Dec 12 2008

More Neuroscience Denial

Published by under Uncategorized
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.

Share

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 wrote:

    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.”

    This argument is one version of the Creationist tendency to employ the modo hoc or “just this” fallacy. If the mind is made up of neurons, then it is “just” neurons, and should nor be able to do anything a neuron can’t. If human beings evolved from animals, then they are “just” animals, and should behave just like the other animals. If life is made out of chemicals, then it is “just” chemical, and should be treated like nothing more than chemicals. They’re using a clumsy form of greedy reductionism because they can’t wrap their minds around the possibility that cranes can gradually build up things that look like they’re coming down from skyhooks.

    No, in their world, like can only come from like. Mind comes from prior Mind, personhood comes from prior Personhood, and life comes from Prior Life. Nothing complex comes from something simple, and you never ever get new qualities or abilities when matter starts moving in patterns.

  33. trrllon 13 Dec 2008 at 10:32 pm

    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.

    Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether you consider him to be “truly” responsible for his behavior or only reactive to stimuli. The fact that he may be held responsible for his behavior is itself a stimulus that may influence his behavior.

  34. cwfongon 13 Dec 2008 at 11:12 pm

    trrll
    You’re still mixing free will with determinism in that example as contributors to this person’s reactions.
    If his excuse was true that he bore no responsibility for his acts because of determinism, then he wouldn’t need any stimulus to change his “mind” unless that had also been predetermined.
    A common failing in all these “academic” discussions on free will is the perhaps inadvertent failure to apply the competing concepts or processes non-selectively.
    If an individual is not, for example, responsible for the consequences of his behavior, his fellow citizens in this determinant universe are also not responsible for a failure to protect him from any predetermined consequences to follow.
    Reductio ad absurdum ensues.

  35. cwfongon 13 Dec 2008 at 11:27 pm

    I’m forced to add that what has clearly been predetermined in this universe is that life forms are required to go through the process of making choices at every turn in the road.

  36. sonicon 13 Dec 2008 at 11:29 pm

    Eric, Dr.N,

    Regarding readiness potentials and conscious decisions—
    There is a more recent experiment than that of Libet.
    Here is the link-
    http://www.crsc.uqam.ca/fr/stlouis/publications_stlouis/p2548.pdf

    Here an experiment is run that shows that the onset of the decision may in fact precede the readiness potential. This is a more recent experiment run under better conditions than Libet.

    I could give examples of experiments that could help to adjudicate this situation. It is clear that a motion decided upon well in advance and carried out at regular intervals becomes ‘automatic’. But the experiments could be designed in such a way to overcome this problem.
    Anyone want to run one? If you’ve got the equipment, I’ve got the experimental designs.

  37. trrllon 14 Dec 2008 at 2:13 am

    If his excuse was true that he bore no responsibility for his acts because of determinism, then he wouldn’t need any stimulus to change his “mind” unless that had also been predetermined.

    That also makes no difference. It doesn’t matter whether the decisions of others to create stimuli to affect his choices are also the result of stimuli that they have encountered. The actions and the outcome are the same whether you want to say that anybody is “responsible,” or whether you want to consider it as the culmination of a long chain of deterministic causes.

  38. Eric Thomsonon 14 Dec 2008 at 2:20 am

    Steven said:
    Neuroscientists are absolutely solid on the fact that brain causes mind…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.

    More overstatement. It is a sociological question, though, what neuroscientists would agree upon, and of course it is more important what the neuroscience actually supports, not what neuroscientists think.

    Most neuroscientists don’t work on cognitive level phenomena, and think such research is fairly speculative and suspect (me, for instance). I’m sure many people working on the biophysics of calcium channels likely don’t care all that much about consciousness, and have all sorts of views on the topic.

    Koch, who has probably done more than anyone in neuroscience to popularize the neural research on consciousness, resorts to just talking about the ‘neuronal correlates’ of consciousness, intelligently sidestepping the philosophical issues with the “hard problem” of consciousness.

    The problem is that sophisticated dualists (like Chalmers) are fine with all the data you could cite linking brain and consciousness. They still think think consciousness is not a brain process (they would say that neural processing is necessary, but not sufficient, for human consciousness).

    Based on what arguments? Their argument is that no matter what information-processing or neurodynamic story you tell me, we still have people who believe things like the following:

    “Even when we have explained the performance of all the cognitive and behavioral functions in the vicinity of experience—perceptual discrimination, categorization, internal access, verbal report—there may still remain a further unanswered question: Why is the performance of these functions accompanied by experience? This further question is the key question in the problem of consciousness. Why doesn’t all this information-processing go on “in the dark”, free of any inner feel? Why is it that when electromagnetic waveforms impinge on a retina and are discriminated and categorized by a visual system, this discrimination and categorization is experienced as a sensation of vivid red? We know that conscious experience does arise when these functions are performed, but the very fact that it arises is the central mystery. There is an explanatory gap (a term due to Levine 1983) between the functions and experience, and we need an explanatory bridge to
    cross it.”

