Aug 09 2011

Still More Misdirection and Illogic from Egnor

Michael Egnor has responded to my prior post in which I outlined his numerous failings in logic and misrepresentations of neuroscience. His response continues to be incoherent, but does offer some further teaching points.

One of the main points of contention is this – what can we infer from the relationship between damage to the brain and resulting neurological signs and symptoms. My position is that, if the mind is entirely caused by the functioning of the brain, then damage to the brain will damage the mind. I maintain that this is true, as far as we can tell from our current technology and understanding of neuroscience.

Egnor maintains that this is not true – that the relationship is “not the least bit predictable.” Further, that this lack of total correlation is evidence for dualism, that the mind is produced, at least in part, by something immaterial. There are both factual and logical problems with his position. To my criticism of his claims, he writes:

Mental deficits – specific defects in reasoning, judgement, planning, memory– are highly variable. One cannot look at a CT scan done after a head injury and predict with any certainty that ‘this person will have an inability to remember numbers’. High level mental function localizes very poorly to specific brain regions. This is odd, if, as Novella claims, the material brain is entirely the cause of all mental function.

He is trying to rescue his position by arguing that only what he calls “middle level” and “lowest level” neurological functions map well to the brain, and that “high level” functions like those he outlines above do not map well to specific brain regions because, he argues, they are not entirely caused by the brain. He further thinks this is evidence for Thomistic dualism (more on that below).

First – there is a massive factual problem with his line of argument. It is true that not all neurological functions map equally well to specific brain regions. But this does not completely correlate with Egnor’s “higher” vs “lower” mental function. Rather, some functions are simply more localized than others, which in turn are more distributed. Some functions seem to correlate to a network of brain areas – there are areas that have semi-specialized functions and that participate in multiple networks for different mental activities. (I’ve written before about brain modules and networks.) Also – some brain regions are redundant while others are not.

So, a lesion in a part of the brain that is dedicated to a specific function will predictably cause a specific deficit (what we call a focal deficit, because it correlates to a focus in the brain). This remains a good line of evidence for the hypothesis that the brain causes mind. If you damage an area of the brain that is redundant or part of distributed function, then there likely will not be any specific or focal deficits.

This does not mean, however, that the mind has not been changed at all. As I already pointed out – the injury is simply more subtle and difficult to detect. But if you study mental function in detail you find that brain damage (even in “silent” or “non-eloquent” parts of the brain) correlates nicely with decreases in overall mental function. This may cause a measurable decrease in IQ, or even a change in personality. This is essentially what happens in dementia. The brain is damaged diffusely, and loss of cognitive function (even, and in fact especially, the “highest” cognitive functions) occurs even before any focal deficits may be apparent. You can even get dementia from the cumulative effects of small “silent” strokes in the non-eloquent white matter of the brain. Patients with multiple sclerosis will sometimes lose cognitive function because of the cumulative effect of small brain lesions that individually did not cause any focal deficits.

It is simply wrong to state that “silent” brain lesions do not cause any deficits, simply because there is no obvious focal deficit.

Egnor’s higher vs lower mental function distinction is also false. Some sophisticated cognitive functions, like language, are very focal. In fact you can cause specific types of problems with processing language by causing very precise lesions in the brain (in fact this is the origin of the term “eloquent” cortex). Is Egnor arguing that language, literal eloquence, is not a “higher” cognitive function.

He specifically brings up the example of remembering numbers – but this is a bad example for him. Mathematical skills actually localize quite well, to the dominant parietal cortex. There are lots of interesting specific cognitive deficits that result from very focal lesions. There is alexia without agraphia – the inability to read without the inability to write. So a patient can write a sentence and then not be able to read what they just wrote. What about neglect – the inability to think about one half of the world, to include the concept of “left” in one’s modeling of the physical universe. There are focal lesions that can make you feel as if you do not own your arm, or make you feel as if you own an extra arm you don’t have.

There doesn’t seem to be any aspect of cognitive function that cannot be made to go away or change in function with damage. Now we also have the ability to increase or decrease the function of different brain regions with transcranial magnetic stimulation, and we can even change a persons moral judgments with these techniques (one of the exact examples Egnor gives – judgment). I wrote previously about this study:

The brain region in question, the right temporo- parietal junction (TPJ) is involved with a function known as the theory of mind – the ability to imagine what some other creature is thinking or feeling. In other words, we understand that other people have their own thoughts and feelings similar to our own , and this enables us to consider their possible motivations.

Researchers were able to alter moral judgments that are based on the theory of mind by impairing the function of the TPJ. Is Egnor arguing that the theory of mind is not what he calls a “higher” cognitive function?

There is also evidence from patients with epilepsy. We might not be able to look at an MRI scan and say where a specific memory or feeling is located, but patients who have seizures that start in a small part of the brain often have stereotyped auras. They have symptoms that are exactly the same each time, and are determined by where in the brain the seizure starts. It could be a sound, a smell, a visual sensation, a feeling, or a motor twitch. Take a look at some of these case reports of frontal lobe seizures, which tend to be more unusual. One patients experiences fear during a seizure, while another feels the urge to rub his hands together, and another to drink water.

If Egnor believes that “non-eloquent” cortex – like most of the frontal lobes – does not have specific deficits in response to localized trauma, then how does he explain the reproducible changes in personality from frontal lobotomies? Or is personality not a higher mental function in Egnor’s thinking?

We also have evidence from the effects of drugs on the brain. Egnor maintains that judgment is a “higher” mental function and cannot be explained by the brain. But anyone who has used alcohol knows this to be nonsense. Alcohol inhibits brain function and at recreational doses has two very reliable effects – it reduces inhibition and impairs judgment.

Egnor’s claim that brain damage or other lesions do not correlate well with specific deficits (outside of eloquent cortex) is simply wrong.

Egnor’s claim that “silent” brain damage causes no deficits is also wrong.

Egnor’s claim that there is a difference in brain-mental correlation between basic neurological functions and “higher” mental functions is also wrong. There is a difference in the degree to which we can localize specific functions, but that has to do with how distributed and how bilaterally redundant those functions are – not by Egnor’s concept of higher vs lower mental function.

Egnor’s logic that the lack of specific localization of neurological functions argues against the conclusion that the brain causes mind is also not valid. It could simply mean that some function are represented by distributed networks in the brain.

Further, Egnor continues to confuse the limits of our current ability to image and map brain function with the limits of brain function itself. This is like using a small telescope to look at Mars and then claiming Mars has no geological features, while ignoring all the images of Mars from high power telescopes and probes we sent to Mars. There is a vast and growing published literature mapping brain function with fMRI, PET scans, EEG, and transcranial magnetic stimulation. We still have a long way to go, but this approach (the materialist paradigm) is working very well. We are already decades ahead of where Egnor apparently thinks we are, and continuing to advance.

So far there is no mental function so sophisticated or abstract (“higher” in Egnor’s thinking) that we cannot mess with it by messing with the brain, or correlate it with some pattern of brain activity. It’s horrifically complex, but we are making progress.

To push this one point further, Egnor writes:

There is no ‘long division’ area or ‘enjoy Beethoven’ area in the brain that can be mapped with anything resembling precision.

Here Egnor is confusing the ability to map an area of the brain in general vs in a specific individual. There are (conservatively) millions of feelings, ideas, memories, and sensations stored in the brain. Of course we cannot map the brain to such detail, and of course there is no “enjoy Beethoven” area of the brain. This is just an absurd premise. Specialized areas and networks in the brain are not so specific. But there is a part of the brain that allows for calculations, and there is another part that allows for the appreciation of music. Further – he is confusing the ability to map the brain in general vs the localizability of an individual’s brain. We know from people with focal seizures, for example, that one tiny part of the brain does reliably map to one specific experience – that’s why their seizure auras are so stereotyped.

The evidence from trauma, seizures, response to drugs, and brain mapping all nicely fit together within the currently accepted working theory that brain activity causes the mind. Egnor, however, would have his readers put blinders on and look at only one slice of the evidence at a time, so he can distort and misrepresent it. Like all deniers, he is not putting forward a consistent and evidence-based theory of his own. His job is just to cause doubt and confusion regarding the prevailing science.

The closest he comes is when he endorses outdated philosopher, which gets us back to his Thomistic dualism. He writes:

There are three general types souls of living things:

Plants have vegetative souls, which mediate nutrition, metabolism reproduction, growth, etc.

Animals have sensitive souls, which in addition to the capabilities of vegetative souls, mediate sensation, locomotion, appetite, etc.

Humans have rational souls, which in addition to the capabilities of vegetative and sensitive souls, mediate reason, judgement, will, etc.

Previously I had argued that dualism was the logical equivalent of vitalism, and Egnor now seems to be validating that point. Vitalism, the notion of a living force, was always a mental placeholder – the vitalistic force was thought to be responsible for whatever aspect of life we could not currently explain. But as biology advanced, the vital force became unnecessary. The “vegetative soul” is the equivalent of the vital force. We now know that no magical mojo is necessary for plants to metabolize and reproduce. Biology sufficiently explains this.

As biology is to vitalism, neuroscience is to dualism. Animals do not need sensitive souls to feel, eat, and move (wait a minute, wasn’t Egnor just arguing that these functions map well to brain anantomy?). Humans do not need souls to think, reason, and judge – the brain suffices.

Now we see, however, why Egnor came up with his fake division of “higher” vs “lower” neurological function. But it does not reflect underlying reality. Real scientists change their ideas to accommodate what the evidence tells us about reality. Ideologues stick to centuries-old philosophy despite the evidence.

I do need to clarify one point. Neuroscientists do talk about higher and lower brain function – but they are talking about the evolutionary and hierarchical organization of the brain. We have a human brain on top of a monkey brain which sits on a mammalian brain all wrapped around a lizard brain. Our most-recently evolved frontal lobes are involved with planning and inhibition while the more primitive parts of the brain are involved with feelings, motivation, and more basic function. This organization, however, does not correspond well to Egnor’s artificial division of mental functions. Memory, for example, is a primitive function. Whereas language, which evolved recently, is relegated to “eloquent” cortex, which Egnor argues is a middle-level function.

There is a lot more nonsense in Egnor’s post, but as you can see it takes more time to correct nonsense than to spread it, so this will have to do for today.

________________________

Update:

Egnor has written another response. However, he does not address any of the points I make in the above post. He just repeats his same assertions and distortions. He continues to confuse resolution of detail with lack of correlation and simply cannot understand the distinction. On the whole it’s incoherent and there is nothing new to respond to.

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186 responses so far

186 Responses to “Still More Misdirection and Illogic from Egnor”

  1. SteveAon 09 Aug 2011 at 8:35 am

    Well reasoned and clearly put; a nice contrast to Egnor’s frantic jitterbug style of argument that attempts to conceal as much as it reveals.

    (Should it be “endorses ‘an’ outdated philosopher”?)

  2. Darrickon 09 Aug 2011 at 9:30 am

    Great post Dr Novella. I alway enjoy reading your well-articulated responses to pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo.

    I’m convinced of the materialist position on mind/brain, but I’m aware that there are those who dismiss it as ‘scientism’. Are you familiar with the work of Raymond Tallis? He’s an outspoken critic of what he calls ‘neuromania’ and ‘Darwinism’ in neuroscience. Here’s a review he did of two neuroscience/consciousness books; it pretty much sums up his views, which seem diametrically opposed to yours.

    I don’t presume to tell you what to write about, given your busy schedule and more pressing concerns, but I’d love to know how you would respond to Tallis.

  3. Kawarthajonon 09 Aug 2011 at 9:45 am

    It is surprising that a neurosurgeon can have such ignorance of the process that produced the brain in the first place. I’m no neurosurgeon, but I’m assuming that he would have learned something about the evolution of the brain in his neurosurgeon classes. To then go and dismiss all the things he learned about the evolution of the brain. Scary stuff. I’m not sure I’d like him as my neurosurgeon if I ever need one.

    Egnor seems to be using the same argument as the intelligent design creatures. Because we can’t fully explain something, that means that there has to be a supernatural quality to it, mostlikely a god. Seems like a weak argument to me, but it seems to suck a lot of people in. There seems to be this assumption in the general public that if we can’t explain something, or if it “baffles scientists” then we should automatically attach a supernatural explanation to it. I guess this is a function of our society’s religious heritage.

    One thing that Egnor seems to be ignoring in his arguments is the brain’s plasticity – that if one area is damaged, other areas can compensate for the loss of functioning as the brain heals from trauma. This provides evident that some brain functions aren’t as localized as he would like to think and that it it more spread around. The reason that the loss of a particular part of the brain isn’t always tied to a specific loss of functioning is because there is quite a bit of variability and plasticity of how the brain develops and how it responds to damage.

  4. Jim Shaveron 09 Aug 2011 at 10:36 am

    It seems to me that Egnor’s entire line of thought is argument from ignorance, and the ignorance in question is owned predominantly by Egnor himself, not by the medical and physical sciences. This weakest of positions is no surprise for a typical guy writing a typical creationism blog. But this guy is a freaking brain surgeon, for crying out loud!

    It’s also interesting that almost the entire right column of his blog page is a long list of scathingly critical quotes from his many detractors (including Dr. Novella). Egnor seems to consider it a badge of honor that scientists think so little of him. I humbly suggest that he should reconsider that interpretation.

  5. steve12on 09 Aug 2011 at 10:54 am

    Wow…

    I can understand a neurosurgeon making mistakes with evolution, though ignoring the comparative physiology and anatomy of our brains and other living creature’s brains in light of phylogeny and genetics is pretty tough.

    But I expect him to understand the brain a little – and he does not seem to. Many of his mistakes about the intractability of connecting anat/phys to “higher functions’ are as absurd as they are basic! As you were getting into all of the higher cognitive functions which can be selectively lost to damaging the brain, I kept thinking about how small a subset this was, because you could literally write a textbook about it! Oh wait – someone has, it’s called any neuropsychology textbook you find lying around. And that’s w/o even talking about experimental findings from ERPs/PET/fMRI, etc. For chrissakes, sodium amytal experiments refute half of what he’s saying.

    Can he be a competent neurosurgeon with this bizarre and uninformed view of the brian? Maybe more of the job is about technical surgical techniques than deeper understanding of cognitive function? Or is this some sort of put-on to win over lay people?

  6. ccbowerson 09 Aug 2011 at 10:59 am

    A lot of people have mentioned some surprise because he is a neurosurgeon. The truth is that intelligence helps (along with some hubris) in being able to intellectually shield yourself. Surgeons as a group have plenty of both.

  7. mufion 09 Aug 2011 at 11:37 am

    I used to know a fervently religious Orthodox Jew (back when I was still one myself), who also happened to be a very successful neurologist. Trust me when I say that his religious beliefs and the scientific facts relevant to his profession (as well summarized here by Dr. Novella) did not sit well together.

    More to the point: The lesson that I took away from that relationship was: Never underestimate the power of compartmentalization.

    Indeed, no wonder such characters advocate dualism: They lead such dualistic lives!

  8. SteveAon 09 Aug 2011 at 12:02 pm

    Jim Shaver: “It’s also interesting that almost the entire right column of his blog page is a long list of scathingly critical quotes from his many detractors.”

    It’s weird isn’t it. One might even say unbalanced.

  9. rezistnzisfutlon 09 Aug 2011 at 1:39 pm

    It’s amazing that someone who so proudly embraces ignorance within his own discipline is board certified in that area of expertise. it makes me wonder how in the world that happened? Personally, I don’t want him to perform any surgery on my, thanks all the same.

  10. gr8googlymooglyon 09 Aug 2011 at 2:14 pm

    Excellent post (as usual) Dr. Novella. It makes one wonder what would Egnor’s ‘god’ would think about his intentional intellectual dishonesty…

  11. rezistnzisfutlon 09 Aug 2011 at 3:42 pm

    There is only one reason and one reason alone that Egnor maintains so many ridiculous notions and ideas: his religion. He wants so badly for his christianity to be true that he desperately tries to find evidence for the supernatural in any place he can, especially the gaps, when it’s not there. I’m not sure who he’s trying to fool or if he’s truly that delusional. A prime example of the evidence following the conclusion rather than the conclusion following the evidence. I wouldn’t be surprised if we find him a fellow at the DI.

    I suppose I’ll never understand the desire to believe what feels good rather than believe what’s true given the evidence we have, or at least admitting honestly we don’t know or have all the answers, especially from people who are otherwise perfectly intelligent (and one would think, should know better).

  12. daedalus2uon 09 Aug 2011 at 3:59 pm

    If there really was an immaterial mind, then any organ could serve as the interface between that immaterial mind and the body. The heart was once thought to serve that purpose.

