Pharyngula

Egnor, the smug creationist neurosurgeon, is babbling again, but this time, it’s on a subject that he might be expected to have some credibility: the brain (he has one, and operates on them) and the mind (this might be a problem for him). It’s an interesting example of the religious pathology that’s going to be afflicting us for probably the next century — you see, creationism is only one symptom. We’re seeing an ongoing acceleration in scientific understanding that challenge the traditional truisms of the right wing religious culture warriors, and represent three fronts in our future battles.

  • Evolution. Evolutionary biology gives us an explanation of where we came from and our relationship to other organisms in the world that directly contradicts traditional explanations. It was a first strike against truth by dogma, and we’ve been fighting this one for over a century.

  • Reproductive and developmental biology. These fields are blurring our biological identity and eroding the old tribalisms. They challenge old beliefs about what being human means and who we are; they also open up radical possibilities for modifying ourselves. We’ve been struggling with this conflict for decades on a very crude level, abortion rights. Stem cells are an early harbinger of future changes—it’s going to get scary and fierce when cloning organs and human individuals becomes feasible, and just wait until gene therapy and radical body repair and modification become possible.

  • Neuroscience. Neuroscience is building up a detailed picture of our minds, our consciousness, our selves as the products of purely material agents. It’s mostly been under the radar, but I’ve seen some signs of the religious right quivering in trepidation (or perhaps, anger): neuroscience is going to blow away concepts of the soul and the afterlife, root our thoughts in material processes, and as we’re seeing now, open up the mind to pharmacological manipulation.

The evolution-creation wars are only the first line of defense. I’ve sometimes been accused of putting too high a priority on other issues, like the conflict between religion and science, at the expense of the immediate tactical needs of keeping creationism at bay. I will agree, up to a point: we absolutely must not let the creationists get their way in our public schools, and losing that fight would cost us the rest, but at the same time we can’t lose sight of the fact that even if we were to overcome creationism decisively, we still have to face other reactionary forces. And if the way we overcome creationism is to compromise with religion, we’re only going to strengthen our opponent for the next front. It’s our job now to bleed them heavily, in addition to preventing them from making inroads into education and greater government influence.

What has all this got to do with Egnor? His latest missive is a feeble stab at the third front, neuroscience. I’m not seeing a lot of effort by the DI in this direction yet — they do have another fellow, Jeffrey Schwartz, who’s been talking in this direction with little fanfare or attention — but I’m keeping an eye on it. I’ll also mention that in my last conversation with Paul Nelson, he was also worked up over the idea that he couldn’t see a physical connection between intent and action in the operation of the human body, so I’m fairly sure this kind of belief is taken for granted in the phantasmagorical halls of the Discovery Institute.

Egnor’s hangup is similar—he thinks that thoughts are in a different class from other physical states—that an idea cannot be embodied in a pattern of neuronal activity. His example is altruism.

Altruism, in contrast, has no matter or energy. It has no ‘location’, no weight, no dimension, no temperature. It has no properties of matter. Altruism entails things like purpose and judgment, which aren’t material. Altruism has no parts, in the sense that there is a ‘left-side’ of altruism and a ‘right side’ of altruism. There are, of course, left sided and right sided parts of the brain, which may be associated with acts of altruism, but there is no ‘left’ or ‘right’ to altruism itself. Of course, objects (like human brains or bodies) that have location, weight, etc. can mediate or carry out altruistic acts, but the altruism itself doesn’t have a location. Altruism isn’t spatial. ‘My altruism is three inches from the edge of the table’ is a nonsensical statement.

That’s extraordinarily weak. He’s a neurosurgeon—you can’t possibly become a neurosurgeon without having read about the case of Phineas Gage, the railroad worker who had a frontal lobe lesion and lost self-control and sociability and became noticeably less altruistic. The denialism blog makes a similar argument: people intentionally modify the way their brains work with psychoactive drugs, but how does that work if thoughts and ideas are immaterial? He could argue that “personality” also has no location, weight, dimension, or temperature, that it is this strange, pure abstraction that has no discrete connection to the brain, but he’d be wrong: it’s clearly a product of the ordered connections and pattern of activity in the brain, and that disrupting those physical elements changes the expression of that instance of the abstraction.

His altruism does have a location. It’s the product of activity in his brain. Where else would it be, floating in the air, in his left foot, or nonexistent? You know where he wants to trace its source: to the supernatural. He’d like to pretend something like altruism (or lust or intent or wonder or anything else he can assign to an abstraction) is the product of a supernatural agent. A soul. Of course, he can’t say that—he’s following the creationist paradigm of not saying anything specific about his hypothesis, and instead skirts about the issue, arguing what it is not.

Yet many things in the world, including our ideas and even our theories about the world, are not matter or energy. Altruism is obviously something very real; many people’s lives depend on it. We don’t know exactly what it is, but we know, by its properties, what it’s not. It’s not material. It shares no properties in common with matter. It can’t be caused by a piece of the brain.

Of course it is caused by a piece of the brain—Phineas Gage, remember? We also know that a sense of altruism is generated by patterns of electrical and chemical activity in a material brain; modify the patterns, change the feeling or action. If he wants to argue for some other agent outside the material body that is adjusting those patterns, he’s going to have to make a case for the agent’s existence, rather than just stupidly asserting the brain isn’t the source of feelings.

But…uh-oh. This is rather like one of those cartoons where the character is out on a tree limb, sawing it away. He’s already refuted his own argument!

For one process to cause another there must be a point of contact, in the sense that the processes linked in cause and effect must share properties in common. In biology, the liver contains molecules of enzymes and bilirubin and cholesterol, which cause the secretion of molecules of bile. In physics, a moving billiard ball collides with another billiard ball, causing each to change course. Each billiard ball starts with momentum, and momentum is exchanged when they collide. The transfer of momentum mediates the cause and effect. ‘Cause and effect’ presupposes commonality of at least one property- enzymes or bilirubin or cholesterol or momentum. Without commonality, there is no link through which cause can give rise to effect.

So we need some causal link, hmmm? Where is the causal link, equivalent to the action of an enzyme mediating the chemistry of two reactants, between a burst of action potentials traveling down an effector neuron and his invisible, immaterial, zero-energy spirit, soul, or ghost? Does his soul carefully reach in and change the conformation of a g-protein, phosphorylate CREB, or open an ion channel? If he’s going to postulate a supernatural agent outside the material brain, by his own reasoning, he’s also going to have provide a link through which that magical cause can give rise to a mundane effect. No such link exists — and its proponents will quickly backpedal away from any consideration about how that link would work, because that makes their ghost a material and testable presence in the world.

Brace yourselves, people. These cranks and religious weirdos are not going to provide better, smarter, more interesting arguments as they work their way through the three fronts I mentioned at the beginning. What we’re going to get is ever more stupid, illogical, and fact-free rationalizations for their religious presuppositions. We have to wrestle with them as they come up — that is the rationalist’s obligation — but we also have to address the root cause directly. And you all know what that is, boys and girls…

The damned curse of supernatural and religious thinking.

Comments

  1. #1 Tony P.
    June 4, 2007

    “…open up the mind to pharmacological manipulation”

    I think I had some friends in college who majored in “pharmacological manipulation”. None of them graduated, however.

  2. #2 Brian W.
    June 4, 2007

    I’d recently been thinking about how to counter those bozos (like CS Lewis) who say that us having morals is proof that there’s a god. I couldn’t think of any good reply to this. I know there are lots of replies to it, but i can never remember them. I can just use the Phineas Gage thing. I’m so ashamed i didn’t remember that sooner. Thanks for reminding me.

  3. #3 Stanton
    June 4, 2007

    I thought Phineas Gage was a miner…
    Hmmmm…
    Still, this is exactly the lousy argument I expect from someone who tries to refute Evolutionary Biology by claiming that a brain tumor is the body’s attempt at growing a new and better brain.

  4. #4 Mystic Olly
    June 4, 2007

    It is a fundamental point that always sticks in the craw of the supernaturalists.

    So, my soul is immaterial, supernatural.

    Well, then how does it affect my body. How does the immaterial thought that I want to slap PZ make my arm move.

    The fact that there has never been a good answer to this fundamental question speaks volumes about the validity of metaphysical naturalism.

    And not just an accurate answer, just any logically conceivable answer would do.

    Sadly not forthcoming.

    Oh well, as a greater man than I once said, so it goes.

    Mystic (oh so very Mystic) Oli,

  5. #5 Mystic Olly
    June 4, 2007

    Hah! Tony P.

    I spent many a merry weekend in pharmacological paradise and

    a) didn’t start believing in “chi” or “energetic vibrations”

    b) got a respectable 2:1

    c) though it was in English Literature which required (quite literally) very little work.

    d) damn you scientists!!

    love

    Mystic (oh so very Mystic) Oli,

  6. #6 Chuck Morrison
    June 4, 2007

    Once again, Egnor chooses a topic that has already been refuted by (gasp!) science:

    Source of Altruism Found in the Brain

  7. #7 gg
    June 4, 2007

    Engor’s argument seems really silly to me, because his discussion of ‘altruism’ could equally be applied to many definitions of everyday objects. For instance, the object I’m sitting in right now is a chair, but I can’t isolate the location of its ‘chairness’, the properties that make me call it a chair. ‘Chairness’ is a state of the system, a particular arrangement of the atoms of the system that give it a useful functionality. Or, to use Engor’s words,

    “Of course, objects (like sofas or stools) that have location, weight, etc. can mediate or carry out chairlike functions, but the ‘chairness’ itself doesn’t have a location. ‘Chairness’ isn’t spatial. ‘The property that makes this chair a chair is three inches from the edge of the cushion’ is a nonsensical statement.”

    2500 years ago, Engor would evidently have been a big fan of Plato’s forms…

  8. #8 breakerslion
    June 4, 2007

    Pure altruism is as non-existant as the soul. The person engaging in altruism always gets something out of it, a feeling of well-being, moral superiority, expiation of guilt, etc.

  9. #9 Chuck Morrison
    June 4, 2007

    Oooh, here’s another one:

    The results were showing that when the volunteers placed the interests of others before their own, the generosity activated a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food or sex. Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable.

    I’d like to see the look on Egnor’s face when he reads that.

  10. #10 Mark Plus
    June 4, 2007

    I wonder what the Discovery Institute types will do with scientific evidence that supports the claims of non-christian religions.

    For example:

    Buddhists ‘really are happier’

  11. #11 Dutch vigilante
    June 4, 2007

    There should never be any compromise away from science, because in that one would corrupt the whole idea of science, then it can include everything. This is esspecially true with evolution, with it being one of the biggest foundations of science.

    This is not a mere battle, but it is the heart of the war.

  12. #12 Eamon Knight
    June 4, 2007

    Good grief, is it possible for Egnor to get any more confused?

    In addition to the fallacies pointed out by you and Denialism, he’s got this basic ontological misconception: he seems to think that all “natural” entities must possess physical properties like mass, extension and location (one of his buddies was blathering similar nonsense about “information” a couple of months back). Emotion and cognition (like life itself) is a process taking place in a physical substrate, and while it is localisable to the substrate, you can’t “point to it” in the way Egnor’s crude “objectism” demands. As an analogy, think of the “flow” of a river. The substrate is the water, and it is localised in the riverbed, but the “flow” is not identifiable as either of those entities — but I doubt even Egnor would claim that “flow” is some supernatural substance that changes a long skinny puddle into a river.

  13. #13 Denis Castaing
    June 4, 2007

    One other related area that needs watching and may cause some grief to the religious is when a machine is built that passes the Turing Test, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_test
    Current estimates are 2020 to 2029 but given the pace of expoential growth in this area it may be as early as 2012.

