TED Conversations

Pabitra Mukhopadhyay


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Mind exists outside of physical world - will you agree?

Mind exists outside of physical world and can influence the physical states of brain altering behaviour in a way not fully understood by cognitive sciences that tend to avoid the idea of existence of qualia. Will you agree to such a claim?

Is there any way one can argue 'scientifically' in favor of an individual (human) mind, a group mind or mind of living systems other than organisms?

If one cannot, Andrew Soloman's brilliant experience will be no more than an art.


Closing Statement from Pabitra Mukhopadhyay

Sorry, it took me awhile to write a closing statement.
It had been a great debate and I thank all who contributed for and against the OP. Despite strong and forceful arguments against the idea, I conclude that there IS a strong possibility that mind does exist outside of physical world. I would clarify my position by defining 'Mind', 'existence' as widely as possible and 'physical world' as objectively as possible.
In passing I will mention that Carlos's assertion that brain functions do not fall within quantum scale just as a figure of measurements is not possibly correct. I shall also thank Brenden Maloney for pointing out the recent success of Anirban Bandyopadhyay, PhD, at the National Institute of Material Sciences in Tsukuba, Japan (and now at MIT) on quantum vibrations in 'microtubules' in brain neurons upholding Hammeroff-Penrose Orch OR hypothesis.
Mind, in its most social meaning is acquired from environment. It's functional manifestation in brain does not prove its residency there.
Unless otherwise convinced in future, this debate made me accept the OP as true, at least for now.

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    Jan 12 2014: Clarification:
    By physical world I mean everything that can be reduced to some material constituent part, elemental and testable.
    The question is framed to examine the idea that mind cannot be reduced to such physical materialness.
    God or divinity is a too easy and uninteresting caveat in this discussion and I personally do not get inspired with such reference.
    For the ones who are arguing that science can one day know how mind works and hopefully show that it is nothing but some electro-chemical activity of neurons, it may be a point of consideration that science does differentiate between technical limit of reduction and intrinsic irreducibility of phenomena. Quantum indeterminacy is one such. So science has confirmed that one can never know and predict exactly when a radioactive decay will take place for an individual atom. This is not because we are deficient in knowledge and technology - it is just unknowable.
    Moreover, there are many non-physical things we are familiar with. Just because science cannot handle those do not make these non-physical things non-existent or false. For example there can be emergent quality of a system that is more than the summation of its constituent parts.
    • Jan 12 2014: I claim there is no such thing as something without a physical presence.
      Even abstracts like freedom, or fictional concepts like Harry Potter exist in the physical world in the same way a computer program exists as an electrical process happening inside a computer. The physical world is comprised of more then solid objects and other things you can pick up with one of your senses.

      The brain is just a big, complex electro-chemical reaction. Seeing as we've cracked how other elecro-chemical reactions work (say, nerves), and they're not fundamentally different then the brain, the failure to fully understand the brain is in technology, not in the process being unknowable.
      The brain is merely (very) complex, not fundamentally special in its ability to baffle science.
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        Jan 12 2014: Interesting claim. Everything physical must qualify for study under physics. Neither freedom nor Harry Potter does
        • Jan 12 2014: The concepts themselves might have no scientific interest (at least in the hard sciences), but the manner in which they're stored and used in the brain (the reason I claim they're physical things) certainly does.
          If you bring a hard drive full of random cat pictures from the internet to a scientist 50 years ago, the cats would hold no interest, but the hard drive itself and the way it stores information certainly will.

          One is the language and one is the meaning, but as physical objects, the two are inseparable (as in, neither freedom nor Harry Potter nor digital cats would exist at all, abstract or no, if they weren't in someone's head, data storage or written on a page somewhere).
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        Jan 12 2014: Your argument seems to obscure the boundary between metaphysical and physical.
        • Jan 12 2014: My argument claims that no such boundary exists, for the metaphysical does not exist, at least not in the traditional sense.

          All non physical things (ideas, digital cats and such) exist solely in our heads or other physical storage devices, which are physically changed for storing said abstracts. That change (a different set of 1's and 0's for the cat) is their physical existence.
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          Jan 12 2014: I'm completely with Navad on this

          " My argument claims that no such boundary exists, for the metaphysical does not exist, at least not in the traditional sense."
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          Jan 12 2014: Pabitra,
          What do you perceive to be a "boundary between metaphysical and physical"? I agree with Nadav....no such boundary exists....except maybe in the minds of those who choose to believe there might be a boundary.