    In the KJ Bible, there are 833 instances of “heart”, 95 instances of “mind”, seven with both “heart” and “mind” and zero of “brain”. Now that there have been heart transplants, it is kind of difficult to maintain that the heart is the organ that couples the mind to the body (as scripture seems to indicate).

    Is Egnor’s position that a brain transplant would not also be a mind transplant?

  13. robmon 09 Aug 2011 at 4:22 pm

    Vegetative souls??? Really? Before this my impression of Egnor was that he was just an idiot, but now it’s clear the man never had rational thought in his life. I mean is he intentionally getting dumber? Is this some type anti-skepticism mental anaphylaxis where his brain attacks itself after exposure to any kind of scientific thinking?

  14. Daniel Schealleron 09 Aug 2011 at 4:53 pm

    I haven’t seen Aristotle’s hierarchy of souls advocated seriously in quite some time.

    We’re not just decades ahead of where Egnor thinks we are. If he’s still proposing Aristotle’s views on ensoulment then we could argue that we’re ahead by quite a few centuries.

    ^_^

  15. sonicon 09 Aug 2011 at 5:29 pm

    It seems that Dr. E. questions the theory that the mind is caused solely by the brain due to his clinical experience.
    This happened to Penfield as well- one of the first books I read about neuroscience was his “The Mystery of the Mind”.
    Oddly, the last doctor I talked to about this stuff in person was going through a similar experience — having been a materialist during his career he questioned it afterwards due to what he had seen and experienced. (It seems he had taken up praying– I’m not one to laugh when someone tells me something like that, but I have to admit that one caught me by surprise).

    Perhaps this is why it is not so difficult for me to maintain doubt in this situation.
    It seems difficult for others to maintain doubt in this case.

    Allow me to give a few reasons to maintain doubt–

    1) The claim that the mind-body problem has been solved is an extraordinary claim. Saying that it can’t be demonstrated as fully as it should be due to problems with the equipment is question begging.
    The analogy to the telescope and Mars is apt– very often what is found when we do see what is actually there is quite different from what was expected.
    Another analogy could come from physics where in 1890 it was well known that they had all the answers– only to find-out that they had been quite wrong about a number of things just a few years later.

    2) The claim that vitalism has been shown false does not agree with fundamental experimental evidence– the most fundamental experimental evidence suggests that life comes only from life.
    The question is this– At what point would it be scientific to conclude that the experimental evidence is correct? Currently the assumption is that someday we will discover the secret to abiogenesis. But we have been waiting over 100 years. How many more should we wait before we doubt? A 1000? A million? A trillion?
    (Yes dear, I’ve decided to wait at least another 2763 years before I begin to question abiogenesis… ) :-)

    3) The claim that vitalism is true has been problematic and not as useful scientifically as it should be if it were true. That’s one reason it lost support. The material paradigm has been useful. So even if Dr. E. is correct about Thomasian theory or whatever fitting the observations, it doesn’t mean that there are souls or anything like that.

    4) Dr. E. is proposing a hypothesis that is way outside the mainstream and even though that doesn’t mean he is wrong, it does mean the odds against him are very high.

    I could go on, but if I think that if someone can’t maintain doubt given those four, then it just might be that doubt is not for that person.

  16. Enzoon 09 Aug 2011 at 5:50 pm

    Failure to account for distributed function is the major weakness in Dr. Egnor’s argument. The other is attributing each and every thing to a discrete brain area, not appreciating interconnectedness and cooperation. Because of this pair of errors on his account, I can’t see this argument getting resolved. His stance is extremely amenable to moving the goal post. No doubt he will see Dr. Novella’s explanation as inconsequential to his viewpoint. Nothing short of having a complete cell-to-cell map of a very particular brain process would likely convince him — something we are decades away from at least.

    At least Dr. Egnor’s response attempts to address Dr. Novella’s criticisms, which is a step up from the usual. It was actually pretty useful to see him try and argue from the perspective he takes in that post; I don’t think he is intentionally omitting or trying to conceal the science. It seems more likely he is simply unaware or unwilling to accept the concept of distributed function.

    On a more opinionated note, I hate when people argue science with philosophy.

  17. bachfiendon 09 Aug 2011 at 6:49 pm

    Sonic,

    Vitalism has been disproved from Ventner’s synthetic Mycoplasma in which new bacteria were created by implanting synthetic DNA (including a message in the code) into the husk of bacteria devoid of its DNA. All that was transferred was materialistic DNA synthesized in a test tube, so unless you’re suggesting that the vital force is part of a molecule …?

    Abiogenesis is a difficult problem, but I think that the hydrothermal vent scenarios (which are less than 20 years old) offer the most promise to its solution.

    Michael Egnor makes the fallacy of asserting that the mind cannot be the product of the entire brain because some mini strokes often don’t lead to detectable deficits in the mind (assuming that that you knew what the baseline was beforehand) whereas strokes affecting certain discrete areas lead to definite deficits such as aphasia or paralysis.

    It would be like saying that the entire heart isn’t responsible for pumping an adequate amount of blood to the rest of the body because silent myocardial infarctions occur without apparent effect, whereas damage to discrete specified areas lead to arythmias and regurgitant A-V valves due to damage of the muscle controlling the valve cusps.

  18. robmon 09 Aug 2011 at 6:57 pm

    sonic

    1) The hypothesis that the mind is a product of the brain has produced been successful in increasing our scientific understanding of both. Most of the claimed evidence against it is better explained by our understanding of the brain. Though the understanding of how brains work is far from complete, it’s by far the best evidenced solution to the mind body problem. 1890′s physics is not a good analogy since any reasonable neurologist will tell you there is still an extraordinary amount to learn, and that it’s far from all figured out. You seem to be equating a lack of complete understanding with an speculative hypothesis

    2) A greater understanding of chemistry has shown that the processes of life are due to chemistry not an animating life force. Life takes non-life and uses it to grow and reproduce all the time, and no magic trasmutation of that matter is necessary just complicated chemistry. Life is a hugely complex arrangement of molecules, which probably developed gradually before it became what we call life. The platitude “life only comes from life” is similar to the all or nothing thinking from #1.

    3) right, eliminate vitalism with ockham’s razor.

    4) Egor’s hypothesis is unfalsifiable, at least in the way he goes about it, putting his soul/vitalistic theories outside science.

    Gaps in knowledge aren’t breaches in a dam that allow anything to flow through. Science infers things based on consistency of evidence, which is always open to disconfirmation. Doubt would be much easier to maintain with contradictory evidence.

  19. Watcheron 09 Aug 2011 at 7:01 pm

    Sandwiched inbetween Steve’s first post and this one is a post about a new publication on grid and place cells. I wonder what Egnor thinks about this population of cells, and what happens if they’re ablated, or even better altered through reversible means like optogenetic stimulation. I remember a drosophila study from a couple years back where the researchers “implanted a false memory.” Basically, a normally nondistinct odor, one that didn’t induce a behavioral change in the animals, was altered by specific optogenetic stimulation of a population of CNS cells that ultimately led to the smell being repulsory to the flies even though no noxious stimili was presented. Maybe it’s not applicable because it’s not in humans …

  20. Steven Novellaon 09 Aug 2011 at 7:22 pm

    Taking the Mars analogy further – as I said, Egnor is ignoring pictures from better telescopes.

    But that point aside, what Egnor is saying is that fairies live on Mars and are responsible for whatever surface features have not yet been imaged in high enough definition to prove that there aren’t fairies.

    His argument is like saying – “Novella thinks that geological processes cause all of the surface features on Mars, without remainder. But the correlation between known geological processes and the surface features we can see are not perfect. And so, there are Mars fairies.”

  21. the_memeon 09 Aug 2011 at 7:28 pm

    sonic: “The claim that vitalism has been shown false does not agree with fundamental experimental evidence– the most fundamental experimental evidence suggests that life comes only from life.
    The question is this– At what point would it be scientific to conclude that the experimental evidence is correct?”

    Well, science explains and describes things in terms of the interrelationship of observable and measurable phenomena. This has the advantage that scientific theories are falsifiable. In former (pre-scientific) times people tended to explain phenomena with respect to some form unobservable supernatural forces or entities that are somehow doing things by using magic..or something (mmh…well okay, most people are still doing this today…).

    I don’t see how postulating some sort of ‘vital force’ could ever make up a good falsifiable scientific theory. Yes of course scientists could delve into metaphysical speculations about life forces and stuff. But it wouldn’t add anything, and it wouldn’t be falsifiable. Science doesn’t need it.
    That’s why ID and Creationism are not ‘alternative theories’. It’s not even bad science. It’s not science at all.

  22. daedalus2uon 09 Aug 2011 at 8:44 pm

    The analogy to 1890′s is not apt. A knowledgeable scientist would know that they did not know the source of energy for the Sun.

    Kelvin had calculated an age of the Earth based on cooling from a molten state, but that age was too short for the geological processes that geologists knew had happened.

    It wasn’t scientific insight that lead people to think there was a non-material mind. That idea was generated in the complete absence of any scientific knowledge of physiology. It was pure vitalism, the “breath of life” that then animated a simulacrum of clay.

    Once you adopt relativity, a non-material mind is inconsistent with no “action at a distance”. A non-material mind requires “action at a distance” and non-conservation of mass/energy. There is no data that compels the idea of a non-material mind. There is no datum that is inconsistent with there being no such thing.

  23. neverknowon 09 Aug 2011 at 10:08 pm

    “My position is that, if the mind is entirely caused by the functioning of the brain, then damage to the brain will damage the mind.”

    Novella constantly assumes causation from correlation. It doesn’t matter how many neuroscientists have made the same mistake, it is still a mistake. If the language center is damaged, then the patient has trouble speaking — therefore, the language center of the brain is the sole source of speech? Well, let’s say part of the hard disk on your computer becomes damaged, and you can no longer send email. According to Novella’s way of thinking, we can conclude that part of the hard disk is what causes email to be sent.

    Novella can’t see that causality is not always simple. A cause may be necessary but not sufficient. Various different factors may be involved in a process — all may be necessary, but none of them alone are sufficient.

    Correlations between mental states and brain states tell us that mind and brain influence each other, but they do not tell us that one causes the other. All sensory and chemical inputs can affect the brain, which in turn influences mental states. Everything that affects the body has an influence on mental states. A pain in your big toe affects your mental state — does that mean the big toe creates the mind?

    Mental states also have an effect on the brain and the body. If you imagine something frightening, chemical and electrical activity in the brain will be influenced. But Novella would never conclude from this that mental states cause brain states.

    Novella, and many other neuroscientists, have a mental block that prevents them from seeing that mind and brain influence each other.

  24. neverknowon 09 Aug 2011 at 10:11 pm

    [a non-material mind is inconsistent with no “action at a distance”.]

    Quantum entanglement to the rescue.

  25. bachfiendon 09 Aug 2011 at 10:54 pm

    Neverknow,

    OK, you admit that the brain affects the mind (physiologic changes within the brain affect the mind).

    But how do changes in the mind affect the brain? Beyond the possibility that if there is free will (a highly disputed concept) preference for certain actions over others may cause certain connections favored over others so that by neuroplasticity, the structure of the brain may possibly be changed over the long term.

    Your analogy of imagined fears doesn’t work. They don’t lead to any lasting change.

  26. Mlemaon 09 Aug 2011 at 10:57 pm

    On the one hand, it’s very interesting to see how a person’s orientation to a problem not only affects his interpretation of the facts, but also affects his conception of the problem itself, which in turn affects his conclusions (and the subsequent actions which are based on those conclusions).

    On the other hand, it’s starting to scare the crap out of me.

  27. robmon 09 Aug 2011 at 11:21 pm

    bachfiend,

    You won’t get a good answer from neverknow just a bunch quantum woo, and complete misunderstanding of quantum mechanics (I repeat myself), and the accusation that materialists in science deny quantum mechanics because they don’t believe every unobserved feline is Schordinger’s Cat.

  28. PhysiPhileon 10 Aug 2011 at 1:25 am

    @Steven Novella

    This statement is a logical fallacy:

    “My position is that, if the mind is entirely caused by the functioning of the brain, then damage to the brain will damage the mind.”

    You are making a false assumption that mind is ‘the’ function of the brain, whereas, a better assumption would be that the mind is ‘a’ function of the brain. What logically follows from your argument is: If damage to the brain does not damage the mind, then the mind is not entirely caused by the function of the brain. Actually, the mind is entirely caused by the brain but the entire brain does not cause mind.

    Egnor might be thinking since you are saying damage to the brain will damage the mind and since he personally has seen a patient with brain damage and no mind damage, he logically concludes you are incorrect. Egnor needs to realize that the brain damage may have occurred to tissue dedicated to task(s) other than mind.

  29. sonicon 10 Aug 2011 at 2:20 am

    bachfiend-
    What Ventner did was take an existing life form and place a new instruction code (DNA) into the existing life form. I’m not sure how this would disprove vitalism.
    Hydrothermal vent scenario seems popular. How many years should pass before I question its validity?
    Clearly the mini-stroke argument is not a complete winner. I think it might be just as likely that the brain does things other than produce a mind – in which case what the brain might do in some areas or aspects wouldn’t matter to the mind at all. (A point I notice PhysiPhile just made).

    robm-
    Actually I think that talking to people has given us a great deal more understanding about minds than any other thing we have done.
    But it is true that the hypothesis that the mind and brain are the same has been useful.
    I am willing to see that life can come from non-life (abiogenesis). But until that has been accomplished, I will have some doubt about it occurring. That doubt gives rise to the notion that there really is something non-reducible about life.
    My question is how long should I wait for the result before I question?

    the_meme
    What would falsify abiogenesis?

    daedalus2u-
    But once you adopt quantum mechanics then action at a distance seems to return.
    You might enjoy reading about Bell’s Theorem and the Aspect experiments.
    Here is a pretty good explanation-
    http://www4.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/kenny/papers/bell.html

  30. sonicon 10 Aug 2011 at 2:21 am

    neverknow-
    I think you aren’t giving Dr. N. enough credit. If you read some of his posts that have less emotional interest to you (say ones about losing weight or vaccines…) you would find that he is well aware of all the factors you mention.
    It is also clear that his evaluation of evidence is generally very good.
    I understand you might have a different opinion on the mind-brain issue, but you are mistaken to think that Dr. N. is unaware of the factors you mention.

    Mlema-
    I don’t know about you, but I scare myself… ;-)

  31. rezistnzisfutlon 10 Aug 2011 at 3:45 am

    “…does that mean the big toe creates the mind?”

    I would say yes, it’s entirely possible that pain in the big toe can contribute to the creation of mind. I posit that mind is at least in large part a collection of experiences that constitutes identity and personality. If a person had persistent pain in their big toe, that could in turn alter daily behaviors, mood, and habits to a degree that it could create an identity that’s unique from the same person who otherwise has no pain in their big toe. The same could be said with a person who has poor vision or is inordinately tall, or any number of other physical attributes that could force a person to change behaviors, alter perceptions from those who are different from them, and influence personality.

    One thing missing from this line of discussion, or perhaps I just missed it myself, is a definition of mind. What is it exactly? MW has a definition (noun) that probably best fits the discussion here:

    a: the element or complex of elements in an individual that feels, perceives, thinks, wills, and especially reasons
    b: the conscious mental events and capabilities in an organism
    c: the organized conscious and unconscious adaptive mental activity of an organism

    I think mind is what contains consciousness, personality, perception, collective memory of experiences, and biomechanical/biochemical processes and composition. So, a painful big toe in this context would be both perception and experience, as both are altered to accomodate the hurt big toe, which in turn (according to my rather unscientific definition) affects mind.

    I have yet to see any compelling evidence for dualism, soul, or anything supernatural about the mind. All I’ve seen are attempts at logical argumentation, logical fallacies, and a glaring lack of evidentiary support other than anecdotal testimony for the concept of something other than a biological mind, typically preceded by a preconceived conclusion that goes chasing after evidence.

  32. bachfiendon 10 Aug 2011 at 5:47 am

    Sonic,

    Yes, but what is the vital force? Remove the DNA from a cell, and it’ll live for a while whilst its component parts degrades till it dies. So the cell’s DNA isn’t the vital force. Put purely human synthesized DNA into a cell which has had its DNA removed, then the cell assumes the form of the new DNA. So the vital force is either in the cell minus the DNA, the DNA or neither. It’s too nebulous a concept.

    The hydrothermal vent hypotheses are new, less than 20 years old. It isn’t necessary to be able to work out every step. It’s only necessary to be plausible. It’s impossible to work out the exact conditions in the young hot Earth with hydrothermal vents everywhere in the oceans.

