KARL JASPERS FORUM
TAs 102-104 (Vimal)
Commentary 4 (to R4)
SUBJECTS AND BRAINS
by Herbert FJ Müller
27 January 2008, posted 2 February 2008
In the following I will first comment on some of the points in your R4.
Re  : I will add links to newer versions of your paper in the web site; the previous ones will be still available for review which is desirable since there have already been commentaries.
Re  : in case you are not familiar with vonGlasersfeld’s work, you might profit from reading his outline in TA17. - You ask ‘how we can say that physics is MIR’ : the MIR-view is a very common but erroneous opinion in doing science. For instance there is no reason to assume that as you write ‘physical laws are third person science’. To eliminate observer-bias is important but that does not mean eliminating observers, thus it does not result in third-person or subject-free science. All experience including science is subject-inclusive, and subject-exclusive objectivity can only be a shortcut and makeshift procedure.
Re  : You write : ‘we are objects for other subjects ...’ This needs qualification. Nobody’s subjective ongoing experience can become an object for anyone including for oneself. One can see other people as objects, for instance their bodies, their structured selves, personalities, their ideas, their behavioral ‘products’, but not the center of structuring activity, which is not structured. That is not restricted to humans, as you write, and animals have to structure their own world from no structure, including amoebae (cf. Jacob vonUexküll). If that is what you mean by proto-experience it quite agrees with my view.
Re  : Summaries and lists of Jaspers’ work are available on the internet : Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, and other sources. The important publications are surely available at Harvard.
Re  : ‘mind and matter are not independent, rather they are the two aspects of the same entity’ : as I mentioned earlier, the mind is the encompassing matrix of concepts including matter. Thus I agree that they are certainly not independent, but neither are they two aspects of one entity. Matter is a structure that crystallizes within mind.
Re  : ‘SEs are neural activities’ : I disagree; this is neuro-mythology. Neural activity is a concept within mind. See below.
In this second part I comment on another aspect of your proposal : you seem to share the notion of the ‘hard problem’ with David Chalmers. The following quote from my TA45 addresses this point :
THE PROBLEM WITH THE MIND-BRAIN PROBLEM
Our work in psychiatry always involves both sides of the mind-body divide. But despite much effort to clarify the nature of the relation between mind and body, this question is still a riddle. Why would this be so ? In the following I will make a number of suggestions - all of them to be regarded as working hypotheses, and subject to discussion - how one can try to deal with this difficulty.
It is becoming clear that one central unresolved question in understanding the mind-brain relationship is not of experimental type but stems from difficulties in the use of concepts. And since everybody uses concepts, this is a problem not only for linguists and philosophers, but also for us clinicians and biologists, among others. For clinical and experimental questions in this field to be seen in a meaningful overall context, the conceptual ones have to be addressed as well.
In particular, the widely used assumption of a primary subject-object split produces several difficulties, such as a loss of unity of experience, static ontology ("is-ness") and, most importantly for our present discussion, the problem of the mind-brain relation. These will be discussed in the following.
The mind-brain (or mind-body) problem has been repeatedly formulated. The earliest statement I am aware of is by St. Augustine, who wrote : "… modus, quo corporibus adhaerent spiritus et animalia fiunt, omnino mirus est, nec comprehendi ab homine potest, et hoc ipse homo est." Sixteen hundred years later, we have a much quoted opinion by David Chalmers : "The hard problem ... is the question of how physical processes in the brain give rise to subjective experience."
Comparing the two formulations, one can note a difference : Augustinus wrote that humans cannot understand this "miraculous" relationship at all, while Chalmers called it a "hard problem", which may suggest that investment of enough time and money will eventually make the difficulty disappear. It is thus better to quote Chalmers than Augustinus in grant applications; for the time being though I will side with the earlier author. - But there is a similarity as well : neither one asks whether or not the mind is actually connected to the body, only in what way. Without stating so - and possibly without being aware of it - they both imply that mind and body are primarily separated (in St. Augustine's case long before Descartes), and that this separation would then have to be overcome in a second step.
I want to suggest that the mind-brain problem cannot be solved so long as, due to a mistaken implicit premise, one asks the wrong question. To support this claim, a re-consideration of some concept functions is required. ”
I would be interested in your opinion on TA45 and its modified more recent version in
Here I will only add the conclusion of the latter paper :
“ 9. Conclusion: Brain in mind
The mind does not emerge from the brain, because it encompasses (knowledge of) the brain. Everything we know of the brain originates and remains in undivided subjective individual and collective mind-and-nature-and-all experience. And so does everything else we know: feelings, self, nature, others, religion.
There is no brain-in-itself. When we talk of “the brain” we mean our knowledge of brain structure and function (which originates and stays inside encompassing subject-inclusive mind-and-nature experience). Thus the brain is in the mind, the mind (individual and collective subjective experience) cannot be explained or understood in terms of brain function .
In an objective view, mental function (including SE) depends without question on brain function, and this objective dependency does not change in 0-D. But from here it neither follows that subjectivity can become objective (as implied in the formulations of Augustine and of many others), nor that it should be discarded (as some exclusive-objectivists propose). In each case objective thinking would attempt to remove its own starting basis: objectivity is a specialized instrument within encompassing SE, it is not the only (fundamental and universal) tool, nor can it be a mind-less one.
To ask how the mind (SE) can be found in a fictitious postulated primary ontological (i.e., mind-free) reality is a non-starter.
Phylogenetic and ontogenetic development of the human mind is a meaningful topic of objective studies (within primary SE) but cannot “explain” the encompassing aspect of SE. Self and nature become knowledge of self and knowledge of nature, by means of the qualities and structures we originate.
Examples of “right” questions are : How do self-structures and knowledge including brain science originate in experience, and how do they relate to each other? In which circumstances is it safe to use as-if-MIR tools in mind–brain studies, and when is it necessary to insist explicitly on phenomenology? How do brain events, development, education, social factors affect SE? How are events in SE reflected in brain function ? ”
Herbert FJ Müller
e-mail <herbert.muller (at) mcgill.ca>