          "highly abstract or abstruse"

          "difficult to comprehend"

          I suggest that many things which have been thought to be difficult to understand, have been given the label "metaphysical", and the idea is thought to be "out there" somewhere....outside the physical world.

          That is why I do not agree with your statement..."Mind exists outside of physical world". Just because we (humans) cannot fully explain or understand the processes of the mind, does not put it outside the physical world.
      • Jan 12 2014: Does physical world exist outside of mind ?
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          Jan 12 2014: It may be quite so that the physical world is a mental construct because I don't think there is any way we can define a physical world independent of perception.
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          Jan 12 2014: Exactly! They are interdependent.

          How do you know there is anything objective? Subjective experience.
          Where does subjective experience come from? The objective world.
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          Jan 13 2014: While our experience of perceiving the universe may be the product of some matrix like construct, brains in vats, a software programme etc most of us assume or live practically as if the universe exists even when we sleep, that the universe pops into and out of existence when we close our eyes.

          We generally don't jump off buildings or in front of cars based on the philosophical speculation that the universe is an illusion. we eat, also and work and interact with people and the universe as if it does exist.

          There seems to be evidence of existence before our conception.

          It seems infantile to assume the universe only exists when you perceive it. Like a child assuming you can't see it when it closes it s eyes.

          I suggest all the evidence we have largely indicates the universe exists independent of our perception

          yes it could be popping into existence as I perceive it but it seems reasonable to assume it exists independent of our perception. The universe could have been created 5 seconds ago with us preloaded with memories of the past. But the evidence white not absolute suggests otherwise.
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          Jan 12 2014: FYI Chris Kelly,
          "Throughout much of history, the mind was thought to be separate from the brain. The most promising approaches treat the brain as a biological computer...acquires information...stores it...process it in a variety of ways..."
        • Jan 13 2014: I dismiss metaphysical matter because I have no evidence to suggest it exists.
          If I can't observe it with any sensor (whether natural like sight, or artificial like a Geiger counter), then I have no reason to believe its actually there.

          If new evidence presents itself, the theory will have to be reevaluated. Until then...

          The mind, and all the information stored on it, is a construct of the brain in the same sense the digital cats are a construct of the bits inside the hard drive. Its just more complex, is all.
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        Jan 12 2014: @Nadav, Jimmy and Colleen.
        Saying no boundary exists between physical and metaphysical will negate the whole of philosophy (Dan Denette will be out of work, I guess).
        This is known as Hempel's Dilemma.
        The metaphysical is not about difficulty of understanding but more about impossibility of reduction or computability.
        "The boundary between physics and metaphysics is the boundary between what can and what cannot be computed in the age of the universe." These are the words of a physicist named Carlo W.J. Beenakker. I think I indicated the issue of intrinsic irreducibility of some reality in a slightly different context in my earlier posts. I think I also clarified what I meant by physical world.
        Hope we don't get into semantic muddle.
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          Jan 12 2014: Pabitra,
          Philosophy (love of wisdom) evolves, as we evolve....does it not? As we are aware of new information, our philosophy may change and evolve:>)
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          Jan 13 2014: I suggest there is a transcendent realm of ideas, meaning, feelings, thoughts, imagination, that is a product of our brains.

          there is no spiritual realm in the traditional sense as far as we can tell.

          I can imagine things, ascribe meaning to symbols. This is the transcendent realm we have evidence for. But these imaginings, these meanings, these ideas don't exist physically.however my brain is physically measurably active while thinking or imagining or feeling

          I suggest people mix this up with supernatural speculations.
      • Jan 12 2014: Lachlan, you say :

        Where does subjective experience come from? The objective world.

        How do you know ?

        Objectivity is the illusion of every subject :)
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          Jan 13 2014: But to be a subject at all you must be 'posited' inside an objective brain/body - I don't think you can say it's just one or the other.

          I dont know for sure if consciousness was born out of the objective world but if we are to believe the stories of history - that the earth existed before we did and that we come from an evolutionary lineage of ancestors (who all shared the same human condition) then we must take on trust that the objective world has been around long before we were born into it.

          Though our own worlds seem to revolve around us, I think that is the real illusion. Humans have this incredible capacity for self-awareness and I think that's where we get confused.
          I believe we are all just manifestations of nature/the force of life :)
      • Jan 14 2014: Lachlan, you say :
        "I believe we are all just manifestations of nature/the force of life :)

        I do share your belief ! :)

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