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 23 2014: Ooh, big problems with such "Dualism"! How could a "mind existing outside the physical world" cause physical changes - like your mind moving your arm at will? Conversely, why would a non-physical mind "outside" the body be affected by physical injury, implanted electrodes or chemicals e.g. drugs / alcohol?

    For that reason, I think mental and material must be different aspects of the same stuff. Research on Near Death Experiences (NDEs) and Out of Body Experiences (OBEs) - like AWARE at the University of Southampton UK, has sought in vain for evidence that mind can exist outside the brain. NDEs and OBEs are undoubtedly very vivid, but that does not prove their reality.

    Yet, everything we hold dear is mental. IMHO neither mind nor matter are reducible to the other. They are dual aspects. Hence, Science is a poor methodology for the study of qualia. For that we need to take up Phenomenology!
    • Jan 24 2014: Jim,
      No it's not a dualism were talking about here. It's a monism.
      As water can manifest in several forms. Solid, liquid and gas, so it is with the spiritual. Water is present in all its forms.
      The dichotomy you speak of only "appears" as a seperation of the two realities. The spiritual is present at all times within the physical realities. The problem is we are not sensitive enough to see it or be aware of it. So we(dualism) jump from "this assumption" that we are considering two realities but in fact there is only one. The spiritual is nothing that is without, away, or on the side of the physical. Matter is only first manifest from the supersensible spiritual reality that is here, now, surrounding us all the time.
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        Jan 24 2014: Hello Jim, hello Daniel,
        let me tell you my viewpoint. I (like many others) belief that the brain is just an antenna for the spirit. You place an electrode on it, of course you can influence the result. Same as chemicals can influence it in the path to the body part. And of course you damage it, it malfunctions.

        Now in the statement 'moving the arm at will' you consider the body as one single unit. But when I look at the fact, that with regression methods you can track back the thoughts to the point of being a single cell (e.g. the sperm) and even can recall the words your parents uttered during intercourse, it seems to me that this unit is made up by many single conscious cells (animals, bacteria, or whatever you want to call it) and one unit controlling them as one thing.
        It's like concentrating on a single ant in a hive to make it move another direction and you somehow get the feeling that there is something that is getting awfully angry with you. I wouldn't thereby call it monism. Also as I mentioned earlier: this reality is made by agreement. Look at an accident that has been viewed by 5 people. Each one has a different reality on the accident and only what they agree upon is considered physical. Of course to it you have to add the reality of the 'forensic' people.
        • Jan 24 2014: Hello Tobias and Daniel,
          I agree with you Daniel - dual aspects of the same stuff. Dual aspect monism.
          However, that view puts mind with matter, not outside it (as Pabitra's question asks).
          The latter very common view is dualism, which runs into obvious difficulties.

          Tobias, your view initially sounds similar to Rupert Sheldrake, with the brain as an antenna for the soul. However, you go on to talk of the emergent mind made of "many single conscious cells", which is much more like Daniel and my view - that mind emerges with complexity, and is not "outside" the brain, or ant colony, but integral to it.

          The latter would be monism, because it supposes there is only one mind-matter "stuff", of which cells are made, whereas your first paragraph sounds like dualism - that matter (brain) is just an antenna for the external soul (mind).

          My key question for you is: do you believe your mind will still exist once your body is dead?
          If yes, you are with Sheldrake as a dualist, if no, you are a monist (like me).

          One problem I have with regression methods, is "false memory syndrome". In experiments, people can be induced through suggestion to remember all sorts of things that never happened. We are ace confabulators, and arch fantasists. It is hard to see how a sperm cell could have memories of a conversation going on at the time of conception, in a language it hasn't learned yet, immersed in seminal fluid, and surrounded by a billion other sperms (even assuming it is conscious). Isn't it just much more likely that the regression "memories" are fantasies?
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      Jan 24 2014: Hi Jim,
      in my case these memories happen to be in Russian as my parents are grown up in Siberia. As I don't know any Russian I guess it's pure coincident the fantasy of the sounds that I recorded (recording of sounds do not require understanding of it) when later asking a Russian actually made sense.
      As I said already: Religion claims not fitting experiences to be a devils work and Psychologist say it's fantasy.
      Well, can't argue against it.
      • Jan 24 2014: Hello Tobias - I'm intrigued when you say you remembered sounds, not understood by you, but later translated as meaning something in Russian...

        However, ask yourself - is it likely that it was you as a sperm who recall them? Wouldn't it have been more likely you as a very small child?

        Even assuming a sperm is conscious - it has no ears, no way of storing the sound. A child has both.
        Most telling of all, a sperm lives in a world so much tinier than our human scale - conversational sound vibrations would be many times drowned out by Brownian motion - it's immediate environment would be other cells, and the fluid it is submerged in, inside our bodies - not a conversation going on outside.

        Science does reject a lot - which is how we swapped burning witches for the ability to travel to other planets. However, science is based on scepticism, the assumption that we can know almost nothing with certainty. So, it is about asking yourself those challenging questions, and carrying our beliefs lightly.
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          Jan 24 2014: Hi Jim,
          if this would be my only inexplicable experience (by science) I would certainly agree with you. And I guess you do not challenge everything that you have learned from science otherwise you would be so busy that you wouldn't have the time to write this.
          My viewpoint of this subject is the result of my experiences which many I have listed in this conversation. You do not have to have the same viewpoint as you have different experiences. All your arguments are based on the idea that you are only a body and can only perceive with the body and everything else if fantasy and you don't challenge that.
          If you want to challenge my viewpoint then you have to start at the basic that spirits do not exist and thereby do not perceive. If you have a proper argument for that we can go along that line.
    • Jan 25 2014: "mind emerges with complexity"
      Isn't it a dualism ?
      It suggests the mind is a property of a complex stuff, which consists of simple mindless units which are not mind. Only when they are assembled into a construct complex enough, mind emerges. Clearly we have two stuffs here.
      I would say, mind unfolds.
      Mind doesn't emerge for it doesn't go anywhere. It simply IS.
      Where IS is a function of matter/body/brain... whatever, everything that IS is mind/matter stuff.
      And could you please elaborate on this :
      "you are with Sheldrake as a dualist."
      Where is Sheldrake on par with dualism ?
      Or how is the idea of the soundtrack of parents' intercourse, recoded in the conceived... could be associated with ' morphic resonance ' ?
      Please, don't take me wrong, i am not arguing with you, i am trying to understand.

