Magyar Tudomány The journal of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Established: 1840



Brain and Consciousness

The selection of essays in this issue covering the domain of the relations between our models of brain functions and mental life is based on an interdisciplinary conference held at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Budapest) on April18th, 2001. Full proceedings are to be published in book form in the coming winter. During the conference Hungarian neuroscientists, psychologists and philosophers discussed their research results as well as the state of scientific affairs.

The starting point in several of the papers are considerations of the experimental neuroscientist. Szilveszter E. Vizi, Vice President of the Academy starts from the neurobiologist's issues when he tries to find relations between the brain and the mind. His survey of neuroscientific ideas is both historical and conceptual. A clear presentation of two systems: a digital one based on synaptic transmission and an analog one based on non-synaptic chemical processes is portrayed. Both should be taken into account while considering the bases of mental life, consciousness and mental disease as well. The paper of György Ádám offers a comprehensive view of the unconscious mind as it is presented in the studies of vegetative functions. Consciousness is a special state in this domain rather than an assumed general feature of cognition. Tamás Freund shows how a specific waveform, present in the hippocampus (the theta activity) could be so central both to cognitive orientation and the integration of memory. György Buzsáki, also known for his models of hippocampal functions, takes a broader perspective here. He as an experimental neuroscientist has a methodical message - rather than looking for neural correlates of philosophical and mentalistic constructions, we should set it bottom up and look for the mental function of clearly identified biological events. Steven Harnad takes a similar stance when he suggests replacing the body-mind relationship issue with a search for relationships between experience and function. His conclusions are, however, rather skeptical: he questions the possibility of providing a causal-functional model for first person experience.

Several papers try to relate neuroscience to experimental psychology, demonstrating the complexity of seemingly simple phenomena. Gyula Kovács presents a critical survey of primate and human studies that tried to identify what is needed for visual consciousness. His critical conclusion is that up to this moment consciousness cannot be identified with any simple activation pattern. Mihály Racsmány, on the basis of a critical analysis of the literature, and his own work on different populations, shows that an apparently simple system, that of a working memory plays a central role in the organization of human cognition, forming a basis of conscious access. Csaba Pléh and Ágnes Lukács analyze the role of rule-based organization in language. On the basis of metalinguistic tasks as well as simple behavioral measures they showed that human language behavior is best interpreted in the frame of a dual system where rules are supplemented by simple association-based habits and the basis of the differentiation of the two systems is intricately related to sensitivity, to item and class frequency.

In connection with the papers presenting philosophical messages Ferenc Altrichter argues that although our notion of intentionality has been enriched with many extremely important insights from the fields of neurophysiology, cognitive psychology and information theory, still, intentionality is a sui generis, irreductible property of the mind - irreductible not for empirical, but for logical reasons. Intentionality is Gábor Szécsi's topic, too. As his thesis go there is an essential connection on the one hand between linguistic meaning and on the other hand the conceptual relations directly representing the intentionality of the mind. In the case of György Kampis, he opts for a body-based approach to consciousness where 'bodily' should be taken not in the sense of neural, but in the sense of searcable integral, holistic and dynamic bodily foundation of consciousness. Tibor Vámos points out that the convergence problem between the human mind and artificial intelligence is ill posed. First because the problem is self-reflexive it's a case of a judgement where the judge himself - the human being is involved. Secondly: the problem refers to an insurmountable amount of possible situations, reflections and responses. One can quote many cases where present machines are superior to the human mind and even more cases where convergence looks to be hopeless for the currently expectable technology. We possess no final answers concerning technologies of the distant future. Kristóf Nyíri argues from a philosophical-methodological point of view. Since cortical patterns and neurophysiological processes on the one hand and conscious images on the other are very different kinds of entities, the inevitable step is to posit mental images as theoretical constructs, and to treat both the objective and the subjective sides of the observational data as empirical, correlates of those constructs.

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