The Brain is not the Mind

After decades of research and contemplation by a host of experts in the fields of neuroscience and cognitive studies, as well as the intense efforts of many philosophers and scientists from various schools of thought, coming to terms with and attempting to fully comprehend the complex nature of human consciousness still engages some of the best minds of our day. Recent attempts to predict the outcome of merely producing artificially, a sufficient collection of simulated neuronal connections, and attributing the whole character of our human version of subjective experience to that achievement, are now stirring speculation about technological advancements in reproducing a “conscious” virtual brain architecture.

In the Review section of September 14, 2019, in a Wall Street Journal article entitled, “Will Your Uploaded Mind Still Be You?,” Dr. Michael Graziano, a professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Princeton University, wrote in an excerpt from his recent book, “Rethinking Consciousness: A Scientific Theory of Subjective Experience,” that we will one day be able to scan a human brain and “migrate the essentials of your mind to a computer.” He describes it as “mind uploading—preserving a person’s consciousness in a digital afterlife.”

He goes on to speculate that the technologies needed to perform the task of “simulating a brain with 86 billion neurons is a little beyond current technology,” but that it won’t be for long. But the next part, the technology for actually “uploading,” a mind to a machine, he admits, “doesn’t yet exist,” and that he wouldn’t be surprised “if it took centuries.”

These efforts to reproduce a “virtual mind,” are based on the premise that the only reason human beings possess access to and subjectively experience their own consciousness is because the brain has sufficient complexity in architecture, and a sufficient accumulation of neuronal connections.

Speculation about being able to “upload” an existing human “mind” to some sort of artificial construct, not only flies in the face of common sense, but seriously underestimates the full nature of why we experience our existence subjectively, and what might possibly account for “what-it’s-like” to be human.

Sometimes described as the difficulty in explaining the “mind/body connection,” or “the hard problem” of explaining consciousness,” the richly-textured, multifaceted, and highly complex processes that constitute the creation of a human mind, and the relationship between our physical systems and our experience of consciousness, have eluded our understanding precisely because every attempt to explain consciousness through our physical systems alone falls short, by eliminating any contribution which includes immaterial components.

We are still unable to agree upon or discern with any degree of certainty how it is that we enjoy this richly-textured, first person experience of awareness. What we have discovered along the way is fascinating, and many publications are available today that deal with the subject of our very human version of consciousness, but supposing that we will one day create conscious machines into which we can “insert” an existing consciousness, in my view, seriously denigrates what it means to be human.

My contention is that while we are clearly dependent on a nominally functional nervous system to interact in a meaningful way with other sentient beings, the delicate balance of brain chemistry and neuronal functionality only provides a platform from which we can launch our lives as cognitive creatures. After decades of contemplating and studying the subject of human consciousness, what seems more likely to me, is that there are also other more subtle and less well understood forces at work in our lives, some of which we may eventually comprehend and predict reliably, and others that are essential to life, which are also essential for understanding why simply accumulating a sufficient number of neurons, or developing some advanced technology for processing computer data points, will not result in a conscious machine.

I was reassured today to read several letters to the editor of the Wall Street Journal that pointed out this glaringly obvious inconsistency in Michael Graziano’s article, and although those of a more materialist persuasion are less inclined to suppose that there are immaterial components, which are a vital part of our human nature, their prediction of some future world in which machines are conscious, and into which we will upload our own personal consciousness, will likely only be soundly refuted hundreds of years from now.

In the meantime, further research and contemplation of what might constitute the full character and explanation for subjective experience demands that we expand what might be possible, in order to give our efforts in the future a fighting chance to actually transcend the strictly materialist view of the true nature of our humanity.

14 thoughts on “The Brain is not the Mind

  1. The brain is affected by chemicals, food, drugs, sunlight, temperature, electromagnetism, social environment, lighting, etc…
    The two acceptable modes of discourse are numerical and linguistic. These are both symbology’s that have appropriate Rule Sets. It’s interesting that computers do a much better job at storing and processing information using linguistics and numbers than humans do. So does this mean that computers have minds, have souls and have consciousness? You seem to be suggesting that the electrical organization of the computer processor and memory too has access to non physical “Mind”?

