Sie sind auf Seite 1von 39

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience

June, 2014. Daniel Draghicescu. draghicescu_daniel [at] yahoo.com

Abstract

Cognitive neuroscience has had important breakthroughs in the last decades. Still, we are pretty far away from actually understanding the mind and the brain. I believe part of this problem is generated by a misguided approach in the brain and the mind definitions. All existing doctrines up until now have proven their flaws, one way or another, and have failed to properly define the relation between the mind and the brain. The purpose of this paper is to propose a change of view when approaching philosophical doctrines in cognitive neuroscience. The idea I am advocating for is to distance ourselves from the traditional doctrines approach, take a step back and define a framework on top of which future studies should develop. The difference between a doctrine and a framework, in the sense I am proposing, is that a framework establishes only the grounds in the philosophy of cognitive neuroscience. These grounds consist solely in the topics which are critical in the development of any research: the definitions for the mind and the brain, the relation between them, the description of mental phenomena, the structure of the binding problem and the approach towards consciousness. In order not the discard all the work conducted up until now, the framework is developed by taking into account the major existing doctrines in the philosophy of mind: all that was important was kept and all that was way too strict was removed. Inside the framework, the mind is defined as a feature of the brain, with a first-person, subjective ontology. This subjective ontology shouldn't frighten us, once we understand the ontological and epistemological implications for the mind and properly define the usage of the term “reality”. The framework imposes the acceptance of mental phenomena, behaviour, neurons interactions and causality, both at neuron level and mental level. Also, it is suggested that the mind can be mapped into mental functions. Mental functions are the definition of mental phenomena. The binding problem is addressed at the level of mental functions, and part of the solution identified relies on attention, knowledge, memory and expectation. It is expected that further studies should properly identify the causal relation between neurons firing and mental phenomena. Consciousness is defined both as a feature of the brain and as a state the brain is in. Consciousness is the main connection we have towards the mind: most of the time, in order for a mental phenomenon to happen, it must first become conscious. Just like in the case of the mind, consciousness has a subjective, first person ontology. Consciousness has a certain subjective feeling, it provides an unified experience of reality, it has intentionality and holds a certain mood.

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Table of Contents

Daniel Draghicescu

1. Introduction

3

2. A framework for the mind-body problem

7

2.1 Establishing the grounds

7

2.2 Ontological and epistemological implications

8

2.3 The overstatement of doctrines

13

2.3.1 Materialism

13

2.3.2 Behaviorism

17

2.3.3 Identity theory

20

2.4

Mid conclusion

23

2. Binding problem

26

3. Consciousness

30

4. Conclusions

36

References

38

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

1. Introduction

Daniel Draghicescu

Looking back at the progress performed in the last twenty - thirty years in the cognitive neuroscience discipline, it is difficult to adopt a clear optimistic or pessimistic view. The progress is sometimes overwhelming. At the top of my mind, let’s consider prof. Gallant’s work on reconstructing mental events into images, by scanning the brain using an fMRI. The result is astonishing and scary at the same time, a clear sign of science’s progress towards the unknown. We can only think: where will we be in ten years? If neuroscience has gone that far, will there be any limit? But these questions also raise a more skeptical approach: are we really that far away? I don’t want to be misinterpreted, I am not trying to diminish the importance of Gallant’s work - on the contrary, I have a sincere appreciation for his research. But if we look at the progress made in other areas - and let’s take as examples mathematics, physics or computer science - I might be influenced to say the neuroscience hasn’t really gone that far away. And I’m not referring to the research made in its area of interest, but on the basic problems of any science - its definition, its purpose, the grounds on which it is built, or, in more simpler terms: its philosophy. If we think about it, the truth is we don’t know that much about the mind and the brain. Of course, like I’ve stated, we have made considerable progress in the area. In the last decades, there are incomparable breakthroughs for both psychology and neurology in the study of the mind and the brain. New theories emerged and lots of alternatives were explored. But still, the progress itself is not that obvious, when comparing to other sciences. We haven’t yet had any major revolution, we are still missing an “Einstein of the mind and the brain”. So let’s ask ourselves a couple of questions: Why is the progress so slow for cognitive neuroscience? Even with all the evolution we have come to achieve, are we sure we are on the right track? Will this road guide us to new discoveries or will we clash into a dead end, depressed by the fact that our current knowledge is all there is? When I am asking these questions, I am considering areas like psychotherapy and mental diseases. Even with all the achievements up until now, the reliability of treatments for diseases like depression or bipolar disorder are still far from being perfect. I believe a cause for this are the limits we have regarding our understanding of the mind. Wouldn’t it be incredible to have the possibility to simulate a mind inside a laboratory? Or to test a new drug within that simulation and analyse its outcome?

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

Of course, these are perspectives to look for into the future. But if we desire for these views to ever become real, I believe we must first try to understand better both the mind and the brain. In this paper I will try to take the pessimist road. For the field of neuroscience, I will recognize and compliment each and every progress made up until now, I will glance with anticipation towards any future discovery, but I will also stand firm by my impression that the road we are riding on with so much enthusiasm is actually imprecise. I fear we have engaged inside a race towards some unknown higher ambitions, in a misguided competition for which the final prize is the solution. But the solution to what? What is it that we are searching for? One direct answer would be: understanding the mind and the brain. But can we really reach this tremendous goal, if history is on the pessimistic side? I believe that cognitive neuroscience has reached the point where it needs guidance. We will either continue on this road and fear it will end into a wall or approach the alternative: make a stop and look back, way back at the time we have started the journey, and make sure that the foundation on which we are building our entire research is the right one. In order to trust in our future work, we must first define the answers for basic questions such as: What is the mind? What is the brain? What is their relation? What exactly are we studying? For sure, this task is not an easy one. The debates on the mind and body date back from Aristotle, and since then all kind of philosophical doctrines have tried to provide their own answers to the mind-body and related problems. The all-too-many existing views are a clear argument that we haven’t quite reached a common agreement on what is it that we are actually examining. So how can we expect a proper answer, if we haven’t yet defined the question? I will keep my word and follow the pessimistic approach I have promised in the beginning of this paper. Hence, I won’t even consider the idea that all philosophers and cognitive neuroscientists should agree on a single doctrine. Philosophy, in its whole, is well known for its affinity towards dogmas and its stubbornness for complicating sometimes even the easiest problems. What I will do however is start a small battle with the doctrines in the philosophy of mind (or cognitive neuroscience, to be more accurate). Not a war, but a small battle. Let me explain why. Most of the time, doctrines are essential. They provide a common ground inside which arguments are constructed and divergent opinions are rejected. Still, they have a downside. Doctrines become dangerous when the subject for which they are defined is not mature enough - our case being philosophy of mind. Let’s be honest, how are the doctrines actually built?

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

Someone start with a problem and provides a solution. If the solution fits, perfect! The next question is: how do we place everything else inside the same doctrine? If the solution doesn’t fit, adapt it to match the doctrine. If it can’t be adapted, it wasn’t really a problem anyway! This game we are playing might prove risky when approaching domains which haven’t yet reached a certain level of maturity, because starting off with a wrong or incompatible doctrine is a direct line towards failure. In this situation, the doctrine becomes our worst enemy: it leads us to try and fit all of our finding inside a set of rules and definitions which are in reality incoherent. For our domain - philosophy of mind - I want to propose a new approach. At the first glance, it might not look like a revolution against our current practices - and, truly, it is not even intended to be - but it might provide the look back I was mentioning earlier. Maybe it will help unlock the state in which myself, with my pessimistic view, believe we are stuck in. What I propose is to leave aside all current philosophical doctrines and define a philosophical framework to work in. Bear with me, I can assure there is more to this approach than a difference in syntax. The main contrast to be noticed here is the following: a doctrine is something to adhere into; a framework is something to build on. In the terminology I am proposing, a framework is defined only by a set of basic rules and definitions, which identify the grounds on which future work, including doctrines, should be built. In our specific case, for philosophy of mind, the framework implies the definition of the mind and the brain, their ontological and epistemological implications and basic descriptions, as, for example, consciousness and its role in cognition. On top of this framework, which should somehow represent a coherent set in itself, future researches can be developed, like empirical studies or definitions for theories of mind. I have stated in the beginning of this paper that the progress in cognitive neuroscience is slow. This, I believe, is a clear argument that the science itself is not mature enough, in the sense that a considerable amount of clarifications, understandings and breakthroughs are to be expected in the (near or distant) future. At this stage, we should stop the current strategy (which, by the way, works perfect for other mature philosophical domains) in which we try to pinpoint each new or existing concept into an existing doctrine. The doctrines themselves - because I do agree there will be more than one, regardless of the future progress - should be defined only after we have gathered enough information and the domain becomes more mature than it currently is. We are now in the build-up phase, working towards maturity, and at this point the doctrines are only

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

limiting our perspectives. We need to develop, and for this we need a framework, some common grounds to work on top of. The framework I am suggesting will not be completely disconnected from the existing doctrines. There is a considerable amount of information gathered in the past and it would be a shame to throw all of this away. On the contrary, the framework will take the essential from what we already have, reject what is incoherent and leave enough flexibility for future extensions - because, let’s not forget, this is the main goal: to endorse the future progress on top of something. This implies, as expected, that even the framework itself will be opened for future transformations or improvements.

