One thing that has always fascinated us is our mind. It is the only thing that we can be certain of existing, yet we do not know what it is. This is in contrast to things outside the mind, which we cannot be certain that they really exist – they may be just illusions – yet, apparently, we know what they are. We also have a lot of information about them. For example, we can tell that an apple is a material object – a fruit with a roughly round shape, red/green color, sweet smell, delectable taste, and a lot of nutrients. Even in the case of something that is immaterial, such as an electromagnetic wave, we can tell that it has the dual nature of being a wave and a particle, travels at the speed c regardless of measuring frames, can dislodge electrons from atoms, etc.; we can even write formulas to describe its properties. Moreover, for both of them, we can answer the questions of how and why they occur. We cannot do such things in the case of the mind. For the mind, what we know is only that it is non-material, can do various mental activities, such as sensing stimuli, thinking, and executing motor commands, and has some observable functional properties, such as being private, subjective, and intentional (or representational), and having propositional content [1-9]. But we do not know what its exact nature is, how it occurs from the material world, why it occurs in this universe, and why we cannot answer these questions easily even if it is us. This theory attempts to answer these questions with scientific evidence and finds that they can be answered by analyzing the physical properties of the mind and those of its important phenomena – qualia and consciousness.
However, before the attempt to solve this puzzle can begin, it is to be noted that many specific terms will need to be used in the process but that some of them are ambiguous, having varied meanings in the literature. To avoid misunderstandings, these terms will be defined what they mean in this theory at appropriate points. All the definitions such defined are intended to be just the working definitions for use in this theory. Thus, caution should be exercised if these terms are compared with the same terms in the literature, which may have different meanings. Some of the terms will be used from the beginning and throughout the theory and will be defined in this chapter as follows.
The word “mind” has various meanings for people, depending on many things, such as their cultures, religions, personal beliefs, senses of the word (e.g., functional, anatomical, or ontological), and usage context (e.g., psychiatric, physical, or philosophical). It can be confused with closely related words such as soul, spirit, psyche, and consciousness [1,9,10-28]. In the ontological sense, the word “mind” or related words can be used to mean a) an immaterial entity that exists in everything (which includes non-living things, such as rocks, rivers, clouds, computers, and robots, also) – the belief of panpsychism [23,29-32], b) an immaterial entity that exists in every living thing (which includes non-animal living things, such as plants, fungi, algae, amoebae, and bacteria, also) – the belief that may involve the concepts of three forms of soul, i.e., vegetative, sensitive, and rational souls, life force, and vitalism [33-40], or c) an immaterial entity that exists in every animal (which includes non-human animals, such as dogs, birds, fish, insects, and sponges, also)[41-42].
However, for many people, the mind refers to a non-material entity that functions to a) sense things in its environment, its physical body, and its non-material self (such as see things in the outside world, feel its body parts, and entertain an emotion); b) perform mental activities (such as think, memorize and recall events, and plan and make decisions); and c) control its body functions and respond to stimuli (such as control its eating and movement and respond to a threat). As the author believes that this sense of the word “mind” is a fairly basic and common one, this theory selects to investigate the mind in this sense. Now, if we want to scientifically investigate this kind of mind to know what it is, why it occurs, how it occurs, etc., we have to find it in the physical world in the first place. But where can we find this kind of mind? The answer is we can find this kind of mind in things that exhibit all the three functions above, which will henceforth be called the three cardinal functions. For things that do not exhibit all the three cardinal functions, any non-material entities that may exist in them will not be able to objectively exhibit that they perform all the three cardinal functions; thus, it will be indefinite that they are the kind of mind this theory aims to investigate; also, it will be impossible to scientifically investigate their functions even if we decide to examine them. Thus, this theory, which is a basic theory, will exclude such entities from its investigations; hopefully, a more advance theory will include such entities in the future. Therefore, to objectively find and scientifically investigate the kind of mind described above, we have to examine things that exhibit all the three cardinal functions.
Obviously, humans exhibit all the three cardinal functions. All animals with a nervous system (dogs, birds, reptiles, fish, insects, etc.) also do – the more advanced in the evolutionary tree, the more obvious. The case for animals without a nervous system (sponges and Trichoplax), non-animal living things (plants, fungi, algae, amoebae, bacteria, etc.), and non-living things excepting computers, robots, and other computerized objects (rocks, rivers, clouds, winds, fires, etc.) are much more uncertain, especially regarding the second function – the performance of mental activities. For example, it is difficult to be certain that sponges, plants, or rocks perform activities that can be called thinking, memorizing, planning, etc. in the ordinary sense. Computers, robots, and other computerized objects may be the only group that is not animals with a nervous system but seems to exhibit all the three cardinal functions, including performances of complex activities that may be called thinking, memorizing, planning, etc. in the ordinary sense. Therefore, potentially, there are two groups of things in which we can find and investigate the kind of mind discussed in the previous paragraph: a) animals with a nervous system and b) computers, robots, and other computerized objects.
