Peter

Are thoughts material

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I am interested in the Objectivist theory of Volition and how it squares with the latest in science. I have not followed the science for ten years, when I wrote the following.

Around 2000, on Satellite TV, I watched an interesting program on (UCTV,) The University of California at San Diego's television station.

Professor Joan Stiles, in the Department of Cognitive Studies (The Brain Sciences) began with these provocative questions: "Are thoughts material?" and, "Do immaterial thoughts affect the material brain?"

To answer this question, she and her staff of Ph.D.'s and MD's, use Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging - (Small f, cap MRI): "f M R I." It is analogous to searching for subatomic quarks but only seeing their tracks through a tank filled with a million gallons of water.

A functional MRI allows the mapping of ACTIVE brains. It can measure blood flow while a person is doing tasks, seeing images, solving problems, and answering questions.

Doctor Stiles' main area of study is with children, who have incurred brain damage in the womb, or soon after birth, due to strokes. Strokes are not all that rare at that age. They design the tasks to tax the cognitive ability of the child. A sample task for the subject/child is to use Global and Local Focus. I don't know how this will translate on OL, but a typical task is to focus on large figures (Global), and then the smaller shapes (Local) making up the shapes:

s s

s s

s s

ssssss

s s

s s

s s

A child will be asked to name and reproduce the large shape. Then, they will ask that the child focus on the individual shapes that make up the "H." While this is going on, they are mapping the brain.

In global tasking, with an adult, the right brain is receiving much more blood and is much more active, while in local tasking, with adults, the left lobe of the brain is more active. However, with children, they throw their whole being and brain into the task and the left and right lobes are active in both local and global tasks.

How different can our brains be? In children who are deaf before birth, the Auditory Cortex, the area of the brain that would normally process sounds, becomes a Visual Center!

No longer do scientists debate, "Nature or Nurture," because neither can account for Brain development which begins soon after conception. An individual baby's ability to adapt, or "Biological Evolution," is dependent on both nature and nurture. The brain is not initially "wired." It relies on input, to form it. The brain MUST have input to form it. They call this reliance on input to the material brain, "Plasticity."

So, the brain is not entirely pre-wired. Before birth, neuron connections are minimal, though there are sporadic upper level alpha, delta, and theta waves that are also found in adult humans.

However, soon after birth, a MASSIVE OVER-PROLIFERATION of new brain connections is produced in the Cerebral Cortex. This MASSIVE OVER-PROLIFERATION lasts for one year, before leveling off. Then, for a lifetime, we experience lesser New Connectivity. But New Connectivity does not disappear as we age!

So. "Are thoughts material?" Yes and No?

"Does the learning of ‘immaterial' thoughts, physically affect the material brain?" Yes.

I used the phrases that Professor Stiles used: "Material" and "Immaterial." I think "Physical" and "Non-Physical" may be better, but either phrasing may be OK.

My own thinking is that Non-Physical "thoughts" transform the electrical / chemical / physical brain- AS they are thought. When and if they are stored in memory, the physical brain is again changed, at another Physical location. Non-Physical Consciousness can then, remember and experience the Non-Physical thought again, utilizing what is physically stored in memory.

However, WHILE we are thinking or remembering (and re-thinking) a "thought," it exists in a Physical sense within the ever-changing brain, AND the "thought" exists in a buffer, intermediate Non-Physical state, within the Consciousness.

The "thought" can ONLY be directly discerned / felt / identified within the Consciousness experiencing the thought. The "Physical" and the "Non-Physical" thought are NOT the one and the same.

It is analogous, perhaps, to our Physical senses experiencing a ray of light in a sunrise. We are experiencing and sensing a physical ray that has traveled from the sun. The immediate experiences of sensing are physical. Our visual cortex is altered as the physical ray of light strikes the back of the eye and an image of the ray of light is carried via chemical and electrical means to our brains, for evaluation and possible storage.

Our "Perceptual" identification of the ray of light, and what we feel, is Non-Physical, while this Physical process is going on. The "Objectively acquired," Non-Physical feeling can then be Physically stored in memory for retrieval and Non-Physical appreciation in the future. There are no ghosts in the machine. Our identity, as humans, is Physical and Non-Physical.

