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Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6



Further Reading


The Mysterious Matter of Mind

Chapter One

The Mind / Brain Problem

      About forty years ago I was walking down Yonge Street in Toronto and ran into an old friend who had just retired after practicing medicine in Ontario and later in China for many years. He was clearly preoccupied. Over a cup of coffee, he shared with me an experience so moving that it had taken a weekend in the country for him to recover from it.
     He had grown up in the Ontario countryside, a junior member of quite a large and very closely knit family on a farm. He had now retired to his homeland and was just strolling down Yonge Street, eyeing the old familiar sights and sounds when, suddenly and entirely unexpectedly, a lady wearing a perfume of a very special kind had passed him. The odour of it, when it reached his nostrils though only for a fleeting moment, instantly carried him back almost sixty years to an event in his early teens long since forgotten.
     He found himself standing on the landing halfway up the winding stairs in the old homestead. It was almost supper time. The table was being set in the

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dining room by his brothers and sisters with much noise of rattling dishes and silverware and laughter and hurrying steps. From the kitchen he could hear his mother as she prepared the meal, and the sound of wood being shoved into the stove and the stove lids and the pots and pans being moved about came back to him with unbelievable clarity. He wanted so badly to join in the fun but he had been made to stand on this landing with his face to the window because of some misdemeanor long since forgotten. The window was all frosted up and only the sounds and smells remained to stick in his memory, for he could not see anything outside. On the window sill was a pair of his mother's gloves, and from them there arose just the faintest odour of perfume — the same perfume that he had detected as he passed the unknown lady on his way down Yonge Street so many years later.
      This small trigger to such a mind released what proved to be an emotionally overwhelming recall. Ushered suddenly into the nostalgic past, he had gone into the country for a few days to recover himself.
     Consider what such an experience implies. The perfume, fleeting though its physical stimulus must have been, had somehow triggered his memory, switching on in his brain as it were a TV screen which he then seemed to be watching with his mind, enthralled by the vividness as the old familiar scene unfolded itself in great detail. He was not the screen but the viewer. And he appeared to be the operator, able to rerun the film and even slow it down and recover details missed on the first viewing.
     It is as though some kind of self-conscious mind was using and manipulating a memory storage system that had preserved, for his later use upon demand, an extraordinarily vivid and complete record of a complex series of events occurring over half a century before it was again "called to mind."
     When we met, he was in search of the lady — or more particularly the perfume — in the hope that he could experiment further and see what more might be recovered by means of the same trigger mechanism to recharge his power of recall.
     Until recently, such an experience would have been

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dismissed in scientific circles as purely anecdotal. The rigid controls demanded for scientific evidence, as well as the present climate of opinion regarding the relationship between mind and brain, have not permitted such evidence of dualism to carry any weight. Man has been held to be essentially an electrochemical machine. The self-conscious mind is not a viewer of the screen of the brain in the sense that this story implies. Mind is merely an extension of the mechanism of the brain and entirely dependent upon it. Such a view is by definition monistic: the brain acts upon the mind, which is a mere extension of itself, but the mind has no power to act upon the brain. The dualist, by contrast, takes the position that interaction is possible both ways, the mind acting upon the brain and the brain in certain ways limiting and channelling, and therefore acting upon the mind.
     In this instance, one might argue that the mind was indeed an active independent agent, scanning the screened program which was stored in the brain. Furthermore, the subject himself experienced a strong desire to extend the retrieval and even fill out its detail. The "tape" was consciously and deliberately being replayed over and over again, with fresh content being added and sometimes corrected with each replay. The whiff of perfume was no longer needed to trigger the recall. The will or the self-conscious mind had taken control. How shall we evaluate the mind/brain relationship in a situation like this?

A Mind of Its Own

     In 1961 Wilder Penfield reported a dramatic demonstration of the reality of active mind or will at work. He observed mind acting independently of the brain under controlled experimental conditions that were reproducible at will. His subject was an epileptic patient whose brain had been surgically exposed in the temporal area of one hemisphere. The "trigger" was stimulation of the cortex with a single electrode using a 60-cycle 2-volt current.
     In a now famous paper, Penfield wrote:

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     When the neurosurgeon applies an electrode to the motor area of the patient's cerebral cortex causing the opposite hand to move, and when he asks the patient why he moved the hand, the response is: 'I didn't do it. You made me do it'. . . It may be said that the patient thinks of himself as having an existence separate from his body.
      Once when I warned a patient of my intention to stimulate the motor area of the cortex, and challenged him to keep his hand from moving when the electrode was applied, he seized it with the other hand and struggled to hold it still. Thus one hand, under the control of the right hemisphere driven by an electrode, and the other hand, which he controlled through the left hemisphere, were caused to struggle against each other. Behind the "brain action" of one hemisphere was the patient's mind. Behind the action of the other hemisphere was the electrode.

