The Mind-Body Dilemma: In Seach of the Mind

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Throughout history, our search for the mind and the soul has been a long and fruitless one.  These two topics are intimately related because if the mind exists, and the evidence suggesting that it does is increasing, it is probably a component of the soul.  The search for the mind has a long and interesting history going back even before the Ancient Romans, Greeks and Egyptians.  Despite this long history, and a large collection of research data on the soul, we are no closer to understanding the soul today than we were at the time of Aristotle in Ancient Greece!  The official scientific view is that the mind does not exist except as a result of the activity of the brain.

Yet, even though our search for a definition of what constitutes life and living goes on with no resolution and none in sight (although it should be), our scientific research data strongly suggests that the mind exists.In the 1930’s, Dr. Howard Saxton Burr and his associates discovered an electrical field that they called the “L-field” (Burr, 1952, 1972; Burr and Lane, 1935; Burr and Northrop, 1939).  Research on the L-field was actively pursued for decades until Dr.

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Burr reported that changes in the L-field occur before changes in the body and his associate Dr. Ravitz  (Ravitz, 1952, 1959) reported that the L-field disappears before a person dies.  The obvious problem was that this data means that the L-field exists independent of the physical body, contrary to what researchers chose to believe, that being that the L-field is created by the body.  Since the brain is part of the body, this finding would suggest that the mind and the brain are separate but individual things. Neuroscience is the study of the brain and psychology is…well, the answer to that question is not exactly clear.

A direct interpretation of the word “psychology” boils down to “the study of the psyche” or “the knowledge of the psyche”, but psychology does not have a definition of the psyche and, in general, they do not believe in it.  Psyche comes from the Greek word meaning soul, so the psyche is actually the study of the soul, and yet psychology today has more or less become a study of the mind, and ironic situation since neither psychologists nor neuroscientists believe in the existence of the mind.  The generally held accepted view of the mind is that the mind arises from the activity of the brain.  Thus, a major philosophical concern of neuroscience is, “Does the mind exist separate and independent of the brain?”  The generally accepted answer to this question is, “No.

The mind is an epiphenomenon that arises from brain activity.”  In the past, efforts were made to resolve this problem with philosophical arguments such as Fredric Weizmann’s ideas about genetics and embryology (Forsdyke, 1999) and Michael M. Sokal ideas about phrenology.  Today, we can conclude that the mind/body problem of science has been successfully resolved despite the obvious fact that the resolution has yet to be recognized or acknowledged!  We can now take pride that the resolution to this dilemma did not result in confirming the “pervasive” 19th-century fear humans might ultimately be viewed as “mere machines” lacking souls.

Despite the generally accepted view that the mind is merely an epiphenomenon that arises from brain activity, more or less superimposed over brain activity, there is actually no evidence to support the idea.  To date, all of the available data, without exception, suggests that the mind and the brain are two separate but interacting ‘things’.  Whatever evidence that does not suggest this is neutral.  The evidence is sufficiently strong to have swayed diehard monists (who believe that the mind is the brain) into becoming dualists (who believe that the mind and the brain are separate).

Upon a review of the available data at the end of his life, the late neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, MD (1891 – 1976), a former monist, concluded the evidence, “…it comes as a surprise now to discover, during this final examination of the evidence, that the dualist hypothesis seems the more reasonable of the two possible explanations.” (Penfield, 1975)  Although the available data may support Penfield’s conclusion, there are still some interesting, intriguing and difficult questions to answer such as, “What is the realm of consciousness and the mind,” “How do consciousness and the mind and the realm of mind relate to the brain and the physical body,” and “Does a mind exist independent of the brain and the physical body?”  We can briefly address each of these questions separately.The central problem with the dualist point of view is that the mind exists as an abstraction unless it arises from brain activity.  If the mind exists separate and independent of the brain, the answer to our first question is that the mind exists as an abstract field as proposed around the 1920s by developmental biologist Paul Weiss.

We have discovered the abstract forces of gravity, electricity and the numerous abstract forces associated with the psyche.  With our present knowledge and self-imposed limitations, we cannot know what other abstract forces exist or how to use them if discovered.  We know that abstract forces are not physically useless.  For example, electricity, magnetism and gravity, three of the five acknowledged abstract forces (four if you view electricity and magnetism as a single “electromagnetic” force), have no physical existence and thus, they are not physically real.

