Aug 05 2011

The Motivated Reasoning of Egnorance

If you want to see many examples of motivated reasoning, pay a visit to Michael Egnor’s blog, Egnorance. He’s the evolution-denying neurosurgeon that I have sparred with over the last few years, mostly about evolution and dualism. Motivated reasoning is what most people do most of the time – start with a desired conclusion and then find reasons to support it (humans are very good at that). However, the whole point of philosophy is to rise above this tendency and follow strict rules of logic, while the point of science is similar but also to follow the evidence. Egnor can’t seem to do either, as he rants against non-believers, misinterprets study after study, and attacks those who do not share his particular faith.

A few weeks ago he wrote a response to a blog post of mine about materialism. This is familiar ground, but he does nicely reveal his tactics in the article so I thought I should eventually respond. He starts by misrepresenting the very topic of the discussion:

He put together six assertions that he claims are proven scientifically and thus prove his theory that the mind is caused entirely by the brain.

The materialist theory of mind is not my theory – it is the overwhelming consensus of neuroscientists and the result of over a century of research. But Egnor would have his readers believe it is my own quirky “bizarre” theory. This is, of course, nonsense. It is Egnor who is out on the fringe of neuroscience with his antiquated dualist beliefs. But far more important are the actual arguments themselves (I make this point mainly to demonstrate how Egnor constantly rewrites reality).

In our previous discussions I outlined six lines of evidence that clearly establish that the mind is what the brain does – the most parsimonious interpretation of all available evidence is that the mind is a manifestation of the brain. Egnor, however, would rather believe that there is something magical to the mind that cannot be explained by the matter of the brain, and so the motivated reasoning ensues.

My first line of evidence (a prediction made by the materialist hypothesis) is that brain states will correlate with mental and behavioral states, to which Egnor responds:

We can’t scan you and tell what you’re thinking, no matter how we image your brain. Period.

His point is that the correlation between brain activity and mental states is “very loose”. I have already addressed this issue – Egnor is failing to account for the limitations in our current technology. I never claimed that we could look at the brain and tell what someone is thinking. We do not yet have a detailed enough model of the brain nor the ability to measure brain activity with sufficient resolution or calibration to come anywhere near such a task. Neither is that necessary for my argument to be valid.

The point is – to the extent that we are able to visualize brain activity, it correlates nicely with mental activity, within the resolution of our instruments. This has held up with better tools, like fMRI. We can correlate activity in different brain regions with different types of mental activity. The materialist hypothesis of the mind further predicts that as our technology and model of the brain improve, this correlation will hold up. It has so far.

In other words, Egnor is confusing the limitations of our resolution to see brain-mind correlation with evidence for a lack of correlation. These are not the same thing.

He continues:

What does Novella mean by “brain maturity”? Mylenation? If so, then there is a vague correlation. Babies are immature, and their brains are incompletely mylenated. What else could he mean by “brain maturity”? Size? Dendritic complexity? Anatomical (gyral) complexity? None of those brain states correlates in any reliable way with mental and emotional maturity. There are mentally/emotionally mature people with brains of all sizes and shapes and structures. There isn’t the least bit of correlation.

Gross disease states can correlate, somewhat. A patient with advanced Alzheimers will have brain changes at autopsy that would lead the pathologist to predict that the patient was “immature” in behavior. But aside from gross obvious brain pathology, there is no consistent correlation.

Contra Novella, you can’t do an MRI of your prospective spouse to determine how mature/immature he/she is.

I honestly have no idea what Novella means by “brain maturity will correlate with mental and emotional maturity.”

It’s just a stupid assertion.

Egnor’s lack of understanding is not an actual argument, even though he confuses it for one.  Here I am not talking about personality, but the development of the brain as we grow and the fact that this brain development correlates with neurological maturity. The most obvious example is the brain of a baby or child. Babies act like babies because they have a baby’s brain – it’s not just the lack of worldly experience. As parts of their brain mature (developmentally speaking) then they gain new abilities. They cannot walk until their cerebellum develops sufficiently.

I was also referring to research into the teen brain. Scientists followed children over years and imaged their brains while doing specific tasks. This is what they found:

Another series of MRI studies is shedding light on how teens may process emotions differently than adults. Using functional MRI (fMRI), a team led by Dr. Deborah Yurgelun-Todd at Harvard’s McLean Hospital scanned subjects’ brain activity while they identified emotions on pictures of faces displayed on a computer screen.5 Young teens, who characteristically perform poorly on the task, activated the amygdala, a brain center that mediates fear and other “gut” reactions, more than the frontal lobe. As teens grow older, their brain activity during this task tends to shift to the frontal lobe, leading to more reasoned perceptions and improved performance. Similarly, the researchers saw a shift in activation from the temporal lobe to the frontal lobe during a language skills task, as teens got older. These functional changes paralleled structural changes in temporal lobe white matter.

In other words, teens act differently than adults partly because their brains function differently. Their emotional immaturity correlates with functional immaturity in the brain – it’s not just lack of life experience.

It gets worse (words in italics he is quoting from me):

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

Sometimes yes, most times no. There are all sorts of induced changes in brain function that have no effect whatsoever on mental function. I’ve had MEP stimulation as an experimental subject, and while it made my arm twitch, it had no effect on my mental function. Magnetic fields change brain states, without necessarily changing mental states. Anti-epileptic drugs change brain states, and often do not change mental states (they are often well-tolerated by patients).  Some seizures change brain states on EEG without discernible changes in mental states (so-called occult electrographic seizures).

This is a similar “resolution” confusion to what Egnor made above – and again he entirely misses the point. I could summarize what he is saying as this: if you change the brain a lot, you change the mental state a lot. If you change the brain a little, you change the mental state a little, and it may too subtle to be obvious or even notice. Amazingly Egnor gives the example (now remember, he’s a neurosurgeon) of his own MEP experience. I don’t know the details of this experiment, but he reports that his arm twitched. I wonder (hmmmm) if they were stimulating the motor cortex that correlates with his arm.

He next argues that antiepilepsy drugs do not always change brain states. So why, in his version of reality, does it sometimes change brain states? These drugs alter the neurotransmitter function in the brain, mostly by increasing inhibition. Put anyone on a high enough dose of these drugs, and their mental state will change. They will become drowsy and eventually comatose. That is very predictable. But of course, people metabolize drugs at different rates, and their receptors may be slightly different and respond differently to the drug. So at any given dose there will be variable effects – but the effects become predictable, 100%, if you make the dose high enough. Also some patients only need a low dose to stop their seizures, and this dose may not be high enough to cause noticeable side effects.

In fact the literature is quite clear – therapeutic doses of AEDs “often” cause cognitive and behavioral changes, and potentially changes in mood. “Well-tolerated” does not mean no effect. For those of us who actually treat seizures medically we can tell you that just about every patient on AEDs will notice some effect on their cognition. Further, when studies actually carefully measure cognitive ability in patients taking AEDs they find a consistent dose-related effect on cognition.

Egnor also notes that some seizures do not cause noticeable changes in mental states. Which seizures would those be? Perhaps they are focal seizures that occur only in a small part of the brain, and not a part that would cause obvious signs. If your entire brain is having a seizure – 100% of the time you are unconscious. A generalized seizure of any type is incompatible with consciousness. Focal seizures cause symptoms that predictably correlate with where they occur in the brain. And yes – some focal seizures are subtle – but that does not mean they have no effect at all.

Next he addresses my argument that damaging parts of the brain cause predictable changes in mental function:

I see damaged brains on a daily basis– trauma, tumors, stroke, etc. Sometimes I cause the damage myself (by placing a catheter in the brain to drain fluid). The specific mental deficits are highly variable, not the least predictable and very often there are no deficits at all. I’ve personally inserted at least 3000 catheters into patients’ brains, and I’ve not once seen a change in a mental state from a catheter insertion that passes deep through brain tissue.

Wow – this is just stunning coming from a neurosurgeon. Deficits are “not the least bit predictable” from the location of trauma? By the time a neurology resident gets half way through their first year I expect that they will be able to examine a patient who just had a stroke and then predict with remarkable accuracy precisely where the lesion will be on the MRI scan. The correlation of anatomy (and therefore pathology) to specific functions and deficits is what first alerted neuroscientists to the fact that the brain has specialized regions with specific tasks. We have now mapped the brain quite extensively. There is a vast experience and literature documenting the close correlation between location of brain injury and specific neurological deficits. It’s hard to emphasize how at odds with reality this assertion by Egnor is.

He further gives the example that he has placed many catheters deep into the brain without causing noticeable changes to the patient’s mental function. What he is not telling you is that surgeons will typically place these catheters through the non-dominant (right side in most people) frontal lobe. There is a reason for this – this is the most redundant part of the cortex. You need to cause damage to both sides of the frontal lobes to cause deficits. The location is chosen specifically to minimize the deficits that result from the procedure. Does Egnor stick his catheters willy-nilly through any part of the brain? I bet not – I bet he follows the standard of care and is very specific about where he places the catheter – because brain anatomy does correlate with function.

Further – the fact that there is no obvious effect does not mean there is no effect. Unfortunately, there isn’t much research looking at the cognitive effects of catheter placement, but the one study I could find showed, “The present study revealed persistent cognitive inefficiencies in memory and executive domains in patients post-ETV intervention. ”

Egnor’s assertions here are just astounding, but mostly he once again  is making the mistake of confusing the limits of our resolution (or just not looking closely) with that of correlation between brain and mind. But further he just flat out misrepresents the current state of the evidence.

Next:

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

I don’t know, and neither does Novella. There have been tens of millions of people (at least) who have had near-death experiences in which they had mental experiences during cardiac asystole and lack of brain perfusion.

If neither of us know, then there aren’t any clearly documented cases. If there were – we would know. Egnor here is using speculative and controversial claims as a premise – not exactly solid ground. I have written about NDE before and won’t repeat it here. I argue that the evidence does not support the conclusion of mental activity without brain activity. Egnor, however, is intent on repeating his non sequitur and following up with a straw man.

I don’t know if any of these are real. Neither does Novella. But his statement that there are “no documentable mental phenomena in the absence of brain function.” is rank b.s. There are tens of millions of people who’ve had these experiences, and many have been documented and corroborated.

Are they all nuts? Are they all lying? Are they all deluded? Dr. Novella thinks so, but his opinion is based on his bias, not on any evidence.

Again – if we don’t know whether or not they are real, then they are not evidence – not documentable phenomena.  I also never stated and do not believe that all patients who experienced an NDE are “nuts,” “lying,” or “deluded.” I think they had profound experiences during a life-threatening event. I just further think that these experiences can be explained as brain experiences, the effects of hypoxemia and hypercapnea mixed with memories from the period of recovery.

Lastly:

When the brain dies, mental function ends.

Ditto.  If Novella has scientific evidence proving that there is no afterlife,  I’d love to see it.

This is an attempt to shift the burden of evidence. I also further never said that I can prove there is no afterlife. My position is that there is no evidence for an afterlife, nor is there any evidence for mental activity in the absence of brain activity. If  Egnor thinks he has such evidence, I’d love to see it.

Egnor finishes up with a typical rant, partly writing:

As for Novella, his “proofs” are a tangled mess of scientific ideological assertions that actually make the case opposite the one he thinks they do… if they are to be taken seriously at all, which they shouldn’t be.

Several of his claims, coming from a practicing neurologist, are simply lies.

He keeps putting the word “proofs” in quotation marks. That implies that I used the word “proof” when writing about it. I didn’t (at least not in the article he links to)- I used the phrase “clearly establishes” which I stand by. In any case – he follows with pure ad hominem fantasy. I will let the reader decide who is making unsupported ideological assertions, and who is being loose with the facts.

 

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175 responses so far

175 Responses to “The Motivated Reasoning of Egnorance”

  1. banyanon 05 Aug 2011 at 9:20 am

    “He next argues that antiepilepsy drugs do not always change brain states. So why, in his version of reality, does it sometimes change brain states?”

    This seems to be a pretty big hole in a lot of Egnor’s assertions. What we have is a correlation: Y seems to follow X a lot. Egnor seems to be arguing that Y doesn’t follow X in a way that we can perfectly predict every single time. Well, so what?

    Egnor would do better to argue that some third variable was causing the robust correlation between mind and brain. Maybe the soul causes both. At least that claim would be non-falsifiable, and thus spare him a lot of back-peddling later.

    The burden of proof issue seems to be a problem for him as well. I find this is often the issue with religious people; they see their position as the default one because it’s based on beliefs lots of people hold, but that’s not the standard for a good theory. When Michael Behe was interviewed on Point of Inquiry, he ended by saying, “It is the appearance of design that evolutionists have to overcome” (paraphrase from memory). I think that statement sums up the dispute pretty well.

  2. Marshallon 05 Aug 2011 at 9:50 am

    Dr. Novella, this sounds unbelievably frustrating. It’s a shame that people like this exist–people who are so tied to their beliefs that they will resort to nearly ANYTHING to make their case–even if it requires ignoring evidence and logic to such an extent that it makes them appear to have the cognitive capacity of a first grader.

    I go through cycles of “giving up” on these people, to “trying to make a difference.” Convincing individuals that they’re wrong rarely works, especially through argumentation, and it really only ends up making my blood broil. Do you really think that, if you presented an unbelievably clear, evidence-supported, logical argument that left absolutely no trace of uncertainty to you conclusion, that Egnor would say, “Hi Dr. Novella–you’re absolutely right, and I’ve been wrong this whole time. I’ll change my stance on dualism because I’m obviously wrong.”? Not in a million years!

    I understand that these people serve as good examples for the general public of how the mind can be so easily deluded by belief, and the truth shrouded. Examples serve to make good educational points, and I’m glad you continue to do what you do. But it’s SO HARD to not to just get angry with these people for being so goddamn STUPID, and it’s difficult not to resort to their level of ad homine and baseless insults–that’s what our emotional brains are driving us to do. It takes strength to rise above this tendency.

    But still, it’s so FRUSTRATING.

  3. daedalus2uon 05 Aug 2011 at 9:59 am

    None of the NDE experiences show mental activity in the absence of brain activity. Even if we assume that all of them are 100% accurate, all they show is the memory of mental activity during a period of reduced brain activity. The memory may have been constructed at another time and the perceived timing of that memory altered to correspond to the period of reduced brain activity.

    I can change the origin date on files on my computer to before the time that my computer existed. Does that mean my computer is “remembering” pre-construction experiences?

  4. Tantalus Primeon 05 Aug 2011 at 10:16 am

    Thanks for the reasoned treatment; I have no doubt it will fall on deaf ears.

    “In other words, teens act differently than adults partly because their brains function differently. Their emotional immaturity correlates with functional immaturity in the brain – it’s not just lack of life experience.”

    I used a similar example as a rebuttal to Egnor as well; the variability of dopaminergic activity within the frontal cortex seems to account for some of the maturational changes in risk assessment.

    (Blatant self promotion)

    http://tantalusprime.blogspot.com/2011/07/mind-gap.html

  5. SteveAon 05 Aug 2011 at 10:58 am

    “Several of his claims, coming from a practicing neurologist, are simply lies.”

    Pure libel. I can almost hear the lawyers drooling.

    PS If any of you see ever Egnor trying to put a catheter into my brain, please hit him with a shovel.

  6. Steven Novellaon 05 Aug 2011 at 10:59 am

    I have no expectation of convincing Egnor of anything. The reply is mainly just exploiting a “teachable moment.” Further, Egnor is a neurosurgeon and an unfamiliar reader might confuse his ramblings for actual science, so I feel it’s important to set the record straight.

  7. roadfoodon 05 Aug 2011 at 11:37 am

    It always surprises (and dismays) me when someone, in reference to something like an NDE, says, “Are they all nuts? Are they all lying? Are they all deluded?”.

    It makes me wonder if that person has ever experienced a simple optical illusion. For example: http://www.michaelbach.de/ot/mot_rotsnake/index.html. When a person looks at that and says that they see the wheels rotating, is that person lying? Of course not, they really and truly do see the wheels rotating. Are they nuts? Certainly not. Are they deluded? No. They are simply experiencing an illusion that appears profoundly real. NDEs are profoundly real, but nonetheless illusory.

  8. roadfoodon 05 Aug 2011 at 11:38 am

    My last line above should have read “NDEs appear profoundly real, but are nonetheless illusory.”

  9. daedalus2uon 05 Aug 2011 at 12:17 pm

    roadfood, that is an excellent point. Optical illusions are flaws in the unconscious processing of sensory data. Cognitively we can know that they are illusions because we have a robust and independent understanding of reality that doesn’t depend on those direct sensory inputs.

    What scientists appreciate is that all cognitive processes are subject to the same types of data processing flaws. Our data processing systems didn’t evolve to always produce 100% correct outputs (which we can demonstrate via optical illusions). We should not expect them to be 100% correct unless we can independently verify them.

  10. PhysiPhileon 05 Aug 2011 at 12:56 pm

    “Motivated reasoning is what most people do most of the time – start with a desired conclusion and then find reasons to support it (human are very good at that).”

    This rings very true with me. I often catch myself rationalizing an emotional decision I have made, and have to force myself to realize that the ultimate reason for the chosen action is emotional and not a result of logical deduction. I unintentionally switch those two events in time.

    Intelligence seems to increase the amount that people fall pray to motivated reasoning. In my social sphere, the intellects will use reasoning when explaining why they did something when they didn’t even consider that reason before hand, ergo, their action was not a result of reason but emotion. Where as, if I asked my guitar buddies (who are less intellectual), they will readily admit emotions were the driving reason for their action. When asked, they did that because they were angry, happy, horny, or whatever – not some post hoc rationalization.

  11. rezistnzisfutlon 05 Aug 2011 at 1:22 pm

    I always find it fascinating that people who call themselves scientists will cling so fervently to beliefs that have no evidence whatsoever, yet proclaim a certitude about them as if they’re pure fact. There’s a certain intellectual honesty that’s missing, which I’ve also seen in proponents of woo and religion, that they simply can’t seem to admit that what they believe is just that, belief, with no evidentiary support for them, yet they claim there is and will go to incredible lengths to try to push their delusions to the point where they really believe the evidence is actually there, which then compromises the scientific process (not following the evidence, forming conclusions first, and accepting evidence that otherwise cannot withstand scientific scrutiny).

    Their arguments also seem to often end at the same spot, shifting the burden of proof, often after arguing from ignorance.

  12. Cherylon 05 Aug 2011 at 2:57 pm

    I read your original article, Dr. Novella, and as a lay person, it made a lot of sense. While I would love our mind or consciousness to continue after we’re gone, the concept that there is no mind without a brain really sticks with me. And I’ve been turning that over in my mind quite regularly.

    In order to get to an after life, this inconsistency must be reconciled, and I just haven’t seen it. For me, I think if the mind was not correlated to brain, then we would see odd things like one mind inhabiting two different bodies. But we don’t.

    Egnor’s transference is classic:
    “As for Novella, his “proofs” are a tangled mess of scientific ideological assertions that actually make the case opposite the one he thinks they do… if they are to be taken seriously at all, which they shouldn’t be. Several of his claims, coming from a practicing neurologist, are simply lies.”

    He’s accusing you of exactly what he is doing. I”m thinking he went into neurology to PROVE there’s an afterlife, and now that he can’t, he’s gone into denial and is on the offensive.

    If he weren’t a practicing neurosurgeon, I’d have compassion for him. But as it is, I’m appalled he’s still licensed to practice medicine.

  13. mufion 05 Aug 2011 at 4:50 pm

    the concept that there is no mind without a brain really sticks with me

    If I recall correctly, Carl Sagan reflected in one of his books on the concept of an afterlife. What was interesting about it was that he didn’t just rule out an afterlife on the basis of the mind’s dependence on the brain and end there (although I think he mentioned that, too). He illustrated some of the problems associated with trying to pick out an essential “self” from all of the different mental states that occur during one’s life time – especially at the end, if one’s mind has virtually been lost – say, to of dementia from Alzheimer’s disease – and then project that into a post-mortem scenario.

    Of course, his observation applies during life, as well. Whatever the mind’s ontological status, it is a process, such that an individual’s conscious state at one point in space & time is non-identical with a conscious state at some other point in space & time. But, whereas the body unites and helps to constrain those states during one’s lifetime, what can possibly unite and constrain them after the body dies? And would an individual suffering from dementia at death do so eternally? or would s/he be restored to some younger condition?