This non-contradictory identification of the Physical Body and the Non-Physical Consciousness, both within Reality, is the basis for Ayn Rand's Psycho-Epistemology, and Science may be proving her right. One cannot exist without the other: thoughts cannot exist without a Consciousness to think them, and a Consciousness cannot exist without a Physical apparatus, the body.

A skeptic might say, no fMRI image is going to support the existence of the non-physical. Yet, consciousness exists, and we are still studying its exact nature. We know Consciousness has Physical components and it has components of Energy. That is why I consider it a *life-force.*

Imagine yourself, as you fall into a dreamless state of sleep. Thoughts cease. The Physical Being is still there, but the Prime-Mover, Consciousness has, for a time, ceased to exist, in its "usual" form.

Compare sleep, to what must occur at death. At death, something has been destroyed. What would you call that, which is forever lost?

Obviously, I don’t have a science background. I would appreciate if anyone can tell me what has been happening lately, in layman’s terms.

Semper cogitans fidele,

Peter Taylor

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To O.P.

Thoughts are electrochemical processes in the brain, glandular and nervous systems. That makes them physical, hence material. Everything about humans is physical and material. We are made of the same stuff as trees and squirrels.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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So. "Are thoughts material?" Yes and No?

They are material, but they can be described on different levels of abstraction. You may compare it with the hardware and the software of a computer. A computer with a running program can in principle be completely described on a completely physical level: electrons running around the wires and gates, voltages changing according to Maxwell's laws, etc. Due to the large complexity, such a description would be difficult to grasp for us, therefore we usually prefer a more abstract approach by gathering together countless of different but similar events with individual particles in several large-scale categories, like 0 and 1, abstracting further to elementary operations like "put this number in memory #x", "goto y", and so on, until we arrive at the highest level, the intentional level, where we say for example: move the bishop from d4 to c5, or: display a picture of a cockroach, "type a certain message on OL", etc. Each of those high-level events, thoughts, ideas etc. corresponds to zillions of different physical descriptions, where the differences are not relevant to the meaning we find in those events or thoughts, as their statistical aggregates ultimately result in that particular event or thought. So a computer program is not at one time "physical" and at another time "immaterial", the physical and the immaterial are two different methods of looking at one and the same phenomenon.

There is no reason to think that the same doesn't apply to the thoughts in the brain, thoughts are not at one moment physical and at the next moment immaterial, that is a false dichotomy that leads to Cartesian dualism, they're always both at the same time, depending on how you look at them, with the eye of a physicist/chemist/biologist or with the eye of a psychologist/philosopher/anyone who is interested in the thoughts themselves.

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I think of 'learning' as forming new pathways or circuits in the brain. When you are a child you need to have stimulus and learn in order for your nervous system to develop fully. Apparently this continues well into your 20's and perhaps further. In this respect we are indeed shaped by our environment in a very real sense.

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ARE THOUGHTS MATERIAL?

Ba'al Chatzaf responded:

Thoughts are electrochemical processes in the brain, glandular and nervous systems. That makes them physical, hence material. Everything about humans is physical and material. We are made of the same stuff as trees and squirrels.

end quote

general semanticist wrote:

I think of 'learning' as forming new pathways or circuits in the brain.

End quote

So, in a non-religious sense, what I experience and think of as my consciousness or soul isn’t, real? I don’t claim a mystical status for my experience of consciousness, yet second by second as I write this, I am rearranging my material self to express thoughts. I am “learning” a way to reassemble what was previously stored materially in memory, with what you are writing. I maintain that the *experience* of consciousness is as real as trees and squirrels.

Dragonfly wrote and I cobbled together:

They are material, but they can be described on different levels of abstraction. You may compare it with the hardware and the software of a computer “. . . .” So a computer program is not at one time "physical" and at another time "immaterial", the physical and the immaterial are two different methods of looking at one and the same phenomenon “. . . .” There is no reason to think that the same doesn't apply to the thoughts in the brain, thoughts are not at one moment physical and at the next moment immaterial, that is a false dichotomy that leads to Cartesian dualism, they're always both at the same time, depending on how you look at them, with the eye of a physicist/chemist/biologist or with the eye of a psychologist/philosopher/anyone who is interested in the thoughts themselves.

