why study neurology?

Nick Medford nick at hermit0.demon.co.uk
Sun Jan 20 01:59:10 EST 2002

In article <43525ce3.0201190756.304679eb at posting.google.com>, mat
<mats_trash at hotmail.com> writes
>> But surely without an observer then there isn't even an atom, let alone a
>> bullet. Equally, when you talk of neurons, synapses etc. you are speaking
>> as their observer. 
>Well this is an even more fundamental point - do things exist outside
>of people observing them?  I think they do.

OK, well I won't pretend to know the answer to that, but my point was
that you are making an assumption by saying that emergent properties -
the motion of a motorbike, the "bullet-ness" of a bullet, whatever-
require an observer, whereas atoms, neurons, synapses are real whether
or not they are observed. Anyway...

>> Supposing you have two objects which are exactly the same size and
>> shape, in fact are exactly the same, right down to the atomic level. But
>> they come from different cultures, and one is a bullet whereas the other
>> is a paperweight. Are you going to say that the second one is, in fact, a
>> bullet? Even though the concept of "bullet" has no meaning in that
>> culture?? Surely not. But it is exactly the same physically as the first
>> object- it only differs in terms of the meaning ascribed to it. So it differs
>> in emergent property, but not in physical structure. So there *must* be
>> another level besides the physical. This is the level of information.
>> Emergent properties depend on information as well as atoms.
>Yes but the meaning you ascribe to the bullet is *your* take on it,
>and not a property inherent to the bullet.  These emergent properties
>exist in the minds of the observers not in the bullet. 

Yes, but there has to be an *interaction* between the object and the
observer for these properties to arise. And once something has been
defined as being a bullet, then it could be said to have the property of
"bullet-ness". I agree this is a characterisation depending on human
culture etc. rather than an intrinsic property of the object. But the object
does not exist in a vacuum- this is my point. 

You have been arguing that things (brains and minds at least) are totally
defined by their physical make-up. I'm saying this isn't so- it would be
true for something existing in a vacuum, but in the real world there is
flow of information about things, and that creates a level that is not
totally defined by physical characteristics.

In my example of someone raised in total sensory deprivation, it really
would have to be *total*, so someone who'd spent their whole life in,
say, a flotation tank wouldn't count (they can still hear their heartbeat and
other bodily sounds, they can still pinch themselves and feel pain, etc.
etc.)- they would pretty much have to be a disembodied brain with no
sensory apparatus. I'm quite prepared to accept that in this circumstance
the "mind" would be totally defined by the brain. It's hard to imagine the
mental landscape of such an individual, if indeed they would have one at

In real life the brain does after all sit in the body, and I guess Damasio's
"somatic marker" hypothesis has some relevance to my argument here. 

>I'm with you here. I don't think the brain can be explained in

In which case I'm not sure I understand why you have a problem with the
idea of an informational/experiential level- if you agree that the mind
can't be explained in isolation, then you're agreeing that it's not totally
defined by its biology, surely.

Nick Medford

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