why study neurology?

James Teo james at teoth.fsnet.co.uk
Wed Jan 16 08:43:12 EST 2002

On 16 Jan 2002 02:04:17 -0800, mats_trash at hotmail.com (mat) wrote:
>> Rhetorical questions for Mat:
>> 1) Do you think the mind (as you understand that word, since we all
>> seem to be using it differently) is an emergent property of neuronal
>> firings, chemical changes and whatever else goes on in the material
>> brain?
>Emergent is an ambiguous word and has been used by many as simply a
>way of hiding a theory based on dualism.  I would say of course that
>some brain functions cannot be understood just by examining a single
>synapse in the same way that a cell can't be understood by looking at
>a single enzyme.  But I only think mind emerges to the same extent
>that we see a cell as composed of all its constituent proteins etc.
>and subsequently having seemingly deliberate or purposeful action.  I
>don;t believe a cell gains any soul as an emergent property, similarly
>in the brain.

Emergent property does not equal to "having deliberate or purposeful
action" or "soul". Emergent property is where the combined whole is
more than the sum of its parts. Synergy or whatever you want to call
it. You have a very wrong idea about what emergent properties are.

The cell analogy is very apt, except that they do have emergent
properties, just that they have nothing to do with having a soul: can
one fully understand all the properties of a cell (cooperative and
competitive behaviour with neighbouring cells, etc) by studying the
individual molecules? No, one has to study the entirety of the cell as
a whole entity as well to see how all the systems come together.
That is the crucial difference between reductivism, ie. studying the
smallest component will explain everything else upwards (what you are
preaching) and what I think cognitive science needs to crack the hard
problems, which is a more holistic overview approach.

>> 2) If so, then it can have new properties that its constituent parts
>> do not, right? Then is it fair to say that treating at the level of
>> the emergent property directly may be more effective in producing
>> desired changes than treating at the level of the constituents in hope
>> that the emergent property changes?
>Thats just mis-guided.  If a person undergoes 'therapy' i.e.
>discussing problems etc., then how exactly is the language and meaning
>within it received and interpreted by the brain? Through something
>other than its synpatic connections?  You can never jump outside the
>system.  How would you treat the emergent property by any other route
>than its synapses? When talking to someone you are changing their
>synaptic connections and creating new emergent network patterns etc. 
>Pharmacological agents, though undoubtably a much more crude tool than
>language at the present time, have the same essential effects.  I say
>this of course because I believe there is nothing other than the brain
>which constitutes our mind.

Look, I don't think anyone in this discussion disputes that the mind
is constituted from the brain. The difference in opinion is to what
extent the properties of the mind is fully explainable by studying the
components of the brain at a molecular, neurochemical and
neurophysiological level. 
You are saying it is, I am saying it isn't. We both agree that we have
to study the brain, I am just saying we have to study the mind as
well. As even though the mind is composed of the brain, there are
properties which will not come to light by just studying the
components. I hope you can see the difference in meaning between:
properties (characteristics) and components (constituent parts). I
suggest study both, you suggest there is no need for the former as the
latter will explain the former.

Eg: you can't fully comprehend river flow by only studying the quantum
physics of hydrogen and oxygen atoms, even if that is what it is made
up of. Study about hydrogen and oxygen atoms help you know about
water, but at the end you still have to study it at the macro- level
which studies the properties of the river, the geography, the unique
properties of water, etc.

Re: My example about talking to someone to treat their depression. 
Of course, you are changing their internal material brain state, etc,
but my point is that understanding and treating depression at the
psychological 'mind' level is a valid (and may be an even more
effective) approach as well.

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