Dec 12 2008

More Neuroscience Denial

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Comments: 72

Dr. Michael Egnor has written two more posts reiterating his neuroscience denial over at the Discovery institute. This reinforces the impression that neuroscience denial is the “new creationism” – the new battleground against materialism as a basis for modern science. It is important to keep an eye on the arguments and tactics being developed by the DI to deny the core claim of neuroscience, that the mind is what the brain does. This is likely to be an increasing area of attention for the DI and others with an anti-scientific agenda.

Intellectual Dishonesty

Creationists are intellectually dishonest because they are not engaged in a genuine search for understanding, but rather have staked out an ideological position that they will defend at all costs. This applies as well to Dr. Egnor, who is ideologically dedicated to denying the obvious conclusion from the last century of neuroscience – that the brain causes mind.

Specifically, Dr. Egnor repeats points that I have already countered, without addressing my counter points. We are undeniably engaged in a blog discourse – he responds specifically to my blog posts and I reply to his. There is no excuse for not responding to major points that I make against his position. In honest discourse, when one’s point is countered there are three valid responses: acknowledge the counter as valid and revise your position; show that the counter is not valid; or show that the conflict cannot be resolved with currently available information (agree to disagree). The intellectually dishonest or sloppy thing to do is to repeat your original claim without even acknowledging that it has been countered. Creationists have been doing this for decades.

I also have to point out his reference to “his pet theory” when referring to modern materialist neuroscience. This is the same rhetorical tactic as referring to evolutionary theory as “Darwinism” but with extra added absurdity. Neuroscience is no ones “pet theory,” and I certainly do not own it. I do not even claim any originality to the positions I am defending against his denialist attack. I am simply stating my synthesis of the current findings and theories of neuroscience. If I choose to defend plate tectonics from pseudoscientific nonsense, that does not make it “my pet theory.”

The Brain-Mind Hypothesis

In his most recent post Egnor writes:

In the recent past, the Yale neurologist has been so confident of the truth of his materialistic ideology on the mind-brain problem that he has asserted that

“The materialist hypothesis- that the brain causes consciousness- has made a number of predictions, and every single prediction has been validated.”

Leaving aside the hubris (has any reputable scientist ever claimed that ‘every single prediction’ of his pet theory has been validated?), one of Dr. Novella’s implicit predictions seems to have frustratingly failed to materialize.

Egnor is borrowing a tactic of the creationists – deliberately misinterpret scientific confidence as hubris and arrogance. This is a cheap shot, but one that is easy to make to a lay audience.  Egnor ignores the fact that I have already countered this claim of his (actually more than once), but I will do it again. He ignores the fact that I spelled out exactly what I meant by “every single prediction” – by actually listing every single prediction and showing that they have in fact been validated. Here they are again.

If the brain causes mind, then:

1- Brain states will correlate to mental and behavioral states.

2- Brain maturity will correlate with mental and emotional maturity.

3- Changing the brain’s function (with drugs, electrical or magnetic stimulation, or other methods) will change mental function.

4- Damaging the brain with damage the mind – producing specific deficits that correlate to the area of the brain damaged.

5- There will be no documentable mental phenomena in the absence of brain function.

6- When the brain dies, mental function ends.

It is my position that all of these specific predictions have been validated over the last century of neuroscience research. It is a cheap debating trick to dismiss my position as “hubris” rather than simply address my points. In fact I would add another prediction to the list, one that I have discussed but have not previously added explicity to the list – if brain causes mind then brain activity and changes will precede the corresponding mental activity and changes. Causes come before their effects. This too has been validated.

Egnor has made several attempts to counter this position, and I have already pointed out that they are all invalid. Egnor has failed to address any of my counterpoints, however. His points are essentially that: 1- correlation is not causation; 2- the brain-mind correlation is not perfect because the brain only mostly causes the mind; 3- materialism has not solved the “hard problem” of consciousness.