    These questions are more philosophical than scientific in nature, but I think they lend some credence to an embodied understanding of the mind – even without a detailed knowledge of neuroscience.

  14. tmac57on 05 Aug 2011 at 5:08 pm

    One wonders, just what is it that Egnor thinks is the source of the mind. Does he view humans as some sort of antenna,pulling the unique self out of the ether,only to later return it after death? Does he see the brain as having any part at all in consciousness,and if so, what does that mean for that consciousness after the brain ceases to function?

  15. Cherylon 05 Aug 2011 at 6:31 pm

    “pulling the unique self out of the ether”

    OK, so the other thing that has been rolling around in my head lately, is the rapid acquisition of scientific knowledge in the past 100 years. Most Americans probably don’t know that the best scientific minds in the 19th century believed space was filled with ether, the medium on which light could travel.

    I can’t quite recall the physics experiment that proved all this wrong, but it was only 100 years ago. Can you imagine die-hard ether believers just saying “no” to the evidence? Maybe they did, but we never hear about them. The unfit idea that didn’t survive.

    Gotta love the scientific method. Ether is out, but it does make for a great allegory.

  16. roadfoodon 05 Aug 2011 at 6:44 pm

    “And would an individual suffering from dementia at death do so eternally? or would s/he be restored to some younger condition?”

    For me, this is one of the biggest problems with the idea of an afterlife.

    I mean, let’s postulate for a moment that the Christian ideal of an afterlife is true. For someone who is of completely sound mind at death, everything is great. Your soul moves on to heaven with all of the personality, knowledge, memories, etc. that you had at the moment of death.

    But what of someone who dies at the end of a long slide into Alzheimer’s? There are only two possibilities, either that person spends eternity in heaven with the mental faculties they had at the moment of death (an idea that, I’m sure, any Christian would find abhorrent and impossible to accept), or they are magically “restored” to full mental acuity.

    But then the next problem is, what exactly would that mean? If the mind does not arise from the brain, then doesn’t that mean that the Alzheimer’s deterioration resides in the mind? Or do believers somehow rationalize that the physical deterioration of the brain has that horrible effect on the mind, but then once the mind is freed, it springs back to “normal”? What would “normal” mean in this context? The way your mind was before the Alzheimer’s started? How do you define the exact moment it started? Would the person lose their memories of the intervening time? In the early stages, a person with Alzheimer’s suffers intermittent short-term memory loss; their personality is still all there, they experience life and joy and all that. It can take years to get to the point that they have difficulty functioning. Does the soul get deprived of all the memories of those times? Or in the after life, does your soul get restored to what it was when you were 10% into Alzheimer’s? 25%?

    But let’s even put Alzheimer’s aside and go back to the person who is of completely sound mind at death. What does it even mean to be of “completely sound mind”? Doesn’t everyone, as they age into their sixties, seventies, and beyond, suffer from some decline in mental acuity and/or memory function? Do you live eternally in heaven, forever forgetting where you put your car keys?

  17. nybgruson 05 Aug 2011 at 7:18 pm

    @roadfood:

    Shhhhh! You are asking tough questions. Ones which we can’t answer. They are simply too complex for our feeble human minds to understand. Just relax, stop worrying about it, and be content that goddidit with magic. It woudln’t be respectful to do otherwise. There there now…. isn’t that better?

    As for Egnor’s quote:

    The specific mental deficits are highly variable, not the least predictable and very often there are no deficits at all. I’ve personally inserted at least 3000 catheters into patients’ brains, and I’ve not once seen a change in a mental state from a catheter insertion that passes deep through brain tissue.

    So in about 6 weeks when I have an exam covering neuroanatomy and I have a 15 mark short answer question that asks me to localize a lesion in a stroke patient and explain the mechanism of why, can I just write in “this is not in the least bit predictable. QED.” and move on? I should totally get full credit for that, right?

    And the last bit, about the catheters, made me immediately think what you wrote next, Dr. Novella. I should hope the catheter insertions don’t cause profound cognitive changes! If they did, that means you’re doing it wrong Egnor!. Mind boggling really.

    When I was back in the ER, and I was doing wound care and suturing, do you think it would have been a good line of argument to say, “Well, I’ve done this thousands of times and I have never had the wound become infected. Therefore, germs don’t exist.”

    He is the epitome of why I am forced to tell people that having “MD” after your name in no way means you can’t be a flaming idiot.

  18. Mlemaon 05 Aug 2011 at 8:21 pm

    the argument is irrelevant to good medicine practice. Both parties reveal their bias of attitude: one is frustrated because he can’t make the case for a non-material thing using materialist methods, the other is asserting a philosophical stance based on a “mind-of-the-gaps” argument. Of course, both are overlooking the possibility that they have different definitions of what the mind actually is. Is it the thoughts, feelings, attitudes, sensory experience, etc.? Or is it the “soul”? What is a soul? They could as easily argue about whether a person even has a soul. Then we’d see more clearly how this debate is pointless (to find a conclusion, not necessarily to have). I’d like to point out, too, that the reductionist tendency of materialism may prevent its strongest adherents from properly evaluating evidence contrary to what they would expect to find, based on their viewpoint. But, an allowance too broad on the other side will similarly impair proper evaluation. I encourage scientific people who think they might be engaged in an area of research that would be affected by personal philosophies to do their very best to set those opinions aside as they seek, gather and evaluate evidence.

    Also, reading the comments, it seems that many people have very simplistic ideas about afterlife, soul vs. cognition, etc.. There are many volumes theorizing about the nature of “man”, including whether or not he possesses an eternal nature and what that might be like, and whether or not it belongs to everyone. These questions have been pondered for eons (because we have no way of finding empirical answers). But if you don’t believe that there is any possibility that man has a soul, for instance, then why do you wonder about what the soul’s “afterlife” might be like and what the problems would be with your concept of that afterlife? If you’re using those questions, instead, to decide that there is no afterlife, then it seems to me you’ve dismissed the possibility pretty simply. Hey, that’s fine. I personally don’t think it makes any difference to what’s going to happen to you.

  19. nybgruson 05 Aug 2011 at 9:22 pm

    I disagree Mlema.

    I’d like to point out, too, that the reductionist tendency of materialism may prevent its strongest adherents from properly evaluating evidence contrary to what they would expect to find, based on their viewpoint.

    The contrary position (the one Egnor defends) essentially asserts that some intangible metaphysical thing must be the option. The point is that if it is intangible and therefore de facto impossible to test or observe empirically then the physical materialist stance is quite simply “It doesn’t matter.” You can claim all the soul, god, metaphysical meaning, eternal nature you want… if it is unable to be observed empirically its existence is exactly equivalent to not existing.

    There are many volumes theorizing about the nature of “man”, including whether or not he possesses an eternal nature and what that might be like, and whether or not it belongs to everyone. These questions have been pondered for eons (because we have no way of finding empirical answers).

    They have been pondered for eons because early man was willing to ascribe magic and mystical thinking as valid explanations for natural phenomenon. Lighting was from Zeus. Prometheus gave us fire. The tide is controlled by Poseidon. The universe was created by Yaweh. We find that for every such “godly” explanation we have managed to find a perfectly natural explanation that requires no supernatural forces. Those questions that as of yet remain unanswered could be explained in the same way of magical thinking. But history has shown us precisely zero evidence of anything supernatural and precedent shows us that further investigation removes the mysticism of things once thought to by magical. Intellectual honesty demands, therefore, the assumption that the remaining things unexplained are not explained by magic, but simply that we do not yet know.

    Roadfood’s questions are exactly the point and while not sufficient evidence to reject an afterlife, pose significant enough problems to make the concept ridiculous to explain.

    The mind/brain duality issue is exactly the same. We are learning more and more about the specific physical attributes of the brain which generate the specific cognitive attributes of the mind. The only bias here is on Egnor’s part in ignoring and obfuscating the evidence.

    Obviously this doesn’t prevent “good medical practice” since apparently Egnor can manage to not kill patients left and right. But that doesn’t mean he is right and it doesn’t mean that such thinking doesn’t preclude great medical practice. I mean really, can you imagine if the stance of neuroscience/surgery was actually as Egnor states it?

    “The specific mental deficits are highly variable, not the least predictable and very often there are no deficits at all.”

    That means we should just give up on the whole neuroscience bit. If it is “not the least bit predictable” then WTF is he doing with his surgical interventions? How did he know to stick that widget in that spot? Or conversely not to stick that widget in that particular spot? He is reaching for a way to justify his religion which dictates a soul that demands a mind/brain duality to exist. Claiming that there is no predictable correlation fits with the conclusion he likes, but it does not fit with reality

  20. rezistnzisfutlon 05 Aug 2011 at 9:34 pm

    @Mlema,

    The point isn’t what the idea of an afterlife is, but whether there is an afterlife/soul/conscious outside the brain at all. None of us here have found any reason to think any of that exists because there isn’t any compelling evidence. It’s not a matter of ideology or preconception, but skepticism in the light of no evidence.

    Personally, I could care less if a person wants to pontificate on a soul/afterlife, though I think it’s ridiculous to want to put so much stock in the belief in something that has no evidence for it, rather than trying to find out what’s really true; I’d much rather spend my time on finding out what’s really true based on the evidence than spending my time trying to find evidence for my beliefs.

    I really don’t see what’s “preconceived” about going by what the evidence indicates.

    Also, I’m concerned that a scientist in his position spends so much time with the apparent belief that such things exist, to the extent of claiming the things as fact rather than simply indicating it’s a belief. I know the argument from that side is us “materialists” don’t want to see the evidence, but the thing is, there’s simply no evidence to see. As soon as we see evidence, whatever that may be, that can be corroborated, tested and repeated experimentally, then we’ll start taking it seriously.

  21. Mlemaon 05 Aug 2011 at 10:01 pm

    nygbrus, I agree that Egnor’s argument is futile.
    But you say if it can’t be proven empirically, then it doesn’t matter, but go further to assert: “if it is unable to be observed empirically its existence is exactly equivalent to not existing.” I don’t see the equivalency there. With your assertion, the question then becomes: does anything that is not empirically observed exist? Some believe yes, some no. It’s a philosophical question, not a science question. Although the fact that science must deal with what’s empirically observed is what makes Egnor’s argument futile.

    And the afterlife question? Such questions, you say:
    “They have been pondered for eons because early man was willing to ascribe magic and mystical thinking as valid explanations for natural phenomenon… We find that for every such “godly” explanation we have managed to find a perfectly natural explanation that requires no supernatural forces. Those questions that as of yet remain unanswered could be explained in the same way of magical thinking.”

    Theories about the afterlife may or may not be tied to a religious belief in God. And the belief in God may or may not be tied to natural questions not yet answered by science. What if a person’s definition of God isn’t limited to: an explanation of natural phenomenon that science hasn’t explained yet?

    “Roadfood’s questions are exactly the point and while not sufficient evidence to reject an afterlife, pose significant enough problems to make the concept ridiculous to explain.”

    There are plenty of theories that include answers to Roadfood’s questions. I’m not judging whether those answers are satisfactory, but in the realm of the afterlife, what is “ridiculous”? If Roadfood finds that those questions to add up to: “it doesn’t matter”, then, of course, that is his choice to make. Seems sensible enough to me. Like I said, I don’t see that it makes any difference.

  22. Mlemaon 05 Aug 2011 at 10:36 pm

    “The point isn’t what the idea of an afterlife is, but whether there is an afterlife/soul/conscious outside the brain at all.”

    Exactly! You will see in my response to nygbrus: that is what I say.

    “None of us here have found any reason to think any of that exists because there isn’t any compelling evidence. It’s not a matter of ideology or preconception, but skepticism in the light of no evidence.”

    Then perhaps “none of us here” are anything but scientists! In science we say: “there isn’t any compelling evidence”, but, in the larger world the answer to your first question is indeed ideological.

    “I’d much rather spend my time on finding out what’s really true based on the evidence than spending my time trying to find evidence for my beliefs.”

    Or, like me, you’d rather spend your time arguing the ridiculous questions! ;-)

    “I really don’t see what’s “preconceived” about going by what the evidence indicates.”

    Didn’t say it.

    Please don’t misinterpret anything I’ve said as meaning that I don’t think that empirical evidence must be the salient proof of any assertion that science wants to make. What I did say (in other words) is that, HOWEVER you answer that first question of yours can potentially affect what you even decide IS evidence. That, in turn, will affect your assertions. This is a phenomenon that is ingrained in our mode of operation, and contributes to the difficulty that new ideas face becoming accepted (which is only proper). It’s a constant back and forth between evidence, belief and investigation. And so we inch forward, trusting that from the struggle we eventually gain truth. You can’t get away from the constant uncertainty. That’s why these “discussions” thrive.

  23. the_memeon 06 Aug 2011 at 1:30 am

    I often wonder about the emotional need many people seem to have, to believe in some invisible soul-stuff beyond the physical brain. To me, the facts as revealed by science are way more exciting than all these made-up stories and speculations about something ‘beyond’. Billion of years of evolution formed complex nervous-systems and brains. Organisms become self-aware, got rich inner lives and awesome cognitive abilities. And all this, just happened on its own. About 3 Billion years of evolution resulted in me, my girlfriend, my friends….how can someone contemplate about this, and not be excited!?
    I don’t think that science based naturalism and emotional fulfilment are exclusive. Maybe science, naturalism and skepticism just need to sell itself better and recognize that most people have emotional needs of connection, meaning, wonder (and they are very important to them)…I am sure that people can learn to direct these emotions towards facts and the real world instead of the imaginary and probably non-existent (even after years of cultural and religious brainwashing that thought them otherwise).

  24. nybgruson 06 Aug 2011 at 2:28 am

    mlema:

    “if it is unable to be observed empirically its existence is exactly equivalent to not existing.”

    I don’t see the equivalency there. With your assertion, the question then becomes: does anything that is not empirically observed exist? Some believe yes, some no.

    There is distinction between “hasn’t yet been empirically observed to exist” and “cannot empirically be observed to exist.” The soul, a mind separate from the brain, god, heaven, hell, afterlife, etc have all certainly not been observed to exist. In terms of mind/brain specifically, we have more and more evidence showing us there is no distinction and thus the metaphysical part of it need not exist (and coupled with no evidence that it does, means it does not).

    However, a common counter argument is that these things are by definition outside the realm of observable empiricism and thus cannot be evaluated by science. My argument is that if it cannot be evaluated by science then it cannot actually exist. If you want to claim that it still exists and that it simply has no tangible connection to the universe then my argument is that is simply equivalent to not-existing. For example, a new element may exist in another galaxy. But we have no way of verifying that or obtaining the element, so in all practicality it does not exist. The difference is that the element in another galaxy could hypothetically be proven to exist, whereas things like souls, minds, and gods are either shown not to exist where once thought or are defined as impossible to be proven to exist – which for all intents and purposes is the same as not existing.

    So if you believe that there are things we have yet to observe in existence, of course you are correct. But if you believe that the soul, mind, or god exists somewhere in those places you are using the “gaps” argumentation style which is simply juvenile.

    There are plenty of theories that include answers to Roadfood’s questions. I’m not judging whether those answers are satisfactory, but in the realm of the afterlife, what is “ridiculous”?

    No, I would say there are plenty of wild guesses that include answers to those questions. There is nothing based in reality, stemming from a hypothesis, backed by evidence, to generate a theory on such matters. The point is that Roadfood’s questions posit problems to the current wild guesses being made and shows how those fail. When another “theory” as you put it accounts for them, it merely demonstrates a “just-so” story designed to fit the conclusion and has no basis in reality. That is why the explanations that still hold an after-life (religiously/godly in nature or otherwise) and still manage to address those questions are ridiculous – they are “just-so” stories literally made up to keep a conclusion for which there is no evidence.

  25. BillyJoe7on 06 Aug 2011 at 3:12 am

    roadfood,

    “For example: http://www.michaelbach.de/ot/mot_rotsnake/index.html. ”

    This is one of my two favourite illusions. The other, of course, is the checkerboard illusion where the two marked squares are actually identical:
    http://www.123opticalillusions.com/pages/opticalillusions40.jpg

  26. Lee Bowmanon 06 Aug 2011 at 4:10 am

    @ mufi

    “[Sagan] illustrated some of the problems associated with trying to pick out an essential “self” from all of the different mental states that occur during one’s life time – especially at the end, if one’s mind has virtually been lost – say, to of dementia from Alzheimer’s disease – and then project that into a post-mortem scenario.”

    In an incarnate state, the brain function is essential. A large percentage of it is assigned to analyzing input sensory data, cerebral cortex and more, and not just cognition. Also to coordinate output functions [musculature input primarily].

    But according to my research [and intuitive observation], the brain colors perception, and personality. If end-point cognition is external, it is nonetheless colored by the state of the mind.

    Sagan’s problem with a ‘changable brain’ trying to “pick and essential self from all of the different mental states” doesn’t strike me as a problem, since the essention mind, if separate, would not need to have any of these a priori states embued upon it. These may have constitued [at one time] me, but were obviously colored by the current state of the body/ brain, and the environment.

    Ones penchant for competive activities [sports], sex, a succulent meal, or even a fist fight would have meaning under certain corporeal circumstances, but not necessarily under a non-corporeal existence.

    I think I understand Sagan’s point, and I’ve heard it before, but it’s not a valid argument against non-corporeal consciousness.

    In my 20′s I did some out of body experiments, first using a catalyst, and later w/o any chemical adjunctives. Over a two year period, I confirmed the experiences, including double blind checks, and third person involvements. I even made some mental contacts with entities of unknown origin.

    In these encounters, I sensed personalities, but not ‘emotion’ per se. I did perceive anger and impatience [with me] on occasion, and humor was occasionally displayed.

    But I stopped at a point where I had discerned enough to come to logical inferences, and where trying to operate in dual realms became problematic.

    To reflect on Sagan’s paradoxial questions, I found that my altered mental states were essentially without emotion, but extremely cognizant of what was going on around me. In short, the mind works fine on its own.

    To conclude, I’m not selling books or conducting seances. Nor do I have a motive to mislead one. On the contrary, my penchant within science is for the pursuit of objective truth, not ordained or consensus views of the data.

  27. BillyJoe7on 06 Aug 2011 at 4:38 am

    “But according to my research [and intuitive observation], the brain colors perception, and personality. If end-point cognition is external, it is nonetheless colored by the state of the mind.”

    We know the brain exists. We do not have evidence that the mind depends on anything other than the brain. So the assumption is that the brain produces the mind. Any gaps represent gaps in our knowledge, not evidence for something “external”

    “In my 20′s I did some out of body experiments…Over a two year period, I confirmed the experiences, including double blind checks, and third person involvements. I even made some mental contacts with entities of unknown origin. ”

    Did you confirm what was written on that piece of cardboard placed on top of the cupboard out of sight of mere ground dwelling creatures?

  28. BillyJoe7on 06 Aug 2011 at 4:46 am

    …missed this bit:

    “On the contrary, my penchant within science is for the pursuit of objective truth, not ordained or consensus views of the data.”

    The consensus view is about as close to objective truth as we’re going to get (I’m not sure where you get the “ordained” bit from, but that is certainly not part of science). But I don’t think there is any problem with exploring the fringes as long as you acknowledge the fact.

  29. Steven Novellaon 06 Aug 2011 at 6:36 am

    mlema – what I think you are missing is that both Egnor and I are arguing within the realm of science. He is saying that neuroscience supports the dualist conclusion because of the imperfect correlation between mind and brain. I think I have convincingly showed that Egnor’s arguments are all terrible, both logically and factually, and that the correlation between mind and brain is quite impressive and completely consistent with the materialist hypothesis.

    We actually didn’t get (at least not in this latest exchange) into any deep philosophical argument. My position is this – that the mind is what the brain does is the most parsimonious interpretation of all available evidence.

    Adding a mind separate from the brain is unnecessary (not even wrong), and Egnor’s argument for such is a bad “dualism of the gaps” argument, where he has to misrepresent the state of neuroscience in order to manufacture the gaps.