    1. Not at all. What I am suggesting is precisely the opposite. What I am suggesting is that the processing and storing of numerical and linguistic symbology in the brain is insufficient to account for subjective experience, nor can it explain in a comprehensive way, why it is that WE possess what we describe as “a mind, while a computer clearly does not.” The sort of information processing in which computers excel is not accompanied by any subjective awareness within the computer’s circuits, and the limitations inherent in comprehensively describing what consciousness is and how we are able to be aware that we are aware, demonstrates that “re-creating a human brain” artificially will also be insufficient to create a means of transferring a specific personal version of human consciousness into whatever device is built in some distant future.

      This blog has been in existence in earnest for more than eight years, and I have written extensively in much detail over that time regarding this particular subject, and your question seems to indicate that you haven’t spent very much time reviewing the hundreds of postings here which discuss this subject at length. I’m not sure what you are suggesting by your inclusion of how the brain is affected by chemicals, food, drugs, etc., nor do I understand how numerical and linguistic discourse with its rule sets have any bearing on what might possibly explain why we humans have a mind or a soul or possess access to consciousness.

      My position is that building a computer that can process and store data bits in memory is not at all the same as creating and being a sentient human person, and even if we are one day capable of building something equivalent to a human brain in the future, it will not be capable of self-awareness or achieve anything more than perhaps being an extremely complex and expensive processor of linguistics and numbers. To suggest that humans are nothing more than physical biological machines is not a tenable position in my view, and the self-evident nature of subjective experience, along with thousands of years of human experience and accomplishment suggest that there is a great deal more to our existence that cannot be accounted for by modes of discourse or advanced technologies for creating artificial brains.

      1. Your really talking about the computers limited number of feedback loops and the distinction between environment and the subject. If you give a computer equivalent feedback loops you will give it more of a human quality.
        How many temperature, pressure feedback sensors are there on the largest human organ, the Skin? Trillions? Millions? Computers aren’t anywhere near this

      2. What I am really talking about is that, in my view, it doesn’t matter how many feedback loops you give a computer, and no matter how faithfully a future technology becomes at replicating artificially the architecture and precise structure of the human brain and its related systems, the full and true nature of our humanity still requires a further component to comprehensively explain the subjective experience of human consciousness, which is currently beyond our understanding scientifically, and for which a solely material explanation will not suffice. That component, about which I have written extensively over the years here in my blog, is very likely immaterial in its fundamental nature.

        To suggest that it will be possible, even utilizing some future advanced technology, to bestow the equivalent of the human version of consciousness on some artificial construct by simply replicating the structure of a human brain, seriously denigrates what it means to be a living human being, and frankly strikes me as preposterous given even our current level of understanding of human nature. In addition, the level of advancement required to even attempt or approach such a possibility is so fraught with ethical and technical challenges that whatever MIGHT result from such efforts in some distant future could very well spell disaster for the success of our species.

        I appreciate your interest in my posting and am glad for the opportunity to explain and clarify my views on what has been an important topic for me for so long.

        Regards…John H.

  2. I have found myself attracted for some time to the idea of immanence of some force in the universe which some might describe as some sort of Jungian universal consciousness. I think I am right in saying this theory still has its adherents–that consciousness is a force of nature in the same way as electromagnetism–and is both presumably a physical phenomena of some sort and irreducible. That being the case, I imagine humans are conductors of some sort; in which case perhaps machines could be built which could similarly conduct.

    Interestingly, to me at least, it that such conjecture is more faith than science. But perhaps science has always evolved in that way. People have an idea and set out to prove or disprove it. As you say, we are not going to have any answers any time soon. As you know, despite my aversion to traditional belief systems, I would none the less love to hope for some greater truth beyond the mere individual human mind. That of course is more religion than science and more hope than theory. In any event thank you for your thoughts, as usual.

