There is a lot of discussion on an internet forum I follow about self-directed neuroplasticity. Some people feel that self-directed neuroplasticity is evidence that consciousness is not produced by the brain.
I disagree with this opinion.
Self-directed neuroplasticity is the phenomenon whereby the brain is altered by conscious thought. Meditation and cognitive therapy are conscious processes that have been shown to alter the brain.
However, some people believe the brain cannot be capable of modifying itself and therefore self-directed neuroplasticity shows that consciousness must be independent from the brain.
The reason I don't consider this to be correct is as follows:
- Ordinary neuroplasticity is not controversial. Neurons in the brain alter their connections during any process that involves learning.
- If you want to demonstrate that self-directed neuroplasticity is different from ordinary neuroplasticity and is evidence that consciousness is not produced by the brain, you have to start from the premise that consciousness is produced by the brain and try to show that premise leads to a contradiction. If you start from the premise that consciousness is not produced by the brain you are starting from the point you are trying to prove. Those who believe that self-directed neuroplasticity is evidence that consciousness is not produced by the brain often ask "who is doing the meditation that alters the brain" - as if this implied consciousness was not produced by the brain. However that implication is the point to be proved not an assumption you can start with.
- Self-directed neuroplasticity, like the placebo effect, demonstrates that consciousness can influence the brain and therefore consciousness is not an illusion or an epiphenomenon of the brain.
- Do the two statements 1) consciousness is produced by the brain, and 2) consciousness is not an illusion or an epiphenomenon of the brain - constitute a contradiction?
- No. Consciousness might be produced by the brain and also influence the brain. For example, one part of the brain might influence another part of the brain. As an analogy, a computer system or network of computers can be programmed to allocate and reallocate resources depending on changing usage requirements. You could try to refute this point by saying in self-directed neuroplasticity consciousness alters the part of the brain that is responsible for consciousness. If you do that, you are admitting that the brain produces consciousness which is what you are trying to disprove.
- You cannot argue that it is impossible for the brain to alter itself, because in self-directed neuroplasticity consciousness has effects on the brain that alter consciousness. Cognitive therapy and meditation are both conscious processes that alter the brain and have effects on consciousness. If consciousness can alter itself, which is not in dispute, you are admitting there are conscious systems that can alter themselves and therefore there are no grounds to argue that the brain cannot produce consciousness and alter itself.
- Therefore self-directed neuroplasticity, whereby consciousness alters the brain, does not provide evidence that consciousness is not produced by the brain.
I think there is so much confusion over this issue because people who believe consciousness is not produced by the brain bring that opinion to the debate and they don't realize how it influences their reasoning. They start from that premise and don't realize it. They often refer to some other phenomenon that is evidence consciousness is not produced by the brain as if it bolstered their argument. But that is just another way of assuming the premise they are trying to prove or proving the premise by alternate means. In order to show self-directed neuroplasticity is evidence that consciousness is not produced by the brain, you have to start from the premise that consciousness is produced by the brain and try to show that leads to a contradiction. Otherwise you are starting with the premise you are trying to prove. However as I have tried to show above, that premise does not lead to a contradiction.
Further reading on self-directed neuroplasticity:
- Fusing Mind and Matter by Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz at www.vision.org
- Quantum physics in neuroscience and psychology: a neurophysical model of mind–brain interaction Jeffrey M. Schwartz, Henry P. Stapp and Mario BeauregardPhilos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2005 June 29; 360(1458): 1309–1327.
- Evolution, self-directed neuroplasticity, and quantum entanglement by Bernardo Kastrup at bernardokastrup.com
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