  30. SteveAon 06 Aug 2011 at 8:46 am

    Lee Bowman: “In my 20′s I did some out of body experiments, first using a catalyst, and later w/o any chemical adjunctives. Over a two year period, I confirmed the experiences, including double blind checks, and third person involvements. I even made some mental contacts with entities of unknown origin.”

    Care to expand on this?

    Specifically, how can you do a double-blind test on yourself?

  31. SteveAon 06 Aug 2011 at 8:52 am

    Steven Novella: “Egnor’s arguments are all terrible”

    And topped off with libel.

    He ought to be put in a position where he either has to prove his accusation, or offer an apology.

  32. colluvialon 06 Aug 2011 at 9:16 am

    Regarding Egnor’s claims about bias, considering there is a nearly universal human aversion to death and desire for consciousness to continue without end, wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that a a non-dualist values accurate understanding more highly than wishful thinking?

  33. crtopheron 06 Aug 2011 at 9:19 am

    Meh! Neurosurgeons! Don’t get me started…

  34. tmac57on 06 Aug 2011 at 12:12 pm

    colluvial- That is an excellent point.There is probably a much more compelling reason to want to believe in an afterlife than not.You might even say that it’s enough to ‘motivate’ one’s reasoning.

  35. mufion 06 Aug 2011 at 1:01 pm

    The fates of naturalism and materialism are intimately related. Naturalism is the doctrine that the methods of philosophy are continuous with those of the natural sciences. The following two general views of the relation between naturalism and materialism are noteworthy: (a) Naturalism is ontologically neutral regarding materialism, and thus is logically compatible with ontological dualism; (b) Naturalism presupposes materialism, and thus is incompatible with dualism. If (a) is correct, the defense of materialism on the basis of naturalism must appeal to additional supporting evidence, presumably empirical evidence. If option (b) is correct, an appeal to naturalism in defense of materialism would be question begging, because materialism would then be part of the doctrine of naturalism. We suspect that most contemporary naturalists would prefer (a) to (b).

    source

    Comparing the above to Dr. Novella’s account, I think that what we have here is a case of (a), in which empirical evidence from the natural sciences favors the materialist hypothesis of the mind (i.e. inasmuch as the mind is shown to be dependent on the brain, which is by definition composed of matter, with little or no evidence to the contrary). Of course, this conclusion has implications for medicine and clinical psychology, which is partly what’s so alarming about Dr. Egnor’s denialist position.

    Yet materialism is more than a hypothesis regarding the mind. It’s also a metaphysical doctrine, which asserts that “Everything that actually exists is material, or physical” (ibid), such that Dr. Egnor need not commit to materialism writ large in order to work with the materialist assumption in his practice.

    I apologize if all this seems obvious, but I do sometimes get the (perhaps mistaken) impression that some folks here assume (b) (i.e. that naturalism presupposes materialism), which I think would seriously weaken the empirical case for materialism as it pertains to the mind and other phenomena.

  36. mufion 06 Aug 2011 at 1:29 pm

    Lee, it seems arbitrary to strip away some features of cognition and to call what’s left “essential.” Sagan’s and roadfood’s reflections on the afterlife concept only serve to reinforce that observation, as do BillyJoe7′s responses to your claims.

    On a slight tangent, my only criticism of the field of embodied cognition is that its name might give some the impression that there’s an equally plausible field of disembodied cognition. There really isn’t.

  37. rezistnzisfutlon 06 Aug 2011 at 1:35 pm

    Mufi,

    I would agree that materialism is indeed, well, material, ie the physical universe. By definition, materialism only encompasses the material.

    However, I’m not sure that translates directly to naturalism, science or even a skeptical mind. It simply comes down to evidentiary support, what we can actually observe and validate are on the corporeal plane. Even so-called non-material phenomena would have to manifest itself in some way in the material world in order for us to claim evidence to it, because we’d not be able to quantify or corroborate its existence otherwise

    If we were to receive positive evidence for a non-material event or phenomenon, then it would be part of naturalism and science, and skeptics, in light of the evidence, would be prone to accept it (if the evidence were strong enough). As it stands now, the only evidence for anything that we have just so happens to be material.

  38. Lee Bowmanon 06 Aug 2011 at 3:47 pm

    @ BillyJoe7 – 4:38am

    In response to my assertion that the brain colors perception, adds emotion, and [additional] performs various algorithmic functions keyed to its corporeal activities, you mentioned:

    We know the brain exists. We do not have evidence that the mind depends on anything other than the brain.

    Actually there is evidence for duality.

    So the assumption is that the brain produces the mind.

    That would naturally follow if our knowledge of not just matter [carbon based molecules and the atomic table], but quantum physics were complete. If not complete, then most conclusions of this sort are subject to modification if new data is thusly supportive of them.

    I just ran across this piece by physicist Tony Rothman. Now, granted that he may hold some radical viewpoints [judged by his 2003 book], he does make a valid point

    ” … despite headline-grabbing advances such as string theory, it goes to this very day. One can hardly challenge the predictive success of modern physics, but one should remember that one is describing nature, and not always understanding it.”

    Point being, we don’t have all of the foundational schemes of what constitutes ‘matter’ to come to hard conclusions, and perhaps we never will.

    Altho somewhat philosophical, I agree with his basic conclusion.

    http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/08/20118475558654674.html

    Anyway, back to your question of:

    Did you confirm what was written on that piece of cardboard placed on top of the cupboard out of sight of mere ground dwelling creatures?

    My experiments were more ‘ventures’ than ‘room checking’, and were frankly unexpected initially. They consisted primarily of mental contacts, but also with some prior visual room distortions accompanying them.

    But I won’t go into details here, since one, it’s not the proper venue, and two, my data is incomplete regarding what/who was involved, just that it was non-corporeal, was definitely real, and somewhat replicable over a period of about two years.

    Oh, and three, I only wanted to make the point that there is more ‘out there’ than the atomic table and carbon based molecules. That’s it.

  39. mufion 06 Aug 2011 at 4:09 pm

    rezistnzisfutl: As it stands now, the only evidence for anything that we have just so happens to be material.

    It’s hard for me to imagine at this point that naturalism could still lend support to a non-materialist worldview – if only given the methodological problem of how to distinguish between a material and a non-material influence.

    But, philosophically, I think it’s valid to recognize the possibility that there are forces that are neither material nor physical in the traditional sense of being only descriptive of objects that are extended in space-time.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure how coherent it is for me to speak of an “object” that is not extended in space-time. All I know for sure is that our language permits me to do so.

  40. Lee Bowmanon 06 Aug 2011 at 4:11 pm

    Lee, it seems arbitrary to strip away some features of cognition and to call what’s left “essential.” Sagan’s and roadfood’s reflections on the afterlife concept only serve to reinforce that observation, as do BillyJoe7′s responses to your claims.

    In my case it’s not ‘arbitrary’, but directly observational. Regarding an afterlife, I posit it as a possibility, based on judging bioforms as vehicles, and thus amenable to subsequent (and perhaps multiple) habitations. But I make no claims, nor proffer beliefs regarding.

    On a slight tangent, my only criticism of the field of embodied cognition is that its name might give some the impression that there’s an equally plausible field of disembodied cognition. There really isn’t.

    IOW, why give credence to a non-valid postulate by mentioning the opposite? Reminds me of Richard Dawkins’ mentioning of Gould’s advice to him to regarding a proposed debate with Duane Gish. Gould told him:

    “Don’t do it.” The point is not, he said, whether or not you would ‘win’ the debate. Winning is not what the creationists realistically aspire to. For them, it is sufficient that the debate happens at all. They need the publicity. We don’t.

    And resulting in Dawkins taking that advice, and stating:

    … supplying the creationists with what they crave: the oxygen of respectability in the world of real science

    I would agree, if the opposing view were totally ‘off the table’ regarding reason, but truth be known, there is little that is off the table today as tentative science. Or, one can simply accept all of the consensus stuff out there. Better for funding, but little chance of any far-reaching break throughs.

  41. nybgruson 06 Aug 2011 at 4:16 pm

    @rezistnzisfutl: Mufi already beat me to it, but I have a slightly finer point I’d like to put on it:

    As it stands now, the only evidence for anything that we have just so happens to be material.

    If something can give us evidence then it must have some sort of empirical effect on the trangible universe. Therefore it must be material, else it could not be detected by the empirical methods of science. On the flipside, if it cannot be deteced by empirical methods (science) then it does not exist (or is completely equivalent to not existing).

    In sum, if it cannot be detected by science, then it cannot exert any effect on the universe we are in, and there it cannot exist. If something once though to be immaterial is detected by science, then it can longer be immaterial.

    Therefore, if anything immaterial exists, it makes absolutely no difference and therefore can simply be assumed not to exist.

  42. nybgruson 06 Aug 2011 at 4:22 pm

    @Lee:

    First off, we’ve all been through this before on this blog, and there is indeed no evidence of a mind/brain duality.

    Second, you should read this I reckon.

    I too have had psychadelic experiences similar to what you are describing. I was not foolish enough to ascribe it to some outside agency or actually leaving my body somehow. It was profound, indeed, but I never left the confines of my brain and I knew it from start to finish.

    Sadly, I will not be participating much on these forums for the next week. I have family arriving in town today so between some travel and entertainment and my regular studies I likely won’t have time. I’ll leave Lee to the rest of the extremely capable commentariat here :-)

  43. mufion 06 Aug 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Hey, I’ve had more psychedelic experiences than I care to admit (now that I’m a respectable member of society), as well as some pretty weird (non-drug-related) ones. But I suppose that I never felt it was necessary for me to interpret them in ways that challenge physicalist assumptions.

    And, now having since imbibed books & articles on cognitive science, I feel somewhat more confident that such experiences can be explained in neurological terms, and that the mind is driven and constrained by what the brain/body permits as it interacts with its environment, which includes periods of rest, dreaming, meditation, and hallucinogenic drug inducement.

    Are there still explanatory gaps? No doubt. Given epistemic limits, there may always be so. But do they require non-physicalist assumptions? Absolutely not. At most, they beg for an openness to a science-based broadening of what it means to be “physical” and “natural.” And, at this point, there is no good reason to believe that consciousness can occur independently of a body.

  44. BillyJoe7on 06 Aug 2011 at 5:14 pm

    Lee Bowman,

    “Actually there is evidence for duality”.

    Nope. There is not.
    (How easy was that! ;) )

    “[the assumption is that the brain produces the mind] would naturally follow if our knowledge…were complete. If not complete, then most conclusions of this sort are subject to modification if new data is thusly supportive of them.”

    I agree.
    So far, natural explanations have been replacing supernatural explanations for a few centuries now. I’m going with the assumption that this will continue to be the case.
    But, you know…provide me with evidence to the contrary.

    “one should remember that one is describing nature, and not always understanding it.”

    We have a complete natural description of gravity. Why would understanding it involve the supernatural? Where is there even the hint of the supernatural as far as graviyt is concerned? What does it even mean to understand a thing over and above having a complete description of that thing?

    “Point being, we don’t have all of the foundational schemes of what constitutes ‘matter’ to come to hard conclusions, and perhaps we never will.”

    Point being that we have not even a hint of the supernatural being necessary in anything that we have found so far. Three centuries and counting

    “My experiments were more ‘ventures’ than ‘room checking’, and were frankly unexpected initially. They consisted primarily of mental contacts, but also with some prior visual room distortions accompanying them”

    Either that or you were hallucinating.

    “But I won’t go into details here…just that it was non-corporeal, was definitely real, and somewhat replicable over a period of about two years”

    We’ll just have to take your word for it then.

    “Oh, and three, I only wanted to make the point that there is more ‘out there’ than the atomic table and carbon based molecules. That’s it.”

    You haven’t made that point at all.
    You’ve merely stated your unsubstantiated opinion

    “…there is little that is off the table today as tentative science.”

    I call it fringe science.

    “Or, one can simply accept all of the consensus stuff out there…but little chance of any far-reaching break throughs”.

    False dichotomy.
    Scientists don’t simply accept the consensus. They recognise consensus for what it is: the result of peer review by leading scientist in the field of all the evidence by all scientists working in that field. The consensus is the starting point for further research that may confirm or disconfirm parts of that consensus. All scientists are involved in that research. When sufficient evidence is gathered that conflicts with the consensus, further peer review by leading scientists in the field results in a new consensus which may consist in either a bit of fine tuning or a partial or complete revision as the case may be.
    Fringe dwellers rarely contribute to this effort.

  45. Lee Bowmanon 06 Aug 2011 at 5:46 pm

    Just one question nybgrus: Why is ascribing an experience to an outside agency foolish? That would seem to be based on an a priori assumption that the only intelligence that exists is human intelligence, or at most, vertebrate/ invertebrate intelligence.

    I’ll just add that if your experiences were reciprocal in nature, do you attribute that to talking to yourself? We all do that on occasion, but in all cases (lest mental disorders), we are aware of the left – right brain discourse. ;-)

    Interesting piece by Sam Harris, and I agree with the points made regarding neurotoxicity. But what constitutes a drug? As I’ve stated elsewhere, I am as skeptical as they come. Of most everything, and part of the reason I didn’t complete studies a WMU, Kazoo MI.

    Anyway, while many substances classified as drugs will cause not just neurotoxicity, but cognitive degradation, I’ve been well aware of that since the time I won an 80 proof vodka drinking contest with a guy by passing out last, but lost ultimately due to the side effects.

    I the case of the catalyst employed in my experiments, I faked taking it on multiple occasions, with the same room changing effects. From this I concluded its effects were not just for ‘mind altering’, but also for ‘permission giving’ to the entities I encountered. I termed it at the time ‘double blind’, since the entities didn’t always know what, if anything, I was ingesting.

    There were other ‘double blind’ fooleries done, some with positive results. But to conclude, always confirmable as real experiences.

  46. mufion 06 Aug 2011 at 6:01 pm

    nybgrus: Loved the Harris essay (mostly for the drug anecdotes).

    In fact, I’d like to use it to quibble a bit with an idea.

    You said: If something once though[t] to be immaterial is detected by science, then it can longer be immaterial.

    Harris said (in Note 3):

    Physicalism, by contrast, could be easily falsified. If science ever established the existence of ghosts, or reincarnation, or any other phenomenon which would place the human mind (in whole or in part) outside the brain, physicalism would be dead. The fact that dualists can never say what would count as evidence against their views makes this ancient philosophical position very difficult to distinguish from religious faith.

    Do you agree with Harris that science could establish the influence of immaterial forces or entities? or do you mean to suggest that, if science could do so, then we would have to redefine them as “material” (which I use here interchangeably with “physical”)?

    If the former, then it would seem like question-begging to suggest that science could “rule out dualism, or the existence of realms of mind beyond the brain” (to quote Harris, again). At most, it can render these ideas empirically unsupported and unnecessary (which is not quite the same as false in the analytical sense). If the latter, then (contrary to Harris) physicalism is also unfalsifiable, since no evidence could, in fact, count against it, given its broad and extensible definition.

    Sorry to play devil’s advocate here. Sometimes, I just can’t resist a little mischief. :-) Feel free to focus on those commentators who substantially disagree with you.

  47. mufion 06 Aug 2011 at 6:20 pm

    Why is ascribing an experience to an outside agency foolish? That would seem to be based on an a priori assumption that the only intelligence that exists is human intelligence, or at most, vertebrate/ invertebrate intelligence.

    Or it is based on the (most plausible) assumption that our prototype for intelligence is none other than ourselves. If so (and why should we believe otherwise?), then that fact would not prevent us from extending the concept to other species and to our artifacts (e.g. see radial categories). But doing so begs for an explanation.

    Of course, that’s all the more so the case when it comes to invisible agents, lest we be constantly misled by our HADDs.

  48. nybgruson 06 Aug 2011 at 7:31 pm

    mufi:

    You make some very good points. One that requires more thought in my response than I have to give at the moment. My family has just arrived and we are going to head out to show him the town (his first trip outside the US ever) so I just can’t attend to it at the moment, so my apologies.

    I will try and get to it at some point, since I really do like the point, but I can make no promises. I hope you understand.

  49. mufion 06 Aug 2011 at 8:40 pm

    nybgrus: Upon review of my last comment to you, I actually think I got a little sloppy in the way that I juxtaposed the two options.

    But, if you review my earlier comment, I think you’ll better see where I’m coming from (i.e. when you get the time).

  50. neilgrahamon 07 Aug 2011 at 12:15 am

    My only formal exposure to neuroscience is partaking in a few lectures in Psychology 1A but I fail to see what ‘over a century of research’ has added to the materialist theory of mind which has an honourable provenance within philosophy. It seems to have been known forever that if one stimulates the body it will have an effect, often a highly predictable effect, on the mind (torture has been used throughout history based on this assumption; if a nose is cut off it will have an effect on a person’s sensational interpretations of smell; and so on). The scientific delving into the brain provides us with more sophisticated examples of the same sort but, it seems to me, does not provide us with more sophisticated concepts. Do neuroscientists have special insights that support this theory? While Dr Novella may be correct that most neuroscientists support the materialist theory of mind, I would suggest that many, if not most, contemporary philosophers do not consider the whole question meaningful.

    I would further dispute Dr Novella’s statement that “… [the task of philosophers] is to rise above this tendency and follow strict rules of logic …”. Logic emanates from philosophy – not the other way around – and it must proceed from assumptions that lie outside of its processes.

  51. Mlemaon 07 Aug 2011 at 12:34 am

    Dr. Novella, I’ve taken the time to read some of your earlier articles in this debate.
    Your six statements about the relationship between the brain and the mind are irrefutable. Egnor is unwise to attempt to advance his his own philosophical viewpoint by having an argument with you about brain function. Certainly the score is on your side of the board in this round.

    But facts about the mind/brain relationship, while they may be agreeable to lining up with your favored philosophy (I think you named it as materialism in one of the earlier articles) do not justify any particular theory of reality in general. So, to me, both sides fall short of promoting the validity of one world view over another. And that is what both you and Dr. Egnor seem to be attempting to accomplish in the final analysis. In a way, the scientific discussion about brain function only serves to confusticate the debate. But I trust that the two of you will continue to sharpen your rapiers. I would hope for no less.

    thanks

  52. BillyJoe7on 07 Aug 2011 at 3:29 am

    “Why is ascribing an experience to an outside agency foolish?”

    Because we have no evidence for “outside” agencies.
    Because immaterial agencies cannot interact with material agencies and therefore can never be detected.
    Because if immaterial agencies do exist we can never know that they do because if would be impossible for them to affect us in any way.

    In other words, the existence on immaterial entities is indistinguishable from their absence.

  53. Steven Novellaon 07 Aug 2011 at 9:10 am

    Mlema – You are incorrect. I have stated that, within the realm of science (which is dependent upon methodological naturalism, but not philosophical naturalism), the answer is quite clear, as you indicate.

    My position is that the materialist hypothesis of mind is consistent with all the evidence, actually predicts the evidence, and is the most parsimonious explanation for the evidence. And that’s all that science can do. It cannot metaphysically prove anything, because you can always insert a completely unnecessary magical element to mediate natural processes.

    I have used the light fairy as an example. I cannot prove that there isn’t a light fairy that turns on the light when I flip the switch. Rather, a light fairy is simply unnecessary, and the materialist explanation for why the light goes on is sufficient and consistent will all available evidence.

    Egnor’s position is the equivalent of the light fairy of the mind.

  54. Steven Novellaon 07 Aug 2011 at 9:15 am

    neil – you miss the point. Over the last century neuroscience has proceeded within the paradigm that the brain causes mind. This paradigm has worked out marvelously well, producing stead progress in our ability to understand the brain and mind. Of course, we have not explained everything – there are gaps in our knowledge and technology. But the progress is what is most telling.

    If there were major holes in the brain-causes-mind paradigm, the research would probably not be as successful as it has been.

    This is just like evolution – the more we can explain within the evolutionary paradigm, the more predictions that are validated, the more solid the evolution paradigm becomes.

    I understand there are philosophers on boths sides of this issue. I simply agree with those, like Daniel Dennet, who think that philosophically this is a non-problem.

