Feb 15 2008

Dr. Egnor Misses the Point Again

I have been having a blog debate with Dr. Michael Egnor, a neurosurgeon who advocates for Intelligent Design and dualism, the notion that we need to hypothesize something other than the physical brain in order to explain the mind. On Monday I responded to Egnor’s most recent post in which he claimed that I was being dogmatic (a favorite tactic of creationists) because I maintain that all of the evidence so far supports the materialist hypothesis of mind. I concluded:

If he wishes to persist in his claims, then I openly challenge Egnor to name one prediction of strict materialism that has been falsified. To be clear, that means one positive prediction for materialism where the evidence falsifies strict materialism. This does not mean evidence we do not currently have, but evidence against materialism or for dualism. I maintain that such evidence does not exist – not one bit. Prove me wrong, Egnor.

Well, Dr. Egnor has not taken long to respond. However I will note that Dr. Egnor has not answered my challenge – he has not given a single example of a failed prediction of materialism nor has he given any evidence for dualism. I guess he’s still hunting around for an example, since I have shot down all of his prior arguments.

What motivated him to respond so quickly is that he thought he caught me in a serious error in my previous blog entry. What he actually caught me in was a minor error which I had already corrected. In discussing special relativity I at first gave the year in which Einstein proposed this theory as 1914. That was incorrect: Einstein proposed special relativity in 1905 and general relativity in 1914. This error was pointed out to me by my fellow blogger Jon Blumenfeld, and after confirming the date I made the appropriate correction.

Egnor, having no legitimate points on his side, has decided to parlay this minor error into a major treatise. But in so doing he just once again proves that he does not get it. His summary of the progress of physics over the last century is accurate enough (although he mischaracterizes how some advances were made and refers to some highly speculative theories), and it is true that the inadequacies of current theories often leads to their refinement or to new theories to plug the conceptual holes. However, this is not inconsistent with my position, as Egnor falsely claims.

You see, although I occasionally will make mistakes and typos in this blog (it is challenging to blog daily about scientific topics, without a copy editor, and not make mistakes), I try to be careful in how I frame specific claims. I wrote:

It is also historically true that many scientific theories have been validated “by every single” piece of evidence that bears upon the basic question of whether or not the theory is true.

Egnor, who is apparently as sloppy and careless a reader as he is a thinker, missed the caveat that I so carefully placed in this claim: “that bears upon the basic question of whether or not the theory is true.” He then goes on to enumerate some of the inadequacies of the theory of special relativity. But what he missed is that none of his examples of the inadequacies of special relativity “bears upon the basic question of whether or not” special relativity is a valid theory. Last time I checked the community of physicists still considered the basic tenets of special relativity to be an accurate description of reality.

Of course special relativity is not a complete description of the nature of time and space. Einstein knew when he proposed the theory that it was not designed to account for gravity – that is precisely why he called it “special” relativity, because it only applied in the special case where gravity was eliminated from consideration. Special relativity does not make predictions about gravity – a more general theory of relativity was needed for that.

Likewise, physicists know that special and general relativity do not describe quantum states, and so physicists are searching for a unified theory of quantum gravity. None of this is evidence against special relativity or general relativity – it is simply an understanding of what the theory does and does not do.

There is no evidence, and no experimental result, which cannot be accommodated by special relativity – no evidence that is incompatible with special relativity or proves it is wrong. If Dr. Egnor is aware of any such evidence, then he should name it. All of the predictions made by the theory of special relativity (meaning predictions of what must be if special relativity is true) have been validated. No one has been able to propagate anything – not matter, energy, or information – faster than the speed of light in a vacuum. The time dilation effect predicted by special relativity has been observed in every experiment designed to detect it.

This is not a minor point, it bears upon the nature of scientific progress. No theory (yet) is a complete description of reality. After an initial phase where the basics are worked out, science progresses and matures mainly by making finer and finer modifications to existing theories. Typically this will deepen our understanding of nature and increase the precision of our ability to describe it. But basic theories, once well established, are only rarely overturned.

It is likely that special relativity will never be overturned, it is too well established (although we may one day discover exotic conditions that create exceptions to the theory). But we know that it is not a complete description of reality and deeper theories are required. Likewise we know that DNA is the basis of inheritance – a fact that is likely never to be overturned. Although we are discovering epigenetic factors that influence heredity, therefore refining our knowledge.

Likewise (getting back to the actual point of this discussion) the hypothesis that the functioning of the brain is entirely responsible for the mind has been upheld by all available evidence. I still await Dr. Egnor’s counter example (but I’m not holding my breath).

It is true that we cannot completely describe how the brain functions, and how specific physical brain states translate into mental experiences. But if we focus on the basic question of whether or not brain function is what we experience as the mind – all the evidence points to the answer being yes. This is now the third (by my count) time I have carefully made this distinction, and Egnor still doesn’t get it. He keeps finding new ways to demonstrate that he does not get it.

He also shows the degree to which he is steeped in the creationist culture. The ID movement has recently been focusing its propaganda on accusing evolutionary scientists of being “dogmatic.” They do this partly by interpreting statements that accurately reflect the high level of scientific certainty that we now have regarding certain conclusions, like the fact that life on earth evolved, as dogma. Scientific confidence built upon mountains of evidence is not dogma.

Likewise Dr. Egnor accuses me of being dogmatic because I claim that all the evidence supports the materialist theory of mind, and yet he cannot name a piece of evidence that refutes this conclusion. Dr. Egnor and his creationist buddies demonstrate nicely that being dogmatic means sticking to a conclusion when the evidence does not support you.

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113 responses so far

113 Responses to “Dr. Egnor Misses the Point Again”

  1. daedalus2uon 15 Feb 2008 at 2:47 pm

    Egnor’s disconnect with reality is almost sad. He says:

    “No theory in science is validated by “every single piece of evidence,” and any scientist who makes that claim is a charlatan.”

    What term doe he use for those who propose what they call “theories” that are not validated by even a single piece of evidence, but are instead refuted by every single piece of evidence that is available?

    A charlatan at least knows they are lying and trying to deceive. If Egnor doesn’t, then it is quite sad for him.

  2. jonny_ehon 15 Feb 2008 at 3:59 pm

    I’d encourage you to ignore Egnor if your rebuttals weren’t so educational.

  3. John Piereton 15 Feb 2008 at 4:34 pm

    Re your other recent post, “Creationists Play the Martyr Card,” Egnor is up for that too. In case you or your readers haven’t seen it, his whining is in Salvo magazine (don’t miss the logo, where The Cross is turned into cross-hairs!):

    http://www.salvomag.com/new/articles/salvo4/IDegnor.php

    It even features a certain “Darwinist neurologist from Yale.”

  4. Steven Novellaon 15 Feb 2008 at 4:37 pm

    This is semantic ambiguity caused by the lack of precise terminology. I think it is most accurate to say that the mind IS the ongoing activity of the brain. But if you think of the mind as a phenomenon then it is accurate to say that the brain causes the phenomenon we experience as the mind. This is just two ways of saying the same thing.

    But to be clear I do not think the mind is it’s own separate thing. It is brain activity – or at least that model is consistent with all existing established evidence. (there I go being dogmatic again)

  5. pecon 15 Feb 2008 at 9:29 pm

    “It is true that we cannot completely describe how the brain functions”

    Not completely? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say we basically have no idea?

    “if we focus on the basic question of whether or not brain function is what we experience as the mind – all the evidence points to the answer being yes.”