  33. Reilmanon 10 Aug 2011 at 6:45 am

    Egnor is back for round three. http://egnorance.blogspot.com/2011/08/my-reply-to-dr-novella-part-1.html
    Reading that guy’s blog is like pulling teeth.

  34. SteveAon 10 Aug 2011 at 7:20 am

    Reilman: “Egnor is back for round three. http://egnorance.blogspot.com/2011/08/my-reply-to-dr-novella-part-1.html
    Reading that guy’s blog is like pulling teeth.”

    Jeez. He’s sounding desperate.

    Most of his arguments are of the ‘la la’ kind (‘La-la. La-la. I can’t hear you. La-la…) just constantly saying that Dr N is wrong, but without actually saying why.

    Oh, and kids, if you want to become a leading philosopher of the mind just write to Egnor and say you agree with him – that’s all you need to qualify. He’ll send you a sticker. (The same with leading neuroscientists, but only 20th century ones, so you have to be over eleven.)

  35. daedalus2uon 10 Aug 2011 at 8:33 am

    Neverknow, I am well aware of Bell’s theorem and inequalities, that does not negate the absence of “action at a distance”. Quantum entanglement is not “action at a distance”.

    You make a gigantic straw man as to how Dr Novella draws conclusions. He is not solely arguing causation from correlation. There is also the complete absence of any evidence for a non-material mind, and the demonstrable incompatibility of a non-material mind with what is well known about physics.

    Conservation of mass/energy precludes material effects from non-material causes. Information processing requires the transfer of energy, requires the dissipation of energy to form, manipulate and erase bits of data.

    If there is a non-material mind, that uses non-material energy sources for information processing, why is a large and metabolically active brain required? The brain takes a gigantic fraction of metabolic resources. If some of those resources could be saved by off-loading computations onto a non-material mind, evolution would have done so to divert more resources to reproduction. That would also allow a smaller brain, which would mean fewer women dying in childbirth from cephalopelvic disproportion. In the absence of medical C-section, a percent or so of women die in childbirth, per pregnancy. That is a gigantic driving force to shrink the brain, but there is no hint of evidence that it has happened. If it could happen, evolution would have tried to make it happen.

    If non-material energy sources could be tapped for some things, why haven’t organisms tapped those energy sources for other things? Why aren’t there organisms that tap energy from the same source the non-material mind uses and use that energy to make ATP or fix CO2?

    If non-human organisms don’t have a non-material mind, what is it about humans that generates one? How did the non-material mind evolve? How does the non-material mind configure itself, encode new information, process information, write information to the material brain?

    Any hypothesis that includes the idea of a non-material mind has to include mechanisms for all of these things. The “brain causes cognition” hypothesis that Dr Novella is using does have mechanisms for these different processes, the mechanisms are not all well researched and well understood, but there is nothing “magic” or supernatural, or intrinsically contradicts things that are well known in physics (conservation of mass/energy, momentum, action at a distance).

  36. mufion 10 Aug 2011 at 10:28 am

    daedalus2u:

    Very well said.

    Now let the countdown begin until your invocation of the laws of physics (e.g. conservation of energy) is met by an accusation of a materialistic bias.

  37. Bronze Dogon 10 Aug 2011 at 10:52 am

    One thing I suspect would happen if we did find good evidence of a non-material mind: Scientists would start examining its components, develop some theories of soulology, and explain human behavior by poking around and observing people’s chakra networks and reishi particles.

    Then, not wanting their minds to be subject to the “reductionism” of science, the dualists would convert to triism, and assert that there’s a non-non-materialistic mind that’s really the source of all consciousness.

  38. tmac57on 10 Aug 2011 at 11:26 am

    Sonic-

    The question is this– At what point would it be scientific to conclude that the experimental evidence is correct? Currently the assumption is that someday we will discover the secret to abiogenesis. But we have been waiting over 100 years. How many more should we wait before we doubt? A 1000? A million? A trillion?

    Question: At what point would it be scientific to assume that life comes from some ‘creator’ without any evidence for it,but only lack of evidence for abiogenesis?
    To answer your question,I would say,as long as there is no clear explanation for how life arose,then abiogenesis is a hypothesis worth considering,no matter how long it takes.Once it has been falsified,then it can be dispensed with.

  39. steve12on 10 Aug 2011 at 11:36 am

    I think it’s great that QM alleviates the emotional stress of relinquishing the tenets of one’s cherished sociocultural/religious upbringing that often occurs when taking on scientific realities.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to pray to my scientifically (via QM) endorsed god,totem,vitalforce,cosmic intelligence, immaterial agent, etc. It doesn’t really matter, QM makes it all possible and saves me the cognitive dissonance in the process. It’s quite a nice arrangement.

    I think I posted this before, but this is my favorite quote re: Q nonsense:

    “…entanglement=we are all connected, superposition=anything you want to be true is true”

    http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=342

  40. tmac57on 10 Aug 2011 at 11:43 am

    Regarding quantum entanglement,my understanding is that it cannot be used to transmit information,because that would violate Special Relativity. If this can be proved wrong,then I would like to hear about it.

  41. steve12on 10 Aug 2011 at 11:46 am

    “One thing I suspect would happen if we did find good evidence of a non-material mind: Scientists would start examining its components, develop some theories of soulology, and explain human behavior by poking around and observing people’s chakra networks and reishi particles.”

    Mufi and I had a discussion about this in which we sort of talked past each other with semantics a bit, but this would still be material. If it can be understood to follows rules, it’ material, regardless of what it appears to be.

    There are all sort of forces that were ostensibly magical when first discovered but turned out to be material. I look for this trend to continue, especially considering there’s not one example to the contrary.

  42. steve12on 10 Aug 2011 at 12:07 pm

    “Regarding quantum entanglement,my understanding is that it cannot be used to transmit information,because that would violate Special Relativity. If this can be proved wrong,then I would like to he”

    I’m no physicist, but I thought that the information teleportation experiments actually used entanglement to do this? I would see no problem with disagreement between SR & QM as they don’t reconcile anyway – SP can’t account for the “micro” forces (strong, weak, EM) and QM can’t reconcile gravity.

    I’d love to hear form a phyisicist, though.

    PS – To others waiting to pounce on my lack of expertise (and it is a lack), I don’t need to be a physicist to know that invoking QM’s strange properties as a cure-all for every strange theory without a specific mechanism or empirical result isn’t science.

  43. daedalus2uon 10 Aug 2011 at 12:23 pm

    The information teleportation experiments that used entangled photons did not transmit any information faster than c. There remains no example of any signal or information being propagated faster than c.

    If there was such a process, that process could be used for time travel. When two events are causally connected by a path where information travels faster than c, but choosing the appropriate reference frame, the time order of those events can be reversed.

    In other words if a signal is transmitted faster than c, in some reference frame it will appear that the signal was received before it was transmitted.

  44. mufion 10 Aug 2011 at 12:56 pm

    steve12 said: If it can be understood to follows rules, it’ material, regardless of what it appears to be.

    I thought “material” meant “made of matter”, not “follows rules.”

    After all, I can imagine all sorts of immaterial entities or forces that follow rules. I simply have no empirical or scientific grounds to claim that they actually exist.

  45. steve12on 10 Aug 2011 at 1:20 pm

    I mean it would simply fall into the long line of phenomena that do not appear to be material, but act predictably (i.e., follow rules) as the result of some physical (i.e., material) manipulation making that early appearance an illusion.

  46. Bronze Dogon 10 Aug 2011 at 1:36 pm

    The way I think of materialism as commonly discussed: We’re monists who just use the “material” label because science got started with understanding the properties of matter, and a lot of the “supernatural” events got reduced to matter, or parts of matter, like lightning went from a bolt of ether sent by the god(s) to a stream of electrons.

    It’s probably reinforced by all the woos who believe in ethereal entities we don’t, hence we’re being “materialist” for not including their ethereal entities. They say it’s because we inherently reject ether, when in reality we’re rejecting a specific hypothesis due to lack or evidence, or we have a non-ethereal explanation that works better. They just label it as ethereal to rationalize failure.

    If some kind of ethereal entity gets discovered, we’ll just call it material, even if it’s an exotic material, since we’re monists: Everything is in the same universe, and there’s no reason to draw lines. Dualism, as it’s discussed today, is just a false dichotomy invented to make excuses for failed or untestable hypotheses.

  47. sonicon 10 Aug 2011 at 2:44 pm

    bachfiend-
    If there is a vital force, it is not in the DNA. That’s clear.
    It seems you are suggesting that I shouldn’t question abiogenesis because a plausible scenario can be made-up as to how it works.
    You didn’t really think that through, did you? :-)

    tmac57-
    I would agree that abiogenesis is a hypothesis worth considering.
    I think that the scenario of a creator making life would be scientific if it were testable. I know of no way to test that hypothesis.
    Some might suggest that such a hypothesis (creator) could be supported by various forms of indirect evidence — something like how astronomers try to piece together the past.
    I’m not sure how that would work in practice.
    But you really are just presenting a false dilemma based on a straw man argument–huh. :-)
    BTW- how would you falsify abiogenesis?

  48. Steven Novellaon 10 Aug 2011 at 2:59 pm

    PhysiPhile – you are partly correct, but it depends on how you define “mind”. I was using a broad definition – everything we think, feel, sense, and do, in addition to subconscious processing that contributes to these things.

    But you are right – the brain might do something that does not contribute to even this broad definition of the mind.

  49. Steven Novellaon 10 Aug 2011 at 3:05 pm

    neverknow – you are incorrect. I have been very clear about my position, and it is not an assumption of causation from correlation.

    First – there are multiple correlations that all triangulate on the hypothesis that brain causes mind.

    Second – my stated position is that the conclusion that brain causes mind in the most parsimonious interpretation of the evidence. A non-material mind separate from the brain is just as unnecessary as the magic light fairy that causes my lights to go on when I flip the switch.

    Further – we do, of course recognize that the mind recursively affects the brain – but since the mind is the brain, this is the brain affecting itself. The brain can monitor, react to, and affect its own internal states. When you remember something that memory changes – your thinking changes your brain, but the thinking was the action of the brain in the first place.

  50. Steven Novellaon 10 Aug 2011 at 3:15 pm

    I read Egnor’s latest “response”. He doesn’t actually address any of my points. There is nothing new to respond to.

  51. tmac57on 10 Aug 2011 at 3:46 pm

    Sonic-No false dilemma.I am not asking you to choose one or the other.You posed the question about how long should we wait before we doubt abiogensis.I think doubt is always part of science,but we have an understanding about the building blocks of life,and it seems within the realm of possibility that those elements somehow came together through some natural mechanism that we don’t understand fully,to form life. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence what so ever,of a ‘creator’ of life outside of those natural mechanisms.I posed the question :
    “At what point would it be scientific to assume that life comes from some ‘creator’ without any evidence for it,but only lack of evidence for abiogenesis?” I see no straw man or false dilemma there,just a question.
    As far as what it would take to falsify abiogensis,it probably would be impossible,but an alternate and provable hypothesis would probably end the debate for scientists.

  52. M. Davieson 10 Aug 2011 at 3:53 pm

    @ Steven Novella

    I thought your position distilled to the brain and mind being coterminous – in other words, the brain and the mind are equivalent; there is nothing ‘extra’ to explain, and thus once one has a total knowledge of the brain, there is nothing left that has to be said – conceptually complete, if you will. I don’t see anything egregious about this position.

    By comparison, it is like heat: heat isn’t caused by molecules moving around, heat -is- molecules moving around. Or how noon isn’t caused by it being 12:00 – noon and 12:00 are different words but otherwise equivalent in their referents.

    As a result, we could strike ‘mind’ from our vocabularies, and just talk in the argot of neuroscience and brains. Sure! It might be clunky at dinner parties, but it would not be wrong nor incomplete.

    But if you hold to brain and mind being in a causal relationship, then this is no longer the case! They are not the same thing, they are ontologically distinct. Now, they might still be both material (or supernatural, or numerical, or whatever), but it is an important detail, even if subtle.

    For example, if ‘mind’ is meant to represent ‘subjective’ aspects of the brain, then we import some problems. How can ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ (or first-person and third-person) descriptions of the same referent be in a causal relationship? There is at bottom only one thing (composed of parts, granted) that can affect itself, but this is the brain working on the brain, not one set of entities that compose ‘mind’ working on another set which compose ‘brain’.

    It’s no defense of Egnor, nor is it an attempt to prove you wrong, but these problems exist -within- a materialist perspective, so I’m wondering if you had any thoughts on the matter.

  53. Steven Novellaon 10 Aug 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Davies,

    We are having a semantic difference. I have said many times that the mind is what the brain does. The brain is the physical object. The mind is the functioning of the brain.

    Saying that the brain causes the mind is a bit clunky, but essentially correct.

    Eg – a dead brain is sill a brain but has no mind.

  54. sonicon 10 Aug 2011 at 4:35 pm

    tmac57-
    No problem- I think I answered the question (when it would be testable)– right?
    I agree that abiogenesis is not falsifiable. It does lead to testable scenarios however.
    It does add a bit of irony to the reading of much on this topic though– you know how often someone complains that a hypothesis isn’t falsifiable makes it unscientific- all the while implying abiogenesis is the only scientific approach to the problem.
    You might note how often what Dr. E says is criticized that way.
    If irony were a spice, I’d sprinkle it on my food fairly often.

  55. HHCon 10 Aug 2011 at 4:47 pm

    Perhaps, Dr. Egnor can follow up his interests with radiology and study for another board examination. Things may be more clear
    when it comes to practice for surgery and beyond.

  56. M. Davieson 10 Aug 2011 at 4:56 pm

    @ Steven Novella

    Yes, it’s exactly a point of semantics, that is to say, it’s about how you describe your position, your terminology, and the implications which follow. I don’t see us having a ‘difference’ since I haven’t advanced a position in opposition to yours, I’m only looking at the consequences which follow from your own claims and asking if my account of what you say is faithful to your intent.

  57. BillyJoe7on 10 Aug 2011 at 5:48 pm

    mufi,

    “I thought “material” meant “made of matter””

    It includes everything that matter gives rise to.
    If you agree that thoughts are produced by the material brain, then thoughts are part of the materialist paradigm (even though they are not “made of matter”)

  58. mufion 10 Aug 2011 at 6:32 pm

    BillyJoe: It includes everything that matter gives rise to.

    Where does energy fit into that picture?

  59. daedalus2uon 10 Aug 2011 at 7:17 pm

    To me, and I think to most scientists, what is “material” is something that has mass/energy, or something that has spin, or something that has momentum, or charge, or weak isospin, or color charge or angular momentum.

    In other words something is “material” if if is comprised of things that interact with other materials, is comprised of things that can in principle be measured, even if only through their interactions with other materials (for example neutrinos). This is a tentative definition (as are all definitions in science). Dark matter is material because it interacts via gravity and so has mass/energy. Gravitational radiation is material because it has mass/energy. Chi is not “material” because it doesn’t have mass/energy or any other measurable effects.

    Things that are “material” have to all obey the same natural laws that all other “material” things obey. We may not be exactly sure what those “laws” are, but that does not give us license to make stuff up.

    If something is non-material, then it can’t have material properties and so can’t interact with materials via pathways where material quantities are conserved (like mass/energy or charge). This essentially precludes a non-material mind because it could never interact with the material of the brain.

    This is not a problem for those who have defined material things, it is a problem for those who postulate that there are non-material things. People who assert the existence of a non-material things, such as a non-material mind need to tell us what those terms mean.

  60. Mlemaon 10 Aug 2011 at 10:29 pm

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Materialism

    :”Relativity shows that matter and energy (including the spatially distributed energy of fields) are interchangeable. This enables the ontological view that energy is prima materia and matter is one of its forms. On the other hand, the Standard Model of Particle physics uses quantum field theory to describe all interactions. On this view it could be said that fields are prima materia and the energy is a property of the field…

    [Is “energy” the main stuff, with matter as one of it’s forms? Or are “fields” the main stuff, with energy as one of their forms?]

    …”Werner Heisenberg once said “The ontology of materialism rested upon the illusion that the kind of existence, the direct ‘actuality’ of the world around us, can be extrapolated into the atomic range. This extrapolation, however, is impossible . .. atoms are not things.”. …
    “According to the dominant cosmological model, the Lambda-CDM model, less than 5% of the universes energy density is made up of the “matter” described by the Standard Model of Particle Physics, and the majority of the universe is composed of Dark Matter and Dark Energy – with no agreement amongst scientists about what these are made of.”