Nevertheless, these two groups are categorically different both structurally and functionally. Most importantly, the ways they perform the three cardinal functions, which are the defining characteristics of the mind we aim to study, are also categorically different: the former use analog signals of biological electrical/electrochemical strength and execute their processes both serially and parallelly, but the latter use digital electronic signals of 0 and 1 bits and executes their processes mainly serially. Therefore, assuming that there is mind in both groups, the kinds of mind in both groups are likely to be different, at least in some aspects, and the kinds of mind in the combined group of both groups are likely to be heterogenous. On the other hand, because all animals with a nervous system perform the three cardinal functions similarly via their nervous systems, which, albeit have some differences between species, are basically similar, the kinds of mind in the isolated group of these animals are likely to be more homogeneous. This theory, which is a basic theory, thus selects to investigate mind in this more homogeneous group to get the answers to the questions of what the mind in this group is, why it occurs, how it occurs, and other related questions. The answers to the same questions for the combined group that includes computers, robots, and other computerized objects need a more advanced theory than this one. And if there really are other kinds of mind, ones that do not overtly exhibit all the three cardinal functions, such as those some people think of existing in sponges, plants, rocks, etc., an even more advanced theory of the mind will need to be developed. Hopefully, however, this basic theory will provide some bases for further investigations of all kinds of mind by more advanced theories in the future.
In accordance with the specific selection stated above, this theory will set up a working definition for the word “mind” for use in this theory as follows:
The mind is a non-material entity that exists in an animal with a nervous system and performs the three cardinal functions:
a. sensing signals from outside its body (such as light, sound, and tactile stimuli), from its own body parts (such as proprioceptive stimuli from joints and muscles, vestibular stimuli from vestibular organs, and pain from internal organs), and from within its mental self (such as emotion, thought, and memory);
b. operating (such as integrating, storing, and retrieving) such aforementioned signals, resulting in various mental processes, including the highest-level mental processes that that animal can have, both conscious (such as thinking, remembering things, and experiencing emotions) and unconscious (such as unconscious control of muscle tone and balance, unconscious control of spontaneous reflex breathing and circadian rhythm, and unconscious control of sweat and saliva secretion); and
c. sending signals between its parts (such as between the sensory perception parts, the consciousness part, and the emotion part) and to the effectors of its body (such as striated muscles, smooth muscles, and glands) to communicate between its parts, to control its own body functions, and/or to respond to its environment.
A complete mind is a non-material entity that exists in an animal with a nervous system and can perform the three cardinal functions of that species completely.
An immature mind is a non-material entity that exists in an animal with a nervous system and can perform the three cardinal functions of that species only incompletely because the animal is still in a developing stage, such as a fetus.
A partially functioning mind is a non-material entity that exists in an animal with a nervous system and can perform the three cardinal functions of that species only incompletely because the animal is being in a sleep stage, suppressed by a pharmacologic or toxic agent, or affected by a pathologic condition such as a cerebral concussion, brain tumor, or stroke.
It should be noted that, when the brain of an animal is cut off, its body, limbs, and other parts can still perform the three cardinal functions (to sense, operate, and send signals) for some time before all those parts die. In this case, a non-material entity that is left in these parts and can still perform the three cardinal functions is not the mind because it cannot operate the signals to the highest level that that animal can and thus cannot generate the highest-level mental processes that that animal can have; accordingly, it is considered to be only a part of the complete mind.
This theory deals with the mind as defined above. The eventual conclusions, implications, predictions, and other statements that are valid for this kind of mind are also valid for an immature mind, a partially functioning mind, and a part of the complete mind, but they are valid only for the functioning part(s) of that mind.
Again, as discussed previously, this theory is about the mind as specifically defined: a non-material entity that exists in an animal with a nervous system and performs the three cardinal functions. The definition does not include possibly existing, non-material entities that perform some or all of the three cardinal functions but reside in
– animals that do not have a nervous system, such as sponges and Trichoplax
– non-animal, living organisms, such as bacteria, fungi, and plants, or
– non-living things, such as computers, robots, and other computerized objects
Thus, even if sponges, bacteria, computers, and other entities above can function to sense signals from the environment, operate signals, and send signals between their parts and to their effectors [43-64] and even if it is possible that there exist non-material entities in them that can function to do these activities, these possibly existing, non-material entities are not the kind of mind that will be discussed in this theory. The conclusions, implications, predictions, and other statements that are valid for the mind as specifically defined above are thus unproven to be valid or invalid for these possible entities.
In this theory, the main discussion about the brain will be about the brain that is alive and processing signals. Therefore, the term “brain” in this theory will have this meaning unless specified otherwise, such as “the dead brain” or “the non-processing brain”.
