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I am seeking published discussions or arguments about this proposition, though some discussion here would be useful:

Science can prove or provide significant evidence that the brain is the source of the mind?

Note -- I am not asking about whether the brain is the source of the mind, just whether science can throw light on that question, though I can imagine that references on the latter will also discuss the former.

Pointers to discussions of larger issues would be useful, for example, this philosophy.stackexchange question -- What is the meaning of "There are questions that science can't answer"?) -- as long as they do cover this science/mind/brain issue. Usually those discussions are mostly about ethics.

I realize that the majority of people reading this probably accept or lean toward the underlying belief that the brain is the source of the mind, or at least the main source. There is even a survey: What do philosophers believe?, Bourget, D. & Chalmers, D.J. Philosophical Studies (2014) 170: 465. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-013-0259-7. The result on the underlying issue, posed in terms of physicalism are:

Mind: physicalism or non-physicalism?
   Physicalism: 56.5% (Accept (34.6%), Lean toward (21.9%))
   Non-physicalism: 27.1% (Accept (14.2%), Lean toward (12.9%))
   Other: 16.4% (The question is too unclear to answer (6.3%),  
      Agnostic/undecided (2.5%), Accept an intermediate view (2.4%))

But to what extent do you or philosophers believe (or disbelieve) physicalism because of evidence from science, or is it more from philosophical "evidence" and/or a metaphysical assumption, perhaps influenced by the prevailing scientific zeitgeist and/or the beliefs of most (neuro)scientists that the brain is indeed the source of the mind.


Addendum to address the "on hold".

Can science (by any reasonable definition -- or should I say "natural science"?) arbitrate between physicalism and non-physicalism, or is physicalism/non-physicalism a metaphysical assumption that science simply cannot address directly? By directly, I mean within the enterprise of science, using legitimate scientific methodology by pretty much any reasonable definition.

And even if science can't directly address physicalism, maybe the undeniable success of science in general, particularly physics, is in some sense inductive evidence for physicalism.

So there are philosophical issues there. I personally believe that science cannot provide any evidence in favor of physicalism by either of those routes or by any other that I can imagine (see below for the "against" prong). Maybe lots or even most philosophers agree, maybe not. But a lot of people think science can and does provide such evidence, and maybe even settles the question in favor of physicalism. Certainly a lot of scientists believe that, particularly neuroscientists.

That's the issue. I am looking, however, not just to elucidate it, but for published work along these lines, hence the "reference request" tag. I would like to be able to cite such work in some scholarship I am doing in a non-philosophical field, where just such statements are often made or implied -- for example, "Given current neuroscientific knowledge, it is plausible to believe that the brain is the source of the mind". I'd like to be able to say (and cite), perhaps, that philosophers generally agree that science cannot directly address such issues, or at least lay out the philosophical arguments for or against that capability for science.

BTW, there is another possibility here. It is pretty widely agreed that the search for biological correlates or explanations of consciousness has thus far barely gotten off the ground -- science is thus nowhere near understanding mind in the same way physics has made great strides in understanding matter or biology understanding life. Does that failure so far constitute inductive evidence against physicalism?

I think the issues around Chalmer's "hard problem", the work of McGinn and Nagel, etc are somewhat relevant here, though they mostly address the capabilities and limitations of philosophy, not science.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Geoffrey Thomas Mar 29 at 12:48
  • @christo183 I share your general opinion. But... Instead of thinking of it as a sort of Philosophical 'God of the gaps' approach, I prefer to imagine that good scientists keep an open mind about things we've yet to understand. It's how I struggle to operate anyway. – Richard Mar 29 at 13:00
  • First scientists would have to prove that there is such a thing as Mind. It's not easy to see how they could do this. – PeterJ Mar 30 at 13:05
  • @GeoffreyThomas -- Please consider for reopening, as I have added an addendum with clarification. Also please note the number of votes for the question as well as for the two answers with fruitful material. If thiis is all still insufficient, I would be grateful for specific critiques and suggestions. Regards. --David Lewis – David Lewis Apr 1 at 16:48
  • I don't have the time to write an elaborated answer unfortunately, but I'd suggest taking a Deleuzian approach - (neuro-)science can probe the brain and spark new data, which then can be examined and interpreted philosophically to back/refute/bring forth new philosophical theories. Science provides the data, while philosophy interpret it. But as it is a metaphysical question, it cannot have a definite answer, only approximations. – Yechiam Weiss Apr 2 at 18:38
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The mind is the faculty for consciousness and thought. Methodological naturalism, which is what science operates under, assumes no underlying supernatural or non-physical cause because this type of naturalism just goes by directly what can be observed. If we were to pose a hypothesis that there was non-physical interference as a cause or influence on the mind we would need to be able to show it through the scientific method to attribute any form of credence to the idea and then it would become a theory. Typically a hypothesis is formed based on prior, reliable, information about what we observe and this a problem for the non-physicalist hypothesis because the information being presented in its case has yet to be shown as reliable and scientific meaning we can't test for it. This isn't to say we can definitively, or beyond a shadow of a doubt, rule out such a hypothesis and say there is no such thing as non-physical things but, we can just assume beyond a reasonable doubt that the hypothesis is likely wrong. The physicalists perspective quite obviously works just fine in doing neuroscience research and it's relation to human consciousness so that we are able to theorize how consciousness and different percepts arise.

