Creationist Neuroscience

Now that the big election is over, it’s time to get away from political blogging for a while and return to what this blog was created to do: bash creationists. So have a look at this article from The New Scientist:

“You cannot overestimate,” thundered psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz, “how threatened the scientific establishment is by the fact that it now looks like the materialist paradigm is genuinely breaking down. You’re gonna hear a lot in the next calendar year about… how Darwin’s explanation of how human intelligence arose is the only scientific way of doing it… I’m asking us as a world community to go out there and tell the scientific establishment, enough is enough! Materialism needs to start fading away and non-materialist causation needs to be understood as part of natural reality.”

His enthusiasm was met with much applause from the audience gathered at the UN’s east Manhattan conference hall on 11 September for an international symposium called Beyond the Mind-Body Problem: New Paradigms in the Science of Consciousness. Earlier Mario Beauregard, a researcher in neuroscience at the University of Montreal, Canada, and co-author of The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist’s case for the existence of the soul, told the audience that the “battle” between “maverick” scientists like himself and those who “believe the mind is what the brain does” is a “cultural war”.

Yawn. Pretty familiar stuff. I’ll start taking this sort of thing seriously as soon as someone solves an actual problem in neuroscience by invoking non-material causation.

For example, I often hear it said that consciousness is some fundamental stumbling block to materialist theories of the brain. I agree that consciousness is mysterious, but how does it become non-mysterious by invoking non-material causation? I don’t know how consciousness can arise from the material interactions going on within the brain. But I also don’t know how, say, some indetectable, non-material mindstuff can interact with the physical brain to produce consciousness.

Here, as always, it seems that the anti-materialists are just using some version of “God did it,” as an all-purpose get out of jail free card. It is vacuous as an explanation, but it flatters a certain sort of sensibility.

It would seem that some at the symposium are aware of the problem:

Meanwhile, Schwartz has been working with Henry Stapp, a physicist at the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who also spoke at the symposium. They have been developing non-standard interpretations of quantum mechanics to explain how the “non-material mind” affects the physical brain.

Why am I not optimistic?

Non-maverick scholars do not feel the need for any massive paradigm shift in their subject:

He and others worry because scientists have yet to crack the great mystery of how consciousness could emerge from firing neurons. “Progress in science is slow on many fronts,” says John Searle, a philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley. “We don’t yet have a cure for cancer, but that doesn’t mean cancer has spiritual causes.”

And for Patricia Churchland, a philosopher of neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego, “it is an argument from ignorance. The fact something isn’t currently explained doesn’t mean it will never be explained or that we need to completely change not only our neuroscience but our physics.”

There are a few other interesting tidbits in the article, so go read the whole thing.

At various times I have made forays into the literature on the philosophy of mind. I’ve never gotten very far. Everything always seems so vague and imprecise that I usually find myself lost inside a few pages. Take, for example, the fundamental idea of “qualia.” Wikipedia defines it like this:

“Qualia” … is “an unfamiliar term for something that could not be more familiar to each of us: the ways things seem to us”. They can be defined as qualities or sensations, like redness or pain, as considered independently of their effects on behavior and from whatever physical circumstances give rise to them. In more philosophical terms, qualia are properties of sensory experiences.

Does that make sense to anyone? I don’t understand what is meant by the phrase, “properties of sensory experiences.” Is it clear that things like redness or pain actually have an existence indpendent of the physical circumstances that give rise to them?

Or consider this:

Clarence I. Lewis, in his book [Mind and the World Order] (1929), was the first to use the term “qualia” in its generally agreed modern sense.

There are recognizable qualitative characters of the given, which may be repeated in different experiences, and are thus a sort of universals; I call these “qualia.” But although such qualia are universals, in the sense of being recognized from one to another experience, they must be distinguished from the properties of objects. Confusion of these two is characteristic of many historical conceptions, as well as of current essence-theories. The quale is directly intuited, given, and is not the subject of any possible error because it is purely subjective.

Again, what does that mean? It seems easier just to put the book aside than to try to parse that.

The whole project of explaining consciousness seems weird to me. How will we know when we have succeeded? Even if we were to just create an explanation from whole cloth, I don’t know what a satisfying explanation for consciousness would look like.

I don’t think philosophers have much light to shed on the subject, but perhaps I am wrong. If anyone would like to suggest a few books that explain the basics of the subject in an especially clear way, I’d be happy to have a look.

Comments

  1. #1 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    November 6, 2008

    There’s that word “maverick” again. I thought you were moving away from politics?

    I think we are all waiting with bated breath for them to show how “non-materialistic” science is done. Perhaps they should consult with Richard Hoagland and Erich Von Daniken.

  2. #2 dean
    November 6, 2008

    on creationism: the comedian Emo Phillips was on Bob and Tom this morning. Somehow the question of whether he believed evolution or creationism (ID, same thing). Here is his response (you’ll have to imagine his voice)
    “I believe in evolution. I only remember a couple things from my high school science. One is that pure water will freeze as approximately 32 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level. The other is that when you are trying to decide between two explanations for the origin an development of life on Earth, choose the one that doesn’t depend on a wish to a magic fairy.”

    sums up the appropriate opinion of the ideas proposed by Scwartz et.al.

  3. #3 Free Radical
    November 6, 2008

    I’m not terribly up on this literature, but I’m sure you know these guys – the relatively fledgling field of Cognitive Science might be relevant here. As I understand it, Cognitive Science exists at the nexus of psychology, neuroscience, mathematics, computer science, and the philosophy of the mind. Among its goals is the mathematical/computational modeling of human behavior and mental processes – which some cognitive scientists have done with a significant degree of accuracy. You can clearly see why this would be germane to the materialist debate – sometimes even those mental phenomena we cannot explain can be predicted with some regularity, as they probably could not be if controlled by some nebulous spiritual force.

    I know the great Dan Dennett is often cited as the philosophical flagship of the CogSci fleet; I sometimes hear Noam Chomsky mentioned in this context as well. Dennett is not SUBSTANTIALLY less dense than your average philosopher of the mind, but he has the advantage of thinking traditional philosophical jargon is a needless impediment to understanding. This does not always stop him from using it.

  4. #4 nathan
    November 6, 2008

    Daniel Dennett’s “Freedom Evolves.”

    He often makes the argument that consciousness is an “unsolved” problem largely because it is used to describe several disparate (and potentially unrelated) phenomena. A good metaphor is that of the magician who repeats an amazing card trick several times in front of an astounded audience. By using different sleights which achieve, at the end, the same effect, the crowd can be wowed and stumped. Their confusion arises from the assumption that they’re watching the same trick over and over.

    Consciousness may be much the same. Explanations which are satisfying for ONE aspect of consciousness are often dismissed because they do not explain “the entire experience.” This may boil down to a simple definitional error, one that’s largely analogous to assumptions about Essentialism centuries past.

  5. #5 Blake Stacey
    November 6, 2008

    When creationism meets the “quantum mind” bafflegab, the only appropriate response is the Picard facepalm.

    (About books: I’m midway through Hofstadter’s I Am a Strange Loop, and I think you’d like it.)

  6. #6 Derek James
    November 6, 2008

    I’m a PhD student in a Cognitive Science program, and you’re right that with issues of consciousness, as with many terms and concepts regarding the mind, the language is often frustratingly confusing and vague.

    However, I don’t think “qualia” is that difficult a concept. It is basically what it is like to experience something. A thermometer undergoes physical change in response to temperature, but it doesn’t feel hot or cold. A photoreceptor may respond to the color red, but it doesn’t experience redness in the way that a person does. The main distinction is between objectivity and subjectivity.

    And I think it’s difficult to imagine what a satisfying explanation of many unexplained phenomena would look like, much less consciousness. Can you imagine what a theory reconciling relativity and quantum mechanics would look like?

  7. #7 Michael
    November 6, 2008

    Will get slammed by anti-Dennettites but Consciousness Explained is very good — even if you don’t agree with it, it explains the concepts in an easy to understand way.

  8. #8 phisrow
    November 6, 2008

    Their, um, “work” thus far looks like so much babble; but I’m honestly surprised that team unspecified intelligent agent took this long to focus on neuroscience.

    A fully functional materialist account of mental activity would be a death blow to just about anything that depends on “the soul”, and wouldn’t be at all good for a lot of models of moral choice and salvation either. Even the comparatively rudimentary progress we have in that area really doesn’t look good for a lot of religious models of mind.

    I don’t wish them luck, and I don’t think that they’ll come up with much more than handwaving and god-of-the-gaps; but I expect we’ll see a lot more of this before we’re through. If anything, neuroscience is a much more logical target than evolutionary biology.

  9. #9 Blake Stacey
    November 6, 2008

    Can you imagine what a theory reconciling relativity and quantum mechanics would look like?

    Easily. It’s called quantum field theory.

    I suspect you meant general relativity, but as they say in The Giver, “precision of language”! :-/

    Arguably, with the advent of gauge/gravity duality we have seen a reconciliation of general relativity and quantum mechanics, as well; the price is that the universe in which this reconciliation takes place does not look quite like our own, though insights from its dynamics are still useful. (For background, see Polchinski.) Baby steps, I suppose!

  10. #10 Jason Rosenhouse
    November 6, 2008

    nathan -

    That one’s been sitting on my shelf for a while. Guess I should try reading it!

  11. #11 ScottKnick
    November 6, 2008

    I think it’s fascinating that these religionists have recognized that neuroscientists, by eliminating the ghost in the machine, are just as threatening to traditional judeo-christianity as evolutionary scientists are in eliminating Adam and Eve. And they’re using the same rhetorical tools to fight both.