End quote

Let us hypothesize that you the scientists give me and a computer the same problem to solve. Though the computer and I may come to the same conclusion, I would not agree that the computer is experiencing what I do. I will agree that thoughts are material yet as I have the material thought, the experience is also very real. The experience I feel is not dependent upon the observation of the physicist / chemist / biologist or with the explanation of the phenomenon by the psychologist / philosopher. The thought is a physical process and the experience of the thought or *consciousness* is also within reality – in some form.

I again stress that I am not claiming a mystical *soul* or *aura* is being manifested. I insist the *the experience of thought, and consciousness* may be an amalgamation of matter, and electro chemicals, but when I experience consciousness it is yet another form of reality. Can anyone give *IT* a scientific name?

Aren’t you experiencing *IT* as you think about this dilemma?

Peter

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I again stress that I am not claiming a mystical *soul* or *aura* is being manifested. I insist the *the experience of thought, and consciousness* may be an amalgamation of matter, and electro chemicals, but when I experience consciousness it is yet another form of reality. Can anyone give *IT* a scientific name?

Aren't you experiencing *IT* as you think about this dilemma?

Peter

Korzybski claimed that 'concsiouness' by itself was an incomplete term and he proposed 'consciouness of abstracting' instead. So you can't simply be concious, it has no meaning unless you are conscious of something and that something is our abstractions. In a sense it seems mystical to have reached a point in our evolution where we have become aware that our entire experience of life is a result of microscopic and sub-microscopic processes. :)

Edited by general semanticist

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general semanticist wrote:

Korzybski claimed that 'concsiouness' by itself was an incomplete term and he proposed 'consciouness of abstracting' instead. So you can't simply be conciousness, it has no meaning unless you are conscious of something and that something is our abstractions. In a sense it seems mystical to have reached a point in our evolution where we have become aware that our entire experience of life is a result of microscopic and sub-microscopic processes. :)

end quote

I’m looking for inspiration in TV and the movies. I don't think 'consciousness of abstracting' will catch on. Can we just say *Life* is the last element on the chart?

“Good morning Hal.”

GOOD MORNING DAVE.

I remember Hal, as he is being shut down, wonders about sleep and dying, “Will I dream?”

On one Star Trek episode, tiny crystalline creatures, arrange themselves, for greater thinking ability, like a computer adding chips. The humans are oblivious to this, as they dig basins and pump filtered sub-surface water onto them, in an attempt to make the planet habitable to humans. The terraformers are about to go to stage three of the process, the introduction of small life forms from earth.

The following synopsis from Wikipedia reminds me of our discussion, “Are thoughts material?” The crystalline beings are physically more like our computers but they also possess a consciousness and life.

Mystical, General Semanticist? I continue to insist there is light, matter, gravity and all the other elements of the universe. But there is also *LIFE.* Matter cannot be destroyed, only converted to another form. But the element *life* can be destroyed as it is transformed into its constituent, material parts. Matter can be converted to other forms of matter or to energy but consciousness and thought can be destroyed.

Synopsis after the first few acts.

Data notices a strange flicker of light down at the far end of one of the bore shafts. He makes sure it isn't a reflection of light, and scans it with his tricorder. He gets no readings, so he asks Geordi to look at it with his VISOR. Using its various visual modes, Geordi scans the object. It's inorganic, yet the pulses of light and color are unexplainable. Data wonders if it could be alive; it might be what the terraformers are trying to cover up.

The object is beamed to the Enterprise where Dr. Crusher has it placed inside a bell jar for analysis. The computer makes scans and verifies that it contains no organic molecules. Beverly enhances the scan on the wall display, which shows a complex pattern of crystalline forms. Energy patterns flow throughout a beautiful network of structures. It begins to emanate an audible hum. Beverly asks the computer what is causing the flashes and noise, but it is uncertain since it is theoretically impossible for the substance to produce such an effect. She asks for a hypothesis, to which it replies: "Life".

Picard relays the findings to Mandl and his staff. Mandl claims the Federation verified Velara III lifeless, which Picard says is understandable given the novel nature of the lifeform.

Regardless, Picard mentions his suspicions of Mandl knowing there was life down there; a direct violation of the Prime Directive.