Dualism of the Gaps

The second point is easy to deal with – as I have stated, the correlation of brain to mind holds up to within the resolution that we are currently able to measure brain states.  Egnor can only point to the fact that when we try to correlate EEG’s (electroencephalogram), for example, to conscious states the fit is not perfect. He has so far ignored my counter that EEG’s are a very low resolution way to look at brain function. As our instruments improve the correlation continues to hold up within the higher resolution. But we are still a long way away from mapping the brain at the resolution of its actual function – the level of neuronal connections.

Also, we have not yet mapped all brain connections -we do not yet fully understand brain function as a system. So we cannot yet fully explain all brain behavior. In essence Egnor makes a “dualism of the gaps” argument, but fails to show positive evidence for a lack of correlation between brain and mind.

Correlation and Causation

Regarding correlation he most recently writes:

No one doubts that there are quantifiable law-like correlates between behavioral states and brain states, and between some brain states and other brain states. But behavior and brain states are objective third person phenomena, the sort science deals with routinely. And behavior is not the same thing as the mind.

What he is saying is that neuroscience can correlate everything it can measure (behavior) to brain function and brain states, but that neuroscience cannot measure subjective experience, therefore it cannot explain it. This is the old creationist tactic of denying the legitimacy of scientific inference. We cannot measure subjective experience, but we can infer it to a reliable enough degree to do science. For example, one of those behaviors that Egnor is referring to is the reporting of subjective states. We cannot measure how much pain a person is feeling, but they can report how much pain they are feeling, and we can make reasonable inferences from those reports.

Here is just one of countless potential examples. Neuroscientists have recently been mapping those parts of the brain that are responsible for the subjective experience that we occupy our bodies – that our “self” is located in the same space as our physical body. We take this for granted, but it is actually a function of the brain, and it can be disrupted.

It is now possible to reliably induce an out of body experience (OBE) by electrically stimulating the left temporal parietal junction (TPJ). (Here is a good recent summary of the research.)  The TPJ seems to be involved with bringing together visual, vestibular (sensing gravity and acceleration), and proprioceptive (feeling where one’s limbs are in 3-dimensional space) information to create the sense that we are inside our bodies. It has been shown that having a seizure in the TPJ correlates with an OBE, that stimulating the TPJ can cause an OBE, that imagining onself as floating above the body (in a typical OBE position) correlated with activity in the TPJ, and that inhibiting the function of the TPJ with transcranial magnetic stimulation can block this effect.

Egnor would have you believe that this growing body of scientific evidence only shows that brain states correlate with the behavior of subjects reporting their experience, and not with the experiences themselves. He would have you believe that even if turning on and off a light switch reliably precedes and correlates with a light turning on and off, the switch does not actually control the light – not even that, he would have you believe that the scientific inference that the switch controls the light (absent any other plausible hypothesis) is materialist pseudoscience.

To beat this dead horse a bit – neuroscientists can stimulate the motor cortex (electrically or magnetically) and this will cause the appropriate muscle to contract on the opposite side of the body.  If I stimulate the motor cortex that corresponds to the left hand, then the left hand will twitch. Does anyone deny that this bit of brain matter controls the muscles of the hand? If I then destroy that bit of gray matter, the left hand becomes paralyzed. Now – If I do the exact same thing to a part of the brain that controls a specific subjective experience or aspect of personality, such as an emotion or the subjective sense that one is inside the physical body, the resulting correlation is the same. There is no basis to conclude that the motor cortex controls movement but that other parts of the brain do not control subjective experience, unless one denies modern neuroscience.

The Hard Problem of Consciousness

Dr. Egnor has been hitting this theme quite frequently, and yet has not seemed to notice that I have already demolished it. His premise is that neuroscience cannot explain how the brain causes subjective experience, therefore we should conclude that it does not cause (or entirely cause) subjective experience. His premise is dubious and his logic fallacious.

Regarding the premise, I will grant that this is a legitimate point of controversy. In my opinion, Daniel Dennett is correct in that it is adequate to say that subjective experience is an emergent property of brain function. We do not need an explanation beyond that.