  55. mufion 07 Aug 2011 at 10:02 am

    nybgrus:

    Sorry for the bad link in my previous comment. Here’s the full url:

    http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/the-motivated-reasoning-of-egnorance/comment-page-2/#comment-36368

  56. mufion 07 Aug 2011 at 10:19 am

    Dr. Novella:

    I suspect that fewer readers would “miss the point” if the “brain-causes-mind paradigm” were not labeled “materialist”, which is a metaphysically loaded term.

    On the other hand, I suppose that one could make a similar argument re: the methodological/metaphysical dichotomy in naturalism. As I recall, the creationist author Phillip E. Johnson remarkably did just that by attacking the assumptions of methodological naturalism (a.k.a. science) on the basis that it’s a slippery slope to metaphysical naturalism.

    Of course, a slippery slope is a kind of logical fallacy, but psychologically it can be a very easy one to make. Besides, it seems reasonable for Johnson to fear that, given the demonstrable power of science (relative to the methods of, say, religious mysticism), some (if not many) folks will be tempted by the economy and elegance of embracing naturalism as an overall worldview, regardless of whether or not the methodological version logically entails the metaphysical version. I know I was.

  57. tmac57on 07 Aug 2011 at 12:23 pm

    Neilgraham-

    Logic emanates from philosophy – not the other way around – and it must proceed from assumptions that lie outside of its processes.

    Well,I wasn’t there when it happened,but it seems more likely(logical?) that ordinary empirical observations led to rules of logic,which were used to form the basis of philosophy.At least,that is what I was taught in philosophy 101.

  58. BillyJoe7on 07 Aug 2011 at 5:25 pm

    mufi,

    “given the demonstrable power of science (relative to the methods of, say, religious mysticism), some (if not many) folks will be tempted by the economy and elegance of embracing naturalism as an overall worldview, regardless of whether or not the methodological version logically entails the metaphysical version. I know I was.”

    I guess it depends on what you think is primary, science or philosophy. In my opinion, a philosophy not based in science is just wishful thinking. I guess that is okay provided you recognise that is the case and that your beliefs in god(s), souls, and independent minds have no basis in fact, and provided the particulars of those beliefs are not countered by the facts.

    There is also the jarring reality that science has a tendency to counter these ungrounded beliefs over time.

  59. mufion 07 Aug 2011 at 6:13 pm

    BillyJoe: I also think that “a philosophy not based in science is just wishful thinking.” I think that’s why I find the metaphysical version of naturalism so appealing.

  60. Davdoodleson 07 Aug 2011 at 8:45 pm

    I cannot fathom why someone who holds those views would be interested in becoming a neurosurgeon.

    It would be like someone who believes that poop comes from the Poop Fairy, becoming a proctologist.
    .

  61. Reilmanon 08 Aug 2011 at 10:56 am

    It looks like has responded. http://egnorance.blogspot.com/2011/08/dr-novella-inadvertently-highlights.html

  62. roadfoodon 08 Aug 2011 at 2:35 pm

    I know this is a bit late, but I wanted to respond to this:

    “But if you don’t believe that there is any possibility that man has a soul, for instance, then why do you wonder about what the soul’s “afterlife” might be like and what the problems would be with your concept of that afterlife? If you’re using those questions, instead, to decide that there is no afterlife, then it seems to me you’ve dismissed the possibility pretty simply.”

    I don’t think I said that I don’t believe there is any possibility that man has a soul, or that there is an afterlife. My personal position is that there is exactly zero evidence to support the existence of either. So why do I wonder about what the afterlife might be like? Um, because the subject came up in this thread? And because, as I said, even if you put the (current) lack of evidence aside, and merely postulate an afterlife, there are glaring internal inconsistencies that you are then faced with. These inconsistencies add weight to the side of the scale on which “it is unlikely that there is an afterlife” sits.

    Me personally, I have not dismissed the possibility (simply or otherwise), nor was I using those questions to decide that there is no afterlife. I was applying a skeptical approach, saying “If there is an afterlife, what would that mean?”

    It’s the same approach I take to an assertion like, “There is an invisible pink elephant next to me.” First, there is no evidence to support that assertion. But let’s postulate for a moment that there really IS an invisible pink elephant next to me. The assertion is that it’s invisible, not intangible, so if I swing my arms or walk around where the elephant is supposed to be, I should run into it. If I don’t, that would seem to indicate a certain internal inconsistency, wouldn’t it? And that would add to the unlikelihood that the elephant is there. I could go on, but that’s the general idea.

  63. roadfoodon 08 Aug 2011 at 2:53 pm

    I’m not a neurologist, but it seems to me that what Egnor says here:

    “The materialist assertion that all of the mind is caused completely by the material brain is difficult to square with the routine neuroscientific evidence that many higher mental functions do not correlate well with brain anatomy and often continue to function quite well despite removal of large areas of the brain that ‘mediate’ them.

    “The relationship between higher mental functions and brain anatomy remains surprisingly weak, despite a century of neuroscience. Perhaps such a precise relationship will be found, perhaps not. But the fact remains that major regions of the brain that are thought to mediate higher mental function are quite dispensable.”

    means nothing more than that our current understanding of the brain is incomplete. Perhaps the simplistic idea that there is (or even should be) a single region of the brain that mediates a particular higher mental function is wrong. Perhaps higher mental functions require the participation of larger areas of the brain than we thought. Perhaps, by the very nature of their being “higher”, there is a lot of redundancy in the way they are manifested by the brain, so that damaging small areas does not appreciably detract from these higher functions.

    In any case, Egnor’s observations do not add evidence to the postulate that there is a mind apart from the brain, they only indicate that we still have quite a ways to go in understanding our own brains.

  64. Mlemaon 08 Aug 2011 at 3:36 pm

    roadfood, I apologize. I didn’t mean to imply that your thoughts about the afterlife were too simple. To me, they are not. i was as much responding to nygbrus statement that your questions show how the idea of an afterlife is ridiculous. They do indeed show how the Christian afterlife is ridiculous,

    I guess it just seemed that limiting consideration of an afterlife to the Christian version (everything like earth only better-leaving questions about Alzheimer’s) left many other possibilities unexplored. Example: some say that the soul is an entity that is “actualized” with each opportunity to incorporate. And that mind, body, personality, etc. are all part of physical incorporation. The soul grows through these experiences and then ? (there’s always the who knows at the end of any of this pondering about the afterlife)

    So, no less ridiculous than the Christian version, and no fewer unanswered questions, but an answer to Alzheimer’s: in that it’s no less an acquisition of experience or knowledge about the nature of existence than any other human state of being. It doesn’t degrade the “soul”, which, when separate from the body is a sort of “conglomeration of information” (to try to put it into understandable terms).

    And people: PLEASE don’t write to me to criticize this version of afterlife that I’m using merely to illustrate that some of the dilemmas posed by “afterlife” are addressed by other than Christian ideas. I don’t see any of them as offering proof that there is an afterlife I’m not defending the version or even the idea of an afterlife, which I have come to believe is irrelevant.
    cheers!

  65. mufion 08 Aug 2011 at 4:29 pm

    Mlema: This is not intended as a criticism. I’m just going to have a little creative fun with your comment, if you don’t mind…

    How about this scenario? The soul is like a computer back-up drive, which collects all of one’s memories acquired during lifetime, so that even if one’s brain degrades with age, there is no loss of information. In this sense, my soul would not be the illusion of self produced by my body at any particular place & time, but an eternal, immaterial record of all such illusions from birth to death.

    I have zero confidence in the truth of this scenario, and I am unaware of any desire for it to be so. But I acknowledge it as a logical possibility, which I think also avoids those dilemmas.

  66. Mlemaon 08 Aug 2011 at 5:07 pm

    Dr. Novella,
    There are many questions within the questions of consciousness. They can tentatively be lumped into two categories, the “easy” questions, and the “hard” question.

    David J. Chalmers, in his paper “Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness”
    http://consc.net/papers/facing.pdf
    elucidates:
    “The easy problems of consciousness are those that seem directly susceptible to the standard methods of cognitive science, whereby a phenomenon is explained in terms of computational or neural mechanisms….The hard problems are those that seem to resist those methods.
    The easy problems of consciousness include those of explaining the following phenomena:
    • the ability to discriminate, categorize, and react to environmental stimuli;
    • the integration of information by a cognitive system;
    • the reportability of mental states;
    • the ability of a system to access its own internal states;
    • the focus of attention;
    • the deliberate control of behavior;
    • the difference between wakefulness and sleep.
    ….There is no real issue about whether these phenomena can be explained scientifically….
    …Why are the easy problems easy, and why is the hard problem hard? The easy problems are easy precisely because they concern the explanation of cognitive abilities and functions….By contrast, the hard problem is hard precisely because….The problem persists even when the performance of all the relevant functions is explained. (Here “function” is not used in the narrow teleological sense of something that a system is designed to do, but in the broader sense of any causal role in the production of behavior that a system might perform.)
    [The “harder” problem is the problem of conscious experience, what some have called qualia.]
    As Nagel (1974) has put it, ‘there is something it is like’ to be a conscious organism.”

    Experience is unnecessary for all the other cognitive functions. It is a phenomenon that is different in kind, and not simply by degree. It has perhaps evolved as the greatest motivation for wanting to live and procreate. (my analysis and speculation) I’m not sure I understand, or am even familiar with all of Daniel Dennett’s brilliant work, but, looking at it through Chalmer’s lens, I get: “….once we have explained the functions such as accessibility, reportability, and the like, there is no further phenomenon called “experience” to explain.” (Chalmers)

    I, of course, have no ability to assess the comparative value of these various scientific viewpoints. But looking at the brain and the mind with my own peculiar ability of conceptualization, i see the problem that Chalmers elucidates as being a real one, not to be dismissed by “that’s good enough”. And while I haven’t explored his further explanations of how his new theory might explain how experience is within the brain, it seems to me at least an attempt to address the “hard problem” of conscious experience.

    Chalmers apologetically says his theory might be philosophically labelled “natural dualism”. He believes it is amenable to all the criteria available for the evaluation of such theories:
    “simplicity, internal coherence, coherence with theories in other domains, the ability to
    reproduce the properties of experience that are familiar from our own case, and even an
    overall fit with the dictates of common sense.”

    Chalmers seems to bristle at the idea of getting involved in a religious discussion about the mind/brain relationship. He doesn’t seem to even want to discuss general possible metaphsysical ramifications of the theory. So, I see no “motivated reasoning” on his part :-)
    I post this comment to put some light on questions about consciousness that it seems would remain unanswered despite the increasing resolution of our technological picture, and, may very possible call for a new theory about some mind/brain phenomenon. I had gathered from your earlier articles on mind/brain that you did not necessarily differentiate between the “hard” and “easy” questions of consciousness, but I know you are familiar with Chalmers. So maybe you will find the paper interesting. And I thank you for any comments you have about it if you have the time and inclination to read it.

  67. Mlemaon 08 Aug 2011 at 5:12 pm

    mufi, I think that scenario has a lot in common with the one i described. Yeah, it’s fun.
    I think the theory i described seems to include reincarnation, which bothers me (as much as any irrelevant problem does :-) because:
    If I go into another life, but give up the remembered learning of the previous life, then what’s to prevent me from having to “learn” the learning all over again!? One might postulate that there is a higher “mentor” soul(s) that orchestrates what kind of experiences you’re supposed to have in each life. Well, what’s the point? Why not have them all in one very long life? And so on…..

  68. Mlemaon 08 Aug 2011 at 5:16 pm

    ..or..hey…maybe since you’d be required to know what it was like to be both a man (without remembering what it was like to be a woman) and a woman (without remembering what it was like to be a man) you would indeed have to live more than one life without memory of another. But, also, again, what’s the point? I don’t want to be the other sex, even if I have an afterlife. HA! Ah, it’s positively nutty

  69. BillyJoe7on 08 Aug 2011 at 5:38 pm

    Mlema,

    You think qualia demand a supernatural explanation?
    Why would you think so?
    It is a knowledge gap.
    Popping a supernatural something or another into it is not science. It wishful thinking.

  70. Mlemaon 08 Aug 2011 at 5:54 pm

    BillyJoe7, No, I don’t think qualia demand a supernatural explanation. You might really enjoy the paper I linked to.
    cheers,
    M

  71. Mlemaon 08 Aug 2011 at 6:12 pm

    mufi, or anybody who’s speculated about the “Christian” afterlife, this is purely pedantic, but: Christ was rather cryptic about heaven, scolding people for not understanding that “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” and even suggesting that only his teaching was eternal: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (definitely a metaphysical problem there, with words remaining where there’s no heaven or earth)
    What people have come to think of as the Christian heaven may be an amalgamation of the heaven which Greek and Roman gods inhabited (after all, perhaps Christians gained admission through the egalitarianism of their new religion) or even the Egyptian afterlife (they were big into eternal life as a continuation of earthly life – the pharoahs were anyway, and why not? Sounds like a lovely picnic on the Nile.)

  72. sonicon 08 Aug 2011 at 6:14 pm

    If we can’t predict that Y follows X every time, then we can’t say that X causes Y. That’s why it’s a big deal.

    So for example, the notion that brain state= mental state. As Egnor points out, this has not been demonstrated as true, but correlation has been shown. To clearly establish that the mental state is equivalent to a brain state, one would have to be able to say exactly what a person was thinking based only on an observation of the brain state.
    This has not been done.
    Point 1 for Egnor.

    Egnor admits that he doesn’t know what is meant by “brain maturity will correlate with mental and emotional maturity.”
    Perhaps the current explanation will help him understand what is meant.
    No points on this point– further defining needed.

    If I kick a person in the shin, sometimes I change their mental state.
    Does this prove the mind is caused by the shin? (Y follows X sometimes does not show that X causes Y).
    Point 3 to Egnor.

    As to point 4, Dr. N says-
    “There is a vast experience and literature documenting the close correlation between location of brain injury and specific neurological deficits.”
    Dr. E says,
    “I’m merely telling them what every neurosurgeon and honest neurologist knows: the actual correlation between brain function and mental function, in real medical practice, is fairly loose”
    Given the claim “The mind is caused entirely by the brain,” it seems that the correlation has to be absolutely perfect.
    So it doesn’t matter if the correlation is close or loose, it is not perfect. Therefore the causation has not been shown.
    Point 4 to Egnor.

    Points 5 and 6 are about NDE.
    Stating that there is no evidence of afterlife is saying that the NDE phenomena are brain experiences. I’m fairly certain this has not been demonstrated.
    Points 5 and 6 go to Egnor.

    Clearly it matters what one thinks in advance. If one thinks that the mind is caused by the shin, then a kick in the shin producing mental effects is proof beyond doubt.
    If one doubts that the mind is caused by the shin, then the kick in the shin evidence isn’t such a big deal.

    What am I missing here?

  73. Mlemaon 08 Aug 2011 at 6:37 pm

    fun with afterlife:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zp3aAvorZcw&feature=player_embedded

  74. Mlemaon 08 Aug 2011 at 6:57 pm

    sonic, i think you make Egnor’s points better than he does!
    In my most recent post directed to Dr. Novella, i link to a paper by Dr. Chalmers which elucidates what Chalmers sees as the problems which remain after a paradigm like Dr. Novella’s (whereby increasing the “resolution” of our investigations of the mind/brain connection) finally accounts for the numerous cognitive functions of the brain. The paper also puts forth a possible theory to deal with those remaining problems. I recommend it to you.

  75. Mlemaon 08 Aug 2011 at 7:04 pm

    OK, I just recommended this paper to three people. I’m just going to put the link here:

    “Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness”
    David J. Chalmers
    http://consc.net/papers/facing.pdf

    so I can stop with the OCD-style posting! :-)
    I believe it’s relevant to the mind/brain discussion, and also some of the metaphysical ramifications that any theory of consciousness will undoubtedly present. (although the author only gently suggests the latter)

  76. nybgruson 08 Aug 2011 at 9:33 pm

    @sonic:

    What am I missing here?

    Just about everything. Starting with the false dichotomy you have set up to garner all your “points.” The rest is essentially a tiny bit of truth, mixed in with some “uncertainty means duality,” and topped off with a heaping helping of “you are simply wrong.”

    I wont dissect the whole thing but at base your erroneous reasoning can be summed up nicely by:

    Given the claim “The mind is caused entirely by the brain,” it seems that the correlation has to be absolutely perfect.

    No, actually it doesn’t have to be perfect.

  77. ccbowerson 08 Aug 2011 at 10:54 pm

    “To clearly establish that the mental state is equivalent to a brain state, one would have to be able to say exactly what a person was thinking based only on an observation of the brain state.”

    That is completely incorrect reasoning for the reason Steve already stated above. You at best are pointing out a limitation of our technology, and your requirement may not even be possible in principle. You are setting the bar for evidence so high in ways that are irrelevant to the question. It is analogous to evolution deniers who say that we have never seen speciation of mammals before our eyes. Well, that may be true but it is irrelevant to the question. Due to the nature of some questions we have to rely on multiple forms of evidence (“converging”) and the application of logic based upon what we know. Since the available evidence seems to point in one direction, and that direction makes sense given what we know, that is what we go with.

  78. ccbowerson 08 Aug 2011 at 11:00 pm

    “If I kick a person in the shin, sometimes I change their mental state. Does this prove the mind is caused by the shin?”

    Is this a joke? Because its pretty funny. Or perhaps an ironic display of motivated reasoning.

    “Given the claim “The mind is caused entirely by the brain,” it seems that the correlation has to be absolutely perfect.”

    It is loose due to the impreciseness in “real medical practice” (as Steve specified) and due to interindividual variability, among other things. Again this is not relevant to the question. You are operating under a faulty premise that some vague idea of perfection is required.

    “Stating that there is no evidence of afterlife is saying that the NDE phenomena are brain experiences. I’m fairly certain this has not been demonstrated.”

    Nice reversal of burden of proof. Nice try.

  79. ccbowerson 08 Aug 2011 at 11:05 pm

    “Clearly it matters what one thinks in advance. If one thinks that the mind is caused by the shin, then a kick in the shin producing mental effects is proof beyond doubt.”

    Come on, you mention this again? Clearly this wasn’t a joke. The trouble with your “argument” here is that we know a little something about how pain is communicated from the shin to the BRAIN. So for someone to conclude that the shin causes the mental state directly perhaps does think with his/her shin. Where is this mind organ if not the brain (and don’t tell me its the shin)

  80. the_memeon 09 Aug 2011 at 1:06 am

    Mlema: I believe it’s relevant to the mind/brain discussion, and also some of the metaphysical ramifications that any theory of consciousness will undoubtedly present. (although the author only gently suggests the latter)

    I think mind (the ‘easy’ problems) and conciousness (the hard problem) are somewhat separate issues. I think that the evidence is overwhelming that mind and everything we would call personality or the ‘soul’ of someone is what the brain is doing. So I don’t see that something like an afterlife could be possible. The Problem of Conciousness itself, this strange reflective phenomena, seems to be way harder to solve. In my experience it’s true, as Chalmers wrote, that many people are either denying it, don’t seem to understand the problem, or try to explain something else. And of course there’s the problem that people have done different degrees of introspection and make imho unfounded claims like Self=Consciousness..But the Self or the ‘sense of agency’ are mental constructs like everything else, and can be seen as contents of conciousness at best (but hey maybe it’s just me ;-) ). Or that consciousness, as such, is doing something…but it is’nt. Mental activity ‘is doing’ and appears in consciousness, but conciousness just seems to ‘sit there’ and is reflecting back to the ‘mental stuff’. But maybe it’s me who has some mistaken notions here…I am not entirely sure for myself if think about that stuff in a good way.
    However, I am not entirely sure, but confident, that the conciousness-problem can be solved and explained without making wild metaphysical speculations and assumptions. I think, that philosophers and scientists should try to explore, prove or disprove the more ‘mundane’ explanations first, before taking the more weird ones into consideration.

  81. Mlemaon 09 Aug 2011 at 1:47 am

    the_meme,
    We understand the problem of conscious experience, but we seem too willing to accept that “one day it will go away because we’ll have all these other phenomena mapped”. Or, we accept it as permanently unsolved because we see no way to approach research on it, and are comfortable with simply giving it a descriptive label (like “emergent property”). Why not consider a theory that would allow for the nature of qualia to be investigated, and, in as much as we accept their relationship to the brain, try to determine how that could be, just like all the other conscious phenomena? Hey, forget about the metaphysical ramifications: this is how science works. We can’t let a philosophical predilection prevent the advancement of understanding. To me it seems more like a choice about what you’re going to recognize as a question.

