Would the mind work without stimuli or experience?
- For Teachers
Imagine how the brain would work in smth like vacuum, such as in a sensory deprivation tank, where the body floats in an oxygenated fluid, but completely deprived of all sensory stimuli.
This experiment reminds me of one of Tom Clancy's novels (I don't remember which one) where the sensory deprivation device is used by the KGB in brainwashing techniques for counterintelligence purposes. In the novel, a Russian spy is immersed in a tank of water, at body temperature, the walls of the tank are grey (neither black, nor white - no night/day), her outfit grey and with a skin texture. She floats there for a while in total isolation in an almost womb-like environment but far worse, no sounds, no gravity, no smell, no sleep, just the brain and its own innermost thoughts, cut off from any sensory stimuli. Every now and then, at long intervals, the spy received questions such as: "what did you do?" and so on. This voice is the only contact she has with the outside, it saves her consciousness and reassures her that she is alive.
How would the mind work without stimuli or experience? The prisoner is on the brink of mind-twistedness and hallucination when she is removed from the tank. Once she is out, she receives the same questions she heard in the tank, and she answers minutely to them all.
I agree, this is fiction, but the difference between fiction and reality is that fiction makes sense.
Last edited by bianca; 18-Aug-2007 at 06:10.
Would the mind work without stimuli or experience?
My gawd, I hope so.
If a tree fell in a forest, would anyone hear it?
Knock on the sky and listen to the sound.
The falling tree that we don't hear will hopefully not obstruct for other stimuli to reach the brain. Experience, or external stimuli, is imperative for the mind to allow us to stay attuned to reality.
The mental content in our brain is born out of the way it responds to external vibrational stimuli. External stimuli (sounds, vibrations, visual stimuli and so on) are also called aethetic sensations, because they are nothing but contents of our mind. A piece of music or the sight of a tree are processed in the brain, and what we hear or observe in nature are mental contents, and different from individual to individual. Experience is a mental content. So, what if it didn't exist?
My guess is, if the brain were to work without stimuli, it would probably start creating an own "environement" in order to survive. I believe that nature always finds a way to survive. I am thinking of those delusional people, mentally impaired, living in a world of their own. Ideas connect us with the world, they are born empirically (through experience) but these people's 'ideas' are twisted. Their experience of the world (i.e. contact with reality) is limited or non-existing, and they build up an own 'world' in their minds. Also, take the example I gave with the prisoners encapsulated in a sensory deprivation tank, with no external stimuli whatsoever - they experience hallucinations, mind-twistedness and so on.
What do you think?
Last edited by bianca; 18-Aug-2007 at 16:59.
But the hallucinations stem from experience. In other words, the vacuum is after the fact, so experience can't be ruled out or voided, even in a sensory deprivation tank.Originally Posted by bianca
Experience lies embedded in the physical structure of the brain, in the neural connections and pathways, and the more we are exposed to stimuli, the more articulated these connections (and the wiser we are supposed to be). Wisdom is thus the product of experience through observing situations from different perspectives. Hallucinations aren't neural pathways in the brain, they are the brain's "perception of a nonexistent object or event" (wikipedia). They are caused under extreme stress, and lack of stimuli is one such example of stress, and a real torture at that. To survive, the brain will find a way to deal with the lack of stimuli by ... going awry. It builds up its own fictive pattern of stimuli and its own world. In other words, hallucinations do involve hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling and even tasting things, but these are not real. The brain believes it hears sounds, or feels the smell of something that is not there. This is (like many other mental disorders) a psychosis, a "loss of contact with reality". I don't know how these invented stimuli re-design the brain, or change its physical structure.
A sensory deprivation tank is per definition deprived of any sensorial stimuli and the only 'experience' one gets is that of nothingness, or void.
Myself, when exposed to less stimuli than I need (like monotony, or too much scilence, too little stimulance during a longer spell of time), I experience lack of concentration, of critical reflection, headaches and even apathy. But not everybody needs a lot of sensorial stimuli to live a normal life (there are introvert and extrovert people). Also, a child's brain is more malleable to experience / stimuli than an adult's.
I once read a book called "Raptor red" (which is about the world seen through the eyes of an animal) written by a paleonthology professor Robert Bakker, where a Utah Raptor watches a turtle and wonders what if its brain would be inside the turtle's head. The brain would get understimulated because the turtle's body is adapted to a monotonous lifestyle, just swimming around and doing the same thing every day. The raptor would get so bored that it would eventually die of apathy and boredom. Silence in the wildlife is never good, it is a sign of danger. If the turtle's brain would be inside the raptor's head, it would become so overstimulated that the turtle would soon withdraw, hide from the world, and wouldn't be able to function or survive. I deduce therefrom that the need for sensorial stimulance is individual for all the living creatures, and that deprivation of stimuli as well as overexposure to them can permanently limit a brain’s development, with all the consequences that this has for survival.
Last edited by bianca; 20-Aug-2007 at 05:40.
it's been a while, so here's a summary of what I think is the lost post (since the thread's moved on since then):
1. "Objects" are defined by a subject's attention, and that's all. It's a duality: No object without a subject, no subject without an object. Anything you think about is an object at the time you think about it.
