I think it’s more likely that brain function is a reaction to thought. When we learn we have an idea about what we want to do, then through trial and error and practise, neural pathways are laid down that enable us to do that thing (eg, learning languages, musical instruments, driving, etc). We do this from the moment we’re born – we observe others doing things and we imitate them. It takes a while ‘til we get the hang of it, but the thought of it precedes the ability to do it. Also the brain is able to lay down new neural pathways when it’s been injured (depending on the injury, of course), which suggests that the thought remains even though the brain function connected to that thing no longer does, or the thought is reintroduced if it has been forgotten – either way, the thought precedes the functioning.
I think it possible that this (the belief that thought follows brain function) is an example of the many errors that we, collectively, have developed that has a potential negative impact on our lives. I think there are many of these errors – somewhere along the line an incorrect assumption is made because of our limited experience and perspective (eg, the world being flat, the planetary system being geocentric… both of which were logical conclusions for the time) and, because of our natures, we believe what we are told by people we want to believe in, and the error (though well meaning, perhaps) perpetuates.
If thought is a product of brain function, I think it stands to reason that when we do a brain scan and observe brain activity during thinking we ought to be able to interpret the thoughts. Would there not be more common neural patterns between brains for the same thoughts? Recent findings in neuroscience show that each brain lays down unique neural pathways for the same action – wouldn’t there be more consistency between brains if the function causes the thought? Wouldn’t it be likely that there would be pre-existing neural patterns that match particular thought? Wouldn’t we be able to see, with a brain scan, who believed what? As far as I know, we can’t do this (yet?).
Do we have particular skills because we naturally have larger or smaller brain bits or do the brain bits grow larger, or fail to grow, because we have spent more energy thinking the things that are relevant to those brain bits? I don’t know, but I think that making assumptions is not a good idea because in doing so we place limitations on our understanding and shape our investigations accordingly; we create frameworks where we have no choice but to reject possibilities because they don’t fit those pre-determined paradigms. But they might fit a different paradigm. By considering alternative paradigms many of the things we find mysterious and confounding might make perfect sense.
Assumptions are, by definition, unscientific because they have not been established through science’s own rules – that is, conclusions arrived at following rational and impartial investigation of all known possibilities. Assumptions have been neither proven nor disproven (and not being able to prove something is not the same thing as disproving it). They are therefore a product of prejudice. They are beliefs, ideas. That doesn’t mean they aren’t correct, but until they have been proven to be so, they are, technically, works of imagination… fiction.
Is it reasonable of us to trust any scientific conclusion that is based upon a paradigm that is, essentially, a work of fiction?
A nefarious side effect of being closed-minded with beliefs – that is, having the conviction that your viewpoint is the one and only correct one – is that it is often used as an excuse for ridiculing and persecuting people who hold different beliefs. What that’s all about, I wonder? Why are so many so aggressive about it?
Most of our beliefs are merely opinions, not actual truths (eg, atheists have not, so far, proven that gods don’t exist), and why does it matter if people believe something different, anyway? So what?
I think we would do well to question our myriad assumptions, that have no foundation according to scientific criteria, and open our minds to other possibilities.
A PS: According to some pundits, the type of thinking one engages in affects our moods because it affects the release of neurotransmitters (eg, dopamine and serotonin for positive thinking, adrenaline and cortisol for negative). I think this must strengthen the argument for thinking preceding brain function.