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

2. A framework for the mind-body problem

2.1 Establishing the grounds

We cannot approach the cognitive neuroscience without challenging the famous mind-body problem. It is a question which has puzzled philosophers for decades and it examines the relation between mind and matter (i.e. body, brain), or, in other words, between the mental and the physical. Here, the debate seems endless, which is why I prefer to stay out of this dispute and not try to define a new view, because, to be honest, I believe the solution for this problem has already been established. Instead, I will try to argue for the view which has the answer, not as a doctrine, but as part of the framework on top of which future studies can be carried out. In the same time, I will try to approach the major existing doctrines and point out where they were mistaken, where they were too strict in their limits and where they were right. But before I start, let me say a couple of words about the view I was referring above - the one which I believe already holds the answer for the mind - body problem. In his book The Rediscovery of the Mind, John Searle, which may be one of the most influential philosophers in the philosophy of language and philosophy of mind in the last decades, has defined a doctrine which he calls “biological naturalism”. In his view, the relation between the mind and the brain is:

Mental phenomena are caused by neurophysiological processes in the brain and are

themselves features of the brain. [

biological natural history as digestion, mitosis, meiosis, or enzyme secretion” (Searle, 1992, pg 1) During this chapter I will argue why I believe this view should stand as a basis for all cognitive neuroscience and why other views which, more or less, do not fit on the idea that the mind is a feature of the brain are mistaken. I will start off with the common sense arguments and slowly move towards the complex ones. Common sense arguments in general are by themselves quite debatable in philosophy. Sometimes, I can understand why, because what we call “common sense” might often be mistaken. Let me take an example derived from Frege’s work on perception: if I were to look at

Mental events and processes are as much part of

]

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

a white box inside a room, I can state that “the box is white”, which is obviously true. But my perspective of the box is actually influenced by the conditions of exposure, or, in this situation, the white light which is distributed inside the room. If the light were to turn red, the box would still be white, but I would perceive it as red. So my senses are influenced by other external factors, which are not intrinsically linked to perception. This is an example to state that “common sense” might sometimes be wrong, because a person which has no knowledge on how objects reflect light waves might consider the box to actually be red. What is important here is to distinguish between the types of arguments which can stand by themselves and are considered self-explanatory and the ones who require further demonstration. Considering the mind a natural phenomena is, I believe, quite intuitive and quite coherent with what we really are, which is biological creatures. Our existence is accounted inside an extensive period of biological evolution, which led each individual specie towards its own unique characteristics. If there is a place to start looking for answers, this is it: biological evolution. Trying to explain how the brain and mind function shouldn’t be different than trying to explain the stomach and its digestive features, like physical decomposition of the food or enzyme secretion. Of course, this argument will never stand by its own, so allow me to advance deeper inside the realm of philosophy of mind and also relate to the major doctrines out there.

2.2 Ontological and epistemological implications

For the framework I am proposing, in which the mind is a feature of the brain, it is important to clearly define the ontological and epistemological implications. Like we shall see, I am trying to avoid falling down the same path that some doctrines have followed and confuse or incompletely define the two terms. By epistemological implications I understand the processes by which knowledge can be acquired, related to a certain subject. The ontological implications represent the nature of the subject itself, or in other words, how the existence of the subject is defined. Before continuing, I will define the term reality, as it will be used in some paragraphs during this sub-chapter. For this, I want to introduce Kant’s distinction between noumenon and phenomenon. The noumenon is an object or event that is known without the use of senses. In contrast, the phenomenon is the sensorial representation of an object or event. Since knowledge is dependent on the senses, the noumenal world is inaccessible to us; we can only have access to

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

the phenomena. Reality, in the way I am interested in, consist in the world of phenomena, to which I want to add all that is defined by the conscious mind. Thus, reality includes the representation of objects and events, in the way the conscious mind understands it, to which we must add the totality of entities, abstract or real, which have been defined by a conscious mind and are not included in the noumenal word. What I am trying to do is to point out that our reality does not consist only on physical objects, like cars, chairs or tables, but it also has another layer - those entities which we have defined as humans and use in our everyday lives. This latter category includes governments, countries, traffic laws, sports and so on - all that would not exist if not defined by humans. I don’t want to start a physical / non-physical debate so early in this paper; the time will come for this later. What is very important at this point is to realise that, when referring to our reality, we tend to think not only to the objects we can access using our perception, but also to the societies we live in, the rules which govern these societies, the interactions we have among each other, the ethical codes we tend to follow and so on. There are two terms that science fears the most. The terms subjective / objective are often related to a perceiving subject and an object, independent from the subject, which is being perceived. They are typically correlated with ideas like truth and reality, in the sense that subjectivity should be eliminated as much as possible from any form of analysis. This is to say that, when we are investigating reality in the form of a science, we should keep our subjectivity out of the way. A good reason for following this approach is to ensure that no personal opinions or emotions impact the analysis process. From this idea, there is a mistaken implication which sometimes arises: that because science is objective, reality should also be objective. This confusion is generated by the misunderstanding of the ontological and epistemological implications of the term reality, which I will now try and clarify. From an epistemological point, the claim that reality is objective is justified, even if sometimes it represents more of an ideal than an attainable goal. The methodologies used for a science should be independent as much as possible from any form of subjectivity, to ensure that no personal influence affects the understanding of reality. But from an ontological perspective, to state that reality is objective is completely false. Since the only access to the world of noumenal is through our senses, the necessity of the mind becomes inherent. When studying the mind, it is necessary to implicitly or explicitly study consciousness, because it is the only way we can relate to the notion of the mental. Descartes

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

might have been wrong with various things, but he was right when stating that I cannot doubt the fact that I am thinking. The conscious state is a clear necessity for any type of sensorial process and it represents the only point of relation towards the mind. It is difficult to consider a conscious state as being anything other than subjective. I am aware of my beliefs, desires, pains or perceptions and it seems impossible to have the same awareness related to someone else’s beliefs, desires, pains or perceptions. Because most mental phenomena are linked to consciousness and because consciousness is purely subjective, the ontology of the mental states cannot be otherwise than subjective (Searle, 1992). The necessity for a first-person point of view rises from the fact that mental states must always be attributed to someone. This generates the subjectivity I was referring to earlier. The only experience I can have access to is my representation of the noumenal world, which serves as my phenomena perspective; there is no way in telling how this representation can be objectively defined or related with other representations. Just imagine you and another person looking at the same table. What you are observing is, in fact, your representation of that table. You alone have access to it and there is no way in relating to what the other person is perceiving, at a subjective level. Of course, this subjective view on the mind does not exclude the possibility of objectively studying mental phenomena. When addressing the study of cognitive neuroscience, we should keep in mind that objectivity stands only from an epistemological point of view. From an ontological point of view, the science itself is subjective. The Cartesian apparatus has left us a couple of unpleasant inheritances, the most important representing a strict vocabulary which is apparently built on oppositions. The terminology seems to divide reality into two distinct and opposable fractions: “physical” vs “mental”, “mind” vs “body”, “matter” vs “spirit” and so on. They imply a disjunction between these terms, in the sense that if something is physical, then it cannot be mental; and if something is mental, it cannot be physical. This is more of a semantic trap, which developed a mistaken approach towards the ontology of the mind. An ontological inaccuracy was developed from this opposing attitude. Philosophers have asked themselves the traditional ontological question “How many substances are there?” and started counting. Monists identified one, dualist counted up to two (Searle, 1992). But it was the question itself that was mistaken in the first place. Actually, it is not a surprise they have followed this path. The vocabulary used at that time gave no other option: it was either the case

