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Minds, Machines and Consciousness - Essays on the Mind Brain Problem

All essays and pages on this website are declared to be in the public domain and may be freely printed and distributed. They may also be translated into other languages . Translations may be published on any website, but please include a link to the original essay page on this site.
- Sean Robsville

'...All systems subject to the laws of physics can be simulated by algorithms. Hence any system which cannot in principle  be simulated by an algorithm must have a non-physical component...'

Artificial Intelligence (AI)
'...Computationalism or philosophical AI, (sometimes also known as Strong AI),  which is the view that all human mental activities are reducible to algorithms, and could therefore be implemented on a computer...'

'...It is amazing that no-one ever realised that all phenomena - from atoms to galaxies - can only be known via internal mental states. If internal mental states do not exist then the things that become manifest through them cannot exist - or at any rate must always remain totally innaccessible to understanding.  (But presumably this doesn't matter because understanding, being an internal mental state, also cannot exist!)...'

Cellular automata
The nature of emergent complexity arising from cellular automata.

'The theological objection is that evolution states that there is a continuum between ape and man, ie human and animal.. This is not a problem for Buddhists,  who believe that both humans and animals possess sentient minds which survive death. However it is a major problem for theologians. The church has always taught that only humans have immortal souls, whereas animals are automata whose minds cease at death'

Doors of perception
' ....People get spiritual experiences under the influence of electromagnetic fields such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS),   and from psychedelic drugs such as mescalin, LSD, Psilocybe semilanceata and Amanita muscaria. All these transpersonal experiences are simply delusions caused by disruption of the normal electrochemical activity of the neurones.'
' ...Yes and No. There's no doubt that people experience other realms of reality under the influence of TMS  or hallucinogenic drugs. In these conditions the functioning of the brain is indeed abnormal.  But - you've got to ask yourself - what is the purpose of the normal functioning of the brain? The brain is a device which has evolved by selection of the fittest (not the most truthful) to project the delusion of the inherently-existing self onto the mind. This delusion of a permanent, unchanging self is 'imputed' over the ever-changing transitory collection of biochemical building blocks that makes up the physical aspects of a sentient being. Disruption .... by biochemical or biophysical agents, enables the mind to temporarily push the doors of perception ajar and peek beyond mundane biologically-determined appearances.... '

'The western response to materialism is dualism, which claims that there are two kinds of things in the universe - material objects and souls. The major exponent of dualism was Descartes. Dualism implies that mental experience is a radically new feature that only humans possess, and a late optional extra slipped into an already well-defined, functional, physical universe.'

The mind cannot be an emergent property of the brain or any other physical system, since emergent properties and emergent phenomena are psychological in origin, and require the pre-existence of an observer's mind in order to become manifest.

The very subtle mind
'...The mind is neither physical, nor a by-product of purely physical processes, but a formless continuum that is a separate entity from the body. When the body disintegrates at death, the mind does not cease. Although our superficial conscious mind ceases, it does so by dissolving into a deeper level of consciousness, called 'the very subtle mind'. The continuum of our very subtle mind has no beginning and no end....'

Empty set - the origins of number
' the final analysis the entire number system has been generated by the play of mind on emptiness, in the complete absence of the need to refer to any material thing, or things, which are being counted.  Numbers are therefore fundamentally devoid of inherent 'Platonic' existence..'

Engineering anomalies
'As well as being able to affect matter at the quantum level, there is increasing evidence that the mind can directly affect larger scale systems.'

'Epiphenomenalism avoids some of the absurdities of the behaviorists by claiming that consciousness and thought-processes do actually exist, though only as epiphenomena generated by the physical activities of the brain. However,  thoughts have no causative functions!  The illusion of free-will remains precisely that - an illusion'.

Evolutionary Psychology
'Our genes drive us along paths of action which appear to minimise suffering, but in many cases increase it. Greed and acquisitiveness are natural reactions designed to increase the survival of our genes, and decrease the chances of our competitors. After a certain point, the more you've got the more you've got to lose, and so the more you've got to worry about.'