Mandl makes it clear that he is in the business of creating life, not taking it! Back in medical, Beverly calls for Picard; Geordi has detected movement inside the crystal. Picard arrives and Geordi indicates he has detected a shift in the infrared spectrum; its internal structure is somehow changing. Suddenly, the small flicker of light brightens, nearly blinding everyone in the room. The hum grows louder as well. The hum and light subside, revealing two points of light inside the bell jar. Data points out that only life can replicate itself.

As a precaution, Beverly activates a containment field around the bell jar, but the computer has trouble maintaining the field. The computer indicates that a "translation request" is being made; the glowing objects are trying to communicate with the computer. Power is increased to the containment field but the fight for control continues. It looks as if Data is right; it's a life form, and also intelligent, with the power to access the computer. Everyone evacuates the lab and meets to discuss the situation. Once again, Picard confronts Mandl, asking if he knew there was life on Velara III. He admits he knew of random energy patterns that disrupted their drilling, but that hardly indicated life by anything he is aware of. He adds they're meaningless silicon crystals that rebroadcast sunlight. Picard tells him they are hardly meaningless; they are clearly alive and intelligent, and are trying to communicate.

By now, the bell jar contains a cluster of several points of light. Data works with the computer on the analysis. The computer relays its composition: silicon, germanium, gallium arsenide, cadmium selenide, water, sodium crystals...forming a natural superconductor array. Elsewhere, an engineer reports that the power fluctuations are increasing, causing numerous systems around the ship to go haywire; something is taking over. Soon, the universal translator comes online by itself, "Ugly bags of mostly water!"

Picard is confused, and Data indicates it is an accurate description of human physiology; he points out that humans are 90% water surrounded by a flexible container. (This is actually incorrect; humans are about 60% water with variation by gender and body type. Also, bones and tissue are found throughout the body and do not form a flexible container with water inside) The crystals speak, saying they had asked the humans to leave, but they did not listen. It has driven them to kill. Picard tries to reassure the crystals that they come in peace; they didn't understand the message, and were unaware there was life on the planet. The crystals object, stating the "bags" at the station knew. They tried peaceful contact, but were ignored, and some were killed. They have no choice now but to declare war. Before Picard can respond, the crystals end communication. At this point the whole ship is jarred by a force.

Data indicates that the crystals have joined together into a kind of living computer he calls a "microbrain"; the more there are, the stronger they become. The flashes of light they emit appear to be program instructions, so they can interface with the ship's computers faster than the crew can. After a quick flare up of energy and more disturbances in the ship, the crystals seem to power down. Beverly indicates that with single-celled organic life, replication is followed by a resting state; perhaps it is the same for the microbrain. Picard orders Yar to beam the entity back to the planet. She tries to energize the beam, but power becomes redirected. Picard is agitated; lifeform or not, the safety of the ship is at stake. He tells Data to remove the atmosphere from the medical lab. Data tries, but again, the controls are locked out. Picard meets with the terraformers, explaining that the entity said it has tried to contact them before, but they ignored it. Mandl claims, if it tried communicating, they didn't understand it; how were they to know? Picard wants to know what the terraformers did to cause the crystals to fight back. Luisa indicates Malencon was siphoning off a layer of saline water on the surface of the sand. Beverly suggests that life needs water, perhaps it was sustaining them. Data suggests it might have been what linked them together; individually, a single brain cell is not intelligent, but when linked to others, intelligence is formidable. To prevent the loss of the saline, it drove them to kill.

The image of the medical lab shows the mass in the bell jar growing brighter. Suddenly, the bell jar shatters. Data and Geordi come up with an idea; they had detected cadmium salts, which create electrical current under infrared light. Perhaps the crystals are photoelectric in nature. Picard has them kill the lights in the medical lab. Riker opens an access panel at the room, and disables the lighting system. Now in total darkness, the glow of the microbrain begins to soften, and the crystals respond, begging for more light. Picard waits for them to relent control over the computer, then has the lights brought back up, just a bit, to relieve them of their torment. The microbrains state; "War over!" to which Picard agrees, and expresses his apologies for having caused them harm. He has the transporter chief beam the entity back to Velara III.

Afterward, Picard places an indefinite quarantine on the planet. Data is saddened that they couldn't learn more about the strange lifeform. Picard replies; "In time, Mr. Data. When we're better prepared." They set course to the nearest starbase to drop off the terraformers.