    There is no evidence to show that. We need a functioning brain in order to interact with the physical world and other people. But you are mistaking the inability to interact for absence of mental function.

    You also draw an erroneous conclusion from brain imaging — when mental states correlate with activity in certain areas, you assume the direction of causation is from brain activity to mental state. There is no basis for that assumption.

    There is no evidence to support the materialist theory of mind.

    There are good reasons to be skeptical of that theory though. For example, the inability of science to make progress in figuring out what kind of machine the brain is. The lack surprising lack of insights from over 50 years of artificial intelligence research.

  6. orDoveron 15 Feb 2008 at 10:08 pm

    Dr. Novella, I don’t know how you do it! Your level of patience is amazing. I want to compare you to a saint, but that just seems sort of silly, doesn’t it?

  7. gregoryon 16 Feb 2008 at 1:54 am

    i wish to join this discussion, but should go through your archives to see what has been discussed up until now, and to learn a bit of your vocabulary and concepts received from your education, so that i am more familiar with your language

    my points will be that the brain is cause of nothing, it is effect only, that mind is an involuntary activity exactly like the metabolic rate, a side effect of being alive, that awareness is a subset of consciousness, that the body is a condensation of consciousness, proceeding in a sequential way from subtle to gross

    my education is western, more technical than scientific, my thinking is informed by many years of meditation, by long exposure to “eastern” religions, which are based on consciousness and its structures, by an increasing and felt understanding of subtle energy, known as chi, prana, shakti, etc, undeniable if one practices martial arts for any length of time

    science is still limited in so many ways, some of them illustrated in this blog conversation, and i wish to engage in communication about that as well

    thank you for your time,

    gregory

  8. Gated Clockon 16 Feb 2008 at 2:13 am

    I just took a quick look at the evolutionnews website.
    It is stomach-turning. Sorry, I can’t go on – I’m speechless.

  9. Scott R.on 16 Feb 2008 at 9:31 am

    I find it interesting that Steven is carefull to post links to Dr. Egnor’s posting so that we can verify that he is not “editing” Egnor’s statements to support his case. This gives us the opportunity to red Dr. Egnor’s post in it’s entireity and to evaluate it for ourselves. I see no similar helpful links in Dr. Egnor’s writing. Granted, it would be easy enough to search for Dr. Novella’s blog, but many people would not put forth the effort unless a link were provided. Due to the number of sites i read on a daily basis, there would be a 50/50 chance that I would take the time to read Egnor’s ramblings if Steven had not been so kind as to provide a link. This is typical of the ID proponents at the Discovery Intitute who take care that you don’t stray from the creationist reservation, even if it is to read the complete statements they are commenting on. Kudos Steven for always giving us both sides to consider no matter how the other side try’s to bash you.

  10. Nitpickingon 16 Feb 2008 at 11:14 am

    Pec, one way to stimulate a brain center is with signals from ANOTHER brain center. That is, if you say “apple” to me, a signal from my speech interpretation center will go out to my optical centers, and activity much like that produced by actually seeing an apple results. It’s totally materialistic.

  11. daedalus2uon 16 Feb 2008 at 12:07 pm

    pec, what is non-materialistic about the woman in the apparent vegetative state? She was told to try and induce a certain brain state and she was able to do so. Those parts of her brain that were able to function together did, and the results could be measured via fMRI. What is non-materialistic about that? You say it was her “mind” that did that, but you have no way to distinguish if it was her brain or the notion you made-up that it was her “mind”. If you do have a mechanism to distingush whether it was her brain, or her “mind”, please share it with us.

    What would a non-materialistic hypothesis predict? That a person’s mind is intact regardless of the state of their brain. That a person is able to think with their mind regardless of the status of their brain? Brain damage can only cause dysfunction of input and output? We know that is not correct.

    Mental states and brain states are the same thing. You can’t give any example, or any evidence that they are two separate things, all you have is empty rhetoric. Calling it “faith based” is nonsense and shows the poverty of your position that you can only resort to name calling.

    The rate of progress or non-progress in AI has nothing to do with whether mind states and brain states are the same or not. Is the heart more than a pump? Is that why there is no artificial heart that works long term? That is nonsense.

  12. groovamoson 16 Feb 2008 at 1:30 pm

    First of all I would like to invite Dr. Novella to read “Realms of the Human Unconscious” by Stanislav Grof M.D. for a most serious challenge to materialism in the area of mind. A reading of this book, with its clinical studies described, will make plain why psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, and standard addiction treatments do not work, all being material based.

    Next a little story about my good friend. Dr. R. was a specialist in pain management at at M.D. Anderson in the Texas Medical Center. He lost his license to practice after becoming addicted to pain medication and alcohol. Going cold turkey for about 3-4 months may have saved his life but not his psyche as he was driven to the the brink of insanity by cravings.

    Dr. R traveled to Mexico 2 years ago where he entered a treatment regimen that lasted 20 hours, which is administered by Americans in a legal environment not available in the US. He was dosed with ibogaine repeatedly as he was wired with EEG and EKG. The result: immediate return to sanity and a disappearance of cravings. His expanation goes something like this: His psyche was “rebooted”. The mechanism: an ego shattering encounter with an ultra-intelligence like he had never experienced in this life. The result: after such an experience, one laughs at the idea of pumping drugs into the body.

    If you are going to maintain that your materialism covers all the bases, then I challenge you to cover this one: All of the folks going through the above treatment describe it in similar terms to Dr. R’s explanation. Just as Dr Grof’s research suggests as to what a person commonly experiences at the final resolution of a serious personality disorder.

    Finally I would like to invite Dr. Novella, after reading Grof, to come to my place in the Texas forest and roll up in a sleeping bag late at night by the creek. Such conditions are perfect for the learning about the nature of the psyche from the stupendous psylosybe cubensis. Try this about 20 times and see how well your opinions of what doesn’t exist in the universe hold up.

  13. pecon 16 Feb 2008 at 3:15 pm

    daedalus2u, we do not have an advanced science of mind, it seems to me, that can settle the debate one way or the other. This is partly because the subject is unimaginably complex and partly because neuroscience has been dogmatically materialist.

    Materialist claims are faith-based. Some day in the future we will know how memories are stored in the brain, we will understand the brain so completely we will be able to build working models. That sort of claim has been made repeatedly but without evidence or results.

    Our subjective experience is that the mind has some degree of control over thoughts, emotions, and voluntary behavior. The materialist theory says our subjective experience is an illusion. Ok, well then prove it. You have not, and in my opinion you never will.

    But I am not promoting my opinion as proven fact, while you are promoting yours as proven fact.

    The question is whether mind is an illusion created by the brain, or whether the brain is a machine that controls the body, and which is used by the mind to control physical behavior.

    There are scientists and philosophers on both sides of the controversy, although the materialist theory has dominated science for decades. I think the materialist theory has nearly run its course, and we need to venture beyond it, but again that is my opinion.

    If you are curious, you can check out alternative neuroscience. For example:

    http://www.amazon.com/Emperors-New-Mind-Roger-Penrose/dp/0140145346

  14. Steven Novellaon 16 Feb 2008 at 4:53 pm

    I’m glad to see that my regular readers understand the distinctions I am making and the general process of science.

    Just to clarify further – there is nothing dogmatic about the materialist position nor does it make claims that anything is absolutely proven. That is not how science works. Read what I wrote again – my position is that the materialist theory of mind makes certain predictions, and so far all of those predictions have come true. The dualist theory in some forms makes no predictions, in which case it is not science, or in others does make predictions – namely that there will be some demonstrable manifestation of mind that is either separate from brain function or does not correlate with brain function. So far the dualist theory has not made any successful predictions. I extend my challenge to Egnor to you as well – just name a failed prediction of materialism or a successful prediction of dualism.

