Introduction and Definitions

In this theory, many specific terms will need to be used in the process, but some of them have 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 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.

D1. Mind

The word “mind” has various meanings for people, depending on many things, such as their cultures, religions, personal beliefs, usage circumstances, and points of view (e.g., philosophical, physical, or psychiatric). [1-6] As an entity, for some people, it refers to some intangible entity that exists in everything (which also includes non-living things, such as rocks, rivers, and clouds); for some other people, it refers to an immaterial entity that exists in every living thing only (which includes non-animal living things, such as trees, fungi, and bacteria, too); while for some others, it refers to an incorporeal entity that exists only in every animal (which also includes non-human animals, such as dogs, birds, fish, and even hydras and sponges); and so forth.  However, for many people, the mind refers to an immaterial entity that can sense things (such as can see, hear, and feel something) in its environment, its body, and itself; can perform mental activities (such as [in humans] thinking, remembering, experiencing emotions, planning, and making decisions); and can respond to the environment (such as by executing motor movements, making sound, and secreting something, e.g., saliva, pheromone, and poison). Because animals with a nervous system exhibit all the three kinds of these activities definitely, the immaterial entity that can do these three kinds of activities can definitely exist in these animals. That is, the kind of mind that many people think of can definitely exist in these animals. Because of this, this theory, which is a basic theory, will investigate the kind of mind that exists in these animals. It is possible that other kinds of mind exist in entities other than animals with a nervous system, such as in rocks, trees, or sponges. However, because the three kinds of activities mentioned above cannot all be observed to clearly exist in these entities, it is difficult both to confirm the existence of and to investigate the kinds of mind that may exist in these entities. Therefore, this theory, which is a basic theory, will not involve these kinds of mind. Hopefully, however, this theory will provide a basis for further investigations of all kinds of mind by a more advanced theory in the future. Therefore, the word “mind” in this theory will be specifically defined as follows:

The mind is a non-material entity that exists in an animal with a nervous system and that functions to

– sense 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 itself (such as emotion, thought, and memory);

– operate (such as integrate, store, and retrieve) such aforementioned signals to the highest levels that that animal can, resulting in various mental processes, both conscious (such as thinking, remembering things, and experiencing emotions) and unconscious (such as unconscious control of muscle tone and balance, unconscious control of breathing, and unconscious control of sweat secretion); and

– send signals between its parts (such as between the sensory perception parts, the emotion part, and the consciousness 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.

It should be noted that, when the brain of an animal is cut off, its body and limbs can still function to sense, operate, and send signals for some time before all those parts of that animal die. In this case, a non-material entity that is left in the body and limbs and that can function to do these three kinds of activities is not the mind by the definition in this theory because that non-material entity cannot operate signals to the highest levels that that animal can. In this case, the non-material entity that is left in the body and limbs is just part of the mind that exists before the brain is cut off. Therefore, the ability to operate signals to the highest degree that that animal can is the hallmark ability of the mind and indicates the presence of the mind.

An immature mind is a non-material entity that exists in an animal with a nervous system and that can function to do the three kinds of activities above only incompletely because the animal is still in a developing stage, such as a fetus, but that can operate signals to the highest degree that that developing animal can.

A partially-functioning mind is a non-material entity that exists in an animal with a nervous system and that can function to do the three kinds of activities above 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, stroke, dementing disorder, or congenital brain defect, but that can operate signals to the highest degree that that animal in that particular condition can.

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 and a partially-functioning mind, excluding the non-functioning part(s) of that mind, unless stated otherwise.

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 that functions to do the listed three kinds of activities. The definition does not include possibly-existing, non-material entities that function to do the listed three kinds of activities but that reside in

– animals that do not have a nervous system, such as sponges and Trichoplax

– other kinds of living organisms, such as bacteria, fungi, and plants, or

– non-living things, such as a rock, a computer, a robot, a weather system, and the dynamic photosphere of the sun.

Thus, even if sponges, bacteria, plants, computers, robots, or some other entities above can function to sense signals from the environment, operate signals, and send signals between their parts and to their effectors [7-15] 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.

D2. Brain

In this theory, the main discussion about the brain will be about the processing brain, that is, the brain that is alive and processing signals. Therefore, the term “the brain” or “a brain” in this theory will mean “the processing brain” or “a processing brain” unless specified otherwise by an attribute to the word brain, such as “the dead brain” or “the non-processing brain”.

D3. Mental process

A mental process is the mind’s part that functions to do a certain activity listed above (that is, to sense, operate, or send signals). It can be a conscious mental process (that is, the mind can be aware of it consciously), such as the final-stage visual perception mental process, the emotion mental process, and the volitional movement mental process, or an unconscious mental process (that is, the mind cannot be aware of it consciously), such as the early-stage visual perception mental process, the mental process that controls muscle tone and balance, and the mental process that controls breathing.

D4. Mental phenomenon

A mental phenomenon is a phenomenon that occurs in the mind. Mental phenomena that are consciously experienceable, such as a vision, a sound, an emotion, a thought, and a memory that occur in the mind, are the main mental phenomena that will be studied in this theory because they have consciously observable and testable characteristics, such as the vision has color, brightness, shape, and velocity as its consciously observable and testable characteristics and the sound has pitch, timbre, and loudness as its consciously observable and testable characteristics.

