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Neuroscience has been criticized by some philosophers because the methods and inferences are suspicious of not being logic neither scientific, when relating the brain to the mind, therefore this discipline would not be scientific, at least in the way it has been applied.

It is commonly thought that neuroscience is an authentic understanding of the mind, with many people and institutions having invested a lot of capital on neuroscience research. Such investments may lead to the increased scarcity of research presenting critical or contradictory results within the discipline. Public and economic interests withstanding, it is possible for an (yet unknown) proportion of neuroscience research to be susceptible to confirmation bias, which does not mean the results aren't informative, but instead do not support hypotheses implicitly predicated on the mind-body problem-- i.e., they do not glean insight about brain function.

Critique of Zavala, Cervantes, Franco, and Herrera[edit | edit source]

Nydia Lara Zavala, Francisco Cervantes Pérez, Arturo Franco Muñoz, and Alejandro Herrera, criticize neuroscience in the article «Doctrinas filosófias, procesos mentales y observaciones empíricas» (“Philosophical doctrines, mental processes, and empirical observations”),[1] where they analyse some researches that try to explain perception, with the study of the registries of the activity of neurons.

Their main critiques are against the eclecticism and the methodological aberration of the researches. They blame that to justify their researches and to obtain their conclusions, many contrary philosophical theories are mixed, perhaps unintentionally; in example, the theory of identity between mind and brain, the causal theory of perception, and the theory of emergence.

From the experimental data they make ad hoc metaphysical interpretations that are not justified in empirical bases, and sometimes they conclude the same axioms that supposedly justified their experiment.

What is tried to be demonstrated in this articles is that the only thing that can be seen in the activity of the brain is the activity of the brain, and that the supposition of cognitive process involved is only an ad hoc unjustified interpretation.

Why the axiom can not be the conclusion[edit | edit source]

Let's take the philosophy of science of Karl Popper as reference, which says that science should stablish certain axioms that delimit the reality to certain form, in other words, it should make predictions of what should not happen if the axiom is true. Then the experiments should be made to challenge this prediction, to try to make happen what is supposed impossible to happen if the axiom is true. If the forbidden happens, then the axiom is false and negative knowledge is developed. But is the forbidden does not happen, then the experiment should be test many more times, to generate certain confidence in believing that perhaps the axiom, and what it implies, is true.

But these researches do not seek the forbidden, neither work in a way that will allow to demonstrate the perception of the brain; but from the supposition of a brain that perceives, an experiment is made, which concludes that the brain thinks. This experiment does not try to make false de supposition, but claims to confirm what was originally believed, which is impossible according to Karl Popper, as since the beginning they affirmed what they seek as conclusion, without trying to make it false, there were no chance for it to result false.

It is also unacceptable to conclude a metaphysical conclusion. Strictly there is not a metaphysical proposition that can be demonstrated with a scientific experiment.

This reference to Karl Popper is not explicitly given by these authors, it is here used as an example, but almost every philosophy of science forbids these actions.

The problems of the neuroscientific researches[edit | edit source]

Nydia Zavala et al. state that there are philosophical doctrines, behind the idea of that the brain can perceive, and they guide the interpretation of the data and the scientific results. The veracity of the obtained data is not questioned. They study the patrons of activity that the neurons manifest when they are exposed to certain stimuli.

Supposed philosophical theories[edit | edit source]

Between the theories that they suppose and mix, there is the theory of identity, which considers the brain components are the perceiving or thinking agents; and the theory of emergence, which says that the brain matter alone does not have these proprieties, but these emerge from the organization, in such a way that the processes appear from an organized whole.

None of these theories accept that the brain or the central nervous system be the cause of mental activities. For the theory of identity the mental activities are identical to the brain processes; while for the theory of emergence the mental activities surge as superior forms to the organization of the central nervous system. Both coincide in the supposition of that the physical description of a brain mechanism is equivalent to the description of a mental activity. None of these theories question the idea of the existence of such things as mental processes or mental activities, and the main difference between them is that one considers the perceiving or thinking agent to be the brain matter, and the other to be the organization.

Because of these coincidences, these researchers mix them, and accept dogmatically that the bran has mental activity, sensorimotor representations, and an intern image of the exterior.

The theorists of identity do not accept the ontological distinction between mind and body, and the theorists of emergence reject the idea of a thinking matter by itself. In both theories the possibility of knowing the brain processes implies knowing mental processes, is assumed. That is why they suppose they can use the term “brain” as synonymous of “mind”.

