Mind and Brain-Part I

The hemispherectomy was a procedure performed mostly in the 1960s and 1970s which was performed to help relieve epilepsy. In this procedure, an entire hemisphere of brain (half of the brain) was removed. While there were often some long-term effects on controlling movement in one side of the body, studies showed that these individuals retained their personalities, cognitive and intellectual abilities. Of course this depends on the age of the patient at the time that the surgery is performed. Apparently, the unaffected hemisphere is able to adapt and take over the functions of the hemisphere that has been removed.

Hemispherectomy Photo

To me, this is one piece of evidence for a possible split between mind and brain (software and hardware if you will). I may have missed something, but I think these facts support and ID perspective better than an evolutionary perspective. To consider the pressures of natural selection to produce this ability, you would have to have a large population of humans or ancestors (with brains) suffering neural insults, and those who were able to maintain enough of their previous functioning to reproduce would pass on their mutations for neuroplasticity to the next generation. Even then, what would be the need for maintaining the same personality, memory abilities, and cognitive functioning? All you really need to do is to be smart enough to avoid getting killed and smart enough to reproduce (it’s not all that difficult really–at least the latter).

So, from a design perspective, if you were designing a highly advanced life form, I think you’d want to build in capacity beyond what might really be needed. You’d also want to design it to keep functioning as much as possible in the case of an injury. If it was important that this life form maintain a sense of self or “personhood” if you will, then I think you’d want them to continue being the same person in the absense of as much hardware as is possible. We certainly have capacities that are far beyond what we need to survive and reproduce. If not, then why are we blogging, enjoying nature, painting, making music, studying evolution, and so on and so forth (all things that do nothing to enhance survival of either the species or the individual)?

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18 Responses

  1. “I am thinking about my brain thinking about what I’m thinking about.” How can evolution explain this “phenomenon”, if you may, if it (evolution) is “unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.”. It seems mind or consciousness is transcendent of the body.

  2. We certainly have capacities that are far beyond what we need to survive and reproduce. If not, then why are we blogging, enjoying nature, painting, making music, studying evolution, and so on and so forth (all things that do nothing to enhance survival of either the species or the individual)?

    How do you know that these things “do nothing” for individual or species survival? It may be “obvious” to you that they do nothing, but it’s far from obvious to me!

  3. Nanobe wrote:

    “unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.”. It seems mind or consciousness is transcendent of the body.

    It does seem that metacognition, “I am thinking about what I am thinking about,” has little survival value and reproductive value. It seems to me like there would be a better way. I’m a reasonably intelligent guy, but I have no desire to reproduce (not to have intercourse mind you, but I don’t want children!) If evolution supports a reasonable degree of intelligence, then the folks with “higher intelligence,” should have the greatest sex drive. However, this is not what the research shows. Just the opposite in fact.

    I’ve worked with an number of folk, in psychotherapy, who have had numerous neurological insults and diseases. The basic personality structure, preferences, reactions, and so forth are not affected. I know of one patient, whose father has severe dementia, where his only lucid periods are being able to pray before a meal. He does this with complete lucidity, whereas he cannot recognize even the closest of relatives.

  4. Carl wrote:

    How do you know that these things “do nothing” for individual or species survival? It may be “obvious” to you that they do nothing, but it’s far from obvious to me!

    Please explain further. I’m open to ideas on the matter.

  5. For my part, I’m open to the thought that our cognitive, affective, and imaginative capacities might not be explainable in terms of evolutionary biology. I’d like them to be, of course, given my other commitments. But I’m honest enough to admit that an evolutionary explanation of those capacities has not been fully developed. All we have at present are hints and suggestions — to me, very promising hints and suggestions!

    One thing that’s immediately worth pointing out is that humans are not quite as unique as the perennial philosophy would insist. We’re large-brained social animals that rely on complex networks of dependence and interdependence in order to obtain food, negotiate sexual relations, and avoid predation. And, there’s a historical trajectory from the lower prosimians through monkeys and the higher apes.