  14. #14 Sonja
    June 4, 2007

    Main Entry: al·tru·ism
    Pronunciation: \?al-trü-?i-z?m\
    Etymology: French altruisme, from autrui other people, from Old French, oblique case form of autre other, from Latin alter
    Date: 1853

    It looks like Egnor wouldn’t be writing about altruism if it weren’t for the French. And, prior to 1853, there was no altruism.

  15. #15 Luna_the_cat
    June 4, 2007

    Ohfer…

    By these arguments, this “logic”, memory is also not a property of the brain. How on earth can a neurosurgeon get away with that?

    By his arguments, “honesty” and “social inhibition” and such things are also not connected to the brain. But when my father had major strokes affecting the right hemisphere, this extremely, meticulously honest man lost the sense that lying was wrong, and would lie (not just confabulate, but knowingly lie) whenever it became convenient for him. If that wasn’t a function of brain damage, where did it come from? And there are at least a few thousand studies charting similar effects.

    Speaking of brain damage, my mother, formerly reasonably skeptical, had a series of seizures some years ago which also left her with brain deficits — and also turned her into a True Believer(tm) with a tendency to believe anything anyone told her and a vastly decreased facility to evaluate evidence as to the truth of any given proposition. I wonder if Egnor has had some similar experience….

  16. #16 El Cid
    June 4, 2007

    Given a lack of scientific understanding so far of human consciousness, including the ability to scientifically define it, the proper scientific response isn’t, “Well, I guess it’s okay to make up magical stuff about it.”

    A proper scientific response, and an honest one, is that it’s still mysterious, we do not yet understand very much at all about it, and therefore we can come to no definitive conclusions about the phenomenon, much less posit that it is outside the realm of scientific understanding or has magical properties.

  17. #17 snex
    June 4, 2007

    the web browser i am using to type this message has no matter or energy; it has no location, weight, dimension, or temperature. it must be supernatural then, right?

  18. #18 valhar2000
    June 4, 2007

    Well done for pointing this out, PZ. I have thought about it before, but have never said it, even to the sciencebloggers who keep trying to convince us that “Christianity and Science are fully compatible”.

    That is an obvious lie. What will the theistic evolutionists do when (or a small “if”, to be fair) the evolutionary history of humanity is worked out with sufficient detail to make it clear that at no point were souols imbued into hominids by a god?

    What will they do when neuroscience advances to the point where it becomes clear that there is no intersection between the physical brain and a supposed “soul”?

    How will they react when it beocmes possible to create “revelations” and “deep, emotionally fulfilling, spiritual experiences” at the flick of a switch?

    What mechanism could Christians possibly use to accomodate findings such as these? What could they do to stop themselves from becoming denialists, apart from simple deconversion?

    Theistic scientists are a time bomb; and, since they are on the inside, their explosion will be orders of magnitude more damaging than anything the anti-scientists can do.

  19. #19 Ginger Yellow
    June 4, 2007

    I love the way creationists flail about when trying to discuss non-theistic understandings of the world. The fact that they simply cannot grasp the idea that abstract concepts and relationships might have meaning while not having material form in themselves shows just how flimsy their ontology is. It’s always goddidit for them. Always.

  20. #20 paul
    June 4, 2007

    It’s an attractive argument in some ways, because it seems to attack the simplistic reductionism that says “damage to this set of cells prevents access to that set of memories or behaviors, hence they must reside in those cells”. But for anyone who’s heard of emergence it does seem kinda stupid.

    (Plenty of people, of course, manage to act like Gage without his particular lesion, or like untroubled utilitarians without obvious defect in their ventromedial prefrontal cortex.)

  21. #21 Doc Bill
    June 4, 2007

    Thinking meat. Who’da thunk it?

    This piece below has been circulating for years on the Internet, but it’s still wonderful:

    http://www.langston.com/Fun_People/1994/1994ABL.html

  22. #22 Aaron
    June 4, 2007

    By his logic, perception is a bust as well. Our perception of the world is a collection of thoughts. Since thoughts are apparently immaterial, they can’t interact with the outside world. That means the light hitting my retina has no way of affecting what my mind sees.

  23. #23 Jud
    June 4, 2007

    Read Egnor’s piece at Evolution News & Views. This sort of dimestore BS would likely get a failing grade in any undergrad philosophy course.

    Yet there is a kernel of truth. Egnor says: “But there is no material link between our ideas and our brains, because ideas aren’t material.” Indeed, I think we can all agree Egnor’s ideas aren’t material.

  24. #24 Icthyic
    June 4, 2007

    he thinks that thoughts are in a different class from other physical states–that an idea cannot be embodied in a pattern of neuronal activity. His example is altruism.

    LOL. It’s like he took a page from Francis Collins’ book, and ignored entire fields like behavioral ecology in the process.

    I’d almost feel sorry for the twit.

    almost.

  25. #25 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 4, 2007

    Oh, come on, let’s go easy on the bloke. After all, he’s only twenty-four hundred years out of date.

    Thank you, PZ, for raising the issue of creationism and neuroscience. I’ve been meaning to write about this, but nothing had spurred me into activity until this drivel from Egnor, and now I see that you’ve said what I had planned to say.

  26. #26 bybelknap, FCD
    June 4, 2007

    Erm… Being a Good Xtian, Monsewer Egnor must also have some thoughts on Free Will, no? Where is the Free Will part of the brain? Or is Free Will a supernatural sort of a thing as well? And if it is controlled by their God, is it really ‘Free?’ Of course, I am quite dense when it comes to these sorts of things, just as Egnor and his ilk seem to be impervious to the concept of selection by consequences. I wonder, though, which imperviousness is more detrimental to an understanding of the way things really work? No, I don’t really, that was just put there for gratuitous grins.

  27. #27 daedalus2u
    June 4, 2007

    It is completely true that Buddhists are happier. The meditating they do produces NO in their brains, and that NO makes them happier and healthier.

    All “truly” spiritual persons are spiritual only because of the high NO levels in their brains. That is why spiritual people are much like the Dalai Lama, thin, happy, active, intelligent, and have no heart disease, no Alzheimer’s, no degenerative diseases at all.

    Falwell was not spiritual. You can’t be “spiritual” and be mean spirited the way he was. That he was obese and had CHD, is just another sign of how non-spiritual he really was.

  28. #28 windy
    June 4, 2007

    “Ideas must be caused by substances that have properties common to ideas- such as purpose and judgment.”

    Purpose and judgment are substances? Ookay…

  29. #29 mgarelick
    June 4, 2007

    Obviously, Egnor is not unaware of Phineas Gage, and I think he anticipated this objection with his assertion that neurobiologists are confusing “association” with “causation.” His argument is still fatally flawed, as PZ and others have noted, by his refusal to offer any alternate hypothesis as to the actual cause of alleged immaterial mental phenomena. (And the contradiction that PZ noted — that there must, following Egnor’s reasoning, be some “connection” between the immaterial and the material — was very nice.)

    Finally, for anyone who is hearing about Phineas Gage for the first time, the “lesion” in his brain was the result of a railroad spike that entered his cheek and exited through the top of his frontal lobe. Search for “the experience of Phineas Gage” in Google images for an excellent illustration. (Of course, since I live in San Francisco, I would not look twice at a guy like that.)

  30. #30 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    June 4, 2007

    represent three fronts in our future battles

    Together with neuroscientists computer models these are some of the fronts. I would list cosmology, theoretical physics and astrobiology (extraterrestrial planets and their life signs) as other fronts.

    But here it is perhaps only the later that is currently moving at the same pace. Seems biology in the larger sense rules, at least for now. (Did I really say that?! :-o)

  31. #31 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    June 4, 2007

    represent three fronts in our future battles

    Together with neuroscientists computer models these are some of the fronts. I would list cosmology, theoretical physics and astrobiology (extraterrestrial planets and their life signs) as other fronts.

    But here it is perhaps only the later that is currently moving at the same pace. Seems biology in the larger sense rules, at least for now. (Did I really say that?! :-o)

  32. #32 ConcernedJoe
    June 4, 2007

    OK I am not a physician, nor a bona fide working scientist; heck I don’t even play one on TV (but to be fair I do try to stay at cost-effective motels). So my comments are subject to correction on specifics, but BASICALLY:

    We developed (via evolution) an ability to read another person(such as a facial expression) and empathize with that person because this gave us a leg-up on avoiding danger and/or stalking prey. So (FOR EXAMPLE) if we “see fear” we ACTUALLY feel fear ourself (brain studies show this is wired in the brain this rudimentary empathy). Again — enhances quick decisive action – motivates action etc.. Going from empathy to altruism is not a major leap … if we can internalize another’s fear … we can the other’s pain, etc. We “feel bad for them” because we actuallly do “feel their pain. Now there are dampeners and amplifiers (external and internal) that make all this more or less pronounced in individuals. But basically we evolved a way of quickly assessing situations via others for very mundane reasons, and it evolved into something more noble. All this is brain related … but not because I say it is… but because many experiments point to it in spades.

    This guy Egnor is dispicable .. really really — he knows damn well he is spreading lies… he canNOT be that dumb… again even me knows the truth!!

  33. #33 natural cynic
    June 4, 2007

    valhar2k: Theistic scientists are a time bomb; and, since they are on the inside, their explosion will be orders of magnitude more damaging than anything the anti-scientists can do.

    It may be more in the other direction. Theistic science depends [at least somewhat] on the God of the Gaps. The gaps will shrink like an asymptote, but will always be there for some, while many others will take a small step across the shrinking gap. A few might freak out and embrace a greater supernaturalism and it’s only those that one must be careful with,

  34. #34 AL
    June 4, 2007

    “One other related area that needs watching and may cause some grief to the religious is when a machine is built that passes the Turing Test, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_test
    Current estimates are 2020 to 2029 but given the pace of expoential growth in this area it may be as early as 2012.”

    It won’t do anything to the religious. They will simply say the machine has no soul or that the Turing test proves nothing, a la Searle’s Chinese Room argument. To be fair though, Searle isn’t a dualist as far as I know, but you know the dualists will be using this argument to undermine any claim to artificial intelligence.

  35. #35 natural cynic
    June 4, 2007

    …but there is no ‘left’ or ‘right’ to altruism itself.

    It seema that Egnor has forgotten the important lessons from cartoons. Remember when a character has a moral conundrum? A little angel always pops up on one shoulder and a little devil on the other. The side of altruism is always on the side with the angel. So simple…

  36. #36 Flaky
    June 4, 2007

    “It’s not material. It shares no properties in common with matter. It can’t be caused by a piece of the brain.”
    Good grief! By analogous reasoning, my CDs must have souls, since music doesn’t have physical properties either.

    It worries me that this man is cutting up people. Egnor might be a good surgeon, but what happens when his religious beliefs conflict with the interests of his patients? Something that might happen all too frequently, considering how silly his beliefs are.

  37. #37 Vaughan
    June 4, 2007

    While Egnor is mistaken in using this argument to suggest that the brain might not be “the sufficient cause of the mind” he poses the general question in the right way. In fact, it’s one of the core questions in the philosophy of mind (see the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on mental causation).

    The question really boils down to “can the properties of mental events be adequately reduced to the properties of physical events” and it’s not clear that they can.

    It’s therefore quite acceptable to question whether a mind-level concept (such as ‘altruism’) can play a causal role in models of physical action (e.g. altruistic acts).

    What Egnor misses, is that this is really a problem of conceptual mapping.

    Some people (like the Churchlands) argue that this can’t be done and, therefore, advocate that all talk of mind-level explanations be rejected in favour of solely relying on brain-level explanations (known as eliminative materialism).

    The most widely accepted approach, however, is known as property dualism which argues that there is only one sort of material ‘stuff’, but that not all mind- and brain-level properties are conceptually compatible.