    What’s next — an insistence that spiritualism be taught beside neurology in high-school science texts?

  12. #12 Lynn David
    November 7, 2008

    I think people just elevate the difficulty of the subject of consciousness in order to create the need for a god. It’s infinitely understandable that our squishy frontal lobes are what gives the human animal its ability to hold its own consciousness. If you look at feral children it is also rather evident that human interaction, our society, builds up that consciousness also.

    But then I may be a little simplistic ini my thinking.

  13. #13 Kevin H
    November 7, 2008

    “I’ll start taking this sort of thing seriously as soon as someone solves an actual problem in neuroscience by invoking non-material causation.”

    I can solve EVERY problem in neuroscience using non-material causation. =)

  14. #14 Kevin H
    November 7, 2008

    ok, I’ll be serious now. About qualia. If it were as simple as the physical circumstances which give rise to a sensation all we would be able to do is distinguish color A from color B, or remember that color A was the same color I saw awhile ago. However, our perception seems to go beyond that. There is some innate property of color the seems to be largely unchanged by neural state or experience (with the slight exception for language influencing the number of colors we can perceive). This is separate even from the memories and emotions that colors can evoke, as this can have a pretty clean explanation under existing neuroscience paradigms.

    That being said, I certainly believe that this qualia is driven exclusively by materialistic interaction of the environment with a brain. For example, no one has ever shown the transference of subjective qualia without a corresponding physical change, which would be absolutely critical to any theory which tried to make a distinction between qualia and their physical causes (dreams might have a shot, but you’d have to show proof of the null, that the brain wasn’t changing it’s state until after the qualia were perceived). However, I still think that there is some central part of the conscious experience that escapes our current understanding of ‘network A activating network B’. Whatever it is that seems to apply that little push beyond simple discrimination or association might turn out to be something quite profound, or it might turn out to be just a isolated quirk, and I bet real science can eventually figure it out.

  15. #15 Kevin H
    November 7, 2008

    About Dennett. He’s certainly a smart man, and I have been lucky enough to have talked to the man in person for quite some time. I’d say his theories of mind are somewhat rational, but break down completely when you throw in the curve-ball of animals. He believes humans are conscious and animals are not. His answer to this is ‘humans have language’, but language cannot be defined as communication, nor meaning, nor syntax (motor plans have syntax), yet only the conjunction of all three. It is very unclear to me how the this obscure triangle of abilities leads to a radically different state of being. Even if you allow animals to be concious, you still haven’t really solved everything, because you still havn’t explained why communication (for example) causes allows for ‘experience’ rather than ‘reaction’.

  16. #16 cwfong
    November 7, 2008

    Consciousness is the interface between all life forms’ sensory apparatus and their respective calculatory functions. It’s the awareness of the sensations being examined for signs of what the appropriate reaction should be. This “examination” is essentially an algorithmic process supplemented by more sophisticated mental functions in “higher” life forms.

    Consciousness is always a matter of degree and it’s silly to argue that at some point humans and other sentient beings have it, and earlier forms of these same beings had no vestiges of it.

    See also this article: http://www.livescience.com/health/050808_human_consciousness.html

  17. #17 Iapetus
    November 7, 2008

    Although I am generally rather fond of philosophy (at least certain schools of thought), I have the impression that philosophy of mind suffers from the fact that many of its practicioners do not have a sufficient grasp of and/or interest in the results provided by neurology/neuroanatomy/cognitive science. Consequently, their theories frequently come off as fanciful speculation which fail to take into account the scientific results that are already available. Noteworthy exceptions that I am aware of are the already mentioned Dennett and the Churchlands.

    Personally, I found the two books “Descartes’ Error” and “The feeling of what happens” by Antonio Damasio interesting. He is a clinical scientist and develops his theory of the emergence of consciousness based on case studies of patients who display various forms of cognitive damages and resulting impairments of consciousness of varying degree. Furthermore, he argues that emotions play a fundamental (and thusfar overlooked) role in our cognitive abilities, including consciousness.

  18. #18 cwfong
    November 7, 2008

    Damasio points out that emotions cause feelings, and these feelings are what we are “conscious” of. But the emotions themselves are the “conclusions” from the calculative processes based on sensory input. We may not call them emotions when applied to earlier life forms, but that’s in fact what they are. Ours are just more sophisticated.

  19. #19 386sx
    November 7, 2008

    “YOU cannot overestimate,” thundered psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz, “how threatened the scientific establishment is by the fact that it now looks like the materialist paradigm is genuinely breaking down.”

    Yep, definitely a creationist kook. Sounds like one of the Discovery Institute variety, if I’m not mistaken.

  20. #20 386sx
    November 7, 2008

    “YOU cannot overestimate,” thundered psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz, “how threatened the scientific establishment is by the fact that it now looks like the materialist paradigm is genuinely breaking down.”

    OMG, you cannot overestimate! OMG!!1!!!11!eleven!!one1!

    The “scientific establishment” would be kinda thrilled to discover some crazy stuff like that, wouldn’t they? Sounds like some Nobel Prize type stuff at the very least.

  21. #21 al chaq
    November 7, 2008

    It seems to me that the root of the difference between the materialists and the non-materialists has to do largely with 1)scientific method- i.e. the use of the null hypothesis for deciding scientific proof. This is impossible to apply to non-quantifiable concepts or realities (as the non-materialists would have it). And 2) the problem just stated of not being able to measure non-material realities with the tools currently available at our disposal. Two hundred years ago there must have been things that would have been assigned to the realms of either non-existent or non-material because of our inability to measure them.
    Of course the other possible difference between the two parties is simple dislike of each other’s lifestyle. But that would be implying that there is some lack of impartiality involved, God(or cognitive neuroscience) forbid.

  22. #22 Ian
    November 7, 2008

    “…return to what this blog was created to do: bash creationists”

    YES!!!!

  23. #23 Noel
    November 7, 2008

    I thought cancer was punishment from God(s)? when did science start deciding otherwise ???

  24. #24 Katharine
    November 7, 2008

    You have to make a distinction between substance dualism and property dualism, both of which are completely full of shit.

    Substance dualism is the ridiculous notion that the mind is not the brain.

    Property dualism is the precisely as ridiculous notion that the mind is the brain but the brain has physical and mental properties. The problem with this is the fact that it has been demonstrated that ‘mental’ is merely a subset of ‘physical’, i.e. that the ‘mind’ is reducible to neurochemical and electrical processes. They’re complex, but they’re physical.

    And anyone who subscribes to the idea of qualia is full of shit.

  25. #25 Katharine
    November 7, 2008

    I’m a neuroscience student, so I think I’d have significantly more leverage in a debate on this than a philosopher of mind. I don’t know why philosophy departments don’t make their philosophy of mind students go through the basic science battery and introductory neuroscience.

  26. #26 Tulse
    November 7, 2008

    The problem with this is the fact that it has been demonstrated that ‘mental’ is merely a subset of ‘physical’

    It has been demonstrated that mental is caused by physical, but it certainly doesn’t have the same properties as physical.

    And anyone who subscribes to the idea of qualia is full of shit.

    Have you ever stubbed your toe?

  27. #27 Nigel
    November 7, 2008

    Philosophy, like any of the sciences, and most other academic subjects, is a difficult, technical subject, with some of its own jargon, and one in which (again like the sciences etc.) some very smart people who have devoted their lives to the topic, pushing their minds to the limits of understanding.

    It is nothing but a pure intellectual arrogance for a scientist or a mathematician like Rosenhouse (or, come to that, a psychiatrist like Schwartz, who is doing the same sort of thing from a different direction, trying to cut the Gordian knot of philosophical issues he doesn’t understand) to dismiss this whole field of intellectual endeavor on the basis of having read a handful of books or articles (or taken a couple of undergraduate level courses) that they have not been able to understand or see the point of. I am sure if I tried to read a contemporary mathematics of physics journal, or technical journals in many other fields, I would not understand or see the point of it either. Would I be right to conclude it is nonsense or worthless? Of course not. The fault is in me. Not only do I not have the right sort of mental aptitudes for these subjects, but I have also not devoted the years of hard study to these subjects that even the appropriately talented need to put in before they can even begin to understand what the problems are and why they matter (let alone have an inkling of how to solve them). Why is it that so many scientists seem to think it should be different for them when they can’t understand philosophy (or some other field of the humanities)? If you can’t understand it, or don’t see the point, it is probably either because you are too dumb (in the relevant respects, even though you may be ever so smart in other ways), or you simply do not have the requisite background knowledge of the field, or very likely both.

    Of course, there is plenty of bad, hack, philosophy out there being done by people who have made a proper study of the subject, but by the same token, there is a lot of bad, hack science as well. However, in order to be able to tell what is the bad stuff, you need, once again, the sort of deep grounding in the subject that will also enable you to recognize and appreciate the work that is done well.

    All that said, there perhaps is one good excuse (in addition to the bad ones of intellectual arrogance and science chauvinism) for some scientists’ apparent belief that they really ought to be able to understand this philosophy stuff without too much effort (and therefore that it must be bullshit if they can’t.) The line between popularizations and technical works is much more blurry in philosophy (and many of the other humanities) than it is in science. Although it does have its technical jargon (such as “qualia”), philosophy in general is not nearly as dependent on this as is most science, and you often cannot tell that you are getting into the technical stuff just from the vocabulary being used. Furthermore, very often a single work can contain material that is quite easy for an intelligent layman to understand, inextricably mixed in with stuff that can only be understood by someone with an intimate knowledge of the field.* When I read popularizations dealing with the frontiers of modern science, it is usually obvious enough that I am getting a highly simplified, and probably distorted, version of what is really going on, and that any sense of real understanding or insight into the issues that I get is largely a delusion. I am not tempted into thinking that I am ready to make original contributions to the field, or to sort the scientific wheat from the chaff. A layman reading philosophy may have few clues to tell him when, on the one hand, he is really only getting superficial popularization rather than high quality original work in the field, or, on the other hand, he is reading something technical and controversial that requires a lot of background to properly understand.

