What Is Mind ?

Sender: Renato M.E. Sabbatini, PhD Subject: What is Mind ?

New "concepts" about mind sprout everywhere and how often as anyone wishes. However, in the view of modern science, if they are not based on scientifically verifiable facts, they are just that: concepts, with no firm grounding whatever. So, they are not necessarily true.

The possibility that collective minds may exist outside the individual mind is not new, and is, in fact, a new form of the old dualism, an extension of the fallacy of vitalism, already proven over and over to be false. Autopoiesis does exist, and Maturana's statement that life is a process instead of a set of fixed states has been largely documented by science. But this doesn't mean that it has a "cognition about the universe". Living beings' information about the environment where they live is embedded into DNA's genetic codes, and it would be too far reaching to call this "knowledge about the universe". Information is not the same thing as knowledge, because a brain is required to interpret and manipulate information using logic, in order to transform it into knowledge. Even more unwarranted is the use of the term "cognition", which is also a property of the brain. Information in the living cell is expressed by means of automatic molecular mechanisms, embedded into chromosomes. The restricted set of environments where the organism and its forebearers have lived in the past is not the "universe", either. The undeniable fact that all individual bacteria of the same species share the same set of genetic information should not be "interpreted" as a kind of collective knowledge. It simply arises as the consequence of genetic molecular mechanisms and cellular reproduction. Cognition and knowledge would require connection, cooperation, computation among the individual units, as it happens with neurons in the brain. They may exist in restricted forms, and we may even observe emergent, collective properties, such as the famed "antfarm's intelligence". But it would be too weird to call it a "mind". Please give it another name, so as not to confound it with the real mind, the product of brain's activities.

Bateson, Prygogine and Capra belong to a batch of physicists who have dealt with particle physics, and then metaphysics in the past, and are now proposing new "theories" of conscience, which make a questionable mix of good physics with Eastern misticism (you failed to mention Roger Penrose's strange theories of conscience, based on quantum physics). My personal opinion is that they should leave theories of the mind to biologists and psychologists, and that their proposals are nothing more than wishful thinking, not based on any known scientific facts.

Renato M.E. Sabbatini, PhD Director, Center for Biomedical Informatics, Campinas, Sao Paulo, Brazil

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