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Mind has a material basis

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 10/16/2010 Category: Science
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 1,819 times Debate No: 13390
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (3)
Votes (3)




The debate is about the notion that Mind is made up of matter. I don't agree to that because no physical science / material science has been able to describe the mechanical functioning of Mind. Efforts are being made to explain the mind and mental activity in terms of quantum physics. But taking into account the fact that the quantum theory itself has many unexplainable issues, I don't think it is right to try explaining something that is not understood in terms of something that is understood but not in totality? If that is allowed, why shouldn't we try to explain quantum physics in terms of the mind instead?



According to Princeton's Wordnet, "mind" is "that which is responsible for one's thoughts and feelings." [1]

Also according to Princeton's Wordnet, "matter" is "that which has mass and occupies space." [2]

Burden of proof:

What does the resolution ask each side to prove?

My opponent says, "The debate is about the notion that Mind is made up of matter."

I (pro) choose to prove the above statement true by proving that thoughts and feelings originate in the brain. Since the brain both has mass and occupies space, this is a valid affirmation of the resolution.

My opponent (con) must prove that thoughts and feelings originate somewhere incorporeal (that has no mass).

My case:

The easiest way to prove that certain functions originate in the brain is to look at individuals with brain damage or genetically-stunted brain development and see which functions are impaired.


The ability to recognize emotion in others is heavily dependent on the right side of the brain and injuries to this area result in emotional agnosia (agnosia means "loss of knowledge"). According to Rhawn Joseph, Ph.D., "In some instances, patients may be unable to recognize faces, including the faces of friends, family, or even their own face in the mirror--a condition referred to as "prosopagnosia." In some cases, the agnosia [can] be quite circumscribed and limited to emotion and social signals. These latter disturbances, collectively referred to as a "social-emotional agnosia" may occur with prosopagnosia and are also stereotypically associated with right cerebral injuries." [3]

In addition, stroke patients (whose brains have been damaged by lack of oxygen) often lose their ability to feel emotion. According to the Cambridge Handbook of Psychology, Health, and Medicine, 23% of stroke patients experience an inability to feel emotions due to brain damage. [4]

Lastly, 85% of people with autism display Alexithymia, which is an inability to recognize emotional states in others. [5]

It was once thought that we understood emotions by using our prefrontal cortex to understand rationally what emotion someone else must be feeling based on the situation. For example, we think "John's dog just died, therefore those must be tears of sadness, not happiness." This was known as the "theory of mind." However, a number of researchers soon discovered a new type of neuron called a "mirror neuron." Mirror neurons fire when we observe someone else; for example, if someone else moves their hand to pick up a spoon, our mirror neurons activate the same neural pathway that we would use if we were picking up the spoon ourselves. We can thus understand intent and emotions by pretending we are in the same situation as the person we are observing, by virtue of our mirror neurons. [6] Mirror neurons are how we deduce that the spoon will be used for eating (as opposed to throwing at it someone) and that John is crying because he is sad (as opposed to happy).


The frontal lobe of the brain is responsible for most of our complex thought and injuries to this area affect a wide variety of human behaviors. "The frontal lobes are considered our emotional control center and home to our personality. There is no other part of the brain where lesions can cause such a wide variety of symptoms (Kolb & Wishaw, 1990). The frontal lobes are involved in motor function, problem solving, spontaneity, memory, language, initiation, judgment, impulse control, and social and sexual behavior." [7] Frontal lobe injuries can also result in a loss of humor or a loss of abstract thinking. [8]

[4] Andrew Baum, page 598
[6] see Marco Iacoboni, Mirroring People
[8] Ezine, Frontal Lobe Injuries
Debate Round No. 1


My opponent has proposed that as feelings, emotions and thought originate in the brain, Mind has a material basis since brain is material. To support his claim he has come up with example of behaviour of people with brain imparity. But I don't agree that is sufficient proof to conclude that mind is not an entity separate from the brain. The reason for my disagreement I will describe using the following example: -

We all use computers/typewriters to write a letter efficiently and also to save time. But the letter is actually being written by us not the computer or the typewriter. Now, suppose for some reason the computer or typewriter gets damaged and doesn't function properly. For example, suppose the computer is affected with a virus that prevents the user from using it efficiently. We can't use the machine efficiently for our purpose, this diminishes our competence.

The same thing happens to the mind of a person, who has a disabled brain. The brain is just an instrument of the Mind. When the brain malfunctions, the mind becomes less efficient. But only because of that it can't be said that the Mind has no existence without the brain. It would be like arguing that we don't have an existence without typewriters, computers and all the technology that we use. So my opponent needs to come up with a better supportive evidence for his claim that brain is the basis of mind.

