The Mind-Body Problem

It’s obvious that unless your five senses are totally defunct, you have awareness of your body. That’s self-evident. But quite apart from that awareness of your physical body, as I stated, you have an awareness of yourself that apparently has nothing to do with your physical body. “I think therefore I am” is one variation on the theme.

I used to be as 100% certain that everything was materialism. But I’ve reflected on that and now I’m not so sure.

Many people argue that even if your brain is pulled apart electron by neutron by proton there will be something intangible left over. Theologians call it your soul or your spirit; philosophers and/or brain scientists of that opinion call it consciousness, self-identity, essence, whatever.

I clearly have likes and dislike, but are these encoded in molecules? Do I have a molecule that encodes “I like pizza”. If so, then I could clearly find it wandering through my own brain. However, many would argue that there is no such encoding in any physical thing that’s part and parcel of me.

It seems obvious that if you destroy your brain you will destroy all that makes you, you. However, there are lots of people reading this who would disagree not to mention hundreds of millions of others around the world from all walks of life who absolutely believe that they have a material side and an immaterial side.

Just as a quick thought experiment, I’ve come up with two scenarios that are suggestive that the mind isn’t all physical.

Scenario Number One: So here you are the world’s most knowledgeable and most famous neurosurgeon – Ben Casey could take lessons from you. You know more about neurosurgery than everyone else put together. Unfortunately you haven’t committed that knowledge into print (or other media) yet – via a textbook say. Double unfortunately, you suffer a massive fatal heart attack at work. Within minutes your neurosurgeon colleagues extract your brain and put it on the slab in the lab in search of all of your knowledge about neurosurgery. It’s got to be inside that mass of brain tissue somewhere. Alas, no matter where and no matter how far down into brain structure; down to molecular levels your colleagues probe, no trace of your Synapse xt storehouse of neurosurgery knowledge, experience and wisdom can be found. So one question is where was that knowledge?

Another question was how was it stored? And most important, there’s the question of where did it go since it can’t be found? Why could you, and only you, when alive, access your storehouse of knowledge, experience and wisdom? Why isn’t that knowledge, experience and wisdom available to others when they physically examine your brain? It, by all that is reasonable, has to be in those little grey cells somewhere.

I mean if that knowledge, experience and wisdom had been transmitted to print or some other physical media, then that knowledge, experience and wisdom would survive your death and be available to others. Even if you were to tattoo your knowledge, experience and wisdom onto your skin that would survive your death, even indefinitely if treated and preserved. Apparently the exception to that physical or materialistic rule is not if the physical substance is called your brain. Why? Paper is physical; the brain is physical, so something is screwy somewhere.

So when you die and the medical students dissect your brain, no matter what level they descend to, they will never uncover anything about what made you, you. There was no “energy equals mass times the speed of light squared” to be found in Einstein’s brain. Your brain is just another brain, indistinguishable from billions of other brains. Isn’t that a bit of a downer! So what makes you, you, is of a totally immaterial nature. A rather poor analogy is that one kind of bottle (or brain) can hold a near infinite variety of wines (or immaterial / non-physical human essences).

Scenario Number Two: Between the time you go to sleep and the time you wake up, you are pretty much a closed system with no inputs and no outputs apart from the routine standards of breathing along with maybe some internal digestion, routine biochemical maintenance and eight hours worth of ageing. In other words, your blood type, your DNA, your physical features are pretty much the same between going to sleep and waking up.

One thing you do while asleep is dream. Where dreams come from and where dreams go to is quite the question in itself. Clearly you don’t have a movie projector and stack of films inside your skull waiting to be displayed in the theatre of your mind. Dreaming is a thing though since dreaming requires energy. But the content of the dream, the ‘what’ of your dreams, is irrelevant to that and what you dream would appear to be of a nebulous and immaterial nature. Anyway, you have this very vivid dream which actually wakes you up. The nature or contents of this dream directly causes you to, literally overnight, undergo a profound change in your worldview, personal philosophy and personality, etc. Now are those new you traits of personality, philosophy or worldview things or non-things; physical / material things or non-physical / non-material things? If the former, then presumably your brain chemistry has undergone a radical change in an extremely short period of time. Presumably your brain structures, the rewiring of your neurons, synapses, and your brain tissues hasn’t altered, at least not in such a short time-frame as in overnight. There’s not sufficient time to allow that sort of biological change.

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