    The above is taken from Chalmers’ paper Facing up to the problem of consciousness.

    Such antimaterialists aren’t saying anything that goes against positive results in neuroscience because neuroscience doesn’t have a response to Chalmers (yet). Hence I really dislike the analogy with evolutionary biology, where we might be tempted to paint the antimaterialists about consciousness is no better than creationsists about origins. Consciousness research is nowhere near as far along as evolutionary biology.

    To such antimaterialists like Chalmers, you might say:

    No other correlation hypothesis fits the data, or it does but it adds superfluous elements.

    Superfluous except for the fact that they explain consciousness whereas neuroscience can’t (that’s what the advocates would say anyway). Of ourse what they are saying isn’t science, but it also isn’t falsified by the science either. Obviously that doesn’t mean their view has merits, just as theistic evolution isn’t meritorious just because it is consistent with the data. However, I think theistic evolution is obviously superfluous, as mutation and selection happens just fine without any intervention. The analogy with consciousness and neuroscience breaks down there. It sure seems mysterious to me, and I am very familiar with all the literature.

    While I think ultimately consciousness will come to be seen as a brain process, it would be hubristic to act like people who believe otherwise are being irrational or going against some well-established results. The are well aware of the results.

    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.

    Yes, but people here should realize that Chalmers thinks that things like conscious elementary particles are part of nature, so in that sense he is a naturalist. This is a naturalism that goes far beyond against any trends in contemporary neuroscience. Also, his proposed solution (basically, panpsychism) is independent of his arguments against solely neural-based theories. It is such arguments (such as the quote from Chalmers I gave above) that the creationists have recently discovered and are now getting all excited about. They don’t need to buy into his whole system, but are just using his anti-materialist arguments. Chalmers isn’t an ally of neural theory of consciousness, except that he is not a creationist.

    Chalmers’ arguments against consciousness-as-neural are not knock-down, but neuroscience certainly doesn’t provide a knock-down argument against his arguments either.

    We find the most important assymmetry in the research programmes–the neuropsychology of consciousness is thriving, but no parallel nonneural research program is on the offing. In time the antimaterialists will likely look silly. But right now they don’t.

  39. Eric Thomsonon 14 Dec 2008 at 2:21 am

    A picayune footnote on semantics…

    Steven said:
    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)

    Saying ‘brain causes mind’ to me seems strange. That’s like saying ‘mean kinetic energy causes temperature.’ Mean kinetic energy is temperature (in stat mech). The ‘brain causes mind’ slogan, which is used by Searle, is his way of saying they are not the same thing, which seems premature. I’d rather either say the mind just is a brain process or use more neutral language.

  40. cwfongon 14 Dec 2008 at 5:06 am

    trrll writes:
    “The actions and the outcome are the same whether you want to say that anybody is “responsible,” or whether you want to consider it as the culmination of a long chain of deterministic causes.”

    But that’s just wrong. The outcome in the first case might be corrective effort and in the second case be purely preventive.

    Even in fatalistic cultures where determinism is accepted as fact, in practice the corrective efforts are all the more consistent with deliberate and willful resistance to the fatalistic ethic.

  41. trrllon 14 Dec 2008 at 10:50 am

    Even in fatalistic cultures where determinism is accepted as fact, in practice the corrective efforts are all the more consistent with deliberate and willful resistance to the fatalistic ethic.

    But how do you know that “deliberate and willful resistance” is not itself an outcome of deterministic processes? After all, what you call “deliberate and willful resistance” is itself an outcome of electrophysiological and biochemical processes taking place in the brain.

    Note that there is a key distinction between whether determinism is true, and whether the outcome is better when people act as though they believe in “free will.” The belief that individuals act in accordance with their individual will presumably reflects a physical state of the brain, and may well lead to actions that result in a better outcome (i.e. creating stimuli that influence behavior of others in a beneficial way) than the belief that everything is determined.

    The human tendency to regard other people (and animals, and even some inanimate objects) as if they possess “wills” may itself be a product of deterministic processes of biological and social evolution. It may in fact be a useful heuristic, whether or not it is exactly “true.”

  42. trrllon 14 Dec 2008 at 10:57 am

    Most neuroscientists don’t work on cognitive level phenomena, and think such research is fairly speculative and suspect (me, for instance). I’m sure many people working on the biophysics of calcium channels likely don’t care all that much about consciousness, and have all sorts of views on the topic.