In this connection I find it pertinent to mention that research in the field of cognitive neurology has suggested that there are "causal relations" between the neural activity of the brain and "conscious experience" of the mind. But which is the cause and which is the effect has not yet been proven. It could be, as I explained above, that the Mind is responsible for all the neural activity going on in the brain, that we can study, and not the other way round as the common notion is.

I contend that thoughts, feelings, emotions "originate" in the mind which is incorporeal unless it is proven otherwise by my opponent.


Responding to my opponent's most recent arguments:

He says, "I don't agree that is sufficient proof to conclude that mind is not an entity separate from the brain." My opponent has the burden of proof as the instigator. He cannot simply "doubt" my suppositions, but must prove that the mind is contained in some incorporeal entity.

I have proven that we have always seen brain damage followed by a loss of mental function. If the mind resides elsewhere besides the brain, we should have observed at least one case of a "brain dead" individual continuing to be able to function normally. Since this has never happened, we can assume that the brain causes the mind to exist, and not the other way around.

My opponent's analogy actually works against him.

If the person is "the mind" and the computer is "the brain," then when the computer breaks, the person "the mind" should still be able to communicate since he or she does not reside in the computer ("the brain"). If my computer broke, I could still post to this website on a friend's computer. I could still call you and talk to you on the phone.

However, when a real brain breaks, the mind is not able to communicate through another medium. If the mind resides elsewhere besides the brain, the impairments of the brain should not prevent it from communicating.

It is a strange coincidence that the brain seems to be the only tool that the mind can use. Why can a mind not possess another person's brain?

My opponent got it wrong – consciousness is actually a tool that the brain uses. If our brains did not give us the capacity to learn and think, they would have to be many times larger for us to be able to perform the same number of functions.

My opponent then talks about causal relations. This is essentially what David Hume called the "problem of causation." It is impossible to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that A causes B. However, Hume had a solution. Hume's theory of induction was that we should rely on repeated observation and assume that the future would continue to be like the past. [1] Until we see a brainless mind, we should continue to believe that the brain creates the mind, not the other way around.

If the mind is not dependent on the size of the frontal cortex, then why do animals not possess minds similar to our own?

Because we see mindless brains (in some animals), but not brainless minds, the causation is clear.

Vote pro

Debate Round No. 2


In the third round I will try to answer the questions put forth by my opponent regarding my proposition of existence of a "brainless mind" at seriatim.

Firstly, I will refer to a study done by Dr. Pim van Lommel, a cardiologist from Netherlands, who studied a group of patients who had suffered cardiac arrests and who were successfully revived. He found that 62 patients (18%) had a Near-Death Experience (NDE), of whom 41 (12%) described a core experience. Many of the subjects had "NO NEURAL ACTIVITY" in the brain as understood from a flat-EEG. Among other symptoms they had fixed and dilated pupil sufficient to describe the subject "brain-dead" or "clinically dead".

Such "experiences" encountered by people declared "clinically dead" or "brain dead" suggest that the mind can survive "brain-death".

Given bellow is a link to articles by Dr. van Lommel, which describes the study and conclusions in detail:

The above also answers my opponents query for inductive evidence and what he said about the "problem of causation".

Secondly, my opponent has raised the question why the mind cannot use another person's brain. In reply to that I would state that I don't think that is impossible. But for that to be possible we first need to have a technology for successful brain transplant. Unless a brain transplant is done there is no evidence to prove that a person's mind cannot use another person's brain.

Further to that I would like to state that there are higher-levels of consciousness than ordinary waking state. Sean O' Nuallain in his book "Zero-Power and Selflessness", in which he has done studies on the meditating mind, has stated that meditators often describe selfless states as well as higher states of consciousness than ordinary waking state. My opponent can reject that on the ground that these are subjective experiences and cannot be treated as empirical proof of existence of such states of consciousness. But I want to make it clear that in absence of any flawless method to measure consciousness objectively, we are not left with any option but to rely on subjective experience.

Thirdly my opponent has stated, "If our brains did not give us the capacity to learn and think they would have to be many times larger for us to be able to perform the same number of functions." I am not able to comprehend what he means by that and would request him to please elaborate that point and also how he came to that conclusion.

Lastly, I would state that animal brains should not be considered "mindless". Using my opponent's definition of mind, mind should be responsible for feelings, emotions and thought not for reasoning or intelligence. We can't state with certainty that animals don't have feelings or that they don't emote in any manner or that any type of thought process is not going on in there minds. Thoughts, feelings, emotions are all subjective experiences and can felt only by the first person; others will have to rely on the first person's description. For example, one can't understand how it feels to be in love unless one falls in love.