    “The sun moves across the sky” was an acceptable, descriptive and parsimonious explanation of the relationship between the sun and the earth, but it wasn’t complete or accurate.

    And let’s leave afterlife questions out as being one of the weirder considerations :-)

  82. sonicon 09 Aug 2011 at 2:04 am

    Mlema-
    That is a good paper. Thanks.

    nybrus-
    First I hope you do well on your upcoming test.

    You are right, the correlation would not have to be perfect between injury and change in mental function– we have to allow for variations in individual life forms.
    The problem then is what level of correlation would one accept as clearly showing one thing or the other?
    It seems that one could accept a very loose correlation as proof of causation, or one might demand higher levels of correlation before accepting the claim.
    What level would you accept?

    Thanks for pointing out that flaw.

    I don’t know where I mentioned duality. I’m just asking if the statement “the mind is entirely caused by the brain” has been clearly shown.
    I’m not so sure it has.
    There are other options (than dualism), speaking of false dichotomy.

    ccbowers-
    To state that the mind is entirely caused by the brain is quite a claim.
    To say that we can’t show it due to equipment problems is to say that it hasn’t really been demonstrated. And that is the point isn’t it?

    Yes, the comment about the shin is a joke.
    But the point is that correlation doesn’t equal causation and that is what was supposed to have been shown- causation is a far cry from correlation.

    You are right about ‘perfect ‘ correlation being too much to ask– see above.

    Dr. N. makes the claim. To back that claim one would have to demonstrate that the phenomena that bring that claim to question are answered in a way that backs the claim.
    In the case of NDE, the claimant has failed to do so.
    Nice try at reversing the burden of proof…

  83. nybgruson 09 Aug 2011 at 2:51 am

    sonic:

    I don’t have any tests too soon, just papers, but thank you.

    The problem then is what level of correlation would one accept as clearly showing one thing or the other?

    Depends on how much other lines of converging evidence there are. As of right now, the level of correlation we find coupled with the other lines of converging evidence are quite enough to be reasonably confident that the mind is generated entirely by the brain (but of course not 100% confident).

    There are other options (than dualism), speaking of false dichotomy.

    You are somewhat correct in that I did not use dualism very precisely. However, any explanation other than “the brain is the entire cause of the mind” requires the invokation of at least some metaphysical entity that is part of the mind but not the brain. The evidence demonstrates to us that whether only 5% is metaphysical or 100% it makes no difference – there is simply nothing to support the assumption that any of the mind is not generated by the brain. Since the evidence shows us with great confidence that at least some of the mind is a direct function of the brain, coupled with the lack of evidence of any process which would fit a non-physically derived mind, we can safely say that there is no other reasonable explanation.

    To say that we can’t show it due to equipment problems is to say that it hasn’t really been demonstrated.

    What ccbowers (and the rest of us are saying) is that brain mapping correlations alone don’t have the resolution to fully support the “mind is entirely caused by the brain” claim. It is the wiggle room that people like Egnor have left to work in. The rest of the evidence fills in where our lack of resolution leaves off.

    But the point is that correlation doesn’t equal causation and that is what was supposed to have been shown- causation is a far cry from correlation.

    But it was a really bad example that demonstrated absolutely nothing. It takes the concept of brain causing mind to such a simplistic level as to be completely meaningless.

    In the case of NDE, the claimant has failed to do so.

    It has been pointed out numerous times the giant pile of evidence that in fact supports the assertions by Dr. Novella regarding NDE.

    Nice try at reversing the burden of proof…

    The assertion that NDE is descriptive of some extra-corporeal process is the extraordinary claim that requires the burden of proof.

  84. BillyJoe7on 09 Aug 2011 at 8:03 am

    Mlema,

    “BillyJoe7, No, I don’t think qualia demand a supernatural explanation.”

    :)

    “You might really enjoy the paper I linked to”

    :(

    If the choice is between taking experience as being fundamental (so that even thermostats – and bacteria! – have experience) and experience being an emergent property (of which there are numerous well established examples), I’m going for the latter.

  85. ccbowerson 09 Aug 2011 at 10:06 am

    “In the case of NDE, the claimant has failed to do so.
    Nice try at reversing the burden of proof…”

    Ridiculous. The evidence is overwhelming on one side, and you still shrug your shoulders. (motivated reasoning) There is no evidence that a mind can exist without a brain. So are you saying that the brain is necessary, but not sufficient? Or is it not even necessary? And where is your evidence for the assertion?

  86. mufion 09 Aug 2011 at 3:59 pm

    Mlema: On the afterlife, I’ve long been tickled by this:

    The ancient Hebrews had no idea of an immortal soul living a full and vital life beyond death, nor of any resurrection or return from death. Human beings, like the beasts of the field, are made of “dust of the earth,” and at death they return to that dust (Gen. 2:7; 3:19)…

    source

    On the “hard problem” of consciousness, I like what philosopher Ned Block had to say:

    We can blame the explanatory gap and the Hard Problem on our inadequate concepts rather than on dualism. To use a variant on Nagel’s (1974) example, we are like pre-Socratics who have no way of understanding how it is possible that heat = mean molecular kinetic energy, lacking the concepts required to frame both sides of the equation. (Heat was not clearly distinguished from temperature until the 17th Century.) What is needed is a concept of heat and a concept of kinetic energy that makes it conceivable that there is a causal chain of the referential sort leading from the one magnitude to each concept. Or rather, since the phenomenal concept includes a sample of the relevant phenomenal property (on the Humean simplification I am using), there is no mystery about the mental side of the equation. The mystery is how the physical concept picks out that phenomenal property. This is the remaining part of the explanatory gap that will be closed if at all by science. Is there a principled reason to think it cannot be? The Hard Problem itself does not contain such a reason. Perhaps our conceptual inadequacy is temporary, as Nagel sometimes appears to suppose, or perhaps it is permanent as McGinn (1991) supposes.

    source

  87. mufion 09 Aug 2011 at 4:09 pm

    PS: I would sum up Block’s response to the hard problem as a conceptual dualism (e.g. first-person/third-person, subjective/neural, or phenomenal/physical), rather than an ontological (e.g. property or substance) dualism.

  88. BillyJoe7on 09 Aug 2011 at 5:16 pm

    Mlema,

    Just to add a point about David Chambers:

    He goes to great lengths to show that mechanism does not explain experience; that we can explain brain function adequately without recourse to experience; that experience is not necessary for brain function. Then he makes experience fundamental. Experience is fundamental but it does nothing.

    Personally, I do not believe in p-zombies.

  89. sonicon 09 Aug 2011 at 5:25 pm

    nybrus-
    I guess one persons reason for confidence could be another persons reason for doubt.

    The mind might not be completely caused by the brain if the mind is also caused by the body and there wouldn’t have to be any non-corporeal aspect.
    While my shin analogy was somewhat a joke, it is true that my stomach being upset can cause me to feel anxious and that can set-off a series of other effects. So I’m not so sure that my stomach doesn’t have anything to do with my mind– in fact I think it does. Various organs produce the chemicals associated with emotions–right?
    I’m thinking Damasio here. Perhaps Candice Pert.

    When someone makes an extraordinary claim like “I have the answer to the mind-body problem”, then that person assumes the burden of proof.
    I have read material explanations for NDEs. I can doubt them without too much difficulty as they really don’t explain the reported phenomena as well as they should. Of course it isn’t that hard to doubt what the person talking about an NDE is saying is real either.
    Where one places the burden of proof makes all the difference in this case.

    ccbowers-
    My assertion is that it has not been demonstrated that the mind is solely caused by the brain. That doesn’t mean the mind is not solely caused by the brain, it is just a statement about what I think about the state of evidence. I think there are reasons to question and doubt.
    As to phenomena that would lead one to think it is possible a mind can exist without a brain I would say NDE is one.
    If you really want to curl your hair you might look at the work of Ian Stevenson–
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_Stevenson

    Please note- I’m not saying the mind isn’t caused by the brain.
    I am saying that there are reasons to doubt that assertion.
    You get the difference– right?

  90. M. Davieson 09 Aug 2011 at 6:12 pm

    One simplified form of materialism says something like “people report experience, these reports appear to be in a causal relationship with measured brain states, and a reasonable inference is that people with those brain states have something like a ‘mind’”.

    I agree that that that is an intuitive inference, and that neuroscientists can carry on quite agreeably operating as if it is the case.

    However, this materialism doesn’t treat ‘dualism’ as on the same plane as ‘light fairy’, it treats ‘mind’ as on the same plane as ‘light fairy’. ‘Mind’ is an unnecessary concept, as as it doesn’t have any referent or explanatory power. There is no need to say ‘the mind is what the brain does’ any more than ‘the entity referred to as XYZ is what the car does when a car does things’. People with brains, and cars, simply do specific things, and those things can be described. To ascribe people the second-order property of ‘having a mind’ is to needlessly multiply entities – unless someone thinks that ‘mind’ still has to be explained, which is why Chalmers should be taken seriously. It’s like this:

    A) Did you hear, the car causes the potrzebie.
    B) Well, what’s ‘the potrzebie’?
    A) It’s what happens when the car does what cars do.
    B) How do I know there’s a potrzebie?
    A) It’s because the car is doing what cars do, and a potrzebie is an epiphenomenon of that.
    B) But I just see the engine running, and wheels turning, and so forth. That’s not everything?
    A) No, you see, when that happens, there’s also a potrzebie going on. Those things are evidence of it.
    B) How do we know they are evidence of it?
    A) Because those things cause potrzebie.
    And so on.

    Substitute ‘mind’ for ‘potrzebie’ and you get the picture. (To any wag who says “Well, people -report- first-person experience, ha ha!”, you’d better think a little harder about the problems with that rebuttal).

    One question is “How can this position distinguish between an entity which has a mind (or subjective experience), and an entity which is simply programmed to report subjective experience? If my AI-bot or friend tells me ‘I really feel something’ how do I know for sure that it does feel something, and that it does not simply report particular states when prompted?” To say ‘well, its brain structure is analogous to mine, therefore it must be like me’ is to make an inference, not to prove an entity.

    Fortunately, these questions are widely-discussed in the philosophical literature, by people more experienced than I. They aren’t sophistry, they are basic ‘consciousness 101′ points. Chalmers is a good starting point if someone cares. Dennett is good too, as a starting point, unless you just want to rehearse your intuitions. I also recommend the following: http://onthehuman.org/2011/04/doing-feeling-meaning-explaining/

    So:
    1) This has nothing to do with Egnor, he’s wrong.
    2) The weakness of Egnor’s position doesn’t mean that the refuting position is particularly strong, since it doesn’t have to address the decades of argumentation about consciousness (yes, even stuff that is aware of, in conversation with, and sympathetic to neuroscientific arguments) that have been going on since at least the 1970s. It’s a lot easier to show Egnor is wrong than to show Chalmers is wrong (and I recognize that was never the original post’s intent).

  91. Mlemaon 11 Aug 2011 at 5:32 pm

    The ancient Jews were an existential bunch, weren’t they? I’ve often thought that Jesus planted the seeds of atheism But THAT is another, and long, long, LONG discussion….

    “The mystery is how the physical concept picks out that phenomenal property. This is the remaining part of the explanatory gap that will be closed if at all by science. Is there a principled reason to think it cannot be? The Hard Problem itself does not contain such a reason. Perhaps our conceptual inadequacy is temporary, as Nagel sometimes appears to suppose, or perhaps it is permanent as McGinn (1991) supposes.”

    i think this is very insightful. Regarding: “the explanatory gap that will be closed if at all by science” I will just say that: it might not be the aspect of science that means: learning more and more about the physical brain, as Dr. Novella so firmly believes will happen. I think the science that will close it could come from some other branch of study, like physics, or information science (of a combination of the two). And I’m also willing to entertain the idea that the inadequacy may be permanent, although i wouldn’t like to see that be a science-stopper.

    you have always been very excellent at pinning down terminology, concepts, etc. It helps me to see if the things I say are actually not coming across as I intend. Thanks.

  92. Mlemaon 11 Aug 2011 at 5:35 pm

    BillyJoe7,
    I’m failing on the comprehension here BillyJoe. It seems you’re attempting to place some criticism of Chalmers, but you are simply re-stating what he’s stated (except for “that we can explain brain function adequately without recourse to experience” – I don’t see where he even discusses experience explaining brain function). The whole crux is what you (accurately) say: “Experience is fundamental but it does nothing.” That’s exactly what Chalmers is saying. Conscious experience is unnecessary for cognitive functioning, ie for brain function.

    And a p-zombie isn’t something you believe in or don’t believe in. It’s a philosophical tool, used to describe what a human would be like without conscious experience: indistinguishable from a perfect human robot or “zombie”, acting as though he is experiencing everything, but really not experiencing anything. Perhaps you mean you don’t believe that zombies, a literary creation, really exist.

    To better understand the problem, and with a penchant for zombies :-) , try this paper:

    http://cogprints.org/1601/

    cheers

  93. mufion 11 Aug 2011 at 6:11 pm

    Mlema: Glad you liked the quotes (and thanks for the compliment).

    On the zombie topic, I just recently read Gerald Edelman’s Wider than the Sky: The Phenomenal Gift of Consciousness. He’s a neuroscientist (a Nobel laureate at that), rather than a philosopher of mind, but I recommend it, nonetheless. Here’s a not-so-little taste:

    ……I must answer to the accusation that I have submitted to the paradoxes of epiphenomenalism. This notion, a cousin of dualism and a prompting ground for “zombie-speak”, must be reexamined. I believe that the difficulties with this notion have arisen because of the failure to attend to the neural correlates of conscious properties. Inasmuch as the neural process C’ that entails consciousness C is causal and reliable, we do not find ourselves face with a paradox. C’ underlies the ability to make distinctions in a complex domain, and C states, the properties entailed by C’, are those distinctions.

    This relationship allows us to talk of C as if it is causal. For most situations, this is not dangerous, given the reliability of the relationship. Only when we are tempted to abrogate physics or give to C mystical powers is this procedure hazardous. The relation of entailment between C’ and C clarifies the issue and helps define qualia as higher-order discriminations with distinct and specific neural bases. A consciousness-free zombie, on these grounds, is logically impossible—if it had C’ processes they would necessarily entail C. Of course, I am aware of the fact that the clarification introduced by this analysis must be proven by actual experiments on the relation between C’ and C. But like the proportionality constant of mass in the equation F = mA and the assumption of the constancy of the velocity of light in a vacuum, the foregoing analysis promises a simplification and coordination of one of the most challenging problems of science.

    Needless to say, I am aware of those who expect such a scientific analysis to explain the “actual feeling of a quale”—the warmness of warmth and the greenness of green. My reply remains the same: these are the properties of the phenotype, and any phenotype that is conscious experiences its own differential qualia because those qualia are the distinctions made. It suffices to explain the bases of these distinctions—just as it suffices in physics to give an account of matter and energy, not why there is something rather than nothing. This our theory can do by pointing out the differences in neural structures and dynamics underlying different modalities and brain functions.

  94. BillyJoe7on 12 Aug 2011 at 12:12 am

    Mlema,

    “Perhaps you mean you don’t believe that zombies, a literary creation, really exist.”

    I thought you’d see that straight away.
    But it’s a bit stronger than that: p-zombies can’t exist.

  95. BillyJoe7on 12 Aug 2011 at 12:16 am

    An excellent quote, mufi.
    …on both p-zombies and qualia.

  96. Mlemaon 12 Aug 2011 at 1:19 am

    BillyJoe7:
    “p-zombies can’t exist.”

    you are so silly!

    So, you dislike Chalmers, but you think the quote from Gerald Edelman is excellent….care to tell me what you think the differences are between those two?

    M

  97. sonicon 12 Aug 2011 at 3:16 am

    BillyJoe7-
    Excuse me butting in here, but I think we had established Dennett.
    Now it seems you might be going Skinner (Walden 2, anyone?).
    How far off am I?

  98. BillyJoe7on 12 Aug 2011 at 6:47 am

    I didn’t say I dislike Chalmers. I’m sure is a…um..charming person. ;)

    But evolution strives for the most efficient solution.
    Consciousness is expensive and would not have gained a foothold if the brain could function equally well without it. And, if it is an epiphenomenon, then is a necessary consequence of brains like ours and therefore p-zombies are still impossible.

    Chalmers believes in p-zombies.
    And, unless I’m completely misreading him, Gerald Elderman does not. I’m happy for mufi (who, presumably, has read the book) to correct my impression if that is not the case.

  99. BillyJoe7on 12 Aug 2011 at 7:39 am

    sonic,

    “Excuse me butting in here, but I think we had established Dennett.
    Now it seems you might be going Skinner (Walden 2, anyone?).
    How far off am I?”

    There is no hard problem.
    It’s just an emergent property of the soft problem.
    Solve the soft problem and you’ve solved the hard problem.

    That’s Dennett and it’s not bad though not yet proven.

    You’ll have to explain how Skinner’s “Walden Two” is relevant though.

  100. mufion 12 Aug 2011 at 9:32 am

    BillyJoe: Correct, Edelman does not believe in p-zombies (and I have read the book).

  101. daedalus2uon 12 Aug 2011 at 9:53 am

    What basis do you have for saying that consciousness is “expensive”? Social animals, prey and predators need to have “agency detectors”, where they detect “agency” in objects external to themselves, social animals to detect other members of their species, prey to detect (and avoid) predators and predators to detect prey.

    Being able to detect agency in oneself wouldn’t be much of an additional “expense”. The fidelity of consciousness detection isn’t very good. People don’t notice when they have brain damage, they feel like they are “the same” person, they just can’t do what they used to be able to do, they don’t feel like a different individual (which actually they are, a new individual with different properties).

    Being conscious may take less cognitive overhead than recognizing and knowing another individual. When people change, usually the person who changed is the last to appreciate it. Pretty much the only thing that consciousness is useful for is to prioritize self-preservation. Detecting agency in oneself likely takes less computation than detecting agency in something else.

  102. robmon 12 Aug 2011 at 10:19 am

    It’s always possible that consciousness is not what was selected for in the first place but a by product of something else, like sophisticated agency detect, or abstract reasoning.

    btw the “lion in the bushes” explanation of human agency detection always bugs me because it seems equivalent to saying I can swim due to my fish ancestors needing to propel themselves through the water.

  103. ccbowerson 12 Aug 2011 at 10:29 am

    “Being able to detect agency in oneself wouldn’t be much of an additional “expense”. ”

    There are some reasons to think that it may be “expensive.” (although I really don’t like using that analogy I will use it here) If it requires a large brain that requires much longer child rearing, and a change in anatomy/physiology to accomodate pregnancy/delivery. At some point, consciousness may have been what was selected for in humans for this larger brain, and therefore expensive.

    “Detecting agency in oneself likely takes less computation than detecting agency in something else.”

    If this were true, you would think that we would have many more animals with such abilities since we have far more of the latter than the former. One would think that detecting agency in oneself would quickly follow if it were “cheap.” Even if this assertion is correct, it may still push the “cost” to a point at which it becomes “expensive.”

    Regardless of how expensive it is, it apparently was worth the cost.

  104. ccbowerson 12 Aug 2011 at 10:35 am

    ‘btw the “lion in the bushes” explanation of human agency detection always bugs me because it seems equivalent to saying I can swim due to my fish ancestors needing to propel themselves through the water.’

    Not really because we are talking about humans with the lion explanation, and there is a large difference in evolutionary time. If the lion bugs you, insert any risk you like. The point with that analogy isn’t the lion itself, but that pattern recognition is a trait that was likely beneficial and has had selective pressures for a long time, particularly when it comes to danger/risk.

    The lion is just an analogy, perhaps you find it a bit cliched

  105. mufion 12 Aug 2011 at 10:52 am

    I recall that Edelman distinguishes between different levels of consciousness – viz. primary and higher-order – the former of which concerns the varieties of perceptual awareness that humans share with other animals, the latter of which is associated with semantic or symbolic capabilities – particularly language in the case of humans.