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

that everything was physical or not. They have started from the material world and tried to fit everything in. But this is not the correct ontological approach. The starting point shouldn’t have been the physical, but the mind itself, and ontology shouldn’t have concerned itself with how to define the mind in order to make it material or not, but rather on how the explain the mind so that all our empirical information will continue to be accurate. Materialism shouldn’t fear this approach, as it does not lead towards dualism. As the mind is a feature of the brain, which is material, there can be no non-physical substances to define the existence of the mind - so we are still inside a monist view. Allow me to turn towards the epistemological and ontological implication of reality. To say that reality is physical is true, but to say that reality is exclusively physical is inaccurate. To argue for this, I will return to an idea stated earlier in this sub-chapter. Most of the time, when we define reality, we tend to think about objects, down to molecules and atoms, at an irreducible level. But our concept of real is not limited to that alone. It also includes governments, laws, financial systems, computer programs and so on. They cannot be placed inside the physical domain, as they are not made up of atoms and molecules. Also, we cannot consider them as not real, because this would imply we are using in our day-by-day lives things which don’t exist. So, where is the catch? How can we account for them? The apparent problem is generated by the misconception that everything that exists (i.e. is real) must be reduced to atoms and molecules. Imagine a table and allow me to ask the question:

what is the table made up of?”. As a physical object, it can be reduced to atoms, regardless of any agent which may be perceiving the table - the agent’s subjective knowledge about tables or atoms does not influence the table’s structure. But what if the agent disappeared? Would this impact our answer? The obvious response is: no, the table would still be made up of atoms. But what if all agents disappeared? In this case, things would get a bit more complicated, because instead of the answer, we should look again at the question. If there are no agents, no conscious minds to define the object, then the concept of the table itself would be rendered as meaningless. There is no point in asking what the table is made up from, if there is no consciousness to prior define what a table is. Yes, we would still have something (as part of the noumenal world) made up of atoms, which is still objectively true, but we wouldn’t have a table. What I want to emphasize is that there are two distinct domains in which epistemological reducibility makes sense. One domain is a physical one, which includes all things that are part of

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

the noumenal world. This is because the noumenal world should exist, at least in theory, outside of any conscious state. The other domain is a conscious-dependent one, which accounts for all entities that can be defined only by a conscious mind. In the above example, the table (as an independent object) is physical, but the name “table” is conscious-dependent: there has to be at least a mind to create the relation between the object itself and its name. The later domain includes all other real entities we use in our lives, like governments, financial systems, traffic laws and so on. The entities inside the conscious-dependent domain are all reducible towards consciousness. In fact, there are two types of reducibility involved here. Take for example Earth and the geopolitical divisions we currently have. Earth, as a planet, with all its water and terrain, will still be made up of atoms and molecules even if there was no conscious mind to observe this. But the entities we have defined onto this terrain - like countries, borders, cities, roads and so on - are all mind-related, in the sense that they exist and can be known only through conscious experience. The types of reducibility involved here are both ontological and epistemological. In the ontological sense, the existence of the countries, cities and so on is derived from the human consciousness. In fact, all that is defined by a conscious mind is reducible at an ontological level towards consciousness. It might sound trivial, but I am sure it makes sense: consciousness is an irreducible level for all that is not part of the noumenal world. In the epistemological sense, there may also exist a reducibility towards consciousness. It is just that, in this case, the reduction towards the consciousness level has no epistemic value. Let me explain why, by referring to the example above. From an epistemic point of view, to gain knowledge about a country is to define its location, its borders, its major cities and so on. Each of its components, like borders or cities, can also be reduced towards other sub-elements, like position, major functions, population etc. Each level of decomposition, because it is ontologically dependent on the mind, can be, at least in theory, reduced at an epistemic level towards the mind(s) which have first defined these elements. It is just that, from an epistemic point, there is to value gained by this decomposition. So even if I can agree that, epistemologically speaking, there may be entities which can be reduced towards consciousness, I see no epistemic value in this type of decomposition. The only significant reduction towards consciousness is the ontological one.

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

It can be noticed that the entire discussion from this subchapter challenged the mind, and not the brain. This is because, for the brain, I see no true issues. Both its ontology and epistemology should be comprehensible, and we have neurology to thank for that. For the mind, I have argued for a subjective first-person ontology. The open point I am planning to leave out of the framework is the epistemology of the mind 1 . This is because the answer for how we gain knowledge about the mind should be determined by neurosciences. In fact, this is exactly what neurosciences are trying to accomplish. I will now continue with the next sub-chapter, to analyze where the most important philosophical doctrines have failed and, in the same time, why their work was not in vain.

2.3 The overstatement of doctrines

2.3.1 Materialism I hope from now onwards it will become more and more obvious why I fear we are so close to falling into the vocabulary trap which built the philosophical doctrines in the past decades. It might seem an unjustified fear, but I hope to provide the proper arguments, at least for giving a little thought on this idea. In the history of philosophy of mind, two major and, at the same time, opposing directions were built: the dualist view and the materialist view. The first one famously originates from Descartes and his Cartesian Theatre and it presupposes two ontologically distinct substances for the mind and the brain: one spiritual or immaterial, and the other material. The other side, materialism, denies the existence of any possible spiritual realm and defines its grounds into the material world. Nowadays, it is hard to believe that dualism, in any of its forms, might provide an accepted solution for the mind-body problem. The commonsense argument would be the difficulty of any scientific domain in accepting any type of spiritual entity as part of the equation. If matter is - as far as any reasonable argument - accepted by all types of sciences, the same cannot be said about the immaterial world. But let's assume this would not be the case. Assume we could accept the existence of a non- physical environment. The real issue dualists would face is arguing the interaction between the two different types of realms: physical and nonphysical. The physical world has a great variety

1 Note this is not the same as the topic discussed in the previous paragraphs. The above ideas were related to the ontological and epistemological reductions of mind-related entities. This is different from the ontology and epistemology of the mind.

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

of arguments in favor of causal interaction. If I were to hold a rock in my hand and suddenly release it, I know for sure the rock will fall - and physics has no problem in defining the forces involved in this type of causality. Also, the rock will stop when hitting the ground - another fact which poses no surprise in the material world. But what about the mind and body interaction? How would a causality of this type be explained? For sure it is a valid type of action: if I want to raise my arm now, I can do this without any type of interaction between my arm and any other material object, so there must be a causality between my desire and the raising of my arm. If the mind is not matter, how can it interact with something that it is? Dualism is unable to provide an answer for this question. Materialism tries to solve the problem by considering all that exists as being physical, therefor material. But this is a limitation which will be proven as mistaken, once we define "physical" in the correct manner. The problem with materialism is that it defines the physical world in a much too strict way: that everything that exists must be reduced to atoms and molecules. This was built as an obvious response to dualism, which would have been fine if the two views hadn't place themselves in direct opposition. There is a common misconception that one can be rejected only by accepting the other, and this emerges due to the strong definition materialism imposed for the physical. Once again I believe there is a subtle confusion in play between ontology and epistemology. Materialism is very fond of reductionism, meaning that everything physical can be reduced to atoms and molecules.

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

What is important to be noticed in this Newtonian mechanics 2 view is that the statement is an epistemic statement, meaning that it refers to the epistemology of physical objects. If I look at the table in front of me and see the table, then switch to a microscope and view its atomic structure, I am just expressing two different ways in analysing the same object. It would be ontologically mistaken to say the atoms are something different than the table, as they actually are the table - and two objects cannot be in the same place at the same time. But the statement is epistemologically justified, as I am just observing the same table from a different perspective. If there are still any doubts on this point, allow me to say that viewing the table at macro level and observing it at microscopic level is the same as looking at the table from its left, then from its right: same table, different perspectives, different ways in discovering the same object. I believe we must be very careful when placing an identity between all that exists and their physical decomposition, as this identity is, sadly, mistaken. Like I argued above, the physical decomposition defines an epistemic level and, at this point, there is no reason to limit the existence of objects to atoms and molecules only. The correct statement would be "all that exist includes, among others, physical objects". Otherwise, we would just mistakenly impose an ontological restriction on reality, based on an epistemological definition of physical objects. Allow me to return to the mind-body discussion. The above judgements apply to this domain also. Materialism tries to define the world in terms of “physical” because the Cartesian apparatus introduced the “nonphysical” language. I believe it is one of the many vocabulary traps which clouds our philosophical views from time to time. As argued in the previous chapter, our reality

2 A point which might prove interesting for the future: works have shown that physical objects can be reduced to atoms only in Newtonian mechanics. The development of Quantum physics has opened new perspectives in our scientific path. In their book The Matter Myth, physicists Paul Davies and John Gribbin argue that the view we had about the decomposition of the world towards atoms must be abandoned:

