I am going to start this post being really blunt, and simplifying things. This entire back and forth of what makes a mind, consciousness, thinking, rationality et; al is overplayed, over complicated and profoundly abused in philosophy. Let me be clear, philosophy of the mind is useful for psychology, studying the personality, mental states, emotions, cognition, free will, and our capacity to reason. The importance there cannot be ignored or overstated. Where it is not useful, is how the mind relates to the physical. I am wishy washy and mostly undecided on my stances regarding materialism…but when it comes to the mind, I am a physicalist. This is because Dualism is a dead concept, and everything we learn about the brain adds another shovel full of dirt to it’s grave. I think we collectively give Chalmers’ hard problem of consciousness far too much credence, instead of objectively looking at what empirical data and evidence tells us. Read on to find out how dare I, a dime-store philosophical hack says that. For the purposes of this post, when I say mind or "the mental", it is a collective bin for thoughts, memories, consciousness, and everything else associated with the mental. There will be a lot of resources cited at the end of this entry.
Logic dictates that either a mind comes from the material, or it does not. Thus, it can be summed up in a true dichotomous position, either the mind is material, or it is not material. There is no middle ground here. Either the brain, or the soul is responsible for the mind, it is logically necessary that it is either one or the other. It cannot be a product of both the soul, and the brain at the same time. This is what gets ignored and lost in all the “high-level philosophy” of this. It is problematic to try and be obtuse about this Acknowledge the dichotomy of this, and pick a side. When I say soul, I am just using this as a collective bin for anything not physical. So again, the mind either comes from the brain, or it does not. If the mind does not come from the brain, it must necessarily come from the soul. The mind either comes from the soul, or it does not. If the mind does not come from the soul, it necessarily must come from the brain.
It is important to note that our understanding of how the mind arises from the brain is irrelevant. For the sake of argument, I will concede that I have no clue how the mind arises from brain activity, and the brain itself. How it arises and anyone’s knowledge or lack thereof of how it does, is unimportant to the fact that all evidence and empirical data shows that it does indeed arise from the brain, and brain activity. Qualia is also unimportant here (qualia is a pretentious way of saying subjective personal experience like how we perceive color or identify beauty). We do not need to speculate, or philosophize about where the mind comes from, this is demonstrated by empirical evidence. I am not going to just leave this here, we are going to go over the evidence together, including two pieces of anecdotal evidence from events in my life.
Let’s start with the least impactful evidence, and that is anecdotal, but ties into a much more robust topic. My sister has epilepsy, which itself is a neurological disorder (we will get to those in a bit). She had an epileptic seizure, which caused her to stop breathing. When her fiancée found her, she was already blue and purple from lack of oxygen. It was around six minutes from the time her fiancé found here, until emergency services arrived, once emergency services arrived, it was roughly another minute to get her breathing by artificial means. How long she was not breathing before her fiancé found her, is unknown. However, according to the doctors at Cincinnati’s Good Samaritan hospital, it takes about 45 seconds without any oxygen for cyanosis (the skin turning blue) to set in, and complete lack of oxygen happens about 1.5 minutes after breathing stops. Altogether, it is estimated by the medical team that took care of my sister, that she was oxygen deprived for about nine total minutes. This is just six minutes shy of how long someone can go without oxygen, after fifteen minutes, death is certain. This is also just one minute shy of what the University of Michigan says is unlikely to be a recoverable time frame for survivability. Moreover, we know for fact that brain damage starts around three minutes. This held true with my sister. She was clinically dead when she got to the hospital. Now here is where it becomes relevant for what we are taking about here. My sister survived this. However, going that long without oxygen caused brain damage. The bulk of this damage manifested itself in the form of destroying her short-term memory. She lost all memory of the previous five years. This is incredibly significant, considering the gigantic life events that happened in those five years. Not the least of this is the birth of her two youngest children (at the time, three years old, and eight months old). When her fiancée brought them to see her in the hospital, they were complete strangers to her, she did not know their names, recognize their faces; they were just two random kids because of the part of her brain that is responsible for memory being damaged. She did not remember her oldest children moving out or graduating school. She remembered them as little children, not the grown adults that they are, and were at the time. Lastly, she did not remember the death of our mother, who was her best friend and took her two years to “get over”. One of the hardest things I ever had to do was to explain to a woman in the hospital who just went though something like this, why her best friend, our mother has not called or come to visit her. It has been more than a year since this happened. In that time, these memories have not come back, and her doctors say the won't, because of the damage done to her brain via lack of oxygen. She accepts these events happened, is learning to love her youngest children again, but she will never have memories of it again. Her short-term memory is so messed up, that something has to be explained or shown to her at least ten times before she can remember it, if she is even able to at all, and that is her being lucky that the oxygen deprivation did not cause more damage.
