IGS Discussion Forums: Learning GS Topics: Mind-Body
Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Wednesday, November 2, 2005 - 11:14 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

For me, I use a crude, but effective, analogy.

"Mind is to brain as digestion is to stomach."

I don't have to use stomach-digestion all the time, and I don't find the "body-mind" phrase all that useful, especially since I never talk about "out-of-body" experiences. As I look back, I don't think I much use the term 'mind' as a noun very often any more, either.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, November 3, 2005 - 01:13 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Milton's analogy has left out the fact that a conductor is required, and that there must be relative motion involved, as well as the fact that, the magnetic flux, and the electric current, and the motion must all be at right angles to each other. The "right hand rule" with thumb up, index finger extend, and the middle finger bent perpendicular to the plane of the thumb and fore-finger illustrate the relation "mfc" (motion, flux, and current). A changing magnetic field in the presence of a conductor at right angles to it will generate an electric potential (field) in the conductor, and, if there is a closed circuit, a current will ensue. A current in a conductor establishes a circular magnetic field around the conductor. Only when the current is changing, increasing or decreasing, is the magnetic field expanding or contracting. Without the conductor no electric field can be generated or detected.

In a discharging neuron a tiny current develops between the inside and outside of the neuron's axon as the cascading depolarization wave travels, domino-like, down the axon. See Neuroscience for Kids - Action Potential for a simple description of the process.

The theoretical range of such an expanding or contracting magnetic field is infinite, but the magnitude is so small, generated by the movement of a few ions, that, from outside the brain they cannot be measured. From "popular" "knowledge" we have EEG's and MRI.

http://www.bio.net/hypermail/NEUROSCIENCE/1999-April/037907.html explains how the EEG measurements work.


Metal disks are glued to or just pressed into contact with the skin of the scalp. Between the metal and the disk one applies electrolyte paste to facilitate the flow of electricity from scalp to disk.

It has been shown that if rather large amounts of nerve cells are excited at the same time or inhibited at the same time, their combined electrical (or magnetic) field spreads through the extracellular fluid of the brain through the surface of the brain through the skull bone through the skin of the scalp and can be measured in the small metal disk electrodes one uses for EEG.

Comparing the electrical potential between two disk electrodes at any one moment of time, one can decide whether nerve cells under the two electrodes are being excited or inhibted in regard to each other.

If disk 1 is positive compared to disk 2, then one knows from previous studies that under disk 1, more positive ions (like sodium - Natrium) have gone into the nerve cells from the fluid between them, and these cells are more excited than the cells under disk 2.

If disk 2 is placed onto the ear lobe, it does not record any nerve cells. Thus, if disk 1 is positive compared to the ear lobe, nerve cells
under it are excited, and if it is negative, the nerve cells at that place are inhibited.

As eletrical fields weaken with distance, one can only measure fields from cortical neurons in this way, if electrodes are not introduced deep into the brain.

The EEG does not measure action potentials either, because these are so fast and never exactly at the same time in different cells, and are thus cancelled out before they reach the scalp surface. Instead, the EEG measures the level of excitation, which eventually is the reason for action potentials. This level of excitation fluctuates slower, between 1 and 60 times per second.

The "waves" occur if there is rhythmic excitation alternating with inhibition in many cortical neurons synchronously.

The larger amplitude the "waves" have, the larger is the number of neurons contributing.

The main thing to be understood from this is that all the micro-currents from neurons orinted in different directions firing more-or-less independently cancel each other out. It is only when large numbers of neurons aligned in the same directions are firing synchronistically is any appreciable field detectable, and then only at extremely close ranges. The EEG detects that large number of neurons are active in relative proportion. What, exactly, is being detected according to our best model of physics? Electric and magnetic fields are propagated by a field of virtual photons - photons that are emitted and absorbed in the process of propagating the "field". The "field" just "is" the cloud of virtual photons. Any information we can gather from this cloud, about the source of it, depends upon how much physical energy is present in the virtual cloud, and how much of that energy our measuring device can absorb. Probes have been invented that can be inserted into a neuron so as to measure the firing of an individal neuron. Without such a probe we can only get barest measure. We speak of electro-magnetic "waves" as the alternative to conceptualize the field as a cloud of photons. "Waves" are something we all have some experience with, as anyone who has looked at the surface of a pond can attest to.

Every insect swimming in the pond or crawling along the bottom; every fish, every turtle and every frog, all the snails and worms, all the falling leaves, etc., etc., disturb the water around them, and they create small waves radiating away from them. Look at the "V" shapped ripples in the wake of whirl-a-gig beetles. Look at the tiny dimples around the feet of a water strider.

