May 08 2014

After the Afterlife Debate

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685 Responses to “After the Afterlife Debate”

  1. DavidCTon 08 May 2014 at 10:06 am

    This topic shows just how easy it is for intelligent people to fool themselves. Once fooled it seems that smart people are excellent at defending their position and avoiding the need to change their minds. The most hopeful result was that outsiders watching the debate could change their minds based on the evidence presented.

  2. Skepticoon 08 May 2014 at 11:23 am

    Since Sagan write those words those ideas have been tested in some detail to the point that I think we can dismiss them with some confidence.

    Random number generators – they only achieved success by looking for events that influenced the RNGs after they had already noticed an effect. It’s just your basic sharpshooter fallacy. Read an evening with Dean Radin. Radin just ignores RNG spikes that are not correlated with world events.

    You already dealt with the reincarnation claim. Stevenson’s “hits” were either impossible to confirm (eg unknown who the earlier “life” was supposed to be so don’t now if it is true or not) or Stevenson only net the child long after the events had been matched, so no idea what the child knew just by himself.

    The third item is the Ganzfeld experiments. Minuscule effects that get smaller when better controls are introduced. Decades of research and all they can point to is tiny statistical differences?

    This is what they are still pointing to as evidence?

  3. hardnoseon 08 May 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Is there a transcript anywhere?

    I don’t know if we should be convinced by the audience vote, since the debate may have attracted a certain type of audience.

    NDEs are extremely common, and I don’t think they should be casually dismissed as hallucinations. It’s too easy to call everything you don’t like to believe an illusion or hallucination.

    In any case, we can’t criticize anything about the debate if we don’t have a transcript or video.

    As I said before, I am a scientist and a naturalist. But I am also a skeptic, and I don’t ignore evidence just because it doesn’t fit into my ideology.

  4. BuckarooSamuraion 08 May 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Hi Steve,

    I’ve been trolling livescience and intelligence squared for responses to the debate and while most have been fairly boring ad hominems, and listen to my anecdote, a person put this study forth from The Lancet: http://profezie3m.altervista.org/archivio/TheLancet_NDE.htm

    What do you think, the authors seem to believe that their evidence suggest that NDEs aren’t completely in the mind.

    I’m skeptical of this assertion but my eyes glaze over when trying to read a lot of it.

    -Justin Couron

  5. Lukas1986on 08 May 2014 at 1:57 pm

    @BuckarooSamurai:

    The researcher who is behind the paper is Pim vam Lommel a known believer in dualism who was even on skeptiko:

    http://www.skeptiko.com/pim-van-lommel-transformed-by-near-death-experience-research/

    His research was discussed and criticized many times here are just few links of skeptics about this:

    “In another Dutch bestseller titled We zijn ons brein (We are our brain), neurobiologist Dick Swaab praises Van Lommel’s research for mapping patients experiences and opening up the subject of Near-Death Experiences (NDE’s) to the medical world. But he also indicates that Van Lommel’s book ignores (Nobel Prize winning) scientific knowledge including some conclusions from his own research. He does not refute neurobiological explanations, gives no scientific basis for his statements and borrows concepts from quantum physics without ground.”

    Taken from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pim_van_Lommel

    More links:

    http://neardth.com/setting-the-record-straight.php

    Or here:

    “In conclusion, I think the paper as a whole is reasonably good. The only conclusion that I think is somewhat overstated they don’t focus that much on. The controlled aspects of the study produce some good insight into several factors involving NDEs and the non-controlled parts raise interesting questions for further research.

    I think a bigger issue for this paper is how some people have interpreted it: ie: concluding for example that this paper demonstrates strongly that NDEs aren’t physical. I don’t think it does. It’s a controlled study, but not on the elements that are most hotly debated here – that of whether NDEs are brain based or not.”

    Taken from: http://www.skeptiko-forum.com/threads/the-van-lommel-lancet-nde-paper.110/

    There are more but I am lazy to look for more..

  6. wernerdanon 08 May 2014 at 2:24 pm

    Clearly the skeptics won this debate. Dr. Moody and Dr. Alexander were not strong debaters, though seemed very pleasant and respectful – as were their opponents. Chris Carter and Dr. Stuart Hameroff, both fiery “believers” would have put up a fiercer fight in my opinion. Hameroff is a physicist and could counter Dr. Carroll’s points far more strongly.

    The debate itself focused on the near death experience, though apparent past life memories reported by children and mediumship communication were briefly mentioned by Alexander, including Gary Schwartz’s Afterlife Experiments. Dr. Julie Beischel has continued studies with alleged mediums at the Windbridge Institute, tightening protocols and improving the experimental design. It is quite the extraordinary claim, but not something I think is fair to dismiss a priori, which some self identified skeptics are apt to do. Surely I am not convinced that these mediums are communicating with the deceased, but I do consider this to be a possibility and worthy of further investigation.

    “But if someone wants to spend their time researching very unlikely ideas, more power to them.”

    Dr. Jim Tucker, successor to Dr. Ian Stevenson, continues on researching cases of the reincarnation type at the University of Virginia, focusing not on foreign cases but reports from American children. Below I pasted an article from Jesse Bering, skeptic and atheist.

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/bering-in-mind/2013/11/02/ian-stevensons-case-for-the-afterlife-are-we-skeptics-really-just-cynics/

    Overall, I notice that both sides can overestimate their cases. As I mentioned on the debate page, Dr. Stephen Braude may have said it best when he remarked that the believers overestimate the evidence and skeptics underestimate it when it comes to the subject of the afterlife.

  7. Enzoon 08 May 2014 at 2:37 pm

    I was in the audience and was desperately trying to ask a Dr. Alexander if he believed these metaphysical experiences of the afterlife were somehow causing physical effects in the brain — i.e. we have some kind of “soul receptor” analogous to photoreceptors for light. Surely a physical event must be occurring on some level in order to instill memories. And that makes it a quite scientific issue. Dr. Carroll brought this concept up in his introductory remarks but the other side never addressed it.

    I find it impossible to deny Drs. Carroll and Novella trounced the other side. Drs. Alexander and Moody came prepared with literally nothing but “I have this experience of mine and it just can’t be imaginary” and “there are all these people with stories and I trust their judgement, I feel there could be something more.” Dr. Alexander even mentioned quantum mechanics — I’m pretty sure I psychically sensed Steve’s groan.

    The highlight of the night was Steve’s shocked outburst when Alexander dropped the bomb that Carl Sagan sided with him.

    @hardnose

    Intelligence Squared US puts out podcasts for each of their debates.

    NDEs are extremely common, and I don’t think they should be casually dismissed as hallucinations. It’s too easy to call everything you don’t like to believe an illusion or hallucination.

    Who is being casual? There is absolutely no reason we are forced to accept NDEs as something paranormal. All the experiences and hallucinations reported for NDEs are within our ability to replicate or otherwise explain with our physical/biological understanding of the brain. The problem is when the brain/mind does something, you have no way of knowing if it was a real experience or a hallucination.

    Besides, in this debate you’ve got one guy claiming PROOF OF HEAVEN. I think all we are trying to say is there is no such compelling proof (or evidence for that matter).

  8. Steven Novellaon 08 May 2014 at 3:09 pm

    Justin – I have read that paper before. It is just descriptive – they are not controlling for anything. They seem to be saying that because everyone does not have an NDE during cardiac arrest, it can’t be physical. This is profoundly naive. Effects of decreased O2, increase CO2, and drugs can have different effects on different parts of the brain, with different thresholds. Just to give one example, at some level of anoxia memory making will turn off. Above this threshold, you have memories of a OOB experience, below, you have no memories. That alone can explain why such memories of NDE are intermittent.

    It makes less sense, if NDEs are spiritual, that they would not just happen every time.

  9. steve12on 08 May 2014 at 3:22 pm

    “NDEs are extremely common, and I don’t think they should be casually dismissed as hallucinations. It’s too easy to call everything you don’t like to believe an illusion or hallucination.

    In any case, we can’t criticize anything about the debate if we don’t have a transcript or video.

    As I said before, I am a scientist and a naturalist. But I am also a skeptic, and I don’t ignore evidence just because it doesn’t fit into my ideology.”

    How is anyone ignoring anything? No one’s pretending that the experience isn’t real. Giving prosaic interpretations (hallucinations) for phenomena that jibe with well known scientific mechanisms (oxygen starved brain) is not ignoring!

    Giving fanciful interpretations that have no known mechanisms despite the prosaic alternatives is not science, I can tell you that much.

  10. Paulzon 08 May 2014 at 3:23 pm

    “He seemed unaware of the stature Sagan has in the skeptical community. Afterward, back stage, he asked me if I had ever read Demon Haunted World. I chuckled.”

    I’m surprised he had to ask you that. You stated quite clearly during the debate that you’d read it many times.

  11. RBHon 08 May 2014 at 4:09 pm

    Skeptico wrote “Random number generators – they only achieved success by looking for events that influenced the RNGs after they had already noticed an effect. It’s just your basic sharpshooter fallacy. Read an evening with Dean Radin. Radin just ignores RNG spikes that are not correlated with world events.”

    Radin’s been doing that for decades. In 1987, for my sins, I published a critique of a paper of his in which he violated just about every rule of experimental design and analysis.

  12. Ekkoon 08 May 2014 at 4:15 pm

    I found this whole debate and topic really amusing. The pro side basically amounted to “I had these experiences that I can’t wholly explain, therefore Heaven is real”. Of course the whole experience of an NDE and surviving whatever experience prompted it is so emotionally charged, I can see how some people let their imaginations run away from them – the need to believe in an afterlife and the fear or denial of mortality and loss of self/ego is obviously very compelling for some, against all rational better judgement. If death is anything, it’s a release of all attachments and memories and everything we’ve accumulated as our selves in life. I see value in living each day and not taking life for granted (one day I will not be here to appreciate it) rather than assuming my self will go on in some afterlife where I will meet departed relatives, etc. The whole fantasy of Heaven this way seems so ridiculously self-serving and self-deceiving. I once had a Mormon who was proselytizing say to me about Heaven and the afterlife “but wouldn’t it be nice!” This basically summed up for me the whole fanciful, self-created, wish-fulfilling aspect of it.

  13. Sheridan44on 08 May 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Okay, say there is life after death. My question #1 is – Wouldn’t it be boring to live forever? Think of all the things you enjoy while you are alive. Then imagine an afterlife: no sex, no eating/drinking, no hiking, no sports, no TV, no internet, no work, no books, no music, no games, no babies being born, no birthdays, no weddings, no celebrations of any kind to mark important events as we did when we were living. Boring??? I certainly think so.

    Question #2 – So – What does one DO after being in heaven for a thousand or a million years?

  14. the devils gummy bearon 08 May 2014 at 5:36 pm

    “Demonstrably not true. I mean, everything you said is the exact opposite of the truth.”

    – Steve FTW

    Okay, the video of the debate is now up, as is the transcript (PDF link below). I have some additional comments after rewatching the video which I’ll come back to later today or tomorrow, but for now, I just want to copy and paste the portion of the transcript where Dr. Alexander cited Carl Sagan (page 46 of the PDF)

    Eben Alexander:
    I would say it’s more a question of the information, you know, than the energy. It’s not
    a conservation issue around energy.People often use that one to argue against a soul being able to influence the material world. I would say it’s much more a question of the information, and especially when you — as I said, when you — for example, a very renowned skeptic and scientist, Carl
    Sagan admitted that past life memories in children, the evidence for that is
    overwhelming.

    Steven Novella:
    That’s not true. Come on, Carl Sagan, please.

    Eben Alexander:
    He said that in his book, in his book, “The Demon Haunted World,” on page 302, he says
    exactly that.

    http://intelligencesquaredus.org/images/debates/past/transcripts/050714%20Death%20Not%20Final.pdf

  15. hardnoseon 08 May 2014 at 8:13 pm

    “if the arrow of causation’s going from brain to mind, then if we change the brain, that should change the mind. And if we damage the brain, that should damage the mind.”

    Causation goes the other way also — what happens in the mind has and effect on the brain and body.

    It is true that damaging the brain damages the person — how could it not? But is it the mind that is damaged, or the mind’s ability to interact with the physical world?

    “there is no practical or functional limit that neuroscientists have encountered so far to the degree which we can mess with your mind by messing with your brain.”

    Of course that is true, but it does not answer the question. All our sensory information about the physical world gets to us through the brain. Of course the sensory data influences our mental states — how could it not, and why would it not?

    The evidence shows that the mind depends on the brain for its information about the physical world. We know that, and no one would deny it, and it is not relevant to this topic.

    Novella’s mistake has been made by all the scientific materialists. Because we need a brain to interact with the physical world, they conclude that the mind is nothing more than a brain. They are confusing necessary conditions with sufficient conditions.

    I do not think that mind is anything unnatural or supernatural. I just think we don’t yet know what it is. In my opinion, the brain is part of the mind, but not all.

    It does not contradict any law of physics to say that the mind is more inclusive than the brain. It is incredibly narrow-minded to think that all the laws of physics have been discovered and are well understood by science.

  16. tmac57on 08 May 2014 at 8:51 pm

    I came across this article in Esquire magazine about Dr. Alexander that didn’t go exactly as he would have liked:
    http://www.esquire.com/features/the-prophet

    It doesn’t provide any sort of ‘smoking gun’ as to whether or not he is a reliable witness to his own experience,but it does raise some questions in my mind about whether he took liberties with the facts,and possibly introduced some hyperbole into the narrative for his ordeal in order to make it more compelling.
    For instance,one of the doctors involved in his treatment stated that she put him in a medically induced coma,rather than his implication that meningitis directly caused the coma. Maybe a small detail,but why then would he change the facts if not to make the story fit his narrative a bit better.
    And if he changed that detail,what other things were changed,either consciously or unconsciously to make it a better fit for the idea that the book was supporting?
    In any case,it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day for people who understand that these kind of experiences,no matter how faithfully they are recounted,do not provide any real evidence for an afterlife.They are no more trustworthy than any other sort of eyewitness testimony (and probably worse,under the circumstances),but they have that magical element of the slim possibility that we may yet escape our certain mortality,and people have been pinning their hopes on much less for centuries.

  17. tmac57on 08 May 2014 at 9:06 pm

    It does not contradict any law of physics to say that the mind is more inclusive than the brain. It is incredibly narrow-minded to think that all the laws of physics have been discovered and are well understood by science*.

    Why introduce new unknown variables to a problem that is not completely understood yet with the variables that we do know?
    Find some concrete evidence that we have exhausted all currently known pieces of the puzzle before hypothesizing new ones from out of whole cloth. Either that or provide evidence for some new physics.The Nobel awaits!

    *BTW,your second sentence was clearly a straw man.No one thinks that.