    Most neuroscientists that I know got into the field because they started out being interested in consciousness, and then got sidetracked into some other interesting problem because the question of consciousness was not particularly tractable–and because at some level, consciousness probably does depend upon upon the properties of calcium channels. It is certainly the case at the Society for Neuroscience meeting that any lecture that promises to say anything novel or substantive about consciousness gets mobbed.

  43. Eric Thomsonon 14 Dec 2008 at 11:49 am

    trll: I
    If lots of neuroscientists get into neuroscience because they think consciousness is a brain process, that’s just a selection bias, not evidence that it is true. Indeeed, it could be reason to worry it is just a dogma.

    I don’t want to get bogged down in arguments about the sociology, so for purposes of argument let’s assume it is true as a sociological fact that all neuroscientists think that consciousness is a brain process.

    Even assuming that sociological fact, I said, “it is more important what the neuroscience actually supports, not what neuroscientists think.” If they take this as a kind of mantra, that is fine. But what is the evidence? How do they respond to Chalmers’ ‘hard problem’ arguments? With a detailed theory of how it could happen (as evolutionary biologists do to the creationists)? No, typically by saying, “OK, I can’t address this hard problem, but I think in the future we will. But for now I’ll just talk about the neuronal ‘correlates’ of consciousness so as to remain agnostic about all these metaphysical issues about the relation between consciousness and the brain.”

    That’s the standard response, and intellectual honesty demands such caution at this point in time.

    Incidentally I’m not sure about your claim about SFN. Which talks are you talking about specifically? Do such talks get more attendance than talks about synaptic plasticity? Because there are 30,000 people there what counts as mobbed? Frankly, there just isn’t much on consciousness at SFN. This was part of my point. Most of neuroscience has zero to do with consciousness so to call Steven’s claim a central guiding principle or something in neuroscience is just over the top.

  44. cwfongon 14 Dec 2008 at 12:29 pm

    trrll, I’m clearly not making myself clear here. It’s not I who is making the “willfulness” judgement in these fatalistic societies, it’s those who believe in the ultimate paradox that one can be willful in a universe where every move has been dictated from above. This is a prime example of the inconsistencies I’ve been talking about – and of the importance of recognizing that regardless of one’s philosophy, choices are made by individuals and at some level they are always based on anticipated consequences.
    And those who would administer some of these “just” consequences should not be deterred by any excuses that the devil makes one do it.
    Because that devil would necessarily be an equal opportunity manipulator. (Which doesn’t mean there are never other constraints on one’s choices but that’s a whole ‘nother subject.)

    So of course we may never “know” if determinism rules the universe, although the scientific consensus at present seems to be that there is at least a speck of randomness out there.
    And of course it has been determined, even if by accident, that life forms will act as if they have choices, and even if at bottom the choices were never theirs. And whatever made them choose, the consequences of the calculations made will fall on the ultimate chooser. Speaking metaphorically, that would have been the devil’s goal.
    And I predict that you will disagree, predestined to do so or not.

  45. trrllon 14 Dec 2008 at 1:04 pm

    If lots of neuroscientists get into neuroscience because they think consciousness is a brain process, that’s just a selection bias, not evidence that it is true. Indeeed, it could be reason to worry it is just a dogma.

    I’d say rather that they get into neuroscience because they are interested in consciousness and the scientific evidence indicates that consciousness is dependent on the brain. So I guess you could say that there is a selection bias for people who are persuaded by scientific evidence.

    How do they respond to Chalmers’ ‘hard problem’ arguments? With a detailed theory of how it could happen (as evolutionary biologists do to the creationists)? No, typically by saying, “OK, I can’t address this hard problem, but I think in the future we will. But for now I’ll just talk about the neuronal ‘correlates’ of consciousness so as to remain agnostic about all these metaphysical issues about the relation between consciousness and the brain.”

    There’s plenty of hard problems in evolutionary theory, too, if you really understand it. Why DNA? If evolution were repeated from the very beginning, would we end up with DNA again? Or are there many ways it could have gone? Why these specific codons? Which of the many possible mechanisms for speciation have actually been the most important? How did pre-DNA life forms work? Of course, some questions are hard and their answers lead to major insights. Others are hard but the answers turn out not to be particularly interesting. The answer to “why these specific codons?” could be very deep and interesting, or it could be “luck of the draw,” but it will be very hard to find out which.

    But you are right that scientists address the problems that they can figure out how to address. So far, everything has come down to the brain works. And sometimes, a problem will appear to be “hard” simply because the system being studies is so poorly understood that the question is ill-posed.

  46. Eric Thomsonon 14 Dec 2008 at 1:52 pm

    Evolutionary biology has natural selection as a mechanism to fall back on as an in principle explanation of how complex structures can come about naturally. There is no such in principle mechanism in terms of consciousness. That’s the point I was making. Obviously there are still open questions in evolutionary biology and any science.