Yet, they do exist, they interact with and alter physical matter and we use them daily and constantly.  Mathematics has helped us to understand and to use these abstractions.  (The four acknowledged fundamental forces of Nature are 1) the strong interaction (responsible for holding the nuclei of atoms together) which is very strong, but very short-ranged, 2) the long-ranged, but much weaker electromagnetic force that causes electric and magnetic effects, 3) the weak force that is responsible for radioactive decay and neutrino interactions (short range and very weak) and 4) the gravitational force which is weak, but very long ranged and acts between any two particles of matter in the Universe.)If the mind exists, it is logical to conclude that it exists as an abstract force that interacts with the physical brain in the same manner that electricity and gravity interact with physical particles.

Apparently, scientists have chosen to ignore this possibility and to conclude that the mind arises from the activity of the brain.  To date, there is no evidence to support this favored idea of the neurosciences, but there is a growing amount of evidence to refute it.  Before we complain about trying to understand the abstract mind, we need to admit that the limitations and objections that psychology and neuroscience have placed upon the abstract mind are irrelevant, illogical and groundless.  Despite the overwhelming evidence for the existence of the mind separate from and independent of the brain, science refuses to acknowledge the mind because if it exists, it does so as an abstraction that we cannot study.

That certainly is not true, but by placing these limitations on the mind, scientists have inadvertently placed the same limitations upon the psyche.  Nuclear physics deals with abstract particles and forces every day.  Studies in nuclear physics have led to the atomic and hydrogen bombs.  Someday, physicists hope to unleash the awesome nuclear fusion power of the sun.

Their methods are chaotic and imprecise, but effective.  Using cyclotrons, the biggest machines on earth, to study the smallest particles known, they accelerate the particles as close as possible to the speed of light and smash them into other particles.  Unable to see anything, they can determine the paths of the original particles and of those left by the particles created during the collisions.  From this, they infer information and sometimes discover new particles.

Many of the particles discovered do not have mass, i.e., they are not physical things.  Neutrinos, muons, mesons, quarks, charm and other abstract particles with similar strange names have their own real existence outside the physical world.

These particles have only been discovered since the early to mid-twentieth century, but evidence for the existence of the psyche and the mind has been around for millennia.  The early Greek, Egyptian and Roman Empires and perhaps earlier peoples recognized and debated the evidence.  Aristotle referred to a “vital force” that he believed to be responsible for the developing egg, the growing embryo, and the life properties of the child growing into an adult.  Aristotle viewed the soul as the vital force.

He attributed development of the embryo and the existence of the life force to a “vital force”.  His ideas about this vital force and the soul dealt with early concepts of embryology, biology and psychology.  Long before Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung developed concepts of psychoanalysis and dream psychology, Aristotle presented ideas about the psychological interpretation of dreams.Like the problem of the mind, philosophers have dealt with the problem of the ‘vital force’ over the millennia as well, but therein may lay the problem.

Because of its abstract nature, scientists have either ignored this thing variously referred to as the vital force, the psyche and the soul, or viewed it from the perspective of philosophy.  At other times, science has dismissed its existence all together.  For example, neuroscientists consider the mind and the brain to be one and the same.  However, the mind appears to be one of the components of the psyche.

The brain is not.  The word “consciousness” is never used in psychology or neuroscience unless absolutely necessary and volition is almost never used even if it is necessary!  Therein lays the second major problem.  How can we learn to understand and use what we will not even consider?Rene Descartes, the famous 16th Century French philosopher, equated the mind with the soul.  He coined the phrase, “I think, therefore I am” and took his ideas beyond the soul to ideas about immortality and God.

In his book Discourse, Descartes considered the possibility of immortality and argued that God must exist.  Four years after Discourse, he elaborated on the nature of the soul in Meditations on the First Philosophy.  In that book, he confused and equated the soul and the mind much as psychology and neuroscience confuse the mind and the brain today.  Later, in Treatise on the Passions of the Soul, he presented the idea that the soul is in the pineal gland.

From these and other early philosophers, the one idea upon which most could agree is that the soul, psyche or vital force is the essential, animating force of living things.  Science has now proven that such an animating force does exist independent of the physical body. (Burr, 1952, 1972; Burr and Lane, 1935; Burr and Northrup, 1939)  Whether we call it the vital force, the psyche, the soul or something else, it does exist.Although modern psychology does not consider such issues, they arise repeatedly when considering the soul.