Why is the surface of the pond not a seething mass of constant motion? In a word, interference. The waves from all these sources interact, and mostly cancel each other out. We can sometimes see the surface of the pond glassy smooth. Is this because all the creatures are observing a moment, hour, etc., of silent motionlessness? No. It is because all the tiny waves from the millions and billions of sources cancel each other out. We may only see occasional ripples when a big fish rises to the surface close to us, or when we use a microscope to look at the feet of the water strider, etc. Only local disturbances can be seen locally. Globally, they all cancel out. The same thing is true of the neurons in the brain. Because the various parts of the brain are connected functionally, however, there are large groups of neurons firing and resting together - like a school of fish moving quickly all in the same direction. When this happen, the waves add up enough to allow detecting a gross overall patern.

Can we associate cognitive functions with these detections? How well this might be possible can be informed by a technology we have been using for decades - "lie detectors". How reliable are they? What do they measure? This a device that produces a record of activity levels in the whole body as a result of underlying brain activity. We are only trying to make a two-valued judgement distinction using known correlations between reactions in the past with data collected in the past. Lying or not, that is the question. Certain "brain-wave" patterns have been associated with sleep, awareness, resting, but not much more detail can be obtained.

Milton says,


From electrochemical activity of neurons there emerges a 'mind-field': cognitive functions -- awareness, thinking, imagining, etc. These in turn affect electrochemical activity of neurons... a feedback effect from which emerges imitation... and learning (modification of a behavioral tendency through experience).

This is pure techno-babble.

A "mind-field" "emerges" from electrochemical activity. The analogy with electro-magnetic current generation fails, because Milton "explains" the "mind-field" as consisting of "cognitive functions" identified as awarenss, thinking, imagining.

These "cognitive" functions are high level descriptions of behaviors that entail a functioning brain consisting of neurons that are firing and resting. They represent one structure viewed from different levels of abstracting. One is not the "cause" of the other. One does not "emerge" from the other. They are views that coexist and arise and fall together as one inseparable "body-mind" structure-function.

Milton goes on to say that these "higher level view structure "affect" the lower level structures. This is not possible because the lower level structures just "are" the same higher level structures viewed from a different perspective. The higher level "view" does not have a separate causal influence on the lower level structures. Electrical chemical reactions at time1 cause/affect/determine electrical chemical reactions at time2. We experince these as higher level cognitive functions at time1 preceeding higher level cognitive functions at time2. If you subscribe to free-will, you might say that one caused the next as a result of decisions, and the electro-chemical reactions are just "how it was done"; if you subscribe to determinism, you might say that one caused the next as a result of the clock-like laws of the physical universe, and our experiencing of it "just went along for the ride".

Regarding "unconscious, intra-personal time-binding", Milton is "out in left field", as my earlier post shows", as is his idea that time-binding involves "improvement". See another post.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, November 4, 2005 - 10:20 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Analogies and metaphors serve the purpose of communicating provided they evoke a familiar experience in the litener and they have "structural similarity" of sufficient degree.

The understanding of something new [metaphrand] to the listener depends on the something familiar [metaphier] having a high enough degree of structural similarity. This also means that the terms used in the metaphier must be well understood. Vague terms, terms that are very abstract, terms that have limited specialize technical usages, etc., do not serve the purpose of communicating. Does the speaker have a thorough knowledge of the terms he or she is using? If not, then the analogy merely puts one meaningless stream of words in proximity to another meaningless stream of words.

Another way of explaining the function of analogy is using the notion of maps and territories. One explains directions to someone unfamiliar with a territory by using a map. The map is the something familiar. The territory is the something new. If the listener understands, because he or she is familiar with maps, he or she will then be able to navigate the portion of the territory involved in the directions.

Milton says his analogy does not include everything. Right on! It's like a map of the United states with only a half a dozen cities and no roads.

Metaphors and analogies (literary terms) relate to "isomorphisms" (science and math terms). In all of these there is a primary distinction - the higher level of abstraction of corresponding structures, and the lower level of additional non-correponding structures. To navigate effectively the proportion of corresponding structures must be high enough, detailed, and well described with corresponding terms and relations. Anything less than this becomes of little use.

