Notes Toward a New Foundation of Knowledge

Daniel Alroy

2016 September 24





Illusory or dreamed sensations. Seeing appetizing food selectively activates brain loci in the gustatory cortex that evoke taste sensations. Auditory illusions or hallucinations selectively activate the auditory cortex. Dreaming in color selectively activates the color-specific area V4a in the visual cortex.


Top-down attention. Similarly, top-down attention to a given submodality element of sensation selectively activates the neural clusters within the corresponding submodality-specific cortical area that evoke it.


Imagining a voluntary behavioral act. When a person performs a voluntary behavioral act, the related brain areas are selectively activated, including Brodmann areas 8, 6, and 4 (the planning, premotor, and motor areas). It was discovered that these brain areas are also selectively activated when that behavioral act is imagined.


Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs). The fact that imagined action activates brain areas that are activated when the action is performed is the basis for providing people paralyzed from the neck down with several interfaces to perform actions such as the activation of a mechanical arm or the control of a mechanical chair. A bundle of nearly one hundred electrodes is implanted in a cortical motor area. These electrodes detect the information that activates the muscles to perform the desired action. Then, a computer identifies the intended action and activates the appropriate servomechanisms.


Mental Causation. Exercise of the imagination is mental not physical. The activated brain is physical. Thus, the successful use of BCI by people paralyzed from the neck down proves that the mind affects the brain and behavior.





Epistemological Consequences. Exercise of the imagination is mental not physical. The activated brain is physical. Thus, the successful use of BCI by people paralyzed from the neck down proves that the mind affects the brain and behavior.


Ontological Consequences. The causal efficacy of the mental points to the existence of a deeper level of reality, which is a common denominator of both the phenomenal and the physical. The present search for a Theory of Everything excludes the phenomenal. As such it is inherently incomplete and therefore would not be of everything. The interaction of the phenomenal and the physical in the human brain is the natural place to begin looking for that deeper level of reality.


On the relation of mental causation and free will. The question whether or not we can have free will is conditioned on the acceptance that the non-physical mind affects the brain and behavior. Physicalism defines existence as physical and the non-physical mind, if it exists, as causally inert (by definition). This basic tenet makes it pointless for Physicalists to entertain the question of free will. We have found that the mind does affect brain and behavior. Hence, humans can be held responsible for their conduct.


Scientific Consequences



Identifying submodality-specific cortical areas. Present-day neuroscience has identified modality-specific cortical areas. But, in some cases it has not identified the submodality-specific areas. For example, some color areas of the visual cortex have been identified while brightness has not.


Using imagined stimuli to identify brain loci of interest. Having conscious and awake subjects in a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine (fMRI) imagine specific sensations would significantly increase the activity of the downstream neural clusters that evoke that sensation. Consider the following examples.


Imagining submodality elements of visual sensation. Imagining motion in a particular direction will selectively activate the cortical column in V5/MT for that corresponding direction specificity. submodality-specific cortical area cause central achromatopsia – complete color blindness, which leaves the sensation of light and dark intact. The cortical locus of the sensation of light and dark has not yet been identified. One simple way to identify this area is the following. Direct a person who has been placed in an fMRI to imagine looking at bright source of light. It would selectively increase the activation level of the part of the visual cortex that evokes the sensation of brightness, and thus identify its loci.


Imagining submodality elements of taste. The simplest way to identify the downstream, gustatory submodality areas is to put a healthy person in an fMRI and have them imagine each specific taste: sweet, bitter, salty, umami, and sour. We assume the primary cortex will not significantly increase its activity while the areas that evoke each sensation will.


Imagining submodality elements of auditory pitch. The sensation of any auditory pitch is evoked by the auditory cortex, in an area that is downstream from the primary auditory cortex A1. That area has not been identified yet. As in the case of identifying submodality elements of taste basic taste that area can be identified by having a musician in an fMRI imagine the sensation of a given auditory pitch, such as middle A (440Hz). This would selectively increase the activation of the part of the non-primary auditory cortex that evokes that particular pitch.


Locked-in Syndrome. A person with locked-in syndrome is unable to communicate. Imagining a particular sensation or percept activates a corresponding brain locus. This makes it possible for some communication with a person with locked-in syndrome by telling them for “yes” to imagine sweet taste, and for “no” imagine bitter. It is interesting to find if the number of alternatives could be increased to that of the letters of the alphabet.