Different brain regions are theorized to be responsible for certain things because neuroscientists find consistencies in people with damage or structural differences in certain brain regions or we can, using deep brain stimulation, turn on and off certain areas of the brain. More recently we've developed fully maps of fly brains. We've developed maps of human brain regions and the brains connectome. What science has yet to have figured out is how exactly different brain regions give rise to consciousness. Maybe with further technological advancements and research, we might just figure it out one day.

The sources below should provide you with other answers for what you're looking for. The first is a book that encompasses most of the scientific literature on consciousness up through 2016 however, unfortunately, each article costs money to read. The second, third, and fourth provide an overview of the empirical perspective of consciousness. Five, six, seven, and eight are some of the latest research in finding what parts of the brain facilitates consciousness. Nine and ten addresses neuronal computation just in case you or anyone else is up for learning about that. Finally, I've added a link to Khan Academy Neurology as another learning resource.

  1. The Neurology of Conciousness
  2. The Source of Consciousness
  3. In which I argue that consciousness is a fundamental property of complex things
  4. Quality and Content: Essays on Consciousness, Representation, and Modality
  5. A Human Brain Network Derived From Coma-Causing Brainstem Lesions
  6. Human Consciousness Is Supported by Dynamic Complex Patterns of Brain Signal Coordination
  7. Electrical Stimulation of a Small Brain Area Reversibly Disrupts Consciousness
  8. Claustrum Wikipedia
  9. Biophysics of Computation: Information Processing in Single Neurons
  10. Neural Computation
  11. Khan Academy Neurology
  • Thanks! I worked through most of those, and they, and your answer, seem to be mostly trying to understand mind with science, with the explicit or implicit assumption that it is possible. I am seeking, however, philosophical treatments of whether such understanding is even possiible, conceivable, etc. Koch has said (in this one or somewhere) that the best theory he knows of, IIT, is still in its infancy. Given that science, by its nature, cannot predict its own future success, I'd call that an admission of a decidedly negative answer thus far. Refs along those lines are what I am seeking. – David Lewis Mar 29 at 18:04
  • @David Lewis I think the best we can currently do is just assess the likelihood of either of the two concepts based on either logical or subjective inferences of what we currently have observations of. I think both are still in the realm of possibility though until we can conclusively rule one out. You might be able to rule out some hypothesis’s of non-physicalism if they’re inconsistent with observations. But I’m glad I could be of some help. – user37181 Mar 29 at 20:26
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Here is the question:

But to what extent do you or philosophers believe (or disbelieve) physicalism because of evidence from science, or is it more from philosophical "evidence" and/or a metaphysical assumption, perhaps influenced by the prevailing scientific zeitgeist and/or the beliefs of most (neuro)scientists that the brain is indeed the source of the mind.

Dean Radin, a parapsychology researcher, provided a selected list

of peer-reviewed journal articles about psi (psychic) phenomena, most published in the 21st century. There are also some papers of historical interest and other resources. A comprehensive list of important articles and books would run into the thousands.

One could look at this as scientific evidence for non-physicalism, in particular, evidence that the brain is not the source of the mind. By the OP's assumption there also exists evidence for physicalism, that the brain is the source of the mind.

So based on evidence from science one could take either a physicalist or a non-physicalist view of the mind. That would suggest that the belief that the brain is the source of the mind is "a metaphysical assumption, perhaps influenced by the prevailing scientific zeitgeist and/or the beliefs of most (neuro)scientists".


"Selected Psi Research Publications" http://deanradin.com/evidence/evidence.htm

  • I like that @Frank -- thanks -- science can't arbitrate between physicalism and non-physicalism; it's a metaphysical assumption. Any published philosophy work along those lines? Maybe it's obvious (it is to me) but there are plenty of people who think science can say things about physicalism, mostly pro -- certainly a lot of scientists, ordinary folks, maybe even some philosophers. So it's a legit topic for philosophers. BTW, I think science might actually have something to say con -- if we spend huge efforts to understand mind by science and utterly fail -- that's inductive evidence IMHO. – David Lewis Mar 29 at 23:53
  • @DavidLewis Something that might be useful is Plantinga's Where the Conflict Really Lies. Plantinga claims the supposed conflict between religion and science is only shallow. The real conflict is with naturalism and science. Also for the zeitgeist you might consider how socionomics views social mood, a kind of zeitgeist, but with a spiral pattern so changes can be roughly predicted: socionomics.net/learn-about-socionomics It is more science than philosophy.The mood switches between positive and negative and moves in an overall progressive manner. – Frank Hubeny Mar 30 at 0:13
  • @FrankHubney -- Thanks. I skimmed that Plantinga piece, especially the synopsis. It's a very odd conclusion -- I thought your comment had a typo, substituting "naturalism" for "non-naturalism", but nope, that's what he says. And the argument is even odder. Finally he leans heavily on evolution and says little about brain/mind, so it doesn't really help me much, even if I accept it. – David Lewis Mar 30 at 22:05
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The best source I know for an objective but non-physicalist account of the whole issue is Bernardo Kastrum's recent book The Idea of the World (available in Kindle). Essentially, the mind is not the brain. Mental experience -- consciousness -- is not "generated" by physical processes and, indeed, by its very nature cannot be. Kastrum goes into great detail concerning the arguments that support this view, citing numerous recent experiments in neurophysiology in support of his own view. This is the impressive part. Kastrum is a self-described "analytic idealist" and so essentially presents cogent analytical arguments including neurophysiological experimental evidence (which the physicalist view seems mostly based on these days) to demonstrate that physicalism has a much higher epistomological "price tag" than idealism.

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