimony. Hence, as you noted, this is one of the hard problems.

In my opinion, post Kantian metaphysics is a dead end.
I am also of the opinion that the work of the ancients and medievals is not necessarily invalid just because it does not hold up the Cartesian hyperbolic doubt. I am particularly fond of illumination therory.


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Re: The mind/brain relationship and free will [Re: shroomydan]
    #3272619 - 10/24/04 08:37 PM (12 years, 5 days ago)


eye's see brain interpreter, can you choose what to see?
(iv heard version of a yes answer to that again and again)

BTW:anyone know what happens if you make the right eye be on the left, and the left eye be on the right? using mirrors or something?!

mind and stimuli seem almost non functional whit-out a grounder?



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Re: The mind/brain relationship and free will [Re: Gomp]
    #3273684 - 10/25/04 01:17 AM (12 years, 5 days ago)

i agree with deaf panda, we make it happen.

Men look at themselves and they see flawed humans, we look at women and we see perfect
Women look at themselves and they seem utterly human, when looking at men they see proud



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