Identifying cortical locus that evokes the sensation of light. Anne Roe and associates (Roe AW et al 2005) identified visual area V2 as containing cells that produce brightness illusion. As in the case of imagining, dreaming, or having an illusion involves activating the same brain loci that normally evokes that sensation. Therefore, the cells that Anne Roe identified in V2 evoke the sensation of brightness. This can be tested by using fMRI to scan the visual cortex of a person who is instructed to imagine looking at a bright source of light. That would identify the loci of cells in visual area V2 that manifest selective increased activation. Subject to further confirmation, said identified cells evoke the sensation of light.


Extended version

2016 September 20





Galileo Galilei. “…Hence I think that tastes, odors, colors and so on are no more than names so far as the objects in which we place them is concerned, and that they reside only in consciousness.” Letter to the illustrious and very reverend Don Virginio Cesarini. The Assayer in Discoveries and Opinions. p. 274. 1623/1957.


Rene Descartes. Descartes spent some eight years in Leiden, in the Netherlands dissecting brains. He did not observe any qualitative difference in what is transmitted from one type of sensory receptor to the brain compared to that of any other type of sensory receptor. Descartes therefore concluded that the qualitative diversity of experience is evoked in the brain (1644/1955). These conclusions became known as The doctrine of innate ideas. Roger Sperry (see A8 below) reached virtually the same conclusions based on evidence available to him. Present-day neuroscience has proved this Descartes/Sperry thesis correct.


Isaac Newton. Newton was an avid student of Descartes’ analytic geometry. The quotation below suggests that Newton was also acquainted with Descartes’s conclusion that sensations are innate. In Opticks (1704) Newton states that color and sound are not physical properties, but instead are evoked by the nervous system (the “Sensorium”) writing: “And if at any time I speak of Light and Rays as coloured or endued with Colours, I would be understood to speak not philosophically and properly, but grossly, and according to such Conceptions as vulgar People in seeing all these Experiments would be apt to frame. For the Rays, to speak properly are not coloured. In them there is nothing else than a certain Power and Disposition to stir up a Sensation of this or that Colour. For as Sound in a Bell or musical String, or other sounding Body, is nothing but a trembling Motion, and in the Air nothing but motion propagated from the Object, and in the Sensorium ‘tis a Sense of that Motion under the Form of Sound; so Colours in the Object are nothing but a Disposition to reflect this or that sort of Rays more copiously than the Rest; in the Rays are nothing but the Dispositions to propagate this or that Motion into the Sensorium, and in the Sensorium they are Sensations of those Motions under the Form of Colours.”


Charles Darwin. Heritability is one of the three basic tenets of Darwin’s theory of evolution (1859). In The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) Darwin extended the notion of heritability from physical attributes to behavioral and mental capacities.


James Clerk Maxwell. “Colour is a mental science” (1872).



Language. The discovery of cortical areas specialized for speech production (Broca 1861) and comprehension (Wernicke 1874) established the existence of these innate and universal complex cognitive mechanisms. It implies the existence of a universal language mechanism that is involved in learning any historical language. Noam Chomsky in his book Syntactic Structures (1955) was the first to make this fact explicit. Steven Pinker further elaborated that thesis in his book The Language Instinct: How The Mind Creates Languages (2010) describing language as an innate “hard-wired” capacity.


Erwin Schrödinger. In Mind and Matter (1958) Schrödinger states “The sensation of colour cannot be accounted for by the physicist’s objective picture of light waves .”


Roger Sperry. In Neurology and the Mind Body Problem (1952) Sperry observed that the input from the senses is qualitatively homogenous. He therefore concluded that the qualitative aspect is the stimulated target in the brain. The direct stimulation (e.g. electrical) of a modality-specific cortical area of a conscious and awake person would evoke a sensation of that sensory modality: visual sensation by stimulating the visual cortex, sensation of sound by stimulating the auditory cortex, and sensation of taste by stimulating the gustatory cortex. Put differently, the Sperry thesis implies that sensations are not received from the sense or from the external world from the senses.


DNA, the heritability molecule. The discovery of the structure of DNA (Watson & Crick 1953) proved it to be the biological information molecule, which is involved in replication and the transmission of biological information between generations.