D5. 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 [16-19], which is its principal function, 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, such as the neural circuit of default mode network [20-26]. However, to be a certain 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 [27], such as perceiving visual sensation, thinking, or generating emotion. These specific-function neural circuits reside in different, specific brain areas, such as visual perception neural circuits are in the visual cortex, thinking neural circuits are in the frontal cortex, and emotion neural circuits are in the amygdala [27-42]. Currently, more than a hundred distinct functional brain areas can be identified by several methods [32,39,40].

D6. Neural process

A neural process is the signal-processing process of a neural circuit. It is the neural circuit’s part that performs the neural circuit’s principal function – to process signals in the circuit. (Other processes of a neural circuit perform other functions, such as metabolic function, structural maintaining [of membranes, organelles, cytoskeletons, etc.] function, or circuit modifying [of synapses, dendrites, axons] function.)

A neural process is not an instantaneous process; it takes some time, usually in milliseconds [43-47], to complete the process at each step. For example, when a new image hits the retina, it is processed through successive areas of visual cortex, taking about 10 ms of processing at each area, so that in about 100–150 ms the final visual perception of this new image is formed and distributed to various areas in the brain [48-53].

D7. 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 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. Because a neural circuit communicates its information with others via its electrical and/or electrochemical signals in the form of SPs, which may be in the form of frequency coding, temporal coding, population coding, other types of coding, or mixed coding [54-61]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 and the SP for perceiving a visual image of a letter “A” must be unique and different from the one for a letter “B”. Stating otherwise, for neural circuits to communicate information between each other comprehensibly, a signaling pattern for each information must be unique and different from those for other information.

SPs are very important because every neural circuit sends/receives information to/from other neural circuits in the form of SPs and thus affects/is affected by other neural circuits by SPs.

D8. 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. Because the pattern of signals that are circulating in a whole neural circuit is the information that is in the neural circuit, a signaling state is the information that is in the neural circuit and its neural process. For example, 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 is the information of 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 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). .

Another important example is a signaling state of the consciousness neural process. When the consciousness neural process is functioning to be consciously aware of something, such as a vision of a house, it will have signals circulating in its circuits in some specific pattern. This pattern of signaling of the whole consciousness neural process, or the signaling state of the consciousness neural process, is the information of the conscious awareness of the vision of the house. Because this particular signaling state is the information of the conscious awareness of the house, the conscious awareness of the vision of the house naturally occurs in the consciousness neural process. This matter will be discussed in more details in Chapter 6.

D9. Information

In this theory, information is 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 – this information 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 – this information describes auditory aspects (pitch, timbre, loudness, etc.) of that thing. Things that have different descriptions thus have different information, and vice versa. By this definition, the information that is discussed in this theory is a kind of semantic information [62-65].

Information in any system can be dynamic (i.e., being circulated in the system) or static (i.e., being stored in the system) [66]. Dynamic information can be carried by several kinds of carriers such as electromagnetic waves, sound waves, mechanical forces, chemical substances, or biological molecules (e.g. hormones, neurotransmitters, or mRNA); while static information can be stored in various storage media such as magnetic tape/hard-disk, optical disc, solid-state drive, image recorded/sound-recorded materials and other sign-bearing objects, or biological molecules (e.g. receptors on memory T-cells, receptors on memory B-cells, or DNA). In the nervous system, dynamic information is carried by electrical/electrochemical signals in neural circuits in the form of signaling patterns (which are information that is being sent to other neural processes) and signaling states (which are information that is circulating in the whole neural processes); while static information is stored in the pattern of neural synaptic architecture [66]. Thus, signaling patterns and signaling states are information about something. For example, when the visual perception neural process has finished the process of perceiving a vision of a house, it will have the signaling state that is the information of the visual perception of the house and, when it communicates this information with other neural processes, it will send signaling patterns that are this information to other neural processes via its synapses. It should be noted that the same information can exist in different forms, i.e., the signaling state or the signaling pattern, depending on whether it is existing in the neural process or it is being sent to other neural processes.

Because an entity is identified by its information, or descriptions, entities that have different information, or different descriptions, are different. For example, because red and blue have different information (different descriptions), such as different wavelengths, different positions in the light spectrum, and different results when mixed with yellow; red and blue are different. Also, because a perception of the red color alone and a perception of the red color with a conscious experience of what the red color is like occurring have different information (different descriptions), the two perceptions are different*.

Because, in the nervous system, information is in the form of signaling patterns and signaling states, different information has different signaling patterns and different signaling states. For example, because red and blue have different information, they have different signaling states in the neural processes and different signaling patterns when sent to other neural processes. Similarly, because a perception of the red color alone and a perception of the red color with a conscious experience of what the red color is like occurring have different information, they have different signaling states in the neural processes and different signaling patterns when sent to other neural processes*.

(*These last two examples are important examples; they will help us understand the effects of consciousness and the phenomena called qualia.)

Next: Chapter 1: The Mind-Brain Unity & Theorem I >

Back to Preface


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