The Mind-Brain Problem - An open ended argument.


It is obvious that we have a body within which we live. The 'self' is separate from the body. The body is like a machine within which resides a 'driver', the individual person. The mind here is 'in charge' of what the body does. Though here it would seem that the individual could survive death of the body, this view is also common among those who acknowledge that the individual cannot survive death.

Others believe that, as Descartes claimed, the mind has a totally separate existence from the body. Here again is the belief that the individual may survive the total destruction of the body. The self or mind does not need a body: it has its own existence, which may even precede that of the body. This is the immortal soul of religious belief.

A third alternative view is that the 'self' or mind is simply the functioning of the brain. This is exemplified in the following quote from The Amazing Hypothesis by Francis Crick.

“You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” (My italics).

This is extreme reductionism. One could equally well claim that your nerve cells are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of electrons, neutrons and protons, or even further of quarks, strings or twists in the space-time field. Thus reducing neuroscience to physics. It is impossible to disagree about the dependence of the mind on the physical brain.


The problem of Mind and Brain, essentially the same as the problem of Spirit or Soul, and Body, has teased philosophers and scientists for centuries. What is the conscious mind? Is it simply something that accompanies the functioning of the brain like the noise of a machine working, the smoke from a fire, the buzz of a beehive? Does it on the contrary, have some controlling or interactive function serving a purpose that could not be equally well carried out by automatic unconscious responses? Could we not just as well be 'sleepwalkers' on autopilot as are some of the most successful forms of life like ants, or bacteria? If the human body is seen as a 'colony' of living cells, each living individual cell behaves just as blindly automatically as ants in a nest. Yet this is where the likeness ends. The human 'colony' has a less rigid pattern of behaviour. Its strength is in its adaptability to changing novel situations and future possibilities, rather than in consistent instant response.

Unlike other animals, in its primitive state the human lacks power, natural weapons, armour, or speed, for defence or feeding. This puny organism could only survive through its ability to outwit its predators or food sources. This could be achieved only by foreseeing developing situations and adapting successfully to changing circumstances to which no inbuilt or conditioned response existed at the time. Inbuilt 'instinctive' behaviour or blind learning, though faster than conscious action, is insufficient. Human survival has depended on the development of the slower conscious action capable of connecting the past with images of the possible future.

Alternative Beliefs About The Mind-body Relationship.

To many people it se However, there is always a hierarchy of explanations at different levels. For instance, knowing all about the construction and functioning of the systems that make up a Jumbo jet tells you very little about the necessary flying skills of the pilot. Finding the appropriate level of description is the first step to understanding.

The view which I will present here is that the conscious mind is a product of brain functioning and will vanish when the brain ceases to operate. Nevertheless the mind can be considered in some meaningful way to exist and to perform by interacting with the brain. The conscious mind, is seen here as the 'emergent' or 'ensemble' property of the physically complex brain in action. I will give evidence that this emergent product can and does, influence its underlying physical base, the brain.

An emergent phenomenon is observed when some quality appears which is not simply the sum of all the constituent parts underlying it. Eg. A painting is something more than the total sum of all the pigments that go to make it up. The properties of the metal iron are the emergent properties of iron atoms which individually have none of the characteristics of iron metal.

A painting might for instance, have an emotional effect on a viewer which could not be attributed to the mass of pigment alone. See page 4.

The main points of my argument are as follows.

Analogue Simulator.

The conscious mind functions as an analogue simulator. Through this we can simulate actions and situations mentally, thus seeing the probable results of our actions without suffering the possibly undesired consequences of real-life action. This has such obvious survival advantages for the puny human animal that it is reasonable to expect that it might be selected by evolutionary pressure. The important point here is that we have two information handling systems: the mind is slow future related analogue, while the brain is fast present related digital.

Brain functioning is a DIGITAL (symbolic, non-representational) process.