But even if I grant to Dr. Egnor that this is controversial (meaning I am not depending upon the emergent property explanation as a premise), his argument is logically not valid. And again, I have already pointed this out and Egnor has failed to respond to my counter.

Interestingly, Dr. Egnor did take notice when the philosopher David Chalmers pointed out his fallacy, although he still doesnt get it. Egnor’s fallacy is this – the ability to explain how A causes B is independent of evidence for the fact that A does cause B. In other words, we can (and do) know with a high degree of scientific confidence that the brain causes mind, even if we cannot explain exactly how the brain causes mind. The lines of evidence I outlined above all establish quite clearly that brain causes mind. Alternate hypotheses, such as the brain as receiver of the mind, do not fit the data, or add completely unecessary phenomena. (It’s possible there is a little invisible elf who turns the light on and off every time I flip the switch, but I don’t think I need to hypothesize one.)

Egnor could not ignore Chalmers because he has cited him so many times as such a wonderful philosophy (I’m not saying he isn’t) because Egnor falsely believed that Chalmers supported Egnor’s Cartesian dualism. I pointed out that Chalmers, in fact, specifically rejects Cartesian dualism (that the mind is made of stuff other than matter) as ridiculous. Chalmers, rather, thinks that there is a higher order physical process at work that cannot be reduced to brain function (and as I said, Dennett disagrees). Chalmers now writes:

The simplest way to see this is to note that the “hard problem” does nothing to suggest that consciousness doesn’t lawfully depend on physical processes, at least in the sense that certain physical states are reliably associated with certain states of consciousness in our world.  Even if materialism is rejected, there is still good reason to believe that there is such a dependence, via laws of nature that connect physical processes and consciousness.

Chalmers felt it necessary to specifically state that his philosophical position cannot be used to support intelligent design.  Egnor tried to repond to this, but he merely restated his position and did not seem to understand his fallacy, and therefore could not put forward an effective rebuttal. Chalmers states that consciousness is dependent upon natural physical processes, meaning brain function (even if we do not understand how), he just doesn’t think that these physical processes reduce to brain function, while I do.

In other words, Chalmers is recognizing that we can establish that the brain causes mind even if we do not understand how.

All of Egnor’s writing about subjectivity and intention, therefore, is off point. It is irrelevant (a non sequitur) because it does not address the evidence by which we can confidently state that the brain causes mind.

Conclusion

Dr. Egnor’s three pillars of neuroscience denial – dualism of the gaps;  denying the inferences from brain-mind correlation; and confusing the question of how the brain causes mind with the question of does the brain cause mind – have all been shattered. He has not acknowledged, let alone countered, these points against his position. He simply restates them over and over.

It’s clear why he is blogging for the Discovery Institute.

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72 responses so far

72 Responses to “More Neuroscience Denial”

  1. superdaveon 12 Dec 2008 at 11:30 am

    Steve, I just don’t feel like reading any more posts about Egnor. It is absolutely through no fault of your own however. Egnor just seems to absolutely refuse to offer any rebuttal to your arguments. Some of his problems should be covered in a writing 101 class. If you were to begin a post by describing your quote that every prediction made by materialism has been validated, and then proceed to mock that statement isn’t the obvious next step to list a few materialist predictions that have not been validated. Instead he just repeats the same arguments he had last time.
    Dr Egnor, if you are reading this, the correct response is to offer any prediction that can be tested that the materialist opinion fails.

  2. Michael Meadonon 12 Dec 2008 at 11:36 am

    Cogent and convincing, Steve. I especially liked your analogy of the light switch – that’s a great way of putting it. I suspect it’ll be a long time before we understand how the brain causes the mind, but that it causes the mind is absolutely beyond dispute.

    Frankly, Egnor should STFU.