  18. grabulaon 08 May 2014 at 9:39 pm

    Hardnose is making a name for himself around her.

    @hardnose

    You keep claiming to be a scientist. I’m interested in your credentials as such since they continue to come up in every thread you post in.

    You also continue to try to introduce evidence that doesn’t exist and you argue from a credulous position so often it’s becoming ridiculous. We’ve establish that if you change the brain, you change the person. How would you defend against that if the mind is something more? What’s your evidence for something more other than like the pro guys in this debate, anecdotal evidence. Surely is you’re a scientist as you constantly claim you understand what place anecdotal evidence has in science?

  19. Mlemaon 08 May 2014 at 11:51 pm

    I was able to listen to the initial comments and the first 15 minutes of the debate. I found it enjoyable and compelling. Dr. Novella is a great debater and I think his side gave a better argument, such as it was. However, I must contend that the question of an afterlife is the same as the question of God. There’s just no way to know if something exists that’s not a part of our own existence. The rational and logical response is: agnosticism.

  20. the devils gummy bearon 08 May 2014 at 11:57 pm

    Yeah @tmac57, Dittrich’s exposé in Esquire is an eye opener. Jeff Bercovici did a follow up to it over at Forbes, and it is damning, to put it mildly;

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffbercovici/2013/07/02/esquire-unearths-proof-of-heaven-authors-credibility-problems/

    The most critical, and most relevant criticism of Alexander’s claims, I think, is by Sam Harris himself;

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/this-must-be-heaven

    A must read :)

    And, by way of introduction; I’m a loooooonnnnnnng time lurker, but an even longer time(r???) listener to SGU, been listening since ohhhhh, round about ought-five. Back in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on ‘em. Give me five bees for a quarter, we’d say. Anyway, the details of my life are inconsequential. Hey guys.

  21. BillyJoe7on 09 May 2014 at 12:47 am

    Mlema,

    ” However, I must contend that the question of an afterlife is the same as the question of God. There’s just no way to know if something exists that’s not a part of our own existence. The rational and logical response is: agnosticism.”

    Depends on how you define “agnosticism”.
    If, by your definition, you’re also agnostic about faeries, then I think your definition is not a useful one.

  22. Mlemaon 09 May 2014 at 12:52 am

    BillyJoe – I use the standard definition. How do you define faeries?

  23. Rogue Medicon 09 May 2014 at 12:52 am

    Dr. Novella wrote – “They seem to be saying that because everyone does not have an NDE during cardiac arrest, it can’t be physical.”

    Everyone’s heart does not go into the ECG (ElectroCardioGram) rhythm of VF (Ventricular Fibrillation) when they die, therefore it can’t be physical?

    Everyone’s heart does end up in asystole – a flat line, which indicates (as long as the leads are properly connected, . . .) that there is no electrical activity in the heart. Does that mean that the electrical activity has gone to ECG heaven, where it can be with the other heart rhythms?

    -

    hardnose wrote – “NDEs are extremely common, and I don’t think they should be casually dismissed as hallucinations. . . .”

    Requiring evidence is not casually dismissing NDEs.

    Requiring evidence is just the opposite of casually accepting NDEs.

    -

    “If every individual student follows the same current fashion in expressing and thinking about electrodynamics or field theory, then the variety of hypotheses being generated to understand strong interactions, say, is limited. Perhaps rightly so, for possibly the chance is high that the truth lies in the fashionable direction. But, on the off-chance that it is in another direction – a direction obvious from an unfashionable view of field theory – who will find it? Only someone who has sacrificed himself by teaching himself quantum electrodynamics from a peculiar and unusual point of view; one that he may have to invent for himself. I say sacrificed himself because he most likely will get nothing from it, because the truth may lie in another direction, perhaps even the fashionable one.”

    http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1965/feynman-lecture.html

    Richard Feynman’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech provides a reason to continually question that which is currently accepted – but not to accept something without valid evidence.

    We are asked to accept NDEs without valid evidence.

    It does not help the NDE side that one of the proponents of NDEs misunderstands what Carl Sagan has written about assessing the quality of evidence.

    It may be worse if Dr. Alexander misrepresented what Carl Sagan wrote, but I prefer Hanlon’s Razor – “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

    -

    I did not get the impression that Dr. Moody presented the evidence that he had. I got the impression that he is open to both possibilities, but has faith in NDEs for philosophical reasons, rather than based on any particular evidence. I do not make my money doing cold readings, so I could be way off.

    :-)

  24. BillyJoe7on 09 May 2014 at 1:00 am

    Mlema,

    “How do you define faeries?”

    How do you define “god”?

  25. Rogue Medicon 09 May 2014 at 1:20 am

    hardnose wrote – “I do not think that mind is anything unnatural or supernatural. I just think we don’t yet know what it is. In my opinion, the brain is part of the mind, but not all.
    It does not contradict any law of physics to say that the mind is more inclusive than the brain.”

    You claim to be contradicting what Dr. Novella presented, but what he presented is that we have thousands of people being resuscitated in the US alone – and yet there is no evidence that NDEs are real.

    If the NDE is an opportunity to temporarily commune with greater minds, why does the only communication seem to be that, “The Dude abides”? I do not intend to start a flame war over the quality of the movie, but I do expect a bit better than platitudes from Heaven. Polonius might have made me suicidal, too.

    It also does not contradict any law of physics to say that the mind is the brain.

    Without valid evidence to the contrary, we have no reason to assume properties the brain does not possess.

    With the dramatic increase in the resuscitation rates since the focus on continuous high-quality chest compressions, there have been many more opportunities for people to experience NDEs and provide something more than some platitudes.

    Therapeutic hypothermia is also a treatment that seems to offer protection to the brain and may be able to allow for more accurate reporting of any possible useful information the person might have obtained from those in Heaven.

    This may be limited by the use of benzodiazepines for sedation, since they can cause retrograde amnesia. However, if the person really is out of body, then the benzodiazepines should not affect the mind.

    I still do not see any evidence to support NDEs, but a lot of evidence to discredit the possibility that NDEs are the mind actually leaving the body.

    :-)

  26. Mlemaon 09 May 2014 at 1:25 am

    BillyJoe – I don’t.

  27. grabulaon 09 May 2014 at 1:34 am

    I’m comfortable with atheism. So far the world’s myths haven’t held up and there’s no evidence for anything else.

  28. Mlemaon 09 May 2014 at 1:36 am

    No reason to let logic interfere with comfort.

  29. Rogue Medicon 09 May 2014 at 1:59 am

    There are plenty of reasons to choose logic over comfort.

    Reality does not accommodate comfort for any particular reason. It is only a coincidence if reality appears to accommodate your comfort.

    :-)

  30. grabulaon 09 May 2014 at 4:01 am

    Mlema, misses the point. His concepts are under attack so often here for being irrational and in scientific, gotta throw him a bone on occasion.

    If it helps mlema, logically and rationally there’s no evidence for god, God’s or the afterlife. The evidence so far is overwhelmingly against so I’ll sit comfortably in atheism unless someone comes along with evidence that suggests otherwise.

  31. Ian Wardellon 09 May 2014 at 6:55 am

    grabula
    “We’ve establish (sic) that if you change the brain, you change the person”.

    If that were true then that would prove the brain produces consciousness. In order for that person to change into someone else, then the person post brain damage would have to feel that he’s suddenly popped into existence, have no feeling of connection whatsoever to the person prior to the brain damage etc.

    Indeed under any materialist based metaphysic we would predict that sufficient or appropriate brain damage would literally change a person. So far as I’m aware this never happens.

  32. Ian Wardellon 09 May 2014 at 7:35 am

    grabula

    “If it helps mlema, logically and rationally there’s no evidence for god, God’s or the afterlife. The evidence so far is overwhelmingly against so I’ll sit comfortably in atheism unless someone comes along with evidence that suggests otherwise”.

    grabula, it revolves around what what means by “god” and what is it that is being supposed could survive death.

    In my experience atheists have an absurd anthropocentric conceptualisation of God, rather reminiscent of the type of “god” I entertained when I were around 10-12 years old. Atheists do not appear to have done any further thinking about this concept after that age. I’m entirely in agreement with them that it is highly unreasonable to suppose such a “god” exists.

    Likewise in the issue of an afterlife they smuggle in their materialist conception of a “self”, show that such a “self” could not exist given that such a “self” changes with brain damage, then conclude there’s no “life after death”. However the thinking non-materialist does not share their conception of the “self”. In fact materialists cannot believe in a self at all. They just use the word “self” to refer to the sense of self.

  33. Sam Randazzoon 09 May 2014 at 9:28 am

    Ian Wardell,

    I find it troubling that you try to throw the old “childish thinking attack” at atheists, and you can do that because you seem to think you have some kind of elevated reasoning because you can conceptualize god in ways that nobody else can. Yeesh. Even if you can, that doesn’t mean god is real and that you are right or somehow above everyone else.

    As far as this statement goes:

    “Indeed under any materialist based metaphysic we would predict that sufficient or appropriate brain damage would literally change a person. So far as I’m aware this never happens.”

    Holy cow, that is quite an uniformed statement. Traumatic brain injury can change a person in so many ways. There are a ton of cases out there where a person who has suffered a brain injury suddenly becomes “dark,” depressed, angry, and/or suicidal when before they were not at all that way. A quick google search will show you how wrong your statement is.

  34. Hosson 09 May 2014 at 10:20 am

    Ian
    “Indeed under any materialist based metaphysic we would predict that sufficient or appropriate brain damage would literally change a person. So far as I’m aware this never happens.”

    Strange you how you don’t even know the basic evidence especially with how emotionally invested you are with this subject. This is but one well documented example.

    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2014/05/phineas_gage_neuroscience_case_true_story_of_famous_frontal_lobe_patient.html

    Does that change you mind at all…probably not. Ideologues tend to find contradictory evidence inconvenient rather than compelling.

  35. Ian Wardellon 09 May 2014 at 10:40 am

    No Hoss it doesn’t change my mind at all since I’ve already incorporated all that evidence in coming to my beliefs. And just to stress I’m not saying that there is definitely an afterlife, however after weighing up all the reasons and evidence for and against, I gravitate towards believing we survive. However I might well be wrong. This whole subject is extraordinarily complex and confusing.

    In the particular case of Phineas Gage I have briefly mentioned his case in this paper I wrote a few years back. I’ll quote from it:

    “But what about permanent radical personality change such as suffered by the aforementioned Phineas Gage?

    “Once a polite and caring person, Gage became prone to selfish behavior and bursts of profanity. Dr. Harlow said it was if Gage lost the balance between “his intellectual faculty and animal propensities.” He had no respect for social graces and often lied about his accomplishments. Previously energetic and focused, he was now erratic and unreliable. He had trouble forming and executing plans. There was no evidence of forethought in his actions, and he often made choices against his best interests”. http://brainconnection.brainhq.com/the-strange-tale-of-phineas-gage/

    Indeed Gage changed to such an extent that his friends declared that Gage was no longer Gage. Now I believe the crucial question here is whether Gage himself agreed with his friends. In other words did he concede that his former self prior to the accident had literally ceased to exist, and that his present self had sprung into being after the accident? Although I don’t know the answer to this question, I very strongly suspect that he had not agreed with them and that he definitely felt like the same person despite the fact that his moods and ability to concentrate were now radically different. Indeed it is not clear to me why his case is qualitatively different from a person getting drunk, remaining drunk for the rest of his or her life, and thereby experiencing a permanent personality change. If such a thing were to happen to myself, then other people might declare that “Ian is no longer Ian”. However I myself would be completely convinced that I am still me 100%. It would just be that I might feel more gregarious, might find it more difficult to concentrate on various mental tasks, might be more prone to getting bad-tempered and so on and so forth”.

    http://ian-wardell.blogspot.co.uk/2009/03/is-after-death-conceivable.html

  36. Rogue Medicon 09 May 2014 at 11:01 am

    Ian Wardell wrote – “If that were true then that would prove the brain produces consciousness. In order for that person to change into someone else, then the person post brain damage would have to feel that he’s suddenly popped into existence, have no feeling of connection whatsoever to the person prior to the brain damage etc.”

    If you make up your own definitions to exclude things that do happen, but do not fit your conclusion, then you can create the mistaken impression that you are right.

    You won’t convince anyone paying attention.

    :-)

  37. Ian Wardellon 09 May 2014 at 11:18 am

    Sorry Rogue Medic but I don’t understand what you’re saying.

  38. Hosson 09 May 2014 at 11:25 am

    Ian
    You’re using a straw man to dismiss evidence that contradicts your position.

  39. steve12on 09 May 2014 at 11:49 am

    Ian:
    “Indeed under any materialist based metaphysic we would predict that sufficient or appropriate brain damage would literally change a person. So far as I’m aware this never happens.”

    Hoss:
    Phinias Gage

    Ian:
    “Now I believe the crucial question here is whether Gage himself agreed with his friends. In other words did he concede that his former self prior to the accident had literally ceased to exist, and that his present self had sprung into being after the accident? Although I don’t know the answer to this question, I very strongly suspect that he had not agreed with them and that he definitely felt like the same person despite the fact that his moods and ability to concentrate were now radically different. ”

    If this is your criteria, you don’t have to know what Phineas Gage thought. There are countless cases of people’s disposition and personalty changing from brain damage. Many are very aware of these changes and loss of self. This is not esoteric info. Go to google scholar and you’ll find report after report.

  40. Hosson 09 May 2014 at 12:13 pm

    Ian

    The Phenomenology of Personality Change Due to Traumatic Brain Injury in Children and Adolescents
    http://journals.psychiatryonline.org/article.aspx?articleid=101293

    Here’s one of the google searches steve12 was referring to. Not all entries in the search are relevant, but tens of thousands are.
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&q=brain+damage+personality+change&btnG=&as_sdt=1%2C44&as_sdtp=

    I’m curious how you’re going to rationalize the rejection of this evidence. I might be a little hasty in assuming your rejection of the evidence, but with the pattern of denial you’ve displayed so far on this forum, I think it likely.

  41. Mlemaon 09 May 2014 at 12:26 pm

    grabula – how can you have “evidence against” something you say doesn’t exist?
    perhaps you might tell us what sort of evidence for God you would accept?

    Rogue Medic – what is this, “who’s on first?” I’ve suggested to grabula that being comfortable doesn’t necessarily mean one is being logical.

    steve12, hoss – not all people who believe in a “spirit” think that the personality, thoughts, emotions, etc. constitute the spirit. They don’t believe that, if there’s an afterlife, it’s pretty much like life, but see-through. :)

    To try to draw a corollary in the physical world (which is all we have to draw corollaries in) when the western world equaled Europe and parts explored in contiguous continents, there were those who said “this is all there is because we have no evidence of anything more” Some said “no, there’s definitely more” Others said “I don’t know.”