    This is a field in which we would all be foolish, at this early stage, in didactically claiming right or wrong. My mind remains very open. I may find the idea of monotheism ridiculous, but even that can’t be ruled out. I once caused vast offence to a Catholic brother in law by telling him his God might be a malevolent computer programmer…..

    1. Anthony,

      Your thoughts are always welcome and I appreciate very much that you took the time to render such a thoughtful and robust response to my post. You touch on some very interesting aspects of this conversation which open several different subtopics under the heading of Brain and Mind.

      Jung’s theories are relevant here, including the archetypes of the unconscious, and the collective unconscious, in which Jung “rejected the concept of tabula rasa or the notion that the human mind is a blank slate at birth to be written on solely by experience. He believed that the human mind retains fundamental, unconscious, biological aspects of our ancestors.”–excerpt from the website by Kendra Cherry. This would, of course, only apply and be relevant to humans who are born alive and survived long enough to have sufficient experience to recognize and apply those aspects as a living being. A transistor or data bit in an artificial construct might possibly be programmed in a certain way to mimic such an inheritance, I suppose, but it would still clearly be unlike a natural endowment in the way Jung meant it.

      The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines Panpsychism as “…the view that mentality is fundamental and ubiquitous in the natural world…(and)…promises a satisfying account of the human mind within a unified conception of nature.” The main difficulty for artificially constructing a replica of the human brain, aside from the enormous technological challenges, is that the term “natural world,” generally refers to the living world, and while an artificial device would be constructed with synthetic materials, if the functionality was precise enough, it might produce something like the android, Data, in the Star Trek Next Generation series, but again, it would be a synthetically produced device that is not alive. Life changes everything.

      We don’t have to wait hundreds of years to realize that there is a “greater truth beyond the mere individual human mind.” There is proof enough of that in our experience of the world. The endless fascination we see in eyes of a developing human child, struck by the enormous expanses of discovery in their early lives; the unfailing beauty, majesty, and horror of the natural world; the uncanny connections forged between humans and other living creatures, as well as with other humans; the mysterious juxtaposition of people and events that shape our world; the spiritual sensations one feels in the magnificent cathedrals and temples and mosques of the world’s great religions; and the inner recognition of an eternal aspect to our existence that never goes away for those open to such influences; hunches; deep friendships that are utterly impervious to time and distance; the serenity one can feel even in the face of great sadness or tragedy; all of these and so many more–all point to a greater truth.

      The Catholic God may not actually be a malevolent computer programmer, but whatever the true nature of such an omnipotent creator might be, it cannot be described accurately in any temporal manner or with any temporal reference. The subjective experience of human consciousness is, in some manner or form, immaterial. All that we know, and see, and which composes the physical universe, is supported by an immaterial aspect that we cannot recreate in the material world. That is my view of it.

      Thanks for being so patient with my enthusiastic defense of my thoughts, and never worry about spelling or typing…just let it out!….John H.

      1. I suspect you can probably read between the lines now, as far as I am concerned. My desire, my deep wish would be for there to be some mystery, something which we can not see but sense (in the many ways you have outlined) is or ought to be there. Sometimes I write in a bleaker tone than I intend to, sometimes I express feelings which are perhaps more bleakly expressed than they are felt. What I am desperately trying to do these days is to go with the flow. By and large I am succeeding. I will continue to believe at heart that there IS a metaphysical aspect, even if that proves to be some version of the Many Worlds Theory of the quantum mystery rather than something truly outside of the physical universe (or universes). I was listening to a podcast yesterday from a scientist who believes that certain drugs may actually give access to an orthogonal reality and certainly at times over the past year I have been tempted to come to the same conclusion. I guess we just do not know. But somewhere I have a warm fuzzy feeling that there may just be something out there. I certainly hope so.

      2. Part of the appeal of conversations on this and other subjects we discuss is the deepening of our understanding of the subject and of each other. Your writings do occasionally sound a bit “bleaker” than I suspect you intend or actually feel, but there is good cause to express our views with enthusiasm, particularly when they are important to us personally, and about which we have some vested interest or relevant experience. I consider it as a genuine gift when readers take the time to consider the subjects of my blog entries and to formulate a considered response, which contributes some benefit to the conversation. Your “deep wish” for something that “ought to be out there,” is one such considered response and I appreciate your willingness to share your thoughts very much.