    Modern cognitive science aims for a sort of “patchy reductionism” which tries to make pragmatic connections between the conceptual levels where they have the most explanatory power in causal models.

    However, Egnor makes ‘Descartes error’ in coming to the conclusion that because mind- and brain-level concepts are not completely coherent with each other, they must be different substances. In effect, he confuses the map with the territory.

    Despite his conclusion, his point about the oversimplification of causal models in neuroscience is a good one, while all the commentary I’ve seen attacks a simplified straw man of Egnor’s argument (largely based on exactly the sort of category error that Ryle warned against when he coined the phrase ‘ghost in the machine’) with a side helping of ad hominem.

    We really need to do better than this if we want to defend materialism, otherwise we risk making ourselves look as dogmatic as the creationists.

    [I originally posted a reply of a similar nature to the post on Denialism but it has not appeared yet]

  38. #38 Flaky
    June 4, 2007

    To Vaughan: I don’t see how pointing out obvious flaws in Egnor’s or others’ reasoning could be mistaken for dogmatism. While it’s true, that there’s a reasonable point behind Egnors misconceptions, it’s rather pointless to argue against an argument he didn’t actually make.

    It might be a decent thing to do to point Egnor and other creationists to better arguments, if for no other reason than to increase the entertainment value of conversations with them, even if similar courtesy could not be expected from the ID-crowd.

  39. #39 trj
    June 4, 2007

    As I see it, Christians and most other religious people claim that your soul is the true source of your conscience, your decisions, your actions, your free will, and indeed any other intellectual capacity you possess. Your brain and the rest of your body are mere vessels for your soul. If you suffer damage to the brain, it just means that the brain becomes a bad conduit for your soul, explaining differences in behaviour.

    Assuming the soul is spiritual, and as such immaterial, this raises the question of whether an immaterial entity can possibly interact with the material world. This would seem to be a real obstacle, but probably only to a materialist. I’m sure religious people will brush it off with arguments like “spiritual power”, “divine energy”, and such. They’ll never even consider the problem.

    Although I have hardly any knowledge of it, I predict that the field of neuroscience will carry absolutely no weight whatsoever with religious followers. It’s just too easy to get around, always assuming some underlying immeasurable spiritual property. Christians and others will get around any argument by more or less stating the same spiritual claims they always have been.

    Which doesn’t mean they wont push their version of the truth, of course. Probably using loads of pseudo-science as well.

  40. #40 Vaughan
    June 4, 2007

    The trouble is, most commentators suggested Egnor was foolish for asking the question, based on equally poor reasoning.

    This is where the dogma comes in because, in fact, the question is quite reasonable and is widely asked in cognitive science.

    Debate needs to be made in an informed and respectful way. This is something that is not currently done by creationists. We should not be dragged down to their level.

  41. #41 Vitis
    June 4, 2007

    There seems to be a really important point that is being under-utilized here and Sonja touches on it in #14. “Altruism” is a name we invented that encompasses many much more specific behaviors. Those behaviors, by themselves, are probably not as mysterious as a broad abstraction like altruism or personality. In fact I would hesitate to even argue about altruism or personality. Rather I would ask what specific actions are being referred to when those words are used. To me, it’s the difference between slippery and untestable and an actual debatable point.

  42. #42 Sastra
    June 4, 2007

    I agree with Vaughan, in that this sort of argument is not a “more stupid, illogical, and fact-free rationalizations for … religious presuppositions.” On the contrary, I think it cuts much more deeply into the common intuitions which form the basis for supernaturalism in the first place. We’re getting closer to the bone here. We’re getting deeper than the God-idea, and into what distinguishes naturalism from spirituality. It will certainly draw a line between theistic evolution and just plain evolution.

    Mind vs. matter — it’s not just the sophisticated, neurological, philosophical conundrums at issue here. Normal human beings seem to have an innate tendency to reify abstractions. Thoughts, values, concepts are all seen as somehow “above” matter, but still as things in themselves. The subjective/objective distinction throws folks for a loop, and supernaturalism, which posits that mental properties somehow precede, ground, or integrate all of nature, seems to make sense. If intelligence is reducible to material processes, then God disappears — so it isn’t, which is what we all intuitively “knew” all along. How nice to have a neurologist confirm it.

    I think gg, in post #7, nailed it pretty well — it doesn’t have to be altruism, or even anything having to do with the mind. You can’t hold, see, or measure “chair-iness” or liberty, or love, or softness, or hardness, or or or. Abstraction is a process of pulling out similar aspects –qualities or behaviors — from concrete particulars, but our minds tend to confuse categories. If it’s not material, it must be “beyond matter” –and therefore naturalism is false. This is so easy a child can see it (which is why a scientist should know better.)

    The fact that there are different versions of materialism and naturalism which take abstractions and mind into account is usually ignored. Nuances are not as satisfying as magic, and the only valid form of reduction supernaturalists seem to acknowledge is Greedy Reductionism — which they accuse the naturalists of using so they can knock it down.

    It’s an interesting problem, but it needs to be approached scientifically. I like where Ramachandra seems to be going, ,yself. When theists like Egnor try to use it to justify God’s existence through neuroscience it simply turns into a more sophisticated version of PZ’s old favorite:

    “Ya, so try to find LOVE with your microscope, Mr. Smarty-Pants-Scientist!”

  43. #43 Badger3k
    June 4, 2007

    Re #9: “I’d like to see the look on Egnor’s face when he reads that.”

    That assumes that Egnor would read anything like that. I suspect he will ignore it like everything else people have told him. If it’s outside his religion, it doesn’t exist.

    Curious about this mind bit, though. When clearing my HuffPo feed (yeah, I know, not sure why I keep it around), I saw that Deepak was up to his old tricks – saw him talking about a “mind-field” around our bodies and promptly went to another site. Can we hope for a fisking at scienceblogs on his latest (or is it oldest) idiocy?

  44. #44 Olivier Huebscher
    June 4, 2007

    Maybe I am stupid, but it seems that Egnor (I love that name) also does not believe that thoughts come from the brain. There is no right side or left side to thoughts. My thoughts have no matter. Maybe I am missing something, but that argument seems idiotic to me.

  45. #45 Ginger Yellow
    June 4, 2007

    “To be fair though, Searle isn’t a dualist as far as I know, but you know the dualists will be using this argument to undermine any claim to artificial intelligence”

    Searle would vehemently deny being a dualist, but he might as well be if you ask me. He admits that thoughts aren’t made up of special mindstuff, but he replaces that with special brainstuff. In otherwords, even if we were to simulate a brain precisely, with all the neuronal connections and action potentials and hormone washes and so on, the result would not be conscious.

  46. #46 Ichthyic
    June 4, 2007

    The question really boils down to “can the properties of mental events be adequately reduced to the properties of physical events” and it’s not clear that they can.

    except for all the examples of anomalies and direct injuries that suggest otherwise, or perhaps you would prefer analogies in the world of animal behavior that have been studied ad nauseum?

    I ever say how much i hate philosophers that forget to check their blather against real-world data?

  47. #47 Tulse
    June 4, 2007

    To be clear, even if we grant Egnor his claim for the immateriality of concepts, and then take the huge, unjustified leap to some sort of substance dualism, that still doesn’t get him God. Even if there is a non-physical world in which thoughts, ideas, numbers, etc. reside, the existance of that world does not require a god to explain it, as it evidenced by the academic disciplines that study such things (such as mathematics, logic, semiotics, certain areas of linguistics, philosophy, and cognitive science).

    Egnor is right to some extent: things like numbers, concepts, and thoughts are not physical. Yet we are able to talk about math without invoking god. Funny that.

    And if Egnor’s point is simply that we don’t understand how immaterial things like concepts and numbers and thoughts interact with the material world, especially the brain, well, I’ll grant him that. But saying “goddidit” is no more a solution here than it is for the Big Bang or the appearance of life, and with much less justification, since unlike those historical questions we can actually see that changes in brain produce changes in mind (and vice-versa).

  48. #48 Ichthyic
    June 4, 2007

    To be clear, even if we grant Egnor his claim for the immateriality of concepts, and then take the huge, unjustified leap to some sort of substance dualism, that still doesn’t get him God. Even if there is a non-physical world in which thoughts, ideas, numbers, etc. reside, the existance of that world does not require a god to explain it, as it evidenced by the academic disciplines that study such things (such as mathematics, logic, semiotics, certain areas of linguistics, philosophy, and cognitive science).

    to summarize:

    Even if we grant Egnor his preconceptions and assumptions not based on evidence, his argument becomes indistinguishable from a standard god-of-the-gaps argument.

  49. #49 Greg Peterson
    June 4, 2007

    My favorite dig at dualism is, “The personality survives death the way 60 MPH survives the car crash.” Mind–the avitivities of the brain that include memory, intention, experience and the rest–are like that 60 MPH. It doesn’t have a right or left, either, because it is the name we give to the quality of an action. That doesn’t make it dependent on spooks.

  50. #50 Brian
    June 4, 2007

    Bilirubin and cholesterol are bile. Maybe he meant bile salts. In any case, any first year intern would have to know that, let alone a neurosurgeon.

  51. If Egnor were sitting alone in a room thinking, would we say that his thoughts are taking place outside of the room?

  52. #52 Tulse
    June 4, 2007

    To be clear, I think there are indeed profound questions about how objective matter produces subjective experience (it may be the hardest philosophical problem out there), and there are interesting philosophical issues involved in characterizing the nature of entities like numbers and concepts. But Egnor doesn’t really address those issues in any new or interesting way, and, as Ichthyic deftly summarizes, his arguments don’t get beyond the standard god-of-the-gaps.

  53. #53 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 4, 2007

    Tulse (#51):

    The production of subjective experience by objective matter “may be the hardest philosophical problem out there” because neither the answers nor the questions lie wholly or even primarily within the realm of philosophy. You can’t attack the problem without knowing biology — and, probably, big blocks of mathematics.

    One problem with creationists, besides their difficulties with truth and evidence, is that they’re not very compatible with subtlety. As soon as they can find a seeming contradiction, they shout “Godddidit!” and the conversation is over — whereas contradictions between preconceptions and reality are just where the conversation should begin. There’s wonderful debate to be had explaining how mind comes from matter and soul from flesh, but people like Egnor who obfuscate at the very first step of the discussion are not helping.

  54. #54 Randy Owens
    June 4, 2007

    Another question I’d like to ask Egnor, given the opportunity: If it’s quite impossible for purpose, intent, memory, etc. to arise from physical structures within the brain, where do “lower animals” get theirs from? Is he willing to grant souls to chimpanzees, dolphins, housecats, chickadees, crickets, tapeworms, anything at all with any nervous system? If not, how does he account for their apparent purpose and memory?

    And, if he suggests that the soul is tied to the nervous system somehow, does that mean an embryo/fetus has no soul until the nervous system develops enough to start conveying intent and purpose? And abortion up until this time is fine with him? (I don’t know whether he’s pro-/anti-choice, but I’ll take a guess he’s anti.)

  55. #55 Tulse
    June 4, 2007

    The production of subjective experience by objective matter “may be the hardest philosophical problem out there” because neither the answers nor the questions lie wholly or even primarily within the realm of philosophy. You can’t attack the problem without knowing biology — and, probably, big blocks of mathematics.

    Blake, I have to respectfully disagree — no amount of biological knowledge is going to get you to subjective experience, because such subjective experience is completely unnecessary to fully physically describe an organism’s actions. No amount of neuroscience is going to tell you what “red” looks like to me — you may know what pattern of neuronal firing is evoked in my brain by certain wavelengths of light, and that I say things like “that’s red!” when I see them, but no objective study will give you my experience. Subjective experiences and qualia are irrelevant for a complete description of my actions. (Imagine an alien biologist who did not believe humans had subjective experience, and whose own brains were made of green slime — what biological fact about humans could convince them that humans were conscious, and not just mindless robots?)