    And to further clarify – just pointing to details of how the brain functions that we do not currently understand is not a prediction of dualism. You have to separate evidence that points to IF the mind equals brain function from those that ask how the brain works.

    The example that pec gave does NOT demonstrate reverse causality from a separate mind to the brain, as has been pointed out. The brain provides input to itself. And just to extend that a bit, there is a diffuse structure in the brainstem called the brainstem activating system. These include neurons that fire spontaneously (they have ion channels that slowly “leak” until threshold depolarization is reached and the neuron spontaneously fires). The spontaneously firing neurons activate the cortex – provide stimulatory input to keep the continuous functioning of the brain necessary for consciousness going. Without this system functioning you would be unconscious – in a coma.

    There is no brain activity that does not have a materialist cause and would therefore require some alternate hypothesis.

  15. Steven Novellaon 16 Feb 2008 at 5:01 pm

    I fail to see how taking drugs that alter brain chemistry is evidence against the materialist model of mind.

    Also, it is important to note that the brain is hard wired for profound, mystical, religious experiences. In fact, we can reliably produce such experiences by stimulating certain regions of the brain. Doing it chemically is not conceptually different. It’s all still just brain function.

  16. Roy Nileson 16 Feb 2008 at 5:19 pm

    I suppose if a belief in scientific reason and knowledge can be called a faith, then a materialist theory about the mind that meets scientific criteria could be called faith-based.

    The antithesis of this would perhaps be an inability to have faith in any belief system. One might call that faithlessness-based. Homeopathic psychologists refer to that as the persistent egregious churl syndrome (p.e.c. for short) – but hey, what do they know?

    As to gregory’s comments earlier, one has to respect a point of view that comes from centuries of Asian thought (rather than from one of our Western contrarian subsets), but I suggest reading The Geography of Thought by Richard Nisbett which has an interesting take on how and why Westerners think differently.

  17. Potter1000on 16 Feb 2008 at 6:02 pm

    So pec, what is this non-materialistic mind thing you’re proposing exists separate from the brain. Is it dark matter? Is it an invisible, massless cloud? Cloud of what? Can it think without the brain, or is it some kind of symbiote that requires it? I’m not saying it’s not there, but if you think it is, how about give us something to convince us, something we can look for, test for. Or anything like evidence to suggest that this magic cloud or whatever exists. Sorry, your example about imagining tennis in a vegetative state doesn’t do it for me.

  18. daedalus2uon 16 Feb 2008 at 7:16 pm

    Words have actual meanings. If someone wants to redefine them so they lose their actual meanings, those persons are not interested in actual communication. They are actually spouting nonsense. Words used with non-standard meanings are exactly that, nonsense. That is not a pejorative, it is a fact.

    Ambiguous statements with undefined or poorly defined terms are what is called “not even wrong”. The only people that such non-communicators delude is themselves.

  19. DevilsAdvocateon 16 Feb 2008 at 8:11 pm

    I can solve this question of whether the mind is a materialist product real quick. I’ll need a baseball bat and a volunteer….

  20. Roy Nileson 16 Feb 2008 at 8:19 pm

    I was going to say that words only mean whatever you can reasonably expect the recipient to think they mean. But a baseball bat will of course tend to sharpen the senses and somewhat alter the express expectations.

  21. pecon 16 Feb 2008 at 8:31 pm

    “A mind separate from the brain would contradict much that is very well known in physics, including special relativity and quantum mechanics.”

    That is ridiculous. There is nothing in physics that says anything about this.

  22. pecon 16 Feb 2008 at 8:43 pm

    “just pointing to details of how the brain functions that we do not currently understand is not a prediction of dualism.”

    You are implying that you understand everything about how the brain functions except for some minor details. That is utterly misleading. The system in general is just not understood. Some details are understood, the most important questions are completely unanswered.

    “The dualist [predicts] that there will be some demonstrable manifestation of mind that is either separate from brain function or does not correlate with brain function.”

    If you think about it at all, you will see that demonstrating mind without a brain would be difficult, given that mind interacts with the physical world via the brain and body. How do you expect a disembodied mind to communicate with researchers and convince them of its existence? You absolutely reject this possibilty, so even if a disembodied mind stood before you and spoke, you would call it a hallucination.

    So how can mind without brain be scientifically demonstrated, if disembodied minds are by definition hallucinations?

    I am NOT claiming that disembodied minds are NOT hallucinations. I don’t know. I am saying that there is no simple way to prove that mind is not generated by brain.

    On the other hand, your theory — that mind is generated by brain — is just as difficult, or impossible, to prove.

    Yes the brain influences the mind. That does not prove that the brain generates mind, or illusion of mind.

  23. Steven Novellaon 16 Feb 2008 at 10:48 pm

    Pec – then you are taking the non-falsifiable model of dualism. This is, as they say, not even wrong. If it does not make predictions, if it cannot be detected, then it is not a scientific hypothesis. At best you are doing philosophy, not science.

    And again you confuse explaining HOW the brain creates the mind with the more basic question of DOES the brain create the mind. I never said we explained everything about how, or that are even close, or that there are only minor details left. I think you are grossly underestimating what we do know. We actually know a great deal. There is also a great deal still unknown. But the claims of neuroscientists are not dependent upon promises of future discoveries. The materialist model has been extremely successful at making predictions. That is a significant test of any scientific theory. It also is producing an increasing rate of discoveries. Your claim that it is petering out and at an end is at direct odds with the evidence. It is exactly like the claim of the creationists that evolutionary theory is petering out and (forever) on the verge of collapse – meanwhile both theories are thriving.

    The materialist theory (combined with the model of brain function that holds that different parts of the brain are specialized for different functions) predicts that a specific piece of brain tissue will be responsible for a specific feeling, memory, emotion, or other mental experience. It is not just the conduit for this feeling – it is the feeling. Therefore (since the brain is an electric organ) if I use a precise electrode to stimulate the piece of the brain that stores the memory for the smell of apples the subject will reliably experience the smell of apples. This is, in fact, what happens. The evidence confirms the materialist prediction.

    What does the dualist theory predict and why? Make a prediction, or you’re not even playing.

  24. light echoon 16 Feb 2008 at 11:04 pm

    There is no reason to believe that the mind is not a function of the brain. “Reason” being the key here. I don’t know who the blogger is behind Ebon Musings but there are several very relevant articles there. Brilliant stuff IMO.
    http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/ghost.html

    Regards
    Dave

  25. daedalus2uon 17 Feb 2008 at 12:08 am

    pec, physics has demonstrated to a very high degree of accuracy and precision the conservation of mass/energy. For a “mind” to affect the matter that comprises the brain and for the matter of the brain to affect the mind, that “mind” would have to interact with that brain and exchange mass/energy with that brain. If the “mind” does so, then the “mind” is materialistic. If the “mind” does not do so, then mass/energy is not conserved and we must abandon special relativity and quantum mechanics.

  26. Damian Yeungon 17 Feb 2008 at 12:45 am

    pec from reading your posts, you basically want equal time for both materialistic and duality theory in the scientific arena. when duality offers no new avenue for research makes no prediction and doesnt really contribute anything? duality is just speculation full stop. Scientists are professionals but would you rather them write “although the materialistic theory is chugging along very nicely, duality still may be a possibility.” after every science paper?
    Remember scientists dont absolutely reject other possibilities, only ones which cant be tested

  27. Roy Nileson 17 Feb 2008 at 3:18 am

    The only “philosophy” that pec could be credited with doing is cutting and pasting bits from anti-realist philosophical ramblings.