Carl G. Jung. “It is almost absurd prejudice to suppose that existence can be only physical. As a matter of fact, the only form of existence of which we have immediate knowledge is psychic (i.e. in the mind). We might as well say, on the contrary, that physical existence is a mere inference, since we know of matter only in so far as we perceive psychic images mediated by the senses” (1975).


The experience of a limb in persons born without it. Persons who lose a limb commonly report that they continue to experience sensations, including pain, in the lost limb. The tabula rasa assumption is that the phantom limb phenomenon is brought about by endogenous stimuli of experiences obtained before the limb was lost. Ronald Melzack (1997) examined persons that were born without a limb that reported sensations in the limb they never had and concluded that those somatic sensations are innate. The development and use of MRI imaging finally made it possible to confirm the described somatic sensations by imaging the somatosensory cortex of such persons (Brugger et al. 2000).


de Broglie, Louis. de Broglie was the first scientist in modern times to recognize that the sensation of light is evoked by the brain and is not an attribute of electromagnetic radiation. In Mind and Brain John Eccles presents a quote by de Broglie: “We clearly understand how, for instance, light may be collected by our eye, act on the retina, induce in our optic nerve an electrical influx which excites certain nerve cells in our brain, but the transformation of these purely physical phenomena into the conscious perception of a luminous sensation remains astounding and almost inconceivable.” (1985).


Innateness of the sensation of light. In Inner Light (1995), Daniel Alroy presented the empirical grounds for concluding that since color and all sensations are innate then it is also true of the sensation of light. Cortical visual prostheses elicit sensations of light in persons who lost their vision. It should work equally well for the born blind. This is expected to be tested by 2020.


Evolutionary psychology. In The Adaptive Mind Leda Cosmides and John Tooby (Barkow et al., 1992) proposed that capacities such as language and the judgment of attractiveness in potential mates are the result of natural selection, which adapts innate capacities to challenges of survival and which can be further molded by experience.


Auditory prostheses for the born deaf. There are over 300,000 deaf persons, many of whom were born deaf, who can hear sounds by the direct electrical stimulation of auditory-related brain areas, either directly or through stimulation of the cochlea (Carner et al., 2007). The fact that the born deaf can be made to hear sounds by direct electrical stimulation constitutes conclusive proof that the sensation of sound is innate and evoked by the brain. Put differently, the sensation of sound is not received from the ears or from air vibration through the ears. We now know that all sensations are innate and are evoked by the brain.


Principles of Neural Science. The various editions of Principles of Neural Science indicate when, finally, the finding that sensations are innate became accepted in neuroscience. In the third edition (Kandel E et al. 1991), the chapter about Hearing by John Kelly starts with the sentence “Sound is a property of air vibrations,” while John Martin in the chapter about Neural Coding states that the sensation of colors and sounds do not exist outside the brain. In the fourth edition (2000) the statement that sound is a property of air vibrations was deleted; the statement that sensations, as such, do not exist outside the brain, retained. The fifth edition (2010), Chapter 21 on Neural Coding states: “colors, tones, smells, and tastes are mental creations constructed by the brain out of sensory experience. They do not exist as such outside the brain.”


Cell-type proteins as determinants of subjective states. In 2012 the United States Patent Office granted Daniel Alroy a patent for identifying the cellular determinants of the qualitative aspect of any given submodality element of sensation (U. S. Patent No. 8,112,260).


Taste-specific cells in the gustatory cortex. Charles Zuker and his associates (Peng, et al. 2015) identified and electrically stimulated taste-specific cells for sweet, umami, bitter, sour, and salty in the gustatory cortex of mice, eliciting the corresponding taste-specific behavioral responses. Some of the mice did not have prior taste experience via stimulation of the mouth or tongue. This result proves that the sensation of taste is innate and is evoked by the brain.


Innateness and the philosophic community. Colin McGinn’s recent book Inborn Knowledge – the Mystery Within (2015) may be the first book by a known philosopher that defends nativism - the view that innateness of human mental faculties is a fact, and it ought to replace the tabula rasa assumption. It is a significant milestone.



Quote of the Week

Kurt Gödel

The a priori is greatly neglected. [1] 

The a priori is very powerful. [2]

[1] In Rudy Rucker’s Infinity and the mind. 1982. P. 181.

[2] In Rudy Rucker’s The lifebox, the seashell, and the soul. 2005. p.8.


© 2016 Daniel Alroy