    None of what I say here, by the way, is in any way intended as a defense of Schwartz (who makes much the same mistake, thinking he can solve complex philosophical problems without really having bothered to study the discipline) or of immaterialism about the mind. Immaterialism is probably no more common amongst philosophers these days than it is amongst scientists.

    ————–

    *This is not just a stylistic quirk by the way. There are good intellectual reasons why philosophy should be like this. Precisely because philosophy’s business is with very fundamental conceptual issues it is often necessary for a philosophical argument to, as it were, put one particular spin rather than another on some apparently obvious point before it gets into more overtly controversial, and perhaps esoteric, territory.

  28. #28 slpage
    November 7, 2008

    It is almost as if these folks had never heard of Phineas Gage.

  29. #29 NMTucson
    November 7, 2008

    I suggest that we will discover that the “problem” of consciousness springs from the same language error as the former “problem” of phlogiston. We use a noun when we refer to “it” and therefore “it” MUST BE a THING or something that we can “find” and something that must have a “cause”. Just because people have always talked about “consciousness” as having some independent existence doesn’t make it so. Rather, like phlogiston, I think we will eventually find that the verbal concept of a thing-like “consciousness” discredited and we will come to see it more accurately as “the ongoing sensation of having an operating cortex.” No more mysterious than taste or nausea. Of course this implies that all species with cortices have some sense of consciousness, something I think we humans can generously extend to them, at least, relative to the amount, size or complexity of their cortices. Indeed, along with transforming how we speak and think about being conscious, we will probably do well as a society to accept the continuous spectrum of speciation along which we represent just one point. It makes very very little sense (no sense?) to me to imagine that we humans somehow represent a quantum or qualitative leap beyond the other species with whom we evolved, a notion that smacks of non-material origins.

  30. #30 Blake Stacey
    November 7, 2008

    It is nothing but a pure intellectual arrogance for a scientist or a mathematician like Rosenhouse (or, come to that, a psychiatrist like Schwartz, who is doing the same sort of thing from a different direction, trying to cut the Gordian knot of philosophical issues he doesn’t understand) to dismiss this whole field of intellectual endeavor on the basis of having read a handful of books or articles (or taken a couple of undergraduate level courses) that they have not been able to understand or see the point of.

    Complaining about a Wikipedia article + asking for suggestions of books to read != dismissing the entire field.

  31. #31 G.D.
    November 7, 2008

    The fundamental philosophical problems of consciousness shouldn’t be that hard to understand (notice, though, that the philosophy of mind covers much more than this; for an excellent introduction I recommend McCulloch’s easily read ‘The Mind and it’s World’, which does not concern itself much with qualia at all). Four of the intro-level questions about qualia could be these:

    - There is a way green things look to me (i.e. green). If you look inside my brain while I am seeing something green, you won’t find anything green in there. So where does the “greenness” of the experience come from? The “way it is like” to experience green? (Going non-physical wouldn’t help, as you point out yourself, but there’s still a problem here).

    - Part of the problem of consciousness is its essential subjectivity; Nagel (reasonably) defines being conscious of a being in terms of “there being something it is subjectively like to be that being”. How is subjectivity to be explained in the language of science? Since the language of science is essentially objective, how do you reduce subjectivity to something objective? (Of course, non-material substances would be of absolutely no help with this question, quite the opposite)

    - If you had never experienced any colors (grown up in a completely black and white environment), but learned everything there is to know about colors and the neurophysiology of color-experience; would you, from that knowledge, be able to infer what it is like to experience colors? Wouldn’t you, the first time you experienced, say, “red”, realize something (“so THAT’s what red looks like”)? In that case, wouldn’t you – upon seeing red for the first time – learn something new? But if you learned a new fact (what it is like to experience red) by seeing red, that would entail that there are facts that cannot be captured by science. And if you didn’t learn a new fact, what did you learn? A new recognitional ability perhaps, but exactly what kind of ability is this?

    - Are conscious experience (these subjective ones) essentially private? Take the thought-experiment often entertained even by children: Could the color spectrum be inverted so that my conscious experience of green were exactly like your conscious experience of red? Of course, we both learned to call leaves “green” and fire engines “red”, so this difference (if possible) would (ex hypothesii) not show up in our behavior. If you accept this possibility (and how, exactly, do you rule it out?), that there is a difference that doesn’t make a difference, the next step is the possibility of people with no conscious experiences at all (call them “zombies”) yet who are behaviorally indistinguishable from the rest of us. This is the view of epiphenomenalists, who claim that consciousness is something like “the shadows cast by our brain processes” – they are caused by the various brain processes, but don’t play any role themselves. But if they don’t play any role themselves, don’t make any difference to our cognitive systems, then how do you know you’re not a zombie yourself? “Of course I know” should be the reasonable response, but if epiphenomenalists are right, the conscious experiences cannot play any role even in your knowledge of them (since intentional states like knowledge are not themselves the kind of states that could be invertible; they’re presumably defined by the role they play in a cognitive system). If an epiphenomenalist view cannot rule out that I am a zombie myself, the view is clearly wrong. Exactly where did it go wrong?

    Perhaps these are pseudo-questions (I believe they are, and find logic and formal semantics much more interesting), but that claim needs an argument. The questions certainly SEEM legitimate, and it is hard to see what a scientific approach to them would even look like (but see Dennett).

  32. #32 Kevin
    November 7, 2008

    “Can you imagine what a theory reconciling relativity and quantum mechanics would look like? Posted by: Derek James | November 6, 2008 7:50 PM ”

    I’m sure you mean gravity and QM and, um, yes I can imagine discrete bits of space-time ordered by a local time-direction and stuck together with little gravity bits.

    I cannot imagine a non-corpreal entity.

  33. #33 Tulse
    November 7, 2008

    we will come to see it more accurately as “the ongoing sensation of having an operating cortex.”

    It is definitely caused by an operating cortex, but that doesn’t explain it.

    No more mysterious than taste or nausea

    Those things, or at least their subjective component, are products of consciousness, and so are no more or less “mysterious”.

  34. #34 Eric Thomson
    November 7, 2008

    Oh boy, consciousness will bring out the kooks. Consciousness garden-pathed me into philosophy grad school for three years before I entered neuroscience so unfortunately I know a lot about this topic.

    1. Consciousness shouldn’t be scary
    The problem of consciousness shouldn’t seem all that strange (I’ll ignore “qualia” for now as it tends to annoy people). What are you experiencing right now? For instance, are you aware of hunger pains in your gut, the red hue of the ad on your web site, the feeling of pressure on your butt when you are sitting? Consciousness is just that: the things you are aware of.

    There are fairly straightforward experimental probes of consciousness. For instance, binocular rivalry experiments. If you show a different image to each eye, you don’t see a fusion of the two images, but you perceive a strange kind of vacillation between the distinct images (a dog then a cat, not a dog-cat). Neuroscientists have been tracking and comparing the bits of the brain that track the stimulus versus those that track the perceptual experience (consciousness).

    2. Qualia talk
    When they define qualia as the ‘quality’ of your experience, they just mean the particular type of experience you are having (e.g., red as opposed to blue, or hungry as opposed to full: those are different ‘qualities’ of experience).

    The Wiki entry is horrible and someone here should change it. It should not include the qualifier “independently of their effects on behavior and from whatever physical circumstances give rise to them” as that is a very controversial stance and not definitional of qualia.

    3. Evaluating their argument
    Obviously, even if consciousness can’t be explained by neuroscience, that doesn’t imply that any gods exist or that substance dualism is true. The creationists are right to point out that consciousness can’t presently be explained by neuroscience. They might also point out that physics can’t presently explain the polarity reversals in the Earth’s magnetic field. Nothing interesting follows from such merely psychological facts about our state of present ignorance, except perhaps that we need to do more science before anyone can be dogmatic.

    What the antimateralists are doing is making predictions about what reasonable people will think once neuroscience has advanced over the next couple of centuries. Their prediction is that after such advances, the “hard” problem of consciousness will still appear impenetrable to neuronal explanation. No matter if neuroscience explains human behavior (including behavior during binocular rivalry tasks) with millisecond precision, they predict they will still think the mind is still not a part of nature.

    That is a bet I wouldn’t take.

    David Chalmers has a nice bit on his website about the article in New Scientist. Chalmers is an antimaterialist because of consciousness, but is quite unhappy with this co-option of the problem by creationists. He is also an atheist.

    4. References etc
    For those that prefer science to philosophy, he best place to start for the science is Koch’s book The Quest for Consciousness. He is an excellent neuroscientist and did a lot of work with Francis Crick on the problem. There are some unclear parts, but overall it’s a great survey.

    If you want optimistic cheerleading for neuroscience, you can’t beat Patricia Churchland. You can find a representative article on neuroscience and consciousness here.

    Chalmers’ consciousness-based argument against materialism can be found here. For reasons I stated above, I’m not endorsing his conclusions, but those interested in consciousness need to be familiar with his work as he comes up in almost every discussion.

  35. #35 SLC
    November 7, 2008

    Re Blake Stacey

    Can you imagine what a theory reconciling relativity and quantum mechanics would look like?