Even Wilder Penfield (1891-1976), a noted neurosurgeon who initially believed that memory could be localized in the brain, began considering the existence of God and spirit after concluding that the mind exists independent of the brain.  In his book, Mystery of the Mind, published the year before his death in 1976, Penfield explained why the scientific data changed his view and led him to believe that the mind and the brain are separate, independent and co-existing “things”.  In neuroscience, this idea is referred to as “dualism” or “the dualist hypothesis”.  He concluded,;”Taken either way, the nature of the mind presents the fundamental problem, perhaps the most difficult and most important of all problems.

For myself, after a professional lifetime spent in trying to discover how the brain accounts for the mind, it comes as a surprise now to discover, during this final examination of the evidence, that the dualist hypothesis seems the more reasonable of the two possible explanations.” taken from The Mystery of the Mind:  A Critical Study of Consciousness and the Human Brain, p. 85, by Wilder Penfield He went on to express joy in admitting that the real existence of an abstract mind had opened his mind to possibilities of immortality and God.

Eccles who always dismissed ideas that “the mind doesn’t exist except as a result of the brain activity” as ridiculous), it should be easy to understand why other neuroscientists have reached the same conclusion from the available data!As recently as fifteen years ago, one may have understood why it would be difficult to accept that the mind and the brain exist as two separate, independent “things”, but today there is so much evidence demonstrating the separate existence of the mind from the brain that it is difficult to understand why the issue still exists.  The evidence shows conclusively that the mind and the brain are two separate, co-existing ‘things’, a physical brain and an abstract, non-physical mind that interacts with and controls the brain.  For example, recent work by neuroscientist Alvaro Pascual-Leone (Pascual-Leone, 2005, 2001) has demonstrated that thinking causes changes in the structure of the brain.  This is contrary to what neuroscientists have chosen to believe, that being that the brain causes thinking.

The state of mind precedes the state of brain, so the state of brain cannot lead to the state of mind.  Thus, we attempt to enter an altered state of consciousness, and the associated brain waves follow.  Brain waves do not precede the various states of consciousness, but follow them (Pascual-Leone, 2006).  Finally, studies in the 1920s performed by William McDougall indicate that learned behavior is passed from one generation to the next independent of genes and the nervous system.

These studies indicate that something outside the organism and independent of the body passes learned behavior from one generation to the next.  The McDougall studies were pursued for twenty years before they were abandoned because scientists could not interpret or understand the results.  This means that mere thought alters the structure of the brain, a revolutionary idea since thought is abstract.  Stated another way, mental practice gives rise a reorganization in the structure of the brain.

Yes, this is stated correctly.  Thinking results in a real change not just in the activity of the brain, but in the actual structure of the brain!  This means that the brain does not give rise to brain activity but rather that brain activity gives rise to the brain!  How could this be?As we can see, this finding is consistent with the conclusions reached by Penfield in the mid-1970s.  It is also consistent with work done by Merzenich (Merzenich and Kaas, 1982; Merzenich et al., 1983, 1978, 1981, 1984) and his associates in the 1980s.

These studies vividly demonstrate that mental functions thought to be localized in one part of the brain actually can be associated virtually anywhere in the brain.  No matter what other interpretations may be attributed to the results of these studies, they combine to demonstrate that any and all neurons of the brain can and do perform any and all brain functions.  Thus, certain brain cells in the forebrain, for example, may normally be involved in abstract thought, or specific cells in the temporal lobe may normally be involved in vision, but these same cells can do virtually anything.  Nerve cells that normally function in vision can function in hearing, sensory activity, motor activity, rational thought or in any other process!    The Merzenich and the Lorber (Lorber and Pucholt, 1981) studies, in particular, demonstrate that the neurons in the nervous system behave more like iron filings in the presence of a magnetic field than like elements of a circuit.

In the former situation, each particle responds to the field in more or less the same way depending upon where the individual particles are located within the field.  The removal of any component particle has no significant effect on the response of the other particles within the field.  In the latter situation, each component of a circuit only has one function.  If it is removed from the circuit, the circuit will fail unless that component is replaced.

Each component of the circuit is required in order for the circuit to function.Clearly, the nervous system and body present aspects of circuits and of wave-particle interactions.  Those who object to the idea that the nervous system has wave-particle properties need only realize that all electrical events are wave-particle interactions, and the brain and the muscles are characterized by their ability to respond to electricity.  The brain responds to electric fields, and biofeedback studies demonstrate that the electric fields respond to consciousness, so the brain responds to the mind’s consciousness indirectly and to electric fields directly.

