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 tha