  3. vigieron 12 Dec 2008 at 11:50 am

    I think there is a very glaring problem with the whole material mind thing.
    If that version were true, then “all thoughts whatever would be wholly the result of irrational causes…it cuts its own throat.”
    For if all thought is the result of non rational causes nothing you think, and thus nothing you believe, write, say or do, has any basis in free will. It also cuts it’s own throat because as Crick pretended, “you are nothing but a pack of neurons”. But if so, why should anyone believe a pack of neurons?

    Why should I believe one pack of neurons disputing another has any objective meaning whatsoever?

    It’s all just circuitry going on in it’s merry way under internal and environmental stimuli. Personality, morality and freewill all become an illusion as does reason and everything else. And such has been stated so by Darwinists like W. Provine.

    That means that even this very blog is nothing but the outcome of neurons, determinately acting through whatever material processes, spouting out their inescapable results.

    Of course if the material brain is true, then everything Egnor or anyone else states is just the same. Thus rationality itself is nothing objective but purely and entirely subjective and has nothing to do with reality. A position some have actually taken as being objectively true! (???)

    As for Egnor’s reaction to the bold, and I must agree, rather arrogant statements presented here, I have to say it is highly understandable.

    After all, you never see physicists going around stating nonsense like “gravity is as proven as Darwinism”. They would not dare, since nothing in science, especially not in the soft science of biology or in neurology is so absolutely proven as to be undebatable.

    If the material mind is not debatable (as Darwinism from which this idea flows, claims itself to be) then it isn’t science at all, but mere philosophy. No serious physicist would claim gravitational theories are not debatable, absolutes.

  4. Steven Novellaon 12 Dec 2008 at 11:57 am

    superdave – I hear you. That is why I try to space them out.

    But – this does appear to be a major new initiative by the ID proponents – the attack on materialism via neuroscience. As far as I know, I am the only one on the front lines trying to understand their tactics and dissect them. I think it is important to do this.

    As a neurologist and skeptical writer, I am pretty much in the cross-hairs of this issue.

  5. Michael Meadonon 12 Dec 2008 at 12:02 pm

    vigier… that’s a rather impressive pastiche of fallacies. And, yes, free will is an illusion, but whether we have free will or not doesn’t depend on – turn on – the truth of materialism. Dualists don’t get to have free will either. See Janet Radcliffe Richard’s fantastic Human Nature After Darwin.

  6. Michael Meadonon 12 Dec 2008 at 12:04 pm

    (To be clear: I meant that even were dualism true – which it manifestly is not – we’d STILL not have free will. Again, see Radcliffe Richards).

  7. superdaveon 12 Dec 2008 at 12:44 pm

    One more bit about correlation. You should note that not only is the data between available measurements correlated to brain states but that the correlation always works in one direction. We never see the visually evoked response ( a stereotyped EEG wave that occurs when a visual stimuli is flashed in front of a subject) occur BEFORE the response.

    Also, I agree that despite the repetitiveness, you should never let a post by egnor go unnoticed.

  8. Jim Shaveron 12 Dec 2008 at 1:34 pm

    Great job, Steve, and I agree with the majority of responders that even if it’s an ugly job, it’s a job worth doing. In addition, these articles provide good examples for those who wish to improve their critical thinking skills.

    The TPJ seems to be involved with bringing together visual, vestibular (sensing gravity and acceleration), and proprioceptive (feeling where one’s limbs are in 3-dimensional space) information to create the sense that we are inside out bodies.

    The phrase “inside out bodies” obviously should be “inside our bodies”. If only we could figure out how the human brain and mind work, maybe we could build a better automatic “typo” checker. I’d bet Google could do it. They seem to be able to do almost anything. :)

  9. cwfongon 12 Dec 2008 at 1:54 pm

    My brain has long been of a mind to consider that the validity of free will is demonstrated by its most important function, which is to give one the option to decide that they don’t actually have it.

  10. trrllon 12 Dec 2008 at 3:29 pm

    I think there is a very glaring problem with the whole material mind thing.
    If that version were true, then “all thoughts whatever would be wholly the result of irrational causes…it cuts its own throat.”