    1. Thanks for your visit and for inviting a response to your poetic statement of agreement. All our metaphors for the brain and mind tend to leave us still unsatisfied when we introduce the term “consciousness.” While there are clearly connections and essential common thresholds between brain, mind, spirit, and consciousness, the mind is clearly a result of an interaction between the brain and the world which produced the mind. Without input from the world through our central nervous system and sensory capacities, the mind would be unrecognizable as such, if at all. Nothing in the temporal world would be the same without consciousness, and our ability to acknowledge the existence of the human spirit would not be possible without the brain and the resulting mind. We tend to want to think of these as independent entities, but they are so closely intertwined that all we can really do is appreciate how each aspect crosses over into the other.

      A while back I wrote a blog post that briefly summarized the terms, “Soul, Spirit, Heart, and Mind,” in an effort to clarify these ideas:

      Thanks again for your visit!….John H.

      1. the world is a result of the mind, not the mind of the world. you see, there is no world without consciousness, just like in deep sleep, the world is non-existent. we are the canvas which allows all experience to occur. 🙏

      2. There are many aspects of this subject which pose additional questions and the question about whether the world is a result of the mind or the mind of the world is one. In some ways, of course, your point is well-taken. Without a mind to affirm the existence of the world, it would be difficult to suppose that we could say how it existed. So in this sense, knowledge of the existence of the world is a result of the existence of the mind.

        On the other hand, of course, the Universe, the solar system, the earth, the evolution of life, and the arrival of Homo sapiens in the history of humanity were already in place, and eventually, Homo sapiens had a brain structure which permitted the possibility that the mind could emerge from the matter of the brain.

        So, from my perspective, since neuroscience studies the nervous system, which is the physical basis of the mind, it makes sense to me that once the physical systems were in place, that is when it became possible for the mind to emerge.

        Theoretical approaches to explain how mind emerges from the brain include the computational theory of mind:

        “The most straightforward scientific evidence of a strong relationship between the physical brain matter and the mind is the impact physical alterations to the brain have on the mind, such as with traumatic brain injury and psychoactive drug use. The computational theory of mind holds that the mind is a computational system that is realized (i.e. physically implemented) by neural activity in the brain. Computation can be implemented by silicon chips or neural networks, so long as there is a series of outputs based on manipulations of inputs and internal states, performed according to a rule. Computational Theory of Mind, therefore holds that the mind is not simply analogous to a computer program, but that it is literally a computational system.” –excerpt from Wikipedia

        Philosophers of every variety, and the wisdom of the ages, passed down from teacher to teacher, also have affirmed that not only did the existence of the world precede the existence of the mind, but that each new life, as it emerges into the world, requires the existence of that world in order for each new mind to emerge.

        One such teacher, Kapil Gupta, a personal advisor to CEO’s, Professional Athletes, Celebrities, and Performing Artists around the world, puts it like this:

        “One’s environment shapes the structure of the mind. The mind shapes the structure of the human.

        In essence, the world creates the mind. The mind creates the human. A human is a product of his continual exposures. He becomes that to which he is most often exposed. It is beyond all his capabilities to avoid this.


        Because the world creates the mind. The mind creates the human. This is a natural effect of a cause. And it seeks not the human’s permission.

        I present these ideas in support of my ideas regarding how the mind came about, but I am sympathetic to the idea that we USE our mind to affirm the existence of the world, and so we must acknowledge that, without a mind, or without a mind that functions well enough, the world could not be said to exist in any real sense.

        It’s a little like the chicken or the egg debate. But even in our sleep, as we sleep, the world is actually still there, although it is not there to the one sleeping. Consciousness is not just about the brain and the mind. Our subjective experience of awareness when we are awake is unavailable in the same way when we are asleep, and access to the canvas, as you so astutely framed it, is not simply being conscious and awake, but also by temporally existing in a physical world when we wake up.