    Now please don’t try to draw an “afterlife of the gaps” argument. As I said, all we have is the physical world to make comparisons to. If something exists “separate from” the physical world (again, for lack of a better vocabulary) tell me – how would we know? Some like to say: what’s the point if we can’t know? I agree. But still, we seem to be fond of discussing these kinds of things more than any other kinds of things. What IS the point of this conversation? If we can’t know, our statements for or against are statements of belief, not fact. People who say “there is” have no evidence (they can’t have evidence). People who insist “there isn’t” are making illogical assumptions that everything we know, and can know, is all there is.

    And for another discussion: how are we able to entertain the possibility of things that don’t exist in the universe, or the multiverse, or anything else you want to through in with existence?

  42. Mlemaon 09 May 2014 at 12:27 pm

    *throw

  43. ConspicuousCarlon 09 May 2014 at 12:44 pm

    “Ian Wardell on 09 May 2014 at 10:40 am
    No Hoss it doesn’t change my mind at all since I’ve already incorporated all that evidence in coming to my beliefs.”

    No you haven’t. You mentioned an example and made up an unsupported reason to dismiss it.

  44. Steven Novellaon 09 May 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Ian – evidence for neuroanatomical correlates are not limited to sensory input. Damage or physical changes to the Brian can change your emotions, memories, desires, cravings, and every aspect of how your brain constructs reality. I defy you to name a type of mental function that does not have a demonstrable neuroanatomical correlate – with the exception of consciousness itself, as that is likely an emergent phenomenon of overall brain function, not a piece of the brain. And of course you can inhibit consciousness by inhibiting brain function.

    No one ever loses their entire self because that is a function of the entire brain. If you caused enough damage to entirely lose self, you would not be conscious.

  45. Rogue Medicon 09 May 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Ian Wardell,

    You wrote ” the person post brain damage would have to feel that he’s suddenly popped into existence,”

    Please provide evidence that this is essential, mandatory, or in some other way, required.

    If you are going to convince anyone of your position, you need to provide an explanation for any absolute statements. If you have provided this elsewhere, I missed it.

    :-)

  46. tmac57on 09 May 2014 at 1:20 pm

    Ian-

    In my experience atheists have an absurd anthropocentric conceptualisation of God, rather reminiscent of the type of “god” I entertained when I were around 10-12 years old. Atheists do not appear to have done any further thinking about this concept after that age. I’m entirely in agreement with them that it is highly unreasonable to suppose such a “god” exists.

    Please tell us Ian about this reasonable god that your mature self now conceptualizes.

    And by the way,atheists that pan the god that you see as a naive concept,are usually doing so because they are really making light of the populist god that is so,so prevalent in culture,especially in the U.S. The kind espoused by fundamentalist TV and radio preachers,and even the softer “god is love,god is light,god grants all prayers” warm and fuzzy types.
    As a matter of fact,atheists often have a much more learned understand of various religions,and include some actual biblical scholars and philosophers who have studied the full spectrum of religious/deist thought.
    It’s much like Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert teasing FOX News hosts because they are such easy targets due to their blatant hypocrisy and poor reasoning skills.The more sensible conservatives bristle at it,but then again those guys (FOX et al) have an enormous megaphone,and tremendous influence on the average public.They need to be made fun of as do the cartoon preachers and holier than thou public figures that push the simplistic god concepts.

  47. Ian Wardellon 09 May 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Steven Novella:
    “Damage or physical changes to the Brian can change your emotions, memories, desires, cravings, and every aspect of how your brain constructs reality”.

    Our brains don’t need to be damaged. Our emotions change all the time. I hear some good news — my emotions change. However I do not regard my self as literally changing. Same goes for memories. I have no memories of my 3 year old self, nor does my 3 year old self have memories of what I did yesterday. However I do not regard my self as literally changing from when I was 3 years old. My desires change. I used to fancy someone, now I don’t. My cravings change. My intelligence does. My interests change etc etc.

    People generally do not regard that they literally change from one person to another when these properties change. Materialists do, yes. But then materialists have their own peculiar conception of the “self”. But non-materialists believe we are literally the same person from 7 years old to adulthood despite emotions, memories, cravings, interests and intelligence all changing.

    So the way materialists define the “self” I agree with them. Such a self cannot survive the deaths of our bodies. But that doesn’t perturb me :-)

    All these changes are significant only if they are *constitutive* of the self. But I don’t regard them as being constitutive of the self. Rather they are *properties* of the self.

    The way the materialists define the “self” there can be no survival of that self. Not after death and not from 1 year to the next either. But perhaps that shouldn’t be so depressing. Wouldn’t be good for a person suffering from dementia to be like that in the afterlife! And what about people born suffering from some sort of brain damage?

  48. steve12on 09 May 2014 at 1:33 pm

    The problem, Ian, is that there’s no evidence for any of the non-materialist stuff. But there’s a lot of evidence (and none to the contrary) that the brain/body is who and what we are, which f course backs the materialist perspective (along with all of science).

    I’m much more interested in hearing your response to Steve’s statement:

    “I defy you to name a type of mental function that does not have a demonstrable neuroanatomical correlate – with the exception of consciousness itself”

  49. Ekkoon 09 May 2014 at 2:30 pm

    Ian,
    “People generally do not regard that they literally change from one person to another when these properties change. Materialists do, yes. But then materialists have their own peculiar conception of the “self”. But non-materialists believe we are literally the same person from 7 years old to adulthood despite emotions, memories, cravings, interests and intelligence all changing.”

    I’m pretty sure everyone would agree that our sense of self changes over time based on internal and external factors but how does any of this relate to something conscious, a self-aware being, surviving death and existing in some afterlife?

  50. Ian Wardellon 09 May 2014 at 3:13 pm

    steve12
    “I’m much more interested in hearing your response to Steve’s statement:

    “I defy you to name a type of mental function that does not have a demonstrable neuroanatomical correlate – with the exception of consciousness itself””

    The mental functions are what I talked about in my previous communication. You need to read my post.

    Ekko
    “I’m pretty sure everyone would agree that our sense of self changes over time based on internal and external factors but how does any of this relate to something conscious, a self-aware being, surviving death and existing in some afterlife?”

    Read my blog entry about the sense of self and self

    http://ian-wardell.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/does-self-as-opposed-to-mere-sense-of.html

  51. steve12on 09 May 2014 at 3:26 pm

    “The mental functions are what I talked about in my previous communication. You need to read my post.”

    I did. None of your posts answer that question. I’m not looking for a philisophical or metaphysical answer.

    What is the cognitive function that shows an extra-body correlate?

  52. Ekkoon 09 May 2014 at 3:49 pm

    “Read my blog entry about the sense of self and self”
    Your blog entry also does not say anything about a self surviving death and you say as much in the blog entry itself.
    “None of this though says anything about the possibility of a persisting or enduring self should we reject all materialist positions.”

    Also:
    “If we are aware of not only a pleasurable state followed by a painful state but in addition an awareness that I have changed from a pleasurable state to a painful state, then there must be something enduring which persists through both states……..In short if the materialist or Buddhist is to assert that there is no persisting self then he needs to address this challenge of the “conscious transtemporal unity” of successive conscious states.”

    This is simply an example of how memory functions. The thing that persists through both states is our sense of self. This says nothing about a self or sense of self which could persist through death though.

  53. RickKon 09 May 2014 at 4:02 pm

    Ian Wardell,

    What is constitutive of self, by your definition?

    What do you use as your standard of evidence for a non-material self that survives after body death?

    And can you explain how your standard of evidence is stronger than, say, the standard of evidence used by L. Ron Hubbard to convince thousands of people that body thetans are real?

  54. ScShPaon 09 May 2014 at 4:13 pm

    I think the mistake here is to jump the gun in arguing about whether or not life exists after death, especially as it seems – after a quick read through of NDE research – there’s no clear answer to be found that will satisfy all parties. I suspect the best we can achieve is a more educated agnosticism about the topic.

    So I propose we should first consider whether Materialism as a Philosophy is the best assumption. Andrew Clifton, IMHO, offers a good reason to doubt this in his essay “The Empirical Case Against Materialism”:

    http://anti-matters.org/articles/126/public/126-192-1-PB.pdf

    From there we might ask if there’s any scientific reason to doubt the materialist case. One might consider the IQOQI results:

    http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/the_reality_tests/P3/

    As well as experiments suggesting Bohr’s ideas about wave/particle duality involving the observer:

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21728971.600-quantum-shadows-the-mystery-of-matter-deepens.html

    According to Michio Kaku in The Future of Mind (see the relevant Appendix discussing quantum mechanics and consciousness), the Idealist Interpretation of the Measurement Problem has not been disproven though I believe Kaku is wrong in suggesting Wigner did not reject this very interpretation. IIRC a paper by Dieter Zeh caused him to abandon the Idealist Interpretation.

    In fact, judging from the experimental work I just mentioned, it has far more evidence that the current en vogue Multiverse Interpretation.

    Naturally we’re then faced with the philosophical question of Idealism vs. Materialism, but the argument for agnosticism would come from the aforementioned paper by Andrew Clifton.

    So I apologize for this lengthy trip on the back of the Ouroboros, as I haven’t proved anything. Ideally some good wisdom from Terry Prachett will suffice as recompense:

    “It’s true that, before death, your life flashes before your eyes. The process is called *living*.”

  55. Insomniacon 09 May 2014 at 5:07 pm

    The debate was great indeed and both Sean and Steven delivered incredibly powerful punch lines, so congratulations.

    There’s a point that I thought would have been addressed but has not, which is given that presumably the other side accepts evolution and thus common descent, where do they draw the line between humans and other animals regarding whether or not they possess soul or will enjoy life after death ? If chimpanzees and other so-called higher mammals are included, then where do you stop ? What about starfish – let’s keep in mind that less than four percent of all animal species are closer to us than starfish are – or bacteria ? Or maybe soul gifted animals are cherry-picked given the complexity of their nervous system ?

    Besides, I felt that the public really responded well to scientific arguments, while I think people are hardly familiar with the extent to which we essentially view the brain as a mind-making machine today. This is often something people feel really confident about, that there is something magical out there, and that it has been somehow “proved” by philosophers… The disconnect is huge between the current neuroscientific paradigm on this issue and the general public idea of it, be it that they don’t know or disagree. It seems that neuroscience is a field where there is tremendous progress to be made for ideas to spread in society. And it would be worth it, no question about that.

  56. AmateurSkepticon 09 May 2014 at 6:08 pm

    @IanWardell

    “I defy you to name a type of mental function that does not have a demonstrable neuroanatomical correlate – with the exception of consciousness itself””

    The mental functions are what I talked about in my previous communication. You need to read my post.

    For those of us who aren’t able to command the same level of expertise as the regulars here, could you please put your answer into a comma separated list of nouns (or verbs if you prefer).

    Thanks.

  57. Mlemaon 09 May 2014 at 6:38 pm

    “I defy you to name a type of mental function that does not have a demonstrable neuroanatomical correlate – with the exception of consciousness itself”

    But consciousness is the crux of the mind/body argument. Saying it’s an emergent phenomenon doesn’t do anything to illuminate how it’s caused by the brain. It’s just using another descriptor. It’s “caused”, it’s “generated”, it’s “a process”, it “emerges”, etc. We’re still not getting closer to the solution to the problem. We’re just characterizing our beliefs.

    Consciousness is a slippery thing. Also, it doesn’t exist without sensory input – either from the rest of the body or from the rest of the world. Internal monitoring of function, pain, external photons, electrons, molecules, sound waves, etc. – may also be claimed to be what consciousness “emerges” from, since we have no evidence that consciousness exists without them.

  58. etatroon 09 May 2014 at 7:06 pm

    ” In order for that person to change into someone else, then the person post brain damage would have to feel that he’s suddenly popped into existence, have no feeling of connection whatsoever to the person prior to the brain damage etc.”

    I don’t even know where to begin with how wrong and inaccurate this prediction is.

  59. hardnoseon 09 May 2014 at 7:43 pm

    “There are researchers who are doing a very good job of making progress of understanding consciousness as a neurological phenomenon. We certainly are not all the way there of understanding exactly what it is. It’s a very difficult nut to crack.”

    We are not “all the way there” and we don’t understand “exactly what it is.” The implication of that statement is that we are just inches away from knowing all about how the brain generates consciousness.

    Then he admits it is very difficult. So of course you can’t expect it to take just 5 more minutes. Maybe a week or two.

    This kind of fancy framing is designed to confuse, not to enlighten. I don’t think it is done deliberately, but it is very typical of “skeptics” who actually have almost no skepticism at all regarding the power of materialist science to explain it all.

    Steve N. accuses the afterlife believers of wishful thinking. But his worship of science is just as wishful. He — and all the many others like him — cannot accept that nature might be beyond our comprehension.

  60. streetwisehercon 09 May 2014 at 7:49 pm

    I was impressed with the job of the moderator in cutting through BS from the debaters and the questions from the audience.

    The debate itself was one-sided (if not an outright slaughter). While Moody might be a kind old gentleman, his arguments were downright embarrassing and cringe-worthy. He claimed that the NDE debate wasn’t a scientific debate, but instead an issue of logic and critical thinking (his final statement of his opening “argument”). Excuse me?! What exactly is his definition of “science”? Dr. Alexander was equally as inept in providing any evidence other than his own subjective interpretation of the events that occurred during his catastrophic bacterial infection. Alexander GENUINELY (and I will underline genuinely) was confused on exactly where he was this evening, and that was evident from his opening statement in which he went over the time allotment (without ever making an argument FOR his position) and appeared to believe that he was speaking at a book signing or a related press event. The FOR side could have been joined by the 4 year old boy who also wrote a book about the authenticity of Heaven and they would have neither gained, nor lost any measure of credibility.

    There is no doubt in my mind that Alexander and Moody are qualified (with the help of a boardroom full of publishers, editors and marketers) in writing “best-sellers” that pander to millions around the globe (or more likely the FOX News demographic) who seek to affirm their own cognitive biases and religious beliefs. As far as a worthwhile debate? This one was near death before it even began.

  61. hardnoseon 09 May 2014 at 8:04 pm

    “the kind of remote seeing or telepathy or telekinesis or clairvoyance that is being talked about here is in utter and complete violation with everything we understand about the current laws of physics.”

    Sean Carroll thinks that remote perception violates the current understanding of physics. It seems like he never heard of a radio or TV or cell phone — the remote perception devices we use every day. Are they violating any known laws of physics?

    Even seeing the future isn’t really violating known physics, because at least some physicists believe time can go both ways.

  62. hardnoseon 09 May 2014 at 8:08 pm

    And by the way I am not convinced by Alexander’s NDE either. I am sure it convinced him that there is an afterlife, but one person’s experience is not scientific evidence.