    Easily. It’s called quantum field theory.

    I would not classify quantum field theory as a totally satisfactory reconciliation of special relativity and quantum mechanics.

    The only quantum field theory that has had any significant success is quantum electrodynamics. However, this theory is mathematically preposterous because of the logarithmic divergence of mass renormalization and quadratic divergence of charge renormalization.

  36. #36 Kevin
    November 7, 2008

    I don’t see that the standard was a
    “totally satisfactory reconciliation” but instead just something that you could imagine.

    I can’t imagine a Consciousness or intelligence that exists without a material substrate. I don’t believe in the “soul” except if you are talking about sweet music.

  37. #37 Blake Stacey
    November 7, 2008

    QCD has had no significant success? Damn, you’re hard to please — harder, some would argue, than the Swedish Academy.

    I’m probably just too young to fret overmuch about renormalization. So there’s an energy scale above which a theory is not applicable; c’est la vie.

  38. #38 Collin Brendemuehl
    November 7, 2008

    I don’t think philosophers have much light to shed on the subject
    Now that has to be one of the most naive statements you’ve every made. Whether it’s Francis Bacon who stated very clearly that science is a part of natural philosophy (Aphorism lxxx) or VanTil’s 20th c. assertion that there are no brute facts, it seems that neither science nor philosophy takes your position seriously.
    THe second point goes to your ability to objectify your position. On what basis have you stepped outside of our system and made these observations with certainty? You did not and you can not. Because of this your conclusions are, at best, suspect.

  39. #39 Blake Stacey
    November 7, 2008

    Kevin:

    I don’t see that the standard was a
    “totally satisfactory reconciliation” but instead just something that you could imagine.

    Yeah, “totally satisfactory” is a tough and somewhat elusive standard. (After all, we’ve plenty of experiments left to perform.) But for problems within the mainstream of physics, it’s certainly easier to imagine what the general form of the solution might look like: “Quantum gravity? I dunno for sure, but it might resemble Type IIB superstring theory.” Can the same be done in the cognitive sciences and the philosophy of mind?

  40. #40 Eric Thomson
    November 7, 2008

    Despite Collin’s rant, I strongly agree with Jason that philosophy won’t solve the problem; it will be neuroscience working in concert with psychology. Philosophers obsess about how to define consciousness, what it means. Scientists study consciousness.

    Imagine if biologists had spent all their time trying to define ‘life’ instead of actually studying life.

    No, I feel pretty confident that philosophers, as usual, will play the role of cleaning up after the scientists have done the real work.

  41. #41 Eric Thomson
    November 7, 2008

    Note I have a fairly detailed comment above that got sucked into the dang spam filter.

  42. #42 cwfong
    November 7, 2008

    Philosophers are the chickens that lay the scientific eggs. Which of course hatch more chickens.

  43. #43 Kevin
    November 7, 2008

    BS – “Can the same be done in the cognitive sciences and the philosophy of mind”

    yes, my point…er… no. If you try to imagine a mind made out of no physical stuff with no physical properties, I get, er ..nothing…

  44. #44 Tulse
    November 7, 2008

    Scientists study consciousness.

    Scientists study the objectively observable consequences of consciousness. That is not the same thing as consciousness itself.

  45. #45 Collin Brendemuehl
    November 7, 2008

    Eric,
    Have youread Yockey’s “Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life”? The section that attempts to define “life” is quite amusing. One reason is that scientists need to to have a place to put information. It goes beyond the model and theory structure. They need the larger framework. To contend that there are any brute facts is, again, ultimately naive. Likewise, to pretend that the scentific constructs came before the philosophy that spawned them dipslays a lack of historical knowledge.

  46. #46 Davis
    November 7, 2008

    Allow me to second Blake Stacey’s recommendation of I Am a Strange Loop above (which I just finished a few days ago). I’ve not read any Dennett, but I get the impression that Hofstadter’s ideas are in line with his, except that Hofstadter does not withhold consciousness from animals (instead, he suggests that consciousness is a spectrum, and animals sit at various places along it).

  47. #47 ctw
    November 7, 2008

    “where does the “greenness” of the experience come from?”

    This review of Nick Humphrey’s “Seeing Red” addresses that general issue (as well as the specific question of spectrum inversion):

    http://www.doyletics.com/arj/seeingrd.htm

    I found Humphrey’s “A History of the Mind” helpful in trying to get some idea of how consciousness might work, and I’ll “third” earlier recommendations of books by Antonio Damasio.

    “But if [brain processes] don’t play any role themselves, don’t make any difference to our cognitive systems, then how do you know you’re not a zombie yourself?”

    I’ve come to suspect that the simple answer is that in a very real sense, we are – although, of course, extremely complex ones. Of course, it’s uncomfortable for most to entertain this possibility, but having actually encountered the term in some writings on consciousness, I’d guess it isn’t necessarily a particularly far-fetched perspective within the professional community (of which I am not a member).

    - Charles

  48. #48 Blake Stacey
    November 7, 2008

    First, a philosophical point:

    The theory-ladenness of observation is neither an excuse nor a justification for radical epistemic relativism.

    OK, now that I’ve got that jargon off my chest, let’s talk about something more interesting: quantum field theory. This is the subject you get when you try to put quantum mechanics and special relativity together. We learn in high-school relativity class that energy can be converted to matter and back again: an electron-positron pair can be made from nothing but light, and when a particle meets its antiparticle, to light they will return. If you describe light in the quantum style and call it “photons”, then you find yourself talking about particles interacting and in consequence changing kinds.

    Contrast this with the mainstay of nonrelativistic quantum mechanics, the Schrödinger Equation. One solves the Schrödinger Equation for a particular situation and derives a wavefunction describing the possible behaviors of a particle — an electron, say — in those circumstances. Shake and bake that equation, tease it with catnip, do everything you can to it, but it’ll always describe a single-particle situation. If you start with one electron, you’ll end with one electron.

    So, if we want to address relativistic effects, we need a multiparticle mathematical framework which allows for phenomena like pair production and annihilation. Thus are we led down the garden path, eventually talking about particles as quanta of a field and so forth.

    (Incidentally, this is one of the points where I have a complaint about The God Delusion. Dawkins takes on a theologian who claims that the fact that all electrons have the same mass and charge is evidence for a great Watchmaker who made them all in the celestial workshop and constantly holds their properties constant. In response, Dawkins says that this would make the notebook of the Creator just as complicated as the universe itself, and thus the “explanation” has no explanatory power after all. While this argument has weight, Dawkins should have raised the scientific answer to this claim: each electron has the same basic nature, because all of them are quanta of the same field. One can easily fill in the theologic which this would provoke: “Well, then, who made the quantum field?” And round and round the Apollo-getics go. . . .)

    A salient point: special relativity, while very good in the domain for which it is applicable, does not always accurately describe phenomena in the physical world. All you have to do is add gravity, and you’ve got yourself a headache; try to make the source of the gravitational effects itself a quantum-mechanical phenomenon — in other words, do QM in a dynamical rather than a fixed gravitational background — and you’ve a real pickle. So, philosophically, we should expect quantum field theory to have difficulties somewhere. Push it hard enough, and it ought to go wonky somehow.

    We may demand total consistency from a theory, but we should remember that our theory is not necessarily the one which Nature uses to do her calculations!

  49. #49 Blake Stacey
    November 7, 2008

    Curses. Foiled by the spam filter!

  50. #50 Eric Thomson
    November 7, 2008

    Tulse said:
    Scientists study the objectively observable consequences of consciousness. That is not the same thing as consciousness itself.

    Scientists study the objectively observable consequences of the Krebs Cycle. That is not the same thing as the Krebs Cycle itself.

  51. #51 Blake Stacey
    November 7, 2008

    Don’t you know the cycle which can be traced with isotopes is not the true cycle?

    (This message brought to you by the letter Zen and the number Omega.)

  52. #52 Eric Thomson
    November 7, 2008

    Colin: who said anything about “brute facts” (I have no idea what that means), and who said science was born independently of natural philosophy?

    My claim was that in the present, philosophy will not be helpful with the problem of consciousness. We need people to study consciousness, not talk about what it means.

    Name three philosophy results from the last 75 years for which there is a consensus that the result is sound and important. There must be a lot of consensus, given that you are so rigorous and clear-thinking. Your methods must be very fruitful.

  53. #53 Collin Brendemuehl
    November 7, 2008

    Eric,
    And my original post was concerning Jason’s mis-placement of philosophy in the place of science, which you appeared to be defending.
    Would you not agree that philosophy defines even the terms used in science, as well as directing the faculties for interpreting information?
    Name three philosophy results from the last 75 years for which there is a consensus that the result is sound and important.
    Three items with a general or broad consensus? That’s easy:
    1. Liberalism ends in nihilism.
    2. Communist socialism was destined to fail.
    3. Liberal theology is merely disbelief enhanced by sentiment.
    4. Human depravity is the one empirically provable Christian doctrine.
    #4 is about 100 years old (Chesterton).
    #2 may be older, but I’ve not found it in older material.
    Some of the material from Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault regarding language is also useful in education but I decided to leave that out.

    Enjoy.

  54. #54 Mark
    November 7, 2008

    Let’s bash mathematicians. They must be stopped! They are the source of evil and we need to speak out now. Just take the “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski for example. See what evil comes upon us if mathematicians are allowed to continue.

    Seriously, why don’t you get a life. What does this do for you, to pick some group arbitrarily and then cheery pick events to make your case? You could do this with anyone, including Democrats by citing, say, LA Rep. Jefferson, a criminal to say the least. Then go on to dig up the worst about all of them.