    So yes, consciousness, or at least how matter produced subjective experience, is a primarily philosophical problem, and no amount of fMRIs and neuroanatomy will provide any final answer.

  56. #56 CalGeorge
    June 4, 2007

    Um, okay, if my brain is not producing abstract concepts, who (or what) is?

    Would the culprit please stop implanting the phrase “Egnor is a demented fuckwit” into my head?

    It’s getting so that I don’t want to think about that twerp anymore.

  57. #57 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 4, 2007

    So yes, consciousness, or at least how matter produced subjective experience, is a primarily philosophical problem, and no amount of fMRIs and neuroanatomy will provide any final answer.

    My apologies for being unclear. I didn’t want to say that philosophy is irrelevant; I did want to state that the interesting philosophical questions are informed by and to some extent reliant upon physical, chemical, biological and mathematical knowledge. Sure, fMRIs won’t give a “final answer,” but they and similar tools are sure helpful in finding good questions to ask.

    People who try to short-circuit the entire discussion — and, incidentally, deny the very means of gaining new factual knowledge — get on my nerves. I qualia at the thought of what they’re trying to do to my civilization.

  58. #58 Science Avenger
    June 4, 2007

    I wonder if Egnor thinks the gods are responsible for computer viruses. They have no ‘location’, no weight, no dimension, no temperature. They have no properties of matter, and entail things like purpose and judgment.

    Seriously, it’s just another example of how scientists do science, and ID charlatans play pedantic word games.

  59. #59 The Physicist
    June 4, 2007

    Human biology, I do not claim to know, but Christian Biology goes like this:

    Agree/Disagree
    Man consists of three things.

    1) Body
    2) Spirit
    3) Soul

    The Body has a brain and a heart ect..
    The brain contains our consciousness which is our spirit. All living things have spirit, only humans have souls. The soul communicates to body by the spirit. Choices, free will and all that come from the spirit. Instincts come from the flesh, or DNA if you like, when the flesh comes in oposition to the soul the spirit warns the flesh.

    This is where feelings of guilt come from. Alter either the brain or the spirit, the communication becomes ragged at best. So in this argument one can become messed up by altering the brain and have no moral conscience or become completely alturistic.

    The brain gives us control over the body, but once it is messed up it may tell the body to go do anything.

    Those who reject the spirit are those who would be in judgement according to this biology. So, if you know something is wrong (sin) because the spirit is telling you it is wrong and you reject the spirit then you come under judgement.

    Short version.

  60. #60 Jason
    June 4, 2007

    Tulse,

    If biology (or science more broadly) can’t solve the problem of how physical processes can give rise to subjective experience, how can philosophy solve it?

  61. #61 ConcernedJoe
    June 4, 2007

    Wow — I am really glad I’m not as schooled as many of you above. You’re blowin my mind man!!

    Let a simple person ask you philosophy brainiacs a simple question (others above have also suggested such in various forms above – but I’ll add my version):

    Has anyone experimentally in verifiable way ever seen a thought manifest itself independent from a brain? I know the question is akward (sorry). I mean has anyone witnessed in a verifiable way a thought emmanate from a person without a brain or a dead person. I mean when you do .. I’ll believe there is something more to ponder here. Until such time .. there is no human-ness without a brain … but a brain (functioning as required) is sufficient for human-ness. That does it for me. I don’t need a god – nor anything else. The rest is just counting angels on the head of a pin. And to Egnor and those that need to have this discussion as if there is a real question here I say “a brain is a terrible thing to waste”

  62. #62 Don Olivier
    June 4, 2007

    Discussions of the “reality” of abstract concepts like this always bring me
    back to William Calvin’s

    “The Fate of the Soul”:

    “When life begins” is a phrase that already carries with it idea that the
    soul pops out of a starting gate at the moment the sperm enters the egg.

    That reminds on the importance of irony and ridicule for maintaining sanity in
    the face of politics and religion. Mark Twain did it best — we need him more
    than ever. Even Molly’s gone…

  63. #63 Randy Owens
    June 4, 2007

    The Physicist: OK, I must confess, this is one area I’ve been trying to work out sometimes, but still just don’t get. What’s the distinction between the spirit and the soul? Why is (according to the theology) the soul apparently held responsible (punished in Hell or rewarded in Heaven) for the actions/thoughts of the spirit, if they’re separate and disconnected? If they are connected, that introduces another layer of interaction that should need to be explained, just what influence the soul has over the spirit (or vice versa?). And where do spirits without souls, i.e. “mere animals”, get their corresponding influences from? Or if they don’t have corresponding influences, why is a soul necessary? (Besides the more pragmatic explanation of making us feel superior to other animals, and offering us a special place after death.) If it’d be more convenient to offer me a link instead of an explanation, by all means do. I’ve been looking for something of the sort.

  64. #64 Randy Owens
    June 4, 2007

    P.S. I am reading Don Olivier’s link above; I’ll see what I take away from that. Any more links or explanation would still be appreciated, though.

  65. #65 Kseniya
    June 4, 2007

    Randy,

    FWIW

    * Spirit = the breath, the animating force
    * Soul = eternal “self” (consciousness)

    Google/wiki etc for more detail.

  66. #66 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    Blake, I have to respectfully disagree — no amount of biological knowledge is going to get you to subjective experience, because such subjective experience is completely unnecessary to fully physically describe an organism’s actions. No amount of neuroscience is going to tell you what “red” looks like to me — you may know what pattern of neuronal firing is evoked in my brain by certain wavelengths of light, and that I say things like “that’s red!” when I see them, but no objective study will give you my experience. Subjective experiences and qualia are irrelevant for a complete description of my actions. (Imagine an alien biologist who did not believe humans had subjective experience, and whose own brains were made of green slime — what biological fact about humans could convince them that humans were conscious, and not just mindless robots?)

    The question you brought up was “understanding how material phenemena give rise to subjective experiences,” not “giving you my experience.” The former is manifestly an empirical question; the latter is admittedly not. They are not the same question.

  67. #67 carmelian
    June 4, 2007

    thoughts have no location exactly like a specific part of a computer PROGRAM doesn’t necessarily have an exact location in the hardware.

  68. #68 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “Neuroscience is building up a detailed picture of our minds, our consciousness, our selves as the products of purely material agents”

    You’re a little behind the times here PZ. This picture of the mind gets progressivly more problematic unless you are a priori commited to the conclusion at the outset.

    Why do you keep acting in the same ways you accuse YEC’s of acting ?

  69. #69 Norman Doering
    June 4, 2007

    carmelian wrote:

    thoughts have no location exactly like a specific part of a computer PROGRAM doesn’t necessarily have an exact location in the hardware.

    That’s true, but you’re implying there is no location when there is one. Programs and even parts of programs (like C functions) can be located in both RAM and on the harddisk file — they actually do have physical locations. But so do the neurons that make up specific functions in the brain. That’s why both brains (like in “The Man who Mistook his wife for a Hat”) and computers can start behaving weirdly if those physical locations are damaged.

    You don’t want to imply there is no physical location or else you’ll get Deepak Chopra claiming the mind is outside the body.

  70. #70 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “What we’re going to get is ever more stupid, illogical, and fact-free rationalizations for their religious presuppositions”

    Well yeah, but if you’d catch on the philosophy of mind you’d stop doing it while pushing your religion PZ.

  71. #71 Norman Doering
    June 4, 2007

    The Sci Phi Show wrote:

    This picture of the mind gets progressivly more problematic unless you are a priori commited to the conclusion at the outset.

    Says who?

    Are you aware of the Blue Brain project, an attempt to reverse-engineer the mammalian brain? They’re creating a biologically accurate, functional model of the brain using IBM’s Blue Gene supercomputer. In 2006 the Blue Brain project reached an important milestone, a proof of principle that the brain can be simulated at the cellular level. It’s all as PZ says: “Neuroscience is building up a detailed picture of our minds, our consciousness, our selves as the products of purely material agents”

    I stole that above paragraph from my own blog post, “Weird Science: More Chopra woo-woo,” after stealing most of it from the blue brain website.

  72. #72 Zarquon
    June 4, 2007

    This picture of the mind gets progressivly more problematic unless you are a priori commited to the conclusion at the outset.

    No it doesn’t. You have no idea what you’re talking about.

  73. #73 The Physicist
    June 4, 2007

    The Physicist: OK, I must confess, this is one area I’ve been trying to work out sometimes, but still just don’t get. What’s the distinction between the spirit and the soul? Why is (according to the theology) the soul apparently held responsible (punished in Hell or rewarded in Heaven) for the actions/thoughts of the spirit, if they’re separate and disconnected?

    Man, you guys are asking some good questions, now I can only give you the basics from my reading, some questions I don’t think any one knows, but let explain this one the best I know without going into a bunch of theological background.

    The soul is a gift to mankind from God, placed there at conception, this does not happen in animals. This soul is left to the good keeping of the person who receives it. The soul was given so that a person could live forever with God. I may add there is two way communication between the spirit and soul. The spirit can darken the soul and the soul can enlighten the spirit. So as the spirit continually rejects the soul (what it was designed to be, with God) the soul darkens.

    This is the dulling of conscience, when people do something or see something done for so long the soul becomes dark as well. Now I would not be presumptuous enough to say what hell is other than separation from God. No one really knows, just as they don’t know what heaven is except living in the presence of God.

    I am trying to do this without preaching to anyone, I am just explaining my understanding of the theology.

  74. #74 John Morales
    June 4, 2007

    The final sentence of this post illustrates the extent to which religious terminology is embedded in the English language. Damn!

  75. #75 Science Avenger
    June 4, 2007

    You’ll have to forgive Rennie (The Sci Fi Show). He’s from the Deepak Chopra School: ignore scientific answers to tough questions, because it’s more enlightened to just keep asking the questions.

  76. #76 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    A few of the ancient Greeks recognized that minds could not be immaterial things. Saying that neuroscience is going to blow the lid off of souls is silly – rudimentary logic and some experience of the world is all that’s needed, and it happened thousands of years ago – but souls are still going strong.

    People recognized that the traditional concept of God is nonsense thousands of years ago, too, and it’s still around.

  77. #77 David Marjanovi?
    June 4, 2007

    It is completely true that Buddhists are happier. The meditating they do produces NO in their brains, and that NO makes them happier and healthier.

    Nitrogen monoxide?

    Do you realize what you are saying about Viagra?!?

    I ever say how much i hate philosophers that forget to check their blather against real-world data?

    But… but… if they did that, they wouldn’t be philosophers any longer. They’d be scientists.

    The production of subjective experience by objective matter “may be the hardest philosophical problem out there” because neither the answers nor the questions lie wholly or even primarily within the realm of philosophy.

    Bingo.

    — what biological fact about humans could convince them that humans were conscious, and not just mindless robots?

    Here we are back at the problem of artificial intelligence. Not that I had a lot of opinion about that, but you simply assume here that AI is impossible. Why do you start by assuming what could be your conclusion? Maybe it’s not a philosophical but a purely technical question whether robots are necessarily mindless, or whether the term “mindless” even makes sense in the first place.

    (Remember who solved the paradox of Achilles and the turtle. Not the philosophers.)

  78. #78 David Marjanovi?
    June 4, 2007

    It is completely true that Buddhists are happier. The meditating they do produces NO in their brains, and that NO makes them happier and healthier.

    Nitrogen monoxide?

    Do you realize what you are saying about Viagra?!?

    I ever say how much i hate philosophers that forget to check their blather against real-world data?

    But… but… if they did that, they wouldn’t be philosophers any longer. They’d be scientists.

    The production of subjective experience by objective matter “may be the hardest philosophical problem out there” because neither the answers nor the questions lie wholly or even primarily within the realm of philosophy.

