[ExI] Mental Phenomena

Ben Zaiboc ben at zaiboc.net
Sun Dec 29 10:50:27 UTC 2019

It seems to be a general rule of nature that large numbers of complex, 
higher-level things are built from much smaller numbers of simpler, 
lower-level things.

Think of proteins, music, maths, and life itself.

Twenty amino acids can give rise to more protein molecules than there 
are particles of matter in the universe. A couple of handfuls of notes 
and rules can produce all the music that has ever existed and ever will. 
You get the idea.

I think it's a pretty safe bet that this principle extends to mental 
phenomena as well. If anyone claims that a mental phenomenon such as the 
awareness of a specific thing is 'fundamental', and there are many, many 
different instances of this kind of phenomenon (which there certainly 
are. Potential thoughts are even more numerous than potential proteins), 
they are almost certanly wrong, imo.

We know of the lower-level phenomena that underlie mental processes, and 
the ones that underlie those: Neural spike-trains, all made of simple 
action potentials which are /exactly the same/, all over the brain (and 
which, incidentally, correspond exactly to a digital representation of 
data), which are in turn produced by a very small number of types of 
ions traversing a membrane, which.. You get the idea.

Neurotransmitters often seem to get mentioned, but they are only a means 
of getting a spike-train from one neuron to another. They could be (and 
in many cases are) replaced by more direct connections between neurons, 
such as gap junctions. I suspect the main advantage of neurotransmitters 
is the scope they provide for modification of the signals, such as 
variable timing, attenuation or amplification, etc. These could also be 
achieved with gap junctions, but would involve more complex mechanisms. 
Neurotransmitters are, in a sense, irrelevant. They are a mechanism for 
a function that could be achieved by many alternative mechanisms, but 
they are not a principle of operation.

Anyway, my point is that any idea which proposes the opposite of the 
general principle I'm taking about, claiming that a very large number of 
very diverse phenomena (such as the awareness of colours, and by 
extension, all other things that minds can be aware of) are 'fundamental 
elements' (and thus indivisible, not derived from other, simpler 
things), while perhaps not being impossible, is highly suspect, and 
faces a large burden of proof.

Put another way, the concept of 'elemental red' is sheer nonsense. The 
concept of 'red' (or, to be more accurate, the mental cagegory of 'the 
colour red') has to be made up of many simpler things going on in our 
brains. Things which are very likely (to say the least) to vary between 
individual people.

Ben Zaiboc

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