This is entirely because of a neurological disorder, that caused a seizure which caused her to stop breathing, clinically killed her, and fucked her short term memory. There are more personal cognitive impacts that she also has to deal with, but I won’t get into the details here out of respect to her as a person. She was lucky, as one more minute of oxygen deprivation would have most likely rendered her brain dead. This is to me, is powerful evidence that the mind is dependent on the brain. Her memory and other issues are entirely caused by her brain being deprived of oxygen. The Brain and oxygen are two physical, material things that directly impact the mind, this is direct (and to me) conclusive evidence that physicalism is true. Ironically enough, I asked my sister when she came home from the hospital what it was like to die (twice). She told me that she doesn’t know, as it was just like sleeping. One moment, she is going to get a cup of coffee, the next she is waking up in the hospital two days later in real time, but five or so years earlier according to her memory (she was asked what year it was by her doctors, and she answered 2016, pre-election, as she also answered Obama when asked who the president was). Giving her memory issues, this isn’t enough to support there not being life after death, but it is interesting non the less.
My sister’s case is not some outlier, or one-off instance. We know extensively the impact that brain damage has on people. This is not a guessing game; this is not a matter of philosophy. This is hard evidence from science, that is well-known and demonstrable. For instance, studies are now showing the impacts of constant head/brain impacts on football players, and how it impacts them mentally. This is known as Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and has been talked about at length from Harvard, and other universities studying CTE, and its effects on football players. CTE is a brain disorder caused by repeated by constant impact to the head, that directly leads to mental problems like memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, anxiety, suicidality, parkinsonism, and, eventually, progressive dementia. Like in my sister’s case, this is direct evidence that the Brain is responsible for the mental. There is no evidence of any sort like this for the mental being due to the soul, none. There is a bunch of pretentiously elegant philosophical musings, arguments and statements from incredulity & ignorance, and assertions that the mental cannot come from the physical, but no evidence. Yet, we have real and direct empirical evidence that the brain is responsible for the mental, odd that.
All forms of brain damage, damage to the grey matter of the brain impacts the mental. From concussions, to brain death, to reductions in motor and cognitive functions and much more. This is exactly what we would expect if the mental arose from the physical brain. It follows logically that the brain is responsible for the mind.
Another line of evidence is substance addiction. This is from the American Society of Addiction medicine: “Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual's life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.” Notice some of the Key take aways here, substances often trigger compulsive behavior, because the brain needs what ever substance it is addicted, the mind finds a away to get the brain it’s fix. I am a smoker, I know all to well how quickly my mood changes, and how “snappy” I become without access to nicotine. Addiction to a physical substance, especially hard drugs have been known to make people “lose their minds” and rob their own loved ones even to get the money to get the next fix. Alcoholism egregiously has the biggest effect. People will forgo food because their brain is telling them that they need that beer more. This is all because something causes a change to brain states and function, which directly cause a change in mentality and mental states.
You ever engaged with a drunk or high person? Chances are if you have, they are “a different person” than the sober version. They become more open, promiscuous, more willing to take risks, some say more honest. All because of changes in chemicals and those interactions in the brain. Physical substances like drugs or alcohol changes the brain, which changes the personality. This seems to indicated the physical brain, and what happens to it dictates the mind, and can alter mental states.