Then came our Quantum theory, which totally transformed our image of matter. The old assumption that the microscopic world of atoms was simply a scaled-down version of the everyday world had to be abandoned. Newton's deterministic machine was replaced by a shadowy and paradoxical conjunction of waves and particles, governed by the laws of chance, rather than the rigid rules of causality. An extension of the quantum theory goes beyond even this; it paints a picture in which solid matter dissolves away, to be replaced by weird excitations and vibrations of invisible field energy. (Paul Davies and John Gribbin, The Matter Myth: Dramatic Discoveries that Challenge Our Understanding of Physical Reality, 2007)

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

consists not only of physical objects, but on economic systems, traffic laws, language, mathematics and so on. In order to leave behind this vocabulary trap, for the framework I am proposing I want to introduce the epistemic domain. As its name implies, it has epistemic value and addresses the reduction of an object, fenomena, process, etc inside the domain it belongs to. For example, the epistemic domain for the table in front of me is “physical”, thus it is valid to conclude that a table will be reduced to atoms and molecules. Up until now, I believe the definition is fully compliant with any materialist view. But let’s assume I am trying to reduce the economic system of a certain country. Because the entire system is created and governed by rules, it would be meaningless to even consider its reduction towards physical concepts. Also, it is difficult to accept the fact that economic systems might not actually be real, as we are using them on a daily basis - and we cannot use something that doesn’t exist. To reduce an economic system is to first understand the domain in which its discussion has meaning. Let us remember the remark from the previous subchapter, that reductionism towards consciousness has no epistemic value. It is sufficient, for the previous example, to decompose the economic system towards all the rules which defines and governs it and explain the interaction between these rules. Of course, some of the rules may also be further decomposed towards others or even linked to artefacts in other epistemic domains. For example, in order to explain what the value of money stands for, I must point towards actual money (which are made from paper, reducible to atoms). I might define this entire decomposition as part of an economic epistemic domain, in which the rules that matter are the ones defining the system. There are two main implications from the above paragraph. The first one is that reality consists of multiple epistemic domains. For sure one of them is the physical epistemic domain; it is the most accessible to us and the first thing we think about when addressing the idea of reality. But it is not the only one. Our experience includes not only physical objects, but all the systems and rules we have defined in time and use to conduct our lives. Each one of this systems has its own individual epistemic domain. The second implication is that epistemic domains are not independent of each other. Because there is a single concept of reality, I am expecting that all domains must interact between them in order to provide a unified experience.

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

2.3.2 Behaviorism Behaviorism turned out as a natural response in psychology. At around 1912, Watson proposed an alternative to the introspectionist approach which directed the psychological attempts at that time. His theory, known as methodological behaviorism, switched the subject from the analysis of consciousness towards the analysis of behavior, by examining the relation between stimuli and behavior. In a few words, behavior of living organisms, both human and nonhuman, was attributed as an output for a stimuli, which was considered as input. The idea became popular and was later on develop by Skinner in what is called radical behaviorism, who dedicated his work to study the causal relation between stimuli and behavior. I will not try to compare any type of behaviorism with introspectionism or humanistic psychology or any other perspective, as this is clearly outside the scope of this paper (and, maybe, even outside the scope of philosophy). I have two interests in radical behaviorism. The first one is its strange approach to keep the mind out of the equation. If behavior is just a response to a stimuli, there is no place for mental phenomena, like beliefs or desires, to be linked to a specific behavior. I find two reasons this approach. The first one is the fear of dualism. As there was no clear concept at that time of the mind and no definition for the interaction between the mind and the physical, what better way to bypass dualism than to exclude completely the mental? By turning towards stimuli, which are external, and behavior, which is observable, thus also external, radical behaviorism presented itself as a form of materialism. This way, the dualist trap was avoided. The second reason, I believe, is that psychology had this irrational fear of subjective, first-person concepts. How can something like mind or consciousness be ever analysed, if there is no objective, third-person methodology of analysing? Because introspection was not regarded as an option - this being the main reason methodological behaviorism developed in the first place - the focus switched towards behaviour, which has the main advantage of being observed from a third-person perspective. I find the first reason unjustified, as I believe it falls in the same vocabulary trap I was discussing about earlier. Just because the terminology at that time was stuck between materialism and substance dualism, there is no clear argument for disconsidering common sense opinions - like the fact that behavior is influenced by our desires or beliefs - and excluding the mental from its relation towards behavior. However, the second argument - that behavior has the advantage of

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

being observable - is quite interesting and I will focus on it later. But first, let me return to my second interest for radical behaviorism. Where radical behaviorism succeeded was in providing a wake up call and pointing out that the mind cannot be excluded from a science which includes as a goal, among other things, the study of the mind. The causality the radical behaviorists were interested in was between external stimuli and responses to those stimuli. This goes beyond a common intuition that people attribute their behavior to beliefs or desires, not to external stimuli (Fodor, 1981). Even though I am not very fond on intuitive arguments, in this situation I find it sufficient as a proof that the mind must be taken into consideration in fields like psychology or philosophy. It is clear that its exclusion has been experimented and it has proven to be a mistake. Fortunately, psychology came to the same conclusion, and thus appeared the need to find a causal link between mental events and behavior. This is how logical behaviorism was born. Logical behaviorism addresses the mind in the form of a definition, as part of a semantic theory. It expresses that statements about the mind can be correlated with statements about behavior (Hempel, 1949). An analysis for logical behaviorism is provided by Fodor (1981); I will try to follow his steps, but with a different example, and hope to reach the same conclusion. To ascribe a mental state to an organism is to say that the organism has a disposition to behave in a certain way. To say, for example, that I am tired is to state that If there was a bed available, then I would sleep (for the simplicity of the argument, I have assumed I only sleep in my bed and there are no other conditions involved). As we can see, the construction is based on the conditional if- then clause, where if specifies the stimuli (the input), and then specifies the behavior (the output). As both the input and the output are physical, logical behaviorism is also a form of materialism. Of course, there is not necessarily a single output as a behavior. On the contrary, logical behaviorists support a large set of possible scenarios as an outcome. Instead of sleeping, I could have decided to drink coffee or go for a run in the fresh air or drink an energizing drink and so on. The advantage of logical behaviorism is that it translates the mental language into a physical language of stimuli and behavior. To ascribe a mental state to an organism is to say that the organism has a disposition to behave in such and such way and that the if statement is rendered

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

as true. For example, to ascribe a mental state of tiredness to myself is to say that If there was a bed available, then I would sleep, and there was a bed available. The downside is that, even if mental states are defined - which is an important difference from

radical behaviorism -, they are still referred only at a semantic level. Because mental states are identified with dispositions to behave, they are neither referred by stimuli nor behavior nor the causality between then. If the causality between stimuli and behavior shouldn’t pose any threats, both of them being physical, thus implying the causality to be physical, it cannot be said the same for the causality between the behavior and the disposition to behave (i.e. the mental state).

A mental state of tiredness can be ascribed to myself because I sleep, so there is a causal relation

implied. I am regarding this causality as a link between a mental state (the disposition to behave) and a physical one (the behavior), even though I’m not sure the logical behaviorists would agree

with my approach. Still, even if the doctrine is built at a semantic level, there is an identity

between the mental state and the disposition to behave, as part of the doctrine’s definition. The link exists, even if not explicit (as the one between stimuli and behavior).

It is true that a certain behavior causality implies a disposition to behave. But let me consider

another example, where I cannot go to sleep, as there is no bed available, so I decide to buy some

coffee instead. The behavior - drinking the coffee - is also causally related to the disposition to behave as being tired. But there are also other causal relations involved, like the fact that I believe that coffee will keep me awake or that I have a desire to stay awake. Thus comes the occasion to point out what logical behaviorists are missing. Even if there is a clear causality between stimuli and behavior and an implied causality between behavior and disposition to behave, there is no causal link between one mental event and another. I believe it

is not mistaken at all to state that one of my desires - to stay awake - is supported by the belief

that coffee will do the trick. If the belief was missing, the disposition to behave, i.e. drinking the

coffee, would be meaningless. This leads to another problem. As the causality is defined between behavior and disposition to behave, it follows that if there is no behavior, then there is no disposition to behave. As mental events are identified with dispositions to behave, the conclusion is that only those mental events which manifest as a behavior can actually be defined.

It looks like the overstatement of logical behaviorism was actually an understatement. By

defining mental events at a semantic level only, logical behaviorists have left out both the

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

possibility of mental event to mental event interaction and the situation in which a mental event doesn’t cause any behavior at all.