    As I already said, these folks know the neuroscience. Predictively they are no different than the most rank materialist.

    I’m writing a series of posts on the topic at my blog (two down so far) and will ultimately discuss all this stuff from a less cocksure perspective than you are seeing here from the skeptic types (skeptic types often show much more certainty than the scientists actually studying something: this is why I brought up Koch, but he isn’t unique: look at just about any neuroscientist addressing consciousness and they will display a level of humility and caution not seen here).

    Consciousness is not a new front in the arguments against naturalism (or materialism if you will). Now that the creationsits have found it, it will become much more prevalent. There are going to be a lot of things being said by people who don’t know what the fuck they are talking about. I’m sure they will be quite confident.

    I suggest people seriously interested in these issues should read three books to get minimally knowledgeable: Chalmers’, Koch’s, and Baars’ books The Conscious Mind, The Quest for Consciousness, and A Cognitive Theory of Consciousness, respectively.

    These books are very good overviews that will give people a minimal competence in the subject. The first is philosophy, the second neuro, the third psychology of consciousness. The argument is waged on all three fronts.

  47. sonicon 14 Dec 2008 at 3:41 pm

    I think the statements made here regarding OBE are a bit more than the evidence would support.
    In the report cited, there is one example of a person having OBEs produced by stimulation. One person. There are two others who may have had similar experiences years ago with Penfield (Penfield came to the conclusion that the mind and brain are not the same thing, by the way. His book, “Mystery of the Mind” is a good one)

    There are no examples of transcranial magnetic stimulation blocking any OBE. There is speculation that it might.

    They state 10% of the population has these experiences. I think this is a very low estimate (more like 50% from my experience)
    Either way we are talking about 100′s of millions of experiences. The number of people they study (and they study mostly ‘sick’ people) is minute in comparison. There is no way a statistically meaningful statement can be made based on the evidence thus far amassed.

    The light switch analogy doesn’t work. The light does not go on due to the switch (electricity). The switch doesn’t move itself. If one were to apply physics to the switch, one would eventually come to a ‘free decision’ made by a conscious agent.
    So the light switch analogy proves Egnor’s point (if one is willing to use modern science to analyze the situation).

  48. trrllon 14 Dec 2008 at 4:34 pm

    I’m clearly not making myself clear here. It’s not I who is making the “willfulness” judgement in these fatalistic societies, it’s those who believe in the ultimate paradox that one can be willful in a universe where every move has been dictated from above.

    And I’m suggesting that “wllful” may simply be a brain state with a fully deterministic cause.

    So of course we may never “know” if determinism rules the universe, although the scientific consensus at present seems to be that there is at least a speck of randomness out there.

    Even in a classically deterministic universe, there is still deterministic chaos, which is probably random enough for all practical purposes. We don’t know just how big a role that sort (or any sort) of randomness plays in brain function and behavior, but there is good reason to think that it probably plays a role. There is obviously a selective advantage of not being too predictable, at least for anything that hunts, forages, or avoids predators. And some source of at least pseudo-randomness is probably necessary for learning. Birds have a brain center whose role seems to be to inject variations into the song. Destruction of that center makes the song more consistent (when the bird is singing by itself and not for an audience), but abolishes the ability of the bird to refine and improve its song.

  49. cwfongon 14 Dec 2008 at 5:12 pm

    Philosophers could disagree that any such chaos would at the same time qualify as a conduit for random accidents, but of course what has been called willfulness is a necessary element for survival, automatically generated by fate, or by circumstance, or a coin toss.

    As I think I made reference to earlier, if there’s anything that has been predetermined as a recipe for survival, it’s the necessity for all creatures to act as if they have some responsibility for their destinies.

    And your paragraph concerning avoidance of predictability seems to be in agreement with that.

  50. Gary Goldwateron 14 Dec 2008 at 5:26 pm

    A PubMed search using author: “Egnor, Michael” returns an article entitled “Evolution of the brain: from behavior to consciousness in 3.4 billion years”. There is no abstract available and I don’t have access to the journal. However, PubMed prints this apparent summary of Egnor’s paper [Egnor is the sole author] provided by JJ Oro:

    —————

    ” Once life began as single-cell organisms, evolution favored those able to seek nutrients and avoid risks. Receptors sensed the environment, memory traces were laid, and adaptive responses were made. Environmental stress, at times as dramatic as the collision of an asteroid, resulted in extinctions that favored small predators with dorsal nerve cords and cranially positioned brains. Myelination, and later thermoregulation, led to increasingly efficient neural processing. As somatosensory, visual, and auditory input increased, a neocortex developed containing both sensory and motor neural maps. Hominids, with their free hands, pushed cortical development further and began to make simple stone tools. Tools and increasing cognition allowed procurement of a richer diet that led to a smaller gut, thus freeing more energy for brain expansion. Multimodal association areas, initially developed for processing incoming sensory information, blossomed and began to provide the organism with an awareness of self and environment. Advancements in memory storage and retrieval gave the organism a sense of continuity through time. This developing consciousness eventually left visible traces, which today are dramatically evident on cave walls in France and Spain. We will take this journey from the single cell to human consciousness.”
    —————–

