Abstract Details

Do We Need to Reformulate the Mind-Body Problem as a World-Brain Problem? Empirical Evidence and its Ontological Implications  Xiangqun Chen (Philosophy, Nanchang University of China, Nanchang, Jiangxi China)   P1

What is mind? And how does the mind relate to the brain? This is what we call mind - brain problem. Descartes is considered the father of this problem as he raised the interactive substance dualism between mind and brain. He argues that mind and brain can be characterized by different substances: mind is a mental substance, whereas brain and body are a physical substance. Descartes' dualism about mind and brain is advocated by many philosophers even today. I hereby suggest a different approach though. Instead of advocating a specific solution to the mind-body problem within the range of dualism and monism, I rather shed some doubt on the formulation of the problem itself. Empirical evidence from neuroscience and psychiatry strongly suggest that we may need to re-conceive and re-formulate the question of mind-body relationship in terms of the relationship between world and brain, the world-brain problem, as it has recently been suggested by G.Northoff (2016, 2018). Various examples from psychiatric disorders show that changes in the relation between environment and brain can lead to major disruptions of mental features. For example, patients in depression show decreased environment focus and increased body focus. Meanwhile, the circadian system which regulate the sleep-wake cycle in these patient's brain seems abnormal, it can't coordinate different time scales between world and brain resulting in severe sleep disorders. Another psychiatric disorder, schizophrenia, can also be conceived as paradigmatic example of world-brain disruption. The typical symptoms in schizophrenia include social disconnection, delusions, hallucinations and identity change, these result in confusion for the patients about what is world and what is self, such that the boundary between the inside mental life and the outer physical world is blurred. That is to say, the disruption of the world-brain relation that occurs in schizophrenia leads to disastrous mental consequences that change the most basic sense of self. Based on such empirical evidence from psychiatric disorders, I assume that, taken empirically, mental features such as consciousness and sense of self are dependent upon the relation between brain, body and environment, or more generally speaking, the world- brain relation. If so, the mind-brain problem, as philosophers say, may need to be reformulated as the world-brain problem. The world-brain problem describes the question for the ontological and empirical relationship between world and brain, that is, how the brain and its neuronal activity are integrated within and aligned to the world's ongoing activity. The world-brain relation featured by alignment and integration that must be distinguished from the converse relation of brain-world relation in which case the brain supposedly represents the world as such in its neuronal (and mental) activity. If now that very same world-brain relation can necessarily and sufficiently account for mental features like self and consciousness, as empirical evidence from psychiatry suggests, we may need to reformulate the mind-body problem as problem of the relationship between world and brain, the world-brain problem.