    Sheesh, don’t you get it? Who are the “creationists” anyway? The mother of four next door, the janitor, another professor? So, you decided to create a website to draw accolade from people you don’t even know…because you actually think that this group of people is somehow a threat to all of, uh…Science? Yikes! Oh yeah baby, everyone help me stop THEM. Yeah, you know … THEM!

  55. #55 Eric Thomson
    November 7, 2008

    Colin: None of those is an established result.

    I’ve tried asking a room of philosophers what the main ‘results’ are from the past century that people in science should know about. It is either met by silence, or more frequently the philosophers start to fight with each other and never come to an agreement. Especially when the room includes Heideggarians, Derridians, and Analytical philosophers. Try it sometime it is a lot of fun. Hell they don’t even agree on what philosophy is!

    Putnam’s Twin Earth is perhaps the one that most philosophers would agree on, at least in the English-writing tradition.

    No I don’t agree that philosophy defines terms used in science. Science does. Note I’m not saying philosophy departments should be abolished or that their funding should be cut 100%: there is a place for gadflies not wedded to any particular discipline in academia. It helps keep people honest. I just find it humorous when philosophers act like they are somehow on more solid ground than scientists. Because philosophers don’t deal with data, but spin without friction in the world of ideas, there is little consensus: each philosopher amounts to a parochial solipsist.

    At any rate, when it comes to consciousness, we have a field that has split off from its philosophical roots and is thankfully chugging away with data and ideas for new experiments.

  56. #56 Blake Stacey
    November 7, 2008

    1. Liberalism ends in nihilism.

    On Bizarro World, yes.

    2. Communist socialism was destined to fail.

    It’s easy to claim that things were destined to happen after they’ve already happened, of course. . . To the extent that this is legitimate at all, it sounds more like a claim of economics or sociology than philosophy.

    3. Liberal theology is merely disbelief enhanced by sentiment.

    Are liberal theologians part of your “consensus”?

    4. Human depravity is the one empirically provable Christian doctrine.

    For the moment, let’s accept “empirically provable” as a rough synonym for “could in principle be tested through empirical methods and remain unfalsified after a large amount of evidence has been gathered”. I take it that the idea a “historical Jesus” actually existed is not then empirically provable?

    (This is what I get for browsing the blogohedron from a computer which does not have a blog comment killfile installed: too man opportunities for the Picard facepalm.)

  57. #57 windy
    November 7, 2008

    …if epiphenomenalists are right, the conscious experiences cannot play any role even in your knowledge of them (since intentional states like knowledge are not themselves the kind of states that could be invertible; they’re presumably defined by the role they play in a cognitive system). If an epiphenomenalist view cannot rule out that I am a zombie myself, the view is clearly wrong. Exactly where did it go wrong?

    Zombies – The Movie!

    I agree with this comment by Yair at the Chalmers post:

    ”…if epiphenomenalism (on which consciousness has no causal role) is true, consciousness can still arise by evolution as a byproduct.”
    I fail to understand the last part. If epiphenomenalism is true, evolution by natural selection has no power to explain the correspondence between mental and neural states and processing. Since there is no causal network, there is no reason why there would be an evolution towards consciousness and hence no explanation. While consciousness may still arise as a by-product, it seems a priori unjustified and merely a logical possibility without further justification.

  58. #58 Tybo
    November 7, 2008

    I’m somewhat familiar with most of the literature in the area on a surface level, and it seems a lot of the invoking of weird causes falls into the same type of argument the turtle had in his discussion with Achilles in the Carroll dialog. At some point the operation has to just carry through. Do we deny the horseshoe/forward arrow its status in symbols because of that? And when you’re dealing with two phenomena that seem so intuitively distanced (physical and mental phenomena), we get stuck in that rut fairly easily.

    Furthermore, do these people really expect all this stuff to be solved by now? I’d challenge any engineer to figure out exactly what my computer is doing right now, and explain it to me in a means I can understand by what I see on my screen, simply by seeing where electricity is discharging in some means, and to do it completely from the bottom up without invoking program-concepts or anything. As far as we know it’s possible, but beyond all practicality to even bother… and this is exactly what neuroscientists are charged with when asked to explain all these philosophical concepts of mind, then charged with being on a wrong paradigm simply because they can’t.

    “Name three philosophy results from the last 75 years for which there is a consensus that the result is sound and important. There must be a lot of consensus, given that you are so rigorous and clear-thinking. Your methods must be very fruitful.”

    Okie dokie.
    1) Godel’s Incompleteness
    2) Church-Turing Thesis
    3) Tarski’s Undefinability

    Satisfied?

  59. #59 Eric Thomson
    November 7, 2008

    Tybo: You are right that philosophers have made important contributions to mathematical logic. So there are indeed ‘results’ that are sound.

    Godel 1931 mathematics
    Tarski: 1936 mathematical logic
    Church-Turing thesis: 1939 mathematical logic and computability theory, and it is controversial (it is not a theorem).

    I would add modal logic, paraconsistent and other deviant logics to the mix.

    My point is that philosophers shouldn’t be arrogant or dismissive of the putative naivete of science, given the obvious chasm in results between the two. We are more likely to get lists like Collins’ (well, not that bad, but similarly contentious).

    If the best they have is results from the 1930s all arguably as much part of mathematics as philosophy, I am not sure that is something to hang one’s hat on. The gross majority of philosophers confine themselves to natural language, and within that set I’d be curious to see ‘results’ for which there is a consensus.

    However, despite such squirming on my part I admit your answers are good so I have been corrected.

  60. #60 Blake Stacey
    November 7, 2008

    So, the most solid and imposing discoveries of philosophy were made by the mathematicians? Sounds like some funding reallocation is in order. :-/

  61. #61 Davis
    November 7, 2008

    So where does the “greenness” of the experience come from?

    Asked in this way, the question seems to presuppose there is such a thing as “greenness” distinct from whatever is going on in a brain. Can you rephrase this?

  62. #62 Tybo
    November 7, 2008

    I’m not sure those are the best; there’s some fair arguments and conclusions that arise from Phil. of Language (and intertwine with logic) that amount to what we could understand given a completely foreign (or alien) language, or even what we could hope to translate even with two-directional communication. Or, at least, I seem to remember reading something along those lines a couple of years ago. So there’s plenty of recent stuff, and various logics do find their applications.

    And as far as the best results being in the 1930s: My list really just sucks, since as mentioned I’m only familiar with this stuff on the surface. Give an undergrad Bio kid a break! :-P

    But you are true in that philosophers do try too hard to hold on to their statuses. I do kind of think we need some guidance in deciding how to define certain things, particularly in non-intuitive concepts, and keep conclusions in check with logic, but a lot of that could (ideally) be self-policing. I do side with the Churchlands on this idea, that philosophers do need to concern themselves with the empirical paradigm if they intend to make any statements that hold any practical relevance.

  63. #63 Eric Thomson
    November 7, 2008

    Tybo: don’t sell yourself short. You probably gave the best list anyone could come up with. Anything from philosophy of language (such as Quine’s ‘indeterminacy of translation thesis’ to which you refer) would be contentious.

  64. #64 windy
    November 7, 2008
    And anyone who subscribes to the idea of qualia is full of shit.

    (Tulse:) Have you ever stubbed your toe?

    IIRC, you think that qualia might be causally ineffectual. So do you think it’s plausible that the experience of stubbing your toe has nothing to do with the cursing and hopping around that usually follows?

  65. #65 Tulse
    November 7, 2008

    Scientists study the objectively observable consequences of the Krebs Cycle. That is not the same thing as the Krebs Cycle itself.

    No, Eric, because the objective aspects of the Krebs Cycle are all there is to the Krebs Cycle. The term “Krebs Cycle” is just the label we give to those physical processes. But “green” is not just a label we give to neuronal processes, as it has qualities that are separate from those processes.

  66. #66 Tybo
    November 7, 2008

    Re: Green: #008000 :-P
    I mean, that number has nothing (intuitively) conceptually to do with that particular wavelength… Except it does, and we know it is equivalent.

  67. #67 Eric Thomson
    November 7, 2008

    Tulse:
    No, Eric, because the objective aspects of the Krebs Cycle are all there is to the Krebs Cycle. The term “Krebs Cycle” is just the label we give to those physical processes. But “green” is not just a label we give to neuronal processes, as it has qualities that are separate from those processes.

    How do you know that the experience of green is more than the neuronal processes? That is what’s under contention.

    I understand it is hard to imagine how mere neuronal processes “give rise to” subjective experiences of green. I look at this as a failure of my imagination, not something from which I will draw metaphysical consequences. In the 1800s people couldn’t imagine how physical stuff could give rise to the property of being alive. I think more data from the relevant sciences (psychology and neuroscience) are required before we can make progress with consciousness.

    We are like Greek philosophers trying to understand ‘fire.’ Until chemistry moved along quite a bit, and supplied some conceptual prerequisites, the correct solution wasn’t even on the horizon. I hope it isn’t, as McGinn has argued, like we are monkeys trying to understand quantum mechanics (in which case it will forever be out of our reach), but that is also a possibility.

    I also get annoyed with materialists that act as if neuroscience has already explained consciousness. That is also false. This will take some time. Hell, twenty years ago this wasn’t even a topic for discussion in neuroscience as it was considered bologney.

  68. #68 Davis
    November 7, 2008

    But “green” is not just a label we give to neuronal processes, as it has qualities that are separate from those processes.

    When you say qualities “separate from” those processed, do you mean other mental qualities, or other physical qualities? I’ll certainly agree with the latter, but probably not the former.