    Now, if this correctly represents Egnor’s view and I’m interpreting this correctly, Egnor is stating that “developed consciousness” [by which his current blogs would seem to indicate mean subjective opinions] is the interpretive function of an organic entity using experiential memory as its data source [so to speak]. Consciousness would be the organism’s interpretation of memory. Also, awareness of time is a simultaneous function of memory [cause before effect, at the very least]. Therefore, the [physical] memory of phenomena are anchored in the relativistic dimension of time. Furthermore, the organism’s ability to evaluate any phenomenon across time will, by definition, be relative to many unique factors of the situation as well as past experience of the organism. The point of view of the organism, therefore, will be subjective [or at the very least, give that appearance].

    The individual organism has the functional ability to extrapolate any combination of memory [including sub-units and super-units of time and/or phenomena]. This, it appears to me, is Egnor’s definition of consciousness.

    “Gappiness” [see below] in terms of the mind would just be transformation-through-recombination of time/phenomenon-segments.

    So I don’t see where any part of “gappiness” is separated from the organism’s physicality. & therefore, I continue to be puzzled by Egnor’s avoidance of at least a materialist presumption. It seems that he argues against the summary of his paper in his ID blog.

    Thanks for considering this opinion.

    [Note: This is Egnor’s link to his definition of “gappiness”:
    http://cognet.mit.edu/posters/TUCSON3/Levine.html

  51. trrllon 14 Dec 2008 at 7:37 pm

    Philosophers could disagree that any such chaos would at the same time qualify as a conduit for random accidents

    It probably does. This is basically the same objection that is raised by the ID guys who are troubled by the random trial-and-error basis of evolution. And indeed, there are plenty of mutants who die, or at least fail to succeed well enough to pass on their mutations. And having a bit of random variation in our behavior probably does cause accidents. We drop thing, trip over our own feet, catch our fingers in doors. But without a bit of random variation in our behavior, we’d probably be unable to learn novel tasks that we didn’t evolve for, like ballet dancing or playing the violin. If you always do something exactly the same way, how will you discover a better way? As far as I know, nobody has found a variation generator in the human brain like that in birds, but I suspect that it exists. Moreover, the bird’s variation generator seems to be tunable–it specifically generates variation when the bird is singing to itself, but reduces the level of variation when it is singing to a potential mate. This is clearly one approach to the “random accidents” problem–try to have your accidents when it is unlikely to matter.

  52. cwfongon 14 Dec 2008 at 8:32 pm

    trrll:
    My point was that deterministic chaos, if it allowed for accidents, could cause some to argue that’s a misuse of the term accident. Random accidents are consistent with a non-determinant universe. Determinant chaos would still produce “accidents” that if not predictable, would have been nevertheless inevitable.

    This has nothing to do with any objections raised by ID proponents, and where you seem to have gotten the idea that I’m in any sort of accord with that voodoo-science is beyond my ken.

    And where was it written that I disagreed with your notion that without random behavior, or without the mechanism that promotes trial and error, organisms would not on balance survive.

    I’ll repeat exactly hat I said before:
    “As I think I made reference to earlier, if there’s anything that has been predetermined as a recipe for survival, it’s the necessity for all creatures to act as if they have some responsibility for their destinies.
    And your paragraph concerning avoidance of predictability seems to be in agreement with that.”

    How did you interpret that as a disagreement?

  53. cwfongon 14 Dec 2008 at 9:07 pm

    Further as to ID, the only intelligent designers in our corner of the universe would be the life forms that arose initially by accident (either your definition or mine will do). Their trial and error experiments are the basis of all intelligence, and the results are the stuff of experience. And experience has to have been instrumental in the adaptations that fuel evolution. So in that sense we contribute to our own designs, intelligently perhaps, but in almost complete ignorance of the process and its consequences.

  54. trrllon 14 Dec 2008 at 10:46 pm

    And where was it written that I disagreed with your notion that without random behavior, or without the mechanism that promotes trial and error, organisms would not on balance survive.

    Actually, I was under the impression that we had found a point of agreement…

  55. cwfongon 14 Dec 2008 at 11:01 pm

    OK. I guess I mistook the additional explanation for additional persuasion.