I think I have given a description of how brainless mind can exist even after "brain" death. Now, it is over to my opponent to describe a mindless "brain" live and functioning.


Refuting the Lommel "study":

1. Lommel doesn't use the scientific method. Instead of creating a testable hypothesis that can be disproven, he merely catalogues near-death-experiences (henceforth referred to as: NDE's). Lommel is obsessed with proving that the mind lives on after death, and this obviously clouds his conclusions.

2. If mind and brain were truly separate, 100% of his cardiac arrest patients should have experienced NDE's, not 18%.

3. A flat EEG does not mean you are clinically dead. According to Harvard's Dr. Robert S. Schwab, a patient must have a flat EEG for 24 hours before being considered "clinically dead." "After barbiturate poisoning or long exposure to extreme cold, a patient might have a flat EEG for several hours and still be capable of full recovery." [1]

4. A flat EEG does not mean there is no brain activity. An EEG only measures neural activity on the SURFACE of the brain. Brain activity can still be occurring deeper within the brain. Tao, Ray, Hawes, and Ebersole (2005) found that surgically implanted electrodes measured seizures in epileptic patients that did not appear on an EEG. [2] Kobayashi, Hawco, Grova, Dubeau, and Gotman, (2006) found that intense seizures registered on an MRI but not on an EEG. [3] David Braithwaite concludes, "Confidence in previous claims that flat EEG represents total neural inactivity appears severely misplaced." [4]

5. The fact that the cardiac arrest patients' brains were able to form memories of the NDE's proves that their brains were still active. [5]

6. The "dying brain theory" (DBT) better explains Lommel's results. DBT predicts that when some people begin to die, their brains release a ton of neuro-chemicals capable of inducing a number of NDE's. According to Michael Shermer, author of Hope Springs Eternal: Science, the Afterlife & the Meaning of Life, the hallucination of flying is caused by the secretion of atropine, age regression is caused by secretion of methylenedioxyamphetamine, and out-of-body experiences are caused by the anesthetic ketamine. [6] Susan Blackmore found that seeing a tunnel of light is caused by a lack of oxygen disrupting the firing of neurons in the visual cortex. [7] Blanke (2002) found that out-of-body experiences could be induced by neural stimulation of the temporal lobe. [8]

David Braithwaite explains that dying brain theory predicts that patients closer to death will experience "more vivid, profound, detailed and meaningful" NDE's. [9] This is exactly what Lommel found: patients that experienced NDE's were extremely old (average age of 62) and were much more likely to die again "for real" within 30 days. [10]

7. David Braithwaite, refuting Lommel's study, says, "there are no documented cases that clearly show that NDE occurred at the precise time that the EEG was flat. This appears to be merely assumed." It is more likely the patients experienced the NDE's immediately prior to the flat EEG and lost track of time (a second can seem like an hour).

Refuting the monks:

Newberg and D'Aquili (2001) used MRI's to determine that monks achieve out of body experiences and blurring of consciousness by suppressing the posterior superior parietal lobe of the brain through deep meditation.

Why can't the mind possess another person's brain?
I don't know why you'd need a brain transplant if the mind doesn't reside in the brain.

Mindless brain
Mice are not self-aware; they do not know that they exist as an individual.

Out of characters – will clarify the rest later.

[2] Braithwaite,
[3] Ibid
[4] Ibid
[5] Ibid
[6] Shermer,
[7] Ibid
[8] Ibid
[9] Braithwaite, ibid
[11] Braithwaite, ibid
Debate Round No. 3


Regarding study on NDE:
1. My opponent doesn't make it clear why the study is unscientific. There is no way to measure consciousness objectively, so there no other alternative but to rely on subjective experience. My opponent should also describe, what other method could have been used in the study to make it more scientific.
2. The question why only 18% of the subjects remembered the NDE can be answered by referring to our experiences in a dream state. How often do we remember dreams? When we do we hardly remember every single detail of our dream. In most cases we don't remember anything at all. So it is possible that the remaining subjects also had an NDE, but were not able to recall it.
3. & 4. There were symptoms other a than flat-EEG in the subjects such as fixed and dilated pupil on the basis of which any medical practitioner would declare them "Clinically dead".
5. There is no proof that even memories have a material basis. The common notion is that memories are stored in brain just like they are stored in a computer hard disk. But in absence of a comprehension of the exact mechanism by which memories are stored in Brain and retrieved back as well as the knowledge of a precise location in brain where memories are located the idea is no better than a fallacy.
6. I agree that DBT is a prospective theory. But it is by no means a complete theory. There are many questions that are left unanswered by it. And by any means it is a theory of the "dying" brain not the "dead" brain.
7. Our understanding of time depends on our mind and our state of consciousness. We are unable to account for time even when we are dreaming. But then there is no evidence to show that NDEs were not encountered "after" brain death in an altered state of consciousness.

