Sunday, 21 October 2012

Is the Mystery of the Mind beyond the Limits of Science?

'The mind is not the brain'
 - Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Science cannot explain how events in the brain produce mental experiences, or how mental intentions produce effects in the brain, such as those which are transmitted via the nervous system to give rise to the voluntary movement of muscles.  This gap in our understanding of mind/brain interactions is known as The Hard Problem.

Over 140 years ago John Tyndall wrote:
"... the passage from the physics of the brain to the corresponding facts of consciousness is unthinkable. Granted that a definite thought, and a definite molecular action in the brain occur simultaneously; we do not possess the intellectual organ, nor apparently any rudiment of the organ, which would enable us to pass, by a process of reasoning, from the one to the other. They appear together, but we do not know why. 

Were our minds and senses so expanded, strengthened, and illuminated, as to enable us to see and feel the very molecules of the brain; were we capable of following all their motions, all their groupings, all their electric discharges, if such there be; and were we intimately acquainted with the corresponding states of thought and feeling, we should be as far as ever from the solution of the problem, "How are these physical processes connected with the facts of consciousness?" The chasm between the two classes of phenomena would still remain intellectually impassable. 

Let the consciousness of love, for example, be associated with a right-handed spiral motion of the molecules of the brain, and the consciousness of hate with a left-handed spiral motion. We should then know, when we love, that the motion is in one direction, and, when we hate, that the motion is in the other; but the "Why?" would remain as unanswerable as before."

And in those intervening 140 years, science has made no progress whatsoever in addressing these questions.

So why is the Hard Problem so hard?

Is it just that we aren't yet smart enough to solve it, or is it that we never will be smart enough to solve it?  Or is the Hard Problem totally different from any other scientific problem because it involves a non-physical system: the Mind?

Read the full article at Rational Buddhism.

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