A new doctrine, identity theory, has tried to bypass these gaps.

2.3.3 Identity theory

Like presented in the previous sub-chapter, behaviorism had its strong points, but it excluded both causal relations between the mind and the behavior and it didn't provide any means on how

to cope with the situation when behavior is not present. As an alternative to logical behaviorism,

the identity theory has emerged. The theory states that mental events are identical with neurophysiological processes inside the brain (Place, 1956; Smart, 1959). Even from its definition, the theory accepts mental events. We are missing the vague approach the behaviorists have used by trying to define, but only at a semantic level, mental processes as dispositions to behave. Mental event exist and the property of being in a certain mental state is the same as the property of being in a certain neurophysiological state. Because neurophysiological states are attributed to neurons, identity theory is a type of materialism. Inside the identity theory, behaviour is associated to mental events. Furthermore, not being a semantic theory, it is immune to the counter-arguments for behaviorism. It also resolves the causal deficiency I was referring above. Since the interactions between neurons pose no threats, being clearly defined as physical, the theory can both accept mental event to mental event interaction and also the lack of any behavior response for a mental event. There are two types of identity theories: token identity, in which the mental events are specific for an organism (for example, my pain or my desire) and type identity, where mental events are generic (for example, what is it like to have a pain or a desire). Inside the token identity doctrine, all mental particulars that exist are neurophysiological. For type identity, all mental particulars that could be are neurophysiological.

Up until now, it looks like the perfect doctrine. But I am sure it is no surprise that both types of identity theories have arguments to be rejected for.

A counter argument for type identity was raised by Stevenson (1960). The identity between the

mental state x and the neurophysiological process y raises a dilemma. Being an identity, both terms on either side of the equality should be identical. If the mental state is subjective, then we

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

are left with a form of property dualism, because a subjective mental state can be identical with

an objective neurophysiological process only if they have dualist properties. On the other hand, if the mental state is not subjective, then the mind is not explained, just like in the case of behaviorism. Type identity also has the limitation of excluding any other lifeform as being capable of possessing mental states. Due to the restrictions imposed by the neurophysiological processes, only neuron-based brains can be accounted as valid (Fodor, 1981). Even though it might seems implausible at this time, there is no reason for excluding other types of minds, like silicon-based

or even extra-terrestrial.

Likewise, token identity has a lot of unanswered questions. One comes from Searle (1992), who tries to discover what is it about the neurophysiological states that makes them the same mental state, in the situation when two people who are in the same mental state are in different neurophysiological states. No adequate answer has been provided, maybe except functionalism. Another objection, but in a more commonsense approach, is the difficulty to accept that each mental event has its own distinct neurophysiological process. Due to the identity between them, a mental state can only be the same with a single neurophysiological process. If the same process were to be used for another mental state, then the two states would have to be identical, due to transitivity. Furthermore, the set of mental events seems unlimited, as I can have how many beliefs or desires or visual experiences I want. Still, the neurons that could fire are, in fact,

limited by their number. I believe the last paragraph indicates the overstatement of identity theory - it has imposed a much too strict relation between mental events and neurophysiological processes. Still, identity theory has managed to accomplish what behaviorism couldn’t, which is to properly define the causal relation between the mind and the body. On the other hand, behaviorism defined the relation between mental properties, as a disposition to a certain pattern.

A new doctrine tried to take what’s best from both of them, and this is functionalism.

2.3.4 Functionalism Functionalism preserved parts from both other theories. From the identity theory, the acknowledgement of mental events was kept. For functionalists, mental events, like beliefs or desires, are defined solely on their functional role in the cognitive system for the organism they are attributed to. Also, the causal relation between mental events and other mental events was

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

kept, so functionalists accept the interaction at mental level only, without any behavioral output. From behaviorism, the idea of stimuli and behavior was derived towards the notions of input for a function and output of that function. To say, for example, that I am experiencing a headache is to say I have a belief that my head hurts, a desire to get rid of the ache and a belief that ibuprofen will take the pain away, so I am disposed to take a pill as a behavior (i.e. as an output for my belief). For functionalists, since mental states are defined solely by their functions, the view is not limited only to human minds. Any entity, organic or nonorganic, which performs the appropriate functions, can be attributed with mental properties. To use part of the functionalists terminology, the functions depend only on the software, not on the hardware it is implemented on. Still, in the next paragraphs it will be obvious the comparison is highly mistaken. One argument against functionalism is raised by Block (1980) and it’s called China brain. It consists of a thought experiment in which the entire population of China is organized in such way to operate as a brain, with each individual acting as a neuron. The idea of the experiment is that, as long as the population performs all functions and provides the correct output for the inputs provided, the system is identified with a brain. The thought is, of course, absurd, as the system would fail to have what is known as qualia (i.e. individual conscious experience). Another counter-argument is provided by Searle (1980) in the form of another thought experiment, called Chinese room. In this analysis, a person who doesn’t speak chinese is sitting inside a room and receives, as an input from outside the room, sentences written by a chinese speaker. The person inside the room has the means to map the chinese characters in english and

is able to provide, as an output, answers in the chinese language, thus mimicking the behavior of

a chinese-speaking person. Still, even though the person inside the room is performing the

functions that someone who understand chinese would perform, he is unaware of the language.

What Searle is trying to argue is that, if we define mental events solely on the functions they are executing, then any machine that is able to pass the Turing test can be identified with a mind. The thought experiment has the purpose to demonstrate that, even if a system is operating at a syntactic level (as the person inside the room), it is still missing other important aspects that a mind should include, like semantics or intentionality. In other words, the system is able, based on an input, to manipulate symbols and provide the correct output, but it does not give any meaning

to the operations it is performing, nor it is aware of those operations.

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

The overstatement of functionalism was that, in their attempt to correlate the mental events of the brain with the functions a system is able to perform, they left out the most important part of the mind: the conscious, subjective experience. Without any means of matching these functions with the conscious experience, there can be no intentionality nor meaning.

2.4 Mid conclusion

I hope it was noticed that my attempt was not to provide a critique towards the major theories of mind. This has already been done in the past by many philosophers, so there is no need here to reinvent the wheel. Regardless of the number of discussions on this topic, the conclusion will remain the same: there will be no general accepted theory, as each of them will face resistance at some point. But this was quite intuitive and, fortunately, it is not the point I was trying to reach. Even if we are far from a general accepted theory, I don’t think we should just throw everything that was discussed until now. Maybe a new theory will arise someday, but this is not the time. What I have tried to do is provide a high level description for the major theories of mind in the last decades and try to pinpoint the area where they got too strict or too narrow in their definitions. My goal is to reuse as much as possible from their definition and include inside the framework only the common principles, which can be used later on to develop other theories. Imagine that, as I am writing this paper, I am sitting in a nice coffee place, enjoying a large espresso and a glass of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice. With a whisper of a music in the background and some unintelligible, but yet soft chattering around me, I am trying to illustrate some of the mind’s mysteries. What would the theories of mind state in this situation? A behaviorist would say that maybe I am tired, since the drinking of the coffee is a disposition to behave as being tired. Or maybe thirsty, because of the grapefruit juice. And because I am writing, maybe I also have a disposition to… write? An identity theorist would have to map each and every one of my mental events to a neurophysiological state. In this manner, there will be a state for drinking coffee, one for grapefruit juice, one for writing, one for listening, one for creating the ideas I am about to write, one for remembering the words and so on. And each of these states is distinct from any other state. I am sorry, but this just seems too much.

