Posted by Adam on February 22, 2000, at 14:34:35
In reply to Out walking the dogma..., posted by bob on February 20, 2000, at 0:57:44
> When it gets down to brass tacks, the most powerful ideas of the hard sciences are not clockwork, mechanistic descriptions of directly perceived empirical phenomena -- the most powerful ideas of science are metaphors.
> So, I have no problem believing that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
I guess I was unaware that scientists pushing the envelope of neurology, psychiatry, and psychology still bothered with distinctions between mind and brain. I rather thought that duality was going the way of, say, wave/particle duality: How you look at something affects the observation but the distinction is artificial, and, while such observations provide useful information, they're limited by the very nature of the experiment and thus inevitably obfuscate some aspects of "reality".
Some people have proposed that what makes the "mind" more than the sum of its brain parts is the fact that it is, at some level, a quantum computer, and uses the superposition of quantum states of some or other molecular component(s) to do massively parallel calculations that can't be observed directly but will resolve themselves into a singular result, a "thought". However, many physicists who study quantum computing think the brain is just to warm and full of jiggling stuff to support a usable quantum computer: molecules interact with other molecules so quickly that superimposed quantum states resolve themselves far faster than any neuron can fire.
Maybe people think the mind is more complex than it really is. Maybe the brain, being just a big mushy computer, can really be figured out adequately to explain and simulate conscious processes to the greatest meaningful level of accuracy: It might just be only the sum of its parts, and the variability one sees from brain to brain is is typical of any biological system. By that we mean its development is characterized by the order we see in chaos, fractal geometries, which really aren't all that mysterious. So the brain is very complicated, to be sure, and unpredicatble in its development the way watersheds or tree branches are unpredictable in their individuality. But, as the mathematics of fractals tells us, the fundamental structures maybe aren't all that inscrutable, and "hard" science could really tell us all that we need to know about the brain. This means the mind too, since they are one and the same.
The statistical analogy of quantum physiscs thus might not be fully applicable to the use of statistics in studying the brain/mind. You wouldn't, for instance, use such an analogy to describe the workings of a digital computer, which the brain, for all the world, behaves like at its most fudamental level, a la the original concepts of neural networks dreampt up by Turing. You need to exploit quantum properties to make transitors in a semiconductor chip work, but those properties don't constructively affect the processing of bits and bytes but rather destructively affect them through random decay of data. The same may also be true of the brain.
To sum up, the brain may be sufficiently computer-like to yield all its secrets to reductionist study, and that in neurology, as well as any cognative science, physics envy is warrented and to be desired.