    This is the philosophy that most appeals to those whose unalterable ignorance necessarily starts at the upper limits of their unalterable stupidity.

  28. Roy Nileson 17 Feb 2008 at 4:39 am

    To be a bit more serious about this, pec may be one of the more innocuous members of the CAM scammer group. In an odd way, guys like him admire higher forms of knowledge, but find them baffling at the same time, and aren’t interested in a search for truth as much as in a search for some easier way to attain a similar degree of self-respect But this will need to involve a sort of ersatz self-trust, gained by whatever means available – as trust, honesty and truth are not necessarily all on the same track.

    There is no way these people can gain trust by honest study and research in rigorous disciplines such as science. But by the same token they have also found this to be the one discipline most vulnerable to fakery; they have found it much easier to mimic that ability with those who don’t know the real thing when they see it.

    They also know instinctively they are playing in a game where the prize involves being trusted by more people than the next guy (or maybe their mother), and that, paradoxically, these ends can be justified by otherwise untrustworthy means. Especially if they are not able to caught at it. To them, attaining such trust is a more of a verification that they have done well than the discovery of some esoteric truth would ever be.

    Do these people then have a form of psychopathic personality? Clearly they do.

    Has pec even gained a modicum of the trust he seems to be seeking. Clearly he hasn’t. Is he able to be caught at the fakery? Clearly he is.

  29. pecon 17 Feb 2008 at 10:03 am

    “if I use a precise electrode to stimulate the piece of the brain that stores the memory for the smell of apples the subject will reliably experience the smell of apples.”

    You are disrupting the brain in some way and causing a hallucination. There is no understanding of how and where memories are stored in the brain. There is no understanding of how such a vast quantity of information could be stored in such a small device, or how retrieval could be so fast.

  30. pecon 17 Feb 2008 at 10:06 am

    “For a “mind” to affect the matter that comprises the brain and for the matter of the brain to affect the mind, that “mind” would have to interact with that brain and exchange mass/energy with that brain. If the “mind” does so, then the “mind” is materialistic. If the “mind” does not do so, then mass/energy is not conserved and we must abandon special relativity and quantum mechanics.”

    So when radio waves interact with your radio, mass/energy is not being conserved? You’re pretending to make sense, but you aren’t.

  31. arthurgoldenon 17 Feb 2008 at 10:16 am

    As the father of a 36 year-old son who is completely nonverbal and has been described as having “severe” autism (using the word “severe” with autism realizing that Michelle Dawson has a certain viewpoint that she has expressed on this blog), I have had some “interesting” personal experiences with my son which touch on the subject of brain and mind.

    I must admit that this subject is beyond my meager understanding, but I have made contact with certain other very intelligent people who explain such “interesting” personal experiences with my son’s mind in terms of duality. I realize that skeptics have others explanations of the minds of persons with “low functioning autism.”

    Anyway, I am reading this blog and the comments and I look forward to Dr. Novella posting more blogs on autism. If appropriate, I might add a substantive comment if I feel I am able to do so.

    Arthur Golden of Jerusalem Israel (from Boston in 1996)

  32. daedalus2uon 17 Feb 2008 at 10:36 am

    pec, you demonstrate your ignorance of physics. When radio waves interact with a radio, mass/energy is conserved. The energy of the electromagnetic wave is absorbed, conducted along the antenna and then amplified using the radio’s power supply. In every step along the way mass/energy is conserved.

    There is no phenomenon that physics has observed or knows about that does not exhibit conservation of mass/energy.

  33. Steven Novellaon 17 Feb 2008 at 10:41 am

    pec wrote: “You are disrupting the brain in some way and causing a hallucination. There is no understanding of how and where memories are stored in the brain. There is no understanding of how such a vast quantity of information could be stored in such a small device, or how retrieval could be so fast.”

    Seriously, you’re just making this stuff up as needed. These statements are demonstrably wrong. Remember – you are talking to a neuroscientist. Read a basic text on neuroscience.

    We do know where some memories are stored – visual memories, for example, are stored in the visual association cortex. But the brain is organized as a massively parallel processor, with overlapping and redundant memories. So many memories are diffusely stored. The mechanism of memory storage is, at it’s most basic level, the tightness and robustness of synaptic connections between neurons. Patterns of neurons create specific memories, concepts, processes, etc.

    The information storage and processing capacity of the brain is no mystery at all – it can be calculated knowing the number of neurons and the average number of connections they make.

    Regarding your explanation of electrically stimulating the brain – this is just utter nonsense. You are just being dismissive about something you obviously know next to nothing about. Disrupting brain function is the opposite of stimulating brain function. We can do both, actually – and we can predictably and reliably turn off a specific brain function or activate a brain function.

    Also – we now routinely do brain surgery to treat severe epilepsy. As part of the assessment we carefully examine the function of the part of the brain that the surgeons will remove – because we know that that function will be permanently lost.

    All of the evidence points to the arrow of causality going from the brain to the mind (stimulate the brain you create that mental experience, inhibit the brain you turn off that mental function, damage the brain and you damage the corresponding mental function, etc,) You still have yet to produce a single argument or piece of evidence to contradict this.

  34. Nitpickingon 17 Feb 2008 at 11:29 am

    Pec appears to sincerely believe that if neuroscience can’t totally explain every aspect of brain function in terms that he/she can understand without studying or learning, it means duality is a plausible hypothesis.

  35. gregoryon 17 Feb 2008 at 12:01 pm

    science is limited to looking for what it can test and prove, reality has no such limitations. it is like the nasruddin story, he lost is keys and is looking for them under the streetlight…. though he lost them in his house, he is looking for them under the streetlight because that is where the light is.

    i would recommend more visits with the just dead… the chemical constituents are all in place, but put as many probes in as you want, there will be nothing resulting from stimulation. because consciousness is fundamental, not the meat.

    you can indeed find what you look for, probe here, get this result, but this does no good in understanding anything but reflex, the underlying structure could well be the physical manifestation of a more subtle or energetic cause. meditation seems to increase the thickness of the cortex, a material result from a non physical cause.

    there are many kinds of experiences not easily explained, intuition, knowing at a distance, knowing someone is reading your paper over your shoulder, out of body or near death experiences… and just because science doesn’t know how to ask pertinent questions doesn’t mean these things don’t exist.

    it is like analyzing the bumps on an orange, unaware of what lies below.

  36. superdaveon 17 Feb 2008 at 1:03 pm

    Pec, I highly doubt you understand quantum mechanics ( no one really does) but I am sure you have used a solar powered calculator. Can’t you accept the possibility that there are people who understand more about the brain than you?

  37. Steven Novellaon 17 Feb 2008 at 2:05 pm

    gregory wrote: “meditation seems to increase the thickness of the cortex, a material result from a non physical cause.”

    This is a false premise. meditation is not a non-physical cause. Meditation is brain function, which is physical. This is just the brain affecting itself. It is like reading a book – the information becomes stored in the brain. Reading is not non-physical – it is brain activity.

  38. daedalus2uon 17 Feb 2008 at 2:18 pm

    Gregory, you say “science is limited to looking for what it can test and prove, reality has no such limitations.”

    Neither does fantasy. Without testing ideas against reality there is no way to tell if ideas correspond to reality, or are purely imaginary fantasies.

