Richard V Sansbury, PhD ·
psychologist (ret)
psychologist (ret)

Mind and the Nature of Reality

bkgd

Mind, Body, and The Janus Gate

Our body, at least in principle, is understandable; it's a biological machine, running all manner of automated life processes. The challenge is to understand all those processes and how they work together. And then, there's our mind. How in the world are we to make sense of our mind? It seems more like an intangible spirit, or directing observer. Not something we can put on a lab bench and tease apart for careful analysis. Indeed, it feels like we are our mind, with our body being some sort of super-advanced, fleshy robot the mind drives around. We have very good reason to believe the tangible body and intangible mind interact, but how do they do that? We've been pondering that question, known as the mind-body problem, for centuries: what is the mechanism that allows the physical body and nonphysical mind to interact? And exactly what is their relationship?

At first blush, the physical and nonphysical may seem to be separated by an unbridgeable gap. That's mostly because we often have trouble perceiving and thinking about nonphysical things. But here's the pay-off: once we accept that the physical and nonphysical are, in fact, connected, explaining the mind-body problem becomes fairly straight forward. Please note that "fairly".

To build our solution, then, we start with this: the real universe includes both physical and nonphysical aspects, tied together at a fundamental level. With that proposition, all the heavy lifting is pretty much done. I would argue that we all know that proposition is true... we just don't like to think about it. In any case, let's unpack the physical-nonphysical relationship a little to get an inkling of how it all works to resolve the mind-body problem.

To begin with, what do we mean by "fundamental level"? We mean a ground level on which all else is based. In this case, small. I give you the atom. An atom is a very small lump of dirt that contains three even smaller components: protons, neutrons, and electrons. These three components come with fields (areas of influence). Of particular interest to us, protons and electrons are charged lumps, which means they come with electromagnetic fields. My thinking is that within the electromagnetic field, physical and nonphysical aspects of reality are connected. And that's because every electromagnetic field actually has three components: two well-known physical, the electromagnetic components, and one, largely-hidden, nonphysical: the experiential component. Thus, the full, three-component field is both physical (electromagnetic) and non-physical (experiential). Every atom has such a field.

We need a term that captures all three components. "E" can represent the physical electromagnetic components. But what about the nonphysical, experiential component? The Greek word "logos" means many things, one of which is "knowledge". We will use the "L" to cook up a new term that represents all three fields: the electric, the magnetic, and the experiential. That term is "ELF" "E" for electromagnetic and "L" for knowledge/experience. While it is not mind, itself, we might call this experiential component a kind of proto or primordial mind-like stuff from which mind may be created. It's a bit like a bacterium or single human cell can be thought of as a primordial or proto human: similar qualities, but not quite the same thing.

You can think of these three components as legs of an ELF stool. If you grab any leg and wiggle it about, the other legs will also wiggle. We are describing a two-way mechanism for mind-body interaction, a Janus gate. The physical electromagnetic field surrounding and coursing through our brain is bound to a complex experiential field, our nonphysical mind. Because they are solidly connected, like the legs of a stool, changes in our experiential field are mirrored by changes in the physical electromagnetic field, and vice versa.

If every ELF includes an experiential component, and ELFs are everywhere in the universe, does that mean that mind is everywhere in the universe? No. At least not in the way we typically think about mind.

To see why, let's begin by thinking about the physical side of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Like all dirt, they are physical matter, with mass and location. Nature has put these tiny dirt balls together in a variety of organizations illustrated in the periodic table of elements; an element simply being a particular organization of protons, neutrons, and electrons. These elements combine in ever-more complex organizations to build the physical world around us. Deep down, the material world is protons, neutrons, and electrons... sub-atomic Legos.

But those Legos have a secret sauce; ELFs. That's because protons and electrons have mind-like, nonphysical qualities associated with them. As nature uses protons, neutrons, and electrons to build up all the physical stuff around us, she simultaneously creates a huge variety of nonphysical structures with mind-like, experiential qualities. One very specific type of structure is the conscious human mind, a macro phenomenon, emerging when many small ELFs, with their mind-like qualities, are arranged in a specific pattern. Only one specific type of experiential structure creates a human mind though, just as only one specific type of physical structure creates the element gold.

It's easy enough to think about physical structures, like a house or a car. But thinking about a nonphysical structure, like a ghost or an idea, can get a little strange. So let's begin on more solid ground by considering a house. Its physical structure is an organized collection of things you can hold in your hands like boards, nails, windows, pipes, etc. It's nonphysical structure, which you cannot hold in your hands, might be depicted by a blueprint plus a complete list of materials specifications... minus the paper all that is printed on. After all, the same nonphysical information might be displayed on a computer screen, realized by some fancy needle-point, or burnt into a piece of wood. In each case, the nonphysical information structure is the same, even though the way it manifests in the physical world, is different. We might think of the physical house as an expression of its nonphysical information structure, in the physical realm. Using this sort of language, we can say our mind is a nonphysical information structure (of experience) that manifests physically in the over-all electromagnetic field around our brain. The electromagnetic field surrounding and penetrating our brain is like a blueprint; it is a physical expression of the nonphysical experiential structure of our mind.

Mind and body connect through the ELF enveloping the brain. That connection is a two-way street, what I have called the Janus gate... a gate that swings both ways.

Epilogue

Resolution of the mind-body problem is not the end, it is barely the end of the beginning. We humans have at least the five general types of experience, our five senses. These experiences are all mediated by standard, off-the shelf, neurons. What makes the experiences different? What, for instance, makes a visual experience, different than a tactile one? Permit me (another?) stab in the dark? We know the neuronal pathways of our senses are different. They trace out different shapes as they course through the central nervous system. Perhaps the physical shape of an experiential field shapes the quality of the experience?