A Mind-Body Analogy


An analogy on mind/body (adapted from Robert Pirsig)

The computer is the body. The program is the mind, and is of a higher order than the body. Now it’s quite true that without the computer, the program won’t run. If you damage the computer, you may well affect how the program operates. However… the program is still of a higher order than the computer. The computer does not CREATE the program – it is simply a vehicle. An electrician or even a physicist can tear your computer apart and not have a clue about how the program operates, what its values are, or what it means. At best, he may detect the program as magnetic bits on a disk, but unless he knows how decode these, and then understands a programming language, he still won’t know what the program means. He can tell you which circuits open and close when the program runs – and pretend from this that he understands the program. He would be quite wrong. If he does understand the program, it will be because he’s studied programming (the mind) – not because he’s studied physics and electronics.

Furthermore, the program is not a direct function of the computer at all. The program could exists in your computer or mine – or on a CD or a diskette or printed on a piece of paper. It could exist on the internet or simply in the mind of the programmer. Destroying your computer does not, for example, destroy “Microsoft Windows”.

Given what we understand of the physical brain, and what we know from the interior of our own minds, it is an enormous leap to presume that we understand the mind from the brain. Phenomenologically, of course, there is almost no similarity at all. I invite any scientist to study a person’s brain, and accurately determine from that the content of a single one of their thoughts.

Another example I ran into somewhere, and have probably repeated here at least once. Suppose there was a scientist who studied the color “red”. This scientist knew everything there is to know, objectively, about the color red. All the optics, the wavelengths, the physics. This scientist is also an expert on the human perception of color, and knows everything there is to know about how the human eye perceives the color red and how the brain interprets and reports that perception. This super-scientist knows absolutely everything there is to know about “seeing red”.

Only one thing – this particular super-scientist has lived her entire life wearing special glasses that filter out the color red. She has never actually seen red. Now, for the first time, she goes outside, takes off her glasses, and looks at a red rose. Doesn’t she now understand something she didn’t know before?

The objective details will never give a complete UNDERSTANDING of the inner events.

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