Mind and Brain: A skeptical look
Below is my presentation at the Alzheimer Symposium 2015 last June in Amsterdam, with corresponding blurb. Enjoy!
Perhaps no other disease has a more fundamental bearing on our sense of identity and the nature of mind than Alzheimer’s. It wreaks havoc with the human psyche and one’s sense of self by corrupting the brain. Precisely for this reason, Alzheimer’s raises one of the oldest questions in history, investing it with a renewed sense of urgency: What exactly is the relationship between mind and brain? Surprisingly, in what is called the ‘hard problem of consciousness,’ no one in science or philosophy today has any idea how brain metabolism can lead to conscious experience or our felt sense of self. Yet, we operate under the assumption that it somehow does, for the correlations between brain function and subjective experience are overwhelming. In fact, Alzheimer’s disease is a particularly compelling instance of such correlations, wherein destruction of brain tissue fundamentally alters our subjective experience of life. But is this assumption the only rational and empirically honest framework for interpreting the relationship between mind and brain? In this talk, we will critically review the array of reasons we assume that the brain generates the mind. We will inquire if these reasons are indeed sound in view of logic and the available data, and what other alternatives there might be to rationally make sense of observations. The presentation will not offer definitive answers, but rather invite the audience to take a broader look at the issue, in the spirit of skepticism. It is hoped that such a broader perspective into the nature of self and its relationship to brain function will lead to new insights, for both caregivers and patients, on how to relate to Alzheimer’s disease.