Immaterial thoughts

A lot of evidence points not to conscious thought informing the brain, but the other way around. It is well documented that stimulation of and damage to specific areas of the brain has measurable and predictable effects on conscious thought patterns 1). This indicates that what we refer to as conscious thought is a byproduct of bodily functions related to these “material” portions of the brain.

Pianola papertape


Information philosophy understands mental events as immaterial thoughts, which are normally only unrealized possibilities for action. Thoughts are embodied in the neural information structures of the brain, where they are stored along with memories of past experience. As such, they are physical and are temporarily even material, in some sense.

When they are transferred to other parts of the brain, out to other minds (communicated), or to storage in the external environment (for example being typed in for saving on this wiki), thoughts are converted from a material substrate to a form of energy. Temporarily, they are quite non-material, as philosophers for centuries have imagined thoughts in an immaterial mind might be. Once stored, they are embodied in matter again.

Of course, thoughts or ideas can be unpredictably altered before storage, by noise in the communication or by irreducibly indeterministic errors in the retrieval of the information. We can call this the basis for creative mistakes, that can be evaluated by a process of intelligent selection. (This may well be a tautology, for the Latin intelligere means to select.)

The information technology solution to the body-mind problem can be interpreted as providing a non-reductive physical interpretation of mind. This model of mind supervenes on the neural brain structures that embody the information (while it is being stored). But the selected content of the information is not the resultant of whatever physical processes are coming from lower layers in a hierarchical structure. The physical brain is a storage medium adequately determined to store the information content of these immaterial thoughts, and normally to store it accurately.

With reference to popular (if flawed) computational theories of mind, we note that the software contents of a computer program, as well as the execution of the program, is in no way determined or caused by the computer hardware. Similarly, ideas are not determined by the ink on a printed page or the pixels on a computer screen, but by the human minds that put them there, and by the human minds that selectively take note of the ideas.