  56. vigieron 15 Dec 2008 at 2:45 pm

    So, Michael Meadon, did you write that response of your own free will, or is it yet another example of the materialists inability to understand the inherent self-contradictions in their own world-view based of wishful thinking, pseudo-science and bad philosophy?

    If you wrote that of your own free will, then you contradict yourself quite glaringly again. If not, then who or what wrote your response? And furthermore why should anyone pay any attention to what you or Dr. Steve writes on anything at all – seeing it’s only matter and energy in motion?

    Again, if you’re just a pack of neurons, why should anyone listen to you at all? One pack of neurons cannot claim another pack of neurons is wrong or right on anything at all.

    So you’re still, “cutting your own throat”.

    Like all materialists you are living in denial of reality.

  57. vigieron 15 Dec 2008 at 3:50 pm

    Dr. Novella writes: “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.”

    First, contrary to your statement, this is nothing new. It has been deeply discussed, debated (and largely resolved) within the realms of philosophy for many decades.

    Perhaps you should get acquainted with the underlying philosophies as well as getting some sound principles of logic, rather than trying to go head on in territory you quite evidently are ignorant of?

    You contradict yourself all the way through on these anti-Egnor posts.
    But that’s normal. Relativism – the bastard child of materialism – is self-contradictory by default.

    Post-modern thought, such as that you support here, is inadequate to explain reality.

    “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist,” Friedrich Nietzsche

    But if relativism is true and all points of view are true, then is the view that relativism is false, true?

    These are the inescapable conclusions of materialist world views. Including what I mentioned before – that if free will does not really exist (only conclusion if materialism is true) then ‘you’ did not write these articles, a body did, a pack of neurons did – no will at all involved. Just neurons working away presenting to you their illusions of reality.

    Materialism means no will, other than that which is governed by the natural laws and programmed within the brain, exists.

    But is all that you do and are (and write here), the result of you being merely a bag of chemicals reacting to stimuli?
    If so, why should any other bag of chemicals or pack of neurons react to your stimuli in taking that your bag is somehow ‘true’ and ‘right’?

    The very existence of logical absolutes rebuts the materialist world-view in one easy swoop. Materialism cannot explain the existence of logical absolutes.
    If there are no logical absolutes then truth cannot be known.
    If there are no real logical absolutes then no rational discourse can occur.
    Logical absolutes are not the product of the physical universe since that would mean they were contingent on atoms, motion, heat, etc. and that their nature was dependent on physical existence. They cannot be an invention of human minds

    You can deny the existence of the metaphysical, but logic itself is metaphysical, as is information. Contrary to what you pretend (by implication), information is not, and cannot, be equal to the materials that carrier it. The information content of DNA is not the chemical backbone through which it is stored.

    DNA is a code. Not an analogy to a code.

    The book Information Theory, Evolution and the Origin of Life is written by Hubert Yockey, the foremost specialist in bioinformatics. He demonstrates that the coding process in DNA is identical to the coding process and mathematical definitions used in Electrical Engineering. Just the facts.
    “Information, transcription, translation, code, redundancy, synonymous, messenger, editing, and proofreading are all appropriate terms in biology. They take their meaning from information theory (Shannon, 1948) and are not synonyms, metaphors, or analogies.” (Hubert P. Yockey, Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life, Cambridge University Press, 2005)

    Code by definition must come from intelligence since it implies convention, semantics, syntax, intent and symbolic representation.

    Secondly, perhaps you are the only one “on the front lines…” because no one else considers the materialist intrinsic self-contradiction worth fighting for. Or perhaps, they already know the inherent errancy involved but while still clinging to hopes of logical materialistic resolutions, they fear getting into the area. Why? Perhaps because they intuitively sense it’s impossible to win such debate using simple logic under the materialist paradigm.

    Materialism is a rapidly failing world-view (how else to explain the current landslide of rabid and panicky, atheist evangelization campaigns), better get used to it.

    It’s only going to get worse for atheists.
    Atheists (materialists) have always been a very small minority throughout history. And, contrary to what atheists generally claim, atheism is never based on proper logic or real science – always on fear, hatred, ignorance, sexual immoralities, willful blindness, sheer ‘dumbness’ and obstinacy.

    Materialism cannot be proven, and since disproving evidences for a metaphysical God being does not prove there is none, materialists have a position that is intellectually indefensible.

    Materialism is usually an escape route from suffering and accountability.

  58. sharkeyon 15 Dec 2008 at 4:51 pm

    vigier:

    There’s a lot of crazy in your post, but I’ll just deal with one little piece.

    DNA is a code. Not an analogy to a code.

    Code by definition must come from intelligence since it implies convention, semantics, syntax, intent and symbolic representation.

