There is an increasing fascination, at least among media folk, with brains/minds. I write brains/minds, because brains are the approximately three pound pieces of complex meat that adults have in their skulls, and to many people, minds are more. The fascination has to do with how they work, and is a reaction to the many new insights from instruments (functional MRI scans, Pet scans) and insight into the structure and chemistry of brains.
There are several problems involved with understanding how brains/minds work. There is a perhaps cynical view (which I at times hold) that it will take something more powerful than a human brain to understand a human brain. But to be more charitable to the neurologists, psychologists, computer scientists, and other people who are engaged in this task, a major problem exists because the various disciplines involved are often not comfortable with each other. There was an article in the June 28th issue of the New York Times entitled “Face It, Your Brain Is a Computer”. It was written by Gary Marcus, a professor of psychology and neural science at NYU, who has just written a book entitled “The Future of the Brain”. The article is here, Happily, the article is not saying that the brain is a computer, as computers are commonly thought of. Rather the author is saying that thinking of the brain as a computer is perhaps a good way of structuring brain research.
The magazine section of the same issue of the newspaper contains a section entitled “Head Trips”, which speaks of brain/mind function as seen by people ranging from a talk therapist to a person with a history of bipolar disorder, to a person doing research on the effects on the brain of microbiota that grow in the gut. There seems to be agreement that brain research must involve many disciplines, since the brain does seem to exhibit some “digital” behavior, certainly involves chemistry, electrical signals, and biological processes, and is strongly affected by behavior, experience, and emotion. But many outstanding specialists are biased toward their own discipline. When I read the article by Professor Marcus, I wondered how many of his friends were bio chemists. I was very interested in the description of Mark Lyte’s work on the influence of microbiota, but he seemed far from the traditional talk therapists, who seem to be losing ground to the people in the “hard” sciences. In my opinion, theory that does not impress all of the intellectual camps involved, is not adequate. We need a giant AHA, that sets all parties dancing—the equivalent of the double helix insight.
Most of the brain/mind theories I am aware of are thought provoking and explain certain aspects of thinking, responding, interpreting, predicting, and other things brains/minds do. But can the theories be integrated into a satisfying model? That we shall see. In the interim, I think brain research is one of the more entertaining things on which to stay current (except for the Golden State Warriors, of course).