Philosophy of Mind: Part 3, Brains and Minds, Parts and Wholes

By Frank Simons

The brain and mind seem to work in parallel: The brain is the physical understructure of the mind. That fact suggests a strategy for investigation. This lecture offers a historical view of things we have learned about minds and brains using that strategy.

Video Presentation
Meditation Center presents:
Philosophy of Mind: Part 3, Brains and Minds, Parts and Wholes
Thurs, Jun 22, 5:30pm
Meditation Center, Callejón Blanco 4
Free, donations accepted

The curious case of Phineas Gage, who had an iron rod blast through his head, leading to radical personality change, is used to explore the history of a basic question about mental faculties and the brain: Does the brain function as a thing of distinct parts or as a unified whole? Before the accident, Gage was “most efficient and capable.” Afterwards, he was described as fitful, irreverent, profane, impatient, and obstinate. Because Gage’s memory and linguistic abilities were intact, his case was used to support the holistic view of the brain. But his personality changes are used to support the localization theory, which is reconfirmed daily in CAT, PET and fMRIs. Is the mind one thing or many? In one picture, the mind is a thing of distinct parts or mental “faculties” located in different parts of the brain. Another picture is an image of the mind as a homogeneous whole.

Antonio Damasio’s patient Elliot suffered brain damage in the same area as Gage, and showed similar personality changes. Elliot tests well in intelligence and moral development. He has everything necessary for responsible action but the ability to put it into play. Elliot’s is a case of volitional dysfunction. He knows right from wrong but behaves as if he doesn’t. The most striking example of brain damage leading to aberrant behavior is Charles Whitman, who killed 17 people in the University of Texas tower shooting in 1966. He had a brain tumor.

Cases like those of Gage and Elliot and Whitman raise questions of morality. We will examine the issue of free will in a later lecture. Many philosophers agree that we do act freely. But do people with brain damage have free will? Imaging studies show a high incidence of frontal lobe abnormalities in our prison population, with clear links to violent crime. Do these facts about minds and brains have implications to answer the question of holistic versus localization?

The professor Patrick Grim, as Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, has provided his students with invaluable insights into issues of philosophy, artificial intelligence, theoretical biology, and other fields. Professor Grim was awarded the university’s Presidential and Chancellor’s awards for teaching excellence and was elected to the Academy of Teachers and Scholars.

There will be an opportunity for discussion following the video.

Presentations of the Center are offered without charge. Donations are gratefully accepted.

 

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