Functional Brain Imaging and the Body-Mind Problem: The Royal Way or a Blind End?

Boris Kotchoubey

The modern brain-mind studies are being conducted within two essentially different approaches. In one of them, mind and behavior represent a set of inde-pendent variables, and brain activity represents a set of dependent variables. In the opposite approach the brain activity represents a set of independent vari-ables, and subjective and behavioural measures con-stitute dependent variables. If we study the neuro-physiological basis of mind and consciousness and rely upon the former approach exclusively, this can lead us to absurd conclusions. The modern func-tional neuroimaging (FNI) also belongs to the for-mer approach as it follows the same experimental logic, in which the pattern of neural activation is the dependent variable, and the experimental task is the independent variable. Thus what is true for that ap-proach in general is also true for FNI. The belief that the high precision of FNI allows the researcher to overcome these limitations is an illusion, as the problems of logical nature cannot be solved by im-proving precision of measurements. Only a combi-nation of the two approaches may permit correct conclusions regarding brain mechanisms of mental activity. In contrast, FNI alone can be useful in elu-cidating psychological problems and in exploring important issues in psychological (behavioral) theo-ries. Hence, psychologists, rather than neurophysi-ologists, should be the main beneficiaries of FNI.

Subjects: 9.4 Philosophical Foundations

Submitted: May 16, 2006

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