D3. Mental process and mental phenomenon
In this theory, a mental process is a mind’s component that functions to do a certain specific function of the three cardinal functions, and the product of a mental process’s function is called a mental phenomenon. For example, the visual perception mental process is a mental process that functions to perceive an image from visual stimuli, and the product of its function – an image in the mind or a mental image – is its mental phenomenon; the emotion mental process is a mental process that functions to create an emotion, and the product of its function – an emotion – is its mental phenomenon; and the thinking mental process is a mental process that functions to form a thought, and the product of its function – a thought – is its mental phenomenon.
A mental process can be a conscious mental process or an unconscious mental process [7,27,65-73] depending on whether the mind can be aware of and experience its mental phenomenon with awareness and an experience of what that mental phenomenon is like occurring or not [6,7,9,74-84]; if the mind can, then it is a conscious mental process; if not, then it is an unconscious mental process. For example, the final-stage visual perception process is a conscious mental process because it has a mental image as its mental phenomenon and the mind can be aware of and experience this phenomenon (the mental image) with awareness and an experience of what the mental image is like (e.g., what the red color in the mind is like) occurring; while all early-stage visual perception processes are unconscious mental processes because the mind cannot be aware of and experience their products, i.e., their mental phenomena, with awareness and experiences of what their mental phenomena are like occurring (i.e., we cannot tell what their mental phenomena are like, such as we cannot tell what the products of mental perceptions of the red color at those early stages are like). This will be discussed in detail from Chapters 3 to 8.
D4. Neural circuit
A neural circuit is a group of neurons that are connected together in some specific pattern to process signals to do a certain activity [85-90], such as to perceive visual sensation signals, to integrate various signals to form a decision, or to synthesize signals to control a motor movement. Anatomically, a neural circuit may not be just a single group of connected neurons in one location but may be a network of scattered groups of connected neurons [87,90], such as the neural circuit of default mode network [91-97]. However, to be a neural circuit, all the groups of the circuit must be connected and function together to perform a certain neural function.
A normal functional neural circuit is usually a complex 3-dimensional circuit and always has connections with other neural circuits and/or its sensor(s) and/or its effector(s) so that it can send/receive signals to/from them. At present, there is a lot of evidence that, under a normal condition, a certain neural circuit is not a multi-functional circuit that performs various neural functions alternately. Instead, a certain neural circuit mostly, if not exclusively, performs only a certain function [87,98], such as perceiving visual sensations, making decisions, or generating motor commands. These specific-function neural circuits reside in different, specific brain areas, such as visual perception neural circuits are in the visual cortex and the visual association cortices, thinking neural circuits are in the frontal cortex and the nearby cortices, and emotion neural circuits are in the amygdala, the hippocampal formation, the limbic cortex, and some neighboring areas [98-114]. Currently, more than a hundred distinct functional brain areas can be identified by several methods [103,109,111,112].
D5. Neural process
A neural process is the signal-processing process of a neural circuit. Because it processes signals in a neural circuit, a neural process is the principal process of a neural circuit. However, a neural process is not the only process in a neural circuit. A neural circuit has other processes also, such as a metabolic process, a structural maintaining (of membranes, organelles, cytoskeletons, etc.) process, and a circuit modifying (of synapses, dendrites, axons) process.
A neural process is not an instantaneous process; it takes some time, usually in milliseconds (msec) [115-119], to complete the process at each circuit. For example, after the signals of an image reach the visual cortex, they are processed through successive areas of visual and visual association cortices, taking about 10 msec of processing at each area, so that the final visual perception of this image is formed and distributed to various areas in the brain in about 100–120 msec [120-124], and a conscious visual percept is subsequently formed in about 150-400 msec from the signal onsets [117,125,126].
D6. Signaling pattern (SP)
A signaling pattern (SP) is the pattern of signaling that a neural circuit sends to another neural circuit to convey its information.
An SP is a dynamic, 3-dimensional pattern of neural signaling, and neural circuits can encode their information in SPs by encoding electrical spikes that are sent via axons to other neurons in the form of frequency coding, temporal coding, population coding, latency coding, rank coding, coding by synchrony, and other types of coding, including mixed coding of several kinds [127-143]. Because a neural circuit communicates its information with others via its electrical and/or electrochemical signaling in the form of SPs, an SP that the neural circuit sends to another circuit must be the information that is to be sent.  But for a receiving neural circuit to be able to distinguish any particular information, the SP for that particular information from the sending neural circuit must be unique – different from all other signaling patterns for other information from that sending neural circuit.  For example, when the visual perception neural circuit sends SPs to other neural circuits, the SP for perceiving a visual image of a letter “A” must be unique and different from the ones for a letter “B”, “C”, and other images.