The brain consists of a vast number of complexly interconnected neurons. In essence brain functioning depends on the firing of neurons. A neurons can fire, or not fire. There is no in-between state. There may be different rates of firing, different threshold of firing, different chemicals may facilitate or inhibit the firing, but in the end the neuron fires or does not. Thus the action is digital.

Large arrays of firing neurons may represent analogue images possibly in a way similar to holographic storage. In holographic storage the images stored do not exist as images within the store but as interference patterns which are capable of generating the image. Sense organs convert incoming analogue information to digital form to transmit it along nerves to the brain. Eg. The picture impinging on the retina is an analogue of the view. The retina breaks up the 'view' into the firing of neurons. The brain stores information in this digital form. Mental images are ANALOGUES. That is, they represent their referent by in some way resembling what they represent in space and time.

Note. The term 'mental images' as I use it is not restricted to (iconic*) images based on vision but includes both sensory and motor (enactive*) images and combinations of these. That is, sensory input images, of smell, taste, touch, hearing, vision and images of bodily movement, position, muscular stresses etc. (*Using J. Bruner's terms.)

These mental images are most usually not 'specific' in that they relate to a single sensory experience, but are 'generalised' over many similar yet different experiences. (See later, concept forming for explanation of this.) These images are thus removed from the concrete, are 'abstract' or as I shall call them later 'fuzzy'. Mental images have underlying neural correlates - digital storage - which generate the analogue images This regeneration is presumably by some sort of reversal of the process which generated the digital store from the original 'incoming' analogue image.

Different Advantages.

Analogue and digital representations or storage have different advantages. Having two systems running 'alongside' gives the best of both worlds and additionally the advantage of redundancy. Where one fails the other may cope, as in blindsight. (A rare condition where people who cannot see consciously are able to act to some degree on incoming visual information.) Digital representation, storage and processing is fast, economical and resistant to corruption. Analogue images, are more flexible and 'user friendly' in that they represent the world as it is dimensionally and qualitatively (as we see it). Conscious operations involving images are slower than digital. In essence an image must have some persistence in time, whereas the unconscious response can be almost instant. (I understand that some sports coaches urge their trainees not to concentrate consciously on the ball, but just to hit it intuitively . It is faster.)

Mental images influence brain functioning.

Mental influence acts through this system of abstract, 'fuzzy' analogue images each having an underlying neural base. That is, mental manipulation of these images results in physical changes in the brain, as shown below*.


Input sensory images appear to be accurate, but are in fact a matter of perception rather than simple reception. That is, we only 'see' things in relation to our past experience. We are not conscious of a pure input. Input plus and/or minus our past experience and present state, combines to give perception. Perception thus depends on 'comparing' input images with previously stored sensory based images and thus 'making sense' of the input by some sort of combination to form a new image.


All learning involves some form of contiguity. That is, virtually all animals, including humans, learn that things that occur together dimensionally (in time and space) are somehow related. The occurrence of one will then call up the image of, the memory of, or response to, the other.

A sensory experience of any kind A repeatedly occurring with some other experience (B) can 'stand for' or call up images of that (B) experience. (A) 'reminds' of (B). Thus, something which in itself has no significance, such as a number or a word can become associated with an image and be used to recall this image. Without the image to recall, the symbol is meaningless.

Recalled mental images are generally 'abstract' or 'fuzzy' not 'photographic'. If you imagine or recall some image it is not totally detailed. This seems to be the inevitable result of storing many different but similar inputs as 'the same'. (Eg. If you store many somewhat different objects as 'tree'. You will not have a rigid mental image of a single tree but a vague generalised or abstract image.) This results from the concept forming process which will be described later. This 'fuzziness' conveys advantages, as will be shown, including avoiding hallucination, allowing us to distinguish between the real world and our imagination or memory.