    Bingo.

    — what biological fact about humans could convince them that humans were conscious, and not just mindless robots?

    Here we are back at the problem of artificial intelligence. Not that I had a lot of opinion about that, but you simply assume here that AI is impossible. Why do you start by assuming what could be your conclusion? Maybe it’s not a philosophical but a purely technical question whether robots are necessarily mindless, or whether the term “mindless” even makes sense in the first place.

    (Remember who solved the paradox of Achilles and the turtle. Not the philosophers.)

  79. #79 The Physicist
    June 4, 2007

    The final sentence of this post illustrates the extent to which religious terminology is embedded in the English language. Damn!

    Posted by: John Morales |

    I think everyone knows I am a Christian (RCC), but just in case I don’t want anyone to be confused. You guys don’t like the “religious right”, but I despise them and would crush them if I could. I don’t despise atheism that does not have dogmatic principles, which they never would have if the RR would save people through Jesus and not damn political power. The RR created “dogmatic atheism”.

    Dogmatic atheism: a political movement to stamp out all Christianity.

    Religious right: Those who wish to create the Kingdom of God by force of law and political power.

  80. #80 Ichthyic
    June 4, 2007

    But… but… if they did that, they wouldn’t be philosophers any longer. They’d be scientists.

    touche.

  81. #81 Norman Doering
    June 4, 2007

    Caledonian wrote:

    People recognized that the traditional concept of God is nonsense thousands of years ago, too, and it’s still around.

    Yea, but they didn’t have genetic engineering and hadn’t got as far as we have in understanding the brain.

  82. #82 ConcernedJoe
    June 4, 2007

    Wow — quite a few “god-of-the-gap”‘ers out there on this one.

    I ask what is darn complicated …

    It takes a brain (or reasonable substitute) to make thought … Got evidence to contrary?!?!?

    Computers (generically said – don’t play semantics) are getting more thoughtful… way I see it at the present rate of progression maybe in my lifetime computers will exhibit a lot of human-ness if not more than many of us

    And computers can even built themselves and follow evolution principles and mechanisms to improve fitness etc…. no we do not even have to play creator forever with them

    My point. thoughts and all that abstract stuff need no woo woo … it is all physical

    PZ is right on — but not because it is like a religion to him — no it is just recognizing how the evidence presents itself in the real world (not the abstract woo woo world)

    Guys to the contrary please give evidence of something other than physical stuff at work … NOT just gaps in knowledge .. to state the contrary please. Else I give up…. to argue woo woo is a terible waste of time.

  83. #83 Jason
    June 4, 2007

    ThePhysicist,

    How can this immaterial spirit or soul interact with the matter in our brain or body to influence our behavior and yet be undetectable using the methods of science?

  84. #84 ferfuracious
    June 4, 2007

    “It was a first strike against truth by dogma, and we’ve been fighting this one for over a century.”

    Shouldn’t that be ‘against dogma by truth’?

  85. #85 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    Let’s ask that question slightly differently.

    How can a thing which is capable of interacting with our material bodies not be material itself?

  86. #86 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    Joe, from a similarly lay perspective I think what we’re witnessing here is in large part a collision of worldviews, namely Rationalism (in simple formulation, the premise that “truth” can be determined primary or wholly by reason) vs. Empiricism (in simple formulation, the premise that “truth” can only be reliably determined by observation). Some of the methods of Rationalism, so far as I can see, are useful for processing and making sense of empirical data, but simply thinking about things that are held to exist outside of human minds (unlike, say, definitions of terms or relationships between conceptual models) doesn’t generally produce useful or true beliefs, without corrective reference to observations of real instances of the things being thought about (this is why the scientific method works for studying the real world and armchair philosophy doesn’t). Reliance on Rationalism seems to lead to a phenomenon I’ve dubbed the “Bumblebee Effect” (in honor of the apocryphal story about a scientist or engineer, depending on the telling, who supposedly “proved” mathematically that bumblebees are physically incapable of flight), in which people tend to posit and adhere to conclusions reached through armchair-philosophy even when the contradictions of those conclusions are staring them right in the face. An extreme version of this, especially when coupled to a habit of drawing premises directly from and “correctively” comparing conclusions to–abstract religious doctrine, is commonly called “creationism.”

  87. #87 The Physicist
    June 4, 2007

    ThePhysicist,

    How can this immaterial spirit or soul interact with the matter in our brain or body to influence our behavior and yet be undetectable using the methods of science?

    Posted by: Jason

    You are asking me how something undetectable by humans, works with humans. I don’t know.

  88. #88 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    C’mon, Askyroth, that formulation of Rationalism vs. Empiricism is so 18th century. We’ve recognized that the two are unified quite some time ago.

    What we’re actually dealing with is Faith vs. Reason. Egnor and friends believe certain prepositions on faith, and attempt to construct rational-sounding arguments that superficially justify those conclusions.

  89. #89 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    You are asking me how something undetectable by humans, works with humans. I don’t know.

    But humans DO detect souls. Souls are supposed to influence our actions, remember? And somehow change to include memories of the things we do. So not only do souls direct bodies, bodies direct souls.

    What evidence do you have that this takes place?

  90. #90 Jess
    June 4, 2007

    My neuroscience degree and I only have one thing to say: SHUT UP, EGNOR, JUST SHUT UP.

    How can he be so totally, utterly, blindingly, blisteringly ignorant? Anyone could do a PubMed search for altruism and come up with oceans of neuroscience research on the topic. A search for “altruism and fMRI” will turn up papers that have located the areas of the brain predominantly responsible for altruism (including the posterior superior temporal cortex, mesencephalic dopaminergic reward pathways, the nucleus accumbens, the caudate nucleus, the ventromedial frontal/orbitofrontal cortex and the rostral anterior cingulate cortex).

    These seem like LOCATIONS to me, and they’re not three inches from the edge of the table in any way.

  91. #91 The Physicist
    June 4, 2007

    Let’s ask that question slightly differently.

    How can a thing which is capable of interacting with our material bodies not be material itself?

    Posted by: Caledonian

    I never said it wasn’t material, there are a lot things material that used to be undetectable. But then again I did not say is was material, because I don’t know.

  92. #92 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    I never said it wasn’t material, there are a lot things material that used to be undetectable.

    No. There are many material things that we didn’t know how to detect. There have never been any material things that were undetectable.

    The term is being used in its formal, universal sense. Just because you or I, or our ancestors, did not know how to do a thing doesn’t mean it cannot be done.

    But then again I did not say is was material, because I don’t know.

    So what DO you know, and how do you know it?

  93. #93 The Physicist
    June 4, 2007

    But humans DO detect souls. Souls are supposed to influence our actions, remember? And somehow change to include memories of the things we do. So not only do souls direct bodies, bodies direct souls.

    What evidence do you have that this takes place?

    Posted by: Caledonian

    I was asked how it works, tell me what does dark matter look like? I don’t know how it works. I have a DVD player and I don’t know how it works either, but it does. The designer of the DVD player knows exactly how it works.

  94. #94 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    I’m not sure why you think neuroscience is so far along.

    To make the case that is trying to be made about the triumph of some sort of reductionist functionalism to explain the operations of the mind requires that the first person public experience of consiousness can be explained as an entirely third person public experience.

    They are a long way from managing to do that in fine detail.

    Consciousness is not proving as reducible as the functionalists hoped. Dualism continues to raise its head in many different forms, be it the old style cartesian dualism or the emergent dualism of someone like William Hasker.

    And frankly the interactionist problem that has been alluded to isn’t really that much of a problem. Clearly if there is reason to think that dualism is true, then they do interact somehow and it is simply an open question to be solved, not a defeater for dualism.

    Unless you are prepared to throw out Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity as well, because they suffer from essentially the same sort of problem.

  95. #95 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    I can see that DVD players work. Even more easily, I can see that they exist.

    How will you demonstrate that souls exist, and that they do what you say they do?

  96. #96 The Physicist
    June 4, 2007

    So what DO you know, and how do you know it?

    Posted by: Caledonian |

    You are just pulling my leg. What did he know and when did he know it.

  97. #97 Ichthyic
    June 4, 2007

    To make the case that is trying to be made about the triumph of some sort of reductionist functionalism to explain the operations of the mind requires that the first person public experience of consiousness can be explained as an entirely third person public experience.

    so, to explain how the mind works at all, we have to explain the nebulous term of “consciousness” first?

    that’s a goddamn ridiculous premise, and you know it.

  98. #98 The Physicist
    June 4, 2007

    How will you demonstrate that souls exist, and that they do what you say they do?

    I never intended to demonstrate anything of the sort, someone asked a question and I explained the theology. I am not try to convert you, I don’t care. I was trying to educate you on a theology that exists. And how can you say, that science will never be able to detect a soul?

  99. #99 PZ Myers
    June 4, 2007

    The interactionist problem is a problem, because if the supernatural can interface with the natural, that means we have a detectable material phenomenon…which has not been detected. Not even by the proponents of said supernatural agents, which makes their claims most dubious.

  100. #100 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    You are just pulling my leg.

    No, those are the requirements for a rational discussion. You’ve made your claims, now provide us with a justification for them.

    We don’t care so much what theology says as what theology offers to support its claims. No support? Then it doesn’t matter what’s claimed.

  101. #101 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “so, to explain how the mind works at all, we have to explain the nebulous term of “consciousness” first?”

    No, to offer the sort of complete reductionist understanding of mind that PZ seems so hopeful in getting you need to be able to account for 1st private experience like consiousness in entirely third person public terms.

    I’d settle for an account of qualia that doesn’t simply dismiss them like Dennett does.

    You can understand all you want about the operation of the brain, but that will ultimately be insuffient to demonstrate functionalism if it fails to make good on the promise to explain 1st person private experience in entirely third person public terms.

  102. #102 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    The deeper problem with the concept of the ‘supernatural’ is that it requires a priori ideas about what phenomena are natural. It dates to a time when ‘natural’ meant a small set of phenomena that people were familiar with and thought were normal, and anything outside of that, anything exceptional, was automatically classified as supernatural.

    Scientists adjust their understanding of the natural world to match their observations. They can observe things that didn’t fit in their previous understandings, but they can never observe something ‘supernatural’, because the fact that it happened in the natural world means that it was natural.

    Science does not permit the concept of the supernatural at all.

  103. #103 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    I’d settle for an account of qualia that doesn’t simply dismiss them like Dennett does.

    I’d settle for a coherent explanation of what qualia, the phenomena that we’re supposed to explain, are. What phenomena, exactly?

  104. #104 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “The interactionist problem is a problem”

    To a point, but only an open question, not as a defeater for some sort of substance dualism.

    “because if the supernatural can interface with the natural, that means we have a detectable material phenomenon…which has not been detected.”

    How do you know this ? Could you point to the experiments that have sought this out please ?

    You seem to be unaware of recent research that points to the ability of the will and the mind to influence the configuration of the brain. This is a serious problem for reductionist accounts of mind, and is evidence for mind brain interaction.

    Or doesn’t this count for some ad hoc reason ?

  105. #105 llewelly
    June 4, 2007

    I’ve dubbed the “Bumblebee Effect” (in honor of the apocryphal story about a scientist or engineer, depending on the telling, who supposedly “proved” mathematically that bumblebees are physically incapable of flight),

    In some versions, the ‘proof that a bumblebee can’t fly’ came from a Boeing engineer, who was explicitly discussing the limitations of certain widespread (in the aerospace industry) models of flight, and who used the bumblebee to show those models were capable of producing obviously wrong results.
    If that version is accurate, you’ve turned the original example’s meaning around 180 degrees.

  106. #106 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “I’d settle for a coherent explanation of what qualia, the phenomena that we’re supposed to explain, are. What phenomena, exactly?”