The entirety of psychiatric medicine, the medicine that impacts mentality, and mental states is entirely predicated on how medicine (physical chemicals) impacts mentality and mental states. This is not even close to being up for debate. Zoloft for example, builds a layer of serotonin in your skull, that help people stay calmer, longer. It is often prescribed to people (like myself) who have anger issues, to help keep us calm. Do notice, that “Anger” and “calm” are emotional mental states. Physical pills, that you take with your physical mouth, so that it goes into your physical stomach, and disperses into your physical blood, to go to your physical brain directly impacts your mentality and mental states. Hmm, it is almost as if those are also physically derived. Yes, this is extreme condescension, and no I am not sorry for that. Because this part, gets entirely ignored by philosophy and theology. It’s not even considered in these conversations. I do not know if it is because of intellectual dishonesty, intellectual laziness, or fear of the implications of this. I am wholly certain it is not because this is unknown, or some fringe inference, because neither of those is true. The list of medications is extensive, and some can be found here:
( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_psychotropic_medications ). This is because we understand how the physical chemicals of medication interact with physical chemicals of the brain, to alter the mental. We understand this because the mental is a product of the physical. You take a pill; you change your brain chemistry. When your brain chemistry changes, your mental state is altered. This literally cannot be logically if the soul is responsible for the mental. It would be impossible. The reason it would be impossible, is because if there is some immaterial soul that makes up you, physical interactions of any sort would not be able to impact the YOU that is mental. Physical interactions could certainly impact your physical body, but if your soul is you, your consciousness and its not material, adding physical chemicals to the body would not impact the immaterial mental that makes you. If mental cannot come from material, it logically follows that the mental cannot be impacted or changed by the physical. Yet, it is a fact in every sense of the word, that the mental is impacted and changed by the physical.
Now that we have talked about medicine that helps the mental, it is time to talk about the opposite end of that spectrum, disorders and diseases that negatively impacts the mental. This is where the 2nd of my anecdotes come in. In this case, it was the degenerative brain disease known as Alzheimer's disease. What a nasty thing that is. When my grandfather was suffering from the disease, I distinctly remember how it fundamentally changed him. This change was not to his body (though it was deteriorating) the change was to HIM, his personality the consciousness that made him who he was. I seen him go from a man who loved his children, and grandchildren far more than himself…to a man that lost all memory of his life after his service in the USMC (including us) during World War two, some fifty years earlier, and no longer being able to string coherent sentences together. The man that moved his grandchildren 1500 miles, just so her could be around us did not even remember us at the end of his life. A man who was a marine colonial, a sheriffs deputy, and became financially well off from the stock-market was not able to speak a complete sentence at the end of his life. Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that basically prohibits brain cells from working correctly, and deteriorates those cells over time. Here is the rub, much like us not understanding how consciousness starts, no one is sure what causes any form of Dementia, especially Alzheimer’s. Yet, I don’t think anyone is going to claim that it is metaphysical. This is a brain disease that destroys cognitive function, memory, and the personality before ultimately destroying the brain to the point of biological death. This is yet more evidence that demonstrates that the brain is directly responsible for the mind. A disease, destroys the brain, which in tern destroys the memory and mind along the way. Alzheimer’s and the other forms of dementia are the most powerful demonstrations that show the brain is responsible for the mind. As the brain goes, so does the mind.
That said, we can now make a few logical posits about this. Mental comes from the physical, this is clearly demonstrated. So if the mental comes from the physical, it necessarily cannot come from the soul. It must be material.
All the evidence is heavily on the side of physicalism. In the face of this evidence, the classical thought experiments are kind of worthless as well. Brain in a vat? Still a brain. In the matrix? Still have a brain. Simulation? Still a physical process. The Cartesian demon is the only one that cannot be reduced to the physical. Yet even then, if it is still me, and still my body being tricked, it is also still my brain.
Apologists assert that the mind cannot come from the physical…and offer no demonstrations, no good arguments, and definitely no evidence for that assertion. I assert that the mind only comes the physical, and list evidence that demonstrate it. I do not need a syllogistic argument to conclude what all the evidence points too. Someone might say that correlation does not equal causation. In some cases, that is false. However, these lines of evidence are not correlation, they demonstrate direct causation between two things. Changes to the brain, and brain states directly change the mental, and mental states.
At the beginning of this post, I said that I think we collectively give Chalmers’ hard problem of consciousness far too much credence. The reason, is because even if we never find exactly what causes consciousness to arise, the fact of the matter is that it does. And we know yes know, that it is directly impacted by the physical brain. We know that changes to the brain equal one to one change in mental states and consciousness. We focus on the HPC, and where it comes from, but miss the trees for the forest. We see the Forrest (the mental), yet miss the trees (physical) that comprise the forest.
There are some certain implications to this as well…and why so many people do not want to see all this physical evidence. That is because of the common descriptors of God. Spaceless, timeless, IMMATERIAL, Unimaginable powerful, and a personal mind. If the brain is responsible for the mind, then there can be no immaterial mind outside of spacetime making universes. These are serious implications, I understand. I am also sure once we do know how the mental arises, and it is shown that it is indeed physical…theists will figure out a way to still rationalize their god into existence.
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