End of synopsis.

Suddenly, the universal translator comes back online by itself, and translates "Ugly bags of mostly water! What is irretrievably lost when we die?”

Peter

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Of course thoughts themselves are immaterial although they most certainly have material components. Avoid reductionism. No amount of fMRI can tell you what you're thinking, nor can fMRI even tell you the causal source of thought.

Chris

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Thoughts are material/physical processes of brains.

Conscious, thinking, physical brains are mental.

Our awareness of our thoughts is how our brains detect such processes internally.

REB

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I again stress that I am not claiming a mystical *soul* or *aura* is being manifested. I insist the *the experience of thought, and consciousness* may be an amalgamation of matter, and electro chemicals, but when I experience consciousness it is yet another form of reality. Can anyone give *IT* a scientific name?

Aren't you experiencing *IT* as you think about this dilemma?

Peter

Korzybski claimed that 'concsiouness' by itself was an incomplete term and he proposed 'consciouness of abstracting' instead. So you can't simply be concious, it has no meaning unless you are conscious of something and that something is our abstractions. In a sense it seems mystical to have reached a point in our evolution where we have become aware that our entire experience of life is a result of microscopic and sub-microscopic processes. :)

Since animals, even the higher ones, do not abstract [and perceptual concretes are not abstractions, as that is a conceptualness], then animals are not conscious?? [sapients abstract, not mere sentients]

Edited by anonrobt

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Since animals, even the higher ones, do not abstract ....

Whether you like the term 'abstracting' or not is irrelevant. The proposal is that 'consciousness' by itself is ambiguous, perhaps meaningless. It is not a thing it is an experience and it is an experience of something.

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Peter:

Write her a letter. I know you can do that.

Or, give her a call, if you're into blonds, she looks pretty hot.

joan.B.jpg

Joan Stiles

Department of Cognitive Science

University of California, San Diego

9500 Gilman Drive, 0515

La Jolla, CA 92093-0515

(858) 534-2567

(858) 534-2344 (fax)

You could even watch her brain waves while you guys make love...you know, scientific kink!

brain.jpgrt.jpg3dbrain.jpgfmri.jpg

On a serious note, here is the website. She put out a book in 2008.

Hit the research button on the home page below. There are blue links with a lot of pictures and schematics. I bookmarked it for myself, looks like it will be enlightening fun to explore.

http://www.cogsci.ucsd.edu/DCNL/index.htm

Adam

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Adam wrote concerning the lovely, Univ. of San Diego researcher, Joan Stiles:

You could even watch her brain waves while you guys make love...you know, scientific kink!

end quote

I would prefer a Vulcan mind meld. Watching our brain wave patterns while we mutually please each other sounds like a video camera. What if the fMRI got on the internet?

Thanks for the link. She is still nice looking, ten years later, while I am traumatized by gray hair and now hair loss. Luckily I have a wife who has grown older with me, and doesn’t seem to notice. Well she does have me on the South Beach Diet. She’s on it so I am on it.

general semanticist wrote:

In a sense it seems mystical to have reached a point in our evolution where we have become aware that our entire experience of life is a result of microscopic and sub-microscopic processes . . . Whether you like the term 'abstracting' or not is irrelevant. The proposal is that 'consciousness' by itself is ambiguous, perhaps meaningless. It is not a thing it is an experience and it is an experience of something.

End quotes

That is a weird idea, that we are a composite of smaller organisms. It sent chills up my spine when I was a kid and found out we had bacteria living within us, and we might die if they were killed off.

The other frightening early childhood discovery was that we have a subconscious mind. My dad told me it was part of us and our friend. It warned us if something was wrong, but that dualism still bothers me.

Something bothersome that I discovered a decade ago was that *time* was how we observe causality as it happens, yet Time is used in a lot of formulas, as if it exists. Correctly, we must say Space/Time, and that Time is how we experience reality.

Roger Bissell wrote:

Thoughts are material/physical processes of brains.

Conscious, thinking, physical brains are mental.

Our awareness of our thoughts is how our brains detect such processes internally.

end quote

I still wonder about this “experience and experience of something,” and “Conscious, thinking physical brains are mental.”

