explaining the brain

Ray Scanlon rscanlon at wsg.net
Wed Dec 2 09:56:22 EST 1998

We aim for a rational explanation of how the brain works. It must be based
first on the molecular biology of the neuron. Second, on the anatomy of the
nervous system, the neural net. Third, we ask that the explanation pay
attention to those aspects of the neural net that are reflected in the
subjective view of the brain as experienced by the mind.

As a starting point we take the position that the soul (mind) has no causal
powers. The soul is completely extraneous to our explanation of brain
activity. The brain would act just as well with no soul present. But an
explanation of brain activity that ignores the mind will not satisfy many
people. We wish to say, "When these neurons are active, we have decided". We
have not decided, our brain has decided but we experience the active neurons
and say that we did it.

Our answer to the soul (mind)/body problem is that a material universe has
no need of soul. We leave that to the philosophers, they may worry it to
their heart's content. Our position for purposes of brain explanation is
that there is soul (mind) but it has no part to play in a material account
of brain action.

We direct our attention to the neural net and, in particular, the mammalian
neural net. The brain is an artifact of anatomy, the neural net is the basic
reality of animal life. We exempt from consideration those primitive neural
structures that lack interneurons. At the same time we insist that all those
neural structures that include interneurons are members of the club, they
differ only in complexity.

Why such an explanation? Because it is a common complaint of
neuralphysiologists  that no such overall explanation exists to serve as a

Those interested in how the brain works might look at

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