What’s the matter with Andrew Brown’s brain?

He’s completely lost me again. Brown has a couple of posts up complaining about people referring to mental illness as a “brain disease” and confusing mind with brain — he seems to deplore the growing recognition that the mind is entirely a product of the brain, and that psychology is built on a physical substrate, which leads to what he thinks is a premature reduction of mind to brain. He’s not making an argument from dualism, though; the gist of his complaint is that you can’t deduce thoughts from the structure of the brain, therefore it’s an invalid approach.

That doesn’t make any sense. We also don’t have a consistent, predictable way of deriving the structure of the brain from behavior, but we don’t use that as an excuse to dismiss studying behavior, and it’s not an argument that we need to distinguish mind from brain. We’ll never have a complete description of any brain sufficient to derive thoughts from physiology; so? Time to face the truth and recognize that your mind is entirely produced by chemistry and electrophysiology and molecular biology of the brain, nothing more, and I find no reason to take offense when people are aware that a cup of coffee, the sun shining in your face, or a hug from your children cause biological changes to your brain.

I find the prospects exciting, not annoying. Here’s an example: scientists have created an artificial hippocampal nucleus on a chip. What they did was record the electrical activity from area CA1 of the hippocampus while rats were learning a memory task, and then stuck a device in their brains that played back that sequence into the hippocampus. When they pharmaceutically silenced CA1, which normally inhibits learning, and ran the chip instead, learning was restored. When they used the chip without the CA1 inhibitor, learning was enhanced.

Nobody understands exactly how this works, but there’s no denying that the function of this part of the brain is produced by patterned electrical activity. Incomplete understanding shouldn’t be a barrier to recognizing the reality staring us in our face.

Besides, I’d love to augment my brain with silicon. Although, to be honest, I’d rather test it on my students first — they won’t mind getting a chip implanted to help them learn, right?