How the Mind Uses the Brain
To Move the Body and Image the Universe
Ralph D. Ellis and Natika Newton
With recent advances in artificial intelligence and neuroscience, the nature of consciousness and the relation between mind and brain have become the most hotly debated topics in philosophy. Yet agreement looks farther away than ever.
Ellis and Newton explain and argue for a bold new approach, called enactivism, showing how it cuts through various difficulties which have stumped previous theories. At first glance, enactivism itself seems open to fatal objections, but the authors demonstrate in detail that these objections disappear on closer examination.
How the Mind Uses the Brain represents a sharp break with the tradition which sees consciousness as the final step in a chain of causes and effects, with information processing going on in the intervening steps. This tradition has reduced consciousness to an appendage. According to Ellis and Newton, consciousness and emotions are central aspects of the organism’s ongoing self-organizational activity, driving information processing rather than merely responding to it.
“Ellis and Newton brilliantly convey the excitement and power of an approach to the mind-body problem that looks set to sweep all before it. The new wave of action-theories of consciousness—which they have done much to create—is beginning to resemble a tsunami.”
—Nicholas Humphrey, author of How to Solve the Mind-Body Problem
“Ellis and Newton provide important support for an enactive or action-oriented theory of consciousness. What is unique here is their emphasis on how an understanding of emotion can inform this theory. They clarify the central role of action imagery in consciousness; they manage to marry representational accounts with dynamical systems theory; and they suggest a new way to think about information flow in the brain. Throughout they solve problems left and right. Neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers should welcome the clarity found here.”
—Shaun Gallagher, editor of Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences
“Ellis and Newton portray neurophysiological processes clearly and accurately, integrating them beautifully with a rich phenomenology of consciousness. The authors have been pioneers in exploring emotive self-organization patterns, explaining how consciousness depends on emotional motivation. Now they have further developed this approach with their action theory of the organism, with action images key to understanding how the mind and body relate to each other.”
—Anton Lethin, M.D.
Ralph D. Ellis is Professor of Philosophy at Clark Atlanta University. His books include Coherence and Verification in Ethics (1991), Questioning Consciousness (1995), and Curious Emotions (2005).
Natika Newton is Professor of Philosophy at Nassau Community College and author of Foundations of Understanding (1996). Ellis and Newton have co-edited The Caldron of Consciousness (2000) and now co-edit the pathbreaking series of monographs, Consciousness and Emotion.