In history, people - from the ancient Chinese doctors to modern Western scientists- have used many metaphors to get insight about the working of the human body. F.i. the flow of rivers as metaphor for acupuncture treatments and the steam engine as metaphor for the working of the heart.
Not every metaphor has been adequate or of much of help. However, many metaphors have provided major scientific breakthroughs.
It is assumable that our views on the working of the brain are rooted in some (unconscious) comparison with a technical or nature system as we already know.
It would be interesting - in order to enhance our insight in the working of the brain - to list several metaphors of the brain. To what insights, POssibilities and hyPOthesis could this lead?
Let's do an APC on "metaphors of the brain"
There is a beautiful book, which describes step by step and in a masterly manner the methodology of metaphor, its alternatives, and more. The book is called "Stories that heal" by Bernardo Ortin, Trinidad Ballester.
A metaphor for thinking could be
I shall misbehave and only offer only one metaphor (not even an original one):
A landscape being subject to rain showers (new information) arriving and deepening existing rivers and streams (person's existing beliefs).
It would be a little more useful to look at metaphors for the mind, IMO. Brains don't get ideas - minds do. The connection between the mind and the brain is a hot topic.
The main reason that metaphors for the brain have never been adequate or of much help is because brains aren't much use when it comes to grasping the real meat in the sandwich: the mind. Sooner or later we will have a complete or a usefully complete map of the brain and how it works, in the same way that we now have a perfect representation of the human genome. This moment may in fact be just around the corner, given the accelerating successes of neurophysiology and brain-mapping etc. I also anticipate that at that precise moment, where we realise that we have a complete map of the brain and its functions, where we have in hand a thorough understanding of how the brain authorises our experience of self; we will also at that moment, realise that we are in no way any closer to understanding what the mind is than we were at the time of Descartes, who first formulated the "mind-body problem".
Today, few people even know what the mind-body problem is, or even why such a thing could ever be said to be a problem. We have bodies, we have minds. So what. We need both, don't we - you cannot have a mind without a body (we opine) because without that necessary piece of hardware (brain) to run the mind on it couldn't possibly exist.
Thus, the default assumption (usually quite unconscious) of most is that we are material beings and that the mind is in some sense secreted (as in issues, as a kind of a secretion) by the brain. It's actually quite amusing to question people about this because you can usually get them, within say, a quarter of an hour, to reduce their conception of what the brain is to something similar to a pineal gland or a pancreas, secreting all the right chemicals to make the body work. Most people are therefore properly defined as materialists in this pure, philosophical sense: the universe is made of matter, bodies are made of matter, nobody has ever remained alive for very long after decapitation, so we clearly need a functioning brain to be alive and experience anything via the mind.
But - we still don't actually have an answer to the question "what is mind?" so this is the essence of the mind-body problem: we can only say that we have a mind, we observe a material reality (including bodies with brains) ergo the mind is dependent on the brain somehow so we have finished up with something that we don't understand based on a sequence of reasoning that assumes it knows what matter actually is which is outrageously incorrect by any standards. Answers like "the mind is electricity zapping through the brain" are clearly insufficient because we don't even truly know what electricity is. We know how to produce it, we know how to exploit it, we can describe it down to the minutest detail of charge on the electron etc. but we still don't know what it is. The real question is "Why is the mind such a fleeting and apparently a non-material thing, given that everything in the universe is material?"
Let's ask a few questions:
You break your arm so you go to the doctor and he proposes a brand new arm, grown out of real meat in a petri dish that is an identical clone of your existing broken arm. When fitted you will have a new arm, quite literally. So you say "Yes" to the doctor.
You are having kidney problems so you go to the doctor who says "no problem, we will give you a couple of brand new ones, grown to specification only this morning. So you say "Yes" to the doctor.
You are having problems with your ticker, have had a few cardiac flutters, so the doc says "Lucky you. We are now in receipt of the new improved human heart version 5.5.7. Installation of this heart means you will have robust and problem-free cardiac health for the rest of your natural life. Yes? Go ahead?" So you say "Yes" to the doctor.
You have a pet monkey which goes beserk one day and rips your entire face from your body (this recently happened to some unfortunate woman in the US) so the doctor says "We can give you an entirely new face which will function pretty much in every respect like the old one, it's just that it is someone else's face so you will look different. Maybe in another 15 years, when we know how, we will swap this one for a clone of your original face as a bespoke reconstruction based on photographs from your past." So you say "Yes" to the doctor.
You would probably say "Yes" to the doctor even if he were to propose bionic, artificial replacements of these worn-out parts, because no artificial replacements will interrupt or destroy the continuity of your experience of self.
You have had a stroke, you have Parkinson's and may even be showing signs of Alzheimers so you go to the doc who says "No problem - we will outfit you with a new digital brain. This one will function precisely like the old one and you will be able to resume your normal life as before."
tell me what you answer the doctor with and why. After you think about this for a bit, we will go on.
