Brain as a Complex System and the Emergence of Mind

Dissertation, (2017)
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Abstract
The relationship between brain and mind has been extensively explored through the developments within neuroscience over the last decade. However, the ontological status of mind has remained fairly problematic due to the inability to explain all features of the mind through the brain. This inability has been considered largely due to partial knowledge of the brain. It is claimed that once we gain complete knowledge of the brain, all features of the mind would be explained adequately. However, a challenge to such a position is downward causation: How do we explain the causal power that mental states exert over brain activities? If we agree that downward causation occurs, then to what extent could a sole explanation of brain activities account for our behaviour? (For they would in themselves be conditioned by the mental states which are left unexplained). This dissertation is an attempt to understand relation between brain and mind through the concept of emergence, placed in the context of complex systems approach. This will create a space to account for the causal power of mental states. The complex systems approach says that as the complexity of a system increases, we witness the emergence of novel qualities and after a certain threshold (of complexity), the emergence of a novel structure. When the body (and correspondingly, brain) reaches a certain level of complexity, the mind emerges. The brain is a complex system from which the mind emerges. The brain, consisting of billions of neurons interacting with each other, regulates the body placed in the environment. The interaction of neurons (local interactions involving self-organization) result in dynamical brain signatures (global synergy). Such signatures are correlative to mental states. Mind is the process of a living organism embodying an intentional stance. This object could be the subject itself or another distinct from the subject. With the emergence of mind, the causal powers of brain are conditioned by the mind. Such a conditioning is evident through the causal efficacy of mental states. While the brain is minimal condition for the mind to emerge, the mind in itself is embedded (showcased/explicated/manifested) throughout the body. The mind is a process that belongs to body-as-a-whole with the novel quality of intentionality. A preliminary to understanding this relation is its metaphysical inclination. A large portion of the history of philosophy of mind has advocated a metaphysics of entities where the mind and body have been seen as two entities with distinct essences. However, such attribution of entity-ship does not take into account the processual nature of these existents (that they are essentially dependent on their environment for their existence and sustenance). Thus, the category of processual unity has been introduced which sought to account for existent as emergent wholes that move towards a stable equilibrium through self-organization. By considering existents to be processual unities, we can account for their identity as a whole-in-itself (what has been called organizational closure) and also for their processual nature. The brain is a component of the body which is a complex system and is representative of the body’s stance in the world. The brain, consisting of billions of neurons interacting with each other, regulates the body placed in the environment. The interaction of neurons (local interactions involving self-organization) result in dynamical brain signatures (global synergy). Such signatures are correlative to mental states. These mental states in turn condition the brain patterns, that allows the embodying of mental states. Thus, the three-way process of the representation of body in the world by the brain, the emergence of mental state through dynamic brain patterns and the reciprocal causal power on the brain patterns by the mental states marks embodiment. The relation between brain, body and mind can be outlined as follows: A. There are complex interactions in the brain. These interactions are representative of the body’s stance in the world and are present in form of dynamical brain signatures. B. The dynamical brain signatures lead to emergence of mind as a process. The mental state has causal power which conditions the brain. C. The brain conditioned by causal power of the mind carries out embodiment of the mind throughout the body. In the dissertation, an exposition on relation between brain and mind through complex system approach is followed by a brief on relation between body and mind. The radical embodiment approach adopts the nonlinear dynamic systems theory to understand relation of brain, body and mind. It states a shift from mapping of cognitive states onto Neural Correlates of Consciousness to their mapping through dynamic brain signatures. Every mental state is embedded throughout the body. The dissertation explores the three features of consciousness, intentionality and qualia. These have previously formed a challenge within a dualistic framework and the dissertation intends to show a direction in which they can be accounted for, within the complex systems approach and radical embodiment viewpoint. After a certain threshold of the rate of production of cell assemblies is bypassed, we become conscious of the representation itself. This leads to emergence of phenomenal states. Qualia is the qualitative character of such states, which belong to the body-as-a-whole and for this reason, cannot be reduced to properties of any of the components from which it emerges (the dynamic brain signatures) or in which it is embodied (the body and its individual parts) alone. Intentionality is the novel property of mind of moving towards a certain set of attractors where attractors refer to the states that the system prefers (which would positively contribute to its fitness). The scope of this dissertation is to delineate the relation of brain to the mind and unravel some persistent troubles of philosophy of mind within such delineation. The types of components and their relation within the mind preceded by a thorough study of how the mind is embodied is an area yet to be extensively explored in the coming works.
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