    The fact that Moody has interviewed thousands of people who had similar experiences is kind of convincing, but still is not great scientific evidence.

  63. grabulaon 09 May 2014 at 9:12 pm

    @Ian Wardell

    “grabula, it revolves around what what means by “god” and what is it that is being supposed could survive death.”

    Ian, your post is laden with magical thinking. Your characterization of an “atheist” view on god is ridiculous since as an atheist, I take my ‘view’ on what god is supposed to be from the people who believe in he, she or they. In fact, I’ll go even farther in saying that believing in any of it is pretty childish, especially when there’s no good evidence for it. It’s literally clinging to a materalistic sense of self you accuse atheist of clinging to. Religious beliefs throughout the world and history have been childish ways to hold power over others, and in some cases attempt to try to explain something we did not or currently do not understand. I gave up those childish beliefs when I was old enough to realize they hold no water, and make absolutely no sense – regardless of how you define it, or them.

    “Indeed it is not clear to me why his case is qualitatively different from a person getting drunk, remaining drunk for the rest of his or her life, and thereby experiencing a permanent personality change.”

    It’s not, and that’s the point. Regardless of how gage percieves who he is (Dr. Novella has addressed this concept several times in previous posts – examples about of people not percieving what is reality) the point is that changes to the brain brought on by trauma or temporary chemical influences, shows us pretty evidently that ‘we’ are not something seperate from our brains. The only question these days as far as I understand it is how ‘we’ come about from that physical relationship. There’s no need for magical thinking to explain this, it’s only a matter of time before we understant the relationship.

    “But non-materialists believe we are literally the same person from 7 years old to adulthood despite emotions, memories, cravings, interests and intelligence all changing.”

    I believe you have it backward here Ian. It’s very materialistic to believe that you are who you are regardless of outside factors, including time. I say this because it’s clinging to the ideal that we are forever unchanging, which is why the fear of death is such a hot topic with humanity. I have no illusion that I am the same person at 40, that I was at 7. There are some consistant behaviours sure, but for the most part, if viewed seperately one could believe we were two completely different individuals. As time goes on of course consistancies become more common through time but that does not mean I change over that timeline.

    Mlema

    “how can you have “evidence against” something you say doesn’t exist?
    perhaps you might tell us what sort of evidence for God you would accept?”

    I’m apparently confusing you, so let me clarify. I don’t have any evidence disproving god, we all know you can’t right? What I do know is that we have plenty of evidence that shows the concept of god, gods and the afterlife and other such magical thinking has no evidence to back it up. There IS enough evidence showing that what some claim are magical effects (NDE’s to stay apropos) are really just physical/science based, non magical realities.
    It’s a long discussion if you want to discuss subtleties in evidence but when it really comes down to it, nothing to date even piques my curiosity in the direction of fantastic thinking. The universe as it turns out is doing a pretty good job of doing what it does without mystical intervention and as time goes on we keep discovering more and more about how those things work. I won’t fall into the trap of trying to describe evidence beyond the obvious, i.e. God appearing before me, becuase who knows what might convince me? So far, nothing.

    “how are we able to entertain the possibility of things that don’t exist in the universe, or the multiverse, or anything else you want to through in with existence?”

    Plausibility. It’s possible to see how a god or a pantheon of gods might plausibly explain what one sees until you understand what you’re seeing, then it becomes less plausible. For example, many major religions sprung from other religions, how does this validate any one belief? In the case of an afterlife, al of the plasuible explanations lean towards more science, real wrld based explanations, and those hold alot more water as time goes on.

    @Hardnose

    “The implication of that statement is that we are just inches away from knowing all about how the brain generates consciousness.”

    More garbage? The implication is that we accept we don’t yet understand, but that we are working on it. You like to imply that open statements like this indicate an around the corner attitutde when most of us are much more realistic than that. Try another tack, this is a weak way to argue.

    “cannot accept that nature might be beyond our comprehension.”

    Statements like these are the most ignorant. It shows you don’t understand the scientific method. You mischaracterize our appreciation of science as a religion (an oldy but a goody with you guys) and then you go on to show you don’t even understand what “science” means to us. Nothing lies outside the purview of science. There may be road blocks to getting answers but those can always be worked around given enough patience and good scientific work put into it. Natural vs Unnatural or paranormal is a false dichotomy set up by people who haven’t bothered to understand the scientific method and what it entails. It’s a toolbox hardnose, and used properly it can be used to develop robust theories about anything, and then go on to provide evidence to support those. What’s ironic about you hardnose is you make these sweeping statements and then go on to say things like:

    “Even seeing the future isn’t really violating known physics, because at least some physicists believe time can go both ways.”

    and

    “The fact that Moody has interviewed thousands of people who had similar experiences is kind of convincing, but still is not great scientific evidence.”

  64. mumadaddon 09 May 2014 at 9:20 pm

    Ian Wardell,

    It seems like what you’re suggesting is that mind can’t be proven to be the product of brain unless some kind of brain damage can cause a complete break in continuity.

    Is that a fair representation?

  65. Mlemaon 09 May 2014 at 10:39 pm

    grabula: “…who knows what might convince me? So far, nothing.”

    fair enough

  66. grabulaon 10 May 2014 at 12:00 am

    http://www.iflscience.com/brain/new-neurons-erase-old-memories-mice

    Seems appropriately related

  67. BillyJoe7on 10 May 2014 at 1:33 am

    Ian,

    Your sense of self today is different from what it was yesterday, and more different from what it was a week ago, and almost unrecognisable from what it was when you climbed out of your mother’s womb, and totally unrecognisable in the zygote that formed from your parents gametes.

    The mind is different, the consciousness is different, even the body is different. All the connections in the brain are different. All the molecules constituting your body have changed. Where is this unchanging self through all of these changes. Where is this elusive essence of self that somehow survives bodily death.

    “In my experience atheists have an absurd anthropocentric conceptualisation of God, rather reminiscent of the type of “god” I entertained when I were around 10-12 years old. Atheists do not appear to have done any further thinking about this concept after that age.”

    This reminded of this amusing cartoon:

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/the-path-to-god/toon-background-007/

    I hope it gives you as good a belly laugh as it gave me.

  68. grabulaon 10 May 2014 at 2:38 am

    ” totally unrecognisable in the zygote that formed from your parents gametes. ”

    Out of curiosity Ian, where are ‘you’ before ‘you’ were born?

  69. BillyJoe7on 10 May 2014 at 7:01 am

    I’ve finally had the chance to watch this debate.

    I think most would agree that Steven Novella contributed the most to this debate, with Sean Carroll a creditable second. The physics angle was a relevant and important contribution, but I’m not sure how many in the audience were sufficiently acquainted with physics to able to
    be convinced by his arguments.

    I did not find anything the other two said to be of any value. One was convinced by his own personal experience, and the other by the experiences of those he has interviewed. Against that we the thousands of people who allegedly had alien abduction experiences, as Steven mentioned.

    It all came down to anecdote versus evidence. In other words: no contest.

    Highlights were Steven slinging back with his defence of Carl Sagan when he was blatantly misquoted by Eben; Steven’s stinging retort regarding the discredited experiments conducted by Gary Swartz which seemed so convincing to Eben; and both Steven and Sean’s demolition job on “there is no reason to think there are things science does not know [therefore what I would like to be true could be true]“.

  70. Ian Wardellon 10 May 2014 at 7:13 am

    grabula

    “the point is that changes to the brain brought on by trauma or temporary chemical influences, shows us pretty evidently that ‘we’ are not something seperate from our brains”.

    This is just an unsubstantiated statement. And you could not begin to substantiate it because it’s just silly. If this were true then no-one should ever enjoy an alcoholic drink or take any other drugs since it would be a different person enjoying the effects.

    “Out of curiosity Ian, where are ‘you’ before ‘you’ were born?”

    It seems to me the self doesn’t have a location. Or are you asking whether we exist before birth?

    Assuming the latter there are a number of reasons why I believe that should there be a “life after death then we will have existed before birth and conception too. I hold this for the following reasons:

    Firstly if the body — specifically the brain — doesn’t produce consciousness, then there doesn’t seem to be any reason why the self should come into being at the same time as the brain first forms.

    Secondly if the self can be created that seems to make it much more reasonable that it can cease to exist too.

    Thirdly if we are eternal beings it would be somewhat surprising to find ourselves existing just a few decades since we came into being.

    Fourthly there’s very compelling evidence for reincarnation from Ian Stevenson and other researchers. Not just children who seem to remember previous lives, but birthmarks corresponding to the injury which killed the previous personality.

    Fifthly I feel that I existed before I was conceived.

    mumadadd

    “It seems like what you’re suggesting is that mind can’t be proven to be the product of brain unless some kind of brain damage can cause a complete break in continuity.

    Is that a fair representation”?

    One would need to be convinced that one has suddenly popped into existence. That they are not the same person as before the brain injury. But note here we’re talking about *existential change* rather than alterational change. I’ll quote my blog to explain the difference:

    From blog entry
    “Consider a table. We could paint it a different colour. That’s alterational change. It’s the same table, but has been altered slightly. But now consider destroying a table, and putting in it’s place a table looking identical. That’s existential change.

    I take it that commonsense takes it for granted that, at least from one minute to the next, we undergo alterational change and emphatically not existential change. If the latter were true then, since we continuously change from one second to the next, then we would, from the commonsensical perspective, be effectively constantly “dying” from one second to the next. And this is precisely what materialists are obliged to believe. Hence both materialism and Buddhism entail a profound shift in the manner in which we view ourselves — for one thing it would entail our fear of death is wholly misplaced”!
    http://ian-wardell.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/does-self-as-opposed-to-mere-sense-of.html

  71. grabulaon 10 May 2014 at 7:31 am

    @Ian

    eh, you’re beliefs are pretty far out there.

    “This is just an unsubstantiated statement. ”

    It’s not, it’s substantiated, watch the debate to see Dr. Novella explain some of it.

    “This is just an unsubstantiated statement. And you could not begin to substantiate it because it’s just silly.”

    Actually, this is just silly:

    ” If this were true then no-one should ever enjoy an alcoholic drink or take any other drugs since it would be a different person enjoying the effects.”

    “If the latter were true then, since we continuously change from one second to the next, then we would, from the commonsensical perspective, be effectively constantly “dying” from one second to the next. And this is precisely what materialists are obliged to believe. ”

    This is all just magical thinking really. There’s no evidence for your claims. A lot of idle speculation on your blog and a call to people like Ian Stevenson, who also have a lot of magical beliefs, based mostly on anecdotal evidence.

    “Firstly if the body — specifically the brain — doesn’t produce consciousness, then there doesn’t seem to be any reason why the self should come into being at the same time as the brain first forms.”

    Dr. Novella already did a good job of explaining this, I’d reference his post for where this line of thinking goes wrong.

  72. Ian Wardellon 10 May 2014 at 8:09 am

    I think the “eh” says it all. You simply don’t understand anything I’m saying.

  73. BillyJoe7on 10 May 2014 at 8:58 am

    …eh, Ian, add me to that list. ;)

    As to your llst of reasons why you believe in reincarnation…hilarious!
    …especially this one:

    I feel that I existed before I was conceived

    That is some slam dunk convincing argument you got going there fella :)

  74. mumadaddon 10 May 2014 at 9:21 am

    Ian,

    “If the latter were true then, since we continuously change from one second to the next, then we would, from the commonsensical perspective, be effectively constantly “dying” from one second to the next. And this is precisely what materialists are obliged to believe. ”

    You’re completely misrepresenting and/or misunderstanding the materialist position. Consciousness has continuity, even if the physical material that comprises the brain does change over time, and even if neuronal configuration alters.

    Read this for more – also check out the comments thread:

    http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/the-continuity-problem/

  75. Ian Wardellon 10 May 2014 at 9:27 am

    mumadad, I contributed to that comments thread. A couple of the materialists there said I understand the materialist position on the continuity issue better than many materialists themselves. Billyjoe was one of them I think.

  76. Ian Wardellon 10 May 2014 at 9:44 am

    http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/the-continuity-problem/#comments

    In those comments BillyJoe7 says:

    “Unfortunately, many materialists do not actually understand materialism. For the materialist, there can be no soul, spirit, or self, and that’s the only way to achieve continuity. Clearly this is a dualist concept. I’m truely surprised to see that Steven Novella and ccbowers do not understand this point. The problem is that dualism is intuitive – our whole language is dualist – whilst materialism is counterintuitive”.

    I agree entirely with BillyJoe. Materialism is staggeringly counterintuitive.

  77. RickKon 10 May 2014 at 9:48 am

    hardnosed said: “I don’t think it is done deliberately, but it is very typical of “skeptics” who actually have almost no skepticism at all regarding the power of materialist science to explain it all.”

    …. and I spit my tea all over the keyboard in laughter.

    Can materialist science solve all the mysteries of nature? Probably not – humans evolved in a tiny, exceedingly rare zone in our vast universe. And we are limited by that evolution.

    Yet here we are debating this topic over a global digital communications network while average human life has been doubled, the human-carrying capacity of the planet has been multiplied, probes orbit Saturn and explore the sea floor, and our senses have been extended to see from distant galaxies to the insides of our own cells to the components of the components of atoms.

    On the back of this impressive increase in human knowledge we can say this with complete confidence: every of mystery of nature ever solved was solved by materialist science. It is the ONLY tool in the toolbox that has ever actually worked.

    Arguing for immaterial causes for material events and arguing against materialist science is backing a team that has never won against a team that has never lost. Not all the games have been played out – far from it. But you can’t ignore the prior probabilities, and any rational person must set a VERY high evidence bar for the claims of immaterial causes for anything, including consciousness.

    Personal feelings and anecdotes can be as easily dismissed as those of people who claim alien abduction or recent encounters with Elvis or to be infested with body thetans.

  78. Ian Wardellon 10 May 2014 at 9:58 am

    Just to point out that science in no shape or form supports materialism anymore more than any other metaphysical position. The phrase materialist science therefore has no meaning. I might as well talk about subjective idealism science. The point is there’s only science and it’s neutral in respect of any metaphysical positions.

  79. mumadaddon 10 May 2014 at 10:01 am

    Ian,

    “In my experience atheists have an absurd anthropocentric conceptualisation of God, rather reminiscent of the type of “god” I entertained when I were around 10-12 years old. Atheists do not appear to have done any further thinking about this concept after that age. I’m entirely in agreement with them that it is highly unreasonable to suppose such a “god” exists.”

    I’m genuinely interested – what is your definition of god?

  80. Ian Wardellon 10 May 2014 at 10:33 am

    mumadadd I don’t want to talk about God. I want to talk about alterational change via existential change.