    The “something that it is like” aspect of experience.

    What is hard about that ?

    The experience of pain, the experience of colour, the experience of feelings etc.

    And no, pointing to a correlation between a brain state and a mental experience is not the same as showing causation.

  107. #107 The Physicist
    June 4, 2007

    The interactionist problem is a problem, because if the supernatural can interface with the natural, that means we have a detectable material phenomenon…which has not been detected. Not even by the proponents of said supernatural agents, which makes their claims most dubious.

    Posted by: PZ Myers

    Yes, it does seem that way from the perspective of an atheist, and an understandable (rational from perspective) one as well.

  108. #108 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “Science does not permit the concept of the supernatural at all.”

    Then you should point out to PZ that his claims of science getting rid of the soul, where the soul is supposedly inherently supernatural, is impossible, because you are defining it in a way that excludes the possibility by fiat.

    You can do this if you like, but you do need to be consistent on that point. Even Dawkins has abandoned this conception of science.

  109. #109 PZ Myers
    June 4, 2007

    Ummm, you’re the one asserting the existence of a supernatural effect on the material mechanisms of the brain. You’re the one that’s supposed to dazzle us with the evidence.

    The ability for activity in the brain, that is the mind, to modify activity in the brain certainly is not a problem for reductionist views of how the brain works. It’s pretty much basic to most explanations, and has been around for a long, long time. I presume you’ve heard of Hebbian models of synapse regulation?

  110. #110 llewelly
    June 4, 2007

    How can a thing which is capable of interacting with our material bodies not be material itself?

    I’ve encountered any number individuals who are very sure that radio waves and electricity are not material. I tell them to microwave some food, or stick the contacts of a 9-volt battery on their tongue, but somehow this fails to convince.

  111. #111 Norman Doering
    June 4, 2007

    Ichthyic wrote:

    …so, to explain how the mind works at all, we have to explain the nebulous term of “consciousness” first?

    that’s a goddamn ridiculous premise, and you know it.

    While “The Sci Phi Show” is full Chopra-woo-woo and a very confused person, (who will soon be telling us about the Chinese Room I assume) we actually do have to explain nebulous terms like “consciousness,” but NOT necessarily first.

    Marvin Minsky, the patron saint of A.I., says we should consider “consciousness” to be a suitcase term. You have to open it up and unpack it. Then you look at its component parts. For example, is consciousness possible without any form of memory? No, it’s not — but memory alone isn’t consciousness, but it is a necessary part of it.

  112. #112 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “Ummm, you’re the one asserting the existence of a supernatural effect on the material mechanisms of the brain. You’re the one that’s supposed to dazzle us with the evidence.”

    Why ? I can note that you are the person claiming that the first person private experience of consiousness is reducible to the third person public operation of the brain. That is an audacious claim that has not been demonstrated. Why should such a broad and radical claim that is at odds with experience be assumed to be the default position ?

    “The ability for activity in the brain, that is the mind, to modify activity in the brain certainly is not a problem for reductionist views of how the brain works.”

    The action of the will operating to effect the brain in a non-deterministic fashion is a problem because your account of mind is unavoidably deterministic (barring random noise in the system, which is irrelevant for the purposes of discussion because random noise is not will). Any observed non-determinism that cannot be reduced to some sort of suitably deterministic understanding is fatal to the functionalist enterprise.

    “I presume you’ve heard of Hebbian models of synapse regulation?”

    I have now, but they do not seem directly relevant to the question at hand. They would be a deterministic mechanism.

  113. #113 The Physicist
    June 4, 2007

    Ummm, you’re the one asserting the existence of a supernatural effect on the material mechanisms of the brain.>/i>

    PZ, I don’t think you were addressing me, but if so I never asserted any such thing.

  114. #114 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “(who will soon be telling us about the Chinese Room I assume)”

    Why are you planning to simply dismiss John Searle’s argument out of hand ?

    Such behaviorism as a dismissal of the chinese room demonstrates is the truly confused position.

    Marvin Minsky’s work is interesting, I enjoyed the sample chapters of the emotion machine I read.

  115. #115 Norman Doering
    June 4, 2007

    Are you serious PZ?

    I actually presume that “The Sci Phi Show” has NOT heard of Hebbian models of synapse regulation.

    Isn’t that level of explanation a little to detailed for him?

    Maybe it’s just too detailed for me? But it seems like there’s a lot of room between a biophysical model of electrical and Ca(2+) dynamics following activation of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors located on a dendritic spine and an explanation of consciousness.

    It would take several encyclopedias worth of books to cross that distance.

  116. #116 PZ Myers
    June 4, 2007

    If it’s deterministic or if it’s noise doesn’t matter; molecular interactions and noise are both phenomena that have been demonstrated. If you want to propose a completely novel input to the brain, you’re the one obligated to provide supporting evidence. Otherwise, we’ll have people babbling that it’s ghosts, radio waves from Mars, the influence of the zodiac, or demons. I stick with what we know.

    And wait a minute — you’ve just asserted that for the activity of the brain to affect the activity of the brain is a fatal problem for reductionism, and this is the first you’ve heard of Hebbian synapses? That’s an admission that you haven’t even examined the most elementary models of neuroscience.

  117. #117 Randy Owens
    June 4, 2007

    The Sci Phi Show:

    “The interactionist problem is a problem”
    To a point, but only an open question, not as a defeater for some sort of substance dualism.

    So, it’s just fine if your God/theology is full of gaps, but any gaps left by science to date must be filled by God? That’s not cricket.

  118. #118 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “If it’s deterministic or if it’s noise doesn’t matter; molecular interactions and noise are both phenomena that have been demonstrated.”

    Yes but neither are compatible with a non-deterministic manifestation of will.

    “If you want to propose a completely novel input to the brain, you’re the one obligated to provide supporting evidence.”

    I did. I pointed to observed changes in brain behavior in response to action of the will.

    “And wait a minute — you’ve just asserted that for the activity of the brain to affect the activity of the brain is a fatal problem for reductionism”

    No I didn’t, that conclusion is begging the question.

    “and this is the first you’ve heard of Hebbian synapses? That’s an admission that you haven’t even examined the most elementary models of neuroscience.”

    I follow the philosophy of mind, which is the relevant field for such questions. Anytime i’ve looked at the claims of the neuroscientists they beg the question as you do here.

  119. #119 Norman Doering
    June 4, 2007

    The Sci Phi Show asked:

    Why are you planning to simply dismiss John Searle’s argument out of hand ?

    I wasn’t planning to dismiss it. I was planning to inform you that you are living in the Chinese Room and you don’t understand the “Chinese world” outside your box any more than the man in Searle’s room and that the way you can understand it is the same way the man in the room can learn Chinese. It’s called science.

  120. #120 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “So, it’s just fine if your God/theology is full of gaps, but any gaps left by science to date must be filled by God? That’s not cricket.”

    I didn’t say that, I don’t know what gave you that impression apart from your own bigotry and presupposition.

    All I said was that if you claim to dismiss dualism because of the interactionist problem, then you would need to dismiss Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity as well because they have a similar sort of interactionist problem.

    They are simply open questions, not defeaters in either case. Where you think theology entered the question is a mystery to me.

  121. #121 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “It’s called science”

    Which you seem to understand questionably well.

    You seem to confuse materialist philosophy for science. It is a common misunderstanding.

  122. #122 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    The “something that it is like” aspect of experience.

    What is hard about that ?

    The experience of pain, the experience of colour, the experience of feelings etc.

    Information processed by different parts of the brain. When queried by other parts, those parts divulge information. That’s all “experiences” are. That’s why I can remember “what it is like” to see the color red – I simply reference the modules that respond when certain neurons are activated.

    Destroy those modules, incidentally, and we lose the ability to remember “what it is like” to see, as well as the ability to see itself.

  123. #123 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    Then you should point out to PZ that his claims of science getting rid of the soul, where the soul is supposedly inherently supernatural, is impossible, because you are defining it in a way that excludes the possibility by fiat.

    This is inanely stupid. It’s the traditional, religious concept of “soul” which science excludes.

    In terms of ruling out additional physical entities which contribute to mental processing, yes, science is quite close to actually producing a coherent and complete explanation for precisely how thought works – and that would rule out additional entities.

  124. #124 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    All I said was that if you claim to dismiss dualism because of the interactionist problem, then you would need to dismiss Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity as well because they have a similar sort of interactionist problem.

    Except… not.

    We know QM and Gen. Rev. work in their respective domains, and there’s a need for each. We do not yet possess a Grand Unified Theory, but we know it exists and work to figure out what it is.

    There has never been any need for dual models when dealing with minds, and no dualistic model has ever worked. The Chinese Room example hinges on the unwillingness of the postulator to admit a possibility.

    1) Thought experiment
    2) Postulator finds conclusion of experiment intuitively unsatisfying
    3) Postulator concludes that the conclusion must be wrong

    That’s not quality reasoning.

  125. #125 The Physicist
    June 4, 2007

    In terms of ruling out additional physical entities which contribute to mental processing, yes, science is quite close to actually producing a coherent and complete explanation for precisely how thought works – and that would rule out additional entities.

    Posted by: Caledonian

    “quite close”

    Well let’s wait, I got plenty of time.

  126. #126 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    Not as much as you think. Basic logic suffices to rule out your supernatural soul, “The Physicist”. The evidence and logic combined rule out any natural entities with the properties you’ve described.

  127. #127 Norman Doering
    June 4, 2007

    “It’s called science”

    Which you seem to understand questionably well.

    You seem to confuse materialist philosophy for science. It is a common misunderstanding.

    This from a guy who only uses only “philosophy of mind” to understand brains, who ignores the first basics of neuroscience, like Hebbian synapses and I’d even assume basic neural theory, and who’s head is full of Chopra-woo-woo. Talk about irony.

  128. #128 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    Perhaps Sci Phi could offer us an example of something which science acknowledges both exists and is immaterial.

    After all, he claims Norman’s remarks are just ‘materialist philosophy’. Perhaps he could go one better and provide us with the definition science uses to distinguish between material and immaterial things.

  129. #129 The Physicist
    June 4, 2007

    Not as much as you think. Basic logic suffices to rule out your supernatural soul, “The Physicist”. The evidence and logic combined rule out any natural entities with the properties you’ve described.

    Posted by: Caledonian

    Put your pride a side I got no beef with science, I am a physicist. Show me any physical evidence of string theory. I got know emotional problem with it, because there is no evidence. And why are scientists exempt from the this same criticism from atheist’s as theologians are not?

  130. #130 windy
    June 4, 2007

    The experience of pain, the experience of colour, the experience of feelings etc.
    And no, pointing to a correlation between a brain state and a mental experience is not the same as showing causation.

    How about hooking up a few electrodes in the brain and producing the experience on demand? Reproducing pain and basic emotions would be trivial exercises nowadays, if the use of human subjects was not restricted by rules and custom. Perhaps you could volunteer.

  131. #131 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “This is inanely stupid. It’s the traditional, religious concept of “soul” which science excludes.”

    If it is excluded by being outside the bounds of what science can include then it is outside the bounds of what science can exclude as well. You can’t have it both ways.

    Though such double minded dishonest seems to be sadly the norm.

    Either the idea of a soul can be explored scientifically, in which case you cannot claim it is outside the bounds of science and is appropriate for use in a scientific explanation, or it cannot be explored scientifically, in which case you cannot claim that science shows that no such thing exists because it is outside the scope of what science can investigate.

    You can have it one way or the other, but not both.

    So is the idea of an immaterial soul inherently beyond the scope of science or not ? But if it is, don’t claim that science shows it doesn’t exist. It couldn’t even do that in principle in such a case.

