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 exactly what its nature 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 we know what their nature is and have a lot of information about them. For example, we can tell that an apple is a material object – a fruit with fairly round shape, red/green color, sweet smell, delectable taste, and nutritious. Even something that is immaterial, such as electromagnetic wave, we can tell that it has the dual nature of being a wave and a particle and that it can cause electrical charges to move, induce a current in a wire, dislodge electrons from atoms, etc.; we can even write formulas to describe its properties. Moreover, for both examples, we can answer the questions of why and how they occur. We cannot do such things to the mind. Superficially, it seems that what we can talk about its nature is that it is immaterial, can do various mental activities, and has some observable functional properties, such as being private, subjective, and representational [1-6]. Other than that, we cannot definitely tell what its exact nature is, why it occurs, how it occurs, and why it is that, even if it is us, we cannot easily answer these questions. This theory attempts to answer these questions with scientific evidence and finds that the answers exist in the physical properties of the mind, which will be discussed in the following chapters.
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 and can have different meanings in the literature. To avoid confusion, these terms will be defined what they mean in this theory at appropriate points. All the definitions such defined are intended to be the working definitions just for use in this theory. Thus, caution should be exercised if these terms are compared with the same terms, which may have different meanings in the literature. Some of the terms will be used from the beginning and throughout the theory and will be defined in this chapter as follows.
A mind is a non-material entity that exists in an animal with a nervous system and that can
– sense signals from its environment (such as light, sound, and tactile stimuli), from its own body (such as proprioception, vestibular stimuli, and pain from internal organs), and from within itself (such as emotion, thought, and memory);
– process (such as integrate, store, and retrieve) signals, resulting in various mental activities, both conscious (such as solving problems, remember things, and reliving past events) and unconscious (such as unconscious control of muscle tone and balance, unconscious control of fine motor coordination, and unconscious control of sleep-wake cycle); and
– send signals between its parts (such as between the sensory perception parts, the emotion part, and the consciousness part) and to its effectors (such as striated muscles, smooth muscles, and glands) to respond to its environment and to control its own body functions.
An immature mind is a non-material entity that exists in an animal with a nervous system and that can do some, but not all, of the listed functions above 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 that can do some, but not all, of the listed functions above because the animal is
– being in a sleep stage,
– suppressed by a pharmacologic or toxic agent, or
– affected by a pathologic condition such as cerebral concussion, stroke, brain tumor, Alzheimer’s disease, or congenital brain defect.
This theory is about the mind as defined. The eventual conclusions, implications, predictions, and other statements that are valid for this kind of mind are also valid for an immature mind and a partially-functioning mind, excluding the non-functioning part(s) of that mind, unless stated otherwise.
To be noted here is that this theory is about the mind as specifically defined – a non-material entity that exists in an animal with a nervous system and that has the capabilities listed above. The definition does not include possibly-existing, non-material entities that have the above-listed capabilities but reside in
– animals that do not have a nervous system, such as sponges and Trichoplax [7-10],
– other kinds of living organisms, such as bacteria, fungi, and plants, or
– non-living things, such as a rock, a weather system, and the dynamic photosphere of the sun.
Thus, even if sponges, bacteria, plants, or some of the entities above can sense signals from the environment, process signals, and send signals to its effectors and even if it is possible that there exist non-material entities in them that can perform these things, 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 for these possible entities.
D2. Mental process
A mental process is a mind’s part that performs a certain function listed above, that is, to sense, process, or send signals. It can be a conscious process (that is, the mind can be aware of it), such as the final-stage visual perception mental process, emotion mental process, and volitional movement mental process, or an unconscious process (that is, the mind cannot be aware of it), such as the early-stage visual perception mental process, mental processes that control muscle tone and balance, and mental processes that control of sleep-wake cycle.
D3. Non-processing mental component
A non-processing mental component is a mind’s part that does not perform any of the functions listed above (that is, to sense, process, and send signals) directly but can assist or affect mental processes in performing their functions. The non-processing mental components of the mind are long-term memories, inborn-personalities, and inborn-instincts.
Long-term memories are enduring, learned, stored information in the mind. They can be separated into explicit (declarative) memories and implicit (non-declarative) memories [11-13]. Explicit memories, which are memories about events and facts, can give signals that are information about events and facts to some mental processes in performing their functions, such as solving problems, making decisions, and planning. Implicit memories, which are learned memories about how to perform something, can express themselves unconsciously through mental processes in the forms of habits, skills, priming, simple conditioning [11-13], and acquired instincts [14-15] to help mental processes perform learned functions quickly and efficiently.
Inborn-personalities and inborn-instincts are inborn parts of the mind [15,16,17]. They are inherent in the mental processes and affect the way the mental processes function so that the mental processes behave in conformity with the personalities and the instincts.
These non-processing mental components do not exhibit themselves unless they are retrieved by mental processes (in the case of long-term memories) or they manifest themselves through mental processes’ functions (in the cases of implicit memories, personalities, and instincts). They are to be differentiated from mental processes because most of the theory will be about mental processes, not these kinds of mental components.
D4. Neural circuit
A neural circuit is a functional group of neurons that are connected together in some specific pattern to process signals in its circuit, resulting in its function, such as to perceive visual sensation signals, to integrate various signals to form a decision, or to synthesize signals to control 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 in different areas, such as the neural circuit of consciousness [18-26].