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

A functionalist would correlate me with a system that is receiving coffee and grapefruit juice as input as provides a paper on the mind-brain problem as an output. When, in fact, all I was looking for was a quiet and relaxing location, but different from the emptiness of my room. As the coffee shop is a private place, there is a “price” to pay for using their space: some coffee and a glass of grapefruit juice. I am aware that my example is a little bit overstated, but the point I wanted to make is the following: just because the major theories fail to account a proper relation between the mind and the brain in their whole, it doesn’t mean that, in particular, they didn’t addressed some important topics which shouldn’t be left out by any other new or derived theory of mind. This is why, inside the framework I am proposing, I will include the following:

(1) Mental events do matter. Behaviorism tried to rule them out and has failed. Any theory of mind should accept mental events as being real and should consider their existence in its definition. (2) Behavior does matter. I believe that any theory of mind which will exclude behavior from its definition is doomed to fail. Behavior is, by what we know so far, the most convincing way to account for the manifestation of mental events. A field like psychology would be greatly impacted if behavior would be excluded. (3) Mental events are caused by neurophysiological processes. It is just that a mental event is not identical with a certain neurophysiological state, in the way identity theory has stated. In the beginning of this chapter I have expressed that the mind is a feature of the brain. As we already know that our brains are made of neurons, it is safe to assume there is a causal relation between the neurophysiological processes of the neurons and the mental events. It is just that we do not yet know how this causal relation is fulfilled. But I see no fear in this, as it is a question for the future. (4) Causality matters. I have stated in the beginning of this chapter that the mind is a feature of the brain. This is a causal relation. Due to this relation, I am expecting that there would be a link between the constituents of the brain (i.e. neurons) and the constituents of the mind (i.e. mental phenomena). To say what this link is and how it is accomplished, is way too early at this point. What is important is that a theory of mind should not lose focus from the causal relations, even if they are inside the brain itself (neuron firing to neuron firing causality), inside the mind (mental

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

phenomena to mental phenomena causality) or between the mind and the brain (the relation between neuron firing and mental phenomena). (5) Consciousness matters. Consciousness is the most important aspect of the mind. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to define concepts such as meaning or intentionality. Any theory of mind should account for consciousness and the conscious experience. (6) The functions of the mind matter. Even though I do not agree with functionalism, I believe the functions of the mind can be mapped. It is a difficult task, but I am sure psychology will make its way in accomplishing it (if it hasn’t done this already). When I am referring to a function of the mind, the idea behind the term function is similar to the biological account for a function - for example, to say that the heart has the function of pumping blood inside the organism. In a similar way, an almost-complete map of mind functions can be detailed on the activities the mind performs, like perception, attention, intuition and so on. I know psychology is already addressing this path, this is why I want to assure that the framework I am proposing can cope with this position. For these functions, there might exist the possibility to “force” them towards a more mathematical approach, by defining some inputs for the functions and some outputs produced by the functions. Even though I do accept this alternative, I will keep my doubts about it and allow the empirical studies to make this definition. What is important though is that this mapping should never exclude all other points, especially the conscious experience, because we would then fall into the functionalists trap.

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

2. Binding problem

I am inside a coffee shop. On the table in front of me I can see the steaming black coffee, poured

inside a large white cup, right next to it a half-full glass of grapefruit juice and a transparent bottle of water. All around me are chairs, other tables, a TV showing some sort of documentary, music playing easeful in the background and other people chattering. When looking at the coffee,

I am perceiving simultaneously both its liquidity, its colour and the fact that it is poured inside a

cup. I don’t have to individually link, using some cognitive process, the colour with the liquid, in order to conclude it is the same entity. I know it’s black coffee inside a cup. And this applies for everything that surrounds me. I am able to identify all objects around me, including each of their specific properties, and place them inside a single unified experience, represented, in this case, by my awareness of being inside the coffee place. This is the binding problem. Of course, there are other descriptions for this problem. A more scientific example was proposed by Rosenblatt (Velik, 2010). He imagined a system constructed of four neurons, each of them with a specific role: one for identifying a triangle, one for identifying a square and the other two for representing the position of the objects - one neuron if an object is presented on the top of the picture and one neuron if the object is on the bottom of the picture. If, for example, a triangle was shown on the top of the picture, then the first neuron would fire (because it identified the triangle) and the third one (because the object was on the top of the picture). The problem would appear when the picture included a triangle on the top and a square on the bottom - in this situation, all four neurons would fire and there would be no way in telling the actual position for each object. This example, besides demonstrating the concept for the binding problem, is an argument that the simple firing of neurons is insufficient to create a unitary and rigorous perception on the input received. For the framework I am trying to develop, it is important to point out where to look for the solution on the binding problem. The previous chapter has defined the mind as a feature of the brain. My belief is that the search for the solution should begin at the level of the mind. This means that, at a basic level, the solution should account for mental phenomena, and not necessarily neuron firing or synchronization. I am quite aware that the binding problem is regarded more as a “neuron correlation problem”, instead of a “mental phenomena problem”. Still, I want to insist on the causality defined in the previous chapter. In order to explain the mind

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

as a feature of the brain, there must for sure exist a way to point out how neurons interaction actually create the mind. This type of causality between neurons firing is yet to be identified, but I am confident it exists. Otherwise, there would be no way in explaining how the mind is produced and we’ll just fall back again towards substance dualism. One important “point of access” towards the mind is consciousness; it is, for now, the only way we can relate to the mind. Consciousness is a necessary state for binding to make sense. In order to experience mental phenomena, one must first be conscious of those mental states. More details on consciousness will follow in the next chapter, but what is important at this moment is that, same as in the case of the mind, there must also exist a way in which consciousness can be linked to neurons firing. Just because I am trying to explain the binding problem in terms of mental phenomena, it does not exclude its solution to be related also to neurons firing. In fact, I am confident this should be the next step, as all mental phenomena, as part of the mind, should also account for neurons interaction. Or in other words, there must exist a causality between each mental phenomena and neurons firing. This is why I am expecting that the binding problem should support a solution that can be, at least partially, defined in terms of mental processes. I have stated that the mind, as defined up until now, can be mapped at a functional level in different functions 3 , such as perception, memory, beliefs, emotions, reasoning and so on. I see binding comparable to a function, so I would expect that its fulfilment should be accomplished using other functions. One of the most influential solutions for the binding problem comes from experimental psychology and is developed by Treisman (1980). The Feature Integration Theory (or FIT) uses attention to define the way binding works. According to FIT, the features of objects (size, colour, shape, etc) are represented separately in the brain, but for each instance of a feature there is a feature map indicating its location in the visual field. The visual experience activates all the features that are presented in the view field. Binding occurs when attention is focused towards a specific location, which activates the corresponding features and excludes the ones towards which attention is not directed. The focal attention directed to a specific object binds all the object's features together, creating the experience of an unified entity. Attention can also be directed towards a wider area, but with some loss of detail (Velik, 2010). When attention is

3 As defined in the end of the first chapter, I am using the term “functionin the sense of “biological function”.

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

misdirected or overloaded, "illusory conjunctions" may appear (Treisman and Schmidt, 1982). In one experiment, subjects were shown a series of black digits and colored letters and were requested to specify the digits, the letters and their colour. The correct digits and letters were usually reported, but sometimes with the wrong correlation. This shows that the available attention may sometimes be inadequate for features binding (Holcombe, 2009). Treisman and Gelade (1980) have later on extended the initial version of FIT, by defining the solution for the binding problem as a combination of focal attention and top down processes, like knowledge, expectation and memory. Like Velik (2010, pg 998) puts it, “even when attention is directed elsewhere, subjects are unlikely to see a blue sun in a yellow sky”. Because attention is only temporary, there must be a way to store the information in some type of memory, otherwise the output for the focal attention would be lost and the entire process would have to be repeated again (Hommel, 1998). Knowledge is important for the interpretation of sensory inputs (Ernst and Buelthoff, 2004). Imagine the process of reading. This clearly requires visual attention, as reading can only be accomplished while focusing on the actual words. But in order to read and understand a sentence, prior knowledge of the letters, words and (maybe) their meaning is required. When encountering for the first time a word, the reading of that word might sometimes prove difficult, even if all the letters that compose the word are understood (if you still have doubts about this, just imagine reading in another language). But after learning the word, future encounters will prove to be effortless. According to Engel et al. (2001), cognition and behaviour are not mostly stimulus generated, but depend upon expected outcomes, generated from past experiences. One reason would be that, because cognitive computation must be fast, the brain should efficiently use its resources, by making predictions about future stimuli. This is why, in a familiar environment, objects can be predicted (Velik, 2010). One argument against FIT is that, if attention is a serial process, there must be a problem with the speed of processing - all possible combinations cannot be identified in a reasonable amount of time. I do agree this is the case - attention requires certain timeframes, depending on the stimuli and cognitive processes involved - but I do not see a problem with this. Just like the small example presented above, regarding the inaccurate correlation between the digits, letters and their colour, it is safe to assume that the cause of this behavior is simply the insufficient exposure that focused attention had on the stimuli. Like we’ve seen previously, attention is not sufficient