    It’s been shown, for example, that there’s a strong correlation between brain size and how many individuals any one individual can know. Larger brains go together with larger social groups. As groups get larger, there are more relationships one has to keep track of — who is friends with whom, who is enemies with whom, etc. (There may well be aspects of human friendships and rivalries that’s unique, but friendships and rivalries of a sort are also well documented among monkeys and apes.)

    I would hypothesize that there could be a strong selective pressure in favor of things that increase group solidarity, defuse hostilities (or project hostilities from within the group to between groups), etc. — and that the sorts of stories and myths that one sees in hunter-gatherer cultures does this, and much, much more.

    On the one hand, I don’t see any conflict between thinking of our cognitive, imaginative, and affective capacities, as initially displayed in the telling of myths and stories, as shaped by natural selection. On the other hand, it is a remarkable and fascinating feature of human existence that we live in a culture in which those capacities are displayed in the appreciation of a Mozart violin concerto which is being played a CD player. So I can see the point of those who think that human beings have in some sense transcended the realm of the merely biological, just as the first living things transcended the realm of the merely physico-chemical.

  6. Years ago, I believed that evolution was the means by which God created us. Over the years since, I have come to believe differently and for many reasons, but I still see micro-evolution as making sense, in many ways: adaptive radiation, skin colors, facial features, body sizes etc.

    The affective and creative nature, or portion, of man, however, is where I simply can’t make any sense out of it. Perhaps, it’s because I’m a musician and lean more toward that portion of my being, my reality. I don’t know! But I do hear what Carl is saying, and I guess I need to remember that we all have to find our way through this maze!

  7. For my part, I’m open to the thought that our cognitive, affective, and imaginative capacities might not be explainable in terms of evolutionary biology. I’d like them to be, of course, given my other commitments. But I’m honest enough to admit that an evolutionary explanation of those capacities has not been fully developed. All we have at present are hints and suggestions — to me, very promising hints and suggestions!

    One of my problems is that these explanations are always, just so stories. Do we really think that successive mutations brought about our love for music? (is there a “love for music” gene?) Is there a blogger gene? Is there an artist gene? Is there a poet gene? Is there a philosopher gene? Is there a religious gene? Is there a psychologist gene? I think you get my point. I can sort of see the point that some of these things could be “metaphorical vestigial organs.” In other words, they served a purpose in the past but no longer do….psychological vestigial organs if you will. But, I also think there are hints and suggestions the other way, and I don’t think science can speak to this issue. Not actual science, only speculation.

    One thing that’s immediately worth pointing out is that humans are not quite as unique as the perennial philosophy would insist. We’re large-brained social animals that rely on complex networks of dependence and interdependence in order to obtain food, negotiate sexual relations, and avoid predation. And, there’s a historical trajectory from the lower prosimians through monkeys and the higher apes.

    Yes, that is one perspective. The sperm whale has a 17 pound brain, whereas the human brain is only 2.2 to 3 pounds. Males on average have larger brains than females, but this does not confer an intellectual advantage by most accounts, and certainly not a social advantage. The elephant brain is considerably larger than the human brain. Also, one might argue for greater social cooperation among certain small brained species (e.g., ants, bees).

    So I can see the point of those who think that human beings have in some sense transcended the realm of the merely biological, just as the first living things transcended the realm of the merely physico-chemical.

    I’m not sure how you can see transcendence of living matter over non-living matter, if you believe that it (life) is completely reducible to chemistry and physics. But, I do think I see your point.

  8. Let us be reminded that the theory of evolution is still a theory. Theory can be disproved or debunked anytime. Let us not be dogmatic or defensive of it, lest we might be blinded or be fooled by it. For the love and sake of science, let us be open-minded! Evidences should support the theory and not the other way around. Let us admit that our worldview, whatever it is, shapes the way we see and explain things. If you have much faith in naturalism and materialism, then it follows that you are seeing everything through the glasses of naturalism and materialism.

