The 2,020th Meeting of the Society

December 17, 1993

On What the Mind is Identical With

Teed Rockwell


About the Lecture

The unity of mind and body need not imply accepting the unity of mind and brain, because the mind-brain identity is something that science has presupposed, not discovered. I cite evidence from modern neuroscience that cognitive activities are distributed throughout the human nervous system, which challenges the "scientific" assumption (believed by Descartes, among others) that the brain is the seat of the soul, and the rest of the nerves are mere message cables to the brain. Dennett comes close to accepting this point when he criticizes "Cartesian Materialism," yet he still claims that "the head is headquarters." Accepting that the mind is the entire nervous system solves some philosophical problems, for Dennett and others. There is also some evidence to indicate that some cognitive activities may be hormonal rather than neural, which raises some challenging problems for the once-obvious distinction between causing a mental state and embodying that state.

About the Speaker

Teed Rockwell is a musician by profession, performing with the world folk chamber trio GEIST, whose recordings of original music have received extensive national distribution, as well as radio and television airplay. He studied Philosophy of Science with Wilfred Sellars and has a Master's Degree in Philosophy from Duquesne University, with additional post-graduate work in philosophy at the University of Texas This talk is based on a paper to be published in the peer-reviewed journal Philosophical Psychology. His talk to the Society last year led to a paper to be published in Behavior and Philosophy.


President Spargo called the 2020th meeting to order at 8:16 p.m. on December 17, 1993. The Recording Secretary read the minutes of the 2019th meeting and they were approved. The speaker for the 2020th meeting was Teed Rockwell, a philosopher and musician, and the title of his talk was “On What the Mind Is Identical With”. Mr. Rockwell indicated that most people accept that the meaning of “the mind is the brain” is that mental states are merely brain states. This is propounded in the philosophy of eliminative materialism which reduces concepts to a material form. The idea of mind and brain equivalency is at least 2,000 years old based on the writings of Hippocrates. Even today, the presupposition is reinforced when we call dumb people “brainless”. DesCartes separated the mind from the brain, but considered the mind to be the rational, thinking entity whereas feelings were brain states. The mind is connected to the brain which acts as 4 processor and the nervous system's messenger cables Modern materialists accept this presence—an unconscious being and a conscious being. Current neurology researchers presuppose all cognitive activity occurs in the brain. However, recent research suggests that the rest of the nervous system has some capability of cognitive ability. Retinal research has shown that excitation of an optical rod sends a signal through a network to the ganglia, which sends a signal to the optical nerve. On center cell receptors fire when a stimulus is present whereas off center cells fire when the stimulus changes, that is, they sense motion. In these cases, the cell makes a judgment as to the type of activity, thus is a cognitive activity. This activity is the same as the activity in the brain, suggesting that the entity of “self” is distributed. The sense of touch acts in the same way: Stimulated areas are activated, and other areas are inhibited. This decision is made before going to the brain. This theory has not been tested since neuroscientists tend to equate the mind with the brain. Other data suggests that other phenomena are tied to hormonal flows as opposed to neural firings. For example, the brain creates a sense of thirst when it responds to a hormone released from the kidney when the kidney senses a low amount of water. This has raised questions regarding eliminative materialism since these activities are carried on outside of the brain. In an illustrative example, eliminative materialism would indicate that a pain in the foot is in the brain and not the foot, whereas if the mind embodies the entire nervous system, then the pain is actually in the foot. This is supported be a case where a paralyzed woman in pain had her spinal cord removed so that the brain would stop receiving pain signals through the nervous system; however, the pain did not stop. Mr. Rockwell closed his talk by proposing that the concept of the mind being an object is a categorical mistake similar to calling a collection of academic buildings a university. Instead, the mind is a process. Furthermore, neurological research is needed in this area but that the assumption of the mind being identical with the brain should be dropped until proven by research. Mr. Rockwell then kindly answered questions from the audience. The President thanked the speaker for the Society. The Vice President announced three new members. The President then announced the next meeting as being the Retiring President's Address, made the usual parking announcement, and adjourned the 2020th meeting to the 123rd Annual Business Meeting at 9:15 p.m. Attendance: 65 Temperature: 1.9°C Weather: Clear Respectfully submitted, Alan Russell Recording Secretary