    When you get right down to it, the universe is a whole lotta sumthin’ about which we know nuthin’: what makes anyone think that they know how things are going to go as we learn more about the “sumthin’”?

    Black and white pixels are now, (through material means), transferring the “image” E=mc2 to your brain, (via material means), causing your brain to “have” an idea, or, in other words, experience a particular “mental state” (non-material). The information symbolized in E=mc2 is a representation of the relationship between matter and energy. That idea is non-material. The brain state which results from comprehension of the idea is material, so>immaterial can affect material. If you say: it is the wavelength of light, in a particular configuration that physically causes the physical change in the brain, then why is it that someone who can’t read, will look at E=mc2, and not experience the resultant material brain state of an idea about the relationship between matter and energy? After all, they have received the same exact material input, and their material brain would change that sensory input to brain anatomy and physiology in the same way. It’s true that once the information “carried by” the variation in light waves is “decoded” (for lack of a better term) it will affect the brain state differently, because it will call up it’s own particular correlates in that person. But this “decoding” has to happen BEFORE the brain can be changed by the input. So, by the means of whatever it is that happens in the brain when we “experience” an idea because of a physical stimulus, non-material becomes material. We don’t know how this happens.

    Increasing our knowledge about how everything in the brain happes on the material side of the equation will not necessarily explain how the brain perceives a non-material, abstract idea. Truly, the most parsimonious explanation would be to say that information exists as fundamental. A particular relationship between energy and matter is communicated to us in the phenomena of the material world. The brain is a “decoder” of information that’s encoded in that phenomen (which we’re a part of, and not separate from). This paradigm allows for the non-material nature of information, which, although it is not an evident “thing” without being encoded in the material world, can “exist” independently.

    (this is inspired by David Chalmers “Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness”. Or maybe it is actually his idea exactly. I don’t know because I didn’t read the paper carefully enough to make sure i understood it just so. But the recognition of the dilemma of conscious experience has been around for ages. It is conceptual, but only in that many people find a dilemma in trying to conceptualize it. But I personally don’t see how you can ignore the phenomenon of the experience of something that only exists in an informational space until the brain “decodes” it. )

  61. tmac57on 10 Aug 2011 at 10:53 pm

    Mlema- Do you think that there exists an ‘experience of something’ that is either outside of a physical representation of it (art,books,hard drive) or an active mental image of it? In other words,do you think it exists independent of the physical world?

  62. neverknowon 10 Aug 2011 at 11:15 pm

    “If non-human organisms don’t have a non-material mind, what is it about humans that generates one?”

    What???? It would seem idiotic and bizarre to say that humans have a “non-material” mind and non-humans don’t. And we don’t have good definitions of “material” so how can we know what you mean by “non-material?”

  63. neverknowon 10 Aug 2011 at 11:18 pm

    “A non-material mind separate from the brain is just as unnecessary as the magic light fairy that causes my lights to go on when I flip the switch.”

    I never said I believe there is a non-material mind separate from the brain. I have said I think the brain is only part of the mind, that the mind includes more than the brain. I think there are more substances, energies and fields than what science is currently aware of.

  64. neverknowon 10 Aug 2011 at 11:30 pm

    “People who assert the existence of a non-material things, such as a non-material mind need to tell us what those terms mean.”

    Everything must be “material” in some way. If something can’t be perceived and can’t have any influence on anything, then it can’t possibly exist.

    According to David Bohm’s theory of “implicate orders,” the level of reality we call “material” unfolds from higher orders. The higher orders are more subtle, more “mental,” than what we call the “physical” world.

    The theory of implicate orders is compatible with what is known in physics, and is also compatible with ancient ideas about “super-natural” worlds.

    If you accepted the possibility of higher orders, then you would have to accept that ancient beliefs might not result entirely from ignorance and hallucinations.

    Then what? How would you maintain your illusion of intellectual superiority?

  65. Watcheron 11 Aug 2011 at 1:18 am

    How do you know those higher orders are what you expect them to be? Why do they have to follow your definition? As yet, they are immeasurable, even if they exist.

    Also, your last couple questions are moot to the debate and come off as sour grapes. People might actually engage you seriously if it wasn’t for one line in each of your posts like that.

  66. SteveAon 11 Aug 2011 at 4:36 am

    Sonic; “It does add a bit of irony to the reading of much on this topic though– you know how often someone complains that a hypothesis isn’t falsifiable makes it unscientific- all the while implying abiogenesis is the only scientific approach to the problem.”

    If not abiogenesis, then a creator of some sort?

    Any clues where a ‘creator’ might have come from?

    If abiogenesis doesn’t kick in at some point then a creator must have been made by a creator, who must have been made by a creator, who must have been made by a creator etc etc.

    As an explanation the idea of a creator is neither logical nor satisfying.

  67. robmon 11 Aug 2011 at 6:31 am

    Sonic,

    I think the question of what constitutes proof of abiogenesis is a complex one. I think the notion of a early earth conditions to life experiment is unlikely to succeed. There could however be a chain of experiments linking early conditions to basic building blocks(Miller-Urey), building blocks to more complex structures/functions (Fox’s Experiments), and finally a very simple human engineered organism.

    The problem is even if scientists can establish that chain of evidence there’s no proof that’s how it happened, only that it’s one possibility among numerous abiogenesis scenarios.

    Any scientific hypothesis about the past should be based on what is currently known about the universe. Abiogenisis is the only scientific approach to the origins of life because our current understanding of life is that its based entirely on chemistry.
    Meanwhile a creator, aliens, or a vital life force aren’t part of current knowledge, and they don’t have anything close to evidence.

  68. BillyJoe7on 11 Aug 2011 at 6:44 am

    mufi,

    “Where does energy fit into that picture?”

    E = MC2

  69. neverknowon 11 Aug 2011 at 8:44 am

    “How do you know those higher orders are what you expect them to be? Why do they have to follow your definition? As yet, they are immeasurable, even if they exist.”

    I really don’t pretend to know very much. I only know that “materialism,” whatever that is, doesn’t make sense either scientifically or philosophically.

    “Also, your last couple questions are moot to the debate and come off as sour grapes. People might actually engage you seriously if it wasn’t for one line in each of your posts like that.”

    Ok, I see what you mean.

  70. mufion 11 Aug 2011 at 9:50 am

    BillyJoe: E=MC2

    Bearing in mind your comment about matter’s including “everything that matter gives rise to”, I asked you about energy because it is not at all clear to me that energy is necessarily a product of matter, as opposed to being the other way around (similar to the first part of Mlema’s last comment).

    daedalus2u: what is “material” is something that has mass/energy

    So energy is matter? Then why do these distinct terms survive (e.g. dark matter vs. dark energy)?

    Also, aren’t some particles supposedly massless (e.g. photons)?

  71. mufion 11 Aug 2011 at 10:07 am

    Mlema: Truly, the most parsimonious explanation would be to say that information exists as fundamental.

    Perhaps, but not all information is meaningful in the sense that it stands in the mind of an observer for something else (e.g. see Allen MacNeill’s essay on this topic). And the evidence suggests that such observers (i.e. organisms with semantic capabilities) only emerged on the scene recently (relative to the evolutionary timescale).

  72. daedalus2uon 11 Aug 2011 at 10:12 am

    We know that the Earth was at one time molten, and when the Earth was molten, it did not have “life” (as we know it).

    Earth now does have life, so there was a transition from when the Earth was life-free to life-containing.

    If that transition occurred via natural processes, chemistry and physics, we call that transition abiogenesis.

    If that transition occurred via some “poofing” into existence, then we call it special creation. Either aliens (which only moves the origin of life to another place), god or gods, which (because the god or gods can be considered alive, requires demonstration of the origin of the god or gods), or time travel.

    As I see it, abiogenesis should be our default, that life arose via natural processes via a path which we don’t yet understand. We have no data that suggests otherwise. Any kind of “poofing” into existence would be extraordinary and so would require extraordinary evidence. We have lots of ordinary evidence that “poofing” has not been observed.

  73. daedalus2uon 11 Aug 2011 at 10:16 am

    mufi, photons have zero rest mass. They do have mass/energy and momentum. There are no particles known or postulated that do not have mass/energy.

    All fields also have mass/energy.

  74. ccbowerson 11 Aug 2011 at 11:08 am

    “Everything must be “material” in some way”

    So you are a materialist, just a self deprecating one? You use terms in an incoherent sense, so its impossible to understand your point especially when you then say…

    “I really don’t pretend to know very much. I only know that “materialism,” whatever that is, doesn’t make sense either scientifically or philosophically.”

    Nice argument of ‘I don’t know much, or what this term means, but its definitely wrong.’ Define your terms then we can begin a discussion. Instead you define your conclusion first.

  75. SteveAon 11 Aug 2011 at 11:08 am

    daedalus2u: “We have lots of ordinary evidence that “poofing” has not been observed.”

    I agree with everything you said, but wasn’t sure what you meant by the above. Is this a reference to the old ideas of spontaneous generation (maggots from meat etc)?

  76. mufion 11 Aug 2011 at 11:14 am

    daedelus2: Thanks for clarifying that.

    Got a quick response to this one?:

    So energy is matter? Then why do these distinct terms survive (e.g. dark matter vs. dark energy)?

  77. ccbowerson 11 Aug 2011 at 11:40 am

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/equivME/

    Mufi, It is long, but relevant to your question about mass and energy. A third the way down refers to “philosophical interpretations of E=MC2,” below which is also relevant

  78. mufion 11 Aug 2011 at 12:16 pm

    ccbowers, I only skimmed that article, but here’s a part that speaks directly to my question:

    …both the Einstein-Infeld and Zahar interpretations use a rudimentary distinction between “matter” and “fields.” According to this somewhat dated distinction, classical physics includes two fundamental substances: matter, by which one means ponderable material stuff, and fields, by which one means physical fields such as a the electromagnetic field. For both Einstein and Infeld and Zahar, matter and fields in classical physics are distinguished by the properties they bear. Matter has both mass and energy, whereas fields only have energy. However, since the equivalence of mass and energy entails that mass and energy are really the same physical property after all, say Einstein and Infeld and Zahar, one can no longer distinguish between matter and fields, as both now have both mass and energy.

    I suppose it’s still a conventional to refer to the fundamental “stuff” of the universe (as in: all that is measurable in terms of mass/energy) as “matter.” But then the “dark matter” and “dark energy” distinction suggests a difference nuance – one that seems to hearken back to the matter and field distinction mentioned above.

  79. daedalus2uon 11 Aug 2011 at 12:28 pm

    steve, to me, “poofing” is a process that is discontinuous with previous natural causal paths. Anything that violates conservation of mass/energy, charge, momentum, action at a distance, etc. is “poofing”.

    “Matter” is “stuff” that is not moving at c and which can’t move at c. “Energy” is “stuff” that is moving at c or which can move at c.

    Fields are examples of “energy”. Fields can be stationary, as in electric or magnetic fields. Fields can also move at c, as in the electromagnetic wave that is light.

    Dark energy is moving at c, dark matter is not.

    There can be conversion between matter and energy, an electron positron pair is matter, but they can combine to form photons. To convert matter into energy you need to have a path which conserves the stuff which is conserved, mass/energy, charge, momentum, etc. You can’t just convert a kg of generic matter into a kg of generic energy.

  80. daedalus2uon 11 Aug 2011 at 12:33 pm

    To elaborate a little more, a lot of the mass associated with matter is due to fields. In the nucleus of an atom, there is a lot of energy in the fields that are binding the nuclei together. When hydrogen is fused into helium, the released energy comes from the binding of nucleons which comes from the fields that are holding the nuclei together. Some of the mass of a proton comes from the energy contained in the electric field it has.

  81. robmon 11 Aug 2011 at 12:41 pm

    mufi,

    dark energy and dark matter are two different things, dark energy is a something that is driving the universe apart at an increasing rate, and appears to exist at all points in space. Dark matter is something at the edge of galaxies that weakly interacts with matter as we know it, is invisible (currently), yet is very massive and produces gravity that affects the rotation of said galaxies, and is observed through gravitional lensing.

    One is more matter like, the other is more energy like, hence refering to each respectively, and we don’t really know what either is, hence the term dark.

  82. Mlemaon 11 Aug 2011 at 1:45 pm

    @tmac57on 10 Aug 2011 at 10:53 pm

    “Mlema- Do you think that there exists an ‘experience of something’ that is either outside of a physical representation of it (art,books,hard drive) or an active mental image of it? In other words,do you think it exists independent of the physical world?”

    tmac,
    I am unable to conceive that an “experience of something” could exist outside the physical world.

  83. mufion 11 Aug 2011 at 1:49 pm

    daedalus2u:

    OK, so if I understand you correctly, matter and energy are distinct forms of the same “stuff”, which you also refer to as “material.” Is that only when the stuff is in the form of matter or also when it’s in the form of energy? or, in the latter case, would you refer to it as “energetic” (connoting energy), rather than “material” (connoting matter)?

    To avoid confusion (at least among lay folk like myself), may I suggest referring to the stuff as “physical”, rather than “material”?

    One other question:

    “Energy” is “stuff” that is moving at c or which can move at c.

    Fields are examples of “energy”. Fields can be stationary, as in electric or magnetic fields. Fields can also move at c, as in the electromagnetic wave that is light.

    How can a field be an example of energy (which, by definition, moves at c) and yet be stationary? Wouldn’t that make it matter?

  84. Mlemaon 11 Aug 2011 at 2:38 pm

    mufi,
    Thanks for the reference. I think when I said “Truly, the most parsimonious explanation would be to say that information exists as fundamental.”, I was being a bit pompous. (sometimes when you talk like you know what you’re saying, people don’t ask questions) :-) In reality, it is incumbent upon me to learn more about “information”, as your reference points out.

    But what you say, being true, doesn’t really change the idea put forth.

    This is from the first wikipedia page your reference linked to:

    “Information is any type of pattern that influences the formation or transformation of other patterns. In this sense, there is no need for a conscious mind to perceive, much less appreciate, the pattern.[citation needed] Consider, for example, DNA. The sequence of nucleotides is a pattern that influences the formation and development of an organism without any need for a conscious mind.”

    A human could exist without the experience of consciousness and still process all the information it needed to in order to live. For all we know, humans did exist in that way at one time. But it does seem evident that many animals other than humans do experience qualia – that is – it’s hard to believe that an animal who is obviously hurt and acts as though it’s in pain is not really feeling pain.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information

    just reading that wiki page helps illustrate that the idea is not a simple one after all.

    Information is encoded in many things, if not everything. It think possibly it’s meaningful in some way to something or somebody, regardless. Humans are so unique in the respect that: someone like Einstein could function in an entirely symbolic language to learn from information that exists in nature (the information E=mc2 is “encoded” in a bonfire) and then symbolically translate that information into new and newly usable information (to blow up atoms for energy for example)

    So, i think Allen MacNeill is sorting out some real nitty-gritty about just exactly what information, and is using the word “meaningful” to help distinguish elements of that nitty-gritty. But i think organisms are continually utilizing information (at any given moment we could consider that there is an untold quantity of info coming in via all the receptive tools of our physical body, and being translated into conscious experience. This is “meaningful” to us, and would analagously be meaningful to any organism (and to get really abstract, if information is fundamental, then everything is in the process of relating to everything else through information – as explained under the “relationship” part of the wiki article.

    I know that some animals can be taught to utilize symbols, and at this point in the discussion, the distinctions about what is “meaningful” and how or why humans uniquely use certain types of information, is beyond what I have considered. Again, the paradigm about information and human conscious experience doesn’t seem to be affected by what type of information the human is receiving.

  85. daedalus2uon 11 Aug 2011 at 2:42 pm

    By “stuff”, I mean mass/energy. Everything that is material has mass/energy.

    Fields are not necessarily tied to matter. Light is a traveling electromagnetic wave that moves at c and so has no matter associated with it. Fields can be tied to matter, the electric field around a charged particle is not removable from it. When a charged particle is accelerated, it generates electromagnetic radiation. That electromagnetic radiation moves at c. Electromagnetic radiation does contain an electric field and a magnetic field. Ferromagnetic materials also contain electric and magnetic fields.

    Matter and energy are not easily defined in non-ambiguous ways that are mutually exclusive. Mass isn’t easily defined either. A photon has mass, but is a massless particle. A photon has zero rest mass, that is a photon can’t be “at rest”, that is a photon can’t be stationary (in a field-free space) and a photon’s energy depends on the frame of reference of the observer. The rest mass of piece of matter has the same rest mass in every frame of reference.