I will test the new digital brain. Why? The whole is often different from its parts. Take hydrogen and oxygen atoms , for example.
What happens now?
Åsa: I will test the new digital brain. Why? The whole is often different from its parts. Take hydrogen and oxygen atoms, for example. What happens now?
You, like me, are either very valiant or very reckless! Not so fast. It is good to try new things and believe that good will come from the exercise. Let's underline the word believe in that last sentence.
To a certain extent, an act of faith is required in saying "Yes" to the doctor for new body parts. This is not so critical with arms, legs, kidneys and faces. Indeed, you might have every appendage on your body amputated and still survive as yourself. With the digital brain transplant however, there is the possibility that when you wake up from anaesthesia you will no longer be you. This depends on some rather critical things that are still very much open questions. After all, if we scoop the brain out of your head and replace it with a pig's brain, you will wake up experiencing yourself now as a pig; this we do know.
Consider: for you to wake up with a Sony brain in your skull and still be you, this brain will have to somehow access your mind. But - we don't know what the mind is yet! We know what the brain is, but the mind we do not. Thus, you need to first of all believe that the brain substitution will access your mind to be in a position to feel comfortable about saying "Yes" to the doctor. Note that I am not suggesting that the brain will contain your mind because there are now strong evidences that the mind is not something the brain generates or secretes or contains - the mind may well be something the brain
receives (as in a radio receiver). "You" - as defined by the contents of your mind - may well exist in some sense without reference to your brain, it is just that in order to run or instantiate a mind in a human body, the brain is the necessary
interface. You are able to receive the Internet on your computer at home, but you would not actually say that your computer
contains the Internet.
If you and I are right (and the other bold researchers looking at this) - that we will be perfectly OK with our new Panasonic brains in our skulls, then we have by all accounts solved the mind-body problem! This entails that the contents of the mind can be copied in exactly the same way that any other data can be copied. Your new arm, after all, was a direct copy (presumably from a DNA reconstruction) and likewise the new bespoke face. Therefore, there is no longer a "mind-body problem" - it is merely a "body problem". We are no longer going to refer to a "ghost in the machine" (Arthur Koestler's famous phrase for the mind) because there is only the machine.
Furthermore, many other things open up from this. One intriguing possibility would be as follows: we can use digital teleportation otherwise known as
classical teleportation (in principle). That is: you can accept a job on the planet Mars, and come back to your home on Earth that evening! To do this, you would use every morning a special machine which would scan you and destroy your scanned body, then, send the digital encoding of the scan on to Mars, where you are reconstituted with local atoms already available there. You do your job on Mars, and use a similar device in the evening to come back to Earth. Just as in "Star Trek"! If you are OK with this (and "this" is not that this can work, only that IF what I am suggesting is true, then it
We could, however, be wrong about all this. The mind may well be the same as "the soul" which is something that cannot be scanned and copied (because supernatural and thus beyond reach). If this is true, destructively scanning you and beaming you to Mars will see you reconstituted as a zombie with no mind at all.
Do you see now why the so-called "Yes Doctor" hypothesis is rather important and why we cannot escape an act of faith?
Luis, if the 'supernatural' ever becomes available or accessible then it was never supernatural to start with. I strongly suspect that to be the case. I believe in the mind because I can access it. I do not believe we need another funny (religulous) term for it ("soul") which suggests we cannot. We are perfectly entitled to speculate on the existence of the supernatural but I don't get worked up about it because I can't do anything with that concept except choose to believe in it or not. Fine. The mind I do get worked up over, because we can do everything about it and with it.
OK, I've seen these initials elsewhere. I get the DB part...but where did the OS part come from...?
Is it possible to conceive a brain without a conductor, a man who directs the thinking, a man inside the brain who interprets information, do the thinking and orders the actions?
See also Out of Our Brain by Alva Noe http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=mind-reviews-out-o...
Quoting from the review article: One could imagine many researchers nodding their heads. The crucial issue, not emphasized by Noë, is that it is exceptionally hard to tease out how our surroundings and our own actions shape the way we perceive the world. That challenge, rather than a lack of curiosity or imagination, could be why there has been so little work on the subject.
PO - our surroundings and our actions do not shape the way we perceive the world; the way we perceive the world shapes our surroundings and our actions.
Our minds create the reality we then interact with. We don't "see" atoms, electrons, quarks, electromagnetic energy etc. which is the "real" part of reality. We see people and trees and tax return forms and beautiful sunsets. These things are a fantastical construction of our minds. How the mind does that needs to be the subject of research. (It is, but just not by this particular researcher who assumes the laws of physics to be primary in Aristotle's physicalist sense.)