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"
Gijs: 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?
Such a creature is referred to as a "zombie". The "living dead" is what you are describing. Zombies do not have a "self"; they do not possess self-awareness or even consciousness yet they seem to mimic the actions and the appearance of the living (with a bit of prosthetic help from Hollywood). Seriously, many scientists and thinkers have asked this question of yours and nobody can really find a way to dispense with "subjectivity". Subjectivity refers to the self which experiences. Without any experience of itself, a zombie has no hope of experiencing anything outside itself. Of course. But then, we have another problem here.
Nothing in the universe is objective. Objectivity is an ideal. When the physicist seeks to make some measure of the physical universe, he or she necessarily must use some other part of the physical universe by which to obtain that measure.
QED - the entire universe is subjective. The universe is real - don't get me wrong, because the only thing we can prove is real IS the subjective. Following from this thought is the notion, gaining popularity in the cognitive sciences, that the laws of physics are not primary ie they do not come first and give rise to everything. What comes first is mind, which gives rise to matter and materiality. But mind itself is not material and probably doesn't require a brain; this is merely evolution's way of instantiating the concept of mind. There may be other ways.
Going back to zombies for a moment:
"Alive" is often assumed to mean "conscious". This of course is wrong, but let's hang with it for a moment.
Life observed is a third-person phenomenon. The first-person can only be observed by me (not you). You might suppose (assuming the above popular equivalence of consciousness with life) that viruses are alive, (this is a moot point since they are only scraps of DNA) even if, like parasites, they need another living organism to steal their needed materials. Going further, you could then say that cigarettes are alive too, with a complex reproduction cycle, acting on the human mind to grow the tobacco plant and manufacture the protecting boxes. The cigarette has thus developed a way to force humans to burn them and to inject the smoke into the brain which then forces humans to act in a way that perpetuates the continuation of the reproductive cycle of the cigarette. The parasite Toxoplasma Gondii does something like this. Recent studies have implicated this micro-organism in the prevalence of humans to suicide. Anyone who has been infected by T Gondii is now known to be seven times more likely to suicide than without it. The cysts are extremely robust and manage to penetrate the cell walls and reproduce inside the cell, which puts them out of reach of the body's immune system. It may turn out that something like this has been implicated in the recent suicide of Tony Scott. The parasite needs the host to die prematurely (while the host is still in robust health and able to continue nourishing the cysts for a time) in order that it can be picked up by scavengers feeding off the decomposing body; to this end it alters certain aspects of the brain function of the host. Is this intelligent, conscious activity? If so, it is intelligence minus a brain.
We must give up on the idea that MIND has something to do with having a BRAIN
Thank you for your contributions.
I am still thinking about the subject. There is an interesting book about why the Neanderthalers died out and the Cro-Magnons (Modern humans) survived. An hypothesis is that Modern Human had a more developed consciousness about themselves. The Mind in the Cave
When I was reading Mechanism of Mind (well actually I am still reading and re-reading it and will continue to do so until I am confident I've comprehended all that it contains) I was trying to think of something I could use to explain to less abstract people about a "self organising information system".
The best thing I could come up with was the coin sorter in a coke machine. By itself, with no coins, analagous to a brain with no information coming in, it does nothing. Something only happens when the passive coin sorter, interacts with the coins. The coins coming in have specific characteristics, in this case size characteristics. That characteristic along with the natural characteristics of the sorter, allow the coins to be sorted.
The same happens in the brain with information, the information, plus the brain interact and between the two the result is the information is self organised.