Confusion of brain processes with mental processes[edit | edit source]

These researchers ignore that it is possible to have access to cognitive to mental activities without knowing the performance of the brain. If the terms were interchangeable, the introspective analysis could give the knowledge of the brain activity, without making experiments; but this is not the case.

They can argue that what they say is that the empirical analysis of the complete performance of the nervous system can bring the knowledge of all the mental activities, as supposedly the brain is the ones that makes them; and to describe a mechanism of the brain is equivalent to describe the mechanism of a mental process. Then it should be asked if they think a mental process is an observable mechanism, as the mechanism of a clock; if to watch the activity of a neuron is to watch a mental process.

Many others believe that even if the direct sight of a cognitive operation -a mental activity- in terms of neuronal activity is lacking, it is possible to sole the problem analysing the cognitive operation that is made when is seen the mental image rotation -a mental activity too- that supposedly the neurons make before a voluntary movement happens. But this is a petitio principii fallacy, because they are saying that even if a cognitive operation has not been seen in terms of brain activity, it is possible to solve the problem, seeing a cognitive operation.

Resuming: it has not been demonstrated scientifically that the brain be the mind, or that the brain be the cause of the mind in some way, but they suppose it has, or they suppose they demonstrate it, when they are actually only studying the brain, and the jump from the brain to the mind is not justified empirically.

Synthesis of the researches[edit | edit source]

These are the researches that were used as cases to criticize.

Research of Phillips, Hsiao, and Johnson[edit | edit source]

Phillips, Steven Hsiao and Kenneth Olafur Johnson, in "Spatial pattern representaion and transformation in monkey somatosensory cortex",[2] try to research the processing of tactile information. They register the potentials of action of the primary afferent fibres, and the somatosensory cortex, of a Macaca mulatta monkey, while he touches with the fingertip a drum in movement with a letter in high relief. The registers are monitored by a computer that translates each potential of action as a dot; then the computer brings together every point in a single image, and forms something they call a Spatial Event Plot.

They find that in some registers is possible to translate the way the potentials of actions are produced, combining all the registers of the potentials as if it were an image of dots. They give two interpretations to this: first, the conservative interpretation, that the spatial event plots are the characteristics of the spacial temporal proprieties of the response of the neuron provoked by a complex stimulus in movement; and second, their interpretation, that the spatial event plot of a single neuron is equivalent to a spacial temporal approximation to the mental neuronal image that can be obtained from a group of neurons.

For this last interpretation, it is needed to suppose that there is a group of neurons that manifest proprieties of response similar to those observed in that single neuron, that their localized responses are distributed in an almost uniform way in almost all the surface of the skin, and that their receptive fields are distributed in the skin with enough density to produce a complete spacial temporal image of the stimulus.

If this is feasible, then the mental image that an external object produces in the neurons can be seen. So it is possible to watch the way the neurons perceive and represent the stimulus, forming an isomorphic image of the registered stimulus, registering the activity of a population of neurons.

Research of Livingstone[edit | edit source]

Margaret Livingstone in "Art, illusion and the visual system",[3] says that the brain can identify and interpret the images that it itself is capable of produce, from the sensory information detected by sight. She attempts to discover to which characteristics, the cells, of each subdivision of the visual system, respond the better; studying the electrophysiological registers of the activity of each neuron of each subdivision of the visual system. These divisions are the Blob (visual system), the parvo-interblob, and the magno.

According to her, the answer is that the blob cells are selective to colour and shine, and indifferent to the shape and the movement; and the cells of parvo-interblob are selective to the orientation of the stimulus, but not to colour or movement.

She makes these conclusions after watching that, in example, a cell from interblob responds only to a vertical bar, without mattering the colour or the movement, but the orientation only. And similarly other cells activate only after a vertical bar with horizontal movement exclusively, others after a horizontal bar with vertical movement exclusively... So she concludes that these cells are non selective to colour but to orientation and movement.

Later, when she describes the processing of information, that supposedly happens in those regions, she states that there are at least 3 separated systems of information processing, that constitute the organization of the regions of the brain involved. According to her, these are those systems:

Via blob: recognizes the shape of the objects.

Via parvo-interblob: processes information for the perception of colour.

Via magno: processes information for the perception of the Motion_(physics), distance, spatial organization...

