Where does Thought live, and what is its nature, exactly? Where does Life live, Consciousness live, and what are their respective natures, exactly?
Thought aka Mind is thought to live in the brain, or at least that's what most neurologists, psychologists and other horse thieves believe. It's also what our intuition suggests. Likewise re Consciousness. But in these matters, intuition may be leading us astray. The big stumbling block for me is the proposition that a non-material thing can be located in a place in the material world.
The production of language, for example, is said to be linked to the area of the brain known as Broca’s area after the scientist Pierre Paul Broca who did much pioneering work in neurology. In more recent years neuroscientists have focused on trying to establish clear associations between particular areas of the brain and particular mental/cognitive activities, eg language, memory, even meditation. They believe they've located where in the brain live basic instincts and emotions from fear to love to hate to jealousy to anger and beyond.
So yes we are learning more and more about the manifestations, the expression, of Thought and Consciousness, but little progress has been made toward understanding the nature of those things. Ditto for Life.
Little progress, but some progress. Specifically the understanding that Thought, Life and Consciousness are processes, not things, verbs not nouns. Not only are Thought, Life and Consciousness non-material, they are dynamically non-material, ie they move and change.
A process is a dynamic pattern. A pattern is a static process. And by its nature, a process needs a substrate on which to "run". A chunk of computer software is a process that runs on hardware. Similarly, Mind runs on Brain, "wetware" so to speak. Life runs on Matter. Spirit runs on Flesh. Verb runs on Noun. What we refer to as "the internet" is a process running on a physical substrate of a network of cables, junctions and routers.
Substrates that can bear patterns include material substrates, such as the brain or a microprocessor, as well as non-material or even "notional" or "virtual" substrates.
Another aspect that Consciousness, Life, Mind have in common is that they are emergent qualities. They are not present or seemingly not present in the parts, but emerge only in the whole. Reductionist science takes things apart, differentiates them, reduces them to their smallest components. And seeks to builds truth on that basis.
In contrast, an holistic approach puts things together, integrates them, and seeks to identify the emergent qualities of the integrated whole.
Neither approach is better than the other in all ways under all circumstances at all times. A combination of elements of both, IMHO, brings us closest to the truth.
Particular thoughts or types of cognitive activity can and have been associated with particular chunks of neuronal activity, ie biochemical "firing" of neurons. But the word "association" in this post does not imply there is necessarily a cause-and-effect relationship. Nor does "association" imply the relationship is a simple, static one-to-one correspondence.
Using the previous example of language, IMHO the fact that language use seems to "cause" Broca's area in the human brain to "light up" does not mean that language is produced by or in Broca's area. No. Language is produced by a dynamic process of neuronal activity that follows a "route" that goes through Broca's area, and other areas of the human brain. Broca's area is not the place or the space where language happens. Rather, Broca's area is one of several non-material nodes, virtual domains, through which the dynamic process of thought passes, much as cyber-traffic travels through the virtual or notional nodes/domains of the Internet. Thought is definitely webby.
Where Thought is concerned, the places in the brain where specific patterns of neuronal activity happen are less important than the route followed by thought-patterns as they travel across the brain. "Brainplace" vs "mindspace", if you like. And the route is comprised of the firing over time of neurons in a particular sequence alongside and connected to the firing of other sets of neurons in other particular sequences, all linked to and feeding back upon "itself": the emerging system.
Which brings us to a reasonable (in my view) working definition of Thought: dynamic neuronal activity in a structured but flexible pattern incorporating feedback loops and self-organising features. Some of the patterns are of a particular nature (in terms of information theory); they are reentrant patterns. I don't enjoy quibbling (in this case with Wikipaedia) but strictly speaking thought comprises reentrant processes, not patterns, as stated in another but more accurate Wikipaedia definition:
In computing, a computer program or subroutine is called reentrant if it can be interrupted in the middle (i.e. the control flow is transferred outside of the subroutine, either due to an internal action such as a jump or call, or by an external action such as a hardware interrupt or signal), can then safely be called again before its previous invocations have been completed, and once the reentered invocation completes, the previous invocations should be able to resume execution correctly.
What's good about the above definition is that it highlights that Thought is dynamic, flexible, can be modified "on the move, in transit" and is self-modifying and self-organising.
And the nature of the dynamic processes called Consciousness and Life are similar to that of Thought.
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