Thus it is reasonable to suppose that as with 'real images', a recalled image may be placed in mental contiguity with another recalled image, to produce simulated experiences. This is the basis of conscious mental activity, of thinking and of problem solving. For instance, it is possible to imagine something which you have never experience. One could imagine a hippopotamus riding a bike, or a flying pig. You will have constructed this image from previously experienced images. If you spend some time considering it (repeated contiguity of images) you will be able to remember this simulated mental experience some time later. Here a purely mental activity has produced a long term memory. A long term memory involves a physical change in the brain. Thus a purely mental activity has produced a physical change just as would have a real experience.

The self.

Why do I feel that I am an entity that can control what I do. Why do I experience sensations like red, blue, hot, cold, pain, pleasure, fear, etc. What am I.? I will attempt to show that the 'I' is itself a multi-sensory concept-type fuzzy image based on sensory experience. I am my past experience. Whenever I imagine or experience a situation or incident, I experience it in relation to my self image. It is evolutionarily important to be able to distinguish differences in the environment. Sensations that I experience (qualia) are simply the only ways of distinguishing between different types of incoming information.

Quantity, Structure And Emergent Properties.

A house is more than simply a number of bricks. A painting is more than a collection of pigment on a surface. One could plot all the pixels on a television screen, but the picture is something different. The house or the picture you see is often referred to as an emergent quality, that is, something that is more than just the sum of the contributing parts. George Johnson 3 calls these ensemble properties. As he points out, a single molecule of water cannot have the quality of gas, liquid, or solid. Yet several million such molecules, because of their interaction, must have the properties of either, solid, liquid, or gas. 'Wetness' is the quality that we recognise as the property of water. Yet a single molecule of water is not wet. This perceivable quality is not simply a multiplication of the molecule's properties as is the weight or mass of the water. In these examples (a house, a picture or water) in addition to quantity, there is pattern, interaction, or structure leading to some ensemble property. Provided that there is pattern interaction or structure, the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts. The greater the number involved in the pattern, the greater the change from a collection of meaningless units to some unified emergent quality, or gestalt. There is nothing 'spiritual' or mysterious about emergent qualities. These qualities are in fact the additional information inherent in the structure and interaction in space and time, of the contributing parts. Certain information describes the single water molecule. Additional information describes emergent quality of wetness with liquid water. Equally, in the case of a particular 'four letter genetic code' the separate units have no life, but when interacting together in appropriate pattern their 'emergent quality' is no less than life itself. If one believes that 'life' exists, then one must acknowledge that 'mind' may exist. Both are emergent properties based on some dynamic physical pattern. The same is true of me, of my conscious mind. We, our selves , are the emergent properties of a human body/brain.

The human brain is estimated to contain something like 1012 (1,000,000,000,000.) nerve cells (neurons). Processing, long or short term pattern building, takes place at the synapses, the junctions between neurons. A typical neuron may have between 1000 and 2000 synapses. This means something like 1015 (1,000,000,000,000,000) units are available to take part in any pattern or process of interaction. This number has been likened to ten times number of stars in our galaxy. It seems uncontroversial that a structure of this complexity (compared with the four letter genetic code of life) will have some emergent effect. This is what we call mind, or consciousness.

Emergent Feedback.

While it is being worked on by the painter, an emerging picture exerts a 'force' back onto the painter, in the sense that the painter looks at the painting to decide what to do next. It may be that the painter does not really know what (s)he is going to paint until the picture begins to grow. The same is true of the house being built. Feedback information from the partial structure informs the builder what to do next. Authors sometimes experience a similar phenomenon when a character in a story seems to begin to write itself. The character 'comes alive' and the writer 'discovers' how the fictitious person reacts. The emergent properties of the picture, building or story here feed back onto the physical information-carrying pigment on surface, ink on paper, brick on brick. Such feedback effects are only present during the interactive, changing, time generating , phase of production. When change ceases, so does the interactive feedback. Similarly the feedback, the interactive function of the emergent mind is a function of the active brain. When the brain ceases activity the mind no longer exists. Thus the mind is a process not an object. It will not be found by dissecting deeper into neurons, or even into microtubules, any more than dissecting a knee will reveal 'running'. The mind is it seems, an analogue feedback mechanism functioning at a higher level than the simple automatic feedback of the nervous system. This mechanism is capable of generating simulated feedback on the basis of past experience to predict future outcomes

Unconscious action.