Research of Mishkin and Appenzeller[edit | edit source]

Mortimer Mishkin and Tim Appenzeller, in "The anatomy of memory",[4] states that visual information is processed in a sequential manner, all along a way of the central nervous system, composed by different neuronal structures, whose elements, if analysed, will show that the more interior the structures be, the more the dimension of the receptive field of the neurons -called “the window to the visual world”- increments, and the complexity of the processing that the cells can manage from the information received, is enriched. In example, a neuron of a middle structure answers according to the information that comes from the processing realized by a group of neurons of the immediate anterior structure.

According to them, distinct cells responds selectively to more than one of the physical proprieties of the objects -sizes, Shape, colours, Texture (visual arts)-, until the cells synthesize a complete representation of the external objects, in the final station of the inferior temporal cortex.

They also say that along the visual way the brain integrates sensory data in perceptive experiences, and that they investigate the participation of certain deep structures of the brain, and their interaction with perceptive ways of the visual cortex, to note the transformation of the sensory stimuli in memories. In other words, the are seeking the brain mechanisms that make the memories.

They propose the existence of two ample circuits which are supposedly responsible of many kinds of learning, one related to the amigdala, and the other one related to the hippocampus; after experiments of brain injuries (as those related before in this article). In those experiments they examine the behaviour of an animal after a stimulus, then they provoke an injury where the circuits are supposed to be, and they reexamine the behaviour of the animal after the stimulus, noting how it varies with the wound. According to this way of thinking, if after an injury, the animal shows indifferent behaviour, they interpret that the wounded zone is responsible of producing the emotional behaviour they associated.

These authors extend the description given by Livingstone about what the neurons are capable of perceive, apparently with the objective of including other kind of mental abilities of the brain, as memory and learning.

Criticism of the researches[edit | edit source]

Although these works study different sensory ways, they have a common structure in the way to interpret their data, and their main difference is the complexity of the supposed information processing or storage. But they are not different in the way they try to justify that the brain thinks.

Phillips et alter believe that each neuron perceives partially the information of a stimulus, and then they infer that if it is possible to obtain the register of the individual perception of a population, a sharp image of what the brain perceives can be obtained. Livingston and Mishkin et Appenzeller, believe in the partial perception of each neuron, and also in complete ways that perceive the partial information of a stimulus. Each way integrates the partial information that each neuron perceives, each way perceives only partially the stimulus, but integrating all the information of the perception of all the ways, the image of what the brain supposedly perceives or remembers can be seen.

All of them think that each cell perceives a part of the stimulus that when is joined with the perception of the other cells, the brain perceives the sharp image of the stimulus. This implies that each cell is a perceiving thing, even if it is only partial, and that the unified perception of all the cells gives what the brain perceives. This is to accept the existence of more than one perceiving thing: the cells, the structures, the brain ways, plus the brain; as if the brain were more than only the set of its cells or its structures.

There is vagueness when it is tried to put these investigations inside a philosophical theory, because the seem to apply emergence terms, which might imply that each neuron has enough organization to perceive, and also identity terms, which might imply that to watch the activity of the neuron is equivalent to watch the mental activity; something that implies a problem of mind-body extended by each neuron. It is not clear if there is a mind per each neuron.

They suppose they watch the manner the neurons are representing the stimulus, so any researcher is capable, not only of watching the neuron and its activity, but also of watching how that neuron selects, represents, perceives, or remembers a specific stimulus.

When a spatial event plot is formed, with the technique of Phillips et alter, what confuses the researchers is that a double image is obtained: the image of the stimulus used to activate the receptors, and the image made when all the action potentials of the cells are put together like dots distributable in the space. By the causal theory of perception, they think that the image of the stimulus is the real one, and the register is the image perceived by the neurons. What they interpret from this variety of registers is that there are neurons whose task is only to detect certain specific characteristic of the stimulus, as if inside of the central nervous system some kind of social structured organization existed, which, according to them, is expressed as a distribution of the tasks, where each of the neurons dedicates selectively to perceive only a part of the external reality. As, supposedly, what a single neuron perceives is not enough to get a sharp image of the characteristics that correspond to it, they supposes that they require the participation of a numerous group of neurons to achieve it. Then they conclude that they joint labour of the neurons is enough to make the brain obtain a mental representation of the different characteristics of the stimulus.

As theorists of identity they state that the observed activity in each neuron is a perception, but not the totality of the stimulus. As theorists of emergence they say that only because of the organization of what each neuron perceives, the sharp image of the stimulus is formed. But as theorists of identity they state that a new identity does not emerge, but the totality of brain is that perceives the complete stimulus. This is a mixtures of the contrary theories of identity and emergence.

