The Four Great Mysteries of the Mind-Brain Problem

Volume 19
Issue 2
Steven Lehar
There are four prominent properties of the mind that pose the greatest challenge
to neuroscience and the mind-brain problem. The first is the unity of conscious
experience: We experience every object in perception at a specific location in the
global sphere of surrounding experience, and the whole assembly of perceptions
hangs together as a single unified structure. The second great mystery is the
manifestly pictorial nature of visual experience: We see the world as a
surrounding structure that is explicitly three-dimensional and spatial. The third
great mystery is the holistic nature of perception as revealed by Gestalt theory, or
the way that the global percept emerges from the parallel influence of countless
individual features simultaneously. The fourth is the invariance evident in
perception, whereby objects maintain their structural integrity and recognized
identity even as they rotate, translate, and scale by perspective in their motions
through the world. The world itself appears stable, even as our head and eyes and
brain rotate relative to that world. These four perplexing properties of mind pose
such a profound challenge to theories of brain function as a basis for mind, that
historically they have been largely ignored, if not actively “explained away”, as
if they had no relevance to the mind-brain problem. I propose that these four
mysterious properties of mind are not unrelated, but in fact they are intimately
related, and they collectively implicate a unified, pictorial, holistic, and invariant
principle of computation and representation in the brain. Far from ignoring these
most perplexing properties of mind, neurscience would do well to pay close
attention to the computational principles that they implicate collectively.