Brains and Minds
The conventional wisdom is that minds are the secretions of brains. It goes something like this…
Our Ultimate Common Ancestor was a single-celled (can I say creature?).
[No materialist scientist has anything to say about how great great great great (etc) grandma came into being. She was a mindless blob of protoplasm. She was blessed with an astonishingly complex blueprint for her very important proteins, her genome). She was mindless (sorry, grandma) but she contained lots of information. Information is a phenomenon which (according to our uniform and repeated experience) proceeds only from minds. Minds, however, proceed only from brains (according to the theory). Grandma didn’t have a brain. Ergo she didn’t have a mind. Mindless grandma was suffused with information. She reproduced by division in the same way that bacteria do today.]
She and her offspring got more complicated. Various threats in her environment were circumvented by ‘adaptations’ to her genome and to epigenetic information. Epigenetics is the study of how genes are switched on and off. I believe that it is a subject which is destined to grow, to include theories about how a single cell can reproduce itself and become liver cells and bone cells etc. My granddaughter’s skin, hair and eye colouring are (at least partly) determined by her genes. The fact that she is the image of her mother is not genetically determined. That is not to say that she didn’t inherit this resemblance; but it wasn’t through her genes.
The adaptations consisted, essentially, of successive modifications to grandma's original blueprint. According to the theory, billions of adaptations appeared by chance. Some worked; most did not. Grandma’s offspring contrived (or were contrived) to become multi-celled creatures. In the blink of an eye, in the Cambrian Explosion, a plethora of body plans came into being – not one of which have any identifiable ancestors in the record. Eyes appeared, blinking or not. Sex appeared, requiring not one but two simultaneous major adaptations in one species.
Sex is a huge problem for neo-darwinists. It requires the emergence, simultaneously, of two complementary adaptations in one generation.
The story proceeds: trilobites and their contemporaries morphed into invertebrates, vertebrates, reptiles, mammals and birds. As well as kidneys, livers and such, brains came into being. At every stage, in this account, the creature became better adapted to survive. Survival and reproducibility drove the process. We can imagine that on an alien world (according to this account), creatures would appear, very well adapted to their environments, well adapted to survive and reproduce – but utterly incapable of thought. Perhaps even in this world. For billions of years, according to the standard account, thought was not a requisite for survival and reproduction – thought and the grammar of thought, logic.
And then we get to the ‘hard problem’ – consciousness. It is a much harder problem for materialists than for theists. Theists suppose themselves to be conscious, inescapably so. It is a datum, not easy to describe or explain but if you say that I am not conscious, you are telling me that I do not exist. This is not a proposition that I can accept. The materialist ‘solution’ to the hard problem is that consciousness and free will are illusions: I only think that I am thinking! This is worse than incoherent.
Animals have brains – sometimes we eat animal brains. Some animals obviously have memories. Some animal behaviours evince cause and effect processes: press this lever, get this reward. Some animals have memories (maybe most vertebrates). Ruthless scientists train rats and jellyfish to navigate mazes and then remove selective parts of their brains to establish where these learned behaviours are stored. So far, to the best of my knowledge, they have not had much success. So, animal experiments have not revealed where memories are stored. If minds were simply brain activity, this would be very mysterious. The situation is very different from that of computers; we know where the bits and bytes are stored.
Some thinkers have suggested that brains may be physical receivers which allow our minds to interact with the physical world. This idea raises many serious questions but it may account for the apparent reality, which is that brains do not produce minds but that minds use brains. Just as some radios are more sophisticated than others, so some brains enable their controlling minds to operate more effectively. Thus, the brain you are born with may determine, to a degree, whether or not you are a musical prodigy or a mathematical genius.
The hard question is a very interesting question.
Rupert Sheldrake quotes his late friend, Terence McKenna: Modern Science demands one miracle, the coming into being of all matter, energy, space and time. It then promises to explain everything else. Sheldrake lists ten dogmas of modern Science. He finds them all sadly wanting.
The Thomistic scheme makes a lot more sense. Inanimate matter is simply inanimate and soulless. This may or may not be true. Plants have vegetable souls, which determine their composition and shape. Animals have vegetable souls and animal souls. Humans have both and a spirit.