    Here’s a reminder of these 2 types of change:

    Consider a table. We could paint it a different colour. That’s alterational change. It’s the same table, but has been altered slightly. But now consider destroying a table, and putting in it’s place a table looking identical. That’s existential change.

    Does brain damage bring about alterational change or existential change? What about from when you were 7 years old compared to now? What about after you’ve had a couple of pints of beer? What about the change brought about on hearing some good news?

  81. Ian Wardellon 10 May 2014 at 10:34 am

    vs not via* We can’t edit posts?

  82. mumadaddon 10 May 2014 at 10:49 am

    Ian,

    “mumadadd I don’t want to talk about God. ”

    You brought it up though.

    “Does brain damage bring about alterational change or existential change?”

    By your definitions, alterational. But so what? In theory, if we could map and manipulate the brain we could make somebody feel as though they had just popped into existence. In fact I had a very similar experience on LSD, feeling as though I were constantly popping into existence at every instant. But again, so what? What would that demonstrate?

  83. Insomniacon 10 May 2014 at 11:13 am

    Ian

    “Just to point out that science in no shape or form supports materialism anymore more than any other metaphysical position. The phrase materialist science therefore has no meaning. I might as well talk about subjective idealism science. The point is there’s only science and it’s neutral in respect of any metaphysical positions.”

    Actually it’s kind of supporting materialism to the extent that every scientific endeavor requires methodological naturalism. And this view assumes there’s a physical world, which is independant of our mental representations of it. I know that with your subjective idealism you’re far from this kind of thoughts. So far, by definition all that science has dealt with is the natural world, and nothing else has been shown to exist (it’s not just matter, since this word usually only entails particles that forms ordinary matter, but there are others, and space-time). What actually is the natural world is changing over time, as new particles or forces are discovered for example. No doubt that any magnetic device shown to people in the Middle Ages would have been thought to be witchcraft or supernatural.

    By the way, if humans have unchanging immaterial selves. What about other animals ? Do they have immaterial selves ? If so, which are they, and why ?

  84. Ian Wardellon 10 May 2014 at 11:50 am

    mumadadd

    “By your definitions, alterational. But so what? In theory, if we could map and manipulate the brain we could make somebody feel as though they had just popped into existence”.

    But current brain damage is supposed to demonstrate existential change! eg Phineous Gage

  85. Terraneron 10 May 2014 at 12:24 pm

    One particular subject interest me in all this, and of course its connected to the whole NDE experience. Namely, there was mentioning of brain damage and changing of personality. To quote from one of the posts above (more precisely taken from one of Ian Wardells replays):

    “Steven Novella:
    “Damage or physical changes to the Brian can change your emotions, memories, desires, cravings, and every aspect of how your brain constructs reality”.”

    What I would like to ask how then (as one example) does hemispherectomy fit into all of this?*

    Thank you for the answer.

    *and I mean in all its implications regarding brain-mind relationship. Oh, and pleas, do understand that its only curiosity. I am trying to be impartial on the topic of NDE.

  86. mumadaddon 10 May 2014 at 12:26 pm

    “But current brain damage is supposed to demonstrate existential change! eg Phineous Gage”

    No it isn’t. Phineas’s personality may have changed drastically but I’ve never heard anything about him forgetting his existence prior to his injury, and even if he had, the fact that he could still use language, recognise objects etc would demonstrate that at least some of his prior self had survived. And who said that brain damage is supposed to represent existential change anyway? Oh, it was you. How have you arrived at this conclusion?

    It may be highly unlikely that you would ever see cases of brain injuries that cause this ‘existential change’, but that would in no way undermine the general principal that altering the brain alters the mind. This is some arbitrary criterion you’ve come up with.

    As I said before, if we could map, understand and manipulate the brain to a fine enough degree, there’s no reason in principle we couldn’t completely alter someone’s personality and also selectively erase their past memories – would you agree that that would meet the criteria for ‘existential change’?

  87. ccbowerson 10 May 2014 at 12:26 pm

    I haven’t been following these comments until now, and I see that I am referenced in a quote from a previous post. I still think that there is little/no disagreement between Steve, BJ7 and me, (others may disagree) and that bringing that up does not advance your argument, Ian. It seems to me that Ian often conflates the sense of self with an actual immaterial self. That is not the same argument that I was making in the past.

    “I think most would agree that Steven Novella contributed the most to this debate, with Sean Carroll a creditable second.”

    BJ7- Actually, I was a bit surprised that I found Sean Carroll most “convincing.” He did much better than I expected, and used language in a way that I think was very effective at making good points for a general audience. Steve also did well, but from a different, more direct angle (in terms of answering the question). The other side provided almost zero evidence, other than saying that they were very convinced by their own, or others’ exeriences.

  88. mumadaddon 10 May 2014 at 12:36 pm

    Just watching it now. Sean’s quote:

    “Quantum physics is confusing, consciousness is confusing, so maybe they’re the same.”

    Love it. He has top marks so far for pithy soundbite.

  89. Ian Wardellon 10 May 2014 at 12:52 pm

    ccbowers
    “It seems to me that Ian often conflates the sense of self with an actual immaterial self”.

    No! That’s like conflating the perception of a table with the table itself! Read my blog entry.

    Sorry guys I’m having a drink now so won’t be contributing any further tonight. I’ll leave it until tomorrow. I want to discuss this alterational vs existential change, and also why science doesn’t support materialism. I also want to discuss naturalism.

  90. mumadaddon 10 May 2014 at 1:00 pm

    Ian,

    I’ll be off for some drinks soon too, but look forward to picking this up on the morrow.

    Very interested to find out why you think science doesn’t support materialism.

  91. Ian Wardellon 10 May 2014 at 1:20 pm

    ccbowers
    “I haven’t been following these comments until now, and I see that I am referenced in a quote from a previous post. I still think that there is little/no disagreement between Steve, BJ7 and me, (others may disagree)”

    On the continuity issue? I don’t know about you but someone like BillyJoe completely and totally disagrees with Steven Novella on that issue.

    It doesn’t help me. I was just pointing out to mumadadd that materialists cannot believe in a self. They obviously believe in a sense of a self (since it’s a plain fact we all have a sense of self), but materialists cannot believe in an actual self. Unfortunately many materialists don’t grok this.

  92. hardnoseon 10 May 2014 at 3:07 pm

    “Arguing for immaterial causes for material events and arguing against materialist science is backing a team that has never won against a team that has never lost.”

    Well “material” events can be caused by gravity or electricity, for example. Do you think gravity and electricity are “material?” I actually have no idea what you mean by that word. You probably don’t either.

  93. hardnoseon 10 May 2014 at 3:14 pm

    “We’ve establish that if you change the brain, you change the person.’

    Anything that has some effect on the brain will have an influence on the person. Our experiences in this world all come through the brain. No one would argue that experiences leave a person unchanged.

  94. ccbowerson 10 May 2014 at 4:25 pm

    “No! That’s like conflating the perception of a table with the table itself! Read my blog entry.”

    Perhaps I need to elaborate, because I was not referring to your blog entry but to some comments above regarding Phineas Gage. I was referring to your comments here, and that you seem to take conclusions derived from your (or Mr Gage’s) perception of self as being informative of the existence of an immaterial self when you said:

    “Now I believe the crucial question here is whether Gage himself agreed with his friends.”

    The point is that Mr Gage’s perceptions are not really really meaningful to answer the question. The perception of self does not inform us about the existence of a soul/immaterial self. Perhaps this is not your argument, but if that is the case, I really don’t understand your point here. Why is/was Mr Gage’s perception of self “crucial?”

    As for Steve and BJ7, in that blog post I was definitely on the same page as Steve (from my memory, but I have not revisted those discussions). Honestly, I don’t want to go back and reread the discussion (it’s pretty long), but perhaps I will at a later time. I don’t think that that discussion is necessary for this discussion.

    Your conclusions about what “materialists” must conclude do not necessarily follow. You are making leaps in logic without sufficiently exploring those leaps (e.g. that we must believe that we are constantly dying from one moment to the bext because changes take place over time).

  95. tmac57on 10 May 2014 at 4:39 pm

    So sad to see that this topic has now driven two participants to drink :(

  96. ccbowerson 10 May 2014 at 4:43 pm

    “They obviously believe in a sense of a self (since it’s a plain fact we all have a sense of self), but materialists cannot believe in an actual self. Unfortunately many materialists don’t grok this.”

    If by “actual self” you mean what people mean when they say “soul,” then I agree (because that would entail some immaterial entity that contains the essence of each person- whatever that means). Otherwise, I think that the sense of self, plus aspects of the material body that makes that perception possible are what I view as “self.” There is nothing immaterial there, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel an attachment to my sense of self and the body that makes that possible. (i.e. what I mean when I refer to my’self’)

    I do not understand how this is relevant to the question of the afterlife. You state above, after applying reason to the evidence, that you conclude that you lean towards a persistence of “self” and afterlife. Yet you don’t mention any actual evidence (unless that Phinneas Gage story was supposed to contrbute to that somehow) or how it informs that view. This maybe a common approach, as neither of the “pro afterlife” people even tried to put forth evidence in the debate.

  97. Maximilianon 10 May 2014 at 5:11 pm

    @Steven Novella

    Hi Steven, I’m a new skeptic and I have a question. You say in this blog post that “your threshold for compelling and overwhelming are different than yours.” You didn’t mean that to sound that your opinions are just separate but equal right? You need to have a certain amount of evidence for something to be given consideration. What is the “right” amount of evidence for something to be scientifically sound. You say that Stevenson “often used translators, and failed to adequately control for the cultural beliefs of the children and all possible sources of contamination.” How much DOES he have to control for, in order for it to be science? Is there a subjective line to be drawn there? Also what would you say to the argument that you are simply “moving the goal posts” in terms of evidence? How would you refute that. I understand that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. But where is the line drawn, and what could Stevenson have done differently so that you would consider his experiments as serious science.

    This is a long way to ask a simple question, I just didn’t know how to word it. I am total agreement with your side, but I could see how someone might think scientists are just moving the goal posts. What would you say to that?

    Thanks! This is my first post, I am sure to make more in the future.

  98. Insomniacon 10 May 2014 at 5:38 pm

    hardnose

    You’re just playing semantics with the word “materialism”. My previous comment covered this issue. Of course when one is said to be a materialist, it just means that this person only believes that all phenomena can be explained just assuming the natural world. The latter is made of particles (forces being reduced to interactions between particles, but not just usual matter) and space-time. Maybe the word is not appriopriate as it’s misleading, and maybe we should talk about naturalism instead. Every single person here in the comments section knows that, so your remark is useless and doesn’t shed any light whatsoever on the actual debate.

  99. ScShPaon 10 May 2014 at 7:07 pm

    With regard to the paranormal, curious if Krippner’s Dream Telepathy has been mentioned?:

    http://www.sfweekly.com/2012-04-25/news/the-grateful-dead-parapsychology-dream-telepathy-joe-eskenazi/

    “The knock on parapsychology studies has long been that any so-called evidence of ESP is usually limited to negligible effects only detectable after scouring massive bodies of data. “Those to whom this criticism has any appeal should be aware that the Maimonides experiments are clearly exempt from it,” wrote Irvin Child, Yale’s former psychology department chair, in American Psychologist, the APA’s flagship journal. “I believe many psychologists would, like myself, consider the ESP hypothesis to merit serious consideration and continued research if they read the Maimonides reports for themselves.”"

    Krippner’s response about replication:

    “First of all, our original dream telepathy results were repeated several times in our own laboratory. We published both the successful replications and the unsuccessful replications. All of these articles are referenced at the end of our book DREAM TELEPATHY (by Ullman, Krippner, and Vaughan). A meta-analysis of all the studies produced high significant results and was published in a 1985 article by Irvin Child in The American Psychologist, flagship journal of the American Psychological Association..

    Several other researchers attempted to replicate our work. Both the successful replications and the unsuccessful replications have been published in the chapter by Roe and Sherwood in ADVANCES IN PARAPSYCHOLOGICAL RESEARCH, VOLUME 9 (edited by Krippner and Friedman). A meta-analysis of all these studies produced highly significant results. They were not as strong as the Maimonides data, probably because they used “home dreams” instead of “laboratory dreams,” the latter involving psychophysiological recordings. In the lab, participants can be awakened once they have been in REM sleep for a while. For home dreams, participants are usually awakened randomly by telephone, hence many dreams are lost.”

  100. etatroon 10 May 2014 at 7:27 pm

    Ian, I promise you that I am a different person now than who I was 10 years ago, and it happened gradually and it was not an instantaneous change. I also promise you that the 32 year old me is a different person than the 5 year old me. Two examples, I am (slightly) better at math, and (much) more punctual. I have the same genes, but if you talk to the 5 year old me and the 32 year old me, it’s a totally different experience.

  101. Ian Wardellon 10 May 2014 at 7:35 pm

    I’ve just got in from a pub, but just a quick point:

    ccbowers
    “If by “actual self” you mean what people mean when they say “soul,” then I agree”

    A “soul” is the same as a self, but with the additional proviso that this soul survives the death of our bodies. So the word self is better for referring to that which constitutes a person without any connotations it might survive the death of the body.

    ccbowers
    “You state above, after applying reason to the evidence, that you conclude that you lean towards a persistence of “self” and afterlife. Yet you don’t mention any actual evidence”.

    Aye, I’m not really interested in advancing reasons/evidence to support an afterlife. I’m more interested in the materialists justification in their assertion there is no afterlife. And picking that apart.

  102. hardnoseon 10 May 2014 at 7:36 pm

    ” Of course when one is said to be a materialist, it just means that this person only believes that all phenomena can be explained just assuming the natural world. The latter is made of particles (forces being reduced to interactions between particles, but not just usual matter) and space-time.”

    If you believe the world is made of particles, then you must not believe in radios and cell phones. How can they receive remote information, when there is no transfer of particles?

    Your ideas about physics are stuck in the 19th century — and that is also true of most materialists.

    Naturalism is not any better. Everything that exists must be part of nature, so the word has no meaning.

    You are probably thinking of the old distinction between natural and supernatural, so that “naturalism” basically means a rejection of anything supernatural.

    But that is really an obsolete and meaningless distinction. “Supernatural” really means beyond the world we perceive with our senses. But we have known for a long time now that most of nature is beyond our senses. Most of the electromagnetic spectrum, for example, cannot be perceived by our senses.

    The idea that the world is made of particles is an illusion. It has become pretty obvious that the world is made of information.

    Everything is natural, and everything is information. We should not necessarily remain stuck in old ideas about the brain and consciousness. The religious idea — that the brain and mind are separate things — doesn’t seem right. But neither does the materialist idea, that the brain is a machine that somehow can generate the mind.

