Table of Contents
The Mysterious Matter of Mind
The Mind / Brain Problem
forty years ago I was walking down Yonge Street in Toronto and
ran into an old friend who had just retired after practicing
medicine in Ontario and later in China for many years. He was
clearly preoccupied. Over a cup of coffee, he shared with me
an experience so moving that it had taken a weekend in the country
for him to recover from it.
He had grown up in the Ontario
countryside, a junior member of quite a large and very closely
knit family on a farm. He had now retired to his homeland and
was just strolling down Yonge Street, eyeing the old familiar
sights and sounds when, suddenly and entirely unexpectedly, a
lady wearing a perfume of a very special kind had passed him.
The odour of it, when it reached his nostrils though only for
a fleeting moment, instantly carried him back almost sixty years
to an event in his early teens long since forgotten.
He found himself standing on the
landing halfway up the winding stairs in the old homestead. It
was almost supper time. The table was being set in the
dining room by his brothers
and sisters with much noise of rattling dishes and silverware
and laughter and hurrying steps. From the kitchen he could hear
his mother as she prepared the meal, and the sound of wood being
shoved into the stove and the stove lids and the pots and pans
being moved about came back to him with unbelievable clarity.
He wanted so badly to join in the fun but he had been made to
stand on this landing with his face to the window because of
some misdemeanor long since forgotten. The window was all frosted
up and only the sounds and smells remained to stick in his memory,
for he could not see anything outside. On the window sill was
a pair of his mother's gloves, and from them there arose just
the faintest odour of perfume the same perfume that he
had detected as he passed the unknown lady on his way down Yonge
Street so many years later.
This small trigger to such
a mind released what proved to be an emotionally overwhelming
recall. Ushered suddenly into the nostalgic past, he had gone
into the country for a few days to recover himself.
Consider what such an experience
implies. The perfume, fleeting though its physical stimulus must
have been, had somehow triggered his memory, switching on in
his brain as it were a TV screen which he then seemed to be watching
with his mind, enthralled by the vividness as the old familiar
scene unfolded itself in great detail. He was not the
screen but the viewer. And he appeared to be the operator,
able to rerun the film and even slow it down and recover
details missed on the first viewing.
It is as though some kind of self-conscious
mind was using and manipulating a memory storage system that
had preserved, for his later use upon demand, an extraordinarily
vivid and complete record of a complex series of events occurring
over half a century before it was again "called to mind."
When we met, he was in search of
the lady or more particularly the perfume in the
hope that he could experiment further and see what more might
be recovered by means of the same trigger mechanism to recharge
his power of recall.
Until recently, such an experience
would have been
dismissed in scientific
circles as purely anecdotal. The rigid controls demanded for
scientific evidence, as well as the present climate of opinion
regarding the relationship between mind and brain, have not permitted
such evidence of dualism to carry any weight. Man has been held
to be essentially an electrochemical machine. The self-conscious
mind is not a viewer of the screen of the brain in the
sense that this story implies. Mind is merely an extension of
the mechanism of the brain and entirely dependent upon it. Such
a view is by definition monistic: the brain acts upon
the mind, which is a mere extension of itself, but the mind has
no power to act upon the brain. The dualist, by contrast, takes
the position that interaction is possible both ways, the mind
acting upon the brain and the brain in certain ways limiting
and channelling, and therefore acting upon the mind.
In this instance, one might argue
that the mind was indeed an active independent agent, scanning
the screened program which was stored in the brain. Furthermore,
the subject himself experienced a strong desire to extend the
retrieval and even fill out its detail. The "tape"
was consciously and deliberately being replayed over and over
again, with fresh content being added and sometimes corrected
with each replay. The whiff of perfume was no longer needed to
trigger the recall. The will or the self-conscious mind had taken
control. How shall we evaluate the mind/brain relationship in
a situation like this?
A Mind of Its Own
In 1961 Wilder
Penfield reported a dramatic demonstration of the reality
of active mind or will at work. He observed mind acting
independently of the brain under controlled experimental
conditions that were reproducible at will. His subject was an
epileptic patient whose brain had been surgically exposed in
the temporal area of one hemisphere. The "trigger"
was stimulation of the cortex with a single electrode using a
60-cycle 2-volt current.