    The underlying assumption here seems to be that the material world is irrational. Kind of an odd thing to assume because our idea of rationality is derived from reasoning about the material world–indeed, when people behave irrationally, they are said to be “out of touch with the real world.”

    For if all thought is the result of non rational causes nothing you think, and thus nothing you believe, write, say or do, has any basis in free will.

    Uh, so what? The argument here seems to be that “free will” (whatever that is) must be magic (unconnected with the material world) or else it is worthless. I suppose one could argue that what a watch is made of determines its value–titanium is better than aluminum, or something like that. But what determines the value of “mindstuff?” Is some mysterious undetectable nonmaterial stuff somehow more valuable than protons, neutrons, and electrons (which are pretty mysterious in their own right)?

    After all, the very concept of free will is derived from how humans behave. Is its value in how it works, or in what it does?

    That means that even this very blog is nothing but the outcome of neurons, determinately acting through whatever material processes, spouting out their inescapable results.

    I’ve noticed that the use of the term “nothing but” seems to always signal a hidden, unquestioned value judgment–in this case, apparently that neurons and material processes aren’t valuable (magical?) enough to satisfy somebody’s ego — “I don’t want to be made out of meat, meat is gross; I want to be made out of pure, etherial magicstuff.”

    Of course if the material brain is true, then everything Egnor or anyone else states is just the same.

    Why? There’s a whole lot of material stuff, and there seems to be quite a bit of diversity in it. Is a star “just the same” as a rock, because they are both material? Are even two snowflakes “just the same?”

    Of course if the material brain is true, then everything Egnor or anyone else states is just the same. Thus rationality itself is nothing objective but purely and entirely subjective and has nothing to do with reality.

    Again, this is a bizarre argument, because “objective” is a term typically used to apply to the material world that is directly perceived by one’s senses. If mind is a function of the brain, that makes it very much an objective, physical process.

    After all, you never see physicists going around stating nonsense like “gravity is as proven as Darwinism”.

    But they probably would, if they had to deal with a pressure group advocating for the teaching ofIntelligentFalling in the high schools.

  11. Steven Novellaon 12 Dec 2008 at 3:29 pm

    vigier- let me point out some more of your logical fallacies (in addition to Michael’s comment):

    Straw man – I never said that neuroscience was not debatable. I said it makes a number of specific predictions and those predictions have been empirically validated. That is how science operates. I said we are confident in our scientific conclusions.

    And – when solid sciences are attacked by cranks, you do (and should) hear scientists going around pointing out how well-established certain conclusions are.

    The rest of your post is mostly an argument from final consequences – the mind cannot be material because then the world won’t work the way you want it to, or because then you cannot impose your notion of “meaning” onto the world.

    But I also disagree with the claim that if mind is just neurons, then there is no reason or rationality. Meaning is all ultimately subjective, but logic is about internal consistency. 1+1=2 no matter what the substance of mind is.

  12. Traveleron 12 Dec 2008 at 3:49 pm

    Does Egnor believe that dualism is necessary to explain only the human mind, or does it apply to animals also? When my dog decides to bring me its ball, can its intention result from purely materialistic functions in its brain? If Egnor needs to invoke dualism to explain this, and his pals at the DI are hoping to use souls as an explanation for the non materialistic portion of the mind, then I wonder how the creationists are going to like the implication that all conscious animals have souls?

  13. cwfongon 12 Dec 2008 at 4:29 pm

    1+1=2 is one of those “axioms” that may be associated with what has been called a trap of traditional logic – the “Forever Changeless Trap.” In this trap we think of the current condition as being the same forever. So internal consistency might be better represented with a different formula.

    http://www.stanford.edu/~rhorn/a/topic/phil/artclTrapsOfFormalLogic.html

  14. Blair Ton 12 Dec 2008 at 4:29 pm

    Steve,

    Is it possible to make a materialist argument for dualism?

