Three Centuries of Category Errors in Studies of
the Neural Basis of Consciousness and Intentionality

by
Freeman WJ.
University of California at Berkeley,
Berkeley, CA, USA
Neural Netw. 1997 Oct 1;10(7):1175-1183


ABSTRACT

Recent interest in consciousness and the mind-brain problem has been fueled by technological advances in brain imaging and computer modeling in artificial intelligence: can machines be conscious? The machine metaphor originated in Cartesian "reflections" and culminated in 19th century reflexology modeled on Newtonian optics. It replaced the Aquinian view of mind, which was focused on the emergence of intentionality within the body, with control of output by input through brain dynamics. The state variables for neural activity were identified successively with animal spirits, elan vital, electricity, energy, information, and, most recently, Heisenbergian potentia. The source of dynamic structure in brains was conceived to lie outside brains in genetic and environmental determinism. An alternative view has grown in the 20th century from roots in American Pragmatists, particularly John Dewey, and European philosophers, particularly Heidegger and Piaget, by which brains are intrinsically unstable and continually create themselves. This view has new support from neurobiological studies in properties of self-organizing nonlinear dynamic systems. Intentional behavior can only be understood in relation to the chaotic patterns of neural activity that produce it. The machine metaphor remains, but the machine is seen as self-determining.
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