    I think that is one of the reasons that there is so much “energy-woo”. “Energy” is not a term that non-scientists understand well, so it is easy to trick people into believing into your “energy-woo”.

  86. Mlemaon 11 Aug 2011 at 2:47 pm

    PS mufi,
    what i just said about “everything is in the process of relating to everything else through information” is actually under the “As a property in physics” of the wikipedia article. (sorry)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information

    I get all my favorite science from wikipedia! :-)

  87. mufion 11 Aug 2011 at 3:05 pm

    daedalus2u: By “stuff”, I mean mass/energy. Everything that is material has mass/energy.

    Yes, I already got that part.

    I was merely trying to point out the ambiguity of “material”, which could be interpreted as a reference to either matter (but not energy) or to all “stuff” (including energy).

    Thus, my suggestion to substitute “physical” for “material”—just for clarity’s sake (not because it’s likely to satisfy the woo folks).

  88. sonicon 11 Aug 2011 at 3:10 pm

    daedalus2u-
    Based on what you say- Space is matter. At least general relativity places mass-energy on one side of the equation and curvature of space-time on the other- so if only matter can effect matter, then space-time is matter.
    It seems your first definition left that out.

    Mlema-
    You have been busy reading- haven’t you?
    I like the question about dark matter and dark energy.
    Regarding abstract ideas-
    If thought is the result of matter, then there aren’t any abstract ideas– what you are calling an idea is really the result of the interaction of a particular set of objects in space- nothing more, nothing less.
    I’m not saying that this is correct (I have never seen a physics formula that has mass-energy and/or space-time on one side and thought on the other, so I think the claim that thought is matter has not been demonstrated— but you knew that).
    Here is a great Heisenberg quote you might like–

    “I think that modern physics has definitely decided in favor of Plato. In fact the smallest units of matter are not physical objects in the ordinary sense; they are forms, ideas which can be expressed unambiguously only in mathematical language.”

    (I’m assuming you know Plato– am I assuming too much?)

    SteveA-
    If not abiogenesis, then there is something irreducible about life. And I have no idea how it came about. Of course I have no idea how an electron or an atom or space-time or any of that came about. I don’t know how the laws of physics came about– (the real laws, not our current understanding…)
    I have given up on the use of personal incredulity as the main measure of this type of idea.
    I’m too big a sucker for a good story.
    So, I’m sorry to say I don’t know where a creator would come from if there is one.
    Perhaps it is just one of those things.

    robm-
    Proof of abiogenesis would be a demonstration of such.
    The question is how would you disprove it?
    (BTW– Your use of Miller-Urey and Fox indicates that your information on this subject is rather dated.)

  89. mufion 11 Aug 2011 at 3:10 pm

    Mlema:

    I think we’re on the same page. I just felt like underscoring the kind of information to which I’m most partial (viz. that which is meaningful).

  90. mufion 11 Aug 2011 at 3:14 pm

    sonic quoting Heisenberg: I think that modern physics has definitely decided in favor of Plato.

    I’ll have to plead agnosticism on that question.

    But I think it’s at least as likely that Heisenberg was guilty of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness (a.k.a. reification).

  91. mufion 11 Aug 2011 at 3:23 pm

    …as was Plato, for that matter.

  92. sonicon 11 Aug 2011 at 3:24 pm

    mufi- Mlema-
    Be careful of the use of the word information.
    The mathematics of information was done by Shannon.
    What he did was quantize information so that it could be a useful mathematical concept.
    But the information he is talking about is devoid of meaning (the semantics are not part of the model.

    This is why the phone system can handle so many bytes of information– and we know that most of that is meaningless ;-)

    (At least that’s how my buddies in the info processing world tell me.)

    Semantical meaning has not been quantized in anyway. Meaning is currently outside of mathematics in that sense.

  93. sonicon 11 Aug 2011 at 3:30 pm

    mufi-
    If materialism is true, then can anything be abstract?

  94. mufion 11 Aug 2011 at 3:43 pm

    sonic: Semantical meaning has not been quantized in anyway. Meaning is currently outside of mathematics in that sense.

    That only puts a finer point on what I said earlier re: meaningful info being my favorite kind.

    If materialism is true, then can anything be abstract?

    I don’t see why not. What are abstract concepts based on if not concrete concepts; viz. those derived from the phenomena of sensory-motor experience?

    Materialism is a metaphysical theory re: the nature of such experience (e.g. its grounding in and interaction with material bodies), but it’s no less compatible with abstraction than any other such theory.

  95. Mlemaon 11 Aug 2011 at 4:37 pm

    hi sonic!

    In my original comment, which is about information possibly being “fundamental”, i didn’t make any assertion about information being meaningful. Mufi’s comment implied that only some information is “meaningful” – and I’m simply suggesting that all information is meaningful to somebody or something, somewhere, at some time! I’m not using “meaningful” in a scientifically-defined way, I’m just using it the regular old way: meaningful means: it means something. I went on to say that, for instance, the information that my body is continually receiving is meaningful to me. And the information that a dog’s body is receiving is meaningful to him. And the information that a plant receives is meaningful to it. And the information that a computer receives is meaningful to it!

    And let’s get rid of the word “abstract” too! i used it simply to accentuate that the idea that “everything is in the process of relating to everything else through information” may not be immediately evident. I did not mean abstract in some way “outside of time and space” – but rather more like an abstract painting, where one thing only makes reference to another thing.
    The idea itself is described under the “As a property in physics” in this wikipedia article:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information

    If you are inclined to read that wiki page, you will know the extent to which I’m prepared to try to “flesh out” the idea about information being fundamental. It’s beyond my capacity, at this point, to relate what I’m saying to your admonishments. I just don’t have the knowledge. If you want to take the time to try to educate me, I’m open to that.

    I do enjoy the Heisenberg quote. It sums up what he was quoted as saying on the wiki “materialism page”:
    “The ontology of materialism rested upon the illusion that the kind of existence, the direct ‘actuality’ of the world around us, can be extrapolated into the atomic range. This extrapolation, however, is impossible . .. atoms are not things.”.
    (I told you wikipedia has all my favorite science!)

    If you knew Plato, like I know Plato, oh, oh what a guuuuuy!

  96. Mlemaon 11 Aug 2011 at 4:47 pm

    “In physics, physical information refers generally to the information that is contained in a physical system.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physical_information

    “as sensory input:
    Often information is viewed as a type of input to an organism or system.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information
    (as sensory imput)

  97. Mlemaon 11 Aug 2011 at 4:53 pm

    Physical information is of many different types.
    the wiki article list those types, and then says:

    “The above usages are clearly all conceptually distinct from each other. However, many people insist on overloading the word “information” (by itself) to denote (or connote) several of these concepts simultaneously. (Since this may lead to confusion, this article uses more detailed phrases, such as those shown in bold above, whenever the intended meaning is not made clear by the context.)”

    and that doesn’t even include the larger categories within “information” itself!

    I’m one of those “many people” who overload the word information with meaning. And I mixed at least two or three distinct meanings together in my first post about information and conscious experience. i have since confessed to my sin, and I’m willing to make further amends as anyone might request. but for today I’m afraid this is gonna hafta be it friends.

  98. sonicon 11 Aug 2011 at 5:01 pm

    mufi-
    Sorry if I missed your point about information– (It’s just that word word has been so abused lately– not your fault- my paranoia.)

    the word abstract means-
    ‘thought of apart from concrete realities, specific objects, or actual instances’
    or
    ‘expressing a quality or characteristic apart from any specific object or instance’

    What is apart from concrete realities and specific objects or actual instance?

  99. Mlemaon 11 Aug 2011 at 5:05 pm

    sonic,
    maybe you weren’t writing to me, but I was just using the word “abstract” as in meaning #3, and maybe #6 (guilty again of taking advantage of numerous meanings):

    ab·stract (b-strkt, bstrkt)
    adj.
    1. Considered apart from concrete existence: an abstract concept.
    2. Not applied or practical; theoretical. See Synonyms at theoretical.
    3. Difficult to understand; abstruse: abstract philosophical problems.
    4. Thought of or stated without reference to a specific instance: abstract words like truth and justice.
    5. Impersonal, as in attitude or views.
    6. Having an intellectual and affective artistic content that depends solely on intrinsic form rather than on narrative content or pictorial representation: abstract painting and sculpture.

  100. Mlemaon 11 Aug 2011 at 5:15 pm

    I just wanted to say that I made a post about conscious experience, how it’s related to sensory input as information, etc. in order to illustrate the kinds of ways in which I feel that BOTH Dr.s Novella and Egnor are debating behind the curve of where the conversation might really be happening re: mind/body.
    All the subsequent comments are efforts to sort out the nature of a concept that is not really original to me and could be better understood by reading things that other people have written.

    I posted a link to Dr. Chalmers paper for Dr. Novella, but it is very likely that he hasn’t the time or inclination to read or reply to that. There are at least a couple of other comments here from people who have raised similar questions about conscious experience as well, and i have gathered that Dr. Novella subscribes to Daniel Dennett’s ideas about it and wishes to leave it at that. That’s fine, and be able to comment and hear back has enabled me to understand where different people are at, and that is as satisfying to me as the debate itself. And so i say thank you.

  101. mufion 11 Aug 2011 at 5:26 pm

    sonic: What is apart from concrete realities and specific objects or actual instance?

    Literally? Nothing, in my view. Metaphorically? Whatever the mind/brain/body is capable of conjuring up (e.g. love, justice, equality, etc.).

  102. Mlemaon 11 Aug 2011 at 5:38 pm

    mufi

    BillyJoe7

    I posted comments for you on “The Motivated Reasoning of Egnorance”. Because I’m just sure you were waiting for them! :-)

  103. sonicon 11 Aug 2011 at 6:00 pm

    Mlema-
    But I thought you were educating me! (and I have read the article about information).
    And yes, given the meanings of abstract you reference- no problems.
    And information being fundamental is interesting– certainly information is part of experience and experience is all I know– perhaps more on that later– I need to think…

    I used to know Socrates, but then I questioned his existence… :-)

    mufi-
    I believe we agree on the implications of strict materialism regarding the existence of abstract things. (They are metaphor).

  104. mufion 11 Aug 2011 at 6:17 pm

    sonic – Yes, although, according to my reading of the past year or so, metaphor plays a much larger role in our thinking than many folks (including scientists and philosophers) seem willing to admit.

  105. sonicon 11 Aug 2011 at 7:53 pm

    mufi–

    It is important to realize that in physics today, we have no knowledge what energy is.
    Feynman

    A man not afraid to recognize the level of metaphor in science?

  106. BillyJoe7on 12 Aug 2011 at 12:06 am

    “I posted a link to Dr. Chalmers paper for Dr. Novella, but it is very likely that he hasn’t the time or inclination to read or reply to that.”

    If he hasn’t read that 16 year old paper yet I’d be surprised.
    He probably doesn’t believe in p-zombies either and so has simply dismissed him as someone worth paying much attention to ;)

  107. robmon 12 Aug 2011 at 12:26 am

    Dr. Novella has been aware of Dr. Chalmers’ work for a while, he mentioned him in his tam 6 talk around 3:20

    http://www.vimeo.com/21503841

  108. Mlemaon 12 Aug 2011 at 1:29 am

    I was aware that Dr. Novella was familiar with Chalmers because he had mentioned him in one of the posts regarding Egnor. In fact, it was the mention that led me to the paper I later asked Dr. Novella about. The talk that you, robm, linked me to (thanks) reveals what I wanted to know about Dr. Novella’s position regarding Chalmers’s ideas. So, for me it makes sense that Dr. Novella didn’t reply, because his reply to the kinds of questions posed by Chalmers, me and a few others here, is to say that they are “non-problems”. I definitely understand his position now, and his non-response was part of his response (if you know what I mean).

  109. BillyJoe7on 12 Aug 2011 at 6:53 am

    Mlema,

    He probably didn’t reply because he hasn’t bothered to even read your question. ;)
    In fact, if the truth be known, he probably pays you little regard. :D

    regards,
    BillyJoe :)

  110. neverknowon 12 Aug 2011 at 8:22 pm

    A conscious system has purpose and intention. A computer system is developed at a point in time and then set in motion. All of its behavior is determined in the past. This is like the “clockwork universe” that philosophers have speculated about. An unconscious clockwork universe could only respond to present events in pre-determined ways. It could not learn or evolve.

    Some of our behaviors do resemble unconscious clockwork. Well-learned habits, for example, are like programs that can be run without conscious direction. But we are not simply collections of established habits. We are learning machines, and learning requires consciousness.

    All living things have some degree of consciousness, because all are learning and evolving. At the same time, all living things are to some degree automatons. We are partly unconscious automatons and partly conscious learning machines.

    This has led to the misconception in philosophy that we, and other living things, are automatons and nothing more, and that consciousness has no purpose.

    What has already been learned, built, established, can run on automatically. The automatic machinery becomes the foundation for new learning, for creativity.

    As you learn a new skill, for example, the basics gradually become automatic. Your consciousness is removed from the already learned and applied to learning increasingly subtle and complex levels of skill.

    When we look at the current state of the world we might only see things running automatically and not notice the creative leading edges. That is what materialists have done.

    And yes, there is also disintegration and death. Individual things are not constantly growing — individuals grow to maturity and then decline and die. But overall, life evolves in the direction of greater complexity. Old individuals must die so that new ones can be born, so the species can evolve.

    I think we would find this happening throughout the universe, if we were able to explore it. Creation, automation, and more creation built on top of the automated systems.

    This is what happens in software development also. New systems are put together on top of already created systems.

  111. M. Davieson 12 Aug 2011 at 8:56 pm

    Ok, so the mind is what the brain does. Qualitative experience, consciousness, silent reflection, imagination, the sensation of pain, awareness (of self), fill in the blank; this is what what the brain does. Sure! I don’t know any philosophers, materialists or not, who think we can scrap brains (in a broad sense) and still have minds. We can’t scrap hearts and still have what hearts do (circulate blood) either.

    I still see an omission, however, and it’s in the causal account of mind. “The brain causes the mind”. Well, we know that minds don’t exist without brains, of course. We also know that changes to the brain result in relatively predictable changes to what people report about subjective experience, cognition, etc. So we can do things like say brain apparatus X generates aspect of mind Y. The specificity with which we can map all kinds of function to self-reports is interesting and undeniable. But this is all at the level of description, not explanation. It answers the question of a link between brains and minds, but it doesn’t explain why certain physiological structures lead people to have subjective experience in the first place, rather than brains just doing things the way hearts and kidneys do. 

    To respond that ‘the things which make up consciousness are exactly what the doing of brains does, obviously,’ is to restate the description of those physiological structures and what they generate, not to account for -why- some physiological structures entail subjective qualities and others do not. The functional operations of our brains can be satisfied and explained completely without having to invoke internal qualitative apprehensions of ‘redness’. And threat evaluation and social interaction can be handled without neo-homunculi mulling it over.

    The gap is not descriptive (everybody except the easiest targets presume brains cause minds, it’s a total duh); the gap is explanatory (akin to answering the difficult question of why objects have mass at all, rather than the slightly less difficult task of describing mass as a property of objects).

    This stuff about the evolutionary costs of consciousness presupposes too much: that the costs of consciousness can be explained in caloric terms or otherwise; that since we have minds surely there is a reason for it (which is saying nothing at all); or they say it is epiphenomenal, but there are all kinds of epiphenomena which don’t elicit self-awareness, so what makes the brain special? This approach just describes causal states of affairs in increasing (and impressive) detail without explaining why that causation happens to begin with. To rephrase the example, it’s like trying to get to an explanation of why objects have mass at all by describing how objects with mass interact with each other.

    Saying ‘neuroscience is the best bet to figure it out’ doesn’t do any heavy lifting; not because it’s wrong but because it’s trivially true. If someone thinks the conceptual problems of consciousness broadly conceived are satisfied because Egnor is extra-wrong miss the opportunity to grapple with the more interesting implications of their own position. Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature is very smart, it should appeal to those who like Dennett, and it deflates a lot of problematic assumptions which hide in the positions stated here.

  112. Mlemaon 13 Aug 2011 at 12:43 am

    M. Davies,
    Are you familiar with Donald Hoffman’s ideas?

    http://www.edge.org/q2005/q05_4.html#hoffman

    I only have a little familiarity, but I’m curious what you think.

    cheers,
    M

  113. M. Davieson 13 Aug 2011 at 1:04 am

    @Mlema

    I am not familiar. I don’t find his ideas compelling based on the link, but the onus is on me to grasp his position before I dismiss it.