There is a great deal of evidence that we can perform adequately much of the time without being conscious of our action. Who but a learner driver actually considers the process of changing gear in a car? Many of our complex activities go on without our awareness. Who is aware of the process by which they select words to build a sentence in normal conversation? Skilled keyboard operators perform quite automatically, not being conscious of how they decide which finger is to go where. Most skills are like this once acquired. In fact the whole process of learning new skills seems to be directed at making them proceed unconsciously once started by conscious decision. However this unconscious action seems to be under the general control of conscious decisions. We say 'I think I'll go for a walk'. And we get up and do it. Our legs start to move on our command, before 'going on autopilot' for much of the walk. The physical body certainly appears to be controlled largely by the mind, at least when we wish it to be, or in novel situations. But why should I wish to go for a walk? Perhaps I am planning to go on a walking holiday next month and I feel I need a little training. Surely this must imply that I have some image of myself as existing in time. This is likely to be based on images of myself existing in the past. From experience I have found that the future very soon becomes the past. Today is yesterday's tomorrow. Thus it is possible to 'project these images into the future'. Is this no more than the firing of neurons as Crick claims? Can individual neurons plan ahead? We retain our primitive responses. If I touch a hot object I withdraw my hand, automatically, before I know it. But if I am determined enough, a mental state surely, I can over-ride this automatic response, despite still feeling the pain. Our mental activity gives us another dimension of response and control over and above our mechanical response. We are more adaptable, less rigidly programmed. This is a vital gain in terms of the survival of a puny soft bodied, badly armoured, slow moving, virtually unarmed, human animal. The power of the mind in controlling physico-chemical systems of the body is greater than most would expect. We appear able to think ourselves into illness, or to cure ourselves of many physical symptoms by mental action. Research shows that mental attitudes influence the immune system, at least as much as the other way round. Measurable changes in the immune system can be produced by our moods, anxiety, depression, and even by Pavlovian conditioning. As P Martin4 says, 'There is little doubt that the mind can and does alter immunity.' Hypnosis can alter perception sufficiently in some cases to allow amputations without perceived pain. In all probability the well known placebo effect and much 'alternative medicine' (and perhaps some conventional medicine) works similarly. In certain situations extreme concentration on other things allows us not to perceive severe pain, the physical basis of which is certainly being transmitted through neurons at the time. One seldom feels the pain in an injury until the immediate emergency is perceived as past. Millions of years of evolution have produced the human brain. Each 'stage' has conferred some extra survival value on the latest variation. Consciousness is one of these developments. This evolved property is very 'expensive' in terms of energy and resource requirements in the brain. 20% of our total energy is used in brain functioning. Considering the evolutionary investment in these emergent properties of the brain, it is almost unthinkable that they convey no real advantage, that they do nothing. If our mental images cannot influence 'back' onto the neurons, what could their function be? Is it reasonable to think we are being totally fooled? Are the images that we have simply for our entertainment? All cybernetic, self-directing, devices, including living things, depend on feedback from their actions. The simplest devices take their feedback direct from the environment through whatever sensory receptors they possess. There is no need for consciousness here, automatic response as with a thermostat or auto pilot serves well. This is true of humans in the case of basic homeostatic responses. However, we also posses an internal abstract analogue model of the world: a virtual world. The function of this seems to be to provide another level of feedback about the environment. Activities which would be dangerous, or for some other reason not a good idea to try in reality can be tried out in simulation in our mind. This has many obvious advantages in speed, economy, safety, and in particular, capacity to plan ahead. This capability has bestowed on our mental development the biological advantage which has driven its growth through natural selection. Organisms that could simulate a problem mentally, think it through, construct a probable future, lived longer and had more offspring than those who had to pay the, possibly deadly, price of real trials. Further advantage may come from manipulation of these mental models, in bringing together unrelated concepts (with difficulty because of their unrelatedness) perhaps to some extent randomly, producing creative response.