    Code, from wikipedia: “In communications, a code is a rule for converting a piece of information (for example, a letter, word, phrase, or gesture) into another form or representation (one sign into another sign), not necessarily of the same type.”

    Rule: A usual, customary, or generalized course of action or behavior.

    The “rules” involved in DNA decoding are the rules of chemistry: an amino acid binds to a specific codon, because that is a stable energy state. The amino acid residues in a chain then bind again, resulting in a protein as that is an even more stable energy state. No intelligence is involved, the symbol processing is a completely mechanical process (similar to a computing system).

    The creation of the genetic code is currently unknown, but that’s a pretty small gap for a God to hide in.

    The information content of DNA is not the chemical backbone through which it is stored.

    Neither is it magical ethereal fairy-stuff. The information stored in a DNA molecule is a higher-order feature of the chemical backbone; specifically, the linear ordering of a set of bases. Similarly, the function of a protein is a result of higher-order features of its amino acid residues (their ordering, the 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional topologies formed due to self-binding, etc).

    A common creationist problem is to confuse higher-order features with supernaturalism. Try again.

  59. Steven Novellaon 15 Dec 2008 at 4:58 pm

    vigier – you end your comment with a tirade of bigoted nonsense that really puts the rest of the post into perspective.

    Your core fallacy seems to be this: ”

    “Code by definition must come from intelligence since it implies convention, semantics, syntax, intent and symbolic representation.”

    And the bit that materialism cannot account for logic.

    This is just circular reasoning, however, by the way you define “code” and “intelligence.” An internally consistent materialist view of DNA, however, is that the code, convention, semantics, syntax, intent, and representation all evolved together as a system. All that is required is for the system to be self-organizing, which life is.

    The notion that logic itself disproves materialism is absurd. Logic is not dependent on material (because it’s abstract) – that does not mean that it is incompatible with it. You can also look at it this way – if the universe were strictly material, does that mean that there would be no inherent logic? Would 1+1 not necessarily equal 2?

    All we can really say regarding logic from the fact that human brains evolved is that the human grasp of logic probably is imperfect, has inherent limitations, and may have inherent biases. However, we have the historical evidence from the scientific endeavor to say that human logic works pretty well. It has enough of a relationship to reality that our attempts to understand the universe and put that knowledge to practical use works pretty well.

    It seems as if your entire argument comes down to saying that because humans can conceive of abstract concepts that this disproves materialism. You have not even come close to making this case, however.

  60. trrllon 15 Dec 2008 at 6:30 pm

    These are the inescapable conclusions of materialist world views. Including what I mentioned before – that if free will does not really exist (only conclusion if materialism is true) then ‘you’ did not write these articles, a body did, a pack of neurons did – no will at all involved. Just neurons working away presenting to you their illusions of reality.

    Here we have another unquestioned value judgement, asserted with nothing resembling logic or evidence, namely that nothing physical can possibly have any value. Apparently, something has to be magical to have any value. It’s a bit like arguing that a car that is powered by a physical motor can’t be of any value at all, no matter how fast it goes–only a car with magical fairies under the hood can possibly be worth anything.

    Meanwhile, the rest of us value other people not based upon what we imagine to be “under the hood,” but on the real-world, tangible consequences of their words and actions, and the ideas that they communicate to us.

    You can deny the existence of the metaphysical, but logic itself is metaphysical, as is information. Contrary to what you pretend (by implication), information is not, and cannot, be equal to the materials that carrier it.

    But in fact, logic historically arose as a generalization of what we have observed by studying the material world around us. The fundamental rules of logic are derived from algorithms that have been validated by the fact that they work when applied to the verifiable physical world. 2 + 2 = 4 whether you are counting rocks, trees, or people. So if anything, I’d say that logic is derived from the physical.

    And of course, “information…cannot be equal to the materials that carry it” is true only in the trivial sense that the information in a book is not contained in the alphabet. We customarily encode information in the arrangement of materials. Once again, our understanding of information is derived from what we have learned from studying the physical world–signals on a wire, patterns of magnetization on a disk, the efficiency of a heat engine. No evidence for some magical “spark” of information.

  61. daedalus2uon 15 Dec 2008 at 6:42 pm

    Wow,

    ” Materialism is a rapidly failing world-view (how else to explain the current landslide of rabid and panicky, atheist evangelization campaigns), better get used to it.”

    If the very modest placement of a handful of billboards with the theme Just be good for goodness sake amounts to a ”landside of rabid and panicky…evangelical campaigns” what have humans been exposed to for millennia by organized religions?

    What do the past few millennia of evangelization by organized religion tell us about the success of their world view? When proponents of a world view feel the need to lie and distort, what does that say about the strength of their position?

  62. cwfongon 15 Dec 2008 at 10:02 pm

    Sometimes it’s necessary to lie to retain the benefits that were initially acquired through the providence of ignorance.

