Baroness Greenfield's (2002) editorial is shaped by the metaphors of empiricism. The brain is a network. The mind is distinct patterns of neural connectivity. Currently, the evidence for such a scenario is limited. Brain connections may, as she says, ‘ actually reflect experience’, but no pattern of connectivity has ever been related to any particular mental state. The alternative hypothesis of functional specialisation merits more than the scant consideration granted in the editorial, given the recent interest in the notion of modularity (Fodor, 1983; Pinker, 1999). Perversely, Greenfield chooses to support her ‘network’ hypothesis by reference to a study showing regionally localised brain changes in taxi drivers (Maguire et al, 2000).
Consciousness is introduced as a dimensional variable quantifying the current extent of this connectivity. Seemingly, the more connected our brains are the more conscious we are. But is this anything more than metaphorical fooling around? She presents no evidence for what a conscious brain state might look like. Where consciousness occurs is surely rather an unimportant issue. The hard question, which Greenfield ignores, is ‘How can pain (which hurts so) possibly be the same thing as insensate molecules rushing around in nerve fibres?’ (Papineau, 2002). On this our ignorance remains as complete as it ever was.
- © 2002 Royal College of Psychiatrists