    Your understanding of the physiological changes which occur at death is incorrect. There are many irreversible changes that occur. Blood flow stops, ATP levels fall, membrane potentials collapse, neurotransmitter reuptake fails, action potentials no longer propagate. Dead meat is not “the same” as living meat. Just like a computer that is off is not “the same” as a computer supplied with power. Will looking at your computer just after it has been turned off tell you anything about the “dual” nature of computers? If you did find abnormal behavior of your computer while it was being shut down, when voltages are at the wrong levels, when components are operating outside their design ranges, does that tell you anything about the normal function of the computer? No, it doesn’t.

    You are grossly incorrect to state that meditation in non-physical. Meditation is a brain state. Meditation causes the release of NO in the brain and this NO has local and systemic effects. This NO has been measured even though the levels are very small (in the nM/L range. That is less than 1 ppb). There is considerable thought that many of the systemic effects of meditation are caused by the neurogenic release of NO.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16369463?ordinalpos=32&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16142396?ordinalpos=40&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

    The thickening of the cerebral cortex is completely explained by higher NO. NO is what regulates mitochondria biogenesis and regulates neurogenesis, and regulates synaptogenesis. NO causes long term potentiation. Many neuronal growth factors have effects mediated by NO. NO has many effects in the short term and in the long term. Many of these effects are not well understood, but they are known to be mediated via physical processes.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16272874?ordinalpos=2&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

    Meditation reduces symptoms of the metabolic syndrome. This is completely explained by systemic effects of neurogenic NO.

    http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/166/11/1218

    These effects of meditation are completely consistent with my hypothesis that the metabolic syndrome is caused by not enough mitochondria (necessitating more ATP from glycolysis than the vasculature can supply). NO is what causes mitochondria biogenesis, so NO from any source will increase mitochondria number and increase ATP concentration (acutely via sGC) and chronically via increased mitochondria. This will reduce the symptoms of the metabolic syndrome (blood pressure, insulin resistance).

  39. daedalus2uon 17 Feb 2008 at 2:20 pm

    (it wouldn’t let me post links, so I put a space after http)

    Gregory, you say “science is limited to looking for what it can test and prove, reality has no such limitations.”

    Neither does fantasy. Without testing ideas against reality there is no way to tell if ideas correspond to reality, or are purely imaginary fantasies.

    Your understanding of the physiological changes which occur at death is incorrect. There are many irreversible changes that occur. Blood flow stops, ATP levels fall, membrane potentials collapse, neurotransmitter reuptake fails, action potentials no longer propagate. Dead meat is not “the same” as living meat. Just like a computer that is off is not “the same” as a computer supplied with power. Will looking at your computer just after it has been turned off tell you anything about the “dual” nature of computers? If you did find abnormal behavior of your computer while it was being shut down, when voltages are at the wrong levels, when components are operating outside their design ranges, does that tell you anything about the normal function of the computer? No, it doesn’t.

    You are grossly incorrect to state that meditation in non-physical. Meditation is a brain state. Meditation causes the release of NO in the brain and this NO has local and systemic effects. This NO has been measured even though the levels are very small (in the nM/L range. That is less than 1 ppb). There is considerable thought that many of the systemic effects of meditation are caused by the neurogenic release of NO.

    http ://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16369463?ordinalpos=32&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

    http ://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16142396?ordinalpos=40&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

    The thickening of the cerebral cortex is completely explained by higher NO. NO is what regulates mitochondria biogenesis and regulates neurogenesis, and regulates synaptogenesis. NO causes long term potentiation. Many neuronal growth factors have effects mediated by NO. NO has many effects in the short term and in the long term. Many of these effects are not well understood, but they are known to be mediated via physical processes.

    http ://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16272874?ordinalpos=2&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

    Meditation reduces symptoms of the metabolic syndrome. This is completely explained by systemic effects of neurogenic NO.

    http ://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/166/11/1218

    These effects of meditation are completely consistent with my hypothesis that the metabolic syndrome is caused by not enough mitochondria (necessitating more ATP from glycolysis than the vasculature can supply). NO is what causes mitochondria biogenesis, so NO from any source will increase mitochondria number and increase ATP concentration (acutely via sGC) and chronically via increased mitochondria. This will reduce the symptoms of the metabolic syndrome (blood pressure, insulin resistance).

  40. Roy Nileson 17 Feb 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Gregory says: “science is limited to looking for what it can test and prove, reality has no such limitations. it is like the nasruddin story, he lost is keys and is looking for them under the streetlight.. though he lost them in his house, he is looking for them under the streetlight because that is where the light is.”

    All this shows is nasruddin felt he was short the number of scientists that are required to screw in his light bulbs.

  41. Fifion 17 Feb 2008 at 3:31 pm

    “Meditation is brain function, which is physical. This is just the brain affecting itself.”

    Thank you for stating what should be obvious to anyone using the slightest bit of basic logic. What I find interesting about people who attempt to fuse mysticism and science – and who meditate and assume their experiences meditating point to them having a mind that’s separate from their body – is that they seem to be missing what seems to me to be the whole point of awareness meditation. (Trance meditations have another purpose and tend to be mainly associated with shamanic religious traditions.) One of the side affects of awareness meditation is awareness of our own thoughts and feelings and our innate tendency to project our desires, fears and expectations upon the world (which, particularly when not aligned with reality and therefor at least slightly deluded, cause unnecessary suffering). Most traditions that practice awareness meditation also warn against getting caught up and attached to the various phenomena that arise when one practices awareness meditation (the mind can be very entertaining).

  42. pecon 17 Feb 2008 at 3:44 pm

    “After more than 50 years of pursuing human- level artificial intelligence, we have nothing but promises and failures. ”

    http://www.skeptic.com/the_magazine/featured_articles/v12n02_AI_gone_awry.html

  43. Roy Nileson 17 Feb 2008 at 4:15 pm

    pec believes that omniscience begins where his brain leaves off.

    He’s actually getting a Ph.D. in cognitive dissonance, and his thesis will be that he is the poster boy for a truly artificial form of intelligence because everything he thinks is falsifiable.

  44. DevilsAdvocateon 17 Feb 2008 at 4:28 pm

    One needn’t go to university to learn how to use creationist-like ‘God of the gaps’ argumentation (wherein any gap in the neuroscience knowledge set provides a location for dualistic speculation-cum-fact), so… pec…. if you haven’t yet completed that degree, you might be able to get your money back. It seems only fair.

  45. Roy Nileson 17 Feb 2008 at 4:42 pm

    The problem IA has yet to solve involves the crafting of algorithms that approximate the human brain’s short term subjective evaluation process. Pec believes he has anecdotal evidence that the task may be impossible. He offers living proof that the problem can be insurmountable.

  46. daedalus2uon 17 Feb 2008 at 4:50 pm

    pec, what does an adjacent area taking over lost motor functions have to do with dualism? Why doesn’t the “mind” just do it? Obviously because it can’t. If it could, it would.

    So what if materialism is based on correlation. What is dualism based on? Fantasy, imagination and wishful thinking. I will take correlation with data over fantasy any day.

    After some 2-3,000 years of empty dualist promises they haven’t even supplied a single testable hypothesis. That is something you could supply today, if one was possible.

    The brain has about 100 billion neurons, each with about 10,000 connections. That makes about 10^15 nodes. Those are non-linear nodes, with multiple control parameters including a number of neurotransmitters, ATP, O2, NO, and a whole host of other things. Let us assume that each node can be modeled using only 100 transistors. Then we would need something like 10^17 transistors to generate a model of the human brain.