  69. #69 Tulse
    November 7, 2008

    IIRC, you think that qualia might be causally ineffectual.

    To be more accurate, I don’t think that a purely objective, physicalist description of the world allows for qualia to be causally efficacious. (And just to be clear, I don’t think that any other description of the world makes more sense, or solves the problem.)

    do you think it’s plausible that the experience of stubbing your toe has nothing to do with the cursing and hopping around that usually follows?

    It sure seems to me like the pain I feel has to do with my hopping about, but it also seems to me like I have free will. I don’t think, however, that either view is is explicable in our current conception of a purely materialistic account of the universe (again, not that there is any better account available). That’s why consciousness is one of the “hard questions”.

  70. #70 Coriolis
    November 7, 2008

    And what makes you think “consciousness” has some “special” aspects Tulse? And if they are not objectively observable, then how do you propose to have any clue about what they, are, aren’t, or even if they maybe exist? What is the methodology by which you learn something about objectively unobservable things?

    People who have never had to study physics love to make a huge fuss over “materialistic” vs “non-materialistic” explanations of the universe, where science is supposedly interested only in the “materialistic” explanation. In my eyes, most of QM would be under the heading of non-materialistic, by most common views of what “materialistic” means.

    In physics, we’re interested in wtf actually happens. Apart from being able to demonstrate that your theory actually works, there are no requirements for it being “materialistic” or anything else.

  71. #71 Tulse
    November 7, 2008

    How do you know that the experience of green is more than the neuronal processes? [...]
    I understand it is hard to imagine how mere neuronal processes “give rise to” subjective experiences of green

    You’ve answered your own question — the experience of green is a subjective experience, and so it more than just the objective neuronal firings. To be completely clear, as a physicalist I have no doubt that “mere neuronal processes” do “give rise” to the subjective aspects we’re discussing — it is just that there seems to be no place in objective physical descriptions for such aspects. Certainly there seems no room for those aspects to play a causal role independent of the “mere neuronal firings”, which would seem (at best) to give us epiphenomenalism.

    When you say qualities “separate from” those processed, do you mean other mental qualities, or other physical qualities? I’ll certainly agree with the latter, but probably not the former

    I meant that the subjective qualities are not identical to the objectively physical qualities, even if they arise from them.

  72. #72 Tyler DiPietro
    November 7, 2008

    “2) Church-Turing Thesis”

    I find it somewhat offensive that someone would claim computational universality as a philosophical result. CS theory is not philosophy.

  73. #73 Eric Thomson
    November 7, 2008

    Tulse:
    You’ve answered your own question — the experience of green is a subjective experience, and so it more than just the objective neuronal firings.

    Only if subjective experience is not itself a neuronal process. That was my point. I visually experience a green field: why should I not think this is a neuronal process? Sure, it isn’t transparently a neuronal process, but it seems reasonable to me to think that ultimately these two perspectives will be fused and it won’t appear paradoxical. This will likely require a retooling and evolution of both perspectives: a more clear theory of consciousness, and more data and theories about how brains work. Right now, neither is particularly well developed.

  74. #74 Tulse
    November 7, 2008

    And what makes you think “consciousness” has some “special” aspects Tulse? And if they are not objectively observable, then how do you propose to have any clue about what they, are, aren’t, or even if they maybe exist?

    Well, I experience them. I presume you do as well, don’t you? Don’t you observe your own subjective states? The problem is that no one else can, which makes those states, those real facts of the universe, different than other facts of the universe which are observable by third parties.

    People who have never had to study physics love to make a huge fuss over “materialistic” vs “non-materialistic” explanations of the universe

    Interesting claim, but I did study physics as an undergrad, and I continue to have a strong interest in theoretical physics and cosmology, so I don’t think I fit in that group.

  75. #75 Davis
    November 7, 2008

    The problem is that no one else can, which makes those states, those real facts of the universe, different than other facts of the universe which are observable by third parties.

    No one can in principle? Or no one can, right now? Presumably brain scanning technology may at some point advance to the point where a neuroscientist could check the scanner and say “Hey, check out this pattern of brain activation. Tulse is experience green!”

  76. #76 Coriolis
    November 7, 2008

    Except that I could say the exact same thing about any physics experiment: I’m looking at my voltmeter and I think it says 10 Volts. But does it really “objectively” say 10 volts? I have no idea, all I know is that I think it says 10 Volts. I can ask somebody else, and they might agree with me, or they might disagree with me. Either way, all I have is my subjective perception that they are agreeing or disagreeing with me. The third parties are also subjective experiences for you.

    What’s the fundamental difference?

    You cannot make a concrete difference – it’s just a pragmatic difference between things where lots of people can agree (like that a voltmeter is saying 10 volts), and those that they can’t (like that god made a miracle happen).

    And I don’t understand what you mean by my “subjective states” that you observe about yourself and assume that I can observe about myself. If you mean things like anger or puzzlement, or that I’m thinking about something, there is no reason to believe that those states couldn’t be observed by someone else, with the right tools and knowledge.

  77. #77 windy
    November 7, 2008

    It sure seems to me like the pain I feel has to do with my hopping about, but it also seems to me like I have free will.

    But these aren’t equivalent problems – I don’t think anyone argues that our choices aren’t a part of the causal chain of events. It’s more that we might be mistaken about them being choices. If I ‘decide’ on chocolate instead of vanilla, that’s usually what I end up ordering, but maybe my choice was a purely physical process predetermined by physical factors. This is one possible solution to the problem of free will, and for some reason you refuse to consider similar solutions for qualia. Adding a causally non-active ‘Decider’ in the mix only confuses things and raises the additional question of why these ‘decisions’ should be correlated to observed actions at all. Same with epiphenomenal qualia.

  78. #78 Kevin
    November 7, 2008

    “Sounds like some funding reallocation is in order. :-/”

    snort..ha ha.. and gimme some of those ivy covered buildings too!

  79. #79 Tulse
    November 7, 2008

    Davis:

    Presumably brain scanning technology may at some point advance to the point where a neuroscientist could check the scanner and say “Hey, check out this pattern of brain activation. Tulse is experience green!”

    Now do that with a bat’s sonar, or with a snake’s infra-red sensors, or with some fishes ability to detect electric fields. What are they experiencing? I’d argue that all the neuroscience in the world in principle can’t answer that question. And thus it doesn’t give you access to the subjective states, just the neurological causes (correlates) of those states.

    More to the point, even if you can accurately predict what neuronal activity is associated with me telling you I’m experiencing green, that won’t tell you what my experience is. My experience of green may not be like yours, and (this is the point) there is no way for you to tell.

    Coriolis:

    I’m looking at my voltmeter and I think it says 10 Volts. But does it really “objectively” say 10 volts? I have no idea, all I know is that I think it says 10 Volts.

    The issue of the veridicality of experience is completely separate from the subjectivity of that experience. That kind of conflation is a bit silly.

    And I don’t understand what you mean by my “subjective states” that you observe about yourself and assume that I can observe about myself.

    Do you see colours? Not “does your visual system response to electromagnetic radiation of a certain range of wavelengths”, but do you see colours? If you do, you have subjective states.

    windy:

    I don’t think anyone argues that our choices aren’t a part of the causal chain of events. It’s more that we might be mistaken about them being choices.

    If they aren’t choices, then we don’t have free will — I don’t understand how those two sentences aren’t contradictory.

    And I don’t think anyone (apart from eliminativists) argues that qualia don’t seem to be part of the causal chain of events, just that we might be mistaken about them actually being causal.

  80. #80 Eric Thomson
    November 7, 2008

    Tulsa:
    Now do that with a bat’s sonar, or with a snake’s infra-red sensors, or with some fishes ability to detect electric fields. What are they experiencing? I’d argue that all the neuroscience in the world in principle can’t answer that question. And thus it doesn’t give you access to the subjective states, just the neurological causes (correlates) of those states.

    An interesting point, but I don’t expect a scientific theory to put me in the same state as the thing I’m studying. As Pat Churchland said, learning all the facts about pregnancy doesn’t make you pregnant. I’ll never experience pregnancy (my biology is wrong, just as its wrong for the electric fish case) but that doesn’t pose any deep metaphysical challenges.

    My experience of green may not be like yours, and (this is the point) there is no way for you to tell.

    This ‘problem of other minds’ is a tougher objection to meet. Let’s see if the pregnancy analogy can help the naturalist. How can I know if someone else is pregnant? She might tell me she is pregnant. She might have a small fetus growing inside of her. That is what pregnancy is so there is no reason to doubt it.

    Turning to consciousness. If it turns out that seeing green is a neuronal state, then if someone says they see green, and are in the same neuronal state as everyone else, and me, when we see green, then why should we expect the experience to be different? Unless you assume consciousness is not a brain process, there isn’t a problem here. The argument hinges on the (question-begging) assumption that you can disentangle subjective experiences from neuronal states. That is precisely what is at question.

    Note I haven’t established that naturalism is true, but only attempted to block common objections.

    Ultimately this is a war of intuitions, and that isn’t a good basis for principled discussion.

  81. #81 windy
    November 7, 2008
    I don’t think anyone argues that our choices aren’t a part of the causal chain of events. It’s more that we might be mistaken about them being choices.

    If they aren’t choices, then we don’t have free will — I don’t understand how those two sentences aren’t contradictory.

    Congratulations on ignoring my actual argument completely in favor of this irrelevant nitpick. Obviously they are different senses of the word choice. Clarifications added:

    “I don’t think anyone argues that our apparent choices aren’t a part of the causal chain of events. It’s more that we might be mistaken about them being TRUE choices”

    And I don’t think anyone (apart from eliminativists) argues that qualia don’t seem to be part of the causal chain of events, just that we might be mistaken about them actually being causal.

