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5 Defining the Problem


Introduction
This chapter is a milestone in our study of the mind-body
problem. Previous chapters have prepared the way for the two
critical tasks that are undertaken here, (1) defining what the
mind-body problem is, and (2) describing what would count as
a solution to this problem. There is nothing more important in
our quest to solve this mystery. Understanding the nature of the
problem takes us more than halfway toward its solution.

Simple Ignorance versus Paradox
In Chapter 2 we saw that the method of reduction breaks
reality into two different categories, Elements-of-reality and
Information. By definition, the Elements-of-reality are things
that are irreducible, such as elementary particles, time and
distance. In comparison, Information is what can be transmitted
over a communications channel. This way of thinking is the
basis of modern science, as well as our everyday common-
sense. However, when we try to analyze the mind with this
strategy we come to an obvious discrepancy. This situation
arises because we can examine the mind from two different
perspectives, the first-person and the third-person viewpoints.
As presented in Chapter 3, when we look at the mind from the
third-person view we see pure Information. In comparison, in
Chapter 4 we found that the first-person perspective sees the
mind as one or more Elements-of-reality.
Now, the problem in all of this could not be more obvious;
how is it possible that one perceives their mind to be the exact


57
The Inner Light Theory of Consciousness
58

opposite of what science contends it to be? This apparent
contradiction is the mind-body problem in its most basic form;
it is the thing that we seek to understand. Figure 5-1 illustrates
this deep discrepancy; observers that should agree, couldn™t
disagree more.
Of course, there are other mysteries about the brain™s
operation that are not included in the mind-body problem. For
instance, science does not yet understand how learning and
memories come about from synaptic changes. However, this is
a completely different category of problem; it is a mystery
totally contained in the third-person perspective. In other
words, it is a matter of simple ignorance; we observe
something and cannot immediately understand how to
consolidate what we see with our previous knowledge. In
comparison, in the mind-body problem we seem to understand
what we are observing, but those observations are inherently
contradictory. In other words, the mind-body problem is a
paradox, something that is far more serious.
To illustrate this difference between simple ignorance and
a paradox, let™s look at two famous scientific problems that
were solved in the last century. The first problem is how life
continues from one generation to the next. For thousands of
years, the common belief was that life involved some sort of
mystical substance, often referred to as the vital force. Even
though it could not be directly observed, it seemed clear that
living things had it, and nonliving things did not. Life was seen
as continuing from generation to generation by passing the vital
force from parents to children. This was accepted as a
reasonable explanation that accounted for the observations. Of
course, this view was shattered in the 1950s with the discovery
that the molecular structure of DNA held the instructions for
creating new life, and that the vital force was nothing more than
a myth.
The important point is that this is a case of simple
ignorance; scientists look at something from the third-person
Chapter 5: Defining the Problem 59




FIGURE 5-1
The mind-body problem. From the first-person viewpoint the
mind appears as one or more Elements-of-reality, but to the
third-person viewpoint it appears as pure Information.


perspective and don™t understand it, or even worse, they
misunderstand it. Science isn™t perfect; it doesn™t have a
complete knowledge about the world and is bound to make
mistakes. This is an inherent part of the scientific method.
The Inner Light Theory of Consciousness
60

This can be compared to the twin paradox, one of the most
confusing aspects of Special Relativity1 discovered by Albert
Einstein in 1905. As typical in Einstein™s work (see Fig. 5-2),
this is based on a thought experiment. Suppose that we take a
pair of identical twins, keep one on earth, and send the other to
a distant star in a spaceship. Since stars are incredibly far apart,
the spaceship will need to travel very fast, almost at the speed
of light. One of the basic principles of special relativity is that
motion is relative. That is, the twin on earth sees his brother
moving away rapidly, while he remains stationary. On the other
hand, the twin in the spaceship sees himself as stationary, while
his brother and the earth are moving away.
Next, we bring in a second basic principle of special
relativity, that is, time moves slower at high speeds. This means
that the twin on earth sees his brother aging very slowly because
of the spaceship™s rapid motion. However, the twin in the
spaceship thinks his time is passing normally, while he sees his
brother, and everyone else on earth, aging more slowly. This
comes to a head when the spaceship completes its mission and
returns to the earth. When the brothers meet, each expects to
see the other as much younger than himself. Of course, they
can™t both be younger than the other. This discrepancy is more
severe than simply not being able to understanding our
observations. A paradox has arisen; two sets of observations
that should both be correct, are contradictory to each other.
The point is, the modern study of the mind involves two
different types of problems. The first problem is understanding
the structure and function of the brain, which is a matter of
simple ignorance. The second problem is the mind-body
problem, which is a paradox. The purpose of this book is to
present a solution to the second problem, to resolve the
discrepancy between the first and third person views. But even


1. Relativity: The Special and General Theory, Albert Einstein,
Reprinted 1995, Crown Publishers, 188 pages. Read the master™s
own words! Mathematical, but written for a general audience.
Chapter 5: Defining the Problem 61




