August 31, 2007

Evolution and the Brain

Dr Stuart Derbyshire writes intelligently in Spiked today about a subject that deserves more attention than it often gets, the way that the brain and the mind are related. He suggests that there is something distinct about the way that the human mind and human brain are related that separates us from animals- the example he gives is cows, but no doubt other examples might be given. He posits that something within the brain registers sensation but then that the division of sensation into experience and the cognitive ability to learn through experience are made up of what he calls inquiry. Dr Derbyshire's line of argument deserves attention- and is interesting and I reccomend a read of the article whose subtleties I have neither the space nor the expertise to probe here- but there are two large chasm like problems that I see emerging should we accept Dr Derbyshire's analysis. The first being what then is inquiry and where is it located- what kind of faculty is this that produces mind out of brain. The second being why should it have been created- the processes of evolution one would think lead to purely biological constraint, why introduce this new factor so called mind into the equation. Why did we get here. It isn't that Dr Derbyshire is neccessarily wrong- but that he needs to explain further how his logic progresses and what he means by inquiry and how that faculty would tie into a coherent account of human evolution.


James Hamilton said...

A strange choice of reviewer - Derbyshire doesn't appear to have read either of Dennett's major books on just this subject ("Freedom Evolves" on the question of free will, and "Consciousness Explained" on the wider issue of mind-brain-body).

Still, there's Slate for you, I suppose!

Nick Humphrey's papers available online page provides a good intro to the real state of thinking on consciousness:

Somewhat less misleading than Derbyshire. There's nothing intrinsic about consciousness that makes it any less likely to be (1) a product of evolution (2) a function of the brain within the body, than any other phenomenon of the human organism. It's just a failure of the imagination and a reflection on the relatively primitive tools available to neuroscientists at this very early stage in the investigation.