    So, however one tries to explain the evolutionary origins of these traits, it’s probably helpful to be specific about which level of consciousness one is trying to explain. (I recommend Terrence Deacon’s The Symbolic Species for a good read on the evolution of language.)

  106. steve12on 12 Aug 2011 at 11:50 am

    Couldn’t we theoretically have agency detection w/o consciousness in the same way that we could have any other function w/o consciousness, as in Chalmer’s version of the zombies (which I think it cute & interesting, but dispositive of nothing)?

    And I understand that the idea is that the agency detector got pointed inward, and that’s consciousness, but I’m not sure that’s tantamount to consciousness, though it could be a starting point.

    I’m afraid I’ve never read a really good argument for the utility of consciousness that cannot being dragged into epiphenomena via some thought experiment.

    And as far as qualia goes, maybe the aim is wrong, as Dennet and others have said. Maybe the neural correlates of consciousness (NCC) will not satisfactorily explain qualia to us anymore than oxytocin satisfactorily explains maternal love. Some seem to be looking for something that is rich, dramatic and phillosophically pleasing instead of mechanistic in explanation. This why I think a lot of the high minded philosophy of mind arguments haven’t really generated much better understanding of consciousness. They are fun though.

  107. daedalus2uon 12 Aug 2011 at 12:42 pm

    The problem is that consciousness is really an illusion, the way that optical illusions are illusions. Consciousness provides the illusion that there is continuity of individual self-identity even as the organism changes dramatically. An entity after large amounts of brain damage is not “the same” as the entity before the damage. External agents recognize this, but the internal self-identity pattern detection does not.

    I think this is because all pattern recognition has to have a pattern with which to compare sensory data against. What does the self-agency pattern recognition computation use as the pattern? Presumably it must use some part of itself. If it is using itself as the pattern with which to recognize itself, no matter how it changes it will always identify as “self”.

    There is no evolutionary reason for the self-recognition pattern recognition to notice changes. The major purpose is to prioritize self-preservation.

  108. ccbowerson 12 Aug 2011 at 12:45 pm

    “Couldn’t we theoretically have agency detection w/o consciousness”

    I’m not sure, but even if possible in theory it might not have been possible (or much more difficult) given the constraints of how it developed in humans

  109. ccbowerson 12 Aug 2011 at 12:48 pm

    “The problem is that consciousness is really an illusion, the way that optical illusions are illusions.”

    I’m more apt to agree if instead of “optical illusion” you used vision itself. The use of optical illusions emphasizes the ‘errors,’ which I’m not sure is the best way to view it.

  110. mufion 12 Aug 2011 at 12:53 pm

    Couldn’t we theoretically have agency detection w/o consciousness in the same way that we could have any other function w/o consciousness…

    Again, this may boil down to which level of consciousness we’re trying to pick out.

    For example, in Edelman’s primary consciousness, an organism (itself an agent) is “aware of things in the world in the present without any sense of past and future.” Such an ability to “remember the present” would seem to be useful in agency detection, don’t you think?

    Higher-order (or secondary) consciousness is a different matter altogether – again, supposedly related to semantic abilities and whatever adaptive advantages those bestowed on our ancestors.

  111. mufion 12 Aug 2011 at 1:00 pm

    PS: Of course, if one has difficulty with the idea that a particular trait (mental or otherwise) ever afforded an adaptive advantage, there’s always the spandrel option.

  112. steve12on 12 Aug 2011 at 1:03 pm

    “Again, this may boil down to which level of consciousness we’re trying to pick out. ”

    I don’t think it does. I think I can explain away either form of consciousness as epiphenomenal.

    And of course, this supposes that this distinction is valid.

  113. steve12on 12 Aug 2011 at 1:07 pm

    “I think this is because all pattern recognition has to have a pattern with which to compare sensory data against. What does the self-agency pattern recognition computation use as the pattern? Presumably it must use some part of itself. If it is using itself as the pattern with which to recognize itself, no matter how it changes it will always identify as “self”. ”

    This is interesting, but there’s some problems.

    One is that straight-up pattern recognition models have almost always failed empirically because they’re too cumbersome. I know in vision they’re surely a failure. I guess it depends on how liberally you define “pattern recognition”. At some level you could call any memory theory pattern recognition, even if the algoritm used is one that abstracts information in a way that’s not really dependant on matching a pattern.

    Also, this could be hardwired. Any output of process X is me. No need to recognize patterns.

  114. mufion 12 Aug 2011 at 1:24 pm

    I don’t think it does. I think I can explain away either form of consciousness as epiphenomenal.

    Yeah, I think I’ll go with Edelman on that one.

  115. steve12on 12 Aug 2011 at 1:30 pm

    “Yeah, I think I’ll go with Edelman on that one.”

    1. It’s not a matter of “going with” anyone. Edelman’s has been no more successful at explaining consciousness than anyone else, though he may have pointed to some clues that may result in something later. Certainly he’s produced empirical results. But since we don’t know much about it, he couldn’t have been that successful!

    2. What of Edelman’s theory for primary consciousness (if that is a valid distinction) is completely free of an interpretation that qualia is epiphenomenal? Nothing.

    But it’s the same problem for him as for anyone in the cog sciences – lots o’ data, and few theories.

  116. steve12on 12 Aug 2011 at 1:38 pm

    I’ll just flesh out my 2 cents on consciousness…

    I don’t think that consciousness is tantamount to working memory (WM), attention or executive functions, but I do think there’s a relationship there. Going on data of how these processes work, and Dennet’s treatment of qualia, this is my best guess on what consciousness is.

    The basic idea is this: an organism that occupies the niche of survival-by-wits has to process a lot information, and this information is often going to conflict in regard to what action the organism should take next. But at the end of the processing, there has to be an action. Such an organism needs a simple “result station” where the results of all of the processing leads to one action, or the organism will be pulled in a million different directions and die. Consciousness, which holds very little information at a time (indeed, it doesn’t even have access to very much that the brain does) is this “result station” – after all of the processing is done, the consciousness is the end of the whip that executes the decision, ergo the volition attributes. In this account the “feeling” of conscious experinece (i.e., qualia) is indeed epiphenomenal, but consciousness as a process is not. It’s necessary.

  117. mufion 12 Aug 2011 at 2:01 pm

    What of Edelman’s theory for primary consciousness…

    I think Edelman’s point is that epiphenomalism is a non-problem.

    We can “talk about C as if it is causal” if it is naturally entailed by C’, which together afford “the ability to make distinctions.” And “the ability to make distinctions” is about as relevant to agency detection as it gets.

    I’m not saying that he’s scientifically demonstrated this (although I suspect that he’s on the right theoretical track), but then epiphenomalism is a philosophical position.

  118. mufion 12 Aug 2011 at 2:03 pm

    PS: Just so I don’t distort the message too much, I’m referring to this quote: C’ underlies the ability to make distinctions in a complex domain, and C states, the properties entailed by C’, are those distinctions.

  119. robmon 12 Aug 2011 at 2:05 pm

    ccbowers,

    “The lion is just an analogy, perhaps you find it a bit cliched”

    Positing my motives are you? You are correct btw. That requires you to understand I have a mind, and vice versa since we are communicating. Each of us understands that the other is thinking thoughts, trying to express our thoughts, has motives and intentions, and has a different set of information than the other. That is the kind of agency detection that is unique to apes, where as detecting predators from various occurrences is common to many species. Which is why I don’t think the lion is apt.

    Anyway those are my two cents on that (off) topic, after rereading daedelus2u’s post he didn’t mention it, and I don’t want to derail this thread.

  120. sonicon 12 Aug 2011 at 2:23 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    Walden 2 is a book by BF Skinner. “No p-zombies” is a behaviorist type claim.
    That’s the connection.
    I am thinking of coining the phrase–
    “Emergence in the gaps”
    What do you think?

  121. steve12on 12 Aug 2011 at 2:25 pm

    Mufi:

    I think I’ve been unclear. I’ve using qualia and consciousness too loosely and interchacngeably above, and I’m not defining how I’m using the term epiphenomenal.

    I mean epiphenominal as a phenomena that is has been given rise to from some other phenomena and is subordinate to that primary phenomena. I mean evolutionarily and biologically, not the common philosophy of mind usage as somehow mind independant of brain or any of that.

    I think that consciousness is evolutionarily adaptive for the reasons I state above, but the rich and personal feelings it evokes (i.e., qualia), possibly due to involvement of our limbic brain, is epiphenomenal. Qualia, then, is the product of the brain that existed previous to the cortex + this new cortical algorithm for simplifying action with much data to crunch.

    So I don’t really disagree with the the quote as it pertains to c and c’. I just think the NCC aren’t going to satisfy our want for an explanation of why we have qualia.

  122. daedalus2uon 12 Aug 2011 at 2:35 pm

    steve12, how can anything be detected without pattern recognition?

    To assign any object to a class of objects that object needs to have its features compared to the features that define the class of objects. That is pattern recognition whether it is done in hardware, software or holographic masks.

    My point about optical illusions is that we know that what our eyes see and our brain detects is wrong because we have an independent model of reality. If we didn’t have an independent model of reality to compare our visual perceptions to, we would be unable to tell if they were real or illusions.

    We don’t have an independent way to perceive ourselves as entities, conscious or not, self-identical over a lifespan or not. Intellectually we know that we are not the same entity we were 20 years ago, but the persistence of the illusion of consciousness makes that fact difficult to appreciate. What do you believe, your intellect? Or your lying feelings?

    The whole point of being a scientist and a skeptic is to recognize that our feelings are unreliable. Essentially the only data of consciousness comes from people feeling that they are conscious.

  123. steve12on 12 Aug 2011 at 2:54 pm

    “To assign any object to a class of objects that object needs to have its features compared to the features that define the class of objects. That is pattern recognition whether it is done in hardware, software or holographic masks. ”

    By this definition I agree with you. That’s why I said:

    “At some level you could call any memory theory pattern recognition, even if the algoritm used is one that abstracts information in a way that’s not really dependant on matching a pattern.”

    I mean that template matching types of simplified pattern recognition are probably wrong. Ones that call for stimulus attributes to be represented exhaustively and veridically.

    For object recognition, you could call MVPT or RBC ‘pattern recognition’, and I think this is what you mean. So then ‘pattern recognition’ for objects, e.g., becomes a way of say that some physical attribute of the stimulus leads to activation of the corresponding representation. I obviously agree with this.

  124. ccbowerson 12 Aug 2011 at 2:58 pm

    “Intellectually we know that we are not the same entity we were 20 years ago, but the persistence of the illusion of consciousness makes that fact difficult to appreciate.”

    I’m not sure about this. We are a continuation of the same being. I mean there is a distinction to be made between our 20-year-ago self and a complete stranger in relation to our current self.

    I’m not saying that there aren’t errors in our perception of continuity, I am just saying it is not all errors. (hence the vision versus illusion analogy)

  125. mufion 12 Aug 2011 at 3:40 pm

    steve12: I just think the NCC aren’t going to satisfy our want for an explanation of why we have qualia.

    For that matter, I don’t think that physics is going to satisfy our want for an explanation of why there’s something rather than nothing.

    In other words, I take for granted that we face epistemic limits and that scientific inquiry (like all of our pursuits) rests on a foundation of (flawed) human nature.

    On the other hand, pushing limits seems to be a part of that nature.

  126. Mlemaon 12 Aug 2011 at 4:07 pm

    BillyJoe7, mufi,
    I think I finally understand what you’re meaning when you say that you or someone else “doesn’t believe in p-zombies”
    Honestly, I just didn’t get it! But I think you’re saying: that you believe it’s impossible that a machine or an organism that is exactly like a human, functionally speaking, would also not be conscious. Is that right?

    I think that’s a pretty good guess. That is, something that is exactly like a human will have consciousness like a human. It’s a pretty safe assumption to say that it something exactly like a human would feel pain if it were injured.
    But as far as “believing” that this “p-zombie” could exist? I am unaware of anybody that is asserting it could exist! It’s just a way to try to help people conceptualize the problem of qualia. Do you understand the problem of qualia?

    Edelman shows how the experience of qualia can be tied to various brain states, and Chalmers doesn’t dispute that.
    read:
    David J. Chalmers, in his paper “Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness”
    http://consc.net/papers/facing.pdf

    The “experience” of tasting a particular flavor, can (most likely) be mapped to brain state (although that would be a daunting challenge) But these qualia only “accompany” what some call the “higher” elements of consciousness. Certainly, they can’t be separated from various brain functions. But they are essentially unique in that they exist in a different form altogether from the brain functions they’re related to. Not “outside in time and space” or “floating in the ether”, or whatever you want to say to indicate their unknown nature, but instead: not able to be approached as other conscious phenomena.

    They may be a way to immediately assess information.

    The p-zombie is an attempt to help people understand this paradox. The experience of what the brain is doing is not (theoretically) necessary to the brain actually doing it (hence, the theoretical nature of the p-zombie really existing). But i do think qualia provides a great evolutionary advantage as a highly efficient tool for the integrated and immediate management of information both internal and external to the organism.

    So sure, call it an epiphenomenon. There’s no error in that description. Sure, say it assisted survival. No error. But don’t avoid: it’s still a physical error to simply say that the experience of consciousness is consciousness itself.

    mufi, you offer a quote above from Ned Block which talks about the need for a new concept to deal with qualia. But then you offer a quote from Edelman, whose disposition is: we don’t need to conceptualize qualia beyond the brain states they accompany. It suffices to say they exist as brain states. Which is it?

    At least both men comprehend the problem, as does Chalmers. Chalmers is simply trying to offer that “new concept” Block seems to suggest we need.

  127. ccbowerson 12 Aug 2011 at 4:25 pm

    “that a machine or an organism that is exactly like a human, functionally speaking, would also not be conscious.”

    I’m not sure that the addition of ‘functionally speaking’ is correct, because then I do believe that it is possible for a future “machine” or “computer” could qualify without being conscious. In fact, I put the burden of proof on those who think that consciousness is even possible for what we currently call computers or machines. Of course I would change my mind as technology changes or if there is good evidence, but I have my doubts.

  128. steve12on 12 Aug 2011 at 4:31 pm

    “In other words, I take for granted that we face epistemic limits and that scientific inquiry (like all of our pursuits) rests on a foundation of (flawed) human nature.

    On the other hand, pushing limits seems to be a part of that nature.”

    Well put on both accounts Mufi.

  129. Mlemaon 12 Aug 2011 at 4:37 pm

    ccbowers,
    I don’t know that it makes any difference to your comment, but leaving off the first part of the sentence you quoted changes the meaning.

    Here’s thow whole sentence:
    “But I think you’re saying: that you believe it’s impossible that a machine or an organism that is exactly like a human, functionally speaking, would also not be conscious.”

    Your comment that follows suggests that you do believe that p-zombies could exist. That is, that a machine could replicate all aspects of the human brain and still not be conscious.

    You will notice that I was very careful to refrain from saying I’m sure that such a thing could or couldn’t exist. But I do admit to saying that it seems like a safe guess that if you could replicate a human exactly, you would have consciousness. Would a human clone have consciousness? I think people are surmising that if you could (ever!) build a machine that was just like a human brain (including replication of the rest of the central and the peripheral nervous system) then that machine could feel pain if it were injured. I think there’s a real problem with using this “zombie/machine” to conceptualize the problem, because we really don’t know every little thing about how the brain relates to conscious experience, so how can we even talk about an example of that being created in a machine?

  130. mufion 12 Aug 2011 at 4:56 pm

    Mlema:

    I don’t see a contradiction between my two quotes, so much as different angles – one more philosophical, the other more scientific (which is hardly surprising, given that one source is a philosopher and the other is a neuroscientist).

    I admit that I’m only superficially familiar with Chalmers’ argument about p-zombies, but I’ve gathered from reading reactions to it over the years that its critics doubt the truth of its premises (i.e. not that its logic is invalid). So, e.g., in Edelman’s terms, a more reasonable premise would be that, in any world that is physically indistinguishable from ours, C’ will entail C.

    Aside from that, I also seem to recall the charge that Chalmers is too quick to insert an ontological explanation into the gap between first-person experience and third-person neuroscience, where a mere conceptual one (para Block) suffices. This tendency has led him to a sort of panpsychism, whereby any information-bearing systems (e.g. thermostats) may be conscious.

  131. ccbowerson 12 Aug 2011 at 5:41 pm

    “Your comment that follows suggests that you do believe that p-zombies could exist. That is, that a machine could replicate all aspects of the human brain and still not be conscious.”

    Not really. I don’t think that a machine can perfectly replicate a human brain in principle (I don’t feel this strongly however since it appears to me to be a complicated issue). I think it is an example of taking the analogy of the computer as a brain (or visa vera) too far. There are too many differences to just ignore, and I’m not sure that the substrates used in biology are not required for certain functionality.

  132. ccbowerson 12 Aug 2011 at 5:42 pm

    “I don’t know that it makes any difference to your comment, but leaving off the first part of the sentence you quoted changes the meaning.”

    You are right. Sorry. I actually misunderstood your quote and somehow reinforced it by truncating it. Not intentional

  133. Mlemaon 12 Aug 2011 at 6:47 pm

    mufi,
    contradiction? not so much as different surmises.

    The “hard problem” is the nature of conscious experience, or qualia. The hard problem is NOT a question of whether or not qualia exist.

    Block is suggesting that we’re unable to explain the nature of qualia because we lack an adequate concept. Chalmers knows we lack an adequate concept and tries to offer one: the idea that information is fundamental. Edelman contends that it’s unnecessary to search for a way to understand the nature of qualia; that it’s sufficient to know that qualia don’t exist without the brain.

    All three accept that qualia are essentially unique as a “part of” consciousness. I think you could even say that all three have concerned themselves with understanding how qualia exist. They’ve simply concluded at different points along a line of understanding: recognize the problem, decide it needs an answer (Block stops here with maybe we need a new fundamental concept, like heat = mean molecular kinetic energy), that our understanding is that they’re tied to brain state (Edelman stops here with “that’s sufficient”), and, maybe the new theory we need is that information is fundamental. (Chalmers attempts to put forth something new to consider, that addresses the unique nature of qualia)

    So, I guess I shouldn’t have asked you whether you agree with Block or Edelman. I should ask you: do you think we need to look for a way to conceptualize qualia that will explain their unique nature as conscious experience? Or do you think it suffices to say we always find qualia when we find a human brain, and we don’t need to understand the fundamental difference between physical brain and the non-physical appearance of “having an idea”?

    from your Block quote:
    “We can blame the explanatory gap and the Hard Problem on our inadequate concepts rather than on dualism.”

    Isn’t this saying that if we had an adequate concept, we wouldn’t have an explanatory gap? You seem to be interpreting it as: all we need to do is conceptualize there being no gap or hard problem! If you could tell me exactly what you understand this sentence as saying, i think i will be better able to understand what you are thinking about the whole issue.

    “I also seem to recall the charge that Chalmers is too quick to insert an ontological explanation into the gap between first-person experience and third-person neuroscience, where a mere conceptual one (para Block) suffices.”

    Chalmers is actually offering that conceptual explanation. Block says we need a conceptual explanation. I don’t understand how it’s any more ontological than any other explanation of brain/mind.

    “This tendency has led him to a sort of panpsychism, whereby any information-bearing systems (e.g. thermostats) may be conscious.”

    He succinctly differentiates the sort of “experience” a thermostat might have from anything like human experience. To me, broadly categorizing Chalmers proposal as a “sort of panpsychism” is a way to dismiss it without really engaging the ideas it puts forth.

  134. Mlemaon 12 Aug 2011 at 7:00 pm

    ccbowers,
    If truncating my quote had reinforced the meaning, i probably wouldn’t have called you on it. It actually made it look like I was saying something that was different from what I said.

    Then you followed the truncated quote with a reply that disagreed with it, which actually put you more in line with what I said originally!

    Then the follow-ups just reversed the whole thing. We are talking past each other. We have no disagreement. My original comment was to mufi and BillyJoe7 about just what exactly IS a p-zombie? Is it something you can believe in? But it’s only a philosophical idea! Then i realized they just meant they didn’t believe the zombie could exist. that is, they believe that if you build something that’s exactly like a human, it will have human consciousness.
    I gather that you are saying that you couldn’t really build such a thing anyway. But that’s beside the point, it’s just a way of theorizing about what makes consciousness: does it require being an actual human? or is it just the particular arrangement of physical “stuff” that creates consciousness?

