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A deterministic problem…

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article on how pure thought can change the physical structure of the brain. Apparently, just sitting around and thinking about things can change the shape of your brain. How cool is that?

In one sense this should be no surprise. We already know that doing things like learning how to juggle or play an instrument can change the structure of the brain. It is obviously the thought that is required to do those things that causes the change. So why shouldn’t pure thought change the brain as well?

Nonetheless, I still think that this raises some interesting philosophical issues from a deterministic perspective. I mean, the structure of your brain affects what you can think, right? The structure of their brain is the reason that people with autism have so much trouble, right? I have also been told that some people are better than others at math while others are better at verbal communication because of how their brain is structured.

So to what extent does the structure of brain dictate thought and to what extent does thought dictate the structure of the brain?

I wonder about this, because I daydream a lot. In fact, I am famous for being lost in space, as it were. Have I changed the structure of my brain with all my daydreaming, or did the structure of my brain dictate that I daydream a lot?

3 Responses to “A deterministic problem…”

  1. on 22 Jan 2007 at 11:22 amJulian Sanchez

    It sounds like you’re splitting up two things that aren’t really distinct: “pure” thought on the one hand, the brain on the other. Thought just *is* the activity of the physical brain; the changes in the brain aren’t something “thought does” so much as the unfolding of the process of thought itself. You can watch a fireplace and describe what you’re seeing as flame consuming logs, but the fire *just is* the process of wood combusting; it’s not like it’s a separate entity that’s “doing something” to the wood.

  2. on 22 Jan 2007 at 1:57 pmCobb

    I believe that the brain is athletic.

    In digital systems, we often do what is called a ‘worldswap’ in which we dump all the contents of the operating systems and programs in memory to disk, in order to load a new operating system and corresponding programs. This is necessary to solve different kinds of problems.

    When you ask a question of a scientific nature to a professional audience and you are suddenly interrupted by a call from your 5 year old daughter on the cell phone, you have to worldswap your own brain to deal with the emergency.

    I take intelligence to be a factor of speed and organizing, indeed training the brain to do things like worldswap, multitask and clear. This is the quest of Buddhism, is it not? Mental gymnastics.

  3. on 22 Jan 2007 at 7:03 pmApe Man

    Mr. Sanchez,

    There is not much thought behind the posts on this blog. So I would not take anything I say to seriously. But if you don’t mind arguing for the sake of arguing….

    I phrased the problem as being a deterministic problem and I don’t see your formulation as solving that problem. So you say that thoughts and the brain are one. Very good.

    The Buddhist would agree with you.

    But if you have one substance that changes itself with no reference to anything outside itself, I think you have a deterministic problem. To understand more about the one substance problem, read this….

    But that is only a philosophical argument. As a practical matter you very well could be right. There could be far less to this study then meets the eye.

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