  132. #132 The Physicist
    June 4, 2007

    Perhaps Sci Phi could offer us an example of something which science acknowledges both exists and is immaterial.

    My opinions are mine and not his, but perhaps you should take a peek into Quantum theory.

  133. #133 Randy Owens
    June 4, 2007

    The Sci Phi Show:

    All I said was that if you claim to dismiss dualism because of the interactionist problem, then you would need to dismiss Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity as well because they have a similar sort of interactionist problem.

    Well, considering it’s well known that at least one or the other, almost certainly both, must be, not so much discarded as superceded, in much the same way that Newtonian gravity was superceded by general relativity, due to the way they break down in various domains: That’s fine by me, I don’t have a problem with that at all. Consider dualism dismissed.

  134. #134 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “How about hooking up a few electrodes in the brain and producing the experience on demand?”

    That would not demonstrate what you want it too. You are just showing a correlation between two things by doing this not that they are identical. If you are going to claim that mind and brain are identical you need to do more than just show a correlation between the two.

    Surely this must be obvious ?

  135. #135 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    If it is excluded by being outside the bounds of what science can include then it is outside the bounds of what science can exclude as well. You can’t have it both ways.

    Dishonest argumentation. You’re conflating the traditional religious concept – which science rejects definitionally – with the scientifically-permitted concept – which science has ruled out with evidence.

    What you’re doing is called “equivocation” – changing the meaning of terms used without announcing the fact.

  136. #136 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    C’mon, Askyroth, that formulation of Rationalism vs. Empiricism is so 18th century. We’ve recognized that the two are unified quite some time ago.

    So one would think, but there are still people here arguing either that “philosophy” can resolve questions about the nature of the mind without recourse to scientific observation, or something alarmingly close to it.

  137. #137 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    So is the idea of an immaterial soul inherently beyond the scope of science or not ? But if it is, don’t claim that science shows it doesn’t exist. It couldn’t even do that in principle in such a case.

    The idea of an immaterial soul that exists is logically contradictory, when we use the definitions of science.

    The idea of a material soul (that “The Physicist” seems reluctant to exclude) has not be shown to be necessary to explain observations – and has thus far been totally unnecessary. As far as science is concerned, it doesn’t exist, either.

  138. #138 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    Um…

    To make the case that is trying to be made about the triumph of some sort of reductionist functionalism to explain the operations of the mind requires that the first person public experience of consiousness can be explained as an entirely third person public experience.

    Does this sentence actually mean something? O.o

  139. #139 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “Perhaps Sci Phi could offer us an example of something which science acknowledges both exists and is immaterial.”

    Numbers ? A creator to the universe ? Will ?

    I don’t have a problem with the idea that science is restricted to working only on material things. Not a problem at all. But if science is limited to only material things then it is incapable by definition of passing judgement on things that are immaterial. If science cannot investigate the possibility of a soul because such a thing is immaterial, then you cannot say that science shows that such a thing does not exist.

    All I want is logical consistency here. I know it will not be half as useful if you do that, but I don’t think it is an unreasonable expectation. Although apparently it is to some.

  140. #140 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    So one would think, but there are still people here arguing either that “philosophy” can resolve questions about the nature of the mind without recourse to scientific observation, or something alarmingly close to it.

    They’re arguing from canonical reference, something science rejects. “Philosophy” can do nothing without observation, and without observation of external physical phenomena, it can draw conclusions only about internal interactions.

    Pure logic, by itself, is surprisingly useless.

  141. #141 Randy Owens
    June 4, 2007

    The Sci Phi Show: Please don’t try using that slight-of-hand of mixing up “science” the process with “science” meaning what we’ve learned from the process so far. I think it’s pretty clear that Caledonian meant that what we’ve learned so far excludes the sould. But science, the process, could include the soul, if such existed.

  142. #142 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “The idea of an immaterial soul that exists is logically contradictory, when we use the definitions of science.”

    Thus shows the limitations of the “Definitions of science”.

    That was my point. PZ claims that science shows the soul does not exist

    “neuroscience is going to blow away concepts of the soul and the afterlife”

    But this would mean that science can examine an immaterial concept like a soul. Can it or can’t it ?

  143. #143 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    It is entirely possible that human minds could require something more than brains to work – for example, they could be intercepting a radio transmission from an external source, and we could call this the “soul”.

    Such a soul would be entirely subject to scientific investigation.

    The problem is that people don’t want “souls” to be subject to scientific investigation, and they assign it properties accordingly. But the properties necessary for science not to be able to study a thing even in principle are not compatible with existence. By ruling out our ability to study souls, in principle if not necessarily in practice at the present time, people deny that souls exist. They just don’t realize it.

    This is mostly because people want to justify their beliefs, and so don’t bother examining the consequences of the assertions they make.

  144. #144 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “Dishonest argumentation. You’re conflating the traditional religious concept – which science rejects definitionally – with the scientifically-permitted concept – which science has ruled out with evidence.”

    I’ve done nothing of the sort. If science cannot speak to the idea of an immaterial soul because such things are outside the scope of science then PZ’s claim at the start about neuroscience overturning such things is false.

    I agree with you science has shown that the soul is not something that is material that is located in some part of the brain. Big surprise, that should have been obvious from the starting point.

    “What you’re doing is called “equivocation” – changing the meaning of terms used without announcing the fact.”

    I’ve changed the meaning of nothing. I’m noting that PZ wants to equivocate on the idea mind/soul as it suits him.

  145. #145 The Physicist
    June 4, 2007

    Sci-fi guy, it gets better than that we can see things that do not exist by changing quantum states of things. Most Evolutionists are not quite up on quantum physics, but by using science we can measure a lot of things that don’t exist as matter or its subsiderary. It is called changing quantum states.

  146. #146 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    “neuroscience is going to blow away concepts of the soul and the afterlife”

    But this would mean that science can examine an immaterial concept like a soul. Can it or can’t it ?

    More equivocation.

    Science can examine concepts just fine. But they’re not immaterial.

    Science cannot examine immaterial things, because those things do not exist.

    Religious believers sometimes cling to the belief that humans have souls that are physical and real, but neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and mathematics has shown there is no need to resort to the soul hypothesis. The soul is a concept only, a concept with no real referent.

  147. #147 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “The problem is that people don’t want “souls” to be subject to scientific investigation, and they assign it properties accordingly. But the properties necessary for science not to be able to study a thing even in principle are not compatible with existence.”

    Only if you assume some variety of materialism is true at the outset. Of course that would beg the question and to call that “Science” is to confuse materialist philosophy with science.

  148. #148 Norman Doering
    June 4, 2007

    The Sci Phi Show asked:

    But this would mean that science can examine an immaterial concept like a soul. Can it or can’t it ?

    We can take what you claim the soul does and demonstrate how it is really a physical organ that does it. Do you want to claim the soul has memory? We’ll show you how memory works in the physical brain, how than memory is destroyed by certain kinds of brain damage, how it can be modeled with artificial neural nets, etc..

    So, what do you claim that the soul does?

    If the soul does nothing — then nothing can be said of it by anyone. It can’t even be said to exist.

  149. #149 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “Science cannot examine immaterial things, because those things do not exist.”

    That is simply assuming that materialist ideology is true. do so if you like, but don’t expect me to regard it as something other than an assertion of your pet ideology.

  150. #150 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    Only if you assume some variety of materialism is true at the outset. Of course that would beg the question and to call that “Science” is to confuse materialist philosophy with science.

    You think it makes a difference what name we use to refer to reality? We can call it ‘material’ or immaterial’ as we please. A rose by any other name…

    You’re the one who seems a bit confused about the nature of science. Here, tell us what the scientific standard is for declaring something immaterial.

  151. #151 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    In some versions, the ‘proof that a bumblebee can’t fly’ came from a Boeing engineer, who was explicitly discussing the limitations of certain widespread (in the aerospace industry) models of flight, and who used the bumblebee to show those models were capable of producing obviously wrong results. If that version is accurate, you’ve turned the original example’s meaning around 180 degrees.

    This is the first I’ve heard of that version, and not the one anyone else is likely to be familiar with. If this is true, you can look at that engineer as analogous to someone resisting the temptation of the Dark Side. So there. x.x

    Pure logic, by itself, is surprisingly useless.

    More or less my point.

    So, um, is someone going to explain what “the first person public experience of consiousness…explained as an entirely third person public experience” actually means, and why I shouldn’t file it in the same category as “specified complexity?”

    Anyway, what I’ve always understood by claims about “science destroying the myth of the soul” or the like is reaching the point where it is observationally verified and theoretically explained that material causes are sufficient to account for the phenomena we observe, and postulating an immaterial “soul” adds no explanatory value whatsoever. I’m not sure what Sci Phi Show is arguing here.

  152. #152 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    That is simply assuming that materialist ideology is true.

    No, because the word ‘material’ is one of the ways science names that which is true.

    Think I’m wrong? Provide us with the scientific standard is for declaring something immaterial. Are photons immaterial? Quarks? Neutrinos?

  153. #153 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “We can take what you claim the soul does and demonstrate how it is really a physical organ that does it.”

    You do realise that correlation isn’t causation right ? All you would demonstrate with the things you put forward is correlation.

    Even the neural net example would fail to demonstrate what you want it to demonstrate unless you can show the neural net having first person private experiences.

    Good luck with that. Though you seem happy to go with sloppy reasoning and substandard evidence as a subsitute for rigourously demonstrating what you are asserting. Why do atheists such as yourself do that so frequently ?

  154. #154 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    If we posit that there are new phenomena responsible for human minds, phenomena that our current understanding of the material world cannot account for, what will scientists do?

    They’ll expand their understanding of the material world, change what their understanding includes to include the new phenomena.

    That’s precisely what you’re not grasping, whether willingly or unwillingly – ‘immaterial’ doesn’t mean anything in science other than that the thing does not exist.

  155. #155 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    You do realise that correlation isn’t causation right ? All you would demonstrate with the things you put forward is correlation.

    Would you argue that “all that can be demonstrated” by various physics experiments is a “correlation” of greater mass with greater gravitational attraction? And if so, what conceivable evidence would you accept as *causal?*

  156. #156 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “No, because the word ‘material’ is one of the ways science names that which is true.”

    That only demonstrates that somethings are outside the scope of science, not whether or not they exist.

    Some sort of scientism would need to be embracedto make the claim the way you want too, but that is ideology.

  157. #157 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    Sci Phi, can you demonstrate that other people have first-person private experiences?

    Can you even demonstrate that you have first-person private experiences?

    Where’s that scientific standard for immateriality?

  158. #158 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    That only demonstrates that somethings are outside the scope of science, not whether or not they exist.

    No. You’re not getting it. In order to be beyond the scope of science, a phenomenon must have no effects on anything within the scope of science. A thing which has no effects at all is nonexistent.

  159. #159 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “Would you argue that “all that can be demonstrated” by various physics experiments is a “correlation” of greater mass with greater gravitational attraction?”

    That is what is observed. The causation between the two is inferred not demonstrated.

    Causation is a much thornier problem. Certianly showing that certian brain activity correlates with certian states as reported by the subject of the experience is not demonstrating causation.

  160. #160 Norman Doering
    June 4, 2007

    You do realise that correlation isn’t causation right ?

    Yes.

    All you would demonstrate with the things you put forward is correlation.

    No.

    Even the neural net example would fail to demonstrate what you want it to demonstrate unless you can show the neural net having first person private experiences.

    Are you claiming that souls are what causes first person private experiences?

    Yes or no?