Qualia and reality.

We are familiar with sensory information that represents its referent by resembling it in say, direction, shape, depth, movement, colour, volume, note, intensity, etc. That is, representation by analogue images of the world. We are conscious of 'hearing' a sound, 'seeing' a picture 'feeling ' an action. These images are captured initially by sense organs which have evolved to detect such differences in the environment. The alleged mystery of qualia is, somewhat reduced when we realise that they are the only means available to the brain to represent factors that exist outside us, in such a way as to enable simulated manipulation of the environment in order to predict outcomes of real action, safely. Why do some things 'feel' different to other things? A bee can discriminate between blue and green just as I can. We do not know what a bee feels about the difference. Possibly it is as little as Blue = food, approach. Green = no food, avoid. The response is similar perhaps to a blind unconscious salivation response in a hungry human who smells food. To the bee, colour is perhaps a very specific food clue. Bee's activities are very limited and specific to certain behaviours. The bee is a specialist. Our strength is in being flexible. It is impossible to tell what we might need the colour discrimination for. It may be useful in many different situations. Hence it cannot be linked directly to a specific action response. Thus either we can be unaware of it, or it must be linked to some 'internal response'. The most primitive internal responses are emotions. We can feel fear or anger, attraction or repulsion as a response. These are too specific, too directional, to allow flexible creative response. We need some, more neutral, sensation, ie. Some other kind of 'feeling', which is different for blue and for green but not directly connected to instant action. If we do not have this difference in colour sensation, we are 'colour blind'. Because there are a multitude of differences in our environment, sensitivity to which we have acquired during our evolutionary history, which at some time may have been useful, or may be so in the future, we have a multitude of different feelings. These are our so called qualia. There is nothing special about these, no mystery, they are simply distinguishing sensations, internal representations of the external. We must feel some difference if we are to distinguish between characteristics of the environment which may be useful for flexible response. There are many environmental differences to which we have never acquired discriminating sensations (qualia). For instance, we are insensitive to the difference between ultra violet and X ray, very low frequency sounds, radio waves. Strangely, we seem incapable of distinguishing oxygen from CO2 through our external senses. In normal action here we rely solely on the totally reliable and constant physical process of diffusion down a concentration gradient between lungs and blood. Should we ever suffer excess of carbon dioxide in the blood there are no qualia to make us conscious of it, an irresistible automatic reaction takes over. These facts indicates that the most important discriminations necessary for life are too important to leave to consciousness. Our responses to external stimuli have gone further than simple automatic 'twitch' reactions to a specific stimulus. We respond to pattern recognition. These patterns are analogue images consisting of mosaics of different sensations. Even with feelings as strong as fear or pain we are able to asses the analogue of the situation and construct a plan for avoidance which may be totally at odds with the initial response tendency. There is nothing to say that the feeling I have when seeing blue is anything like the feeling anybody else has. Though the fact that some people like blue and others dislike it, must mean that their perception of this experience is in some way different. The important thing is, that our possibly different sensations, our individual qualia, represent the same external reality. This allows us to agree on what is out there. Our recognition of a familiar face is simply the matching of a pattern of real external stimuli with a previously stored analogue image. Whatever we actually perceive personally, we all agree that it is a face. Nicholas Humphrey(5) suggests that consciousness depends on us having some sort of 'inner eye' by which we can '… see… (our) … own brain states … ' Here, he claims, every perception would be accompanied by a sensation, every emotion by a feeling. I would argue that seeing our brain states would add nothing, for they would not be analogues of the outside world but rather physico-chemical changes. Further, I would say that every perception is a sensation and every emotion is a feeling. There is no separation. We are not looking in on ourselves when conscious. We are interacting with the real world, superimposing or merging those incoming sensations with recalled fuzzy models of our past experience.