    For example, could a person’s mind be thought of as a particular pattern of data in the brain that, theoretically, could be copied digitally. That is, could all the neural connections and relationships be represented as digital data and then copied into another container (a bio-engineered brain or a super-advanced computer?).

    A simple analogy would be a software emulator. It is possible to play exact replicas of video games such as PacMan and Space Invaders in a web browser, even though these games originally ran on completely different hardware.

    With enough knowledge and technical ability could we build human brain emulators?

    And if that is the case, then could we say that the mind can exist separately from the brain?

    Perhaps as a starting point, a fruit fly brain emulator could be tried.

  15. DevilsAdvocateon 12 Dec 2008 at 4:34 pm

    1+1=2 is invalidated by one trip to Washington DC.

  16. cwfongon 12 Dec 2008 at 4:37 pm

    A copy of the data without the brain to make it functional would be essentially mindless.

  17. trrllon 12 Dec 2008 at 5:10 pm

    With enough knowledge and technical ability could we build human brain emulators?
    And if that is the case, then could we say that the mind can exist separately from the brain?

    If the mind is a function of the brain, then it follows that a sufficiently accurate emulation of the brain would reproduce mind. But this is hardly the case of the mind existing separately from the brain, since the emulated mind would be a function of an emulated brain.

    Such an achievement would of course be evidence against dualism, since it would argue that nothing external to the brain is essential for the behaviors that we take as evidence of mind.

    An unanswered question is what level of precision would be necessary to fully emulate a brain. The general connectivity? The exact branching patterns of the dendrites? Overall “strength” of each synaptic connection? The specific numbers and arrangement of each type of receptor at each synapse? The methylation patterns in the DNA of each cell?

  18. PaulGon 12 Dec 2008 at 5:55 pm

    I remember attending classes as an undergraduate, about 17 years ago, given by the only “Mr” on faculty at King’s College London – Mr. Francis Darwin (direct descendant no less) – on “Movement, Nervous Systems and Behaviour”. Back then he was telling us all about the “brain causing the mind”. We had this repeated in psychology classes as well.

    As a gullible undergrad’ I simply took this in, read a bit (about as little as I could get away with), and regurgitated it all during exam’ time – my point being, I didn’t think this was new stuff.

    I’m not a neurobiologist and have not kept up with this field, but I was under the impression that this was a fairly well established consensus of opinion. Am I wrong? Is this new? If it isn’t that new, why is it surfacing now?

  19. sharkeyon 12 Dec 2008 at 6:02 pm

    cwfong:

    1+1=2 is one of those “axioms” that may be associated with what has been called a trap of traditional logic – the “Forever Changeless Trap.” In this trap we think of the current condition as being the same forever. So internal consistency might be better represented with a different formula.

    I think 1+1=2 gets the point across. Given some axioms of mathematics (ZFC, lambda calculus, Universal Turing machines, or whatever), 1 + 1 will equal 2. Doesn’t matter what universe, who’s adding 1 to 1, how the symbols are written, etc: one plus one equals two. God himself can’t create an expressive formal system that is both complete and consistent.

    I’ve talked with dualists/creationists who try to escape into the argument that mind, spirits and fundamental mathematical axioms “live” in the same, ethereal plane. Like most things involving creationists, this clutters up a beautiful idea (the universality of mathematical rules) with crazy baggage (ghosts, mind-separate-from-brain, etc)

  20. Eric Thomsonon 12 Dec 2008 at 6:16 pm

    Be careful of painting Chalmers as a materialist of any sort. He is not. His whole schtick is that the mind is not just what the brain does, that it is impossible to give an account of mind in terms of neuronal dynamics and function. This is why he tends to posit strange things like light switches are conscious–he tends toward panpsychism because he can’t imagine how mere matter could create consciousness, whether it be through emergence or whatever (he is explicitly critical of emergentist theories).

    More generally, I think this post overstates how much neuroscientists know (or care) about consciousness. For one, to call it the central claim of neuroscience, that the mind is what the brain does, is over the top. (Perhaps the neuron doctrine, or something about Hodgkin-Huxely, but not this philosophical claim about the mind!!).

