Thursday, December 15, 2005

Representing reality ...

I had not re-read the last couple of chapters of Russell Brain's Mind, Perception and Science when I wrote this earlier post (which links to even ealier ones on the same subject). But I had read the book, so maybe that's why the post, which was meant to articulate some thoughts of my own, merely echoed what Brain ultimately had to say:

... if the stuff of the universe that we know directly is mind, and matter is the same thing known only by means of conceptual symbols created by mind, it would seem as reasonable to call at least part of reality mind as to call it matter. And matter, even crude matter, is not what it was. It has turned into energy, and the atom has become a pattern and the molecule a pattern of patterns, till all the different physical substances and their behaviour have come to be regarded as the outcome of the structure of their primitive components. But we have already met with pattern in the nervous system, underlying and rendering possible the most fundamental characteristics of the mind. And pattern in some mysterious way possesses a life of its own, for it can survive a change in the identity of its component parts as longs as its structure remains the same. As a wave can move over the sea and remain the same wave, though the water of which it is composed is continuously changing, a pattern can shift over the retina and therefore over the visual area of the brain and remain recognizably the same pattern. The pattern of our personality though it changes slowly remains substantially the same, though every protein molecule in the body, including the nervous system, is changed three times a year. The ingredients have altered but not the structure.

This does not, of course, address the question I raised -- from what do the symbols representing the patterns derive? Suppose the electrical impulses that are atoms and particles are elements of a grand transmission? It is not the electrical signal reaching our television set that concerns us, but rather the imagery on the screen. That imagery is the point of the transmission. This is what has always bothered me about philosophical materialism: It is as if one were trying to make sense of Hamlet by studying the carpentry of the Globe Theater.

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