Digital to analogue

Digital information is more economic in storage and resistant to corruption than is analogue information. Digital information is then the optimal way for long term compact storage and protection of information. (For instance, the whole of the information in our genes is in this extremely stable digital form.) To facilitate the same type of stable storage of experence, sense organs convert analogue information inputs into digital information for the brain. Information processing in the brain is digital. Neurons fire or do not fire. Digital information is thus in terms of a quantity, retrieved in a temporal stream. Analogue information is qualitative, having multiple qualitative, spatial, and temporal characteristics. By way of an analogy: a television screen receives digital information in a temporal stream. Each spot on the screen is either illuminated or dark. However, the dots themselves continue to glow for some while after the illumination. That is, the screen has a 'short term memory' which slows down and 'smears' the digital information into an analogue image. In a similar way perhaps the fast digital information of the brain, ideal for the 'proximate twitch' of the instant unconscious fixed response, can be smeared into slow conscious analogue images held by the short term or working memory. Thus digital brain functioning is the neural correlate of analogue sensory information. We' hear' sounds, 'see' pictures consciously in analogue form. When we think, we recall images in this analogue form, not in pulses. These analogues are presumably vague echoes of the inputs that set up the digital store. People with blindsight can locate objects though they insist that they cannot see them. They appear to have the digital store, but seem unable to reconstruct the images.

Advantages of analogue.

Because of the direct representational nature of analogue information it is more useful for guidance than is digital information. This is especially true for unpredicted or creative actions and non-algorithmic problem solving. For instance a map, an analogue, is more useful than a set of digital directions. Make one mistake in following a set of digital directions and all the following moves are also wrong. If you take the third turning on the right instead of the second on the left you are in trouble. With the analogue, the map, one can wander around, compensate for errors, find new routes, explore. This is especially useful if you decide to change your destination or waypoints. The map is more useful in a creative way when you wish to explore or try out variations. For instance, with the map one could say let us try to cut across diagonally to our destination. Conscious manipulation of analogue images is a way of producing novel responses deliberately in problem solving and in guiding future action. This is the type of conscious thinking in which humans out-perform other animals.

Motor skills.

Skills like skiing, riding a bicycle, driving, working materials, are often seen as very different from images. Yet consider the set of skills involved in learning to driving a car. At first they are very difficult and conscious. Gradually they become easier and finally run totally unconsciously. No driving instructor can represent these skills in words. Initially these skills are specific to one car. But as with the generalisation of a concept, the more different cars that one drives, the more generalised the skills become. Eventually one can get into almost any car-like machine and drive it. This sort of skill structure surely depends on 'fuzzy' images. It is very transferable and due to its digital representation in storage, resistant to erosion by time. As they say, you never forget how once you have learned to ride a bike. I had a chance to test this recently when I took off and landed a light aircraft, four times, successfully. This was 49 years after I had last done so. This despite the vast difference in the type of aircraft I flew half a century ago! (Though 'rusty' I coped.) Further, as an ex engineering fitter, of more than half a century ago, I also have lingering 'skill' type images of materials that I have worked. I know the feel of cutting, or filing say, brass or cast iron or mild steel (they are different.) so that I know in advance of contact, how to approach each one of them with the tool. It would however, be completely impossible for me to describe any of these skills in words. However, not being able to describe them verbally does not mean that they are any more not part of consciousness than the nondescribable sensation of seeing a colour. In fact to say to another person skilled in this area, “This material cuts like cast iron” would comunicate just as clearly and consciously as saying “This object is green”. All these wordless skills, of driving, skiing, flying, working materials, are ways of thinking (manipulating abstracted, fuzzy, sensory images) that form a rich part of my consciousness, they are very much human. Other animals do not do these things.

How do we store these images?