    OK, now I don’t understand how this isn’t contradictory. If qualia are misleading us into assuming that they are causal, then they do have a causal effect on us. Again, if qualia aren’t causal, how come you can talk about your qualia?

  82. #82 Tulse
    November 7, 2008

    Eric:

    I don’t expect a scientific theory to put me in the same state as the thing I’m studying

    Of course not, but that’s the problem. Because you can’t actually experience the subjective states of others, you can’t ever know what those states are like, or even if they have them at all. In essence, you can never actually test your theory, because you can’t in principle have access to the data you need.

    If it turns out that seeing green is a neuronal state, then if someone says they see green, and are in the same neuronal state as everyone else, and me, when we see green, then why should we expect the experience to be different?

    Because we don’t know what it is about that neuronal state that causes the subjective experience. Is it the actual biological activity? Is it purely the functional relations (and thus something made out of beer cans and string, if in the same functional state, would also have the same green experience)? Is it due to some sort of quantum phenomenon, as Penrose (sillily, in my view) suggests? The point is, without an understanding of the mechanism that produces subjectivity, we can’t answer these questions. And, as you seem to have conceded, we can’t have access to others subjective states, and so can never know what the answer is.

    Ultimately this is a war of intuitions, and that isn’t a good basis for principled discussion.

    The question is whether there is anything possible other than intuitions on this matter. If not, then we can’t get a physicalist explanation for the subjective.

    windy, my apologies for not responding as you’d like to the heart of your argument — I realized after I posted that I had indeed missed the main point. Please permit me to try again:

    If I ‘decide’ on chocolate instead of vanilla, that’s usually what I end up ordering, but maybe my choice was a purely physical process predetermined by physical factors. This is one possible solution to the problem of free will, and for some reason you refuse to consider similar solutions for qualia.

    On the contrary, I think that my solution for qualia is precisely that, because as far as I can see, what you have described is epiphenomenalism for free will. In other words, I do think that qualia arise from purely physical processes (I’m a materialist), and I do think that it is those physical factors, and not the qualia themselves, that are causally responsible for behaviour.

    Perhaps I’m misunderstanding your account of free will — if I am, please correct me.

    (Do note, though, that it’s Friday night, so it may be a while before I get back to this thread.)

  83. #83 Davis
    November 7, 2008

    Now do that with a bat’s sonar, or with a snake’s infra-red sensors, or with some fishes ability to detect electric fields. What are they experiencing? I’d argue that all the neuroscience in the world in principle can’t answer that question. And thus it doesn’t give you access to the subjective states, just the neurological causes (correlates) of those states.

    You are again making the assumption that I object to — that there is such a notion as “what I am experiencing” which is independent of the physical states correlating to the experience. It is far more parsimonious to say that the brain state present when I am experiencing greenness *is* my experience of greenness.

  84. #84 Coriolis
    November 7, 2008

    “Do you see colours? Not “does your visual system response to electromagnetic radiation of a certain range of wavelengths”, but do you see colours? If you do, you have subjective states.”

    What do you think the difference between seeing colors and seeing EM radiation is?

    I don’t recognize any difference other than different words.

  85. #85 Collin Brendemuehl
    November 7, 2008

    Blake,
    Does “consensus” mean (a) broadly accepted, (b) near-unanimity? I’m going with (a).
    #1 One funcational contradiction within liberalism is plain: You cannot tolerate everything. The tolerance doctrine fails on a frequent basis.
    #2 Philosophy expresses itself in a variety of fields. It’s not just about epistemology or ontology.
    #3 Outside observers are.
    #4 If we accept current evidence as empirical, just pick up a newspaper. If you’d like to use historical evidence instad, just pick up a history book. It’s all the same.
    Yes, Jesus’ life is evidentially verified.

  86. #86 Tyler DiPietro
    November 7, 2008

    “Because you can’t actually experience the subjective states of others, you can’t ever know what those states are like, or even if they have them at all. In essence, you can never actually test your theory, because you can’t in principle have access to the data you need.”

    This appears to be a bit of non-sequitor, one could more accurately state that we can only observe subjective experiences via the peripheral effects of the phenomenon, which is hardly unusual in science. Near as I can tell, studying sub-atomic phenomena with particle accelerators falls into that category.

  87. #87 Eric Thomson
    November 7, 2008

    Me:
    I don’t expect a scientific theory to put me in the same state as the thing I’m studying.

    Tulse:
    Of course not, but that’s the problem. Because you can’t actually experience the subjective states of others, you can’t ever know what those states are like, or even if they have them at all. In essence, you can never actually test your theory, because you can’t in principle have access to the data you need.

    Unless the neuropsychological framework is sufficient to know they are conscious. More on this below.

    Me:
    If it turns out that seeing green is a neuronal state, then if someone says they see green, and are in the same neuronal state as everyone else, and me, when we see green, then why should we expect the experience to be different?

    Tulse:
    Because we don’t know what it is about that neuronal state that causes the subjective experience. Is it the actual biological activity? Is it purely the functional relations (and thus something made out of beer cans and string, if in the same functional state, would also have the same green experience)?

    Of course we don’t know right now (and I wouldn’t put it in Searle’s terms of what in brains ’causes’ the subjective experience, as if subjective experience is a separate thing from brains–that confuses the issue).

    In 200 years, say we explain all behavior down to millisecond precision in terms of the activity of large numbers of neuronal assemblies carrying out various roles in the nervous system, how can you be sure that conscious states won’t just drop out as part of the theory? Wow, this species is in state X,Y, Z, so they are having some experience particular to this state. If we were in that state we’d be having the same experience, but we aren’t. Bummer. I also wish I could be pregnant, but I can’t, but our theories of pregnancy are not affected. Regardless, we have a damned good theory of what it’s like to be a jellyfish that predicts and explains not only experience but all its behavior.

    Tulse:
    And, as you seem to have conceded, we can’t have access to others subjective states, and so can never know what the answer is.

    I conceded that when I study a system, I don’t become that system. That doesn’t mean we can’t exhaustively study and understand that system.

    Tulse:
    The question is whether there is anything possible other than intuitions on this matter. If not, then we can’t get a physicalist explanation for the subjective.

    My point was that right now it is a war of intuitions. That’s why we need more science, less armchair bubble blowing and oxbridge word ninja.

    There will be more than intuitions as we get more data, better data-grounded theories from psychology and neuroscience. In 60 years or so we can look back on this thread and see who seemed more reasonable.

    At any rate I’ll end this by quoting myself as I bow out of this thread:
    “What the antimateralists are doing is making predictions about what reasonable people will think once neuroscience has advanced over the next couple of centuries. Their prediction is that after such advances, the “hard” problem of consciousness will still appear impenetrable to neuronal explanation. No matter if neuroscience explains human behavior (including behavior during binocular rivalry tasks) with millisecond precision, they predict they will still think the mind doesn’t fit comfortably in nature.

    That is a bet I wouldn’t take.”

    Note the ‘prediction’ spin on the issue is not my idea, but stolen from Pat Churchland. It is spot on.

  88. #88 nathan
    November 7, 2008

    Implicit in your statement “we don’t know what it is about that neuronal state that causes the subjective experience,” is the assumption that it cannot simply be the result of those processes we’re already defining. I can’t help but think of Dawkin’s question in response to someone who commented that it was understandable if people thought the world was flat, since after all it doesn’t FEEL as though it’s round: and what WOULD it feel like if it were round?

  89. #89 Tulse
    November 8, 2008

    Davis:

    the brain state present when I am experiencing greenness *is* my experience of greenness

    Do you literally mean “is” as in “physically identical with”? Because that is trivially not true. Your experience of greenness is not the same as neurons firing, any more than Citizen Kane is the pattern of pits on a DVD. Your pattern of neuronal firing produces, or is correlated with or even supervenes on your mental states, but they are definitely not literally identical to your mental states.

    Coriolis:

    What do you think the difference between seeing colors and seeing EM radiation is

    The question equivocates on the word “seeing”. A colorimeter detects EM radiation at certain wavelengths, but it does not “see colour” — it has no subjective sense of what it is detecting. That is the distinction I was making.

    Tyler:

    we can only observe subjective experiences via the peripheral effects of the phenomenon

    That’s at least begging the question of their causal efficacy, if not their existence. A Tickle-Me-Elmo doll will produce observable effects similar to other conscious organisms — are those indicative of consciousness? Whether or not something is a “peripheral effect” of consciousness depends first and foremost on your a priori assumption that consciousness is actually present in the thing being studied — it begs the question.

    And as I’ve argued previously, under a purely physical description of the universe, the notion of subjective states is unnecessary to provide a complete causal chain for a behaviour. In other words, that a priori assumption doesn’t do any work — it’s like saying that light is made up of photons that are carried by tiny invisible fairies which are otherwise undetectable.

    Eric Thomson: In 200 years, say we explain all behavior down to millisecond precision in terms of the activity of large numbers of neuronal assemblies carrying out various roles in the nervous system, how can you be sure that conscious states won’t just drop out as part of the theory?

    And how would you test that theory, at least on non-human creatures? How would you know if subjective states actually existed in the organisms your theory modeled, or if their behaviour occurred without any consciousness? If you had two theories that were identical in terms of their physical consequences, but one said conscious states would exist and another that they wouldn’t, how would you decide which one was right? That’s the point — there is no way to test such theories, because there is no way to get the data. The observations you need to make are subjective, limited to first-person (or “first-creature”) experience.