Like the fellow who, when asked for directions, said,
"Let's see, turn left here, go two blocks and turn right..."
"Hmmm... No that won't work. "
"Ok, turn right here, go half a mile, and then turn...."
"Hmmm.... No that won't work either."
"Ok go straight for two miles, turn south at the church, and then..."
Hmmmm... No that won't work either...."
"Let me think.... "

"You know, You can't get there from here."

Milton, You might want to look up Kurt Lewin's field theory as an alternative to postulating an "electro-magnetic" "mind-field".

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Saturday, November 5, 2005 - 09:47 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Ben wrote,


We choose the brain as a starting point, but we could choose something extra-cerebral as a starting point if we wanted. E.g., a stimulus outside us? A stimulus that stimulated the stimulus to stimulate us?

How can we chose something "extra-cerebral" as a starting point without using a projected theory about what's "out there"? The suggestion that we could ignores completely all epistemological issues; it's a suggestion completely inconsistent with general semantics perspectives. To do so would be to speak of "what is" - metaphysics - without any regard for how we might know. This is the very perspective that general semantics aims to combat.


If we see body-before-mind, it would make sense to talk about body as the origin. But if we see mind-before-body, wouldn't it make sense to talk about mind as the origin and not body?

I'd prefer to leave talk about "mind" until it is thoroughly explained or modeled using a first person speech perspective. I can see what my hand is doing when I move it, so I have a direct non-verbal relation between my first person perspective (directing) and my third person perspective (seeing). I can also see other persons hands moving when they report on their directing their own hands.

Sometimes I can sense my own thinking and ideation while in the process (consciousness of abstracting), but I cannot directly sense another's thinking and ideation while they are reporting on their own process. So the term "mind" is extremely abstract and vague in this regard for me. It's not very useful to me. I am aware of characterization from the dualistic perspective of the "mind" or "soul" or "spirit" or "ghost in the machine", etc., as described by various aspects of our culture, but such things are outside my direct observation, so I don't need any theory about them. By Occam's Razor I cut away these from my existential postulate system.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Saturday, November 5, 2005 - 12:40 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

An interesting thing about our current perspective in general semantics is that it is a highly evolved point of view cumulating from a long tradition which began with "identifying" our responses with what's out there. Before the philosophy of science developed in which the Ancient Greeks said that theory must "save the appearances", trees were just trees; they were not our projection onto what is going on of our brain's neurological responding. So, historically, your suggestion could be perfectly accurate and applicable. As a species, back in the dawn of time, we did start with "completely external" or "extra-cerebral" points of view. It is also the current "starting point" of science, where we take the meaning of such terms as beaker, ruler, table, over, move, place, etc., for granted. It is here, in the day-to-day objects and assumptions, that the foundation of science is most slippery. This is the water in my metaphor of scientific knowledge being like a towering building built on a large floating island. The building's foundation seems quite solid, as does the earth around it. But the farther away one goes, or the deeper one digs, the softer the "earth" gets, it becomes mushy peat floating in a vast ocean. "Doing philosophy" has been likened to reparing a ship while the ship is underway in an ocean. Removing and replacing a piece of hull depends upon the rest of the ship holding together. What is firm in science depend upon vast amounts of not-so-firm assumptions and taken-for-granted terms.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Saturday, November 19, 2005 - 10:02 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Hi Ben,
In our culture we are thoroughly indoctrinated from birth by ordinary language using the Christian Cartesian dualism point of view. Ordinary Language Philosophy states:


Oxford philosopher Gilbert Ryle ... took a more ambitious line in the application of conceptual analysis. Ryle argued in "Systematically Misleading Expressions" (1932) that philosophical analysis of ordinary language can clarify human thinking by eliminating inappropriate linguistic forms. Negative existential assertions, generalizations from experience, proper-name identifications, and referential descriptions, Ryle pointed out, all tend to be expressed in statements whose superficial grammatical form mistakenly engenders the hypostasization of non-existent objects of various sorts; the solution in each case is to substitute a less misleading statement. The proper function of philosophy is to map out the logical geography or our conceptual schemes.

In The Concept of Mind (1949) Ryle offered an extended analysis of mental concepts, designed to show the utter absurdity of traditional mind-body dualism. Although traditional language divides the inner (mental and non-spatial) aspect of human life from the outer (bodily and spatial) aspect, he noted, efforts to describe the inner life invariably appeal to the language and models of bodily motion and interaction. Thus, for example, "I had a headache yesterday but it went away," or "My mind is full of useless information." The only way to speak about my supposedly private mental life is by drawing analogies to physical processes.