I half jokingly wrote that consciousness should be the last item on the periodic table. It is something. It is a part of reality. It emanates from substance. We can watch it happening second hand, through an fMRI. Is it like Time? It’s the way we observe ourselves and the universe beyond ourselves. “It” can be destroyed, unlike matter which can only be changed. Well I guess if we die, we are changed, but our thinking essence is gone forever.

Peter

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Peter:

I know that you are married and "not looking". I actually read people's profiles. I was just joshen with ya!

Furthermore, we are the same age. As Yogi said

"Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical."

Adam

admiring Yogi's ten (10) world series rings - only baseball player to achieve that

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Of course thoughts themselves are immaterial although they most certainly have material components. Avoid reductionism. No amount of fMRI can tell you what you're thinking, nor can fMRI even tell you the causal source of thought.

Chris

What are "thoughts" if they're immaterial?

Or, more precisely, what is the immaterial composed of?

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general semanticist wrote:

In a sense it seems mystical to have reached a point in our evolution where we have become aware that our entire experience of life is a result of microscopic and sub-microscopic processes . . . Whether you like the term 'abstracting' or not is irrelevant. The proposal is that 'consciousness' by itself is ambiguous, perhaps meaningless. It is not a thing it is an experience and it is an experience of something.

End quotes

I half jokingly wrote that consciousness should be the last item on the periodic table. It is something. It is a part of reality. It emanates from substance. We can watch it happening second hand, through an fMRI. Is it like Time? It's the way we observe ourselves and the universe beyond ourselves. "It" can be destroyed, unlike matter which can only be changed. Well I guess if we die, we are changed, but our thinking essence is gone forever.

Peter

To understand the idea of "consciousness of something" imagine being in a sensory deprivation situation. When you remove stimulus from an organism you begin to have nothing to be conscious of and so you go into an altered state and the brain begins to shut down.

In January 2008, the BBC aired a Horizon special entitled "Total Isolation." The premise of the show centered around 6 individuals who agreed to be shut inside a cell in a nuclear bunker, alone and in the dark. Prior to isolation, the volunteers underwent tests of visual memory, information processing, verbal fluency and suggestibility. After, they spent two days and two nights in isolation. The subjects noted that their inability to sense time and the hallucinations and visions that they experienced made the 48 hours inside the cell very difficult on their mind.

Of the six volunteers, two coped well. One woman was convinced her sheets were wet. Three experienced auditory and visual hallucinations - snakes, oysters, tiny cars and zebras. After the 48 hours was complete, the same tests were conducted. The results indicated that the volunteers' ability to complete the simplest tasks had deteriorated. One subject's memory capacity fell 36% and all the subjects had trouble thinking of words beginning with the letter "F". All four of the men (neither of the two women) had markedly increased suggestibility[13] .

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Of course thoughts themselves are immaterial although they most certainly have material components. Avoid reductionism. No amount of fMRI can tell you what you're thinking, nor can fMRI even tell you the causal source of thought.

Chris

What are "thoughts" if they're immaterial?

Or, more precisely, what is the immaterial composed of?

That's the biggest philosophical question I think exists. The question is not whether thoughts have a material component, the question is whether the material component can meaningfully identify the thought. How does one measure and describe the content of "interior" reality in a meaningful way using "exterior" empiric methodology? fMRI certainly cannot identify the content of thoughts.

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That's the biggest philosophical question I think exists. The question is not whether thoughts have a material component, the question is whether the material component can meaningfully identify the thought. How does one measure and describe the content of "interior" reality in a meaningful way using "exterior" empiric methodology? fMRI certainly cannot identify the content of thoughts.

That's because that method is much too coarse, it's a bit like trying to determine the programming details of the programs running in you computer by measuring temperatures inside the computer. We need a method that is much more detailed, so that we can map the firing of our neurons onto the thoughts we have. For the time being that is far beyond the knowledge and technical possibilities we have, but that's no reason to think that it cannot be done in principle. Perhaps the practical difficulties might never be overcome to get such detailed knowledge, but we'll probably get more and more confirming evidence that the model of thoughts being the abstract description of the physical events in the brain is the correct one, even if we can't obtain that information in every detail. It's the simplest hypothesis and it is in agreement with our current scientific knowledge.

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