    What resources does that kind of effort take? The Itanium processor has about 10^9 transistors. Presumably designing something with 10^8 times more transistors would take at least 10^8 times more resources (actually it takes more because some of the difficulties scale greater than linearly).

    Should we be surprised that there has been no computing device designed and constructed that would take 10^8 times more resources than the Itanium processor? It is reported/rumored that development of the Itanium processor cost upwards of $1 billion. Should we be surprised that there is no computing device designed and built that would cost $100,000 trillion? It does not surprise me, but then I am not easily surprised.

    Actually nothing has been built that would cost $100,000 trillion. I don’t need a supernatural explanation to understand that. The few hundred billion humans that have ever lived simply have not generated that many resources in the few hundred thousand years that humans have been extant. No supernatural explanation is required, simple calculation demonstrates it.

  47. Steven Novellaon 17 Feb 2008 at 4:54 pm

    pec – you keep making the same cognitive mistake over and over and over again. We do not have to know everything about HOW before we can be confident that the brain DOES cause the mind. You have not addressed this point – you just keep committing this error over again.

    You have also not addressed all the evidence I have laid out for you that the brain causes mind. You just keep making irrelevant pronouncements.

    Regarding AI – yep the creationists want us to make evolution happen in a test tube, or to build a eukaryotic cell from scratch. That’s just ridiculous moving of the goalpost. I don’t have to build a brain to say that the existing evidence all supports the conclusion that the brain creates mind.

    Also – we have AI systems right now. They just are very primitive. We don’t have human-level AI – but we are 2-3 decades away from having computers powerful enough to match the computational power of the human brain. This is purely a technological limitation. We also do not have software AI models anywhere near human complexity. It’s harder to estimate how long this will take, but the fact that we have not completed this task is not an argument against the materialist model of mind – the fact that it is progressing at a fast pace is an argument for it.

    pec- thanks for offering so much evidence for my major thesis that dualists are the creationists of neuroscience.

  48. pecon 17 Feb 2008 at 6:48 pm

    If there were a successful science of mind you would be able to cure mental illness. You could repair schizophrenics’ damaged brains and restore their mental health, rather than drug them with chemicals that dull the symptoms, at best.

    The situation resembles string theory, or matrix theory, etc., in physics. As knowledge is gained, the sense of understanding decreases. Who can pretend to understand the nature of matter? If our understanding of nature were really improving, you would expect confusion and the proliferation of theories to decrease, rather than increase.

    The same thing is happening in genetics, as more and more information is gathered. Yes the masses of detailed knowledge are impressive, but no one can really make sense of it.

    In AI and in neuroscience the trend is the same — technology and information increase, and so does confusion. You cannot build anything remotely like a brain or mind.

    Computer technology is amazing and wonderful and has revolutionized science. We can observe nature on increasingly detailed levels. In the process, however, we have to acknowledge that everything is infinitely more complex than earlier scientists had ever imagined.

    Science and technology are great and the rate of progress is constantly accelerating. But the materialist philosophy which has recently become attached to science is a dead end.

  49. Roy Nileson 17 Feb 2008 at 7:08 pm

    Speaking of dead ends, I’ve been privately informed that pec’s thesis is about dominance hierarchy – commonly referred to as the pecking order. He’s interested in the phenomenon that relegates some people to being the worst of even a bad lot. His own peck has had such minimal value that it and he were officially designated as a pec.

    And here all this time I had thought he was hiding behind a minimalist moniker.

  50. Roy Nileson 17 Feb 2008 at 8:08 pm

    Concerning the purposeful universe that is the bedrock presumption of dualism and anti-realism metaphysics, I pose this question to pec and his ilk:
    Is it not possible that we’re in a mechanical universe where some so-called “universal” laws depend on the anticipation of some other mechanical process, and that an inadequacy of anticipation results in a de facto “disaster” – to use a term reflecting a severe disruption of a long-term plan. And where neither the plan nor it’s contravention would have been intentional in the sense that we understand that term. They would, in effect, be the result of accidental change, the natures of which were impossible to “predict” – even though the mere possibility of accident may have been anticipated in the mechanism’s formation. Would any of this actually have needed a purposeful cause?

    And would the virtual “fact” that life exists elsewhere in the universe – or just the mere fact that it exits right here and now – allow for these mechanistic considerations by injecting an element of purposefulness which was caused by, or arose from, the accident of that life’s existence?

    Far from being at a dead end, materialistic philosophies in my view have given rise to the very questions that science will want to examine for an even greater acceleration of the rate of progress than pec has conceded to.

  51. pecon 17 Feb 2008 at 8:13 pm

    I am not doing a thesis. I finished it, and passed, long ago. I am a cognitive scientist. Materialism may be the current fad among scientists, but not all of us are on the bandwagon.

  52. Roy Nileson 17 Feb 2008 at 8:22 pm

    I didn’t know a Ph.D. thesis was considered something that one “passed.” Accredited schools just don’t use that terminology.

    And of course you didn’t answer my last question. It wouldn’t have been one of the multiple choice questions on your final.

  53. bajon 17 Feb 2008 at 8:46 pm

    i know it goes back a ways in this thread, but pec tips his hand with his use of “faith-based”, trading on semantics in a feeble attempt to equate, and therefore diminish materialism by lowering it to the baseless level of dualism. hmmm… where have i seen this before?

    he’s resorting to a simplistic buckshot strategy of tossing around naysaying BS and hoping some of it will stick, instead of supporting his own claim, which he is careful not to claim, lest he actually have to support it with scientific evidence.

    i’m guessing pec is a creationist, since anti-materialist views generally come from that direction. am i wrong?

  54. pecon 17 Feb 2008 at 10:13 pm

    Well Roy Niles you obviously never did a Ph.D. The committee decides pass or fail. I don’t know what else you would expect. A gold star?

  55. Roy Nileson 18 Feb 2008 at 12:00 am

    Ph.D. is a grant-no grant process, not a pass-fail process, especially in a science curriculum.
    But evidently wherever you allegedly came from, the word science was defined quite loosely.
    Unlike you, I’ve never claimed to be something or someone I’m not. The consensus on this blog however is that your claim to be a scientist is highly suspect, because while we cannot see whatever paper you say you have, we can clearly see you lack the knowledge or intellect to have earned such a paper legitimately.

    Or to even attempt an answer to my question about dualism and whatever other metaphysical bias may be affecting your perception of the cosmos for which you profess a deep and professional understanding.

  56. Nitpickingon 18 Feb 2008 at 12:17 am

    It’s perhaps worth mentioning that actual scientists work in the light of day. Even pseudonymous bloggers like Orac don’t really attempt to conceal their identities, and our host certainly makes himself quite available.

    I’m not a scientist, but I do have some background in science and I know quite a few scientists, and “Pec” just doesn’t have the same vibe as the molecular biologists, physicists, chemists, and so forth I socialize with.

    “Pec”: come clean. What schools granted your degrees? You mention “being” a cognitive scientist: where do you work? I’m thinking Maharishi University.

    Oh, and five minutes of research would be more than enough to find my real name if you’re curious.

  57. superdaveon 18 Feb 2008 at 3:03 am

    I want to just remind everyone once again that egnor is an award winning neurologist.

  58. gregoryon 18 Feb 2008 at 4:45 am

    ok, lots of bright guys here… hope you can answer a couple of questions…

    what is consciousness?

    what is the self?

    is the self separate from awareness? that is, who is aware?

  59. Steven Novellaon 18 Feb 2008 at 9:03 am

    Dr. Egnor is a pediatric neurosurgeon – not a neurologist.