What this reflects, on Ryle's view is the category mistake of assimilating behavioral concepts to notions about mentality, the mistaken supposition that there must be a "ghost in the machine," an intelligent inner pilot guiding the complex movements of the human body. But this Ryle argued, is like meeting Uncle Joe and Grandma and Mom while wondering where the family really is. Resolution of our conceptual difficulties in this regard, he supposed, lies not in the reduction of mental predicates to material ones, but rather a simple recognition that statements about perception, memory, belief, and other mental states are nothing more significant than a series of short-hand ways of describing human behavior of identifiable sorts. Cartesian dualism is an elaborate myth.

Korzybski, in Manhood of Humanity, describes the predominate two views of "man" as (1) "nothing but" an animal and (2) a hybrid of animal and a "supernatural" spark, both of which he decries as "monstrous". He says, "for Man is a natural being, man's mind is a natural agency," (MoH, p. 14), and "The human mind is at least an energy which can direct other energies; it is incorrect and misleading to call it supernatural. It is of course true that we do not fully understand the nature of the human mind and we shall learn to understand it when and only when we acquire sense enough to recognize it as natural." (MoH, p. 227)

The "mind-body" problem stems from the dualistic view that the "mind" is some sort of non-physical or supernatural "substance" capable of "living on" in some sort of "after-life" apart from the body which it "inhabited". The problem "goes away" when dualism is rejected, which Korzybski did, but he had to couch his words very carefully so as to prevent the religious people in our culture from coming to the conclusion that he was an out-and-out atheist.

We use the term 'mind' in the first person sense, "I mind", in the second person sense, "keep in mind", and in a third person sense as an "object". In the first person sense it is used as a verb as clearly an active "agent" - Korzybski's "natural agency". Such uses can be replaced with synonyms, such as "care", "watch" (as in minding the store), etc. In the second persons sense it is synonymous with "remain conscious of" or "pay attention" to, and directs the spoken to person to abstract in a certain way. In the third person form, it becomes problematic because it is "objectified" by the grammatical construction, and this requires that it be given a description or definition. To describe it as "simply" ("nothing but") the brain and other parts of the nervous system is a somewhat extreme form of reductionism akin to saying a person is just an organic bag of 98% water with impurities in it. It loses all the connotations of things that humans do, from being sweet and kind to being obnoxious and selfish. There is no connotation of personality when we substitute "nervous system" for "mind". The nervous system is something that we can dissect and lay out on a table to look at. We would have to strongly emphasize "functioning nervous system" with a strong emphasis on the "functioning" part to even partly dispel the picture of a static brain, spinal cord, and nerve tree it connotes.

For me, the term 'mind' refers to the running "software" in a brain that involves perception, communication, "personality", acting, and particularly all the ways that human beings can behave differently from one-another. The "mind" is the "operating system" running in the brain. It does things with the hardware that you tell it; it does not do things with the hardware that you tell it, it talks back to you. It fails to talk back to you. Etc., etc. The computer model is, to my way of thinking, a much better metaphor than the "ghost in the machine". The term 'software' has a physical component, but it much more readily connotes the operating of the software. Perhaps the term 'application' might be more useful in some circumstances. I'm using a browser to write this. I could have used a word-processor and then copied the text from the word-processor into the browser using the cut and paste capabilities of the Windows operating system, or had I so chosen, the capabilities of my Linux operating system on another computer. I instruct my computer to "sing", and it uses its efferent circuitry to activate the sound card. When I type it uses its afferent circuitry to abstract mechanical key presses into electric pulses. It's "brain" - the CPU receives and directs these processes by running the software it's been programmed with, and that software, like the human brain-nervous system has many levels of structure. But you grew up in the computer age. You know all that.

You wrote earlier, "Having purposes (minds) can alter one's chemistry (body). And having a particular body (chemistry) can shape one's mind (purposes). This is how I'm seeing the mind-body relationship today--sometimes I can't really articulate the relationship, as I think that's how I felt when I started this thread some time ago.

Your wording here suggests Gilbert Ryle's "category mistake". In this case, thinking that it's possible for a cause-effect relation to exist that crosses levels of abstracting. Chemical reactions can cause other chemical reactions, but they do not "cause" "purposes". These are at vastly separated levels of observation. We can "see" what is going on as chemical reactions; we can see what is going on as the operation of a "purpose", but they are simply different ways of abstracting from one "event structure". We would have to say, in some precise detail, what the sequence of chemical reactions were that comprise or instantiate a "purpose". We would have to define "purpose" in terms of physical cause-effect relations. I can set that up as a finite-state automaton in computer lingo, but when the proper inputs are received, the automaton changes state by executing a set of instructions. In logic terms, the automaton is simply a set of if-then instructions that say if you are in state X and you receive input I then you change state to state Y and output Z; the automaton also has a defined starting state. In "mind" terms, it could be if you are in state X (hungry) and receive input I (an apple) you change state to Y (not hungry) and output Z (move on). With the complexity of the human neural structure, and the fact that it is constantly changing throughout our lives, the job of constructing an automaton to simulate a human has been well beyond our capabilities.

