Issues in Biology
the mind-body problem is really to ask about the origin of consciousness.
Before plunging right into the topic and explain consciousness,
it might be worthwhile to look at where consciousness is not supposed
to be. For this we have to take a step back from our anthropocentric
believe that human consciousness is the most evolved one. Therefore
our approach to consciousness should go somehow like the following.
It would be ignorant to say that animals have no consciousness,
though we agree that plants and microorganisms do not have consciousness
due to a lack of a nervous system. It would further be ignorant
to assume that animal consciousness is 'all the same' and equal
to that of humans. Furthermore, as I am not walking into a tree,
but choose to walk around it so as not to hurt myself, or simply
because I know that a tree would never step aside for me to continue
on my path, a bird does not fly into a tree, but chooses to fly
around it, so as not to hurt itself, or because it must know
that the tree will never move away. The choice to avoid bumping
into a tree by both man and bird are due to awareness or what we
could call consciousness. It would be presumptuous to call the human's
choice conscious, and the bird's choice instinctive, a mere reflex.
The question that begs to be answered is of course not the one about
bumping into trees, but if birds have philosophical thoughts, in
other words, memory, history, and culture. It is this kind of higher
consciousness which is addressed by the mind-body problem (and which
we attribute to the conditio humana or man's second Nature),
and not the instinctive behavior of animals, the reactions of plants
to sunlight and humidity, or the swimming behavior of bacteria towards
a source of nutrients. We don't associate with metabolic activities
of organs other than the brain
any kind of consciousness or awareness. We do not think with our
liver or biceps, but our brain. So what makes the neuronal metabolism
special? The most often heard answer is that about complexity. The
complexity of the brain's structure and chemical composition, that
somehow this complexity creates a new category of functional properties.
This complexity enables us to think and dream, calculate and talk,
see and draw. Sensory input is as important an element in this model
as moto-neuronal control (the brain controlling leg muscles after
seeing a tree). But again, these are basic tasks that most animals
can handle too. What we are most in awe of about our selves as humans,
and this is how we would like to distinguish us from animals, is
our ability to think, exercise free will, accept morality, and to
be creative. As it turns out, there are currently neither biological
nor physico-chemical answers to what consciousness is, how the mind
is created by the body's brain (assuming it is a property of the
brain and no non-biological entity). Every scientific expert in
consciousness research has his or her own favorite explanation.
Theories are abundant, experimental evidence scarce.
about research on the brain!
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Copyright © 2000-2003 Lukas K. Buehler