FIGURE 5-2
Albert Einstein (1879-1955). Einstein was a German-American
physicist, best know for his discoveries of Special and General
Relativity. Perhaps his greatest talent was being able to visualize
problems in simple terms, and then analyze the consequences
with rigorous mathematics. For instance, he wondered what it
would be like to ride on a beam of light, or be trapped inside a
moving elevator in space. These simple questions lead him to a
mathematical description of curved space-time, the fundamental
structure of the entire universe. Einstein struggled through his
early school years, with his teachers believing he would never
amount to much. Fifty years after his death, Einstein is widely
regarded as one of the two greatest scientists of all time (the
other being Isaac Newton)


if successful, the problems involving simple ignorance will still
remain. Understanding the structure and function of the brain
will likely require many decades of research.
By the way, which twin is right? In 1915, Einstein
published a far more extensive theory called General Relativity,
which shows that the passage of time is also slowed by
gravitational fields and acceleration. Since the twin in the
spaceship is the one who underwent the acceleration during
takeoff and landing, he is the one who ages more slowly. We
will hear more from Einstein in the next chapter.
The Inner Light Theory of Consciousness
62

The One and Only Problem
A variety of well-crafted examples have been presented
over the years to illustrate the mind-body problem. These have
proven very useful in shaping our understanding of the issues at
hand. However, a key teaching of the Inner Light theory is that
every one of these examples, every description of the mind-
body problem ever written, can be reduced to a single issue.
And this issue is what we have spent the last four chapters
developing: the third-person sees the mind as Information,
while the first-person sees the mind one or more Elements-of-
reality. This is the root of the mind-body problem; everything
else is just window dressing.
To illustrate this, Fig. 5-3 shows two lists. The “A” list
contains words and phrases of how the mind is seen from the
perspective of the third-person. As such, all of these items are
Information. In other words, each of the entries on the “A” list
could be reconstructed by a distant alien civilization, provided
that we give them the assembly instructions and they have
locally available Elements-of-reality. On the other hand, the
“B” list contains words and phrases of how the mind is seen
from the first-person viewpoint. These are all Elements-of-
reality, things that are irreducible, entities that cannot be
transmitted over a communications channel.
Now suppose that we want to develop a new argument
illustrating the mind-body problem. We pick an entry from the
“A” list and hold it up in our right hand, and pick an entry from
the “B” list and hold it up in our left hand. We then proclaim:
“See, they are not the same; they have different characteristics;
one cannot explain the other.”
Let™s look at several examples from the philosophical
literature to see how this strategy is used. To start, we will look
at the catchy phrase from Patricia Churchland:
Chapter 5: Defining the Problem 63




FIGURE 5-3
A recipe for creating examples. Examples of the mind-body
problem can be created by picking an entry from the “A” list
(Information as viewed from the third person), picking an entry
from the “B” list (Elements-of-reality as seen by the first-person),
and then discussing why the two items are not the same.



This gets right to the point; we have an item from the “A” list,
an item from the “B” list, and an insinuation that they are not
the same thing. In this same way, we can question the
possibility of manmade machines becoming conscious:




Likewise, American philosopher and law professor Thomas
Nagel invites us to imagine consciousness in lower animals:2




2. “What is it like to be a bat?,” Thomas Nagel, The Philosophical
Review LXXXIII, 4, Oct. 1974, pp 435-450. Widely cited article
stressing the first-person view of the mind. Look for it on the web.
The Inner Light Theory of Consciousness
64

Other interesting examples of the mind-body problem are
in the form of short stories or scenarios. For instance, Australian
philosopher Frank Jackson poses the story of Mary,3 a brilliant
scientist who is forced to investigate the world from a black and
white room via a black and white television monitor. In spite of
her situation, Mary learns all that there is to know about the
physical aspects of color, such as the wavelength of light, the
different sensory cells in the eyes, and the neurophysiology of
the brain. Then one day Mary is released into the world and has
her first experience of actually seeing color. This is something
new to her, something she has never known. Therefore her
knowledge of the physical aspects of color (a member of List
“A”) is not the same as her experience of color (a member of
List “B”).
Perhaps the most well known example of the mind-body
problem is called The Chinese Box,4,5 developed by the
American philosopher John Searle. Imagine being locked in a
small room with nothing but a rule book, a pencil, and paper.
Through a slot in the door you are passed Chinese writing,
which you find incomprehensible since you do not understand
this language. Nevertheless, you blindly look up each symbol
in the rule book, which tells you the appropriate symbols to
write down on a sheet of paper. When the rule book indicates
you are done, you obediently pass the paper back out of the slot.
On the outside of the room, a native Chinese speaker is
having a delightful exchange. He writes down questions in
Chinese, passes them into the slot, and receives an answer back
in Chinese. In other words, your activity in the room, in


3. “What Mary didn™t know,” Frank Jackson, The Journal of
Philosophy LXXXIII, 5, May 1986, pp 291-295. Search the web.
4. “Minds, brains, and programs,” John R. Searle, Behavioral and
Brain Sciences 3: pp 417-424. See ref. 5 for updated version.
5. The Mystery of Consciousness, John R. Searle, 1997, New York
Review of books, 224 pages. Excellent review of the present status
of the mind-body problem, covering modern approaches from pure
science to philosophy. At the top of the recommended reading list.
Chapter 5: Defining the Problem 65

combination with the rule book, is sufficient to carry on a
written conversation in this foreign language.

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