Regarding Meditation:
My opponent stated "that monks achieve out of body experiences and blurring of consciousness by suppressing the posterior superior parietal lobe of the brain through deep meditation." That itself is a proof that the mind can control neural activity. When the mind breaks the boundaries of the body neural activity decreases.

Regarding requirement of Brain transplant:
Using my opponent's example, to use another computer in place of his own he would need a computer that he can access and that is not being used by another person. That will not imply he resides in the computer.

Regarding the example of Mindless brain:
I don't know how my opponent came to the conclusion that mice are not self-aware. What is the proof? Mice do not talk. (Stuart Little and Mickey Mouse being the only exception. But they are self-aware I suppose).


Responding to my opponent's most recent round:

I can't extend all my arguments, due to space constraints.

2. The fact that we can't remember dreams proves the mind depends on the brain. Mark Blagrove, Professor of Psychology, explains that our brain neuro-chemistry is different while we're asleep, which is why we have trouble encoding dreams into memory. [1] If the mind ignored the brain, it should function the same way when we're asleep as when we're awake.

3 & 4 The dilated pupils are my opponent's last defense that the patients were "brain dead." However, remember that Lommel was interviewing cardiac arrest patients. Cath Lab has a series called "ask a clinical instructor." A med student asks why dilated pupils are not a reliable indicator of brain death in cardiac arrest patients. The clinical instructor answers that atropine is given to treat cardiac arrest, and atropine causes fixed and dilated pupils. "To answer the question, in the initial stages of cardiac arrest, particularly after atropine has been administered, dilated pupils cannot be relied upon to provide a sign of potential brain function." [2]

Also remember, atropine is the same exact drug that Michael Shermer said induces hallucinations of flying and weightlessness.

6. DBT explains everything if the patients were either a) not brain dead at all or b) had their NDE prior to brain death, not during it. The fact that our brains have receptors for neuro-transmitters capable of achieving all the effects of an NDE proves that these events are well within science's ability to explain.

7. David Braithwaite reviewed Lommel's findings and concluded that all the NDE's could have occurred BEFORE the flatlined EEG's.

The widely publicized NDE of Pam Reynolds, for example, (which Lommel cites multiple times as proof) was debunked by Keith Augustine when he proved that her NDE occurred during surgery, not during her flat EEG. [3]


No, this does not prove that the mind can control the brain. It proves that the frontal cortex of the brain can learn deep meditation techniques that suppress other portions of the brain, achieving various effects. It has nothing to do with the mind.

Computer analogy:
Why is it that I can share my computer with someone else, but not my brain?
If a person's brain is the ONLY tool that the mind can use, then you would have to conclude that the mind "has a material basis." If my computer's death resulted in me ceasing to exist, you would have to conclude that my existence has a basis in my computer's existence.

Mindless brain
Gordon Gallup developed the mirror test for self-awareness in animals. The animal is marked with a dark spot in their sleep. The animal then is shown a mirror; if the animal grooms the mark, the animal is aware of its individual existence. Mice, for example, lack this faculty.

However, my broader question was: if minds don't depend on frontal cortical size, then why aren't animal minds more similar to human minds? I take this is proof that the mind is constituted mostly by the frontal cortex, the part of the brain that is responsible for most of human intelligence. My opponent must agree that most animals do not have language faculties and critical and abstract reasoning skills. The complexity of minds is directly related to brain size.

My opponent asked for clarification before

Even the largest super-computers cannot perform all the functions of a human because the tasks are too complex. Consciousness is an elegant shortcut the brain uses to simplify the algorithms and save space. [4]

[4] Merlin Donald, A Mind So Rare: the evolution of human consciousness, p. 154
Debate Round No. 4


The fact that we are unable to remember dreams does not prove mind depends on the brain. The memories about the dreams are right there in the mind but we are only unable to retrieve those memories normally. And I have already clarified using the example how our efficiency could get diminished when an instrument is not working properly. That explains why the mind does not work in the same way when we are asleep.

