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Seattle Analytic Philosophy Club Message Board › The Notion of Cause and Energy Use in the Brain.

The Notion of Cause and Energy Use in the Brain.

Mark M.
user 36541252
Seattle, WA
Post #: 10
Sorry about the length...

The notion of force or cause is fundamental to science. The notion of free will or agency is fundamental to philosophy.
The notion of free will or agency is problematic for science. But because the notion of an initiating force has a permanent place at the table of scientific principles, therefore in the science of the mind the philosophical notion of free will has a voice that will not be silenced.
Scientific efforts to put a rational face on the notion of free will have achieved limited success. These efforts are characterized by the impatience of the scientific mind with the philosophers' efforts to offer up a strong rational account of free will. Many scientists and many philosophers become impatient and elect to rely on a form of reductionism, which in effect excludes philosophical treatment of free will or agency.

The reliance on reductionism leaves science with no option but to fall back on the basic notion of cause and effect when an attempt is made to frame an account free will or agency in the science of the mind. In neuroscience we see that the basic notion of cause and effect is manifest in accounts of the origins of the organisms choices and behaviour. Choices and behaviour are accounted for in terms of two basic causes. One is a Darwinian impulse to survive, the other is neurochemical incentives. How the Darwinian impulse to survive is actually wired into the organism is not known, but the existence of an urge to survive is satisfactorily evident, and when Darwin's monumental theory is put in its corner, it is hard to diminish it. The empirical support for the other cause is stronger, and though strictly speaking it is circumstantial.

These two causes can be usefully examined.
As scientific versions of a first cause they are acceptable. If and when their deficiencies come to light, the two causes will have served a role in bringing about the next improved account of cause in neuroscience.
It is notable that they resemble a Pavlovian carrot and stick. The will to survive is the stick, and neurochemical incentives are the carrot. This carrot and stick account of cause is reductive to the extent that it leaves no explanatorial gap for philosophical notions of free will or agency to lobby for relevance.

But these two candidates are still unsatisfactory. Neurosciences advocacy for these two causes is basically a way to protect its credentials in the larger pursuit of cognition and consciousness. Neuroscience has a candidate for cause but excludes free will. The reductionists' reflex to maintain a line between science and philosophy does not serve the study of cognition.

There is an option for neuroscience. It is an option that however opens the door for many philosophical notions. It is analogous to a Trojan Horse with friendly cohorts inside. Once they get inside, they will not fight against neuroscience, but they will attain legal standing in a formal pursuit of a theory of cognition. It is perhaps the case that this option has been overlooked because sub-consciously reductionists realize that it will mix science and philosophy in a way that in which they will not be subsequently separable. It is even conceivable that philosophy may attain a position of importance from which it may not be moved. That situation would be unsettling for those acquainted with philosophy's capacity for blurry and unfinished thinking.
But in the real world, we are called to be modest before life as well as facts.

The option that adds another way to carry the concept of cause into neuroscience is to consider energy use in the organism.
It is a substantial option for several reasons.
Energy is very important to the organism. It can be said to be an existential necessity. Energy is also one of the foundatio concepts in all science. It has an indispensable place in quantitative treatments of physical and chemical events. Its exclusion from any science would be not really acceptable.
The capacity to monitor and track energy use is wired into the organism at many levels, so that the ability to follow and track energy use is present to the nervous system at many levels. We experience fatigue in our legs when we run. We experience rejuvenation after we rest. We understand what an empty stomach means, and it does not take much learning to discover the remedy. We understand the different amounts of work that are required to obtain nutrition and those challenges, it is reasonable to assume, offer a structure and incentive to invest in rational strategies to learn; we learn to reason in order to better be able to obtain food. Besides the conscious awareness of energy issues the organism also tracks energy use at a cellular level. It is hard to believe that information from mitochondria would be walled off from the nervous system in some way. There is also energy use in the neo-cortex. Our brain consumes a great portion of the organism's energy. Although it is not presently a discipline priority, I believe that the cortex would find a way to register and track energy use within itself.
In short, I believe that the organism has an inbuilt network, supplemental to the nervous system, which communicates concerning energy use. That network will also inform the organism about issues which are intimately connected to energy. In the very direct relationship between energy and many phenomena, energy monitoring will quickly become a means to interpret a variety of valuable information.
The measurement of energy use provides a way to the organism to connect with and involve itself in the outside world. The organism has to learn the terms of energy exchange with the outside world. It has to learn to read its environment and transact with it on the outside worlds terms. The strategies to avoid dangerous energy loss and secure energy sources will be fundamental and advantageous to cognitive development.
Why is this important to neuroscience and not something to be delegated to cognitive psychology? Because, to the organism, energy use is all of a one.
Could this concern with energy use be folded into a Darwinian impulse to survive? It could. But the impulse to survive has at present no empirical foundation, while the measurement of energy use does. Energy use is a more discipline rigorous window into the notion of cause than the inferred notion of a survival instinct.
Could the pursuit of energy be rationalized as a means to attain a neurochemical reward? It could. But the notion of a neurochemical carrot is very fuzzy when you examine it. Consider, if there is such a thing as an impulse to survive, then is not survival itself a carrot? In short if everything on the upside of survival would be a carrot, and if every positive phenomenon is a carrot, then the notion of a carrot or reward provides to explanatory value. Energy use is to a degree quantifiable, while the attractive potential of neurochemical rewards takes place is hard to quantify.
We cannot legitimately infer a line between a somatic and a cognitive concern for energy use. As a driver of behaviour and an instance of causation in the organism, I think energy use cannot be ignored.

The tracking of energy use provides a way to give the notion of cause a place in the scientific and philosophical study of cognition and consciousness.

Full text is at­m
user 74564852
Raleigh, NC
Post #: 42
Even before I left high school, physics had been revised three times: from Galileo, Newton, Einstein to Bohr. Later on, the notion of force was heavily used in engineering classes but it was understood that we did so only for convenience, not because force was something fundamental in science. I kind of lost track of modern physics.
Mark M.
user 36541252
Seattle, WA
Post #: 11
Hello George - One of my intentions in this post is to draw attention to the narrow conceptual basis of neuroscience, and show how an inclusion of a fundamental property ( energy ) enhances its explanatory potential. But it enhances that potential at the risk of legitimizing philosophy's role in a theory of cognition.
user 74564852
Raleigh, NC
Post #: 66
But it enhances that potential at the risk of legitimizing philosophy's role in a theory of cognition.
Hello Mark,
I don't see anything wrong with legitimizing philosophy. I think your adventure is worthwhile.

The mind is definitely more intimate than the brain. Much of what we know about the mind is self-evident; everything we know about the brain is inferred. The ultimate constituents of modern science are sensations--overwhelmingly, visual sensations. I think, in order to fully understand the brain, we need to tap into more sensations and we also need to meditate philosophically.

To illustrate my point:
Many philosophers believe that "not" and "or" are laid out in eternal heaven. Bertrand Russell speculates that "or" and "not" express mental states, namely, hesitation and rejection. Will science ever be able settle this dispute?

Another example, when a Basque native wants to express sadness, he/she would say, "I feel like birds flying south," because there is no such words as "sad" in Basque language. This makes me wonder how many more mental states we feel but we have not been able to express yet.
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