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

by itself for binding, but also requires memory or knowledge. All these processes take time. There are two timeframes to be taken into consideration when discussing attention. The first one is the exposure of the stimuli. In order for the focused attention to perceive all details of an object, the exposure time strongly relies on the conditions of the stimuli, like their duration and their distinction from other existing stimuli. The second time frame which is important is the speed in which the inputs captured by the focused attention are processed by other mental phenomena, like knowledge or memory. Because, in the end, the mind offers an unified experience, I would also expect that the processing power (i.e. duration) of the mental is influenced by other mental phenomena, which are not directly related to the binding problem. For example, when experiencing a state of anxiety - which has no direct relation with any binding - it might be more difficult to process by knowledge or memory the stimuli captured by focus attention; even if the same results might be achieved, it is possible for the entire process to take longer than during a non-anxious state. Against attention, Gray (1999) raised an interesting point: the fact that there must exist some mechanisms that work prior to attention and are used to attract it (Velik, 2010). I fully agree with this statement. It is just that it does not influence the binding problem. When describing the mind at a functional level, I am expecting for a complex pattern of mental phenomena, with strong relations among them. Attention, as a mental phenomenon, would have causal links with other phenomena. For example, it would be dependent on the subject’s state of awareness or the subject’s perception. But these dependencies do not exclude the fact that attention plays a role in the binding of specific features of an object. Let us not forget the purpose of this paper. Just like in the first chapter, it is not my intention to argue for or against a certain type of theory. I am not trying to imply that attention is sufficient for the binding problem. In fact, I have stated above that there are also other mental phenomena involved in binding. What I believe it is important at this point is to define the grounds on which a solution for the binding problem can be defined. And these grounds are related to four mental phenomena: attention, knowledge, memory and expectation. Maybe the list is not closed, but in order to properly provide a solution, I believe a full functional mapping of the mind must be prior performed. Only after mapping most of mental phenomena and the relation between them, we can advance towards identifying which of them play a role in feature binding.

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

3. Consciousness

Daniel Draghicescu

In this final chapter, I want to insist a bit on the idea of consciousness. Out of the topics focused inside this paper, I believe this is the most demanding. As before, my goal is to try and sketch some guidance for the study of consciousness. I will define how consciousness should be understood and list some of its important features. This should be sufficient for building a basis for future research. I will accept that it is difficult to even provide a proper definition for consciousness. This is because the term itself has been used in different contexts, without any necessary alignment among each other: consciousness has been related to mind, knowledge, perception, emotions, cognition, introspection, awareness or self-consciousness. And I am confident the list can be extended. This is why I will not try to define it in a “scientific” way; instead, I will adopt the same approach as Searle (1992) and provide a more simple interpretation, by the usage of examples. Previously in this paper, I had the fear of vocabulary traps. I believe we are again in the same danger, so I will try to select the words I will be using very carefully. Consciousness is a state which begins when we wake up in the morning and stops when we go to sleep, are put under anesthesia, die or fall into any other form of being unconscious. To be conscious is the state in which we make use of mental phenomena, like perception, knowledge, awareness and so on. To be conscious is, in itself, a state, or, to emphasize the idea comprehensively, a state in which the brain is. So the brain is either conscious or not. While in a conscious state, the brain has, as a feature, the conscious mind (because, as defined in the first chapter, the mind is a feature of the brain). It thus follows that consciousness is a biological phenomena caused by the brain while in a conscious state. (Searle, 1992). As an analogy, imagine a light bulb. There are two possible states in which the bulb may be: it is either “on” or “off”. Light represents a feature of the bulb while being in a state of “on”, so light is caused by the state of the bulb. Consciousness is distinct from mental phenomena and should not be confused with them. Mental phenomena consist of mental functions which have an existence (i.e. they happen at a time), like perception, cognition, attention and so on. In order for these phenomena to happen, the mind must be in a conscious state. Consciousness represents, in fact, the experience of one or more mental phenomena. It is difficult to provide a proper relation between the mind and

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

consciousness, and I believe this relation is not relevant at this point. What matters most is their relations towards the brain. Both the mind and consciousness are features of the brain. The mind represents the totality of mental phenomena. Consciousness is, in the same time, a state in which the brain is, while experiencing mental phenomena. I am not trying to imply that mental phenomena can happen only when the mind is conscious. If the mind is in an unconscious state (for example, during an anesthesia), mental phenomena still occur, it is just that they are not the same as the ones during the conscious state 4 . One feature of consciousness is the way it feels like to have a specific conscious experience. I have a certain experience when looking at the colour “red”, which is different from the experience of hearing a sound or feeling tired or having a desire to eat ice cream. What is interesting about these experiences is that they cannot be defined or explained, they just feel like something, and each individual experience has its own feeling. I believe this is what philosophers call qualia. Following the above interpretation, qualia is in fact the totality of conscious experiences. I use totality here in the sense of the sum of: if one experience becomes conscious at one time, then the subject already has the feeling of what is it like to have that experience. As qualia relates to consciousness, it thus relates to each mental phenomenon that a subject might experience. This is not limited only to perception, but also includes knowledge, memory, thinking and so on. There is also a feeling in remembering the childhood games you used to play or in knowing the sun will rise again in the morning. The existence of qualia is related to the subjectivity of consciousness. I have argued in the first chapter for the subjective ontology of the mind. I also stated that, in order to study the mind, we must implicitly or explicitly study consciousness, as a main mental concept. This is because most mental phenomena are related, at some point, to consciousness. In order to experience something, like a pain, desire, perception, memory and so on, it must first become a conscious state. Please note that I have stated “most mental phenomena”, not “all mental phenomena”. This is because I do not want to exclude the possibility of mental phenomena to be experienced, but still remain in an unconscious state. This may be the case for experiences like anxiety or depression. If these are conscious or not and at what point do they become conscious, it is not the scope of this paper. Still, I see no reason to impose any kind of limitations on this topic.

4 The unconscious mind is also out of scope of this paper.

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

Because of the subjective ontology of the mind and the relation of the mental towards consciousness, it implies that consciousness has a subjective ontology. This is a similar situation with the one presented for the mind. If I were to have a desire for ice cream, the mode of existence for this desire is purely subjective: it is mine alone, there is no objective, third-person way in measuring how my desire feels like. In the same way, consciousness, as a mode of existence, is subjective. In fact, when referring to a conscious state, it must always be someone’s conscious state (Searle, 1992). The conscious experience can only be related to the subject which has that specific experience. And just like I have my own conscious experiences, in the same way everyone else acknowledges their own individual conscious experiences. In the first chapter, I have stated Kant’s distinction between noumena and phenomena. The world of phenomena actually represents the conscious representation of the noumena world. The only access we have to the world around us is by the usage of our senses, and for the senses to actually be processed, they must first become conscious. Due to the subjective ontology, this conscious representation of our world is a first-person representation. Image a derived version of Locke’s thought experiment of inverted spectrum. Take a subject who has a reversed perception of the colours red and green: instead of green, he sees red, and instead of red, he sees green. Also, he uses a consistent terminology: he calls “red” what is red for him and “green” what is green for him. If I were to have a conversions with this imaginary subjects and point towards a red box, we would both agree that the box is red. It is just that I would be perceiving the actual red colour and naming it “red”, and he would be perceiving what is green for me, but red for him, and also calling it “red”. Even if our common conclusion would be that we are both looking at a red box, our conscious experience of the redness would not be the same: for one of us it would be actual red, for the other actual green. In this matter I am referring to the subjectivity of consciousness. Because of its subjective state, there is no way (for now) to directly analyze other people’s conscious states. When we are looking at other people’s consciousness, we are in fact looking at their behaviour and the causal relations for this behaviour. These are epistemically objective facts, which can be identified and analysed. This is one reason for why I have stated in the first chapter that behaviour should be included inside the framework, even if behaviorism does not stand by itself. When analysing someone else’s consciousness, we are in fact observing the behaviour of that person and its relation to the environment. Of course, there is one type of causality which cannot be observed from a third-person perspective, and this is the causal

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

relation between the mental phenomena which triggered the behaviour. Being mind-related, its ontology is also subjective, thus available only for the subject. I don’t want to evaluate if this limitation is so critical, that it might render the entire concept of behaviour as useless. I will leave this task for the neuroscientists. I will says just this: I don’t think we should be frightened by the individuality of the mind. It is, in fact, a wonderful gift for each of us to marvel at. Another important aspect of consciousness is the binding of features. The concept is related to the binding problem, which was addressed in the previous chapter, and refers to the fact that all experiences are part of an unified conscious frame. While I am writing this paper, I am conscious about the words I am writing, about the ideas I am trying to illustrate, but also on my surroundings. I know I am inside a coffee shop, I feel the taste of the coffee from which I have just taken a sip and I can hear the easeful music around me. All of this are part of my conscious experience. While I am writing this sentence, if I were to be interrupted by someone and asked to reproduce at least a couple of words from the song that was just playing gently in the speakers, it would be impossible for me to answer. This is because my attention 5 is directed towards the paper, and not the environment. But, even in this conditions, I am aware all the time of my surroundings and my actions, in the sense that I would never expect to look up from the paper and suddenly find myself at the sea side instead of the coffee shop. For the binding of the features, it is yet to be understood how this process takes places. As consciousness is a feature of the brain, there must exist a causal relation between neuron firing and consciousness. What this relation is, we do not yet know. What we do know is that it happens, it is real and without it there would be no unified experience for our existence. Consciousness is most of the time directed towards something, and we call this intentionality. If I am conscious of a visual experience, this experience must be related to the object(s) I am seeing. Audio experiences cannot happen without an audio stimuli. Or, let’s take beliefs, as mental phenomena: a belief must always be about something. It is important to note that, when referring to intentionality, we are implying a perspective from the subject’s point of view. This is why it is difficult to distinguish between the representation of the objects and the representation of the experience of the objects (Searle, 1992). Imagine the situation in which I would need to describe the objects in front of me: a cup of coffee, a glass of grapefruit juice and my laptop. There is no

5 The statement should be considered just an example. I am not implying that attention is sufficient alone for binding features together. More details on the binding problem are found in chapter 2.