     So he concluded: (2)

     There are, as you see, many demonstrable mechanisms (in the brain). They work for the purposes of the mind automatically when called upon. . . .  But what agency is it that calls upon these mechanisms, choosing one rather than another? Is it another mechanism or is there in the mind something of different essence? To declare that these two are one does not make them so. But it does block the progress of research.

     It is clear that Penfield's epileptic subject had not only a brain capable of mechanistic manipulation but also a "mind of his own" by which the contralateral * area could be ordered to work at cross purposes.
     Here we are tempted to resort to a dualistic model, taking into account not merely a physical brain but some kind of independent and possibly non-physical reality that interacts with the brain, and possibly in the brain, and yet not of it. But how can we account for "mind" if it did not originate in the physical world?
     What precisely is the relationship between mind and brain? Is it merely a partnership of interaction? Did mind and brain evolve in independence and then run a parallel course of development? They might thus give a deceptive appearance of being causally related where causal relationship is in fact absent. Such a view

2. Penfield, Wilder: in the Control of the Mind Symposium held at the University of California Medical Center, San Fracisco, 1961, quoted in Arthur Koestler, Ghost in the Machine, London, Hutchinson Publishing Group, 1967, p.203-204.
*Contralateral: same site on opposite side (e.g., left eye is contralateral to right eye).

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would be termed parallelism. It is not strictly an explanation of the facts but more in the nature of a description of what could be happening.
     Or was Berkeley right when he held that brain does not really exist, that the only reality is mind and that the concept of brain — indeed of the whole physical world — is a creation of thought, a product of mind, having no reality in its own right any more than a dream has. In one of the great Taoist classics, the book which is called Chuang Tzu (300 B.C. approximately) is said to be the work of a Chou dynasty sage named Chuang Chou. He appears to have been reminiscing when he wrote, speaking of himself in the third person:

     Long ago, Chuang Chou dreamed that he was a butterfly. He was elated as a butterfly — well pleased with himself, his aims satisfied. He knew nothing of Chou. But shortly he awoke and found himself to be Chou. He did not know whether as Chou he dreamed he was a butterfly, or whether as a butterfly he dreamed he was Chou.

     This approach to reality always involves ambiguity. Perhaps we shall all wake up one day and find an entirely different kind of reality. This is idealism, a not very satisfactory view — though certainly an intriguing one.
     Or are the behaviorists correct when they say that only brain exists, and mind is just an epiphenomenon of it, as the electric current is produced by the generator? In this case mind has no independent existence and the question of the origin of mind is entirely secondary to the question of the origin and nature of brain tissue. This is behaviourism.
     Behaviourism gained acceptance just after the turn of the century as the only possible view because scientific (objective) knowledge was held to be the only real knowledge man has. Scientific knowledge always depends upon measurables: it is quantifiable in one way or another. And who can quantify the mind?
     Paul Weiss said,

     Maybe our concept of our nervous system is equally inadequate and insufficient, because so long as you use only electrical instruments, you get only electrical answers; if you use chemical detectors, you get chemical

3.Chuang Chou: quoted in Edward H. Chafer, Ancient China in the Time-Life series Great Ages of Man, New York, Time-Life Books, 1967, p.62.
4. Paul Weiss, in a discussion of J. R. Smythies' paper, "Some Aspects of Consciousness" in Beyond Reductionism, edited by Arthur Koestler and J. R. Smythies, London, Hutchinson Publishing Group, 1969, p.252.

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answers; and if you determine numerical and geometrical values, you get numerical and geometrical answers. So perhaps we have not yet found the particular kind of instrument that tells us the next unknown.

