Thoughts on the Capabilities and Limitations of 3D Brain Imaging Technology and NeuroScience in General, in Terms of Understanding the MInd

3D Brain Imaging Technology, Helen Thompson, The Guardian, July 30 2015

In reference to this type of technological uncovering of aspects of the neurological system and what it can achieve in terms of assisting in understanding mental phenomena such as mental illness (something specifically posited in the article as a potential for the technology), we need to first understand what it does and does not reveal about the neurological system, and what it by definition cannot reveal about the relation between that system and any mental phenomena.

There’s a huge number of undemonstrated assumptions, including some with demonstrated problems, underlying this kind of research. Many of them are probably necessary in a heuristic sense, in order to provide any sort of starting point, while others are inevitably going to lead to paradoxical issues. The difficulty here, as in many areas, is that the distinction between a heuristic (something used as a guide but not fully assumed as actually true) and a presumption that a guiding notion is actually true is difficult to maintain in practice. Predictably the researchers will find that assumed structures have so little commonality between individuals that the notion of a “normal” brain becomes too problematic to be used as a baseline for analysing an “abnormal” brain. Just as predictably specific messages assumed to take place between areas of the brain will be absent. How neuroscience copes with these challenges to its basic assumptions (so far, other research that has problematized these assumptions is largely ignored) will determine whether what is really only a proto-science at the moment falls into the common trap of the pseudo-scientific or matures appropriately into a proper science.

This also demonstrates the basic relation between technology and science. Technology is never simply applied science, rather science comes along after technology reveals something and attempts toaccount for what has been revealed. This basis in accounting-for is the reason natural science is always associated with mathematics in the most general sense. Technology can reveal certain things about the brain, but it’s impotent in terms of understanding even the most basic things about the mind from that perspective, as is the science that accounts-for what it does reveal.

One of the basic things that needs to be understood in order to form any relation between the neural system (or the body as a whole) and mental phenomena is the means by which they intra-act as a non-dual duality. Obviously they are not truly distinct entities, because they can never encounter each other as such. Yet as “things”, as unities grasped in a given set of data, they have no data points in common.

The mind treats the body as largely imaginary. In order to walk to the kitchen, say, I imagine myself doing it. But I don’t simply imagine it, or I’d still be sitting imagining. It’s difficult to think, though, of the specific difference between the mind triggering action, which requires that it somehow alter the state of the neurological system rather than merely reflecting it, and simply imagining that action.

As Plato determined, the ‘logistikon’ or faculty of reason is predicated on the ‘pharmakon’, which despite both Foucault and Derrida, cannot be considered madness but as the word implies, habit. To the neurological system, though, the mind would have to appear as mysterious (if it could experience mystery or lack of it), since it makes demands on something it doesn’t encounter, demands that may or may not be met. Further it receives demands from the same something it doesn’t encounter, which it must at least attempt to execute.

In order to make any relation between consciousness, whether normal or abnormal (whatever that properly means) and the neurological system we can’t rely on technology and what it’s capable of uncovering. At best technology may show that certain assumptions are incorrect and that those assumptions are part of what makes the interaction between mind and body appear paradoxical.


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