    That’s all. I believe i understand your viewpoint, but correct me if I’m wrong. I know i don’t always communicate very clearly. At this point I’m eager to drop the question of whether or not i personally believe that something that is just like a human would have human consciousness. I think that, maybe like BillyJoe7 and mufi, it’s likely that something exactly like a human would have consciousness. But like you, I don’t see that in real life such a thing could exist.
    But as far as the philosophical tool: p-zombie existing? Yes, it does. Or we couldn’t be talking about it. (it’s just a concept)

  135. Mlemaon 12 Aug 2011 at 7:02 pm

    ccbowers, i just now actually understood the last thing you said. Please forgive me and PLEASE excuse the rambling comment. It’s just too little sleep and too much coffee!
    Maybe i will read these again when I’ve re-established equilibrium. For now i need to quit or I’ll likely be expelled for too much blather!
    cheers
    M

  136. mufion 12 Aug 2011 at 7:47 pm

    Mlema:

    If you could tell me exactly what you understand this sentence as saying, i think i will be better able to understand what you are thinking about the whole issue.

    I interpet it as: We can blame the explanatory gap and the Hard Problem on a conceptual dualism – namely, phenomenal vs. physical – rather than on an ontological dualism.

    The situation is analogous to a pre-modern human’s first experience of the whirring sound that a car makes when its engine is running. He lacks the modern physical concept to explain it in terms of car mechanics and accoustics, so he invents some non- or super-physical explanation for it.

    Block seems hopeful that science will (or already is) refining the physical concept of consciousness to the point where the “hard problem” is no longer any harder than the problem of explaining that whirring sound (at least for those folks who are more mechanically inclined than I am).

    He succinctly differentiates the sort of “experience” a thermostat might have from anything like human experience.

    Or, I should think, that of any other entity about which we have reason to infer bears mental traits.

    But now I suspect that we’re in similar territory we were in when Jeremiah was still active here – just substitute the word “experience” for “intelligence” – and you’ve got a continuum that extends well beyond the psychological and biological domains where such terms are most meaningful.

    Sorry to end this comment on that note, but familial responsibilities call.

  137. daedalus2uon 12 Aug 2011 at 9:14 pm

    A human brain cannot be in “the same” state twice. Brain cells are dying all the time and the ones that remain are changing their configurations.

    When a human experiences something, what about that experience is mappable onto another human being, or onto a past or future version of the same human being. There cannot be a one-to-one mapping, there can only be a mapping with a fidelity less than one-to-one.

    My understanding is that the low resolution of human self-awareness doesn’t allow humans to distinguish between mental states that are actually very different. Sometimes this becomes obvious, as when people have delusions and hallucinations. Sometimes it is less obvious when people simply have wrong ideas.

    The problem isn’t what is “qualia”, but rather how can so poorly defined and non measurable a concept be the topic of serious discussion?

    How does one analyze the feeling that one gets when standing in an impossible crate?

    http://illusionsetc.blogspot.com/2004/12/impossible-cube-crate-or-box.html

    How does one analyze a Kanizsa Triangle?

    How does one analyze visual illusions? How does one analyze dreams? Not by asserting that they exist and that it is a hard problem to figure out how something could exist and be non-physical like the impossible crate.

  138. M. Davieson 12 Aug 2011 at 9:33 pm

    Here’s another problem then: how can sense-experience be an illusion? If you experienced ‘redness’, then you actually experienced it, whether induced by a stop sign, LSD, or an electrode on your brain. Substitute any kind of first-person phenomena: the experience of sensory qualities cannot be an illusion (oh, you thought you felt X but it was just an illusion making you feel X, the feeling of X was really jusr a feeling of it – what?)

  139. Mlemaon 12 Aug 2011 at 9:50 pm

    daedalus2u,
    That’s a really good analogy. But remember, we are able to “figure out” the truth behind these illusions. We know how they’re fooling us. We use other senses, or logic, or what we understand about vision, or the rules of perspective.
    Why can’t we consider the possibility that we can figure out qualia if we utilize our understanding about other branches of scientific investigation?
    I’m not saying that would necessarily make it possible, but, theoretically, it could, right?

  140. ccbowerson 12 Aug 2011 at 10:09 pm

    Mlema:
    Not a problem. We both misunderstood each other consecutively, and this created the appearance of disagreement, which there wasn’t really one.

    I know you wanted me to avoid reading some of your post, but I want to comment on the following:

    “I gather that you are saying that you couldn’t really build such a thing anyway. But that’s beside the point, it’s just a way of theorizing about what makes consciousness: does it require being an actual human? or is it just the particular arrangement of physical “stuff” that creates consciousness?”

    I really don’t think it is besides the point that I intended to make. I agree that if we could build a functional human replica it would have consciousness. If this is the extent of the thought experiment’s utility, then its not much of one. I do object to the machine/computer mention, because I do not think computers/machines do the same thing as the brain in the same way. Even those computers that emulate some of the simple things the brain does, they do it in an entirely different way with different materials. They may have some similar functionality, but that is not enough. Perhaps other people are thinking of this in a different way than I am.

  141. daedalus2uon 12 Aug 2011 at 10:11 pm

    Miema, what if qualia itself is an illusion. We can figure it out but the idea that qualia is an illusion is rejected because the illusion is too strong.

    That is what Egnor is doing. He is rejecting the data of evolution and common descent in favor his delusional belief in the literal truth of the Biblical Creation myth.

    M. Davies, is the impossible crate an illusion?

    Color images can be produced by white light of different durations. If you take a white disk and put black areas on it and spin it, the different duration white-light stimulus gets interpreted as colors (because the different rods and cones have different sensitivity to light and they accumulate light until they fire, so different duration before firing is interpreted as different colors).

  142. ccbowerson 12 Aug 2011 at 10:19 pm

    “how can sense-experience be an illusion? If you experienced ‘redness’, then you actually experienced it, whether induced by a stop sign, LSD, or an electrode on your brain.”

    Well it depends on what you mean. Perhaps using color is a bad example (or maybe its good for the same reason), because redness is not just a first person perception, but it corresponds to a certain frequencies of visible light. If you see a red light that is not present to any other observer then one could say it is an illusion. Although you actually experienced it, it was not there if the actual frequencies of light were not present. (its a lot like the if a tree falls in the forest…etc. It all depends on how you define terms)

  143. Mlemaon 12 Aug 2011 at 10:30 pm

    ccbowers,
    thanks. I think you make a very good point re: machines.
    “I agree that if we could build a functional human replica it would have consciousness. If this is the extent of the thought experiment’s utility, then its not much of one.”
    I agree. And as to whether or not that’s the extent of the experiment’s utility, i honestly don’t know.
    M

  144. M. Davieson 12 Aug 2011 at 10:38 pm

    @daedalus2 and ccbowers

    There can certainly be illusions. I might think I saw someone I know, but presto, they are someone else. I was deceived. Optical illusions actually exist.

    An illusion is premised on something which appears to be X but is actually Y. It is a difference between essence (what something objectively is) and appearance (what it is like to an observer). But if what is in question is appearance itself, then how can appearance be anything other than an appearance? The experience of redness can’t actually be the experience of blueness, whatever its cause in the world or the brain. Next time you experience blue, you cannot actually be having an experience of red, whatever the stimulus is.

    To put it in terms of the examples, if I see different colours from a black-white disk, then I actually experience those colours, even though the referent is black and white. The illusion is that the disk is brown/green/red, what is not an illusion is the perceptual content. Otherwise the whole disk illusion falls apart! For illusions to be possible then appearances cannot themselves be illusions! You’d tell people “Hey, that spinning disk, where you think it is making you experience brown; well you are not experiencing brown at all, you are experiencing black and white, therefore there is no illusion at all” – this is nonsensical.

    Furthermore, it’s the difference between ‘seeing a red light’ and ‘experiencing redness’. If I experience redness, and attribute it to a red light out in the world (rather than the bad cheese I ate), then the illusion is ‘there is a red light out in the world’. What is not an illusion is ‘experiencing that redness’.

  145. Mlemaon 12 Aug 2011 at 10:48 pm

    daedalus2u,
    “The problem isn’t what is “qualia”, but rather how can so poorly defined and non measurable a concept be the topic of serious discussion?”

    i don’t consider qualia to be poorly defined. Qualia are: conscious experience, that is, what it “feels like” to be conscious of something. What it means to see “red” as opposed to simply being aware that your eyes are receiving a certain wavelength of light.

    Granted, this is just my opinion about it not being poorly defined. i do think it’s hard for people to conceptualize the nature of any question about how it can be what it is.

    “Miema, what if qualia itself is an illusion. We can figure it out but the idea that qualia is an illusion is rejected because the illusion is too strong.”

    i don’t think qualia are illusion. They might present us with illusions, but they are real. i was just affirming the comparison that something we don’t know how to explain (qualia) is like an illusion: we don’t know how to explain it until we use some other way of examining it.

  146. daedalus2uon 12 Aug 2011 at 10:54 pm

    I disagree. My sensory observations are subject to analysis and revision if they are incompatible with reality. I don’t prioritize my sensory experience over what is actually there.

    I think you are trying to parse things too closely. You don’t know where in the sensory detection information processing chain the error has occurred. Arbitrarily saying that one link in that chain is by definition error-free is not something that I find useful.

  147. Mlemaon 12 Aug 2011 at 11:20 pm

    How do you know that all your sensory observations aren’t incompatible with reality? How do you subject something to analysis if you aren’t aware that it exists?

    Let’s say we know we’re seeing an illusion. Say, we know that the wavelength of light, or the arrangement of visual cues, is creating a configuration of stimuli that’s telling us something about the “outside” reality that isn’t really true. We are seeing a falseness. But the experience of that falseness cannot be false. It is what it is. Qualia are what we use (in their other manifestations) in order to examine the illusion and find it false.

    To further illustrate, it’s possible for someone to see red and green as shades of gray (red/green color blindness). The error is in the physical brain. But the EXPERIENCE of gray is still experienced in the way that all colors are experienced. There’s no illusion about the experience itself – only about what that experience in turn communicates to the awareness of a particular wavelength navigating the eye.

  148. Mlemaon 12 Aug 2011 at 11:23 pm

    or, how would you respond to M. Davies, who I believe is saying the same thing?

  149. M. Davieson 12 Aug 2011 at 11:41 pm

    @daedalus2u

    Knowing lines which appear to converge are actually parallel doesn’t make the lines appear as parallel. Knowing the disc is black and white, and knowing how it makes you experience green, doesn’t revise your sensory observation, because you still actually and undeniably have the experience of ‘seeing green.’ Saying ‘the thing I’m seeing ain’t a green thing’ is irrelevant. It doesn’t mean sense-impressions are epistemologically superior, it means that it’s a contradiction par excellence to say ‘appearances aren’t what they appear to be’. Illusion requires both appearance and actuality; qualitative experience is constituted of appearances alone. That’s why we use reason and science – to get away from subjective impressions, not to turn our five senses into ‘detectors of things as they actually are’.

  150. Mlemaon 12 Aug 2011 at 11:54 pm

    thanks mufi,
    I really do appreciate your expansion of how you see the problem. Here’s how I understand your view of Block:
    (quoting you)
    “We can blame the explanatory gap and the Hard Problem on a conceptual dualism – namely, phenomenal vs. physical – rather than on an ontological dualism.”

    You feel Block is suggesting that if we just look at the problem differently, it won’t be a problem.
    That is, the problem of qualia is simply a mistake of looking at it the wrong way, and that it will eventually be explained by the same means of scientific research on the physical brain that are currently emplyed; research that has explained other brain phenomena.

    I agree with your interpretation, except where it suggests that if we change the concept, qualia will be explained by what we’ve done and are doing. That is, if you interpret it as saying that qualia will reveal their “cause” as higher elements of the consciousness that we are continually growing to understand. I think that’s only partly what he’s saying. The complete meaning of what he’s saying is: develop a concept that will allow a scientific explanation of qualia (thereby filling the explanatory gap), and you no longer have a “hard problem”.

    If we have an appropriate scientific concept (like, heat = mean molecular kinetic energy) we will be able to explain conscious experience in terms of that scientific concept.

    He’s pointing out that the concept itself may be the problem, but he’s not saying that changing it SOLVES the problem. Changing it only makes it possible to consider solutions that haven’t already been considered, and thereby (maybe) go forward in filling the explanatory gap. (as he suggests toward the end of the quote)

    With your example of a pre-modern man and a running car making noise: the modern man needs to conceptualize that a “running car” has moving parts that he can’t see. He can lift the hood and see some of them. He can learn more about what he can’t see happening in there, too. He can come to understand a combustion engine, just like we can come to understand how the physical brain works. But that pre-modern man can’t understand how the running car (or anything else for that matter) makes noise, unless he learns about acoustics, a concept essentially different from the concept of a combustion engine. We can’t learn about conscious experience unless we stop only looking only at the engine of the brain in order to understand it’s acoustics (qualia).

    “Block seems hopeful that science will (or already is) refining the physical concept of consciousness to the point where the “hard problem” is no longer any harder than the problem of explaining that whirring sound”

    Exactly! Develop the concept of acoustics (a physical, scientific concept), and it’s easy to explain the “hard problem” of the whirring sound. Let go of the idea that a physical concept of consciousness must explained by the brain alone. Like the pre-modern man has to let go of the idea that understanding how the car makes sound will be explained if he simply understands everything about how the car works. The car and the noise, the brain and the qualia. But to understand how, perhaps a new concept must be entertained. Acoustics were needed to understand sound, and what? is needed to understand qualia? Once we answer the what?, there’s no “hard problem”.

    Enter Chalmers, innocently proposing that “information as fundamental” should be examined as the brain equivalent of acoustics for the “whirring”. But let him make the mistake of venturing some philosophical ramifications of that proposal, and viola! You get condemnation based on interpretation of the philosophy, rather than analysis of the idea.

    i personally think this has something to do with people being fearful that ramifications of the idea will somehow fuel dualistic arguments, which seem to be code for God v. atheism.

    Oh well.

    “just substitute the word “experience” for “intelligence” – and you’ve got a continuum that extends well beyond the psychological and biological domains where such terms are most meaningful.”

    I think conscious experience is the best description for qualia. If someone’s trying to extend that term beyond where you think it’s meaningful, it’s your prerogative to judge what mistakes they’re making in doing so.

    PS mufi, familial obligations are a reason to rejoice. Nothing you say or don’t say is a reason to apologize for putting them first.

    sincerely,
    M

  151. BillyJoe7on 13 Aug 2011 at 4:21 am

    daedalus,

    “What basis do you have for saying that consciousness is “expensive”? ”

    I guess I’m thinking that adding consciousness to a p-zombie is not cheap?
    (Presuming that p-zombies are possible of course, which they aren’t))

    “An entity after large amounts of brain damage is not “the same” as the entity before the damage.”

    You are not even the same when you’re dreaming. You don’t question the illogical things that happen in your dreams, but as soon as you awake, you immediately see it for the nonsense that it is.

    “I’m afraid I’ve never read a really good argument for the utility of consciousness that cannot being dragged into epiphenomena via some thought experiment. ”

    The point is that this still makes p-zombies impossible. If consciousness is an emergent property of brains like ours, it is a necessary accompaniment of brains like ours. Still no p-zombies.

    ————————–

    sonic,

    “I am thinking of coining the phrase–
    “Emergence in the gaps”
    What do you think?”

    But we have numerous examples of emergent properties.
    They are real.

    ——————————-

    steve12,

    “I just think the NCC aren’t going to satisfy our want for an explanation of why we have qualia.”

    It doesn’t really matter what satisfies us though does it. Think of the god analogy. There are people whoi are never going to satisfied without putting god in the gap.

    ———————-

    mufi,

    “I don’t think that physics is going to satisfy our want for an explanation of why there’s something rather than nothing. ”

    I can relate to that. When someone talks about quantum fluctuation, I wanna say: “But nothing also means no quantum physics”. I know there’s an answer to that, but somehow I’m not satisfied. That doesn’t mean I can’t accept that explanation, buit I just need to let it sit there for a while.

    “I’m only superficially familiar with Chalmers’ argument about p-zombies”

    Likewise. But my understanding is that he thinks mechanism cannot account (or doesn’t account for) consciousness or qualia. In other words, p-zombies are possible. His solution is to make consciousness fundamental – like a fundamental particle – so now consciousness and qualia are a necessary accompaniment of mechanism and p-zombies are not possible.
    But there are so many examples of emergent properties that I don’t understand what his problem is.

    ——————————

    Mlema,

    “it’s impossible that a machine or an organism that is exactly like a human, functionally speaking, would also not be conscious. Is that right? ”

    Correct.

    “But as far as “believing” that this “p-zombie” could exist? I am unaware of anybody that is asserting it could exist!”

    There are definitely such people.
    They are called dualists.

    “It’s just a way to try to help people conceptualize the problem of qualia. Do you understand the problem of qualia?”

    It does that admirably. As for the problem of qualia, I think once the soft problem is solved, the hard problem will be solved. The hard problem is the hobby horse of dualists and some materialists have been sucked into the trick.

  152. BillyJoe7on 13 Aug 2011 at 5:30 am

    Mlema: “I don’t think qualia are illusion”
    M Davies: “how can sense-experience be an illusion? If you experienced ‘redness’, then you actually experienced it”

    It depends on the point of view. Certainly, you really do experience the colour red. From that POV, qualia (for example, the experience of red) are not an illusion (you really do experience red). However, there is nothing red in front of your eyes. From that POV, the experience of red is an illusion. There is just an object emitting, reflecting, or transmitting wavelengths of EMR. And that wavelength does not even reliably correspond to what you experience (see below)

    ccbowers: “redness is not just a first person perception, but it corresponds to a certain frequencies of visible light.”

    What we percieve as red does not reliably correspond to particular frequencies of light. There are many illusions that illustrate this point. For example:
    http://lookmind.com/illusions.php?id=1791&cat=2
    http://www.planetperplex.com/en/item/false-color/
    http://www.planetperplex.com/en/item/chromatic-adaptation/

    ?author: “If you see a red light that is not present to any other observer then one could say it is an illusion.”

    That is actually a delusion.

  153. mufion 13 Aug 2011 at 8:50 am

    Mlema:

    If we have an appropriate scientific concept (like, heat = mean molecular kinetic energy) we will be able to explain conscious experience in terms of that scientific concept.

    Yes, although I just read M. Davies’ related comment on another thread, and I agree that “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).”

    So, even as cognitive-science/neuroscience progress in the refinement of the physical concepts pertinent to subjective experience (and, yes, that effort may require interdisciplinary collaboration, possibly with physicists), the explanatory gap won’t necessarily go away so much as seem no more or less problematic than a host of other questions that science cannot likely answer. (This is along the same lines as my comment above addressed to steve12 re: physics.)

    Enter Chalmers, innocently proposing that “information as fundamental” should be examined as the brain equivalent of acoustics for the “whirring”.

    Actually, what bothers me about the notion of “conscious thermostats” is how oversimplified it is – as if my qualitative experience right now can be reduced to mere “information processing” (thereby externalizing my awareness of and sensory response to that information). And that’s only a first-person objection. A third-person objection would get into the all of the physiological correlates of consciousness that thermostats lack.

    If I were forced to speculate on the “experience” of a thermostat (drawing on what I now know and/or have reason to believe about the nature of consciousness), then I would have to say that it is like my experience of a dreamless sleep. In other words, for all practical purposes, it is no experience at all.

    Of course, if you were to ask me what’s it like to be a mouse, I would have to admit that I don’t really know. But I should think that its physiological properties are such (e.g. like you and me, it has a nervous system, a brain, eyes, ears, etc.) that it almost certainly experiences something (viz. what Edelman describes as “primary experience” or a “remembered present”).

    Anyhow, even if we disagree on some minor point here, I recognize that we agree that a better understanding of consciousness is most likely to be gained from a scientific (as opposed to a mystical) approach to the problem.