  9. The sperm whale has a 17 pound brain, whereas the human brain is only 2.2 to 3 pounds. Males on average have larger brains than females, but this does not confer an intellectual advantage by most accounts, and certainly not a social advantage. The elephant brain is considerably larger than the human brain. Also, one might argue for greater social cooperation among certain small brained species (e.g., ants, bees).

    But absolute brain size is not what counts — what counts is the ratio of brain size to body size. This is what’s called “encephalization quotient.” One must also take into account the effect of allometric scaling. For example, an ape that had a brain the size of a human brain would weigh approximately 1000 pounds. This gives us reasons for thinking that one of the major genetic changes in human evolution was a “decoupling” of brain growth and body growth. A larger brain in a similarly sized body means that there are many more neurons which are not dedicated to specific tasks; having undedicated neurons is one of the major factors that makes it possible for humans to acquire culture.

    For what it’s worth, I highly recommend The Symbolic Species by Terrence Deacon. It’s one of the best books I know of as to what we do and don’t know about the evolution of human cognition, language, and culture.

  10. For what it’s worth, I highly recommend The Symbolic Species by Terrence Deacon. It’s one of the best books I know of as to what we do and don’t know about the evolution of human cognition, language, and culture.

    Thanks Carl, I’ll check it out.

  11. All we have at present are hints and suggestions — to me, very promising hints and suggestions!

    One thing that’s immediately worth pointing out is that humans are not quite as unique as the perennial philosophy would insist. We’re large-brained social animals that rely on complex networks of dependence and interdependence in order to obtain food, negotiate sexual relations, and avoid predation. And, there’s a historical trajectory from the lower prosimians through monkeys and the higher apes.

    It seems to me that the historical trajectory at issue may have more to do with patterns of thought typical to humans than with actual empirical evidence of trajectories of evolution. As I asked in another thread, where has the theory of natural selection been encoded in the language of mathematics and verified empirically in trajectories of adaptation? I didn’t ask this because natural selection has no predictive power (Although it seems to have very little.) but because when it is verified it will tend to do away with many mythological narratives of naturalism* and perhaps undercut naturalism in general. After all, the original proponent of the theory of natural selection didn’t believe that it supported naturalism even though he thought it a powerful theory:

    …Wallace had diverged from purely Darwinian doctrines. Not only, as we shall see, did he reject Darwin’s account of human evolution; he also argued…that natural selection could account for much more than Darwin was willing to admit. Thus, rather than explain colouration and other secondary sexual characters in volitional terms, by means of sexual selection, Wallace subjected the phenomena to natural selection under a theory of mimicry and protective resemblances, which rendered sexually dimorphic characters immediately useful in the struggle for existence. (The Post-Darwinian Controversies by James R. Moore :180)

    *Some mythological narratives of naturalism once constructed around bits of bone:

    Both these gentlemen made reconstructions. Dr. Smith. Woodward’s showed that the Piltdown man (or woman) was half man, half ape; Professor Keith’s that he was a man with a brain as big as that of modem man. So it came that at South Kentsington the fragments of bones were made the basis of what a layman would call a “missing link” “Eoantbropus Dawsonii” with a brain capacity of 1,070 cubic centimeters; while at the Royal College of Surgeons they were made the basis of a large, well-modeled skull with a brain-capacity of 1,500 cubic centimeters. This was labeled ‘Homo Piltdownensis.’
    (Science and Discovery; WHY THE APE-LIKE PROGENITOR OF MAN MUST HAVE WALKED INSTEAD OF CLIMBING TREES
    Current Opinion (1913-1925). New York: Nov 1913. Vol. VOL. LV., Iss. No. 5)

  12. Another example of how mythological narratives of naturalism can be generated based on a trajectory typical to human thinking rather than a theory that can actually be verified based on empirical evidence:

    …one of the highest authorities on the human brain….finds that while it bears a similarity to the brain-cases of Gibraltar and La Quina, both paleolithic and supposedly feminine, the Piltdown brain-case is smaller and more primitive in form than these. The most striking feature is the “pronounced gorilla-like drooping of the temporal region, due to the extreme narrowing of its posterior part, which causes a deep excavation of its under surface.” This feeble development of that portion of the brain which is known to control the power of articulate speech is most significant. To Professor Smith the association of a simian jaw with a cranium more distinctly human is not surprising. The evolution of the human brain from the simian type involves a tripling of the superficial area of the cerebral cortex; and “this expansion was not like the mere growth of a muscle with exercise, but the gradual building-up of the most complex mechanism in existence. The growth of the brain preceded the refinement of the features and the somatic characters in general.”
    (Ancestor Hunting: The Significance of the Piltdown Skull
    By George Grant MacCurdy
    American Anthropologist, New Series,
    Vol. 15, No. 2. (Apr. – Jun., 1913), pp. 248-256)

    There are very few cases where mythological narratives of naturalism can be known to be false, so it’s instructive to note them. In most cases modern creation myths of this sort tend to be unfalsifiable so there are not many ways of verifying if they have much to do with what actually happened in the past, any predictive powers with respect to the future or any use at present.

  13. One of my problems is that these explanations are always, just so stories. Do we really think that successive mutations brought about our love for music? (is there a “love for music” gene?) Is there a blogger gene? Is there an artist gene? Is there a poet gene? Is there a philosopher gene? Is there a religious gene? Is there a psychologist gene? I think you get my point.

    As the philosopher David Stove points out genetic determinism is a form of conspiracy theory or “puppetry theory” as he puts it. As in any conspiracy theory every question can be answered based on little more than the ironic arrogance with respect to knowledge that puppetry theorists tend towards, so someone like Dawkins will always know how it is that genes determine pretty much everything.

    But putting that aside it seems to me that those who argue for genetic predispositions are closer to the truth. This may not apply as much to things that touch on transcendence or may be transphysical in nature (i.e. information) like mathematical or musical ability and more to things having to do with the physical substrate of existence. I.e. there may be no “basketball player” gene but certain genes may predispose a person towards basketball. Even in an example in which genes for being tall and athletic can act as a strong predisposition individual choice is still involved, i.e. a person with the supposed “basketball player” genes may simply choose not to play for reasons as diverse as humanity.

    It seems to me that the fact that people even debate a supposed “gene for” this or that shows just how far everyone has been taken in by the work of charlatans and puppetry theorists.

  14. “If not, then why are we blogging, enjoying nature, painting, making music, studying evolution, and so on and so forth…”

    And why aren’t the whales, dolphins and orangutans doing it too? Certainly they should at least be making cave drawings by now…

  15. That’s a rather anthropocentric standard, isn’t it? 😉

    It’s been shown that the songs of whales and dolphins are incredibly sophisticated, and there’s a lot about them that we still don’t understand.

    I wouldn’t want to say that they are as intelligent as we are — but that they have a different kind of intelligence, perhaps.

  16. “That’s a rather anthropocentric standard, isn’t it?”

    True! But to be facetious for a moment:

    So, what’s *wrong* with man that he shares the same basic biological life functions, yet because of these additional mutations continually stands on the brink of destroying his species (and all the other ones, for that matter), with a few button pushes? Sounds like Natural Selection messed up big time, does it not? Are we not a race of monsters? Is the evolutionary development of man “life-affirming” in any biological sense? If you say “yes”, then I also submit that is an anthropocentric standard!

  17. And further, why has man evolved the ability to choose to be free from the natural determinism and necessity that drives all other life on this planet (that’s not to say we don’t invent our own artificial determinism and necessity), if that freedom is decidedly not life-affirming? Perhaps we need an external standard with which to evaluate that freedom?

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