  103. Ian Wardellon 10 May 2014 at 7:37 pm

    BTW aye means “yes” :-)

  104. Bo Gardineron 10 May 2014 at 7:52 pm

    Eben Alexander put his own post-debate blog post up yesterday (“Post Debate Reflections: The Sound of One Hand Clapping, May 9, 2014, http://www.ebenalexander.com/post-debate-reflections-the-sound-of-one-hand-clapping-by-eben/ ).

    I’m sure we’re all shocked to learn there’ll be no apology from Eben over his Sagan misquote. Au contraire! In what can only be interpreted as an in-your-face gesture, he ends his blog post with this:

    “I’d like to close quoting a true skeptical scientist whom I greatly admire: ‘The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion and politics, but it is not the path to knowledge, it has no place in the endeavor of science.’— Carl Sagan (1934 – 1996), Cosmos, 1980

    Dr Carl Sagan lamented the rising prominence of ignorance in the predominant cultural thinking of the time. It is interesting how the tables have turned – that pure materialist “scientists” suppress uncomfortable ideas, and are willfully ignorant of the abundant evidence of the afterlife. Sagan would be gratified that many modern scientists, and so many souls enlightened by their own experiences, are fully addressing the deep mysteries of consciousness and quantum mechanics (especially in light of the remarkable experiences related to the afterlife question) and the very nature of all existence. These scientists and spiritual journeyers have become the enlightened ones so confronted by the rampant ignorance of the deniers and debunkers.

  105. Ian Wardellon 10 May 2014 at 8:06 pm

    ccbowers
    “As for Steve and BJ7, in that blog post I was definitely on the same page as Steve (from my memory, but I have not revisted those discussions)”.

    Why is this important? If you agree with Steve Novella in a persisting self, then you are wrong. A materialist cannot believe in a persisting self.

  106. Ian Wardellon 10 May 2014 at 8:32 pm

    ccbowers I’ve just looked at the continuity thread. I’m afraid you don’t understand that materialists cannot believe in a persisting self.

  107. grabulaon 10 May 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Ian, in some ways you’re right but only in that your explanations are nonsensical and full of magical thinking. You’ve not provided any evidence what so ever for the after life except to repeatedly point out that a table repainted is a different situation from a table replaced, a horrible metaphor by the way since the table isn’t self aware. I understand is just another way to belittle what you obviously see as misguided materialism but it follows along with the rest of you’re irrational system of belief you’ve built up. Ultimately, the evidence is against an afterlife but the reason I started with ‘eh’ is because after your post previous to mine I realized you are a true believer and that no amount of evidence presented before you could get you to shift in any direction. It’s always disappointing to see someone just show up to “trash the materialistic” argument. It shows you’re not here for honest discourse. You’re going to talk about all the points you’ve got figured out, you know, the ones the credulous following your blog part you on the back for, but you’re not really going to hear what’s being said to you. Some of the guys live to engage that story of behavior but I quickly grow bored with it. I’m only interested in open and honest discourse, this is not.

  108. grabulaon 10 May 2014 at 9:34 pm

    @Hardnose

    Trying to redefine supernatural to suit your tastes? At it again really? Let’s establish a common understanding in this blog that more parallels the real world and not your fantasy land. There’s science, then there’s the supernatural. If materialism is the belief that nothing exists that cannot be explained then count me as one. Supernatural is anything that lies outside of nature which by its very definition tells you it doesn’t exist. It’s a weird that encompasses alot of magical thinking and ignorance about the scientific method, something you have a hard time grasping.
    Instead of trying to redefine everything to fit your arguments as magical thinkers commonly do and you are extremely guilty of, why not try arguing your side from a rational and logical standpoint. If you find yourself constantly having to defend your understanding of even the basic phrasing of the argument you might want to ask yourself if you’re prepared to discuss the topic at hand.

    So waiting for those science credentials by the way. ..

  109. Insomniacon 11 May 2014 at 4:09 am

    hardnose

    “If you believe the world is made of particles, then you must not believe in radios and cell phones. How can they receive remote information, when there is no transfer of particles?”

    Haha ! What a funny thing to say. Actually electromagnetic interactions – which are the phenomena behind all telecommunications – are just interactions between ordinary matter and photons. You’re accusing us of being stuck in the 19th century while it’s now obvisous that you have limited knowledge about basic physics. Electromagnetic waves are not just “information”, they are perturbations of the local electromagnetic field, which can today be modelled by the propagation of photons.

    “You are probably thinking of the old distinction between natural and supernatural, so that “naturalism” basically means a rejection of anything supernatural.
    But that is really an obsolete and meaningless distinction. “Supernatural” really means beyond the world we perceive with our senses. But we have known for a long time now that most of nature is beyond our senses. Most of the electromagnetic spectrum, for example, cannot be perceived by our senses.”

    The distinction is indeed meaningless, as by definition, natural things are things that have been shown to exist by science. One could then argue that by definition no supernatural thing has been shown to exist.

    Supernatural phenomena are not what we can’t perceive with our senses. Otherwise X-ray or neutrinos would be supernatural entities. Supernatural events refer to phenomena that can’t fit in our current scientific model of reality, bu that’s not all. As I said magnetism would have been thought supernatural until quite recently. I’m not even sure about that because even if you don’t know what it is, experiments can be duplicated and yield identical results. So you can begin to build a theory making magnetism part of your understanding of how the natural world behaves and remove it from the supernatural realm. Now we know better anyway.

    “The idea that the world is made of particles is an illusion. It has become pretty obvious that the world is made of information.
    Everything is natural, and everything is information. We should not necessarily remain stuck in old ideas about the brain and consciousness. The religious idea — that the brain and mind are separate things — doesn’t seem right. But neither does the materialist idea, that the brain is a machine that somehow can generate the mind.”

    Wow, please tell us where you’ve seen that particles are illusions. What’s that idea with information ? A particle can become energy, is energy merely information ? If you say yes to that, I think we should stop arguing. I’m open to every idea but for this one you should have to bring a comprehensive theory of an information-based natural world. Interesting…

    You can’t dismiss an idea because it “doesn’t seem right”. Quantum physics or relativity doesn’t seem right to our human brains evolving in this medium-speed medium-size world, are they false for this particular reason ?

  110. Ian Wardellon 11 May 2014 at 7:11 am

    mumadadd

    “Phineas’s personality may have changed drastically but I’ve never heard anything about him forgetting his existence prior to his injury, and even if he had, the fact that he could still use language, recognise objects etc would demonstrate that at least some of his prior self had survived. And who said that brain damage is supposed to represent existential change anyway? Oh, it was you. How have you arrived at this conclusion?”

    Phineas Gage is often an example that the materialists bring up supposedly demonstrating that a self can literally change. If he’s undergone mere alterational change, then by definition he’s not a different self. So they need to argue that he underwent existential change. So why can’t developing a bad-tempered disposition etc be merely alterational change? I’ll throw out this question to all the materialists here.

  111. Ian Wardellon 11 May 2014 at 7:17 am

    grabula
    “Ian, in some ways you’re right but only in that your explanations are nonsensical and full of magical thinking. You’ve not provided any evidence what so ever for the after life except to repeatedly point out that a table repainted is a different situation from a table replaced, a horrible metaphor by the way since the table isn’t self aware”.

    It’s not a metaphor. It’s an explanation of what alterational vs existential change means. And I explained it in the simplest way I could think of. If you still don’t understand, then fair enough. But in that case allow people who do understand to discuss this issue.

  112. Ian Wardellon 11 May 2014 at 7:59 am

    Insomniac
    “Actually it’s kind of supporting materialism to the extent that every scientific endeavor requires methodological naturalism. And this view assumes there’s a physical world, which is independant of our mental representations of it. I know that with your subjective idealism you’re far from this kind of thoughts. So far, by definition all that science has dealt with is the natural world, and nothing else has been shown to exist (it’s not just matter, since this word usually only entails particles that forms ordinary matter, but there are others, and space-time). What actually is the natural world is changing over time, as new particles or forces are discovered for example. No doubt that any magnetic device shown to people in the Middle Ages would have been thought to be witchcraft or supernatural”.

    I don’t understand what “methodological naturalism” means.

    Materialism entails:

    a) That there is a mind-independent reality — that this reality would exist in a “full-blooded” sense regardless of whether any minds exist or not.

    b) That consciousness itself is also wholly material.

    Science can in no shape or form provide any evidence for the truth of these 2 assertions.

    I’ll just address “a” in this post.

    Materialism entails the existence of an unexperienced reality. By definition we cannot experience that which is unexperienced. But science is wholly grounded in what we can experience. Therefore the question of whether there is a mind-independent reality is not a question that science could ever *in principle* address.

    The supposition that the physical world is independent of our mental representations of it is purely a metaphysical stance. Philosophical arguments need to be advanced to justify this stance. It is a question that is beyond science. But since it is a question beyond science then science cannot ever in principle support such a notion.

    You say: “So far, by definition all that science has dealt with is the natural world, and nothing else has been shown to exist”

    It hasn’t shown consciousness exists either. Nor *in principle* could it ever do so (I’ll show that in another post dealing with “b”). Does that entail consciousness is supernatural?

    I’d say no because that rules out some major scientific revolution which is able to incorporate consciousness. Maybe some interpretation of QM, or if not QM some of as yet unthought of theory.

  113. Insomniacon 11 May 2014 at 8:07 am

    Ian

    You invented a distinction that is non-existent in the materialistic worldview. It’s derived from your assumption that souls exist. So the materialist account of reality doesn’t have to comply to your particular requirement which is this distinction. It’s just gobbledygook to us. You have first to prove that there are in fact immaterial selves.

  114. Ian Wardellon 11 May 2014 at 8:14 am

    What distinction?

  115. Ian Wardellon 11 May 2014 at 8:16 am

    The fact that science in no shape or form suggests materialism has nothing to do with any arbitrary distinction or the question of “immaterial selves”.

  116. Insomniacon 11 May 2014 at 9:32 am

    Ian

    I’m talking about your alterational/existential dstinction. You just make this up, it’s neither data nore a premise, it’s derived from your philosophical beliefs (subjective idealism and thus the existence of a soul). We materialists don’t have to address this problem because to us there is no distinction to be made in the first place.

  117. ccbowerson 11 May 2014 at 11:01 am

    “Aye, I’m not really interested in advancing reasons/evidence to support an afterlife. I’m more interested in the materialists justification in their assertion there is no afterlife. And picking that apart.”

    Ian. Nice attempt to shift the burden of proof. I reject your assertion of what “materialists” must believe (whatever that loaded term means). I do not assert that there is no afterlife without qualification, but this is based upon the fact that there is no good evidence for an afterlife. Without evidence for an assertion, I do not believe in it, and if there were actual evidence then I would reconsider.

    I’m sure you are familiar with “Russel’s teapot,” so I will chalk this up to motivated reasoning. Again, you stated that there was evidence… so let’s hear it.

  118. Steven Novellaon 11 May 2014 at 11:02 am

    Ian – your point about Phineas is a straw man and moving the goal post.

    When we say changing the brain changes the mind that does not imply nor require an entire existential change. In order for that to happen, as I have already stated, most of the brain would have to change (everything but basic functions) There is no mechanism for this that would not result in death or a permanent vegetative state.

    There is actually no known neurological syndrome (from damage or anything else) that makes people forget who they are. If you have enough cortical activity to be conscious, you know who you are.

    What the evidence does show is that, if we change the brain a little, the mind changes a little. If we change the brain a lot, the mind changes a lot. If we change the brain in a specific way, the mind changes in a specific way. This is not limited to sensory processing, but to how our brains construct our sense of reality, and pretty much every higher cognitive function you can think of. We’re still working out the details and complexity, but the materialist paradigm of neuroscience is remarkably successful, predictive, and progressive.

    Unfalsifiable notions about the brain as receiver, tuner, limiter, or whatever are unfalsifiable and unnecessary. They are as necessary as saying that an invisible light fairy turns the lights on when I flip the switch.

  119. RickKon 11 May 2014 at 11:11 am

    Ian,

    If you don’t understand “methodological naturalism”, the foundational assumption underlying the scientific method, you should probably look it up. Arguing against the conclusions of science on philosophical grounds without grasping this concept is kind of like arguing against evolution without understanding natural selection.

    You said:
    “Materialism entails:
    a) That there is a mind-independent reality — that this reality would exist in a “full-blooded” sense regardless of whether any minds exist or not.
    b) That consciousness itself is also wholly material.
    Science can in no shape or form provide any evidence for the truth of these 2 assertions.”

    Baloney.

    If by using these assertions science is able to make highly accurate predictions, then the assertions “work” and the success of these predictions offers “proof” beyond any reasonable doubt. And the fact that when all “minds” leave some portion of reality, and then return to it, the reality is still there is in fact evidence.

    Now, if you’re suggesting that we could be living in a version of the Matrix, and that everything is an illusion and there is no independent reality, fine. If the Matrix programming is such that our world functions as if “mind” and “consciousness” are properties of the brain, the the materialist approach to neuroscience is still the correct way to ultimately understand mind and consciousness.

    So either way, your anti-materialist position is ultimately a failure.

    And for the record, “Materialism” is the result not of a previously-invented metaphysical stance thrust upon the world by a materialist cabal. It’s the the conclusion that those studying nature (most of whom were and are devout believers in immaterial, supernatural beings) have been dragged to, kicking and screaming, by the evidence.

    But of course, it is only those that are intellectually humble and honest enough to follow where the evidence takes them that have actually advanced human understanding of nature (and yes, “reality”). So with history as our guide, the materialist approach is the correct path to lead us to deeper understanding of consciousness and mind.

  120. eternallylearningon 11 May 2014 at 11:16 am

    One thing I was surprised no on in the debate jumped on was Alexander’s comment that his NDE seemed to last for months though he was only in a coma for weeks and he suspected that the experience happened within a matter of days on top of that.

    “…yet I knew the entire ultra-real odyssey that I had just been
    deep in coma, went [spelled phonetically] so extensive it seemed to last for months,
    even though it had to fit within seven days of earth time.”

    It seems that possibly he attributes this mismatch of time to heaven-time being more dense or something than earth-time, but I really am not sure. What seems obvious to me though is that if can understand that his sense of time could be so distorted, why is it impossible for him to conceive that it could be slightly more distorted and that these memories formed during the time period where he believes his mind was capable of forming them and not over the course of days when he believes it wasn’t.

    Also, in going through his opening statements again I’m starting to wonder if he attributes his recovery to the mind fixing the body as it were. He describes in great detail how damaged his brain was and how there was no chance for full recovery (which obviously did happen) and then describes the turning point as being when he felt his consciousness was back in his body. Is he trying to say that his consciousness healed his body or is he saying that the fact he’s conscious in spite of the damage to his brain is evidence of dualism?