2. Two distinctions: True vs. false (of statements); real vs. unreal (of things). You can say true things about objects you assign the value "unreal", such as "Unicorns only have one horn." This is possible, because even "ureal objects" can be represented (paintings, statues, verbal descriptions).
3. "Inter-subjectivity" isn't all that relevant in the hard sciences, because the hard science's subject matter does not have a subjective constituent. Subjectivity comes in at the interpretation level.
4. "That means that, in order for them to be objective, scientific theories must also "ring true" emotionally. Which, to me, is a paradox - per definition, objectiveness is matter-of-fact, isn't it?" -- That's true for the hard sciences, as their subject matter is independent of the subject: if a tree doesn't "ring true", you'll wonder what you just bumped into. If marriage doesn't "ring true" (to anyone), it doesn't exist.
5. "I believe you mean you care only about rational knowledge, but not much about imagination." -- That's not what I meant. Beyond specific contexts, it doesn't matter whether a statement is true, or a thing is real. Do dragons exist? Yes/No? My answer would be "no", but it doesn't really matter since I'm not facing one as I type this. I often run into problems with this attitude: when people tell me a strange story and then ask me whether I believe them, neither "yes" nor "no" is an answer that feels right. I simply file it away as information, until a situation makes me resolve the "truth/reality" status. (It's very complicated; not really the topic, here.)
See, that's the problem with the "brain vs. experience" debate:Originally Posted by Casiopea
If you're deprived of your senses, can you experience void? No, because you're still experiencing your body, which includes your brain. Your experiencing such things as "remembering", "thinking"... To not experience these things you'll have to make a conscious effort. But then, are you experienceing "nothing" or the process of "meditation"? And - if you're experiencing the brain - what is the thing that does the experiencing?
Can the brain experience itself? Is consciousness a result of infinite recursion? [Nobody has managed to operationalise the question, as far as I'm aware.]
I agree, no truth is conceivable outside a specific context which defines it. The existence of dragons is true in, say, the context of myths or fairy tales.
Reality is undoubtedly context-dependent. But reality is also boundless. What I said about imagination has nothing to do with the objective existence of dragons, or chairs, or trees for that matter. What I meant is simply that one can broaden one's perspective on situations and contexts, and the trigger for this is imagination. Inside a certain context, one can wander off the context's limitations, by imagining something which upon first consideration does not stand to reason, and proceed to make the application of his imagination both possible and fruitful. This takes both courage and of course, critical reflection. This is how hunches or hypotheses ,which transgress the boundaries of a specific context, come into being. The way language is pregnant (with itself,or rather with shades of meanings), is the way context-specific truths are pregnant with truths. Einstein's relativity theory is about reaching beyond specific contexts in search for new perspectives, contexts and truths.
As to the brain versus experiencing void, what do you think about the possibility of the brain re-inventing itself to cope with the lack of experience,or external stimuli? Since there have been experiments made on the brain in void environments, not only with prisoners but also with astronauts, who experienced going awry, hearing voices and so on. How would you explain that?
In conclusion, I believe we see things from different angles, but I think both angles are relevant to the topic. There can be misunderstandings, and the topic is complex. That's why I mentioned previously that I need to learn to express myself a little better.
Last edited by bianca; 20-Aug-2007 at 12:49.
True; it's imagination, after all, that's responsible for dragons.
(Notice, how I said, "true" above? I'm not entirely comfortable with that "true", not because I disagree, but because I feel it's pre-mature, and that's because I don't feel immersed in a context that makes it relevant. It's a social "true", mostly, because I can't think of a better way to reply to the post. [Sorry, I'm starting to lose my grip on the topic.])
Your putting "imagination" to the fore has made me curious about the relation between "metaphor" and "hypotheses". Schrödinger's Cat, for example.
I don't know. I'd probably look at dreams, LSD, schizophrenia and "metaphysical experiences" for an analogy. (Dreams, at least, aren't uncommon, and cause vision of absent things. Schizophrenia makes you lose track of the distinction between what you're seeing/hearing and what your thinking.)As to the brain versus experiencing void, what do you think about the possibility of the brain re-inventing itself to cope with the lack of experience,or external stimuli? Since there have been experiments made on the brain in void environments, not only with prisoners but also with astronauts, who experienced going awry, hearing voices and so on. How would you explain that?
Thought experiment (the other way round): Imagine we knew all about the brain, and transferred a perfect replica of a brain-state into a computer. Would the computer experience your body? Would the computer go mad, because it experiences a body that it can't verify?
The question is this: how much of our experience is induced by having a body, besides a brain?
Don't I know that feeling? Currently I'm not sure I know what I'm saying.In conclusion, I believe we see things from different angles, but I think both angles are relevant to the topic. There can be misunderstandings, and the topic is complex. That's why I mentioned previously that I need to learn to express myself a little better.
P.S.Do philosophers really know what they are saying? My own inclination is to believe they are correct, but we need a deeper theory than theirs to explain their theories. Can the brain theories (Freud's for instance) be named scientific theories, have they been empirically tested and validated?
Last edited by bianca; 20-Aug-2007 at 18:37.