When the researchers registers the patron of activity of a neuron in relation to some characteristic of the stimulus, they thinks that the neuron activates to perceive the stimulus. They suppose that they study the mechanisms where the mental representation is made, but what they do is to register which neurons activate when the whole animal is exposed to certain kind of stimulus.

Analogically, if two photoelectric cells where put synthesized to be active only with certain light frequency, after a pad with a letter K shinning with that light frequency; when monitoring the photoelectric cells, with the same methodology, it would eventually be obtained an isomorphic representation of the stimulus. But can it be said that the register is the manner how the photoelectric cell perceives? According to the explicative trend of these researchers, any kind of matter becomes perceptive, and what is observed if the way the photoelectric cell perceives the stimulus. Then any register that correlates the characteristics of something with the activity of other thing, can be interpreted as if the capacity of perceiving were registered. And it is very hard to accept the register of the activation of the photoelectric cell, as an equivalent of the register of the perception of the photoelectric cell.

They believe they are trying to analyse how a function of the sensory systems can transform a primary representation of a stimulus, in a perception; so they suppose that the neuron perceives, which ends in the acceptance of that anything whose patron forms a spatial event plot perceives. But what is really being made is to compare the activity of the primary afferents in relation to the activity of the neurons of the cortex, after the same stimulus.

What they actually find is that there are specific mechanisms in the central nervous system, that activate after certain kind of stimulus. The description of these mechanisms could help to develop neural prosthesis, or to cure nervous diseases; but not to explain the performance of the mind, which is something different: the mechanisms are of the brain, not of the mind; the prosthesis, would be for the brain, not for the mind.

The experimental data can't confirm if the neurons, the structures, the ways, or the brain perceive; they only work to demonstrate how they activate when they are exposed to certain stimulus.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

According to this criticism, neuroscience can not be considered scientific, when relating the brain to the mind in the manners explained here, because it commits logical and methodological errors, as making irrelevant experiments, inferring illogical things, mixing contrary philosophical theories, and taking out metaphysical conclusions from scientific experiments. Perhaps its main error is to confuse what is really being made. But if these errors were fixed, and it was admitted that what is being explained is the brain and not the mind, then the research could be used for what it is really useful for: to know the brain.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. «Doctrinas filosóficas, procesos mentales y observaciones empíricas»; Lara Zavala, Nydia; Cervantes Pérez, Francisco; Franco Muñoz, Arturo; Herrera, Alejandro, in Contextos XVII-XVIII/33-36 (1999-2000), University of Leon (data sheet, read).
  2. "Spatial pattern representation and transformation in monkey somatosensory cortex", J R Phillips, K O Johnson, and S S Hsiao, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Volume 85, Issue 4, pp. 1317-1321 (data sheet, read).
  3. "Art, Illusion and the Visual System", Livingstone, Margaret S; in Scientific American, v258 n1 p78-85 Jan 1988 (data sheet).
  4. "The Anatomy of Memory", Mortimer Mishkin and Tim Appenzeller, in Scientific American, volume 256, issue 6 (data sheet).

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • «Doctrinas filosóficas, procesos mentales y observaciones empíricas»; Lara Zavala, Nydia; Cervantes Pérez, Francisco; Franco Muñoz, Arturo; Herrera, Alejandro, in Contextos XVII-XVIII/33-36, University of Leon, 2000 (data sheet, read).
  • "Encyclopedia of Sleep and Dreams: The Evolution, Function, Nature, and Mysteries of Slumber", Deirdre Barrett and Patrick McNamara Ph.D. editors, Greenwood, 2012.
  • «Neuromitología y cualidades ocultas en el cerebro», Nydia Lara Zavala, in Diálogos, 85, 2005.
  • Neuroscience and Philosophy: Brain, Mind, and Language; M.R. Bennett, Daniel Dennett, P.M.S. Hacker, and John Searle; Columbia University Press, 2009.
  • Out of our heads:Why you are not your brain, and other lessons from the biology of consciousness; A. Noë, Macmillan, 2009.
  • Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience; M.R. Bennett and P.M.S. Hacker; Willey Blackwell; 2003.
  • "What Neuroscience Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves,", Raymond Tallis, in The New Atlantis, Number 29, Fall 2010, pp. 3–25 (read).

See also[edit | edit source]