    I think that ‘mind’, ‘consciousness’, etc. are not entities we grasp directly (if at all) they are a function of how we speak and of how we are socialized to see ourselves. They are like aether and science can simply ignore them. If it thinks they exist, however, alongside other objects of neuroscience (as a thing or as ‘what the brain does’ or any other kind of phenomenon), and wants to explain them, a commitment to materialism is necessary but not conclusive in itself. ‘Qualia’ problems or whatever you want to call them exist -within- materialism. But I don’t come here to score points and try to prove any position; I’m more interested in how others reason about these topics and how they address scrutiny.

    Fortunately there is a vast and sophisticated literature on this which avoids easy errors and which nonetheless has room for discussion. It’s more rewarding to grasp positions which at first glance seem incorrect but turn out to be well-thought out and just as defensible as our buttressed intuitions.

  114. Mlemaon 13 Aug 2011 at 1:24 am

    thanks, perhaps i need to read “Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature”. I’ve learned a lot visiting this blog because lots of people here link to writings that were completely unfamiliar to me before.
    Of course, since i don’t read them all, but instead read the ones I think I’ll like, I’m afraid I’m a bit discriminatory in the opinions I form.

    I’m looking for the link to Hoffman’s paper on “Conscious Realism” but I’m not finding it right away. Will look some more.
    thanks

  115. BillyJoe7on 13 Aug 2011 at 8:34 am

    M Davies,

    “The functional operations of our brains can be satisfied and explained completely without having to invoke internal qualitative apprehensions of ‘redness’. ”

    You won’t know that until the soft problem is solved. And when the soft problem is solved, it is at least possible that the hard problem will be solved as well.

    “akin to answering the difficult question of why objects have mass at all, rather than the slightly less difficult task of describing mass as a property of objects”

    Does the why question even make sense. What more can you hope for and want but to have a complete description.

    “This stuff about the evolutionary costs of consciousness presupposes too much”

    If p-zombies were possible, then the costs of evolving consciousness would have almost certainly prevented it from evolving. What are we presupposing here?

    “since we have minds surely there is a reason for it (which is saying nothing at all)”

    If p-zombies are possible and minds evolved anyway, there would have to be a reason for it.

    “or they say it is epiphenomenal”

    If minds are an emergent property of brains, then costs are irrlevant…and p-zombies are not possible.

  116. BillyJoe7on 13 Aug 2011 at 8:35 am

    Mlema,

    “I’m looking for the link to Hoffman’s paper on “Conscious Realism”

    I thought we killed Hoffman a few months back ;)

  117. mufion 13 Aug 2011 at 8:54 am

    I thought we killed Hoffman a few months back

    Evidently not. :-)

    But with Jeremiah gone, I should expect a much more amicable dispute over the matter.

  118. mufion 13 Aug 2011 at 10:18 am

    Egads. I see what Mlema means. Looks like Hoffman’s paper is now behind a firewall.

    Anyhow, I submit that it was another attempt to couch idealism in terms of contemporary science. Usually, such attempts invoke quantum mechanics, whereas Hoffman’s angle is that of a cognitive scientist.

  119. tmac57on 13 Aug 2011 at 10:43 am

    M Davies-

    Sure! I don’t know any philosophers, materialists or not, who think we can scrap brains (in a broad sense) and still have minds.

    Are there no philosophers who believe in the afterlife,or soul? Isn’t that positing a mind without necessity of a physical brain?

  120. Jeremiahon 13 Aug 2011 at 12:41 pm

    http://www.federaljack.com/ebooks/Consciousness%20Books%20Collection/Hoffman%20-%20Conscious%20Realism%20and%20the%20mind%20body%20problem.pdf

  121. M. Davieson 13 Aug 2011 at 1:01 pm

    “Are there no philosophers who believe in the afterlife,or soul? Isn’t that positing a mind without necessity of a physical brain?”

    No, that’s positing a soul or an afterlife. And those philosophers who argue for souls and the afterlife (as in publishing arguments to that effect, rather than having a personal belief in them) are very few and far between. I imagine those who exist do get disproportional attention from the skeptical community, but only beacause they are an easy target.

    I really get the feeling people have zero familiarity with serious contemporary philosophy and professional philosophers. Apparently all they do is split hairs and make stuff up, oblivious to Science.

  122. tmac57on 13 Aug 2011 at 4:16 pm

    An afterlife or soul that persists after death ,not tethered to the mind/consciousness,seems like a pointless concept.

  123. mufion 13 Aug 2011 at 10:36 pm

    M. Davies: I really get the feeling people have zero familiarity with serious contemporary philosophy and professional philosophers. Apparently all they do is split hairs and make stuff up, oblivious to Science.

    That’s an unkind accusation. Can you be more specific about which people you’re targeting?

  124. BillyJoe7on 14 Aug 2011 at 12:23 am

    Daniel Dennett.

  125. steve12on 14 Aug 2011 at 12:26 am

    Billy Joe – were you answering Daniel Dennet in response to
    “Can you be more specific about which people you’re targeting?” ?

    Because I think that M Davies is pretty much in agreement with Dennet…

  126. ccbowerson 14 Aug 2011 at 12:31 am

    “That’s an unkind accusation. Can you be more specific about which people you’re targeting?”

    Apparently the condescension is towards “people.” It is vital in philosophy (and science) is to be clear about terms used.

    Splitting hairs is not as important as separating bunches and those intertwined.

  127. BillyJoe7on 14 Aug 2011 at 7:06 am

    steve12,

    I was offering Daniel Dennett as a counterexample to M Davies characterisation of contemporary philosophers (“all they do is split hairs and make stuff up, oblivious to Science”).

  128. mufion 14 Aug 2011 at 9:47 am

    I suspect that M Davies’s comment was a swipe at one or more of the commentators here (e.g. that we appear ignorant of contemporary philosophers, on the presumption that we believe that “all they do is split hairs and make stuff up, oblivious to Science”). But I am not at all certain of that, which is why I asked him/her to clarify.

  129. M. Davieson 14 Aug 2011 at 12:52 pm

    I wasn’t characterizing contemporary philosophers as hair-splitters oblivious to science.

    I was lamenting how commentators here often characterize philosophers: either a philosopher seems to support the commentators’ position and said philosopher is therefore a rigorous avatar of empirically-grounded reason, dutifully following scientific conclusions; or said philosopher offers a challenge to the commentators’ position, and therefore can be dismissed as an ‘armchair philosopher’ who is simply playing language games and has her head in the clouds.

    It was a swipe at any commentary here which reduces to: either one is a materialist who works with observables and science, or one is a dualist and therefore thinks mind is supernatural and on the level as souls and the afterlife. This is gets so much of philosophy of mind wrong to the point of being incoherent. See also: anything on p-zombies, because all the claims on p-zombies in threads here have been eviscerated by introductory works – not to the point that one particular conclusion is correct, but to the point that people have detailed the problems with any particular conclusion. Anyone who thinks they’ve nailed the solution is so far in over his or her head it’s embarrassing.

    When every argument on philosophy of mind in this thread and others (save for the bizarre tangents) has already been examined, understood, addressed, rebutted, redefended, etc. exhaustively by philosophers, then it is a surprise to see the vigor with which people defend their positions and the speed with which they reject any kind of reflection on the problems of their positions. I prefer to get a discussion reflecting on the weaknesses and complications of our own positions rather than have some internet stranger try to convince me of how right she thinks she is.

  130. rezistnzisfutlon 14 Aug 2011 at 2:39 pm

    “either a philosopher seems to support the commentators’ position and said philosopher is therefore a rigorous avatar of empirically-grounded reason, dutifully following scientific conclusions; or said philosopher offers a challenge to the commentators’ position, and therefore can be dismissed as an ‘armchair philosopher’ who is simply playing language games and has her head in the clouds.”

    Aside from a couple errors in this statement, I would say yes, as far as this discussion goes, they do fall into these two categories; one that overall accepts scientifically based theories and conclusions, and one who accepts the possibility of “more”, or in other words, spiritual, supernatural, or paranormal explanations for mind beyond the physical.

    “dutifully following scientific conclusions”

    This is a bit of an ad hominem, in that it suggest that some philosophers, by accepting science, simply fall in line with anything scientific no matter what, no questions asked, just because it’s based on the science. I think most “materialistic” philosophers will accept the scientific, naturalistic explanations and are (highly) skeptical of anything supernatural, it’s true, but being skeptics they don’t always simply accept any study out of hand just because it’s scientific and fall in line with what the study suggests.

    “therefore can be dismissed as an ‘armchair philosopher’ who is simply playing language games and has her head in the clouds”

    I’m not sure anyone here is simply dismissing these kinds of philosophers out of hand just because they don’t agree with someone’s supposedly entrenched position, but because such philosophers have not been able to produce any viable evidence that is compelling enough to be taken seriously. There are plenty of scientific studies that would be received with the same skepticism, that have nothing to do with the supernatural.

    I would say that if some skeptics seem dismissive of certain claims, esp. religious, woo, paranormal, alternative medicine, etc., it’s because most have heard the same arguments over and over, regurgitating the same “evidence” they’ve seen a thousand times from other claimants. A skeptic’s default position is disbelief of claims made with no, or no compelling, evidence (especially if those claims are extraordinary and are contrary with what we know and expect from the world around us).

    The simple matter is, there is no evidence for supernatural, spiritual or paranormal that can withstand any scientific scrutiny.

  131. M. Davieson 14 Aug 2011 at 3:12 pm

    The simple matter is that the major disputes in philosophy of mind are not between skeptics who consult the evidence and those who offer supernatural explanations without evidence.

  132. Mlemaon 14 Aug 2011 at 3:18 pm

    None of the philosophers discussed here with regards to consciousness (Dennett, Edelman, Chalmers, Hoffman, etc.) have proposed anything “supernatural”. But there are commentators here who, if they sense something other than materialistic monism in anyone’s philosophical proposal, mock and reject it out of hand.

    I don’t know if the actual writings are even read. It seems as though some simply take their cue from the current “group think”.

    Sorry folks, since you can’t get at my body and gang up and pummel me, I’m just saying it like I see it! And, truth be told, the names of each individual as they relate to the various opinions are not connected in my mind. It’s just a gestalt, with a few names that stand out because they’re NOT a part of the group!

    (but i love you all :-)

  133. Mlemaon 14 Aug 2011 at 3:22 pm

    M. Davies,

    Jeremiah has provided the following link to a draft of Hoffman’s paper. i think it’s essentially the same, and it appears to be the only free version.

    http://www.federaljack.com/ebooks/Consciousness%20Books%20Collection/Hoffman%20-%20Conscious%20Realism%20and%20the%20mind%20body%20problem.pdf

    cheers

  134. Mlemaon 14 Aug 2011 at 3:26 pm

    there also appears to be additional info online about how things are going with his endeavors to show that experiences of conscious agents:

    “can be mathematically modeled and empirically explored in the normal scientific manner.”

    as is stated in the abstract

  135. ccbowerson 14 Aug 2011 at 4:47 pm

    “I was lamenting how commentators here often characterize philosophers”

    Be specific please. Your approach in recent comments are analogous to walking into a room, and saying “please stop talking, because most of you don’t know what you are talking about.” While likely true, it is still condescending using generalities. I personally don’t care, but it says more the way you chose to interact with others than it does about those you are addressing.

    “It was a swipe at any commentary here…”

    See above.

    “I prefer to get a discussion reflecting on the weaknesses and complications of our own positions rather than have some internet stranger try to convince me of how right she thinks she is.”

    So engage at that level. If you are not getting such a discussion here, it is because the internet is full of people with a wide range of perspectives, levels of intelligence, and education in various areas. The group that follows this blog are, on average, (just a guess) fairly intelligent, highly educated, but have a highly variable exposure to philosophy. The latter apparently disturbs you.

  136. rezistnzisfutlon 14 Aug 2011 at 4:48 pm

    I don’t have much time for ontological arguments. Yes, we can be “brains in a vat”; yes, perception could just be a collection of impulses interpreted by the brain; yes, it could all be a false reality, a la The Matrix, and we’re all simply conscious constructs. It’s still a field of metaphysics that has little usefulness beyond pontification, with no evidence to support it, all in attempts to give credence to woo.

    Until I have evidence to support, and therefore reason to believe, arguments derived from ontology, I will continue to persist with the tool that actually provides results and progresses humanity, the scientific method based on corporeal empirical data. I don’t find anything particularly useful about ontological philosophy, especially when it goes in support of supernatural or metaphysical arguments.

  137. ccbowerson 14 Aug 2011 at 5:02 pm

    And yes, those pontificating outside of his/her expertise can be “embarassing.” Just ask Fodor “What Darwin got wrong.”

  138. M. Davieson 14 Aug 2011 at 5:12 pm

    @ccbowers
    “Be specific please. Your approach in recent comments are analogous to walking into a room, and saying “please stop talking, because most of you don’t know what you are talking about.” While likely true, it is still condescending using generalities. I personally don’t care, but it says more the way you chose to interact with others than it does about those you are addressing.”

    Point taken. I would say in my defense it’s not so much ‘please stop talking’ as it is ‘take the combativeness down a step or two’. I don’t want to name names because people are very committed to their perspectives here and it would just increase the antagonism than alleviate it. Look – I would just rather see everyone say ‘explain to me what is a problem with my position’ or ‘I don’t get what you are saying, please elaborate’ instead of petty rebuttals. That’s all.

    But I will say, then, for example, that rezistnzisfutl’s most recent comment is rather peculiar and exemplary. It’s tilting against windmills because no serious philosopher is ‘giving credence to woo’. Lauding ‘scientific method based on corporeal empirical data’ doesn’t get us anywhere because no science is without philosophical background (i.e. atheoretical); no science has no ontological assumptions. What is at stake in philosophy of mind is exactly what the possible objects of science are. The debates in philosophy of mind are precisely because philosophers are taking evidence and argumentation seriously and asking which conclusions and interpretations are valid and which ones aren’t.

  139. M. Davieson 14 Aug 2011 at 5:23 pm

    Actually, Jerry Fodor’s an excellent example (or am I just taking the bait here?). Whatever the virtues or failings of his work on philosophy of biology (of which there are both), I’ve yet to see a review that did a respectable job of characterizing his arguments faithfully. Most complaints amounted to ‘lol evolution actually happens, duh’ which he didn’t even dispute. Oh well.

  140. Jeremiahon 14 Aug 2011 at 5:23 pm

    http://ruccs.rutgers.edu/faculty/Fodor/Fodor_Against_Darwinism.pdf

  141. Mlemaon 14 Aug 2011 at 5:28 pm

    I agree with those who say that philosophy isn’t much use to gathering and making good use of empirical evidence.

    However, Dr. Novella continually mixes philosophy into his science in an attempt to establish clear philosophical face-off between “reason” (science) and “religion”(non-science). The attempt to use science to bolster certain philosophical viewpoints in order to then discredit religion comes from an attempt to appeal to reason, and to actually change people’s minds about the existence of God. This is perhaps a noble cause: to protect our schools from superstition, and teach our children critical thinking. Unfortunately, the method is futile, and ends up opening him up for criticism when the philosophy he employs, in opposition to the philosophy of religious adherents, falls short of current philosophical understanding. I’m no expert in ANY of these things, but it seems evident to my common sense.

    Religion=belief systems
    Science=exploration and analysis of the physical world

    they are not the same kinds of things, and neither one can “prove” or “disprove” the other by logical reasoning.

    what Dr. Novella, and many, many others around the world, suggest is:
    Religion=bad
    Science=good

    But you can’t really make this kind of assessment, because neither thing is good or bad in itself. They both belong to people, who then do good or bad things.

    The only thing here I would place real criticism on is the attempt in itself: that is, trying to prove that God doesn’t exist through scientific and philosophical argument. It’s nonsensical and a hopeless endeavor. If someone says they died and saw a brilliant light, and felt warmth and love, and that it was God they experienced, how are you going to force that person to admit that they simply had some kind of brain malfunction?

    If you think you’re going to do that by convincing them that all experiences originate in the brain and exist only in the brain, then you’re going to have to explain qualia in a way that they will accept as irrefutable. Saying “trust me, it’s not a problem” is probably not going to convince someone who believes they met God in person.

  142. rezistnzisfutlon 14 Aug 2011 at 5:39 pm

    “It’s tilting against windmills because no serious philosopher is ‘giving credence to woo’’

    Nowhere in my posts states this, nice strawman. There are plenty of serious philosophers who give credence to woo, or at least open the door to the possibility, allowing other philosophers to run with it. I’m not even saying that there aren’t any serious scientists who pontificate on such matters outside their practice of science. They’re free to do that all they want as long as it doesn’t interfere with their scientific practice (which one could argue that, given enough time and scope, it inevitably will, which is why I have a hard time with rational scientists expounding woo, religious beliefs, or anything supernatural for that matter). What I am saying is that there is no practical use for ontological arguments, and there’s a dirth of evidence when it comes to metaphysical and supernatural proponents.