  63. Puppet_Masteron 16 Dec 2008 at 2:24 pm

    [QUOTE]It’s a bit like arguing that a car that is powered by a physical motor can’t be of any value at all, no matter how fast it goes–only a car with magical fairies under the hood can possibly be worth anything. [/QUOTE]

    But non-materialist will just say that the motor has value only because it has a purpose for intelligent agents, and, in it’s self, contains no value.

    I think the problem is that there is no analogy to draw from that can demonstrate purpose without intelligence because purpose innately only follows intelligence, thus, circular reasoning inevitably arises. The false premise of non-materialists is that intelligence is can only a consequence of purpose. I believe it’s the human’s uncanny desire to anthropomorphize nearly everything that causes this disconnect.

    According to the current evidence, there is no reason to think there’s anything outside of the materialistic universe, and there is no reason why there should be (other than it’s not aesthetically pleasing). I’m not sure why deterministic philosophy is so hard to conceive of. Try keeping your hand on a hot stove, I bet you’ll remove it fairly quickly. The same ‘forces’ that keep you from keeping your hand on the stove also keep you on this deterministic path.

  64. cwfongon 16 Dec 2008 at 3:08 pm

    Determinism IS easy to conceive of. It’s the contemplation of its lack that gives simplicity some discomfort. Uncertainty can be a bitch to live with.

  65. Fifion 16 Dec 2008 at 3:30 pm

    Btw – that would be atheist “propaganda”, you can’t really be an evangelist for no-god (to get technical about it). Besides, all those atheist bus adverts did was to tell people “there is no god so have a good day and get on with your life”, it didn’t say “convert to atheism” and/or threaten people with bad things like burning eternally in fiery pits if they don’t become atheists. There was no attempt to get people to trade in this life on earth for the potential to have a better aferlife. (I’ve always found it very, very ironic and darkly funny that so many religions forbid suicide, though it clearly had to be forbidden for practical purposes – dead followers aren’t that useful.)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelism
    Evangelism is the Christian practice of proselytisation. The intention of most evangelism is to convert those who do not follow the Christian God to Christianity for the purpose of effecting eternal salvation. Evangelism is done in obedience to the Great Commission, a command from Jesus to his disciples to proselytise, according to accounts in the New Testament. Christians who specialise in evangelism are known as evangelists, whether in they are in their home communities or acting as missionaries in the field.

  66. Eric Thomsonon 17 Dec 2008 at 9:18 pm

    Fifi: I think we should give them some linguistic slack on that one.

    The best evidence from physics is that the world is not deterministic, so I’m not sure what all the hubbub is about that topic. I understand you are contrasting deterministic versus ‘free’, but the logical contrast is deterministic versus nondeterministic.

    The interesting thing is that even an indeterministic world (that painted by QM) doesn’t give the advocates of traditional free will much room to wiggle their elbows. It doesn’t give them freedom as they value it, which for them is the ability to control their behavior free of determination by natural laws (whether deterministic or nondeterministic). (Though there is a little wiggle room, I guess, if they choose behaviors, but in a way that preserves the overall statistical predictions of quantum mechanics). But there isn’t any evidence that quantum effects matter for brain function, so they have little recourse.

  67. sharkeyon 18 Dec 2008 at 10:57 am

    Just for follow-up, non-materialist nonsense knows no borders:

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article5324234.ece

  68. DevilsAdvocateon 18 Dec 2008 at 3:08 pm

    Wow. Reading that I couldn’t keep count of all the fallacies flying by.

  69. sonicon 19 Dec 2008 at 5:40 am

    Eric Thomson- Fifi-
    Physics applies to the brain. Do you think that there are more than one physics?
    http://www-physics.lbl.gov/~stapp/NeuroLeadership.doc
    This is a good summary of how modern physics applies to the problems present.

  70. daedalus2uon 19 Dec 2008 at 12:16 pm

    sonic, there is nothing “non-material” about the quantum-Zeno effect.

  71. the_woodmanon 13 May 2012 at 3:16 pm

    Scientist and philosopher Dr. Bernardo Kastrup comments on Dr. Novella’s article: http://www.bernardokastrup.com/2012/05/comments-on-steven-novellas-piece.html

  72. julian walkeron 15 Oct 2012 at 4:52 pm

    came across this after reading sam harris’ recent comments on the newsweek “heaven is real” cover story.

    harris disavows this neurologist’s interpretation of his trippy dreams while enduring bacterial meningitis as proof of out of body experience and an afterlife. yet he seems to uncharacteristically feel the need to hold a kind of god of the gaps (dualism of the gaps) position open regarding the relationship of “consciousness to matter.”

    i found this perplexing.

    did you read it?

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

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.