      Thank you !
      • Jan 28 2014: Hello Tobias and Natasha,
        I'm not pushing any particular view Tobias, Just trying to understand and enquire.

        To answer you Natasha, dualism is the belief in two separable substances - mind and body. So dualists believe when you die, your spirit continues to exist e.g. in Heaven or Hell.

        That's different from saying mind emerges from a complex network - like a hive or a brain. Destroy the network and the mind is destroyed with it in the latter view. That's monism.

        In this view, the mind (or self) is what the brain does. Mind is a dynamic process, brain/nervous system the structure doing it. There is only one substance involved in the process.

        The question that divides dualism from monism is then - can mind exist without the body?

        My understanding of Sheldrake is he believes our brains pick up the morphic field transmitted by our souls, like a TV picking up a channel. He therefore believes we continue to exist after death of the body. He's the only academic I know of, who is a dualist, but he is a bright bloke.
        • Jan 29 2014: Hi, Jim,
          probably you underestimate Rupert Sheldrake.
          What he suggests is not immediately apprehensible by rational mind, because it is a fractal thing. Morphic resonance includes the things, that in each other are included, the whole.
          This idea resolves dualism with elegance. Monism is just another version of dualism, which is based on separation of 'to be' from ' not to be ' , it truly believes that visible is only that IS. It's naive.
          I could be perfectly wrong here :)

          Thanks for responding !
      • Feb 1 2014: I may have got Sheldrake wrong. However, his morphic field seems not to be amenable to physical "mechanistic" explanations as to how it retains memories, guides growth or transmits thoughts. I believe Sheldrake refers to its mode of action as "formative causation" as opposed to "energetic causation".

        So, morphic fields seem to be of a fundamentally different type of "stuff", not amenable to physics - hence the dualism. I take your point that e.g. "property dualism" is really a form of substance monism. Perhaps we should talk of substance dualism and physicalism. However, non-existence is not really a second kind of substance. (You may be referring to Dark Matter and Dark Energy, which though not understood yet, exert observable physical effects, and are still very much a part of and amenable to material physics).

        I think the part/whole gestalt thing is interesting with chaos and complexity theories etc., Whithead and Process Philosophy and Panpsychism too. However, I cannot see that morphic resonance can claim to be an emergent property of the Whole. It claims too specific an effect, and still leaves totally unexplained how this emergent holistic field e.g. guides the growth of a crystal or embryo.

        So, I cannot see that Morphic Resonance resolves mind-body dualism, or the mysteries of morphology or memory - elegantly or otherwise! It merely replaces one mystery with a greater one - and puts it beyond our means of investigation. What is naive is to believe that invoking an invisible, undetectable "morphic" field, explains anything. Why not invoke angels instead?

        I hope that's not too much of a rant...
        • Feb 1 2014: "It merely replaces one mystery with a greater one. "

          Mystery is the event horizon, it is irreplaceable, by definition. 500 years of scientific endeavour makes it rationally acceptable, that's the only news.:)

          "morphic field seems not to be amenable to physical "mechanistic" explanations as to how it retains memories, guides growth or transmits thoughts."

          How is ' non locality' amenable to physical "mechanistic" explanations of ...anything ? 'Morphic Resonance ' makes R.Sheldrake and D, Bohm comrades-in-arms. According to Sheldrake, morphic resonance is nonlocal 'thing', it doesn't retain memories, here ' thought' or ' change' is a verb, it spreads immediately at the moment of emergence across the whole field of resonance.
          Something like this ... :)
          Why Resonance resolves mind-body dualism ?
          Because it treats ' form' as a 'ghost' in matter/ energy, it appears and disappears but never leaves the domain of ' invisible ' , call it Dark e/matter or 2D field of information or Mind... God ...Consciousness, whatever, it's one universal 'stuff'.

          "I hope that's not too much of a rant..."

          Not even remotely :)

          Thank you !
      • Feb 3 2014: Hello Natasha,
        We may just have to agree to disagree...

        "Mystery is the event horizon, it is irreplaceable, by definition."

        Agreed, but progress means yesterday's horizon is today's understanding, and yet new horizons draw us forward. We don't yet understand entanglement, and "spooky action at a distance" but to invoke a "morphic field" doesn't help any. Bohm is less subject to Ockham's razor, because his "implicate order" is not something extra (like a morphic field), but a metaphysical reconfiguration. However, both suffer from being unfalsifiable - they make no testable predictions. Hence Bohm, though respected is not adding much more than speculation.

        Morphic Resonance is a return to "sympathetic magic", and his rejection of mechanism in favour of a mysterious field is a step backwards, not forwards.

        Perhaps we are entering the realm of Faith, which has its place, but not as science.
        • Feb 5 2014: Mind that created religions is the same mind that created science, it's the believing mind ; the act of separating religion from science is an exercise of separating cause from effect, nothing more.
          You are right we have to agree to disagree...
          Thank you very much for the conversation !

          Be Well !

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