Consciousness and Initial Causation Embodied by Physicalism.
By Richard J.R.Miles.
Although much has been written on embodiment, I have found it necessary to write this straightforward simplistic approach in an attempt to deter who the emeritus professor Peter Hacker refers to as brainsians. They continue to make the mistake in thinking that the brain is the initial causation of thought and action. So much so that they have become deluded by their mind body problem. They will eventually have to realise their error. As there is no apparent reason to involve anything other than physical processes in trying to understand any activity that occurs in humans, including all variations of consciousness. For example, inventing dualism or religious belief, and or pansychism. So why am I so sure? Unlike religious believers or pansychists, which includes many prominent philosophers of mind, psychologists and neuroscientists.
Tracing evolution back literally to its roots, we evolved from trees and plants that could both live in and out of the water. They lived with what I will repeatedly call their needs, deeds and seeds, which of course they still do today, satisfied by their fixed rooted location. From this, life evolved and lived by moving in their environment assisted by the elements, tides and currents. A Jelly fish which is moved around by the environment, could also move like flowers that open and close with light and dark. The Jelly fish could move up and down in its three dimensional world, assisting its functional needs, deeds and seeds. All this without a brain. Also without a brain was the Humped Bladderwort, a carnivorous plant like the Venus flytrap. Capable of catching and digesting things that came too close, and possibly over a billion years ago. The point is that we humans, like it or not, have evolved from these brainless lives. Lives that had evolved complex sensory nervous systems which were capable of reacting to their environment.
A life form with a nervous system that could evolve a brain to assist its movement in carrying out its established needs, deeds and seeds, would be more capable of surviving. Slowly but surely the brain and nervous system evolved to help the body survive. Evolving together as one complex being. At no time did the brain magically evolve to take complete control of the body as brainsians assume that it did.
So that there is no doubting of what I think, I will continue to repeat that the body was and is the driver and the initial causation of the needs, deeds and seeds, (rather than abbreviate it to n.d.a.s. which probably means something else). Without such or which the nervous system and brain would not have evolved at all.
Fairly obviously a mobile life with a brain and the ability to react to its moving environment would naturally be more able to survive than something that could not react. Again at no time during evolution through the Phylum Chordata (Vertebrates) that eventually led to humans, through natural selection did the job of the bodily needs, deeds and seeds become consciously initiated by the brain, as opposed to non-consciously by the body. There is no evidence to suggest that this has occurred or is likely to. So many people seem to have forgotten this or choose to ignore the fact of what has driven their evolution and continues to do so. Instead they think that it is all because of God or the brain. I do not need a belief so I will not bother with the God bit. However I will continue to explain why looking for initial causation from the brain alone is incorrect, although it is true that the brain can affect the bodies health.
So why is looking at the brain for initial causation (or the homunculus) a problem? This is simply because the body is as it has always continued through evolution without interruption, to have the physical systems necessary for survival, which of course are the needs, deeds and seeds. These function autonomically and non-consciously as they have done since life began without a brain. The brain senses the bodily needs when action is required in the environment. The nervous system and brain becomes aware of the needs via the senses. This is when interaction with the bodies somatic system needs to be activated for action in the environment. Ignore it with peril. Especially with drink, food or toilet needs. This vital interaction that the brain does in today’s civilised industrialised world is relatively easy, and most people take it for granted. But of course that has not always been so. Our body evolved for the need to survive by night and day, which for most today is not the problem it was say ten thousand years ago, where survival for most was a continuous 24/7 task to endure.
The mind body problem so called, is only a problem if you look for initial causation from the brain to the body. However not so the other way round. As I have said it is the body causation to the mind or brain is what then allows the brains function, which connects the relevant somatic action or not in the environment. The brains function is amazing and although so much is still unknown, I think it will be possible to fathom with the body/mind approach. As opposed to the usual incorrect mind/body approach, where initial causation from the brain is an immediate non-starter. As a simple example consider thirst. This is obvious but somehow it gets overlooked, that it is the body that causes the brain to sense the need for refreshment. Of course if this sensation is completely ignored death will result. At the other end, if sufficient has been drunk to satisfy the thirst then, the filling bladder will let the brain know through physical sensations that to avoid the inevitable, something needs to be taken care of.