SPs are very important because every neural circuit receives information from other neural circuits and its sensors and sends information to other neural circuits and its effectors in the form of SPs and thus is affected by other neural circuits and its sensors and affects other neural circuits and its effectors by SPs.
D7. Signaling state (SS)
A signaling state (SS) is the pattern of signaling of a whole neural circuit, with signals circulating in its circuit in a certain pattern at any certain moment.
In the same way that a signaling pattern is the information that a neural circuit sends to other neural circuits, a signaling state or the pattern of signals that are circulating in a whole neural circuit is the information that is in the neural circuit at that moment. For example, after the primary visual perception neural circuit has received early-stage visual signals of a house from the lateral geniculate nucleus, it will have the signaling state – signals circulating in its circuit in a certain pattern – that is the information of the early-stage visual perception of the house, and after the final visual perception neural circuit has finished the process of perceiving the vision of the house, it will have the signaling state – signals circulating in its circuit in a certain pattern – that is the information of the final visual perception of the house (i.e., the visual image that we see in our mind).
In this theorem, for conciseness, the clause “that is the information of” will sometimes be replaced by “that signals”. Thus, the examples in the preceding paragraph can be stated as: after the primary visual perception neural process has received early-stage visual signals of a house from the lateral geniculate nucleus, it will have the signaling state that signals the early-stage visual perception of the house, and after the final visual perception neural process has finished the process of perceiving the vision of the house, it will have the signaling state that signals the final visual perception of the house (i.e., that signals the visual image that we see in our mind).
Information is a term that, at present, has no established standard definition and can mean different things for different people [144-152]. However, to avoid confusion and misunderstanding, this theory will set up a working definition for use in this theory. The definition that the theory selects to use is one that is applicable to situations in ordinary, daily life, that is, information is a non-material thing that consists of transferable content. (For the derivation of this definition, please see Appendix A. Information.)
Physically, information of this kind is found to be embodied in some physical object, which is an information carrier, and information itself is the pattern of the carrier. [149,152,153] For example, information in this page is a non-material thing that consists of transferrable content. Its content is about introduction and definitions of several terms and is transferrable from the author to this page and subsequently from this page to you, the reader. In this page, information is embodied in the dark dots or pixels on a paper or an electronic screen, and the information itself is the pattern of dark dots or pixels that appear as texts you are reading.
Regarding the nervous system, which is the principal area that this theory studies, some typical examples are as follows: visual information of the outside world is a non-material thing that consists of transferrable content. Its content consists of visual characteristics (color, brightness, shape, dimension, movement, etc.) of outside-world objects and is transferrable from the outside-world objects to the light waves (that are reflected from the objects) to animals (with organs for light reception, such as eyes). In the outside world, visual information is first in the form of the patterns of objects’ surfaces, then it becomes patterns of electromagnetic waves (light waves) that are reflected from the objects, and finally it becomes patterns of neural signaling in the animals’ visual systems, such as the retinae, the optic nerves, the visual tracts, and the subsequent visual processing areas. In this transfer, it is embodied in the objects’ surface, the light waves, and the neural signals of various neural components, respectively. Another example is sound information of the outside world – it is a non-material thing that that consists of transferrable content. Its content consists of sound characteristics (pitch, timbre, loudness, formant, attack, etc.) of outside-world objects’ vibration and is transferrable from the outside-world objects’ vibration to the air to animals (with organs for sound reception, such as ears). In the outside world, sound information is first in the form of the objects’ vibration patterns, then it becomes patterns of air vibration waves, or sound waves, created by the objects’ vibration, and finally it becomes patterns of neural signaling in animals’ auditory systems, such as the cochleae, the auditory nuclei, and the subsequent sound processing components. In this transfer, it is embodied in the objects’ vibration, the sound waves, and the neural signals of various neural components, respectively.
Because information consists of content for information receivers to interpret, information by this definition has meaning and is a kind of semantic information [144-146,154-156]. It is very important to note that the meaning of a piece of information is relative, not absolute; that is, the meaning of a piece of information depends on the receivers of the information and the context in which the information is received [148,157]. A particular piece of information means a particular thing to a particular receiver in a particular context but usually means different things, incomprehensible things, or even nothing to other receivers or in different context. For example, information in this pattern of black pixels/dots “consciousness” means consciousness to those who know English but means nothing to those who do not know English; information in this pattern 头脑 means mind to those who know Chinese but means nothing to those who do not; and one chime of a striking clock’s bell means, in the morning, that the time is 01:00 but means, in the afternoon, that it is 13:00. Likewise, signaling patterns in the human optic nerve mean images in the outside world to the human visual nervous system but mean gibberish or nothing to other parts of the nervous system and to everything else (e.g., an insect nervous system, a television set, and a current computer – all of which cannot decode the human optic nerve signaling patterns even if we could somehow feed the signaling patterns to them). (For more detailed analysis of information, please see Appendix A. Information.)
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