  121. Ian Wardellon 11 May 2014 at 12:23 pm

    Steve Novella
    “Ian – your point about Phineas is a straw man and moving the goal post”.

    It is really tiresome when materialists continually accuse me of attacking straw men. I’m well aware what the materialist position entails. It demonstrates to me that they have no arguments so they resort to this sort of tactic.

    Steve Novella
    “When we say changing the brain changes the mind that does not imply nor require an entire existential change”.

    Either we have alterational change, or we have existential change. We cannot have a mixture of the two. Anyway I’ll write a blog entry about alterational vs existential change next week should anyone be interested.

    Steve Novella
    “Unfalsifiable notions about the brain as receiver, tuner, limiter, or whatever are unfalsifiable and unnecessary”.

    It’s not a scientific hypothesis. Neither is the brain produces consciousness thesis. Hence the falsifiability criterion doesn’t apply since Popper meant it to apply to scientific hypotheses only. It’s also worth mentioning that Popper himself was a dualist.

    Even if the filter hypothesis was a scientific one, hypotheses can always be “saved” by the introduction of appropriate auxiliary hypotheses. So falsifiability arguably doesn’t really characterise scientific progress.

    RickK
    “If you don’t understand “methodological naturalism”, the foundational assumption underlying the scientific method”.

    I have studied the philosophy and history of science, and got a first class in that credit area, but I have never heard of “methodological naturalism”. It’s very difficult to discern a scientific method. And if by naturalism you mean materialism then science most definitively doesn’t assume materialism.

    OK there’s been a lot of comments. Haven’t presently got time to respond. I’ll leave it there for now.

  122. hardnoseon 11 May 2014 at 1:45 pm

    “Wow, please tell us where you’ve seen that particles are illusions. What’s that idea with information ? A particle can become energy, is energy merely information ? If you say yes to that, I think we should stop arguing. I’m open to every idea but for this one you should have to bring a comprehensive theory of an information-based natural world. Interesting…”

    Wow, it is well known that “material” things can appear solid to us because no two electrons can be in the same place at the same time. This gives the illusion that matter is made out of some kind of particles.

    The original idea was that everything is made out of atoms, which are two small to see. That of course turned out to be wrong, since atoms were found to be made up of sub-particles, which in turn are made of sub-sub-particles, etc.

    So all that led to string theory and matrix theory, in which there are no ultimate little particles. Only vibrations, relationships, in other words information.

    The idea that the universe could be made out of information goes back at least to the 1960s and cellular automata. Not everyone knows about it or necessarily agrees with it, but lots of people do.

  123. chrisjon 11 May 2014 at 2:14 pm

    “Clearly his threshold for compelling and overwhelming are different from mine.”

    This kind of makes it seem like thresholds for evidence are a matter of personal tastes. Surely there is some principled way to argue for a particular threshold. We can throw out Sagan’s slogan “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” This helps, but is there something more specific we can say. What counts as extraordinary evidence? Perhaps there is even a way to couch this in terms of probabilities using Bayes theorem or something. Anyone have some thoughts on this.

  124. Bronze Dogon 11 May 2014 at 5:21 pm

    I recently played a sci-fi puzzle game called The Swapper, which featured some talk about the nature of consciousness. The game’s main mechanic was using the titular device to create mindless clones that copy your movements and zap them to transfer your consciousness between them. Or at least that’s how most people would interpret what it does.

    In the story, things apparently got weird when earlier experimenters used the swapper on other conscious beings, resulting in mental merging. The other character(s) you meet are two consciousnesses in one body arguing over the nature of consciousness and identity, and IIRC, were originally three or more people subjected to the swapper. The one arguing for souls claims that even though she’s got the combined memories from the original people involved and is behaving differently, she protests, “I still feel myself” as if her perception of self wasn’t subjective or prone to flawed self-testing. I got the impression that they were trying for ‘it could be either way’ with the story, but I didn’t see a good case for the soul.

    To me, such a mental merge isn’t fundamentally different from the changes that come from simply living day to day. The difference is mostly about degree and suddenness. We regularly take in new experiences, make new memories, and this information make us look at the world differently. We don’t think of ourselves as constantly newborn because we have a lot of memories to reconstruct a personal history. If we didn’t instinctively take ownership of our memories and construct personally relevant narratives from them, we probably wouldn’t learn as much from our past experiences.

    That perspective leads me to see consciousness as being intimately tied to change. Neuroscience gives us a steadily improving framework to understand, explain, and predict many of those changes. Dualism and similar beliefs seem more interested in denying the possibility of certain changes and comforting people when they get uncomfortable thinking about those sorts of changes.

  125. BillyJoe7on 11 May 2014 at 5:46 pm

    Rick: “if you’re suggesting that we could be living in a version of the Matrix”

    Ian is an Idealist.
    For the Idealist, there is no external reality. There is just the mind which creates its own reality. When Ian argues against your point of view, he is essentially arguing against a point of view created in his own mind. You are part of the reality that, in his opinion, does not exist. The computer he argues through is also a creation of his own mind, not something that has any real existence.
    Just so you know whay you’re up against.

  126. Ian Wardellon 11 May 2014 at 8:14 pm

    Billyjoe, your hostility towards me is interesting.

    I believe reality is as we perceive it. There are colours, sounds, smells out there in the world, not wavelengths of light etc. These colours, sounds, smells reside in an external reality. It is the materialist who rejects that they are part of the external world. They believe that all such qualities are creations of the mind.

    So quite the opposite of what you’re suggesting.

  127. M_Morganon 11 May 2014 at 9:03 pm

    Hardnose

    I share your skepticism about the sufficiency of “brain” to encompass “mind”. I have written about it in a piece available at http://sdrv.ms/1a4HBbk The idea is to broaden to neurons generally, and not merely those in the brain, as a first step. Its surprising where this can develop.

    For example, receptors and effectors are at all sites of anatomy – distributed throughout. They “finalize” by firing in the brain for the experience of awareness (both thoughts and feelings) after firing at sites for recognition of site events (sight, sound, touch, viscera, etc etc).

    They also fire in the brain in for anticipation of site events in the same process – as recognition-anticipation, or sensory-motor. The brain processes a response to recognition, as anticipation, as inputs become outputs to give effective to responses.

    By recognition-anticipation we can condition ourselves to produce responsive motor moves – developed from childhood. By laying out the process in this way, it is clear that the brain is the junction for receptors and effectors at sites of anatomy and completely bound to them.

    Of course any damage to that essential junction, which finalizes and integrates diverse site inputs, to send diverse sites outputs in response, will alter the experience of awareness. However, plasticity shows the fundamental importance of site conditioning to overcome many deficits – both to sites (missing limbs as phantoms) and the brain (bypassing damaged regions).

    Consequently, we need to consider sites as “causal”, and see the brain as a rapid automatic facilitator for manual site functions to literally be aware of their functions in the world. Neurons represent sites’ functional interfaces with a world at all times – we are completely immersed in a world and capture self and world stimulation for finalization as an ordered experience after the second firing in the brain.

  128. leo100on 11 May 2014 at 9:19 pm

    I am not surprised you Steven and Sean won the debate based on the fact that the other two are not very well schooled at all in the evidence for survival after death and psi. I know of not many naturalists like you Steven Novella that jump on the bandwagon of saying that the mind is somehow produced by the brain. A lot of naturalists points out its actually a assumption they go with because they can work with that model. Look, at Christof Koch he admits now that you need to postulate something else other than the brain that consciousness is a fundamental aspect of the universe that the mind is linked to the brain but isn’t the same as the brain.

  129. grabulaon 11 May 2014 at 9:28 pm

    @ian

    So here’s what we’ve got from you so far. ..

    1- you don’t believe in science because it’s took materialistic
    2- if you can’t see it you dint believe in it, ie color is color, not light and waves and other magical stuff
    3- anyone who disagrees with your philosophy is a materialist who doesn’t understand what they or you believe in.
    4- only you seem to understand the arguments on both sides, everyone else is just hand waving since they don’t comprehend at the level you do.

    To distill all this down, you’re here to talk AT us and hopefully get a few hours in your blog.

  130. Bronze Dogon 11 May 2014 at 10:35 pm

    I know of not many naturalists like you Steven Novella that jump on the bandwagon of saying that the mind is somehow produced by the brain. A lot of naturalists points out its actually a assumption they go with because they can work with that model.

    It’s a conclusion based on observing changes to consciousness whenever the brain is subjected to change. These changes happen in a consistent fashion that we can often make accurate predictions.

    Look, at Christof Koch he admits now that you need to postulate something else other than the brain that consciousness is a fundamental aspect of the universe that the mind is linked to the brain but isn’t the same as the brain.

    Why is this “something else” necessary to explain what we observe? What can it do? What can it not do? What predictions can we make from hypothesizing this entity’s existence? How can we observe it? How were its properties determined? How does it interact with the rest of the universe? What exactly does it explain that isn’t currently explained by neuroscience?

    What does it mean to say that consciousness is “fundamental” and how is it supposed to affect our understanding of the universe or our methods of inquiry?

  131. Factoidjunkieon 11 May 2014 at 10:49 pm

    Lots of interesting comments to this post and quite a bit of hoopla.

    I just want to express my thanks to you Dr. Novella and Sean Carroll for your thoughtful demeanor and accurate portrayal of the rationalist/materialist/scientific worldview. I believe efforts like this will help improve our ability to flourish.

  132. Ian Wardellon 12 May 2014 at 6:38 am

    @Grabula

    I’m anti-science meaning I don’t subscribe to any materialist metaphysic . .

    It really does reveal a complete serious lack of understanding that people on here think that science somehow entails materialism. I could patiently explain why it doesn’t till I’m blue in the face, but you guys still won’t get it . .

    @RickK You said:

    “If by using these assertions (i.e the assertions underpinning materialism) science is able to make highly accurate predictions, then the assertions “work” and the success of these predictions offers “proof” beyond any reasonable doubt”.

    Well it would also work if one assumed say something like subjective idealism. I briefly explain subjective idealism in a blog entry ( http://ian-wardell.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/a-very-brief-introduction-to-subjective.html). Indeed subjective idealism is superior since under its assumption quantum mechanics is no longer weird. Anyway there’s a few assumptions underlying science such as the uniformity of nature i.e the same characteristic patterns obtain throughout the Universe and the future will resemble the past, but the assumptions that there’s a consciousness-independent reality, and reality including consciousness is wholly material, are not included.

    Naturalism, properly understood, is of course a reasonable position, but there’s absolutely no reason to suppose it is incompatible with non-materialist positions. Current science as we know it is incompatible with the existence of anomalous cognition (psi), and it is incompatible with the soul, unfortunately it is also incompatible with the very existence of consciousness!

    What we need is a revolution in physics, some deeper theory which will incorporate the existence of consciousness. Then such abilities of consciousness such as psi, the existence of the self, and indeed the soul, might simply be revealed as a natural consequence of this new understanding. And I suspect this new understanding will also preserve causal closure of the world whilst still affording a causal role for consciousness.

    @Factoidjunkie There’s nothing remotely rational about materialism. It’s possibly one of the most preposterous beliefs that human beings have ever entertained. And I don’t mean the idea that the brain creates consciousness which has a certain reasonability due to the systematic correlations between brain function and mental states. I mean the notion that conscious experiences, which are characterised by the qualitative, are one and the very same thing as physical processes which are characterised by physical properties such as mass, momentum, electrical charge etc. Perhaps it’s a complete failure to grasp what the word “same” means, I don’t know.

  133. Bill Openthalton 12 May 2014 at 8:01 am

    Ian Wardell –

    Indeed under any materialist based metaphysic we would predict that sufficient or appropriate brain damage would literally change a person. So far as I’m aware this never happens.

    My uncle was a hard-nosed businessman, a laywer by education, an expansive talker backed up by phenomenal erudition, living life in the fast lane. One night, while driving back from the French Provence, he lost control of his car (a Mustang :) ) and suffered severe cranial trauma. He survived the accident, but was a changed man; gentle instead of brash, boring instead of erudite, slow instead of driven. He lived for another twenty years thanks to the selfless devotion of his wife, smiling, inoffensive, and endlessly rehashing the same few subjects. It was very sad for those who had known him before, but he was not aware of any difference — he didn’t remember much of his past.

    This is an anecdote, but he was a changed person indeed.

  134. Ian Wardellon 12 May 2014 at 8:06 am

    @ Bill Openthalt Was it existential change or mere alterational change?

    The distinction between these 2 types of change are as follows:

    Consider a table. We could paint it a different colour. That’s alterational change. It’s the same table, but has been altered slightly. But now consider destroying a table, and putting in it’s place a table looking identical. That’s existential change.

    This is just one reason why it would be naive to suppose ones behaviour determines ones destination in the afterlife realm. I talk about this in a blog entry: http://ian-wardell.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/what-determines-where-we-go-should.html

  135. BillyJoe7on 12 May 2014 at 8:07 am

    Ian,

    “Billyjoe, your hostility towards me is interesting”

    Hostility?
    You must have read that into what I wrote, because I certainly didn’t feel hostile while writing it.

    “I believe reality is as we perceive it. There are colours, sounds, smells out there in the world, not wavelengths of light etc. These colours, sounds, smells reside in an external reality”

    Okay, maybe I have you confused with somone else. Apologies.
    Hmmm, yes…I remember…you’re the one who denies that A and B in the Checkerboard Illusion are are identical.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9Sen1HTu5o
    Who you gonna believe…science or your lying eyes!

    “It is the materialist who rejects that they are part of the external world. They believe that all such qualities are creations of the mind”

    Yes, but those creations are based on external reality stretching right back through our evolutionary history. And examining and interpreting the flaws in these creations gives us a better picture of that external reality.

    “So quite the opposite of what you’re suggesting”

    Well, not quite…

  136. Ian Wardellon 12 May 2014 at 8:32 am

    @Billyjoe:

    I write about that Checkerboard “Illusion” here and explain why it’s not really an illusion:

    http://ian-wardell.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/are-perceptual-illusions-always.html

  137. Ian Wardellon 12 May 2014 at 8:37 am

    If you didn’t believe your “lying eyes” you might have very good vision, but you wouldn’t be able to *see* :-)

  138. SteveAon 12 May 2014 at 10:43 am

    BJ7: “Hmmm, yes…I remember…you’re the one who denies that A and B in the Checkerboard Illusion are are identical. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9Sen1HTu5o

    Fantastic video. Thanks for the link.

    I doubt anyone will make any progress with Ian W. He’s just another true believer fighting for his (after)life, but it’s always interesting to read your comments and those of grabula etc.

  139. Bill Openthalton 12 May 2014 at 10:46 am

    Ian Wardell –

    Was it existential change or mere alterational change?