    I am a neurologist.

    Consciousness is the brain experiencing itself – it is an epiphenomenon of collective brain activity. There is no self separate from awareness.

    Now, before you say it, I cannot “prove” this in the metaphysical sense. However, any testable predictions that flow from this hypothesis have been validated. So like ALL scientific theories – it does not give us access to ultimate metaphysical Truth – it just provides a model that accounts for what we observe and makes testable predictions.

  60. pecon 18 Feb 2008 at 10:25 am

    “your perception of the cosmos for which you profess a deep and professional understanding.”

    Unlike Steve Novella, I never claim to have all the profound answers.

    “Consciousness is the brain experiencing itself – it is an epiphenomenon of collective brain activity. There is no self separate from awareness. ”

    He KNOWS the Truth about mind and consciousness. He has NO DOUBTS.

    My whole point here is that we do not know, we do not have scientific evidence for the materialist theory, or other theories, of mind.

    It’s hard to say exactly what the materialist theory predicts. That if parts of the brain are missing or damaged, certain functions will be missing? A non-materialist theory would predict the same thing.

    In any case, my main message is that Steve Novella is typical of materialists — they have the answers and they know the truth. They have made materialist science into a religion-like faith.

    And I am anonymous here because scientists’ careers are damaged these days if they stray from the herd in any way.

  61. Steven Novellaon 18 Feb 2008 at 11:19 am

    I wrote: “Now, before you say it, I cannot “prove” this in the metaphysical sense. However, any testable predictions that flow from this hypothesis have been validated. So like ALL scientific theories – it does not give us access to ultimate metaphysical Truth – it just provides a model that accounts for what we observe and makes testable predictions.”

    pec characterized what I said as: “He KNOWS the Truth about mind and consciousness. He has NO DOUBTS.”

    So now we have fairly solid evidence that pec is either not actually reading what I and others are writing, he is incapable of understanding what he is reading, or he simply does not care and will ply his ideology regardless.

  62. JimVon 18 Feb 2008 at 12:39 pm

    I’m seeing some instances in this thread of what I call the “Chimp Fallacy”. Probably it has a more standard name, and may have been discussed in previous posts, but here is what I mean by it.

    Whether or not humans are able to figure out a detailed theory of the mind, or make successful predictions of future technological developments, has no bearing on whether or not there is a materialistic basis for such theories and developments. We may simply not be smart enough to take advantage of the clues and opportunities that nature offers us. Chimpanzees have observed things falling for eons, but have never figured out a detailed theory of gravity. That does not mean they are entitled to prefer supernatural explanations.

    That probably seems to have a condscending tone, which was not my intent. I don’t mean to imply that I am cleverer than people who have a dualistic view of the mind, just that I have a different viewpoint which I am trying to express.

    The materialistic viewpoint is very simple and pragmatic to me. I flip the light switch up, and the lights go on. I flip it down, and the lights go off. Granted, that is mere correlation, but repeated often enough, it achieves a level of confidence that is as good as I expect to get for anything, regardless of my lack of detailed understanding of quantum electrodynamics. To me, that is how science works and what it means.

  63. Aaron Son 18 Feb 2008 at 1:02 pm

    @Steven: I wouldn’t use the word “epiphenomenon”, epiphenomenonalism is actually a type of dualism, like functionalism and property dualism.

  64. Steven Novellaon 18 Feb 2008 at 2:26 pm

    Yes – but the word “epiphenomenon” has a different meaning also – meaning properties that emerge from the collective action of many parts but that cannot be extrapolated from those parts. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It is not meant to imply philosophical epiphenomenalism at all. Actually, “emergent property” is probably a better term and I should use that in the future.

    But I agree that terminology is a problem. It is especially a problem when different intellectual traditions (science and philosophy) collide.

    I also run into this every day – the difference between the medical meaning of words and the colloquial meaning that patients often use.

  65. Roy Nileson 18 Feb 2008 at 2:31 pm

    Property dualism? Isn’t that actually a misunderstanding of algorithmic symbolism, or algorithismism?

  66. Aaron Son 18 Feb 2008 at 3:21 pm

    @Steven: OK, your position sounds a lot like John Searle’s, which he calls “Biological Naturalism”. He has a paper that says why he is *not* a property dualist: socrates.berkeley.edu/~jsearle/132/PropertydualismFNL.doc

    His vocabulary sounds a lot like yours.

  67. Roy Nileson 18 Feb 2008 at 4:10 pm

    What I said, algorithmic symbolism. (I lied about the algorithismism.)

  68. Nitpickingon 18 Feb 2008 at 10:43 pm

    When Pec says that the materialistic theory makes no predictions, I am led to one of two conclusions:

    1. Pec is lying.
    2. Pec is stupid.

    Any other explanations?

  69. Roy Nileson 18 Feb 2008 at 11:50 pm

    He has the epistemological blues. The ennui of the fighter in a lost cause.

  70. daedalus2uon 19 Feb 2008 at 11:54 am

    I think that pec’s dualism idea makes only one prediction. That a materialism hypothesis will not have a satisfactory answer to every well formed question that we will ever have.

    So far he has only demonstrated an inability to ask well formed questions.

  71. bajon 19 Feb 2008 at 3:25 pm

    i should clarify #4 above by saying “influenced by belief in god”.

  72. davidsmithon 21 Feb 2008 at 8:12 am

    Isn’t there a problem trying to gather evidence for a position that is fundamentally philosophical? Remeber that materialism posits this stuff we call “physical reality” that exists in the absence of an experience of it and is also accoutable for the existence of experience. That is the starting point for materialism. If you assume that this starting point is correct, I don’t see how any amount of observation will contradict the notion that all mental phenomena are brain functions. For example, take what Steve said:

    “If the mind is completely a product of the material function of the brain then:
    - There will be no mental phenomena without brain function.”

    Just how would we make the observation of a mental phenomena in the absence of brain function?

    Steve also says:

    “Dualism makes predictions too – that some mental function will be documented to exist separate from brain function. The evidence for this? None. ”

    I don’t think dualism posits a separate mental function, but rather, an existence that does not depend on physical relationships. Since evidence is a concept that depends on physical relationships, it is hardly surprising that there is no evidence for non-physical reality. Indeed, there cannot be. This does not mean that non-physical reality does not exist.

  73. Steven Novellaon 21 Feb 2008 at 12:27 pm

    davidsmith wrote:”This does not mean that non-physical reality does not exist.”

    No, it doesn’t. But the question is – if it does, now can you know about it? If you can’t know about it, then of what use is it. Science does not claim to describe actual reality, just what we can know about reality.

    Also – don’t equate “material” with testable. If there was something that does not comport to our current models of reality but that could influence reality, then we could still test for it. If it has an effect, it can theoretically be examined scientifically. Science only requires that it is testable – you can make some observation that bears on the question.

    Again – forms of dualism that are not testable are simply not science. This does not make them metaphysically false, but is means that they CANNOT be used to criticize the scientific model of consciousness – and that is the actual context of this whole discussion (let’s not lose sight of that).

    Getting back to the original point – the material model of consciousness explains and is compatible with all observed phenomena. There is nothing that requires a non-physical hypothesis. (And again, to avoid going full circle here – that doesn’t mean it explains every last thing as to how the brain creates consciousness and exactly what it is, it just means that there is nothing observed that contradicts the physical model.)

    I am still waiting for anyone (Egnor, anyone else) to give one one piece of evidence that calls into question pure materialism of consciousness or that points to dualism.

