Philosophy and neurosciences
BALOYANNIS S.J., M.D., PhD
Professor of Neurology, Aristotelian University of Salonica
Philosophy and the neurosciences have a parallel evolution during the ages, since philosophy is and advanced and very elaborated product of cognition and neurosciences, at the same time, obtain their real meaning, whenever they are associated with philosophy. Philosophy of Neurosciences basically concerns foundational philosophical issues within the field of neurosciences involving also neuroscientific concepts for further interpretation and analytical approaching of philosophical doctrines. Main psychological problems, which have preoccupied philosophers throughout the centuries, from Plato to Jaspers, such as the processes of consciousness, perception, knowledge, learning and thinking as well as functions and interaction of the mind and soul, might be approached and eventually solved only when the brain itself is properly understood. However, neurosciences without philosophy have a limited materialistic profile, consisted of a rather mechanistic conception of mental events, processes, and human behaviour, which is mostly explained as been exclusively motivated by beliefs and desires, integrated by neural network activity conceptualizing that mental phenomena are identical to neural phenomena. The concept of consciousness posses an important place as a topic in philosophy of mind and recent discoveries in neurosciences stimulate extensive philosophical debates on the nature of consciousness and the various neurophysiological mechanisms related to processes and properties of the conscious experience. However, in spite of the momentous revolutions in the field of cellular and molecular neurosciences in the last decades, there are no convincing data for bringing the phenomenon of human consciousness into the realm of clear understanding. A theory of consciousness requires an explanation of how and why some brain processes induce consciousness as a radical function for the perception of sensosensorial experience and intuition. Pain experiences have long been used as a model for analysis and theorizing about conscious experience. Nevertheless in spite of extensive experimental work and much speculation, emphasizing the importance of connections between thalamic nuclei and the cortex of the brain's hemispheres and the developed thalamocortical recurrency, there is not a conclusive explanation of consciousness at the level of neural mechanism, even by analyzing and tracing the interactions between nerve cells and the neurotransmitters associated with them. From the philosophical and neuropsychological point of view the consciousness has a personal character since its interior dimension plays an important role in plotting the profile of the personality and defining the broad behavioral pattern of each person. The sensosensorial perception and recognition, the processing of the imformations and the sensory coding system is also one of the main topics of the philosophy of neurosciences. Although we are in position to interpret how the vivid sensory experience arises in the sensory cortex of the brain, we are not in possession of a neuroscientific explanation of the incorporation of the sensosensorial experience in the mind for building up the knowledge and inducing learning. The mental faculties according to the neurobiology may be explained reasonably by accepting the mechanisms of habituation, sensitization and classical conditioning, issues which have an obvious mechanistic profile. We would conclude that neurobiological theory of mind, supported by molecular biology, neurophysiology and the recent unification of neurosciences and the psychological sciences, although opens a window onto further development of theories of mind, based on evidence, supports a radical neuron doctrine, which in spite of the concept of neuronal plasticity is rather materialistic than naturalistic. In addition, a solely neurobiological explanation of mental and psychological phenomena leads to dissolution and ambiguity and leaves a substantial number of problems unsolved, particularly those which concern the interior life, the emotions and the mystical and spiritual life of the human being. Neurosciences must have a deep philosophical import in order have a relevance to the problems of mental activities and the harmonious interactions between mind and soul. Encephalos 2009, 46(1):5-20.
Key words: Philosophy, neurosciences, consciousness, language, mind and soul.