    For that distinction to be made you need to posit the existence of an afterlife. The afterlife being a matter of belief, you are welcome to use it as basis for your reasoning, but you can only propose the concept to others, who are equally free to believe it, or ignore it.

    To all who knew him, the accident caused fundamental changes to my uncle’s personality. Without doubt, it profoundly altered the course of his life (in addition to shortening it, as he suffered more than brain lesions). A table with a coat of paint remains a table, just as much as you remain the same person if you colour your hair, or change clothes. If you modify a table so it becomes a chair — is it still a table because it has most of the original wood? Or are the character, behaviour, memories and mental faculties of humans less important than their looks to determine who they “are”?

  140. TiinaB.on 12 May 2014 at 3:10 pm

    Hi! Greetings from Finland!

    I just watched the debate via Youtube and enjoyed it very much. I am interested in science and try to keep up with what is going on.

    One thing has puzzled me for a long time. Although scientists and experts keep saying they are willing to change their mind on something should proper evidence appear there are numerous examples of scientists that have been ridiculed by their peers during history and their ideas totally dismissed in their own time.

    Only later (sometimes much much later) have their ideas been proved right as new generations have been looking into them, many times with new equipment available, or new people in charge of the funding.

    For example, think about the guy who at one point suggested it might be a good idea for surgeons to wash their hands before operating on people. Someone had a hunch dirty hands might transfer some nasty things into patiences and cause inflammation. Bacteria could not be seen with the bare eyes and therefor their existance not proved before the innovation of microscope.

    Or think about Galileo Galilei.

    Today we don´t know what dark matter is, as it can not be measured or seen. Reality might be 12 dimensional.

    Perhaps at some point someone figures out an apparatus that ables us humans see to those other dimensions?

    I wish researchers in all areas of science really would keep an open mind. But I have to say I am sceptical about that.

  141. ccbowerson 12 May 2014 at 3:15 pm

    “Aye, I’m not really interested in advancing reasons/evidence to support an afterlife. I’m more interested in the materialists justification in their assertion there is no afterlife. And picking that apart.”

    I have seen this type of motivation in the past with commenters on other topics. The idea seems to be that if you can ‘win some points’ against ‘the other side,’ that strengthens your position somehow. The problem is that you are not acually engaging or addressing your own position, and you think that you can become correct by default. In reality, you need evidence and arguments for your position, which you have repeatedly dodged.

  142. BillyJoe7on 12 May 2014 at 5:59 pm

    Ian,

    “If this were a real object that we are seeing, then squares A and B are very different colours. Our senses are not deceiving us”

    Did you even bother to watch the video I linked to?

    That video does depict a real 3D object.
    And the squares are DEMONSTRABLY the same colour.

    Moreover…
    When the square in the shadow is moved into the light, it appears DARKER than it was when it was in the shadow!
    When it is moved back into the shadow it looks LIGHTER than it was when it was in the light!
    Which is the exact OPPOSITE of what you would expect!

  143. Ian Wardellon 12 May 2014 at 9:17 pm

    @Billyjoe I linked to my blog entry, what do you find wrong with my reasoning?

    @Bill Openthalt You didn’t answer my question.

    Of course the materialist has to hold that all change in a persons mind is existential change. Contrariwise, those who subscribe to an afterlife, have to believe that all change in a person’s mind is alterational change.

    So the materialist will point to extreme examples pertaining to brain damage to try and convince that existential change has taken place.

    Now it seems to me that almost all of us feel we are literally the very same person as we were when we were a child. But our intelligence has changed, our interests, our demeanour etc. So either we are mistaken (the materialists stance), or the self is not constituted by any of these psychological properties (the survivalist).

    So those who believe in a “life after death” will subscribe to the latter. hence banging on about brain damage and the mind changes thus precipitated ought not to impress such a person.

    Of course a materialist might attack the survivalist’s notion of the self. He might say “what does the self consist of if divest of all these psychological properties”? Well that’s a possible line of attack, yes. But it’s a good ol’ philosophical debate which moves us beyond the tired brain damage examples.

  144. RickKon 12 May 2014 at 10:21 pm

    BillyJoe,

    I think what Ian is saying is that perception is reality. If you perceive the two squares to be different colors, then they are. There is no such thing as an optical illusion because ther is no objective reality to negate your perception.

    So if I perceive Ian to be a jackbooted neo-Nazi who eats kittens, there is no objective reality to refute my perception – my perception is the reality.

    Do I have that right?

  145. Niche Geekon 13 May 2014 at 12:09 am

    Ian,

    Your argument in this thread seems to hinge upon your assertion that “…the materialist has to hold that all change in a persons mind is existential change.” Having read your blog post, I think this remains unsupported. Your premise is that materialists “…claim that even from one second to the next there is no actual enduring self” however you offer no examples of materialists making this claim. From whence does it come? Certainly you’ve found no instances in this thread as It appears that these materialists disagree with you. I, for example, would argue that if the sense of self is a product of the brain then the persistence of the brain is sufficient to support persistence of sense of self.

    While your table metaphor is irrelevant if materialism does not require existential change, may I suggest that Mr. Pratchett has already addressed it?

    “This, milord, is my family’s axe. We have owned it for almost nine hundred years, see. Of course, sometimes it needed a new blade. And sometimes it has required a new handle, new designs on the metalwork, a little refreshing of the ornamentation . . . but is this not the nine hundred-year-old axe of my family? And because it has changed gently over time, it is still a pretty good axe, y’know. Pretty good.”

  146. BillyJoe7on 13 May 2014 at 12:57 am

    Rick,

    “Do I have that right?”

    Spot on.
    I was trying to demonstrate the ridiculousness of his position.
    It seems he won’t play, though, so I’ll just chalk it up as a win.

  147. M_Morganon 13 May 2014 at 3:39 am

    @ Ian Wardell
    @ Billyjoe7

    The nub of your debate – the basic relation between mind and world, is easily answered. I will disregard much of the contentious material and arguments presented, as it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of “mind” in my view. A “mind” is a product of neurons across all functional sites of anatomy being finalized in the brain.

    Billyjoe7, did you know that we experience awareness as a brain event from inputs of sites (eyes, ears, skin, organs – every site of anatomy)? I see no indication that you have come to grips with the basics. It is a finalization by firings in the brain upon inputs of sites reaching “sufficiency” approximately 100 milliseconds after firings at sites upon stimulation (to see a world, hear it, smell it, touch it etc) in my model (which corresponds to basic neuroscientific models).

    The model is that neurons at sites extend to a brain for their diversities to be centralized and integrated into intact experiences (rather than entirely diverse and fractured ones)! Diversities from sites become integrated and then diverse coordinated outputs are sent back to diverse sites automatically in response – according to conditioned neural connections from past experiences. Easy as pie!

    Ian Wardell, you are clearly correct in saying there can be no “proof” of a mind-independent world, for the obvious reason suggested by Descartes – “I think, therefore I am”. By the experience of “thought”, we “therefore” conclude that we exist. This seems to have entirely escaped Billyjoe7. The subjective personal experience of “mind” and “feelings”, both of which are a personal, individual, neural experience upon ongoing finalizations in the brain, are PRIMARY.

    The subjective experience is primary – and it is the only way we can even purport to “know” that we exist – let alone whether a world exists. Nevertheless we can TRY to define that entirely subjective experience in objective terms. Do you fellows realize that the task of science is to objectify – to place experiences of mind on a more secure footing than having a purely subjective construct prone to useless distracted ideas? Perhaps Billyjoe7 was unaware of that.

    Science proposes there is a world of objects “out there”, and that their regularities are accessible and understandable to subjectively constructed minds. It encourages us to explore those regularities, and the best way to do so is to “conceive” (everything is a subjective conception by an isolated individual mind) of yourself as an object in the world that creates its own subjective awareness. Model biology and psychology, and use objective analyses to model yourself “from the outside, as an object”.

    But of course, as Descartes correctly hinted (but did not fully understand), even that task is subjective because the experience is primary and all we can do is hypothesize about what is “objectively true” in modelling to our personal and then collective rational satisfaction (if others support your model – its just a consensus issue beyond individual opinions). That doesn’t make it “true” – it always remains a subjective construct to be debated between subjective individuals. QED to explode the myth of “objective truth”. I will save the rest of my argument to give you pause to breathe and learn.

  148. Ian Wardellon 13 May 2014 at 7:03 am

    @Niche Geek Re selves are not persisting — not even from one second to the next.

    Some materialists agree, some don’t. Billyjoe agrees with me for example. But it doesn’t matter whether they agree with me or not since it is *impossible* for there to exist a persisting self should materialism be true.

    I prove this, read this blog entry from myself from the 4th paragraph onwards:

    http://ian-wardell.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/is-after-death-possible-if-we-are.html

    And it’s been discussed on this blog before. http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/after-the-afterlife-debate/#comments

  149. Ian Wardellon 13 May 2014 at 7:04 am

    Sorry that last link should be http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/the-continuity-problem/

  150. BillyJoe7on 13 May 2014 at 7:21 am

    M. Morgan:

    “Billyjoe7…I see no indication that you have come to grips with the basics”
    “This seems to have entirely escaped Billyjoe7″
    “Perhaps Billyjoe7 was unaware of that”

    Well, he has a sense of humour at least. (:

  151. Ian Wardellon 13 May 2014 at 7:21 am

    I’d like to ask people a question. Do the changes that happen to us from say the age of 7 to adulthood not also establish that there cannot be any life after death?

    I mean just about everything changes — our intelligence, interests, behaviour, just about everything that materialists think makes up a person. So what can it be that survives? And why is this evidence not as equally if not more compelling than continually reciting examples of brain damage?

  152. The Other John Mcon 13 May 2014 at 7:57 am

    Billy Joe, just take some time to breathe and learn, you’ll get it one of these days :-) .

  153. Mr Qwertyon 13 May 2014 at 7:57 am

    @Ian
    I think the continuous change of our personalities is an interesting approach as well, so I’ll go even further with it.

    You could argue that a diety of some sort backs up all of our wetware and its states every 10 minutes and restores the last “good” copy in some virtual heaven-space.

    Let’s just assume that’s true, even though there’s no way to disprove it or way to prove it even being possible, let alone happening. (That’s essentially what the proponents of “Death is not Final” are saying (or close), although they do their best to obfuscate it in philosophy and mysticism in order to make as few hard / testable claims as possible.)

    So, lets say one has an accident which puts them in a coma for a year. They gradually come out and recover some of the functions but remain mentally impaired (and a different person) for the next 50 years until they die.

    What backup version do you use?

  154. Mr Qwertyon 13 May 2014 at 8:02 am

    Wife and I had a great time watching this debate, and also learned a lot.

    I wish someone from the audience directed the same “what would it take to make you change your mind” question to the “pro” side. I suspect the answer would be “nothing”.

  155. The Other John Mcon 13 May 2014 at 8:07 am

    Ian: “And why is this evidence not as equally if not more compelling than continually reciting examples of brain damage?”

    Because only philosophers seem to think this implies something mind-boggling profound. (Hint: it doesn’t)

    I would recommend not framing every single argument you spout as some kind of “materialism” versus “survivalism” or some other such hypothetical categories you have defined in your head and whose definitions no one else shares. Talk about subjectivity.

  156. BillyJoe7on 13 May 2014 at 8:12 am

    Mr. Qwerty,

    “What backup version do you use?”

    What backup version for an anencephalic?
    The blastocyst? (:

    “I suspect the answer would be “nothing””

    I suspect even “nothing” wouldn’t change their minds. (:

  157. BillyJoe7on 13 May 2014 at 8:14 am

    The Other John Mc.

    “Billy Joe, just take some time to breathe and learn, you’ll get it one of these days :-)

    Well, I’m not holding my breath, that’s for sure. (:

  158. Bill Openthalton 13 May 2014 at 8:22 am

    Ian Wardell –

    I did answer your question. Your dichotomy only exists by the expedient of an unverifiable assumption, i.e. the existence of a hereafter. Without this assumption, it is clear changes to the brain can result in sudden and very noticeable changes to a human’s personality and demeanour, their ability to remember and to reason to the point they are in those respects no longer recognisable to their familiars. The body’s exterior appearance has barely changed, but the person(ality) has changed. The problem is not with the change itself (humans change every day of their lives), but with the discontinuity.

    Now it seems to me that almost all of us feel we are literally the very same person as we were when we were a child.

    The sense of continuity stems from our memories — we remember the child we were, what we experienced over the years etc. Even though our memories are often partial and notoriously unreliable, they provide the frame of reference used by the brain. The sense of being the same person includes the memories of the changes we went through. There is no need to postulate the existence of a (undetectable) entity that implements the “self”.

    If the damage to the brain also affected the memories (or the ability to access them) to the extend that the person is no longer aware of their past, there is no reason there should not be an illusion of continuity based on the available memories, like we build a melody from individual notes without there being a melody “entity”. There are only sounds, and brain activity. Unless we have information on missing memories (which does happen), there is no reason we should not interpret the memories we have as a continuum – one cannot work with information one does not have.

    But our intelligence has changed, our interests, our demeanour etc. So either we are mistaken (the materialists stance), or the self is not constituted by any of these psychological properties (the survivalist).

    There is no reason a feeling of “self” should preclude changes in intelligence, demeanour or interests. People are aware of being the same individual at the same times as having changed over the course of time. The key is our ability to remember the past, and that doesn’t require an afterlife.

  159. Ian Wardellon 13 May 2014 at 8:29 am

    @Mr Qwerty

    I’d like you to link to people who argue that in a “life after death” we will be similar to that just before we died. This would mean that a person suffering from Alzheimer’s just before death would also be suffering from Alzheimer’s in the afterlife too. Or a person born with brain damage will have a damaged mind in the afterlife. I submit this is an obvious straw man.

  160. Ian Wardellon 13 May 2014 at 8:35 am

    Mr Qwerty

    “Wife and I had a great time watching this debate, and also learned a lot”.

    I can’t say I learnt anything at all. There was nothing anyone said that I didn’t already know. I’ve heard of shared death experiences. I’ve heard of Capgras syndrome. The assertion that we know that consciousness is produced by the brain is simply false. The assertion the brain is the mind (if taken literally i.e a declaration of a certain type of reductive materialism) is actually incoherent.

    The debate was on a very shallow level indeed. I would be surprised if any intelligent person learnt anything substantive. The only interesting thing that people might have learnt are the shared death experiences and related phenomena.

  161. Ian Wardellon 13 May 2014 at 8:37 am

    @ The Other John Mc

    I have no idea how your response could be considered an answer to my question.

  162. Ian Wardellon 13 May 2014 at 8:55 am

    @ Bill Openthalt

    Yes I’m aware of everything you say. And you’re not saying anything interesting or relevant. And yet again you have wholly failed to address my post. You might as well have talked about the weather