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

easy distinction between the objects themselves and my visual experience of them, as the objects are exactly the ones that fulfil the conditions for my conscious visual experience. I could

describe it as: “It seems visually to me that there are a cup of coffee, a glass of grapefruit juice and a laptop in front of me”, but the distinction is more at a syntactic level.

I believe the discussions on consciousness could go on, without having the feeling of fully

covering the subject. This is, of course, due to the fact we do not yet know enough on the subject in order to consider it mature. The moment has come to remind on the purpose of this paper. I am not planning inside this chapter to give a full account of consciousness. I am only interested

in sketching the most important aspects of the conscious experience. These should represent a basis for the framework, on top of which future studies on consciousness should develop. It is not my intention nor my role to place constraints on possible research, this is why I aim, just like during the other chapters, to keep the needs at a minimum basis. The last aspect of consciousness I am interested in is one which has no intentionality and it is called mood (Searle, 1992). This means that the conscious experience has a certain tone, it makes us feel in a certain general way. I might sometimes feel calm, other times depressed or sad, but not necessary in relation with certain events or mental phenomena. It is just, as the name implies,

a mood. Some moods might not even have a distinct name allocated to them. Even if I am feeling

like doing nothing, I might say I’m in a lazy mood or I might say I’m in no mood at all. This is because, as we saw earlier, it sometimes can prove to be quite difficult to explain a side of consciousness, due to its subjective existence. But just because I cannot give a name to it, it doesn’t mean it’s not real.

I will address one interesting implication before finishing this chapter. It relates, like most of the

chapter itself, to the subjectivity of the conscious experience. The question I have in mind is the following: if the ontology of the consciousness is subjective, can an artificial consciousness ever exist?. And in order to provide an answer, now, near the end of the paper, I will give up the pessimistic approach from the beginning and aim for a more optimistic view. We have seen during the first chapter that artificial intelligence, in the sense defined by functionalism, is not theoretically possible. In the sense adopted during this paper (and in Searle’s biological naturalism), consciousness is a feature of the brain. So if, after long studies in the future, we will manage to create an artificial brain, then I truly believe the answer is yes - consciousness can be replicated. We already have proof of other biological processes which were recreated in

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

laboratories; there is a chance that someday consciousness might be one of them. What we need to understand first is the way that neurons firing actually cause consciousness. In other words, we must first identify the causality inside the brain. This would be a huge step in the study of the brain and the mind. Once this causality will be understood, we would need to find the proper materials to build our artificial brain and “program” a similar causality inside it. At the end, we might end up with some form of artificial consciousness. But, as optimistic as I would like to be, I am aware we have a long road to follow towards this goal. And who knows, maybe in our path we’ll find answers to questions we didn’t even know we had, which might change substantially the way we look at the mind and the brain in our current studies.

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

4. Conclusions

I truly believe in the progress of cognitive neuroscience, but I fear is runs on a misguided path. My common-sense argument is the following: we are yet so far away in understanding the brain and the mind. The most popular doctrine nowadays - identity theory - seems to have reached its

limitations. And the same happened to other doctrines in the past. I am not suggesting to leave it all behind. Like I have argued during this paper, there are lots of useful approaches which have proven their efficiency. I am only trying to point out to an alternative.

I have argued for a shift from the terminology of doctrines, because the science itself it not

mature enough to have its grounds reliable. For this, I have proposed a framework, with the purpose of defining a basis on top of which further research could develop. The goal for this basis was to include only what cognitive neuroscience requires the most: a definition for the mind and consciousness, a solution for the mind-body problem and a direction for the binding problem. The framework I have proposed considers the mind a feature of the brain. Due to its subjective state, the mind has a first-person ontology. When addressing the mind, objectivity stand only from an epistemological point of view. The framework includes inside its structure mental events, behaviour, neurophysiological processes, causality, the functions of the mind and consciousness. All of them are essential and any theory of mind should consider them in its development. Reality has been explained as all that is physical, to which we must add all that is defined by us and use in our everyday lives. Thus, reality is not limited only to cars, tables or planets, but also includes economic systems, governments, laws and so. Reality is composed of different epistemic domains, and reductionism makes sense, at an epistemic level, only inside these domains. From an ontological point of view, all that is defined by the mind is reducible towards consciousness. The binding problem has been resolved in terms of mental phenomena: attention, knowledge, memory and expectation. Consciousness has been defined both as a feature of the brain and as a state the brain is in. Consciousness is the main relation we have towards the mind: most of the time, in order for a mental phenomenon to happen, it must first become conscious. Just like in the case of the mind,

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

consciousness has a subjective, first person ontology. Consciousness has a certain subjective feeling, it provides an unified experience of reality, it has intentionality and holds a certain mood. I am quite aware this framework is far from being a huge step. In fact, it is no more than a drop of water inside the ocean. I am not expecting any major breakthroughs based on it. All I am hoping is that it properly defines the mind and the brain and that it provides a new way in looking at the problems addressed by neurosciences. Who knows, maybe a change in the approach will provide a new path to follow. I can only wish that, someday, all these drops will connect one to the other. In the end, the drops of water are what we call the ocean. If the framework is right and the mind is indeed a feature of the brain, the main challenge cognitive neuroscience will face is to establish the causality between neurons firing and the mind. I am sure this is a difficult step, but if we will ever succeed in unraveling this mystery, the consequences would be fascinating: we would finally be able to understand how the mind and brain work, we would be able to reproduce the functions of the mind in artificial environments and we would have the possibility for approaching mental diseases in new ways. I can only hope in the successful progress of neuroscience. In the meantime, I am sure philosophy will watch closely and intervene when necessary. Because in the end, we all have the same goal: to aid in the development of a coherent neuroscience.

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

References

Daniel Draghicescu

Block, N. (1980). Troubles With Functionalism Engel, A.K., Fries, P., Singer, W., (2001). Dynamic predictions: oscillations and synchrony in top-down processing Ernst, M.O., Buelthoff, H.H. (2004). Merging the senses into a robust percept Fodor, J. A. (1981). The Mind-Body Problem Gray, C.M. (1999). The temporal correlation hypothesis of visual feature integration: still alive and well Hempel, C. (1949). The Logical Analysis of Psychology Holcombe, A. O. (2009). The Binding Problem Hommel, B. (1998). Event files: evidence for automatic integration of stimulus response episodes Place, U. (1956). Is Consciousness a Brain Process?. British Journal of Psychology Searle, J. R. (1980). Minds, brains, and programs. Behavioral and Brain Sciences Searle, J. R. (1992, reprinted 2002). The rediscovery of the mind Smart, J.J.C. (1959). Sensations and Brain Processes Stevenson, J. T. (1960). Sensations and Brain Processes: a reply to J.J.C. Smart Treisman, A.M., Gelade, G. (1980). A feature-integration theory of attention Treisman, A. (1998). Feature binding, attention and object perception Treisman, A., Schmidt, H. (1982). Illusory conjunctions in the perception of objects Treisman, A. (1999). Solutions to the Binding Problem: Progress through Controversy and Convergence Vacariu, G. (2012). Cognitive neuroscience versus epistemologically different worlds Velik, R. (2010). From single neuron-firing to consciousness—Towards the true solution of the binding problem

The role of philosophy in cognitive neuroscience, June 2014

Daniel Draghicescu

Presented as Dissertation paper for Master in Analytic Philosophy Faculty of Philosophy Universitatea Bucuresti, Romania June, 2014