      Obviously, we shall not even try to invent this particular kind of instrument of research so long as we accept the monistic view of mind as really only the outworking of brain. And certainly we are still bound by the older traditions of mechanism. Lord Adrian was reported not long ago to have observed, "The final aim of brain research must be to bring behaviour within the framework of the physical sciences." (5)
     This was a view (and an assured goal) of Claude Bernard, the progenitor of modern physiology. He held that the cause of all phenomena is matter, and determinism is "the foundation of all scientific progress and criticism."
(6) Thomas Huxley reflected this position when he observed, "Thoughts are the expression of molecular changes in that matter of life which is the source of our other vital phenomena." (7) Again, "Mind is a function of matter, when that matter has attained a certain degree of organization." (8) And once again, "Thought is as much a function of matter as motion is." (9)
     Such reductionism appeals to the mind that seeks for the simplest and strictly most quantitative picture of reality. Arthur O. Lovejoy, in his Great Chain of Being,
(10) traces the history of the compelling search for connections throughout the natural order by which all things are derivatively related, a relationship which accounts for the supposedly linear progress from the simplest to the most complex. As "nature abhors a vacuum," so man abhors discontinuity. Ideally there should be no gaps, no missing links — in short, no novelties in the strict sense. A single start gives rise deterministically to all the branching realities, and every component in the evolving system must be accountable in terms of the rest and in no other terms.
     This basic principle seems almost to compel assent in the thoughtful mind. In the natural order, each stage is merely an unfolding of the tendencies of prior stages. This is to be expected not only in the world of inanimate things but in the animate world as well. When

5. Lord Adrian, guest editoral, "The Brain as Physics", Science Journal, vol.3, no.3, 5 May, 1967, p.3.
6. Claude Bernard: quoted by Seymour S. Kety, "A Biologist Examines the Mind and Behavior", Science, vol.132, 1960, p.1863.
7. Huxley, Thomas, "On the Physical Basis of Life" in Lay Sermons, (no publisher), 1870, p.152.
8. Huxley, Thomas, "Mr. Darwin's Critics", Contemporary Review, November, 1871, p.464.
9. Huxley, "Descartes" in Lay Sermons, (no publisher), 1870, p.371.
10. Lovejoy, Arthur O., The Great Chain of Being, New York, Harper and Row, 1960.

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understanding is complete, there will not be steps but only a smooth slide.
      In the second half of the last century, three giants in the scientific world issued a Manifesto. These were Carl Ludwig (1816—1895), who taught most of the great physiologists of the world active in that age; Emil du-Bois-Reymand (1818—1896), who was the founder of electro-chemistry; and Hermann von Helmholtz (1812—1894), who needs no introduction. This, in substance, is what they agreed upon: "All the activities of living material, including consciousness, are ultimately to be explained in terms of physics and chemistry."
(11) It is a kind of scientific ideal and still appeals with tremendous force to the modern scientific mind.
      But while it may fulfill certain logical requirements to insist upon the monist view which makes consciousness a mere spin-off of the material body, it is for many people an unsatisfactory explanation of the phenomenon of self-consciousness. The problem is to find a way of treating mind and brain as a single phenomenon but yet as two realities. One answer is identification theory.
      Identification theory has been known in two different forms. Both forms are expressed analogously — considered by many to be a weak argument which appears to explain more than it really does. Santayana and Thomas Huxley both proposed that as the noise of the babbling brook is only a by-product of the rushing water, so the mind, though distinct from the brain, is nevertheless only a by-product of it. The brain therefore causes the mind as the brook causes the babbling, but the mind cannot have any influence on the brain, any more than the babbling can have any influence on the brook. This was termed epiphenomenalism.
     A more telling analogy is one which argues that as a single curved line has both a concave and a convex aspect, though the line is single and the two aspects are really one, so the brain and the mind are two aspects of a single phenomenon. The outer or physical event (brain activity) has an inner non-physical aspect (mind activity). Neither causes the other, regardless of our impressions of their correspondence. Yet both must

11. See Chauncey D. Leake, "Perspectives in Adaptation: Historical Background" in Handbook of Physiology, Washington, D.C., American Physiology Society, 1964, section 4, p.5—6.

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always occur together. This is known as parallelism, more specifically "double aspect" parallelism. The analogy breaks down, however, in that there can indeed be brain activity without mind activity, for brain waves are observable in the unconscious.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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