The brain interacts with the body and the environment. Some life forms let the body decide when things need to happen autonomically (Little birdie flying by, dropped a message from the sky, farmer Brown wiped his eye, and said thank goodness cows can’t fly). The evolution of the body and brain can be explained by this approach, and just as physically evolved features are inherited, so too are some physical traits. One of many that has fascinated me is of a domesticated kitten, that when it grows up and does not finish all of its food, it makes an inherited move to cover up its food with pretend stuff before it leaves it. I am sure you can think of other examples with different kinds of life, including babies.
So why do we need consciousness? If you are a David Chalmers zombie then apparently you do not. I cannot see how such a zombie could evolve naturally, other than as a completely pre-programmed robot made from an existing program. This is a clue to understanding how consciousness has gradually evolved, through interaction between the body, brain and the environment. Tracing mature human evolution as opposed to a baby, who is not initially consciously aware of itself, it is possible with my approach of appreciating the importance of the body causation as the driver of needs, deeds and seeds. Then interaction and reaction that results in being conscious can be understood and eventually traced. The physical bodily causation to the brain enables action to occur in the environment. However, without the inherited and taught knowledge in the brain and body (nature nurture) we would not be aware of recognising anything. We have been programmed by our evolved past and what we have learnt. Consciousness is this continuing process of experiencing this interaction between our bodies needs, deeds and seeds plus how we manage them in the environment. We always need to be consciously aware of allowing action to take place. This action may not always be memorable, but never the less active no matter how slight or memorable. This is often overlooked but yes you do need to be conscious to partake in the well known Libet experiment.
Knowledge of physical interaction and reaction with the environment is necessary for the brain and body to be consciously aware of sensing itself. Ready to react and respond as necessary to changes.
Although a newly born baby has not yet mastered physical co-ordination with the environment, it does have evolved knowledge through nature of what it has been given. This will gradually be realised as it grows and matures. But as a baby it is very active with a lot going on when awake in trying to co-ordinate movement with physical mental activity, at a peak also during REM sleep. As a person it will start to realise it has physically inherited some of its parents and ancestors appearance and traits. Referred to by some psychologists as the human givens. These traits which have been so useful in past generations for survival, like cats covering food, become apparent as the individual progresses through life. They are of course driven by our bodies physical needs, deeds and seeds.
A huge amount is unknown about the interaction between the body its senses, the brain with memory and ability. However, I must repeatedly stress that it is the body that allows the senses, that sense the causation for the brain to function. A person who had their adrenal glands removed for a weight gain problem, found that when they had recovered from the operation that they no longer sensed a fear of heights.
Everything about being alive evolved from a body.
For some reason, unbeknown to me, people have found the need to invent the term Dualism which has been around apparently for about four hundred years. For me, like pansychism, it is completely unnecessary, as physicalism provides so many multifarious interacting systems that can function independently of one another, or be integrated, interactive or reactive. We have as humans physical abilities that can do so many different things, non-conscious through to conscious, awake or asleep. Everything we do can or will eventually be explainable through physical activity, from the body to the brain and vice versa. There is no reason to suppose otherwise, unless you need to try and justify an archaic anachronistic belief. A belief in something other than physicalism possibly led dictionary lexicographers to incorrectly describe physical as :- Relating to the body as opposed to the mind. Which wrongly suggests that there is something other than physics that relates to the mind?
A brain without a body that it initially evolved from would not be able to sense or do anything. I hope the ‘body/mind approach’ will end the so called ‘mind/body problem’ and eventually ‘the hard problem of consciousness’. It is time to stop looking for the magical homunculus in the brain, when it is the body that is the initial causation for the brain and body to work as one, with the entire spectrum of non-consciousness, to consciousness and all that may include.
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