Friday, January 12, 2007

Why Brains?

Found a great post on "Brain Hammer" entitled "Why Brains?" which briefly overviews the arguments for the proposal that any reduction of mental states should be a neural reduction - essentially the proposal that (if I've understood correctly) neural systems only are responsible for mental states. Three reasons are given: (1) there are no non-controversial examples of minds that are not based on a neural system; (2) that there are no reasons to doubt that the seat of mind is in the brain; and (3) no other approach has even had a small amount of success in explaining mental phenomena compared to the neurocentric approach.

An alternative view to this position is that other systems, with no neural-system properties, are also capable of having mental states. This post is obviously against this. I was just wondering whether this insistence on neural systems precludes the possibility of systems with similar properties (i.e. massively parallel processing, etc...) from being able to have mental states at all. For instance, if one were able to reduce (an aspect of) mental states, would it not be possible to 'model' it in a way that doesn't rely on a strictly neural system? I would think that certain properties of neural systems would be required, but does that mean that neural systems alone are capable of 'mental states'. Just idle thoughts, I might be getting the wrong end of the stick :-)


Chris Chatham said...

I thought this was very interesting too, but couldn't tell if neurocentric precludes the possible role of glial cells in cognition. I imagine not, but I do think that "neurocentric" is for this reason the wrong word.

Paul said...

I think it is often forgotten that with neural simulations, the neural units used are only very basic abstractions of the real (i.e. biological) thing. The functioning of an artificial neuron (taking for example the perceptron, which is still in wide use, despite its simplicity) I don't think is very close to that of a biological neuron at all. Using your example of glial cells - given the increasing understanding of their role in not just the upkeep of neurons, but also the active participation in cognitive functions, and that I know of know of no research that use analogues of these cells in neural simulations of cognitive function, this disparity between artificial neural networks and biological neural systems seems larger still. Taking this into account, I think it a bit premature to preclude the view that neural systems are not the only way of accounting for cognition.

Hope that made sense - thanks for your comment.