    “Lauding ‘scientific method based on corporeal empirical data’ doesn’t get us anywhere because no science is without philosophical background (i.e. atheoretical)”

    My point is that there’s little usefulness with ontological arguments since it has no practical application with the scientific method, or reality for that matter. The problem with the philisophical arguments on this forum is that it’s attempting to argue against a purely physical mind, the same way religious people use ontological arguments for the existence of god, or woo proponents use it for the existence of supernatural powers. As long as there is no evidence such things actually exist, there’s no reason to believe it and no real use for the concept beyond pontificating. The scientific method, on the other hand, statistically finds what’s real and useful, and discards what isn’t, more than any other method.

    It’s not my intent to try and discourage discourse, but to imply that trying to convince skeptics of something in the light of no compelling evidence, isn’t going to do much and just takes up bandwidth. I simply want to clarify what likely most of the skeptics here view such arguments. We aren’t going to believe you, plain and simple.

  143. Mlemaon 14 Aug 2011 at 5:44 pm

    i said:
    “I agree with those who say that philosophy isn’t much use to gathering and making good use of empirical evidence.”

    after reading Davies comment above, I guess I’ve changed my mind about that

  144. rezistnzisfutlon 14 Aug 2011 at 5:50 pm

    @Mlema,

    Perhaps it is a futile endeavor for man people, especially those who claim to have had a personal experience that “proves” to them god exists.

    I think what Dr. Novella is doing is a good thing because, isn’t it better to seek for what is actually true and real, rather than chase fantasies? Even if he does mix philosophy and science, so what? Science is a tool and a process, that’s all it really is. One can have a philosophy that guides them in how they use this tool. His use of science in making arguments is sound because it’s backing his arguments with actual demonstrable evidence, rather than the baseless claims made by the religious, et al.

    What he’s trying to do is remove the distortions, false claims, and misconceptions people have about things. It may not work out perfectly and no one has a perfectly clear view of the world, but it’s far better what he’s doing than those who purport a truth about the world that has absolutely no basis whatsoever.

    I would say that religion is bad, overall, and science is good (though I wouldn’t go as far as qualifying science that way as it’s like trying to say a socket wrench is good; it can be useful, but there is little quality beyond that; the results can be ultimately used for good or bad). The point is to use science, reason and logic in making rational decisions about the world, rather than irrational and superstitions beliefs based on faulty reasoning to make decisions, or claims that have no good basis. To think critically about what a person’s beliefs are, and to make well-informed decisions based on what is closest to reality.

  145. rezistnzisfutlon 14 Aug 2011 at 6:01 pm

    “that is, trying to prove that God doesn’t exist through scientific and philosophical argument.’

    I don’t think many people are actually out to disprove the existence of god. The reality is, no one can disprove a negative claim 100%. The most they can do is point out the lack of evidence and reject/debunk false claims made about supposed positive evidence for the existence. It may seem that skeptics are proactively attempting to disprove god, but that would be a false assumption; what they’re trying to do is refuting false claims, especially false claims made about what science says.

    “then you’re going to have to explain qualia in a way that they will accept as irrefutable”

    This is using “the gaps” fallacy, ie “god of the gaps”, etc. As said many times before, science doesn’t have all the answers, and that’s ok. We honestly don’t know certain things, and that frustrates theists especially because they generally come from a background of absolute morality and authority. Science is never 100% about anything, and doesn’t have all the answers. However, claiming that because science cannot currently explain a certain phenomenon, that must in turn mean whatever is being asserted is true, is a fallacy and an argument from ignorance. I’m not going to make any assertion about something that has no evidence one way or another, it would be intellectually dishonest to do so. One can speculate all day long, but that won’t necessarily make it true.

  146. SteveAon 14 Aug 2011 at 6:32 pm

    Mlema: “Religion=belief systems
    Science=exploration and analysis of the physical world

    they are not the same kinds of things, and neither one can “prove” or “disprove” the other by logical reasoning.”

    Science can’t disprove the existence of the Lord God Jehovah (or ‘insert god of choice’) any more than a follower of the Lord God Jehovah can disprove the hypothesis that the universe exists within the imagination of my pet cat.

    However, when religious claims start to impinge on real life (the age of the earth, miracles, the existence or not of semi-mythical figures etc) then those claims can and will be tested. Reality is the turf of science, step on it and prepare to have your evidence examined and, if necessary, challenged.

  147. Mlemaon 14 Aug 2011 at 7:11 pm

    SteveA,
    why are you trying to suggest that I said something contrary to what you just wrote? Didn’t i suggest “This is perhaps a noble cause: to protect our schools from superstition, and teach our children critical thinking.”

    you are implying that i think it’s unreasonable to assert scientific truth against any particular superstition. No, I’m saying: it’s useless to try to use logic and philosophy to convince the faithful that there’s no God.

  148. Mlemaon 14 Aug 2011 at 7:12 pm

    especially when your philosophy and logic are faulty because they’re not complete or don’t account for current understanding

  149. rezistnzisfutlon 14 Aug 2011 at 7:36 pm

    “No, I’m saying: it’s useless to try to use logic and philosophy to convince the faithful that there’s no God”

    Agreed, and I’m not sure that’s what most are trying to do. Rather, skeptics, atheists, etc, may be trying to demonstrate why certain beliefs are not rational, or more accurately, why certain reasons to believe have no basis in reality, logic or reason. For instance, when someone claims it was god that performed a miracle for an event that may have no explanatio, that certain biblical stories actually happened (and especially claiming those events are backed by science), or that god did some things that directly contradict what we observe in nature because it says so in the bible, that’s when they speak up. It’s just like any other claim being made, especially extraordinary claims, those claims are going to be scrutinized. The same goes with supernatural or metaphysical claims.

    I don’t think most skeptics/atheists are going around to people on the street without provocation saying that there’s no god. Primarily, what they say is in response to the claims being made of the existence of god by theists, and the reasons why, especially when those claims are outright false or falsely represent science.

    I’m only using theism/atheism here because you’d brought up the assertion that anyone is trying to callim there is no god (an initial claim). The same converstation would take place with any extraordinary claim, such as woo or metaphysics.

  150. Mlemaon 14 Aug 2011 at 8:01 pm

    rezistnzisfutl,
    you have written a lot of things in response to my comments here. I can’t take the time to respond to all your comments tonight. But I will try to do so soon, in case you are wanting a response back.
    M

  151. ccbowerson 14 Aug 2011 at 11:27 pm

    “I don’t want to name names because people are very committed to their perspectives here and it would just increase the antagonism than alleviate it.”

    I agree with what you are saying here, but not naming names is also antagonistic. It is a difficult maneuver and I agree with your general position.

  152. ccbowerson 14 Aug 2011 at 11:33 pm

    “Whatever the virtues or failings of his work on philosophy of biology (of which there are both), I’ve yet to see a review that did a respectable job of characterizing his arguments faithfully.”

    Though not detailed, I don’t think this was too unbalanced:

    http://www.philosophynow.org/issue81/What_Darwin_Got_Wrong_by_Jerry_Fodor_and_Massimo_Piattelli-Palmarini

    Fodor was unconvincing in a debate that occured around the same time:

    http://platosbeard.org/archives/637

  153. Jeremiahon 15 Aug 2011 at 3:15 am

    http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n20/jerry-fodor/why-pigs-dont-have-wings

  154. RickKon 15 Aug 2011 at 5:42 am

    Anybody who has read the various cases described by Oliver Sacks cannot doubt for a second that the mind and brain are one. Every conceivable element of human consciousness, intelligence, personality, talent, ability, morality and perception have been altered by PHYSICAL changes in the brain. While we may not yet be able to measure it all exactly or manipulate it all precisely, we can study the hundreds of thousands of cases out there where physical changes to the brain influenced every part of what we call the human spirit, the human soul and the human personality.

    Everyone reading this can have their inhibitions, their morality, their sense of self, their level of religiousity, and even such esoteric things as their artisitic and musical ability altered by the right drug, the right stroke, or the right bolt of lightning.

    The mind is the brain is the mind – that is the only explanation that fits the data. For those that put belief aside and let themselves be directed by the data, the case is closed.

  155. BillyJoe7on 15 Aug 2011 at 6:34 am

    “Science can’t disprove the existence of the Lord God Jehovah”

    Define the Lord God Jehovah.
    Define any god.
    Really, once the various gods are defined, short shrift can be made of all of them – except the deistic god and there are no religions predicated on a deistic god.

  156. SteveAon 15 Aug 2011 at 7:38 am

    BillyJoe7 “Define the Lord God Jehovah.
    Define any god.
    Really, once the various gods are defined, short shrift can be made of all of them – except the deistic god and there are no religions predicated on a deistic god.”

    I don’t think we’re disagreeing about anything.

    Science can’t get its teeth into a vague ‘deity’ as such, but as soon as you start defining a god (by presenting the evidence you believe supports your belief in it) then the process of rational investigation can kick in.

    For example, a rational examination of the evidence supports a view that Jehovah was a common-or-garden storm god (one of many in a pantheon) who gradually subsumed all the others.

  157. BillyJoe7on 15 Aug 2011 at 8:25 am

    Evolutionary Biologist, Jerry Coyne’s take on philosopher, Jerry Fodor book “What Darwin Got Wrong”

    http://www.thenation.com/article/improbability-pump

    “A reader lacking training in science might skim over the rather tedious discussion of these phenomena (horizontal gene transfer, alternative splicing of genes, robustness, modularity, molecular drive, entrenchment, developmental noise, phenotypic plasticity, self-organization) and assume that Jerry Fodor (and his co-author) know what they’re talking about. That reader would be wrong”

    “the authors’ attitude toward science throughout their book: they seize on some new wrinkle in the scientific literature, like a rare gene that doesn’t behave according to Mendel’s rules, and interpret it as a revolution that nullifies all of mainstream biology. This lack of grounding is often seen in work by science journalists who make their living touting “revolutionary” new findings, but it is inexcusable in a supposedly serious book written by academics.”

    “Their [Jerry Fodor and his co-author] claim to have nullified 150 years of science, and one of humanity’s proudest intellectual achievements, with some verbal legerdemain, is not only breathtakingly arrogant but willfully ignorant of modern biology.”

  158. M. Davieson 15 Aug 2011 at 11:26 am

    @RickK

    I’m not sure who you are arguing against, since your claim is a starting point for questions in philosophy of mind, not the terminus. Yeah, it’s a broadside against Egnor – but the descriptions of brain and mind advanced by people (philosophers, neuroscientists, laypeople) who share your position imply all kinds of unanswered questions and unexamined assumptions. Those lacunae cannot just be sussed out by running experiments (though that can be useful); conceptual work about what one is measuring, the consistency and coherency of concepts, explanatory value and parsimony – all of these are questions which can be asked. The asking of those questions constitutes philosophical labour. Faults with a materialist position don’t mean that a supernatural answer is better, it means that current materialist positions have problems. These problems may be empirical or conceptual, and therefore alleviated through empirical and conceptual work. This doesn’t vindicate ‘mind is brain’ the way you think it does.

    As for the tangential Fodor point – I took up ccbowers’ comment to say “It is a sign of intellectual maturity to faithfully reproduce the arguments of others before critiquing them, whether they are good or bad. You usually know you’ve done this if the person you are critiquing nonetheless agrees with your description of their position. I believe reviews of Fodor’s recent case, by and large, are good examples where this didn’t happen”. I’m not sure what posting one review demonstrates. Yes, people critiqued Fodor. We’ve already established that. If you want evidence that reviewers didn’t really grasp the issues (even if Fodor is still flat-out wrong), Coyne is a pretty good example.

  159. mufion 15 Aug 2011 at 12:34 pm

    One of the purposes of reading a review is to help one (e.g. a lay person like myself with scarce time available) to decide whether or not is it worth one’s time to read the full book, given the opportunity costs (so to speak). Of course, the reviewer may be unfair or mistaken, but if his/her credentials are trustworthy enough…

    That said, I only recall having read Massimo Pigliucci’s review of What Darwin Got Wrong, and I did so with the foreknowledge that Pigliucci’s opinion benefits from his educational/professional experience as both a biologist and a philosopher of science. Suffice it to say that Pigliucci’s conclusion was (like Coyne’s) very negative.

    But if others with similar credentials disagree, then I’ll try to bear that information in mind.

  160. Jeremiahon 15 Aug 2011 at 1:38 pm

    “If you want evidence that reviewers didn’t really grasp the issues (even if Fodor is still flat-out wrong), Coyne is a pretty good example.”

  161. BillyJoe7on 15 Aug 2011 at 5:18 pm

    Fellow philosophers, Ned Block and Philip Kitcher, criticise Jerry Fodor’s book “What Darwin Got Wrong”

    http://www.bostonreview.net/BR35.2/block_kitcher.php

    “If the authors want to mind their neighbors’ business, they should spend a little time discovering just what those neighbors do.”

  162. BillyJoe7on 15 Aug 2011 at 5:23 pm

    mufi,

    “Massimo Pigliucci’s review of What Darwin Got Wrong”

    Unfortunately it’s behind a paywall :(

  163. RickKon 15 Aug 2011 at 5:25 pm

    M. Davies,

    My point is simple – pick any feature of what we (or philosophers) call “mind”, and you can find cases in medical history where that feature was altered by purely physical events that occurred in or to the brain. I don’t have a background in philosophy of mind. I am not venturing down the ontological rabbit hole. I’m saying simply that judgement can be altered with the right drug, morality can be dramatically altered (in many directions) through any number of physical events on the brain, musical ability can be induced through electric shock, the list is endless. Cognitive ability, all of the senses, self-awareness, proprioception, mathematical ability, language skills, personality – all of them MUST be physical manifestations because all can be and have been altered by physical events.

    I know that I’m ignorantly bypassing a thousand years of philosophy. But to me it comes down to a simple question: what feature of what we call the “mind” has never been altered by physical influences?

  164. M. Davieson 15 Aug 2011 at 6:52 pm

    @RickK

    What feature of anything has never been altered by physical influences? You’ve distilled the whole point: there is no need to invoke supernatural or unobservable/unmeasurable entities in explanations. Yet a professed adherence to ‘materialism’ doesn’t solve much, it just gets the woo cooties off. Big deal. It still leaves problems which aren’t solved just by measuring brains, but by doing conceptual work. I hate repeating myself, but is mind an emergent property or is it vestigial concept that can be thrown in the trash? If my AI program says it feels things, does it really? How would we know? Could we? What counts as evidence for a particular claim? What entities are we actually measuring? Some people are very committed to their answers to such questions, which is fine, but saying ‘there is nothing but the natural world and studying the natural world is our best bet to solve this’ is a bit late getting to the party.

    The mind is the brain is the mind – that is the only explanation that fits the data. For those that put belief aside and let themselves be directed by the data, the case is closed.

    This goes around in circles. Are they the same thing with a different name or does one cause/generate the other? Is it theoretically possible to test for subjective experience or do we rely on structural similarity and verbal reports? And a thousand other lines of argument.

    Data never speak for themselves, they are meaningful only when interpreted. People argue over which interpretations are legitimate, and this has much to do with valid argumentation (e.g. what is a defensible inference) as it does with accurate measurement and data recording.

  165. rezistnzisfutlon 15 Aug 2011 at 9:03 pm

    I think the point RickK is making is that there is no good reason to believe that the mind is generated by anything other than the physical brain; all the evidence to date points to a purely physical explanation for the mind. It doesn’t matter if one is labeled materialist or not, there simply is no evidence for a mind outside of what the brain produces, and a lot of evidence that the brain only is what produces the mind.

    “Data never speak for themselves, they are meaningful only when interpreted”

    I disagree. Though there may be some data that is fairly open to interpretation, there is much data that has such a strong consensus that needs little interpretation and is obvious. An example would be gravity, where there is little need for interpretation that it exists at a pretty consistent constant at the earth’s surface (9.81 m/s^2). Where things may be open to interpretation would be, say, an incomplete fossil of a 120 MA proto-bird dinosaur.

