04 June, 2009

Is mind reducible to brain states?

A perennial problem for philosophers, psychologists, and neuro-physiologists.  The confusion of terminology--of epistomology, of ontology--is clear in this article (and commentary) in OpenDemocracy.  The measurable observation that triggers the debate is a variation on the Ultimatum game.  Essentially, how willing subjects are to accept unfair offers can be "adjusted" by non-invasive transcranial electromagnetic stimulation.

In other words, your sense of an acceptable (moral?) distribution can be tuned.

Of course, the same thing can be done with drugs, or surgery, or a few too many beers.  But the means in this case seem more threatening to those who believe that meaning and morality are objective, independent of the observer.  It's Plato versus Aristotle, again.

Plato bothers me, if only because of the horrors (including The Republic) it has engendered. To be convinced that one knows (or can know) absolute "truth" has had a tendency to lead to practical harm.  

But we're still running in circles.  That's what happens with self-referential systems.  I can't prove that your "meanings" are the same as mine, even if we use the same terminology.  Heck, I can't even prove that you have a "mind".  Brain states, yes.  "Mind," outside of my direct experience (which I can't entirely define for myself), not so much.

In any case, it's a problem (even if it is primarily a problem of terminology) that I find hard to drop.  I guess I like looking in a mirror.  And it gets more and more difficult to ignore as we develop Nano-Bio-Bio-Cognito technologies.

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