The Thinking Poet


Mind Body 2004


Members’Day Meeting on The Mind-Body Problem : 13 June 2004

A copy of the pre-meeting handout by Ron Cretchley

I have been contributing in the Review on matters relating to the Mind-Body problem for the last ten years. My central point is, and has been consistently in my writing, that consciousness cannot be generated by brain. Brain, as I see it, functions as a mechanism, transforming into symbolic form that which occurs in primary perception. Conglomerations of brain cells are, I contend, the vehicle, not the generator, of that which is received initially as meaning and which is then transformed into symbolic patterns that represent that meaning. Primary perception would then consist of this: a powerful feeling of preconceptual meaning combined with an equally powerful feeling of joy and excitement at this engagement with meaning. It is this dual feeling that is neurally transformed into conceptual form. A linguistic metamorphosis takes place that lends itself to a mode of awareness that is at once symbolic and sequential: a ‘symbolic shadow’ of the original from whence it came.

The preview leaflet cites five speakers for the forthcoming Members’ Day meeting of the Philosophical Society.

David Hunt hopes to show that the current physics paradigm is inadequate to solve the Mind-Body problem. But how is physics to be broadened to meet the demands of this challenge?

Physics is a discipline that mathematically manipulates concepts such as mass, energy, time, distance etc. to produce a coherent unification that satisfies intellectually objective perception. In the ‘soft sciences’ e.g. psychology, the concepts are not always quantifiable. Even so, unification is sought through perceived trends in terms of concepts, always through the interplay of concepts.

The question of the origin of concept must therefore be outside the sphere of physics. It is this very question that is in part the Mind-Body problem.

Sabine Molisso will in part consider language and meaning, and the relevance of Big Bang theory.

Will she, I wonder, consider meaning as a singularity? Concepts, I believe, explode suddenly with meaning in our consciousness like a Big Bang. Brain matter suddenly delivers meaning, or put another way, it acquires a semantic content, which is sustained in subsequent intellectual activity. An information-processing machine has no semantic content. It functions by virtue of syntactical rules only. Uniquely, therefore, the brain must be more than a syntactically governed machine since it owes its performance to its semantic origins.

Phil Rees asserts that the real problem of mind is intentionality. There are many roads to Rome, as indeed there are paths to the Mind-Body problem. Intentionality leads us on one such path, and I suggest it raises the matter of origins.

Let us take as an example the intention of a composer to write a symphony. The word inspiration is not so much used today. I put this down to the incursions of physicalism in current thinking. Nevertheless there exists a starting point in the mind of the composer, an overall guiding idea which is understood to require a symbolic form into which the idea should be cast. It is the intention therefore to give the initial idea formal meaning.

Music is not in the score, nor in the instruments that interpret the score, nor is it in the brain. All of these serve as symbolic vehicles of idea, which is the music. The idea unfolds as a complex sequence of forms.

David Seed, when talking about mental and brain function, considers the possibility of ‘the emergence of capabilities which are not intrinsic to the components of the brain’. I interpret this as in some way a support for that which I am suggesting. Namely, that the brain, acting as a symbolic converter, delivers to a non-mechanistic ‘I’ the meaning of an idea that is understood both conceptually and as felt experience.

Winston Han intends to argue for a revision of conventional notions of causation.

In my Review essay in 1999, a teleological event was defined as one, which served a purpose. Such an event may be considered to be doubly determinate; it has two sets of causes to produce a specified order. There occurs an initial act (vis a tergo), and a purpose or anticipation. This notion is related to Phil Rees’ assertion that the real problem of mind is intentionality. The words intention, purpose, and anticipation all serve the same meaning, namely that such an event embraces past, present and future.

In my essay, a distinction was drawn between specified and unspecified order. A specification exists before the event, which it describes. The organisation implicit in specification requires that the future provides one of the reasons for the present. A specification is not a description of what is, but of what shall be.

The suggestion is that teleological events occur only in living systems. In inanimate systems only singly determinate events occur. Order may occur in them (for example, patterns of parallel line left on a beach by a receding tide) but these are unspecified chance occurrences.

The conventional notion of causation, I take it, is that drawn from induction based upon observation of singly determinate events. We, by virtue of our speculative consciousness, discern that some sequences of physical events are different to others. We know when an event is consequent upon an accident. A judge may deliver a sentence of malice aforethought, or alternatively, one based upon sheer misfortune or Act of God.

There is nothing in physical law that prescribes action based upon past, present and future. The conclusion must therefore be that the material brain somehow transcends mere mechanism, or alternatively, that what we perceive as specified, intentional action, is mere illusion.