I am aware here that I have characterized a "purpose" as an "if ... then ..." rule, but that is an extreme simplification.

Good grief! I've really gone on and on, haven't I? Time to stop.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Saturday, November 19, 2005 - 03:47 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Hi Ben,
I think I use "intrinsic" in a more philosophical sense. I certainly would grant that, if you are considering a person as a whole, his or her actions are directed by his or her brain, in its current state of development and learning. I view Maslow's Need hierarchy as a model of human needs and motivation, but I also consider that structure to not be independent of the context of human evolution and the perspective of keeping alive and reproducing, two of the hallmarks of "life". For me, a "purely" intrinsic motivation would be one that is independent of any context. I think you and I "draw the distinction" between "intrinsic" and "extrinsic" in different places. Perhaps the key difference comes in partly due to how to view "via past stimulus", which, to me, is not intrinsic.

You used the word "simply", which I saw as a reductionist (non-multi-ordinal) perspective, and I supplied the interpretation "nothing but". Had you said, "among other things", that would have indicated to me you were explicitly including a multi-ordinal perspective.

I think it much rarer, especially outside the general semantics community, that people would "think of" the nervous system when speaking of minds, even in the context of talking about "minds" and "bodies". More so brains than nervous system. The exception seems to be in the area of neural net research and some cognitive science areas.

Well, the "nervous system" is part of, and a large part at that, of the "body". Sensor cells that respond to various conditions - proprioceptive and enteroceptive receptors are distributed throughout the "body". In addition, our "body" "abstracts" in chemical as well as neurological areas. The entire hormone system is a parallel communication system that interact with the nervous system to effectively regulate our functioning. That system "abstracts" as well. When I see a snake, I don't get the adrenaline reaction, but I do when I see a spider too close too suddenly. I grew up as an armature herpetologist, but I also had an incident at about age 5 which induced major arachnophobia. Systems that sense the presense of oxalic acid in the muscles produce pain that tells us to slow down, but too much pain produces endorphins that shut down pain reactions. Consider pheremones. All of these things go into the working person.

I'm largely in agreement with you in seeing "mind" as inseparable from a functioning person. I work at finding a model structure-function that can account for much of what we experience. That view, however, is not what the traditional mind-body problem has been about nor what Korzybski was objecting to. What he objected to is still ubiquitous in our culture, and continually being propagated by the mechanism of time-binding by all the major religions which subscribe to dualism.

If you don't, then we're in agreement.

If when you say that chemical reactions could "cause" ("be largely responsible for"), I can understand this as "account for" or "explain".
When we relate two levels of abstraction, the higher level is a map of the lower level. I can, in principle, describe the sequence of events of high temperature contact activating chemical sensors, triggering an afferent nerve impulse getting to the spinal cord, triggering an efferent nerve impulse releasing chemicals in a muscle causing muscle fiber contractions. I can describe this at a higher level of abstraction as a reflex arc. At a still higher level of abstraction I can attribute a purpose to this reflex as to minimize damage to the tissue. At a still higher level of abstraction I can attribute this as "having survival value". In each case I'm adding a greater context, and providing a different way of viewing the low-level physical process first described. But I do not use the term 'cause' to describe the relation between these levels. I think of cause and effect as similar to action-reaction of physics.

Aristotle's four causes:
Material cause: “that out of which a thing comes to be, and which persists,” e.g., bronze, silver, and the genus of these (= metal?).
Formal cause: “the statement of essence” “the account of what-it-is-to-be, and the parts of the account.”
Efficient cause: “the primary source of change,” e.g., the man who gives advice, the father (of the child).
Final cause: “the end (telos), that for the sake of which a thing is done,” e.g., health (is the cause of exercise).
(Source: http://faculty.washington.edu/smcohen/320/4causes.htm )

The sense of 'cause' I use is rather strictly physical energy related, as in action-reaction. The action is the cause, and the reaction is the effect. Perhaps that I use 'cause' in such a restricted sense may account for the differences in our formulations.