Both the mind and the electric fields are abstract “things” that do not exist physically and cannot be measured directly.  If we can accept the effects of electric fields on nervous tissue, we shouldn’t have any problem accepting the effects of the mind on the brain, especially since electric fields and consciousness seem to interact.  The brain cannot create that to which it responds, so the brain cannot create consciousness.  That would disobey the laws of entropy (briefly discussed elsewhere) and disagree with everything we see in nature.

John White and Stanley Krippner stated this idea by saying,  “It now appears that the mind produces ‘psychosomatic’ symptoms—as it is now fashionable to call them—by interfering with the organization of the L field…In other words, L fields are the ‘bridge’ or intermediate link between the mental and the physical.  Thus, they offer evidence that the mind and body are quite separate, which is contrary to the belief of some modern biologists. ”If Burr’s findings are correct, it seems apparent that consciousness and the mind are electrodynamic fields that interact with the physical body.  Burr was able to make a definitive connection between the L-field and wound healing and between the L-field and the mental functions and mental states of individuals.

Burr and his colleagues found that they could make impersonal, objective measurements of the mental and emotional states of psychiatric patients and that their electrical measurements generally agreed closely with psychiatric diagnoses.  Consciousness and the mind somehow relate to the brain and the physical body through an electrical connection or bridge of sorts, forces associated with and coupled to cells. (Jerndal, 1982)Finally, although the preferred view of the mind-body/mind-brain issue in neuroscience and psychology is the monistic view which states that the mind is merely an epiphenomenon that arises from brain activity, it is apparent that the mind transcends physical functions of the body, but there are concerns such as can more detailed studies be provided to determine if the mind can be associated with the L-field?  Burr, Ravitz and their colleagues provided evidence that established a relationship between nerve and other tissue and that made useful neurological and psychiatric measurements that were associated with mental functions.  Therefore, they succeeded in establishing a firm connection between an abstract but very real field and the tangible nervous system.

This data provides concrete evidence for the existence of an independent mind that transcends the functions of the physical body.  Thus, it appears that the mind-brain and mind-body issue can be laid to rest.  Now, the problem is, “How to get the word out.”  Perhaps that leaves us right back where we started, at least for now.

While classical neuroscience studies demonstrate that the sensory and motor functions of the body are assigned to and controlled by particular areas of the cerebral cortex and relayed from the body surface to the cortex in a point to point manner, other studies reveal that the areas of the cortex that control any sensory or motor function can change so as to move from one area of the cortex to another.  This finding which has been known at least since the Merzenich studies (Merzenich and Kaas, 1982; Merzenich et al., 1983, 1978, 1981, 1984) of the 1980s challenges our classical view of how the nervous system works and lend evidence and support to those who suggest that the mind and the brain are separate, independent and interacting ‘things’.   While the Merzenich studies reveal their independence, Pascual-Leone’s studies indicate that the mind controls and creates connections in the brain—the mind controls and creates the brain—quite contrary to the generally and widely accepted opposing view (but obviously incorrect view if Pascual-Leone’s findings are correct) that the brain creat4es the mind as an epiphenomenon of brain activity.

If anything, the mind creates the brain since mental activity—pure thought—leads to the formation of new synaptic connections.Although upsetting to our classical view of how the brain works, neuroscience is forced to accept and understand this view and then move on to our next level of understanding.  In part, that will require that neuroscience pursue a greater understanding of abstractions and abstract reality and how such realities interact with physical matter (mass) possibly as a wave-particle interaction with the mind serving as the waves and the components of the brain serving as the particles.  This will begin by openly and universally admitting that abstract realities exist by virtue of their own right, an admission that science has resisted in the past and generally resists up to the present.

Neuroscience must eventually stop denying proven facts that are upsetting to the status quo and accept the facts as they are without attempting to force and fit round pegs into square holes.In order to present his ideas of relativity, Einstein was force to discard the classical and widely accepted view of the luminiferous ether.  Perhaps it is long past time for neuroscientist to make a similar move in the neurosciences and to adopt a new perspective of how the brain functions.  It is time that neuroscience accepts the data and adopts the view that the mind exists independent of the brain and that the mind dictates brain activity.

Each probably influences the other as Eccles suggest (Eccles, 1951), but the data shows that the mind clearly has the upper hand over brain activity.  This admission is not presently on the horizon, but most certainly it must eventually come to pass.

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The Mind-Body Dilemma: In Seach of the Mind. (2017, Apr 07). Retrieved from

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