My opponent's claims about the drug he mentioned could be true. But there is no proof that all the subjects were administered the drug. Even if they were I don't think that renders the study totally unscientific. My opponent has not replied my question what other scientific method could have been used.

To say that meditation has nothing to do with mind is juvenile argument. Meditation requires concentration of mind as a pre-requisite.

I don't know if my friend (pro) is referring to the term "computer sharing" as a strictly technical term which means sharing computer resources over a network or otherwise. In case of the technical term it will always require another computer to used computer resources shared through a network. If he means like going to his friend's place and share his computer even that would require that his friend is not using it at that time. I cannot agree that the "death" or permanent damage of his computer would mean that he ceased to exist. It would only mean he won't be able to communicate with the world in the same manner as he did with the assistance of his computer. Nevertheless, he can always buy a new one. [I believe that a disembodied mind does the same thing if it wants to come back. It reincarnates and is "reborn" in a new body. But this idea of mine is only a personal speculation, so won't argue on that line. Moreover, that is beyond the scope of the present debate and I don't want to be out of the character limit.]

The mirror test only tells that the animal is not aware of its appearance. I don't think that proves they are not self-aware.

My friend in his own words agrees that the frontal cortex is "the part of the brain that is responsible for most of human intelligence". But in his own definition of mind he does not make mind responsible for intelligence. Our intelligence and our ability to reason do make us different from animals which might correlate to the size of the frontal cortex but not the mind.

Since this is the last round and I have unfolded all my views, I will now request the readers to vote for me if they find my arguments reasonable enough to convince them. I would also thank my friend (pro) for participating in the debate and wish him best of luck for the voting period.


I thank my opponent for what has been an extremely interesting round and for citing such an intriguing study (Lommel).

My opponent asks for a similar study that would use the scientific method. I offer it here:

Use a control group
Select one group of young people and one group of older people. If the mind is responsible for NDE's (near-death experiences), then the two groups should have similar percentages of people who claim to experience an NDE, since age is not an important factor in this case.

However, if DBT (dying brain theory) is correct, then those that are closer to death (the elderly) will experience more NDE's.

I actually already cited New Scientist to show that this is exactly what happened: older people were responsible for most of Lommel's NDE's (average age of NDE is 62). This is consistent with DBT but not my opponent's theory of mind.

My opponent next claims that there is no evidence that atropine was administered to all the cardiac arrest patients. However, David Gallimore of the School of Health Science at the University of Wales explains that atropine is administered to all cardiac arrest patients because it suppresses the vagus nerve, whose malfunctioning is the most likely cause of a heart attack. [1] Atropine explains both the fixed/dilated pupils, AND it explains the NDE's, since its side-effects are consistent with an NDE.

My opponent unfairly, I believe, calls my argument here juvenile. You could say that "focusing the mind" is responsible for meditation, just as much as you could say that meditation involves activating the frontal cortex in order to increase concentration. An MRI study at the Unversity of Aarhus proves that meditation is caused by increased prefrontal cortex activity (concentration). [2]

Computer analogy:
If the mind is entirely incorporeal, then re-incarnated minds should have full memories of their previous lives.

My opponent says, "I cannot agree that the ‘death' or permanent damage of his computer would mean that he ceased to exist." True – this is where the analogy breaks down. The death of the brain means the "mind" ceases to exist; the same is not true of the death of a computer. This proves that the brain is not just a "tool" the mind uses.

I defined "mind" as where our thoughts originate. There is no evidence that low-order animals have high-order thoughts like we do (like abstract reasoning skills). Therefore, their minds are not as complex. Mind complexity is directly related to frontal cortical size, proving the mind has a "basis" in the brain.

Round summary:

Remember my arguments from R1 that damage to the brain results in a number of deficiencies in the "mind": the inability to recognize emotional states in others (social-emotional agnosia, autism), the inability to feel emotion (23% of stroke patients), and the inability to think and express thoughts (damage to frontal cortex). This proves that the mind has its basis in the brain.

I thus believe that my opponent has failed his burden to prove that the mind is completely incorporeal and strongly urge a vote for the pro.

I thank my friend SoumyaMitra for what has turned out to be a very interesting and challenging debate.

Debate Round No. 5
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by m93samman 6 years ago
Simply was not convinced by con
Posted by SoumyaMitra 6 years ago
I agreee it was my fault that I did not define "mind" at the outset. But I have no problem with the defination cited by Pro - "mind is that which is responsible for one's thoughts and feelings." I accept that defination in the context of this debate and apologise for my mistake.
Posted by InBonobo 6 years ago
perhaps you should first define "Mind"
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