In a now famous paper, Penfield
neurosurgeon applies an electrode to the motor area of the patient's
cerebral cortex causing the opposite hand to move, and when he
asks the patient why he moved the hand, the response is: 'I didn't
do it. You made me do it'. . . It may be said that the patient
thinks of himself as having an existence separate from his body.
Once when I warned a patient
of my intention to stimulate the motor area of the cortex, and
challenged him to keep his hand from moving when the electrode
was applied, he seized it with the other hand and struggled to
hold it still. Thus one hand, under the control of the right
hemisphere driven by an electrode, and the other hand, which
he controlled through the left hemisphere, were caused to struggle
against each other. Behind the "brain action" of one
hemisphere was the patient's mind. Behind the action of the other
hemisphere was the electrode.
So he concluded:
There are, as you see, many
demonstrable mechanisms (in the brain). They work for the purposes
of the mind automatically when called upon. . . . But what
agency is it that calls upon these mechanisms, choosing one rather
than another? Is it another mechanism or is there in the mind
something of different essence? To declare that these two are
one does not make them so. But it does block the progress of
It is clear
that Penfield's epileptic subject had not only a brain capable
of mechanistic manipulation but also a "mind of his own"
by which the contralateral * area could be ordered to work at
Here we are tempted to resort to
a dualistic model, taking into account not merely a physical
brain but some kind of independent and possibly non-physical
reality that interacts with the brain, and possibly in the
brain, and yet not of it. But how can we account for "mind"
if it did not originate in the physical world?
What precisely is the relationship
between mind and brain? Is it merely a partnership of interaction?
Did mind and brain evolve in independence and then run a parallel
course of development? They might thus give a deceptive appearance
of being causally related where causal relationship is in fact
absent. Such a view
2. Penfield, Wilder: in the Control of
the Mind Symposium held at the University of California Medical
Center, San Fracisco, 1961, quoted in Arthur Koestler, Ghost
in the Machine, London, Hutchinson Publishing Group, 1967,
*Contralateral: same site on opposite side (e.g.,
left eye is contralateral to right eye).
would be termed parallelism.
It is not strictly an explanation of the facts but more in
the nature of a description of what could be happening.
Or was Berkeley right when he held
that brain does not really exist, that the only reality is mind
and that the concept of brain indeed of the whole physical
world is a creation of thought, a product of mind, having
no reality in its own right any more than a dream has. In one
of the great Taoist classics, the book which is called Chuang
Tzu (300 B.C. approximately) is said to be the work of a
Chou dynasty sage named Chuang Chou. He appears to have been
reminiscing when he wrote, speaking of himself in the third person:
Long ago, Chuang Chou dreamed
that he was a butterfly. He was elated as a butterfly well
pleased with himself, his aims satisfied. He knew nothing of
Chou. But shortly he awoke and found himself to be Chou. He did
not know whether as Chou he dreamed he was a butterfly, or whether
as a butterfly he dreamed he was Chou.
to reality always involves ambiguity. Perhaps we shall all wake
up one day and find an entirely different kind of reality. This
is idealism, a not very satisfactory view though
certainly an intriguing one.
Or are the behaviorists correct
when they say that only brain exists, and mind is just
an epiphenomenon of it, as the electric current is produced by
the generator? In this case mind has no independent existence
and the question of the origin of mind is entirely secondary
to the question of the origin and nature of brain tissue. This
Behaviourism gained acceptance
just after the turn of the century as the only possible view
because scientific (objective) knowledge was held to be the only
real knowledge man has. Scientific knowledge always depends upon
measurables: it is quantifiable in one way or another. And who
can quantify the mind?
Paul Weiss said, (4)
Maybe our concept of our nervous
system is equally inadequate and insufficient, because so long
as you use only electrical instruments, you get only electrical
answers; if you use chemical detectors, you get chemical
3.Chuang Chou: quoted in Edward H. Chafer,
Ancient China in the Time-Life series Great Ages of
Man, New York, Time-Life Books, 1967, p.62.
4. Paul Weiss, in a discussion of J. R. Smythies' paper, "Some
Aspects of Consciousness" in Beyond Reductionism,
edited by Arthur Koestler and J. R. Smythies, London, Hutchinson
Publishing Group, 1969, p.252.
answers; and if you determine numerical
and geometrical values, you get numerical and geometrical answers.