  166. Jeremiahon 15 Aug 2011 at 10:00 pm

    “Just as ordinary people recognize that sieves select for size and not color, evolutionary biologists work hard to discover the mechanisms at work in producing increased frequency of types of organisms. They are happy if they can trace the prevalence of melanic moths to coloration, camouflage, and decreased predation rather than to superior survival of larvae. They remain unperturbed when asked if it is coloration rather than camouflage, or rather than lowered predation, or rather than being-melanic-and-smaller-than-Manhattan.
    We can know the fact that the sieve selects for size rather than color without the presence of any actual environments in which size and color are not correlated because we understand the causal mechanisms: we know what would have happened if size and color were de-correlated in this device, namely, there would still be selection for size rather than color. A real causal difference is a feature of the world that can be investigated in different ways, for example, by looking at mechanisms; by considering real cases of de-correlation; or by looking at cases where the selection pressures are slightly different, such as unpolluted environments in which light moths are at a disadvantage. The way evolutionary biologists think about causation allows for the discussion of causal process in any of a number of ways—even those strange ways that invent peculiar properties. Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini almost grasp this point where they discuss the “prima facie” plausibility that polar bear color is a result of selection for matching the environment rather than selection for whiteness, a difference that, as we saw in the analogous case of the moths, can be real and can be investigated.”
    (Fodor has not found a sieve that accounts for historical changes in behaviors, so he’s not impressed.)

  167. M. Davieson 15 Aug 2011 at 10:25 pm

    @rezistnzisfutl

    If that’s the point RickK is making, then I am utterly convinced that I have already recognized it, as expressed in several posts of mine in the thread. Do you think I am arguing in favour of mind as supernatural or something? That is at odds with everything I’ve posted.

    Though there may be some data that is fairly open to interpretation, there is much data that has such a strong consensus that needs little interpretation and is obvious. An example would be gravity, where there is little need for interpretation that it exists at a pretty consistent constant at the earth’s surface (9.81 m/s^2).

    ‘Gravity’ as a constant is not a brute fact that people trip on when they go out into the world, it’s an interpretation of observables, subsequently refined for an ideal case, given in units which are abstractions. The history of this in physics is a lot more complicated than ‘Newton was beat about the head with undeniable data that compelled his recognition of G‘ And physicists aren’t even done ‘figuring out’ gravity!

    The fact that there’s a defensible and reasonable consensus about gravity doesn’t invalidate it, but it makes it no less an interpretation. Scientists aren’t just ruler-jockeys who measure things endlessly and if they get stuck, measure them some more.

  168. rezistnzisfutlon 16 Aug 2011 at 12:13 am

    I wasn’t suggesting you were saying anything about something supernatural, etc. I did see your comment above expressly stating that. It just seemed there was some confusion about what RickK was trying to convey that I thought I’d toss in my 2 cents.

    So, am I understanding you correctly that you agree on the purely physical nature of brain creates mind?

    Newtonian gravity is definitely a consensus and a solid fact; I’m not sure any physicist would argue that. On a large scale, yes, there are mechanics that newtonian physics don’t account for (ie, general theory of relativity, etc). On a “close” scale where gravitational differences are negligable, one can count on it being a solid constant. If we’re going back to arguing the (rather tiring) ontological philosophy of the “brain in a vat”, ie everything is perception of consciousness a la The Matrix, my response to that is, given the evidence, it’s all we have to go on and gravity is an example of something that’s as solid, tangible and universal that everyone who isn’t bats*** crazy can agree on.

  169. ccbowerson 16 Aug 2011 at 1:01 am

    “Unfortunately it’s behind a paywall”

    Sorry I didn’t realize that. When I first went to the site, I’m almost certain that I could read the whole thing. Now only the first paragraph are available.

  170. ccbowerson 16 Aug 2011 at 1:04 am

    “Newtonian gravity is definitely a consensus and a solid fact”

    I actually don’t think this statement holds up. It is certainly beyond my expertise, but my understanding is that it is only an accurate approximation under most conditions.

  171. Mlemaon 16 Aug 2011 at 2:25 am

    # rezistnzisfutlon 14 Aug 2011 at 5:50 pm”
    you
    “Even if he does mix philosophy and science, so what?”
    “What he’s trying to do is remove the distortions, false claims, and misconceptions people have about things.”
    me
    All i’m saying is that if you’re trying to do the second thing, you should be careful about how you do the first thing.
    you
    “I would say that religion is bad, overall, and science is good (though I wouldn’t go as far as qualifying science that way as it’s like trying to say a socket wrench is good; it can be useful, but there is little quality beyond that; the results can be ultimately used for good or bad).”
    me
    You grant that the “goodness” or “badness” of science is determined by the people who practice it.
    But you do not grant religion the same leeway. I think religion has also been both good and bad. It’s much harder to determine, since it’s always been around in one form or another. But since our history shows both that good and bad have come from religion, I don’t think you can look at just the superstitious nature of some adherents and say it’s “bad, overall”. Maybe someday, if there’s no religion (as John Lennon imagined) we’ll all be better off. But science will always need moral shepherding, from religion or something else. (as you indicate “the results can be ultimately used for good or bad”)

    # rezistnzisfutlon 14 Aug 2011 at 6:01 pm
    you
    “I don’t think many people are actually out to disprove the existence of god. The reality is, no one can disprove a negative claim 100%”.
    me
    you seem like an ultimately sensible person, and without guile!

    me
    “then you’re going to have to explain qualia in a way that they will accept as irrefutable”
    you said
    “This is using “the gaps” fallacy, ie “god of the gaps”, etc. As said many times before, science doesn’t have all the answers, and that’s ok. We honestly don’t know certain things, and that frustrates theists especially because they generally come from a background of absolute morality and authority. Science is never 100% about anything, and doesn’t have all the answers. However, claiming that because science cannot currently explain a certain phenomenon, that must in turn mean whatever is being asserted is true, is a fallacy and an argument from ignorance. I’m not going to make any assertion about something that has no evidence one way or another, it would be intellectually dishonest to do so. One can speculate all day long, but that won’t necessarily make it true.”
    me
    I made no argument that needed to depend on a “god of the gaps”. I was just saying that if someone believes they’ve had a personal encounter with God, then the science you talk about: where nothing is ever 100%, isn’t going to cause them to change their minds. i think you are imagining that such a person would make a god-of-the-gaps argument. I don’t think so. I think they would probably just say: “I know what I saw, and you can’t convince me that it wasn’t real.” Then, if you lay out your evidence for “brain causes mind”, but truthfully admit that we don’t how they had such an experience, but we’re sure it was just their brain malfunctioning, i think you will not make them change their mind. But that’s OK, right? As you said, no one’s trying to change anyone’s mind about their own NDE, we’re just trying to encourage reason and logic and critical thinking.
    It’s really tough for a scientific concept to persuade against personal experience. It happens all the time, as Dr. Novella writes about.

    # rezistnzisfutlon 14 Aug 2011 at 7:36 pm
    me
    “No, I’m saying: it’s useless to try to use logic and philosophy to convince the faithful that there’s no God”
    you
    “Agreed, and I’m not sure that’s what most are trying to do.”
    me
    i don’t know what most are trying to do. I do think you seem like a guileless person. That is, i think you think the best of people. I admire that greatly. Unfortunately i’m a but more cynical. I will just say, I hope you’re right.
    you
    “I’m only using theism/atheism here because you’d brought up the assertion that anyone is trying to claim there is no god (an initial claim). The same converstation would take place with any extraordinary claim, such as woo or metaphysics.”

    Well, you’re right. Any woo or metaphysics would get the same response here. But Dr. Novella’s blog is for Skepticism, with a capital “S”, and one of the tenets of this Skepticism is atheism. And debating religious folk like Dr. Egnor, and using scientific facts specifically in support of “materialism”, with the object of countering dualism, because of the express wish to discredit theism: that’s part of trying to assert there’s no God. Nuthin’ wrong with that. If you’re putting up a Skeptic website, that’s one of the things you’re going to be expected to do.

    I’ve got no pony in this race, i was just saying that trying to use philosophy and logic to make the argument is futile. Maybe my interpretation of the purpose behind the debate is off. I just felt that, while saying that “brain causes mind” may be a scientific sort of argument, using it to pit materialism against dualism (because dualism might allow for God) is useless. I think if the purpose I see behind the debate isn’t evident in the above article, it’s evident in earlier articles.
    Also, there are lots of discussions on this site about the supernatural, which, we both agree, is what most folks here view God to be.
    And finally, as a summation of all my comments, that the logic and philosophy that Dr. Novella has employed, while not a useful tool against the supernatural, is not really effective as philosophy and logic. So, I’m advising him to stick to arguing science (which he did say he was trying to do with Egnor this time around) Surely my opinion will encourage him! :-)

  172. Mlemaon 16 Aug 2011 at 2:35 am

    I wish Dr. Novella could have given his thoughts on the book review Derrick linked to in the second comment on this thread.

  173. Mlemaon 16 Aug 2011 at 2:39 am

    But maybe by so doing he would be failing to follow the advice i just gave him. :-)

    Sorry, Dr. N, just havin’ a bit o’ fun with you!
    I’m taking a break from spending time here, and, hope you see this: thank you for the opportunity to learn. The feedback I’ve received on my own opinions, and the many opinions I’ve read, have really opened my eyes to many things I didn’t see before. This forum has been great for my personal edification.

    cheers

  174. BillyJoe7on 16 Aug 2011 at 5:57 am

    M. Davies,

    Jerry Fodor has been gratuitously linked to several times in this thread, so I thought it only right that readers be alerted to the fact that he is no expert on evolutionary biology, or on Darwin.

    Here’s another criticism, this time by Michael Ruse (an evolutionary bologist) titled “Origin of the specious”:

    http://richarddawkins.net/articles/5107-origin-of-the-specious

  175. BillyJoe7on 16 Aug 2011 at 8:22 am

    I just came across this new version of the checkerboard illusion.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9Sen1HTu5o&feature=player_embedded

    :)

  176. Jeremiahon 16 Aug 2011 at 12:46 pm

    “Why then do we have these arguments? The clue is given at the end, when the authors start to quote – as examples of dreadful Darwinism – claims that human nature might have been fashioned by natural selection. At the beginning of their book, they proudly claim to be atheists. Perhaps so. But my suspicion is that, like those scorned Christians, Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini just cannot stomach the idea that humans might just be organisms, no better than the rest of the living world. We have to be special, superior to other denizens of Planet Earth. Christians are open in their beliefs that humans are special and explaining them lies beyond the scope of science. I just wish that our authors were a little more open that this is their view too.”

    Michael Ruse is the Lucyle T. Werkmeister professor of philosophy and the director of the program in the history and philosophy of science at Florida State University.
    (He is not an evolutionary biologist. James Shapiro is an evolutionary biologist.)

  177. RickKon 16 Aug 2011 at 4:48 pm

    M Davies,

    Sorry, but I haven’t made a study of your other posts. This discussion was in the context of dualism – whether or not something outside the physical brain is needed to explain the mind.

    You said: “I hate repeating myself, but is mind an emergent property or is it vestigial concept that can be thrown in the trash?”

    If it is an emergent property of brain activity, that still doesn’t require “dualism” – some mystical presence outside of the physical brain. We don’t need to invoke a dualistic philosophy to explain the emergent property of predictable patterns of chaos as an emergent property of lots of water molecules in motion, do we?

    I keep saying my point is simple – there is no property of the “mind” that cannot be influenced by physical forces, so there is simply no reason to invoke dualism. If I’m skipping over great amounts of historical contemplation of the nature of mind, sorry. But I see zero evidence for “mind” requiring any infrastructure other than a functioning brain

  178. rezistnzisfutlon 16 Aug 2011 at 5:54 pm

    Mlema,

    I think you’re right in that it may be futile to try and “change someone’s mind” about personal experience they may have had. Again, I’m not sure those people are the primary targets of discussion, but rather anyone else who may be “on the fence” about a subject. My hope is that if nothing else, those who are challenged on their beliefs really think about what it is they believe and why, and whether there is good basis for their belief. I don’t know how many present skeptics, atheists and agnostics who once were hardcore religious and woo proponents who only changed their mind because they were challenged on it.

    What it comes down to is, what is it that’s demonstrably true? NDE, religion, astral projection, dual mind, anything along those lines simply have no evidentiary support, and that’s what the crux of the situation is here. Those who claim evidentiary support are either highly delusional, believe the wrong people, or are outright lying. If someone claims a personal experience, well, ok, not much I can say about that; that’s not going to convince a skeptic, and I assert that most likely there’s a good explanation for said experience outside of something supernatural. I don’t intend on beating that dead horse here, but rather just stating my opinion about the matter.

    I’m not sure I agree that a core tenet of skepticism is atheism. While most atheists are skeptics, at least about religion, I don’t see where skepticism automatically implies atheism. Perhaps agnosticism would be a more accurate term to use. Fact is, most people are skeptics about things that are outside their belief system.

    RickK, I’m with you on your stance about dualism, etc. There simply is no reason to think that there’s anything beyond a physical brain creating mind.

  179. rezistnzisfutlon 16 Aug 2011 at 6:01 pm

    “I actually don’t think this statement holds up. It is certainly beyond my expertise, but my understanding is that it is only an accurate approximation under most conditions.”

    I disagree. If accurate predictions/calculations can be made on a highly consistent basis, one can say it’s a fact. In science, nothing is 100% and something counted as above 99.9% accuracy is considered accurate and precise. If someone were to come up with an experiment to measure the gravitational constant at a certain location, the only bias they’d receive in the experiment are the experimental flaws, ie human error, equipment limitaitons, etc. I’ve done such experiments many times as an engineer (if there’s one thing a structural engineer knows, it’s force) and we can reliably count the gravitational constant as a consistent fact.

    On a grand, macro scale, yes, gravity as a constant becomes more tenuous, especially when multiple mass bodies are concerned. However, on a local scale, it can be counted on as a solid fact; that’s how we’re able to build roads, bridges, and buildings.

  180. Mlemaon 16 Aug 2011 at 6:36 pm

    rezistnzisfutl

    OK! Thanks for the conversation.
    i think we both agree: people should employ reason and facts in forming their opinions and in deciding what they believe, and they should encourage others to do the same. And they should even try to maintain a certain objectivity about their own opinions.
    Well i hope we do agree, because that sounds like a pretty nice way to go!

  181. ccbowerson 17 Aug 2011 at 2:16 am

    “If accurate predictions/calculations can be made on a highly consistent basis, one can say it’s a fact.”

    I think you are thinking superficially about the topic (it is, but not intended to be an insult). Newtonian gravity is certainly reliable for most purposes on earth, but it is considered a theory superceded by general relativity. Something cannot both be a “fact” and incorrect (for predicting the position of large/close objects for example). It is a useful approximation as I said before, but it makes systematic errors on large/close scales so it does not predict on a “highly consistent basis.” It is actually highly consistently wrong on those scales.

  182. knowledge_treehouseon 18 Aug 2011 at 8:28 am

    The brain is specialized, and the effects of damage to one part of the brain tells us about the functions of that part.

    If someone were a stock trader, damage to a specific part of the brain could result in enrichment which would have an overall positive effect on their mind: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article568218.ece

  183. Eric Thomsonon 01 Sep 2011 at 1:24 am

    Minor semantic quibble I have here. Saying the brain causes the mind comes off as dualistic, like they are two different things (typically if X causes Y, X is differnet from Y, like the rock thrown that caused the glass to break).

    Shouldn’t we say that conscious experiences simply are complex brain states? I don’t think much rides on this linguistic concern except that talking of brains causing minds abets dualistic thinking.

  184. Eric Thomsonon 01 Sep 2011 at 1:29 am

    Also, I think it is great that Egnor actually endorses vitalism. I have recently studied about 100 primary vitalist documents from the 19th century, and have found the parallels between vitalists and present day dualists to be startling to the point of being eerie.

    Even the terms of derision the vitalists would use are echoed by the dualists. I call it the catastrophic historical precedent for dualism.

  185. sonicon 02 Sep 2011 at 1:40 am

    Eric-
    I would love to get my hands on those papers re: vitalism.
    Dualism and vitalism are brothers. Vitalism posits that there is an essential difference between living things and non-living things. Dualism is often the same– but sometimes dualism refers to there being an essential difference between matter and thought (or reason)– some dualists would say that only humans have this essence.
    There are also theories that posit human spirits and animal spirits.
    Of course some people drink spirits. But you don’t have to be a dualist or vitalist to do that.

  186. Eric Thomsonon 03 Sep 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Sonic: I have written it up, am thinking of making it a short article for a popular magazine. Or just book chapter in the stuff I’m working on wrt consciousness.

    Vitalism really is a treasure trove of historical analogies. Dennett/Churchlands mention vitalism to deride the dualists, but never talk about any actual historical vitalists. It turns out they were more on target than they may even realize, once you dig into the literature.

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