  154. daedalus2uon 13 Aug 2011 at 10:01 am

    Many people feel that p-zombies exist. Bigots, homophobes, racists, religious extremists all believe that p-zombies exist and that the objects of their hatred are p-zombies. Fundamentally such people believe that the objects of their bigotry do not have what ever human essence is required to be human and not a p-zombie. They are unable to conceive that the objects of their bigotry have inner mental processes that correspond with being human.

    This is why homophobes are so against gay marriage. They are unable to conceive of gay people as people; as human beings with the capacity to love and to be loved. This is why arguments against gay marriage devolve into arguments for marrying animals. To homophobes, gay people don’t have any human characteristics that distinguish them from animals.

    This is why atheists are so hated. Some believers are unable to imagine that atheists have the human capacities to love and to be loved. That atheists could possibly have the self-control to not suddenly go berserk and start killing and raping everyone within eye shot. This is why atheists got 8,000 death threats after the Fox News story on the 9/11 cross.

    My guess is that Egnor feels that Novella is a p-zombie because Novella doesn’t have a belief in God. P-zombies don’t need to be treated as humans because they are not humans. That is why lying to non-believers is acceptable. The 10 commandments are for fellow human beings, not for p-zombies.

    This is a very large part of human social activity, trying to move your opponents so far down the social hierarchy that they become non-human and so can be treated as non-humans, like animals. I have blogged about it.

    http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/2010/03/physiology-behind-xenophobia.html

    This is a very large part of what is going on in politics these days, diss your opponent such that other people think he/she is insufficiently human. Eventually some on the fringe will feel such hatred that they will start killing. This is what has happened. This is why blacks were lynched years ago, this is why there is gay bashing, this is why there is Muslim bashing, atheist bashing, liberal bashing, poor bashing, unemployed bashing.

  155. ccbowerson 13 Aug 2011 at 10:18 am

    “What we percieve as red does not reliably correspond to particular frequencies of light. ”

    True, but that does not condradict what I was saying. I was simply pointing out that it depends on what he means by “redness.”

    “If you see a red light that is not present to any other observer then one could say it is an illusion.” That is actually a delusion.

    Its only a delusion if you don’t admit that it is an illusion. ;)

  156. ccbowerson 13 Aug 2011 at 10:23 am

    “This is why homophobes are so against gay marriage.:

    For some there appears to be a component of jealousy. Its a small but vocal subset. Former senator Larry Craig comes to mind, but he is just one example. I often wonder the motivations of those who “protest too much,” especially for things that don’t appear to affect their lives directly.

  157. steve12on 13 Aug 2011 at 12:00 pm

    I think it’s important to remember that 100% of your visual experience is an illusion of sorts. It’s all a reconstruction, and some things are more veridical to the physical world than others.

    It’s simply accurate vs. inaccurate illusions. think about the visual stream from the retina to the “what” and “where” streams, and how much all of that information gets chopped up and reproduced and put back together.

  158. daedalus2uon 13 Aug 2011 at 12:37 pm

    I don’t think jealousy is the reason. Mark Foley is a better example of someone who voted against legal rights for gays while being gay himself. I think he was trying to pose as someone homophobic so as to be treated like a human being by the homophobes he worked with (the rest of the GOP).

    I think because for homophobes to allow gay marriage would be to acknowledge that gays are human beings, and not p-zombies; it would be to recognize that a gay person is a human being and that any feelings the homophobe has to the contrary are due to faults in the homophobe and not in the gay person.

    This is why many Christians can’t “walk the walk” that Jesus preached. This is why tea-partiers and the GOP can’t negotiate with Obama; to negotiate with Obama is to recognize and acknowledge that he is a human being who has the standing to be negotiated with and not a p-zombie. To treat someone they feel is a p-zombie as a human being is to eliminate the distinction between us and them.

    That really is pretty much the whole point of the Patriarchal Abrahamic religions, everything good comes from the top down, and if you are at the bottom, then anything you have can be taken from you by the authority of those at the top.

  159. M. Davieson 13 Aug 2011 at 12:53 pm

    There seems to be some conceptual ambiguity here.

    1) One does not need to believe in spirits or souls or some other kind of magic to be a dualist. All you have to do is hold that both minds and brains need to be explained. An explanation ‘minds are what brains do’ or ‘minds are an emergent property’ have all kinds of entailments which can’t be wished away. These positions are critiqued BY strong materialists. I know people can get away with ignoring those critiques, but so what?

    2) If someone thinks that p-zombies are meaningful but non-existent (in the same way that Sherlock Holmes can be entertained as an entity without actually existing); that p-zombies differ in some meaningful capacity from people currently existing; then said person is subscribing to dualism, because it posits a difference in kind between entities which are structurally equivalent. This gets people’s backs up because here ‘dualism’ is code for ‘believing in unobservable made-up entities’ or being some kind of religious adherent or positing souls or something, which is just a lazy foil. The response ‘such structures as the brain can’t exist without generating consciousness’ just states what it is trying to explain. Specific arguments like ‘structure x generates experience or faculty y’ describes self-reports and observables.  All the neuroscience work on brains and their functioning doesn’t have to invoke qualitative experience (‘mind’) to be conceptually complete and exhaustive. Those who feel the need to explain both brain and mind, even if one is in terms of the other, are going an unecessary step to far (if they are good materialists) or they unwittingly reinscribe a variant of dualism. This is uncontroversial to anyone who has spent some time with the literature. Trying to score points against it, when professionals have already done the work of reflecting on the commitments of these positions, is boring and stupid. The emphasis on ‘materialism good, dualism wrong’ is opposing two positions which overlap in various ways. They are not exclusive.

    3) Just for the record, p-zombies are a distinction without a difference. If any existed there would be no way for us or them to tell the difference, even by prompting internal reflection. There is no mechanism which would measure how they differ. This stuff has been hashed over for twenty years or more and still people think they can be non-dualists while maintaining a distinction between entities which differ according to a property inaccessible to anything.

    If someone wants clarification I can provide it but there’s no point arguing over positions which have been surpassed a thousand-fold in the literature because they are so basic.

  160. daedalus2uon 13 Aug 2011 at 1:48 pm

    There has been no demonstration that there is such a thing as consciousness that needs to be explained. How is the “problem” of consciousness different than the “problem” of God, of ghosts, or of unicorns, of Sherlock Holmes, the sound of one hand clapping, or as Dr Hall likes to ask the problem of the Tooth Fairy?

  161. M. Davieson 13 Aug 2011 at 1:59 pm

    @Daedalus2u

    For staunch non-dualists, it’s no different. ‘Mind’, ‘consciousness’, etc., are folk-neuropsych that have no meaningful referent. They are as useful as élan vital. Knowing more about biology doesn’t explain vitalism as an emergent property, it obviates any need to appeal to it at all.

  162. ccbowerson 14 Aug 2011 at 12:16 am

    “I don’t think jealousy is the reason.”

    Perhaps you misunderstood me as I was being a bit vague. I was suggesting an extra motivation for some, which involves being a homosexual themselves, having serious problems with that idea, being in denial, and lashing out externally at others.

  163. ccbowerson 14 Aug 2011 at 12:20 am

    I’m not sure how this topic even came up. Here is an often referenced study about homophobia:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8772014

  164. Mlemaon 14 Aug 2011 at 3:01 pm

    mufi, i sense that, for whatever reason, you and I would really like to find common ground on this question of conscious experience. So, let me offer that: I think we have. I think it’s been assisted by my willingness to relinquish any attempt to make sense of how different people think about p-zombies or thermostats. Such philosophical silliness truly obfusticates the discussion.

    And while i feel like we did actually accomplish the common ground between us, i don’t really see that most commentators here are really getting a handle on the true “problem” of consciousness. That is: how it is that sound waves reaching my ear can mean so much more than my brain adopting a new state in response. There seems to be no apprehension of some basic philosophical concepts.

    Some people want to argue about “why” conscious experience happens, in order to say “we don’t need to know why, the question of qualia is a useless question”. But i think that science really wants to know “how” – and that “how” still remains as the question. Saying “we may never know” is certainly a true thing to say. And saying “we need a new concept through which to approach this” is a good step towards trying to learn about “how”. But denying that there’s a question, or saying “the problem will solve itself once everything about the physical brain is learned” falls short for me. I will concede that study of the physical brain will yield the “how” of qualia, only if “physicality” grows to include something we just don’t know about yet. And since that could potentially happen, I don’t know why anti-dualists seem to want so much to avoid the question. From Dr. Novella we hear: it’s an emergent property, and that’s “good enough” (his words). And remember, this is not a descriptive gap.

  165. BillyJoe7on 14 Aug 2011 at 5:32 pm

    Mlema,

    The problem is that we don’t have even a hint of what a new concept would look like. So saying we need a new concept means nothing. We have to work with what we’ve got. We don’t have a new concept but we do have the concept of emergence which could do the job admirably. In our present state of knowledge, there is no reason why consciousness and qualia cannot be emergent properties. We have numerous examples of emergent properties throughout nature. And guess what, they seem to emerge as complexity increases. So, unless you show me a new concept that makes any sense, excuse me if I stick with what we have.

    And if you think that commenters here do not have a handle on p-zombies and what the hard problem is, you are almost certainly mistaken. I have not read any comment here that suggest that the commenter does not understand what is meant by the hard problem. Nobody thinks the question about qualia is useless. But some of us think that, lacking any new concept that makes any sense, there is every reason to think that consciousness emerges as the complexity of brains increases. And, as I say, there are numerous examples of this happening throughout nature.

    In other words, solve the soft problem and you have solved the hard problem. At the very least, let’s solve the soft problem first.

  166. M. Davieson 14 Aug 2011 at 5:48 pm

    All philosophy of mind (with a few exceptions not relevant here) can be included in the position that ‘consciousness is emergent’.

    In my view, the concept of ‘emergence’ doesn’t work admirably because it simply restates a descriptive claim in new words. “Consciousness is an emergent property of the brain” is the same as “mass is an emergent property of matter” or “gravity is an emergent property of bodies”. It’s fine as shorthand but it doesn’t explain anything.

    Saying that emergent properties appear to correlate with complexity isn’t that helpful either, because ‘complexity’ is a relative evaluation, it’s not an inherent property of an object.

    It is correct that there is no (immediate) reason why consciousness or qualia cannot be emergent properties. The question is why are they emergent properties? Why doesn’t the heart, or a population of individuals, or a beehive, or a computer, have emergent properties of consciousness, having other emergent properties instead? Why do some complex arrangements generate consciousness and other complex arrangements not? Some people would argue ‘science will tell us’, but one does not need to be an anti-science woo-peddler to disagree.

    For example, what about the position that we don’t need to explain the hard problem because there is simply no emergent property of ‘consciousness’, that ‘consciousness’ just refers to muddle-headed ideas which have no clear, unitary, or useful referent? Which is more parsimonious and in accord with the evidence? Consciousness as an emergent property or ‘consciousness’ as a useless term on par with ‘vitalism’?

    The inability to recognize these issues are exactly what suggest that some commentators don’t grasp the hard problem.

  167. mufion 14 Aug 2011 at 7:29 pm

    Mlema:

    I feel that it’s time for me to repeat my disclaimer that I am a web developer by profession, and my interest in this topic is at most a minor hobby. That said…

    I will concede that study of the physical brain will yield the “how” of qualia, only if “physicality” grows to include something we just don’t know about yet. And since that could potentially happen, I don’t know why anti-dualists seem to want so much to avoid the question. From Dr. Novella we hear: it’s an emergent property, and that’s “good enough” (his words). And remember, this is not a descriptive gap.

    I’ll try an analogy to my line of work: I am sometimes pressed for a solution to a problem (e.g. a code bug/defect somewhere in an application that users and account managers are complaining about), and the best that I can come up with, given the time constraints, is one that I arrived at through some method of trial and error. I can describe what I did to arrive at the solution, but I cannot explain why it works. It just does, and that’s sufficient to satisfy all of the stakeholders.

    We may be witnessing a similar scenario with regard to the “hard problem” of consciousness, only on a much larger scale; i.e. the problem is much harder and thereby requires a lot more time to both solve and explain the solution.

    But then I also think it’s possible that we over-estimate what science can possibly explain (or at least that’s what I read into Edelman’s last paragraph in my excerpt above re: “the warmness of warmth and the greenness of green”). For battle-worn skeptics like Dr. Novella, it probably does seem like enough to demonstrate how much further a scientific approach to the problem has already gotten, relative to dubious religious, spiritualist, or mystical approaches (be they new-agey or old-agey). But I certainly don’t get the impression that he believes science obviates the need for the kind of conceptual analysis that philosophers engage in.

  168. Mlemaon 14 Aug 2011 at 7:55 pm

    mufi,
    I’m starting to see my own problem as: I am a stickler for logic. So when Dr. Novella asserts “mind causes brain” instead of simply continually enlightening us about how the mind/brain works, I feel he has stepped into philosophical territory. It would be hard for anybody immersed in such work as his not to draw some kind of conclusion about what it all means regarding: consciousness, qualia, etc.. But I sense that Dr. Novella, just like Dr. Egnor, has his own motivated reasoning. And regardless of the motivation, and how well-intentioned it might be, if you’re going to make an assertion that you purport to be using logic to make, then you should check your steps.

    I may be wrong to not accept “that’s good enough” in this context. After all, it is Dr. Novella’s blog. If he feels that’s an effective way to deal with some contention, who am I to command that he do otherwise? I feel i am making a small contribution by pointing out what a visitor or critic may view as a flaw in Dr. Novella’s debate with the obviously religious Dr. Egnor. People who think i have some sort of personal religious goal in so doing myself, well, i hope they would consider that I’m not logging in at Dr. Egnor’s site to sing his praises.

    forgive the obsessively logical

  169. tmac57on 14 Aug 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Why doesn’t the heart, or a population of individuals, or a beehive, or a computer, have emergent properties of consciousness, having other emergent properties instead? Why do some complex arrangements generate consciousness and other complex arrangements not?

    Do those things possess the complexity of the human brain? ( the population of individuals,obviously have their own individual consciousness,of course).Also,it has been observed in ant colonies,and bacteria,that there appears to be a collective consciousness of sorts.Those may not be directly analogous to the human brain,but might be a useful template for understanding how complexity can evolve into proto-conscious systems.

  170. mufion 14 Aug 2011 at 10:28 pm

    Mlema: So when Dr. Novella asserts “mind causes brain” instead of simply continually enlightening us about how the mind/brain works, I feel he has stepped into philosophical territory.

    I think you meant “brain causes mind”, by which Dr. Novella has in mind a scientifically testable hypothesis, which he argues is confirmed by convergent lines of evidence.

    But I would agree that “empirically well supported” and “true” are not quite the same. The latter is indeed philosophical territory.

    For example, John Searle’s premise here strikes me as virtually identical to Dr. Novella’s hypothesis:

    We do not know all the details of exactly how consciousness is caused by brain processes, but there is no doubt that it is in fact. The thesis that all of our conscious states, from feeling thirsty to experiencing mystical ecstasies are caused by brain processes is now established by an overwhelming amount of evidence. Indeed the currently most exciting research in the biological sciences is to try to figure out exactly how it works. What are the neuronal correlates of consciousness and how do they function to cause conscious states?

    source

    The difference is that Searle (qua philosopher) develops the premise (along with some others) into an argument for his ontological theory, whereas Novella (qua neurologist) mostly limits himself to defending the empirical basis of that same premise.

    There is definite overlap here between their domains, but that’s partly what makes it interesting to me.

  171. Lee Bowmanon 15 Aug 2011 at 2:36 am

    … it has been observed in ant colonies,and bacteria,that there appears to be a collective consciousness of sorts.

    Or … they’re simply little robot forms. By the way, anyone seen the video taken by following an ant colony on a rampage, where they came into combat with a termite species? I could plainly discern a correlation there …

    With [guess who]?

    Those may not be directly analogous to the human brain,but might be a useful template for understanding how complexity can evolve into proto-conscious systems.

    Consider that all consciousness consists of a a combination of self-awareness, and of a group consciousness. If a valid concept, it degrades the synapto-counscious premise.

  172. Mlemaon 16 Aug 2011 at 12:55 am

    The only thing that’s empirically well-supported is that the brain and the mind are correlated. And that we currently have no way to determine how subjective experience is “created by” the brain. We have hope that eventually we will at least reach a point where we can correlate specific conscious experience to specific brain states. But that will not solve the problem of how they manifest. It only shows us the most finely focused correlate possible.

    That is, maybe someday we will be able to look at your brain, and without seeing what you’re looking at, be able to tell what it is you’re looking at. But that won’t explain how the brain state we’re observing in you while you look at that thing causes you to see the thing the way you do. We won’t know how the brain state presents to you an image, instead of simply causing you to actualize whatever reaction is necessary to the thing in fromt of you in order to continue living and utilizing your environment to sustain your life.

    Searle’s question:
    “What are the neuronal correlates of consciousness and how do they function to cause conscious states?”
    Is not a question about conscious experience. Only about brain states and conscious states. He has dodged the “how do we experience conscious brain states” by insisting that conscious awareness and the conscious brain state are the same thing. (I followed your source)
    And yes, that is what Dr. Novella is saying too.
    So even if I give you causality, saying the brain causes consciousness still doesn’t answer the question of “how is it that we experience conscious states as we do”?

    your assessment:
    “The difference is that Searle (qua philosopher) develops the premise (along with some others) into an argument for his ontological theory, whereas Novella (qua neurologist) mostly limits himself to defending the empirical basis of that same premise.”

    OK. You’re perceptive about what Dr. Novella and Searle are saying. But I’ve given up trying to explain what I’m saying. I just don’t feel sure that I’ve been able to convey the dilemma in a way that will enable you to see it as I do.
    The thing is, after repeating and trying to explain my own viewpoint so many times, I’ve come to understand Dr. Novella’s frustration in having to repeat his own viewpoint over and over, as he tries to make his opponents see reason (as he sees reason) After reading all the other things he’s written, i understand his viewpoint. I just happent to think that in this case it’s poorly grounded. Just my opinion. A non-expert one at that. But i would be remiss not to thank him for the opportunity to express it. Thanks Dr. Novella. But he probably won’t read this, so, another “oh well”. Maybe it’s better that he not read my negative review than that he see that I’m grateful for the opportunity to make it.

    cheers, and PS – as I said, I’m really tired of repeating explanations of my viewpoint, so i probably won’t comment here again.
    double cheers! :-)

  173. mufion 16 Aug 2011 at 9:41 am

    Mlema: The only thing that’s empirically well-supported is that the brain and the mind are correlated.

    I think the empirical claim is actually stronger than that (again, from my layperson’s understanding). For example: There is a demonstrable causal relationship between (A) brain function (which scientists are able to directly manipulate) and (B) subjective experience (which scientists are able to indirectly manipulate via A). If I’ve got any part of that wrong, then I’m certainly open to correction.

    And that we currently have no way to determine how subjective experience is “created by” the brain.

    No argument here.

    [Searle] has dodged the “how do we experience conscious brain states” by insisting that conscious awareness and the conscious brain state are the same thing. (I followed your source)

    Given that Searle explicitly admits that “We do not know all the details of exactly how consciousness is caused by brain processes”, saying that he “dodged” the question seems unfair.

    OK. You’re perceptive about what Dr. Novella and Searle are saying. But I’ve given up trying to explain what I’m saying. I just don’t feel sure that I’ve been able to convey the dilemma in a way that will enable you to see it as I do.

    Sorry you feel that way, but I think I may be nearly as frustrated by your reaction here as you seem to be in expressing it. Plus it’s not exactly the note that I wanted to end our conversation on.

    In any case, I wish you well.

  174. Mlemaon 16 Aug 2011 at 5:12 pm

    my fault, regarding how the conversation ends
    it doesn’t effect my fond regards
    M

  175. knowledge_treehouseon 18 Aug 2011 at 8:34 am

    Focus on experiments and mechanics. Those are really more informative and persuasive than such overarching theories, and I’m sure both camps can agree on them.

    Excluding McLuhanism, the mind may occur entirely in the brain; but the brain doesn’t exist in a vacuum – it is biochemically primed. The particular biochemical mix coming from the rest of the body will affect its thoughts; it will even predispose it to particular conceptual frameworks of the many it could apply to a situation.

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