    Neuroscientists tend to be much more cautious about consciousness than biologists are with evolution–and for good reason. Neuroscience has no mechanism to explain consciousness. Not even a plausible mechanisms to throw out there just as a proof of principle (unlike, say, natural selection in evolution debates). So we have to be careful of overstating how much neuroscience has really “shown” about consciousness.

    Obviously everyone with a brain agrees that mind and brain are correlated. That is the starting point for any reasoned debate. But there are many reasons two things can be correlated. For instance, here are four:
    1. They are identical (the mind is the brain–Churchlands and many others).
    2. One causes the other –but not vice-versa (the brain causes the mind–you talk this way, as does Searle, but I don’t like it as it imposes a separation between mind and brain which seems artificial. This is the view held by epiphenomenalists).
    3. They influence each other (a dynamic interaction–interactionist substance dualism).
    4. The two things have a common cause (e.g., yellow fingers and lung cancer are correlated for obvious reasons). Some think God set up a harmony between mental states and brain states, but he is sustaining them the whole time.

    Materialists still disagree on 1 versus 2 all the time. The whole way the problem is posed is a mess, so we shouldn’t pretend to have a tight handle on things. I remember once you said that parapsychology was BS partly because there was no known mechanism to implement it (I disagreed at the time, and this adds another reason for me to disagree). Many feel the same about consciousness, that there is no way for standard neural mechanisms to implement it, which would suggest to them that materialism is BS.

    I think you are better in the discussion of the direction of causality by discussing the timing issues. I discussed this in some detail here, but overall this seems to be a good place to put the burden of proof back on the dualist. Rather than quote the whole thing, my conclusion was (and Egnor, if you read this, you should address it):
    “There is a lot of detailed data out there of this sort, and the dualists, instead of making arguments from the armchair using general considerations, need to build positive theories that integrate the data rather than providing glib “overviews” of the data such as ‘Of course the mind and brain are correlated’ The nature of the correlations, the timing of the phenomena observed, are all data that should be part of a positive story.”

    I agree that Egnor needs to be more intellectual honest and address the empirical points out there. The Libet-style results pose a serious set of puzzles for any dualist.

  21. Gated Clockon 12 Dec 2008 at 6:55 pm

    As a matter of personal interest, I am fascinated
    by Dr. N’s continuous thrashing of “Moriarty” Egnor’s
    intellectually dishonest tricks and techniques, even
    more than I’m interested in the subject at hand.

    Thanks “Morty” for showing us what science is not,
    and for showing us the creepy consequences of
    quasi scientific thought, even as one goes slightly
    off the rails.

  22. cwfongon 12 Dec 2008 at 8:13 pm

    Sharkey, I can agree that 1+1 =2 works as a metaphor for logic. By itself, it doesn’t measure the effect of change in a cause and effect anaysis where time is always part of the sequence. And I just felt that the use of the metaphor in this case detracted from the overall effectiveness of an otherwise excellent response.

  23. sharkeyon 12 Dec 2008 at 8:42 pm

    cwfong:

    Sharkey, I can agree that 1+1 =2 works as a metaphor for logic. By itself, it doesn’t measure the effect of change in a cause and effect anaysis where time is always part of the sequence. And I just felt that the use of the metaphor in this case detracted from the overall effectiveness of an otherwise excellent response.

    Fair enough.

    I find the theories of computation quite helpful in these discussions, especially since computation involves a time component. One would hope that individuals like Egnor would take the time and appreciate the beauty behind the theories of Godel, Turing, Church and the many others that have shed so much light on logic, recursion and computation. Truly a shame that so much effort is wasted chasing creationists around basic logical arguments, when actual logic (and the question of the logic underpinning the human mind) is such a fascinating topic.

  24. cwfongon 12 Dec 2008 at 9:33 pm

    Sharkey
    The logic of the human mind works from an unstated supposition or perhaps an algorithmic maxim that if you want something to be true you add that fact as an unwavering premise and proceed from there.