So perhaps we have not yet found the particular kind of instrument
that tells us the next unknown.
we shall not even try to invent this particular kind of
instrument of research so long as we accept the monistic view
of mind as really only the outworking of brain. And certainly
we are still bound by the older traditions of mechanism. Lord
Adrian was reported not long ago to have observed, "The
final aim of brain research must be to bring behaviour within
the framework of the physical sciences." (5)
This was a view (and an assured
goal) of Claude Bernard, the progenitor of modern physiology.
He held that the cause of all phenomena is matter, and determinism
is "the foundation of all scientific progress and criticism."
(6) Thomas Huxley reflected this position when he observed,
"Thoughts are the expression of molecular changes in that
matter of life which is the source of our other vital phenomena."
(7) Again, "Mind
is a function of matter, when that matter has attained a certain
degree of organization." (8) And once again, "Thought is as much a function
of matter as motion is." (9)
Such reductionism appeals to the
mind that seeks for the simplest and strictly most quantitative
picture of reality. Arthur O. Lovejoy, in his Great Chain
of Being, (10)
traces the history of the compelling search for connections throughout
the natural order by which all things are derivatively related,
a relationship which accounts for the supposedly linear progress
from the simplest to the most complex. As "nature abhors
a vacuum," so man abhors discontinuity. Ideally there should
be no gaps, no missing links in short, no novelties in
the strict sense. A single start gives rise deterministically
to all the branching realities, and every component in the evolving
system must be accountable in terms of the rest and in no other
This basic principle seems almost
to compel assent in the thoughtful mind. In the natural order,
each stage is merely an unfolding of the tendencies of prior
stages. This is to be expected not only in the world of inanimate
things but in the animate world as well. When
5. Lord Adrian, guest editoral, "The
Brain as Physics", Science Journal, vol.3, no.3,
5 May, 1967, p.3.
6. Claude Bernard: quoted by Seymour S. Kety, "A Biologist
Examines the Mind and Behavior", Science, vol.132,
7. Huxley, Thomas, "On the Physical Basis of Life"
in Lay Sermons, (no publisher), 1870, p.152.
8. Huxley, Thomas, "Mr. Darwin's Critics", Contemporary
Review, November, 1871, p.464.
9. Huxley, "Descartes" in Lay Sermons, (no publisher),
10. Lovejoy, Arthur O., The Great Chain of Being, New
York, Harper and Row, 1960.
understanding is complete,
there will not be steps but only a smooth slide.
In the second half of the
last century, three giants in the scientific world issued a Manifesto.
These were Carl Ludwig (18161895), who taught most of
the great physiologists of the world active in that age; Emil
du-Bois-Reymand (18181896), who was the founder of electro-chemistry;
and Hermann von Helmholtz (18121894), who needs no introduction.
This, in substance, is what they agreed upon: "All the activities
of living material, including consciousness, are ultimately to
be explained in terms of physics and chemistry." (11) It is a kind of scientific
ideal and still appeals with tremendous force to the modern scientific
But while it may fulfill
certain logical requirements to insist upon the monist view which
makes consciousness a mere spin-off of the material body, it
is for many people an unsatisfactory explanation of the phenomenon
of self-consciousness. The problem is to find a way of treating
mind and brain as a single phenomenon but yet as two realities.
One answer is identification theory.
Identification theory has
been known in two different forms. Both forms are expressed analogously
considered by many to be a weak argument which appears
to explain more than it really does. Santayana and Thomas Huxley
both proposed that as the noise of the babbling brook is only
a by-product of the rushing water, so the mind, though distinct
from the brain, is nevertheless only a by-product of it. The
brain therefore causes the mind as the brook causes the babbling,
but the mind cannot have any influence on the brain, any more
than the babbling can have any influence on the brook. This was
A more telling analogy is one which
argues that as a single curved line has both a concave and a
convex aspect, though the line is single and the two aspects
are really one, so the brain and the mind are two aspects of
a single phenomenon. The outer or physical event (brain activity)
has an inner non-physical aspect (mind activity). Neither causes
the other, regardless of our impressions of their correspondence.
Yet both must
11. See Chauncey D. Leake, "Perspectives
in Adaptation: Historical Background" in Handbook of
Physiology, Washington, D.C., American Physiology Society,
1964, section 4, p.56.
always occur together.
This is known as parallelism, more specifically "double
aspect" parallelism. The analogy breaks down, however, in
that there can indeed be brain activity without mind activity,
for brain waves are observable in the unconscious.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved
Previous Chapter Next Chapter