    I conceded that when I study a system, I don’t become that system. That doesn’t mean we can’t exhaustively study and understand that system.

    If by “exhaustively” you mean “know everything about”, then yes, there is one thing that you won’t know about the system, which is what the subjective experience is that it produces.

  90. #90 Eric Thomson
    November 8, 2008

    Tulse:
    Do you literally mean “is” as in “physically identical with”? Because that is trivially not true. Your experience of greenness is not the same as neurons firing, any more than Citizen Kane is the pattern of pits on a DVD. Your pattern of neuronal firing produces, or is correlated with or even supervenes on your mental states, but they are definitely not literally identical to your mental states.

    You are overstating things way too much here.

    How can you be sure they aren’t type identical? Indeed, what else would consciousness be identical to? You keep talking as if neural activity “causes” or “produces” mental states. That bifurcation isn’t necessary if conscious states (in terrestrial organisms) just are brain states (individuated either functionally or causally or some way we haven’t figured out yet.). You mistakenly write as if this is the obvious right way to approach the problem.

    And how would you test that theory, at least on non-human creatures?

    The way we test any theory in biology. We do the experiments and see if the predictions are right. More below.

    How would you know if subjective states actually existed in the organisms your theory modeled, or if their behaviour occurred without any consciousness? If you had two theories that were identical in terms of their physical consequences, but one said conscious states would exist and another that they wouldn’t, how would you decide which one was right?

    I set it up originally so that conscious states are part of the model. If conscious experiential states are part of the biological model, it would be impossible for your scenario to happen.

    That’s the point — there is no way to test such theories, because there is no way to get the data. The observations you need to make are subjective, limited to first-person (or “first-creature”) experience.

    Not if part of the theory is that there is a subject in the system being studied, and this is an ineliminable part of the theory. Sort of like spin or charge in physics. As I said, we could end up in 200 years with a model in which conscious states, subjective experiences, are an essential ingredient without which the model completely breaks down. These states could figure in the explanation of binocular rivalry, for instance.

    As I said, I understand your convictions and shared them at one point a few years back. The problem is that all these qualia arguments against naturalism ultimately are question-begging and we need more data/theory from the relevant sciences, not more philosophers saying why it will never work. Even if that is true (and nobody knows right now), we won’t know it until the science has progressed.

    In sum, philosophical arguments against reducing conscious states to neural states are not compelling. You aren’t going to kill such a research programme. Work on giving a positive alternative.

  91. #91 SLC
    November 8, 2008

    Re Collin Brendemuehl

    One of the problems with Mr. Brendemuehls’ insistence on the intertwining of science and philosophy is that it breaks down in several modern scientific theories. In particular, quantum mechanics is a philosophically preposterous theory which makes absolutely no sense. A few quotes follow.

    Richard Feynman – If you think you understand quantum mechanics, then you don’t understand quantum mechanics.

    Steven Weinberg – Quantum mechanics is a totally preposterous theory which, unfortunately, appears to be correct.

    Lawrence Krauss – Nobody understands quantum mechanics.

    The only justification for accepting such a preposterous theory as quantum mechanics is that it produces predictions that agree with observations. In particular, the special relativistic formulation known as quantum electrodynamics produces computations that agree with observations to 10 significant digits! As Richard Feynman put it, this is like measuring the distance between City Hall in Los Angeles and the Empire State Building in New York to the nearest foot.

  92. #92 Coriolis
    November 8, 2008

    “The question equivocates on the word “seeing”. A colorimeter detects EM radiation at certain wavelengths, but it does not “see colour” — it has no subjective sense of what it is detecting. That is the distinction I was making.”

    What distinction is that? How can you know that you’re “seeing” color in a way that has any qualitative difference than a colorimeter?

  93. #93 Davis
    November 8, 2008

    Do you literally mean “is” as in “physically identical with”? Because that is trivially not true.

    Eric Thompson addressed this well, but I will again reiterate that this is precisely where my disagreement rests. I do indeed mean “is physically identical with”. If this is “trivially not true”, then please take a moment to set me straight by demonstrating such.

  94. #94 Eric Thomson
    November 8, 2008

    What distinction is that? How can you know that you’re “seeing” color in a way that has any qualitative difference than a colorimeter?

    If that were sufficient, a thermometer would experience temperature. That seems a bit extreme. Organisms with conscious states have much more than neural bits that carry information about the world. The peripheral nervous system is very good at that, but there is no reason to think the retina is conscious of color. If detection of stimuli were sufficient, we likely wouldn’t have things like phantom limbs, dreams, hallucinations. It seems much more central than all that.

    Kristof Koch discusses these issues in some detail from a neurobiological perspective in his great book The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach.

  95. #95 cl
    November 8, 2008

    I haven’t spent more than a few hours thinking about qualia directly, but to me it seems qualia represent the transference of energy. In the example of stubbing our toe, the “pain” is a real thing in the sense that it is a real perception of energy transference that occurred when the bearer kicked a doorjam or whatnot.

    Biological qualia are real so long as there is an apparatus by which an organic entity might perceive them, and energy transference to produce them.

    In theory, I would suppose robots also experience qualia, yet likely without accompanying emotional reactions, which is interesting.

  96. #96 windy
    November 8, 2008

    On the contrary, I think that my solution for qualia is precisely that, because as far as I can see, what you have described is epiphenomenalism for free will.

    Maybe we have a different understanding of what epiphenomenalism is. If we had a complete physical description that explained every choice we make, free will wouldn’t be epiphenomenal, it would be another name for the physical process like ‘life’ or ‘Krebs cycle’ or an obsolete one like ‘phlogiston’.

    In other words, I do think that qualia arise from purely physical processes (I’m a materialist), and I do think that it is those physical factors, and not the qualia themselves, that are causally responsible for behaviour.

    Is your view different from the epiphenomenalism of Chalmers? That mental properties are created by the physical in a one-way process?

    (Do note, though, that it’s Friday night, so it may be a while before I get back to this thread.)

    OK, OK ;)

  97. #97 cwfong
    November 9, 2008

    Mental properties are not one-way properties, even though they are not in themselves causally responsible for subsequent behaviors. Because these “conscious” feelings are representative of the “physical” trigger mechanisms that determine reactive behavior. We need the feelings as incentives to make the appropriates choices. They are there for a purpose rather than for our entertainment.

  98. #98 cwfong
    November 9, 2008

    Not that entertainment doesn’t have some purpose behind it as well.

  99. #99 Scott Hatfield
    November 9, 2008

    Jason: An excellent post, not just because of the way you expose the empty suit which is Schwartz, but because of your frank admission of frustration with the philosophical literature.

    More years ago than I care to admit, I was allowed to audit the senior seminar in philosophy at CSU Fresno even though I was not a philosophy major after lobbying the instructor. My interest had been piqued by the topic (‘consciousness’) and, flushed with satisfaction having read stuff by Hofstadter and Dennett, approached the course with no small amount of confidence that aspects of consciousness were explicable in terms of our evolutionary history.

    As you might imagine, most of the others in this course who had studied philosophy for several years were not too impressed with my cheeky suggestion that what they considered their turf could be reduced to biology. And, for my part, I found much of the philosophical literature frustrating, for reasons similar to those you cite.

    However, as one wag once remarked, philosophy is both the disease and the cure for the disease, especially where metaphysical questions are posed. The question is not whether or not philosophical treatments pass muster as science (typically not), but by whether careful consideration of the points raised by such treatments can be useful in establishing the limits of what we do and do not know. Partly as a result of taking the previously-mentioned course, I came to the conclusion, reluctantly, that some of the philosophers of mind were raising questions that were not particularly well-addressed by neuroscientists, and that a little humility on these points would go a long way toward better formulating problems for study.

    With that in mind, let me suggest that ‘qualia’ is useful in this regard: it provides a convenient label for what David Chalmers has argued is the Hard Problem of conscious experience. Dennett and others argue said problem doesn’t exist, but again, the ‘qualia’ concept is useful as a target to argue against. Cheers…SH

  100. #100 Eric Thomson
    November 9, 2008

    Scott: Chalmers actually discusses the creationism article, as I mentioned here.

  101. #101 Katharine
    November 9, 2008

    This may be the final nail in creationism’s coffin – let’s make the creotards cry!

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7715741.stm

  102. #102 Scott Hatfield, OM
    November 10, 2008

    Eric: Thanks for the link!

  103. #103 Jason Rosenhouse
    November 10, 2008

    Scott –

    Glad you liked the post!

    And thanks to everyone who has left helpful and substantive comments in this thread (you know who you are). I haven’t been commenting, but I have been reading!

  104. #104 notedscholar
    November 10, 2008

    I agree that Creationists have many misconceptions about how the brain works. However, I tend to think that much of the scientific community has misconceptions in this noetic area. In fact I may write a post on this soon.

  105. #105 Nemo
    November 12, 2008

    This may be the final nail in creationism’s coffin

    I hope you meant that as a joke. No scientific evidence can destroy creationism, because it’s not a scientific controversy. If it were, creationism would’ve been buried millions of times over already.

    You can (easily) rebut each and every specific claim that creationists make, but they will never admit defeat. The bible says it, they believe it, and that settles it, for them.

  106. #106 Hesitant Iconoclast
    November 17, 2008

    I just saw this post on this New Scientist article. I’ve done my own write-up here. You may like to have a look at it, although I’ve dealt with the more ‘practical’ effects of the situation and haven’t really discussed consciousness as such.

  107. #107 canakkaletr
    January 27, 2009

    Thanks for me

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