    You then adjust the probability threshold to meet the degree to which you really need the thing to be true.

    This works in such a way that the ignorant beat the odds as often as those who take what is usually too long to do things the right way.

  25. sonicon 12 Dec 2008 at 9:36 pm

    It is possible we are dealing with a false dilemma.
    Some say, “I have no free will, my thoughts and actions are totally determined by the past. Any appearence to the contrary is an illusion.”
    Some say, “I have free will, my thoughts and actions are influenced by the past, but I can act in the present freely.”
    In my work I deal with both kinds of people.
    Why do we think there is only one kind of person?
    We can easily understand why the logic and arguments go astray- they are talking about different phenomena.
    If someone says, “I have free will,” I have no reason to argue.
    If someone says, “I am a stimulus response mechanism,” I have no reason to argue. How would I know different?

  26. cwfongon 12 Dec 2008 at 10:08 pm

    If someone says I am compelled by my stimulus response mechanism to kill you, a forceful counter-argument would seem appropriate. Whether you knew different or not.

  27. sharkeyon 12 Dec 2008 at 10:32 pm

    cwfong:

    If someone says I am compelled by my stimulus response mechanism to kill you, a forceful counter-argument would seem appropriate. Whether you knew different or not.

    That appears to be a straw man argument. If it was phrased: “I am compelled by my stimulus response mechanism to sit in my chair quietly and read a book” or, “make you a delicious bacon and ham sandwich”, would you still expect a forceful counter-argument?

    I assume sonic would disagree with the killing part, not the stimulus-response part. The killing outcome would be disagreeable, regardless if it was free-willed or deterministic.

  28. cwfongon 13 Dec 2008 at 1:01 am

    My point would be that whatever someone tells you about his motivation, in practical terms you would hold him responsible for predictable consequences, and that would especially include taking preventive measures. Determinism would not be selective. If he’s compelled to do one thing, you are then compelled to react appropriately.
    And if you offer me a delicious sandwich, I’ll react badly if it hadn’t been determined that you would keep your promise.

  29. Steven Novellaon 13 Dec 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Eric,

    I have to disagree on a few points. Neuroscientists are absolutely solid on the fact that brain causes mind (or that brain function is mind – I don’t see a meaningful difference here, unless you think mind is separate from brain, and I don’t).

    When you read the neuroscience literature it is clear that that is the underlying assumption of the research – that is why I say it is a core premise. Neuroscientists talk not only about how subjects behave but freely infer from that how they think and feel and try to correlate that with specific brain modules, anatomy, function, etc.

    I agree that you cannot just dismiss the correlations. All of the aspects of the correlation favor the brain causes/equal mind hypothesis. No other correlation hypothesis fits the data, or it does but it adds superfluous elements.

    You cannot make an analogy to psi. Psi lacks a mechanism AND supportive empirical data. Neuroscience has overwhelming empirical data, and plausible hypotheses as to mechanism. You may disagree as to mechanism – that’s fine – but you cannot rule out the emergent hypothesis in my opinion. Regardless – we can know that the brain is mind without knowing how. I would believe in psi without a mechanism IF there was a mountain of credible evidence for it.

  30. Steven Novellaon 13 Dec 2008 at 2:46 pm

    Regarding Chalmers – he is not a philosophical materialist as it pertains to the mind – he is a dualist. But he very specifically states that he is a naturalist – the extra bit that causes mind is part of the natural world – just some property that we have not discovered yet. And now he says explicitly that it is something that evolution can select for.

  31. Neuroskepticon 13 Dec 2008 at 3:36 pm

    There’s more from Egnor over on O’Leary’s Mindful Hacks blog – and it’s wrong (surprise!). I take a swing at it here…

    http://neuroskeptic.blogspot.com/2008/12/we-really-are-sorry-but-your-soul-is.html

  32. Sastraon 13 Dec 2008 at 7:26 pm

    vigier wro