  74. Roy Nileson 21 Feb 2008 at 1:52 pm

    The real question is: Of what use is spirituality in our attempts to make accurate predictions about the future? Submit it to that test – conditions have already been specified by James Randi, et al.

    After you fail that, what is left except some version of the materialistic view.

  75. Steven Novellaon 21 Feb 2008 at 2:10 pm

    I am not aware of any method of knowing about reality (factual claims – not subjective judgements) that has demonstrated any validity. Specifically, you simply cannot know if whatever you think you know is real or is self-deception unless you have some transparent universal way of checking against reality – and we call that science. Everything else is indistinguishable from illusion or self-deception. (Again, that doesn’t mean it’s false, it just means that we humans cannot know about it in any meaningful way.)

    If the materialist theory of mind were false, and there were some unidentified non-physical cause of mind or consciousness, then we would expect that some mental function would not correlate with brain activity, would not be dependent upon brain activity, or would not be altered by physically altering the brain. So far everything we think of as mental activity reproducibly correlates with specific brain activity. And this model is progressing rapidly. Scientists recently published findings showing which brain cells are activated by paying attention.

    And once again, keep in mind that I am not saying there is evidence for the absence of some dualist phenomenon – it’s difficult to impossible to have such negative evidence – I am just saying that anything other than the physical activity of the brain is unnecessary. Give me one thing that makes dualism necessary. In science, ideas that are unnecessary are worse than wrong, they’re useless. Dualism is useless.

  76. mattdickon 21 Feb 2008 at 2:35 pm

    @davidsmith: “how would we make the observation of a mental phenomena in the absence of brain function?”

    Steven, you answered this, but I felt it needed to be more on-the-nose.

    David, hooking a person up to an fMRI and asking them to think about things, to describe subjective experience. If there was no resulting MRI response, that would be mental activity in absence of brain function.

    Not only has this not happened, but what parts of the brain are firing during specific mental activity is becoming clearer and clearer.

  77. davidsmithon 21 Feb 2008 at 4:17 pm

    mattdick said,

    “David, hooking a person up to an fMRI and asking them to think about things, to describe subjective experience. If there was no resulting MRI response, that would be mental activity in absence of brain function.”

    A materialist could respond that the person did not have any subjective experience while in the scanner. How would you tell the difference? Which just leaves the overt reporting behaviour in the absence of brain activity needing an explanation. That would be pretty remarkable I admit, but I do not see a way for you to distinguish between the two possibilities.

  78. mattdickon 21 Feb 2008 at 5:00 pm

    davidsmith: “A materialist could respond that the person did not have any subjective experience while in the scanner.”

    That wouldn’t hold water. You can ask a person to describe their feelings. That’s been done. Every time that’s been done, an increasingly predictable pattern in their brain activity emerges. If the scanner produced nothing while the person was describing their experience, the materialist would *have* to agree that the phenomenon was counter to the materialist theory.

    “I would say that the existence of qualitative experience makes either dualism or mental monism necessary. It certainly makes materialism false.”

    I don’t think either of these statements is at all true. Why does my experience having a subjective quality mean there is something outside of the meat of my brain doing something?

  79. Roy Nileson 21 Feb 2008 at 7:41 pm

    davidsmith: The spirits tell me you’ve been reading The Secret. How’s that working for you?

  80. mattdickon 22 Feb 2008 at 10:52 am

    davidsmith: “Physical things are relational by definition. Since qualitative experience is non-relational, it cannot be physical, therefore it cannot be the same thing as the brain.”

    Perhaps I’m just missing some critical understanding of the vocabulary you’re using. Tell me how qualitative experience is “non-relational”. I’m unsure what you mean by the term non-relational. I’m quite sure my qualitative experience is informed by other aspects of my physical circumstance. That would make it relational, clearly. This is what has led me to the conclusion that I don’t understand the terms you’re using.

  81. Roy Nileson 22 Feb 2008 at 2:04 pm

    I am constrained from further comment by mathematical fits of laughter.

  82. Ian Wardellon 22 Feb 2008 at 3:56 pm

    Certainly not all the evidence “supports the materialist hypothesis of mind”. It is difficult for example to reconcile any of the evidence for anomalous cognition with the materialist metaphysic (whichever flavour of materialism the author has in mind).

    And none of the evidence for survival (“life after death”) supports materialism — indeed, with the exception of reincarnation and resurrection, it positively contradicts materialism.

    All the evidence for materialism consists in the correlation between physical processes in the brain and mental events. But it seems to me that such evidence can equally be accommodated by transmission theory where the brain is simply a “filter” for the self.

  83. mattdickon 22 Feb 2008 at 5:21 pm

    Ian: “And none of the evidence for survival (“life after death”) supports materialism – indeed, with the exception of reincarnation and resurrection, it positively contradicts materialism.”

    Ian,

    Is there evidence for life after death? I hadn’t heard.

    I agree, if we can confirm someone died, and then somehow got un-killed, that would absolutely disprove materialism. Can you point me to the studies?

  84. Aaron Son 22 Feb 2008 at 7:10 pm

    # Roy Nileson 22 Feb 2008 at 2:04 pm
    “I am constrained from further comment by mathematical fits of laughter.”

    ok . . .

  85. Roy Nileson 22 Feb 2008 at 8:12 pm

    P T Barnum had a brother who said, you can kill all of the people at one time or another, but some of those people just won’t stay dead.

    (He then developed a severe side ache and laughed himself to death.)

  86. Roy Nileson 22 Feb 2008 at 10:11 pm

    Ian, I see from the site you made reference to that parapsychology is also alive and well. I could refer to some other anomalies there but I feel a side-ache coming on.

  87. Aaron Son 23 Feb 2008 at 4:38 am

    @Roy: not sure I get the “P T Barnum” jokes. I really don’t know what you are tying to say ;)

  88. Roy Nileson 23 Feb 2008 at 5:12 am

    P.T. Barnum supposedly said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

    His brother was apparently one of the first to use mockery to echo some doubt that the so-called near dead were ever quite dead to begin with.

    And I’m still waiting to hear from Houdini, who I’m sure that if he could have called, would have by now.

  89. Roy Nileson 23 Feb 2008 at 5:39 pm

    I don’t know about that last explanation. Some of these guys have made my side hurt by a transfer of energy through cyberspace that occurs whether I’m hungry or not.

  90. mattdickon 25 Feb 2008 at 12:07 pm

    David (it *is* just ‘David’, right? I think we’ve driven everyone else out of the room, so I’ll call you ‘David’ if you call me ‘Matt’.),

    Well I was using “distracted” as a qualitative experience. Perhaps I can go more explicit than that example:

    I didn’t get a ton of sleep last night. As it happens I got pretty deeply dedicated to a web-based flash game of dice-rolling and managed not to get to bed until well after 1am, and then my 6 year-old had a rough sleeping night and I ended up perched on the edge of his bed for a long time as well. Then I got up in time to make an early meeting at work, so I’m working on very little, poor sleep.

    This morning I find I’m having trouble focusing, and I am getting a form of light tunnel-vision that makes people and things seem farther away than they really are. I very much have the feeling that I am less “inside” my body than normal, it seems as if I am a third-party, observing an automaton going through the actions I normally would.

    That is very much a qualitative experience. I have had it before, and I recognize it as a symptom of being up too early after too little sleep and not enough food.

    Given this is a repeatable experience with me, entirely predictable, I would say it is positive evidence that the qualitative experience I am having this morning has its antecedants in those physical conditions outlined above.

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