Formless mind
'The description of the root mind as 'formless' doesn't just refer to its non-material nature, but it emphasises that it is unlimited, non-mechanistic and totally free from any structure or topology... In Buddhist psychology the root mind is non-physical and non-algorithmic.  The mind cannot be understood in terms of circuit diagrams and flowcharts. It is pure awareness.'

Laws of physics - their anthropic origin
'Both quantum theory and Buddhist teachings on sunyata suggest that as soon as an observer's mind makes contact with a superposed system, all the numerous possibilities collapse into one actuality. At some instant one of these possible alternative universes produced an observing lifeform. The first act of observation by this mind caused the entire superposed multiverse to collapse immediately into one of its numerous alternatives'

'...The version of materialism prevalent nowadays is more accurately known as physicalism. Physicalism has grown out of advances during the second half of the twentieth century in the fields of genetics, evolution and computer technology. Modern physicalism takes as its subject matter DNA codes, computer instruction sets and datastructures, rather than the bouncing billiard balls of the nineteenth and early twentieth century materialists..'

Mathematics - Its unreasonable effectiveness in science and engineering
So we are left with something of a mystery. According to the physicalist worldview, the mind (including mathematicians' minds) is an epiphenomenon of matter which has evolved solely to ensure the survival of the selfish genes which code for it. Why should this 'top-level' phenomenon have such intimate access to the 'bottom level' phenomena such as quantum physics? After all, the two levels are supposedly separated by less well-understood (in some cases) explanatory layers such as evolutionary psychology,   neurology, cell biology, genetics, molecular biology, and chemistry.

'Metaphysics means, literally,  'beyond physics'.  Metaphysics deals with phenomena which are either more basic than physics, or beyond the reach of physical methods of analysis and understanding.'

Mind - experiencing its non-physical nature
One of the quickest ways to convince yourself that the root mind is not physical, (and is not therefore limited by one birth and one death), is to meditate on the formless nature of the mind.

Non-algorithmic phenomena
The great difficulty in talking about non-algorithmic phenomena is that although we can say in general terms what they do, it is impossible by their very nature to describe how they do it. (If we could describe in a stepwise manner what was going on,   then the phenomenon would be algorithmic).

'The Buddhist does not doubt that the brain does some very sophisticated ordering of its incoming nerve impulses into the datastructures which are the objects of knowledge.   But when all is said and done, those datastructures remain as objects. They are not themselves knowledge, neither are they that which performs the function of knowing.'

Quantum sunyata
Whenever and wherever there is no mind there is no meaning and no reality. This is a similar conclusion to the Mahayana Buddhist teachings on sunyata.

Science of the mind?
Science will never be able to analyse such phenomena... because these 'things' do not have any structure - they do not have any nuts and bolts for the dismantling tools of science to get a grip on.  The phrase 'Science of Consciousness' is thus a self-contradiction.

Sentient beings
What make a sentient being different from an automaton?

Spooky action at a distance (EPR Paradox)
'One of the most vivid illustrations of the interactions of the mind of the observer with a quantum system is given by EPR - the 'Einstein Podolsky Rosen Paradox', or 'Spooky action at a distance' as it is sometimes known. The experimental evidence seems to show that the observer's mind goes to its object unobstructedly and instantaneously.'

Symbiotic mind
Animals above a certain level of development require more than automatic reflexes in order to survive. Advanced organisms need motivation and intention in order to function in complex environments. Motivation and intention are chiefly driven by dukkha - the need to avoid suffering or unsatisfactoriness and the restless but futile search for lasting happiness. It is the suffering and grasping of their minds - the need to avoid pain and seek pleasure - that provides the driving force for survival and reproduction of complex animals.

- Sean Robsville


If we regard Buddhism as a combination of a philosophy, psychology and religion, then how much mileage can we get from the first two aspects before we have to start invoking religious faith?

Christian versus Buddhist worldviews

Buddhism in Everyday Life
The Daily Meditation