  3. Hello. Keep up the good work, because this is an interesting site.

    I do have a question, because of a comment I came across on PsychologyToday. It made me think for quite a while.

    Do you think some people doubt or question the pure or “full-on” physicalist or materialistic view, out of “fear of nihilism, meaningless mortality,” and find materialism painful/uncomfortable to accept?

    I think “New Agey pseudoscientists” diminish the legitimate research and reputations of serious consciousness researchers, quantum physicists, and people who are interested in it (I’m one of them. I’m interested,)

    I personally, disagree with materialism, but not because I’m afraid of or want to “deny nihilism,” or find the view “uncomfortable to accept.”

    Thx for reading.

    1. Thanks for your visit and for your interest in my blog post. I appreciate it very much when people who read what I write respond with thoughtful comments, and while your response included a great deal of information, the central question you raised is the most relevant to my posting, and I am glad to respond to that.

      Demosthenes (c.371-322 BC), the Greek statesman from ancient Athens observed that “What he wished to believe, that is what each man believes” (Olynthiac) According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, of the many forms of nihilism developed over centuries, “Existential nihilism,” the notion that life has no intrinsic meaning or value, “is, no doubt, the most commonly used and understood sense of the word today.”

      I’m not sure if simply believing in something “because it is what we wish to believe,” is a particularly useful or productive approach to philosophy, but neither can I agree with “the notion that life has no intrinsic meaning or value.” The majority of my blog posts here express some aspect of what I believe are reasonable conclusions based on my research and life experiences, but I also recognize that just because I think they are reasonable conclusions doesn’t mean everyone who encounters them will agree.

      I don’t think most of those who reject the purely materialist view do so out of some fear of nihilism or through some unwillingness to accept the possibility that existence has no discernible meaning. It would be very short sighted to suggest that any specific view of human awareness and existence is the only possible way to explain their true nature.

      We have come a long way as a species since the earliest epochs in which conscious modern humans have pondered the big questions, and in all that time, no clearly definitive answer to the questions surrounding whether or not life has a significant meaning or purpose has been universally accepted, precisely because we are not cookie-cutter creatures who are identical in every way. Our strength as a species is in our diversity, in just the same way as the diversity in the natural world balances out the whole of nature.

      Genetically speaking, the greater diversity there is in the gene pool, the greater the chances are for continued sustainability going forward. Diverse cultures and variety in the social structures supporting those cultures has been a hallmark of a successful human species, at least so far in our history.

      What I have been advocating over the almost nine years I have been blogging here at John’s Consciousness is that all of my experiences over my lifetime point to an existence beyond experience, beyond the temporal physical universe. To me, it seems impossible that our existence is nothing more than a cosmic coincidence that just happened to result in the serendipitous appearance of self-aware conscious creatures on a random planet in an obscure galaxy in a purely random physical cosmic evolution.

      I read the article you cited at the URL above on Psychology Today, and there are a number of points made by Dr. Lawrence Samuel that might explain “why some people believe weird things,” but it really doesn’t address whether or not life has meaning or value. A number of the people on the list found in the comments section for the article are legitimate scientists in their fields, who also hold some unconventional views that are not widely accepted. Many times the comment sections on such topics contain opinions which are not well thought out or not based on anything other than a clear bias mentioned by Dr. Samuel.

      Whatever the actual answer might be to the question of whether or not temporal life has any discernible meaning and purpose, or even if it has some transcendent layers beyond the quantifiable limits of materialist viewpoints, living out our human lives requires us to confront these questions, and so long as we are a diverse species, my guess is there will be a wide range of viewpoints vying for our attention.

      Naturally, my own view, honed over sixty-plus years of life, feels right to me, since it is based on a broad spectrum of both study and life experience, but ultimately, each of us must discover for ourselves whether or not life has meaning and purpose. I offer my views as an expression of my understanding, and strive to provide encouragement for others to pursue their own understanding.

      Great question!

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