However, to be a certain neural circuit, all the groups 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 versatile circuit that performs various neural functions. Instead, a certain neural circuit performs only a specific function, such as perceiving visual sensation, thinking, or generating emotion. These specific neural circuits reside in different, specific brain areas, such as the visual cortex, frontal lobe, or amygdala. And currently, more than a hundred distinct functional brain areas can be identified by several methods [27-44].
D5. Neural process
A neural process is a part of a functioning neural circuit and is the part that performs the neural circuit’s function. When a neural circuit is functioning, there are several parts in process: the signal processing process, the metabolic process, the blood circulation process, and the structural modification process. But the part that performs the neural circuit’s function is the signal processing part. Therefore, a neural process is the signal-processing part of a neural circuit; that is, a neural process is a signal processing process.
How a neural circuit processes signals or how a neural process functions, is as follows. When a neural circuit is processing signals, there are electrical or electrochemical signals circulating in its circuit. Each of its neurons will process the received signals at its post-synaptic junctions and send out the processed signals to other neurons at its pre-synaptic junctions, resulting in circulation of signals among its neurons in some specific pattern depending on the circuit’s anatomy and physiology. In this manner, the signals will be processed from neuron to neuron in some specific ways while they circulate in the circuit. The end result will depend on what the function of the neural circuit is. For example, the end result can be a processed signal to be sent to other neural circuits for further processing, a final sensory perception, or a final executing signal to command its effector.
A neural process is not an instantaneous process but takes some time to complete the process and generate the whole function, such as it takes some time (usually in milliseconds [45-48]) for a visual perception neural process to create a perception of a face in the brain after seeing it [49-52].
D6. Signaling pattern (SP)
A signaling pattern (SP) is the pattern of signaling of a neural circuit when it is processing signals, as described above.
An SP is not a stationary 2-dimensional pattern (like a pattern of a static picture) but a brief, dynamic, 3-dimensional pattern because it takes some time to complete the SP, which involves complex signaling among millions of neurons in the 3-dimensional circuit. An SP may remain unchanged for some time – it will be stable after the neural process has reached the stable final stage and does not change to do something else. For example, an SP for a visual perception of a house will remain stable after the neural process has finished the function of creating the complete visual perception of the house as long as the person does not change his/her gaze to look at something else.
Because a neural circuit communicates its information with others via its SPs [53-64], an SP that the neural circuit sends to another circuit must be the information that is to be sent. But for a neural circuit to be able to distinguish any particular information, the SP for that particular information must be unique – different from all others. For example, the SP for perceiving visual sensation must be different from that for perceiving auditory sensation. Also, the SP for perceiving a visual image of a letter “A” must be different form the one for a letter “B” [65,66]. Stating otherwise, for neural circuits to communicate information between each other comprehensibly, a signaling pattern for different information must be different.
SPs are very important because every neural circuit sends/receives information to/from others by SPs and thus affects/is affected by others by SPs.
D7. Signaling state (SS)
A signaling state (SS) is the neural process’s state of signaling, with some specific SP occurring. When functioning, the neural process may be in the early, intermediate, or final signaling state, depending on how far the signal-processing process has progressed. At each stage, the neural process will be in the signaling state that has the SP containing the information of that stage. This kind of statement will occur frequently in this theory. So, when conciseness is required, a statement like the asterisked one will be stated in this way: the neural process will be in the signaling state that signals the neural process’s result. That is, in this theory, “that signals” in such a statement means “that has the SP containing the information of”.
For example, when the visual neural process has finished the process of perceiving a vision of a house, it will be in the signaling state that signals the visual perception of the house (= it will be in the signaling state that has the signaling pattern containing the information of the visual perception of the house) or when the auditory neural process has finished the process of perceiving a musical note C, it will be in the signaling state that signals the musical note C (= it will be in the signaling state that has the signaling pattern containing the information of the musical note C).
Information in this theory refers to an abstract entity that describes something. For example, signals in the optic nerve are information about the visual aspect of something that one looks at – it describes visual aspects (color, brightness, shape, dimension, velocity, etc.) of that thing, and signals in the auditory nerve are information about the auditory aspect of something that one hears – it describes auditory aspects (pitch, timbre, loudness, etc.) of that thing. Things that have different information thus have different descriptions, and vice versa. This definition of information makes it a kind of semantic information [67-70].
Information can be carried by several carriers such as electromagnetic waves, sound waves, mechanical forces, electric potentials, magnetic potentials, chemical substances, or specific molecules. In the nervous system, it is carried by electrical/electrochemical signals in neural circuits [48,53-64], in the form of signaling patterns. Thus, the signaling patterns are information about something, such as the color of the fruit, the direction that the sound comes from, the intensity of the pain, the recollected past event, or the current emotion.
Because an entity is identified by its information, entities that have different information are different. Equivalently, because an entity is identified by its descriptions, entities that have different descriptions are different. For example, because red and blue have different information (and different descriptions), such as different wavelengths, different positions in the light spectrum, and different results when mixed with yellow, etc., red and blue are different. Also, because the perception of the color red alone and the perception of the color red with the conscious experience of what the color red is like occurring have different information (and different descriptions), the two perceptions are different*.
Because in the nervous system, information is in the form of signaling patterns [53-64], different information has different signaling patterns. For example, because red and blue have different information, they have different signaling patterns in the nervous system. Also, because the perception of the color red alone and the perception of the color red with the conscious experience of what the color red is like occurring have different information, they have different signaling patterns in the nervous system*.
(*These last two examples are important examples; they will help us understand the nature of consciousness and the phenomena called qualia.)
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