Some sort of 'superimposition' of images is probably a main aspect of location and storage of new incoming analogue information in relation to what is pre-existing. This would highlight the redundancy in the new and the 'outdated' nature of aspects of the earlier. Superimposition of some kind seems the likely process leading to the formation of concepts. A recent report described holographic storage and retrieval of 'gigabytes of' image, in a cube the size of a sugar cube'. These patterns can overlap in a solid holographic store, to be read from slightly different angles by small angular rotation of the reading beam. It is possible using this rotation, for an image to 'find' and 'call out' another pre-stored similar image. This seems to mimic some mental activities. Clearly, we perceive the world in sensory images. Information comes into us is in the form of an analogue of the world that we are looking at. The sense organs digitalise this for storage in the brain. Equally, we can recall stored digital information that is 'slowed and smeared' in some short term persistence of vision into an analogue image. Superimposition, or merging of the recalled image with the incoming image, leads to a completely new image, this is perception. When we perceive, we recognise, or recognise the differences from our previous experience. The important point here is that the new perceived image totally replaces the incoming image. We do not see the world as it is at all. We see (perceive) only in relation to our previous experience. Individuals and groups brought up in a particularly narrow ideology find it virtually impossible to see it from the other side. A very similar perceptual process may take place when two or more pieces of apparently unrelated information are brought up into consciousness and merged. This is where sudden insight can occur (the aha! feeling) as two previously separated areas of knowledge merge to produce new understanding and creative thinking. This merging may occur in dreaming where unrelated ideas combine to produce a breakthrough in thinking. For instance. It is reported ( Kekule's dream P.118 in Koestler.8) that in 1865, Kekule a professor of chemistry at Gent University, was unable to envisage the structure of the benzine molecule. One night he dreamed that a serpent turned round and put it's tail in its mouth. He immediately recognised that the molecular structure that had deluded him was a in fact circle. The benzine molecule has a circular structure. This was in direct opposition to his fixed expectations for such an organic molecule.

Facts need to be kept in separate compartments, uncontaminated. Generalisations need to be mixed up, overlapped, made 'fuzzy' as in concept forming. Further, it seems that people differ in their habitual position on the continuum between specific and fuzzy thinking. Those that are good at remembering details and disconnected data are often less good at creative thinking. The contrast between the astounding memory for specific detail of certain savants (How M J 9) and the legendary forgetful, scatty, creative thinking inventor, is not without some truth. I have noticed that students who rely strongly on memory, trying to memorise the words of the text book, seem to understand less than those who go for general ideas.

Symbol systems

In addition to sensory based images, humans have developed symbolic systems of words, numbers and other symbols. Symbols represent without necessarily resembling their referent and thus are not analogues. Symbols are arrived at by social agreement. Symbols can call up concrete or abstract entities. The symbols are 'names' of the concepts and images with which they have been associated by contiguity and can thus 'call up'. Language is such a symbol system. Symbols can be used in this way to stimulate thinking. Deliberately putting together words in unusual ways, verbal mind set breaking as in Synectics (Gordon W 1961 10), is a way of bringing together images normally kept separate, in order to stimulate creative results. Thus we can put together concepts to create things that do not yet exist like `man on Mars'. The words here, symbols acting as 'handles' to pull up the images or concepts, making such ideas possible or communicating them to others. The main function of such symbols as words is in this calling up meaningful analogues. Symbols can be used to skip over intermediate images in a reasoning process. For instance, a long mathematical process may 'short cut' the use of intermediary images, working totally in abstract symbols. I think of this as tunnelling under the real world . However, at the end of the tunnel the 'solution' needs be translated back to some conceptual image to make sense in the real world - a problem suffered by quantum mechanics! Recalling digital memories converted to analogue images and merging these, leads to new analogue images. These are then stored digitally just like incoming 'real' (perceived) images would be. The fuzziness of the recalled images makes them more flexible in merging with other images. To manipulate these images is to manipulate their correlates.

This is the only way we can influence neural activity consciously.

Philosophy | Science in Society

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