  161. #161 Kagehi
    June 4, 2007

    Sigh.. That’s it. I am ending my association with one news server as of today. I spent almost a week arguing with some clown about this very sort of wacko BS. Basically, and this I just love, the guy is like 90% atheist, but get this.. He argues that science and religion are “equal”, in that both are based on unfounded assumptions. Religion on the assumption of an invisible world, science on the idea that their **is** an observable objective world. Ok, that much I might even agree on, what he couldn’t fracking get, and kept hand waving about, was that, to use an analogy, one could build a sky scraper on the same identical cement foundation that some other nut decided to *imagine* a cathedral sitting on. It doesn’t change the reality that, even though the foundation is the same, the *result* is completely different. Its no more sane to call science the same as religion based on the same “base” assumption that there exists something to observe, than to claim that a picture of a tree and a tree are the same thing, no matter how closely you match the chemical composition of the paper and the ink *to* that in a tree, in order to try to claim that they are the same things.

    Sure, what we remember and observe “isn’t” the same thing as the thing we are observing, but that doesn’t mean that you can replace, “Its a tree!”, with, “Its a picture of a tree!”, without something clubbing you over the head with a real branch, from the real tree, just to prove the point.

    And the thing that bugged me the most about this fool was that he refused to understand that his arguments played *right into* the same bizarro world views, justifications and insane rantings as people like Egnor use all the time to insist that the mythic sky fairy is a valid explanation for anything they can’t immediately describe.

    Between this clown, and the other fool that is the Weekly World News equivalent of liberalism, and thinks everything from global warming to alien abductions is part of the Bush oil conspiracy (or damn near that nuts…), and insists on calling me a right wingnut because I dared tell him one day that he got something wrong and I made the horrible mistake of using a right wing news source as proof (because I couldn’t find the original link I looked at)…

    Yeah, I definitely don’t need to deal with that sort of insanity there *and* here, all for the rare bit of art work they almost never post on the server. lol

    Thanks for helping me make up my mind, before I lost the rest of my sanity trying to read this kind of wacko nonsense in both places. As far as I can tell, my *friend’s* “radical deconstructionism” differs from pure theistic gibberish only by the width of a hair. And it doesn’t do anything but open up gaping holes for every wacko and nut in the universe to sail through. Given how often they use the same arguments to defend theism that he did to try to defend the “usefulness” of theologies as a “way of knowing”… its damn hard to tell the difference most of the time.

  162. #162 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “Sci Phi, can you demonstrate that other people have first-person private experiences?”

    No, that is the nature of them. Yet I am clearly aware I am having one right now. You can deny you have them as well if you like and that you are a mindless zombie, but that doens’t seem like a good way to argue really.

    “Can you even demonstrate that you have first-person private experiences?”

    Certianly to myself, I am having one right now. Are you claiming you don’t have first person private mental experiences that you know you are having but are unable to demonstrate to another person ?

  163. #163 The Physicist
    June 4, 2007

    Sci-fi guy, I recently sent a paper to a university on a theory I have about using the gravitational field of the universe to enhance communications by changing the quantum states of particles. Everyone can see the effects of gravity, just like they can see the effects of human conscience, but no one is able to actually see it. Though it seems a mystery, we have calculated that the minimum speed of gravity is some 300 times that of the speed of light.

    So Einstein was wrong when he said that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, gravity can. Maybe gravity is the either of space, I believe it is, and this would revolutionize our thinking about the material world, and the possibilities before us.

  164. #164 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    So, basically, it sounds like you’re arguing against science because the sort of axiomatic proofs one uses in, say, mathematics or formal logic are impossible.

    Um, good luck with that…

  165. #165 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    Ever hear of a religious group called the Albigensians? They were an offshoot of Catholic christianity, persecuted and destroyed, so all we really know of their beliefs we know second-hand from a very unfriendly source, but hang with me.

    Supposedly, they believed that the universe had already happened and had ended, and our world was just the perfect memory of God, which included everything that had ever happened in that world. Supposedly, since this was just the memory of God and not the actual physical world, people could do as they liked, and it didn’t matter, because reality had already happened long ago.

    Do you see the problem with this reasoning?

  166. #166 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “Are you claiming that souls are what causes first person private experiences?”

    Aspects of it. There is no question that the operation of the mind and the brain interact and that effects on one effects the other. This is not in dispute.

    But the first person private experience of consciousness exists in the mind in a way it does not exist in the brain.

    Unless you can show the content of the first person private experience in a third person publiclly accessible way you will not have solved this problem.

  167. #167 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    Certianly to myself, I am having one right now

    But not to others?

    Then they don’t exist. Mental events are detectable, just as computations within a computer are detectable. If observers outside your mind cannot detect a thing in principle, than observers inside your mind can’t, either – and that means that you don’t know that you have such experiences.

  168. #168 windy
    June 4, 2007

    “How about hooking up a few electrodes in the brain and producing the experience on demand?”
    That would not demonstrate what you want it too. You are just showing a correlation between two things by doing this not that they are identical. If you are going to claim that mind and brain are identical you need to do more than just show a correlation between the two.

    What part of “produce the experience” do you not understand? To take another example: how would you go about demonstrating that electricity and magnetism do not just happen to be somehow mystically correlated, but that there is actually a causal link?

    And of course they aren’t identical, since brains do a lot of unconscious work. The brain is bigger than the mind.

  169. #169 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “But not to others? Then they don’t exist”

    So you are claiming that you have no conscious experience ?

    And people wonder why I can’t take such reasoning seriously when people advance it.

    What sort of tortured logic you must go through to deny the existence of something that is known incorrigibly, worse yet, something you must employ in the very denial itself.

  170. #170 The Physicist
    June 4, 2007

    So, basically, it sounds like you’re arguing against science because the sort of axiomatic proofs one uses in, say, mathematics or formal logic are impossible.

    Um, good luck with that…

    Posted by: Azkyroth |

    No, even though I don’t speak for him I can read, he is saying you are excluding everything else less the the modern understanding of science, which is quite ignorant if you think about it.

  171. #171 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    What people often do not comprehend is that minds are not unary, seamless entities. They have parts, and those parts communicate. Larger parts are made up of associations of smaller, and these larger groups communicate, and so on.

    If you can remember an experience, “what it is like”, then one system in your brain is communicating with another, and it follows that what’s being communicated could be shared with another, different system. If experiences truly cannot be communicated, then you can’t remember having them or know that they’re taking place as they occur, and you certainly cannot talk about them from a position of knowledge.

  172. #172 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    Aspects of it. There is no question that the operation of the mind and the brain interact and that effects on one effects the other. This is not in dispute.

    Excuse me, but to me it looks for all the world like whether or not it even makes sense to speak of “the mind” as a separate entity from “the brain” is very much in dispute, and it’s dishonest to pretend it isn’t.

    But the first person private experience of consciousness exists in the mind in a way it does not exist in the brain.

    If you’re going to make this assertion while denying the incomplete but well-supported and parsimonious conclusions of neuroscience, you’d bloody well better provide some evidence. Otherwise this basically reduces to “you can’t explain x, so goddidit” which is no more convincing or valid with regard to consciousness than it was with regard to the origin of the earth.

    Unless you can show the content of the first person private experience in a third person publiclly accessible way you will not have solved this problem.

    So, what alternative explanation would you offer, and why are you persistently trying to shift the burden of proof?

  173. #173 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    So you are claiming that you have no conscious experience ?

    Not at all. I simply deny that my experiences are somehow “private”, or that they’re anything more mysterious than processing being performed on the results of other cognitive modules’ processing. Thinking about thinking.

    Thinking itself, by the way, does not require that I have any experience of it. I do all sorts of thinking that I’m not aware of, because the results aren’t subject to that metaprocessing I mentioned earlier. I have no awareness of my blood’s pH balance, despite part of my brain monitoring and helping to adjust it. That’s thinking still.

  174. #174 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    And for the last time, what does that statement mean, in layman’s terms? O.o

  175. #175 Norman Doering
    June 4, 2007

    The Physicist wrote:

    we have calculated that the minimum speed of gravity is some 300 times that of the speed of light.

    Say what!? When did this happen? Who measured/estimated the speed of gravity? Are you making this up?

    Provide links!

    I haven’t been keeping up with physics. This is major!

  176. #176 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    Say what!? When did this happen? Who measured/estimated the speed of gravity? Are you making this up?

    Provide links!

    I haven’t been keeping up with physics. This is major!

    Ha ha ha ha ha!

    “The Physicist” is the sort of person who’s always sending in diatribes to physics departments. When I was a physics student, the physics students’ association used to put them into binders for whenever someone needed a laugh.

  177. #177 windy
    June 4, 2007

    If experiences truly cannot be communicated, then you can’t remember having them or know that they’re taking place as they occur, and you certainly cannot talk about them from a position of knowledge.

    And if experiences couldn’t be communicated, we wouldn’t have a concept of “red” or any others of these fancy “qualia” that we keep hearing about. We learned them from our parents and culture and mapped them on to our own mental states – not perfectly, but if mental states couldn’t be more or less reliably communicated, language would be useless.

  178. #178 Norman Doering
    June 4, 2007

    The Sci Phi Show wrote:

    “Are you claiming that souls are what causes first person private experiences?”

    Aspects of it.

    Don’t weasle. Be specific. Which aspects of first person private experience are caused by the soul?

    There is no question that the operation of the mind and the brain interact and that effects on one effects the other. This is not in dispute.

    Oh yes it is in question. If there is no soul, there is no interaction between soul and brain. It’s all brain and body and environment.

    But the first person private experience of consciousness exists in the mind in a way it does not exist in the brain.

    In what way do you, who lives in the Chinese Room, experience consciousness? What exactly are you conscious of? If you don’t know what you’re conscious of — how can you be conscious of it?

    Unless you can show the content of the first person private experience in a third person publiclly accessible way you will not have solved this problem.

    Not necessarily.

  179. #179 ConcernedJoe
    June 4, 2007

    Like arguing with a brickwall.

    Cal et al on the side of reality and reason thanks for trying but the trolls have no point but to obfuscate.

    Face it we have to accept that we cannot falsify the unfalsifiable. Yup, for example we’ll never be able to prove that the FSM does not cause heart attacks by directing plaque deposits or the mechanism of plaque deposits or the physics and chemistry behind plaque deposits, on ad nauseum.

    The trolls are just playing head games here making that argument because they know that is true (we are doomed to failure – we cannot falsify the unfalsifiable).

    But what I hope real thinkers — even believers that are really trying to think — get out of people like Cal and others here that side with reason is that until such time as the FSM or whatever decides to play the game fairly and reveal how they add to the equation beyond what the material adds to the equation then the FSM need not be part of the equation as we solve mysteries and bring mankind to a potentially better world.

    PS I say potentially better because the trolls always can find a way to rationalize mankind into some form of bondage, strife, and hardship via playing dogma, obfuscation, and shutting down objective reason via fear or some rational mechanism. I modify what Cal said ..”Pure logic, by itself, is surprisingly useless.” to say yes that but also DANGEROUS!!

  180. #180 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    What’s important to realize is that when we look at a thing, or the right neurons in the optic nerve are stimulated, or the right neurons in our visual processing centers are stimulated, and we ‘have an experience’, the ‘experience’ doesn’t actually exist. It’s just modules referencing one another. ‘Red’ is what happens when there’s a certain pattern of activation, and we refer back to that pattern in memory when we remember the experience.

    If certain parts of the brain involved in visual processing are destroyed, we lose the ability to see in color – or to hallucinate in color, or dream in color. We have no referent for our memory labels of ‘red’ any longer. We have no ‘experience’ of it.

    Sci Phi cannot provide us with an account of what an experience is “like”, cannot demonstrate that he or anyone else has ‘experiences’ that are simultaneously objectively existing and yet entirely subjective, and are necessary to understand any aspect of cognition. There’s no such thing – the concept is incoherent.

    It’s the same reason why philosophical zombies are meaningless.

  181. #181 The Physicist
    June 4, 2007

    Say what!? When did this happen? Who measured/estimated the speed of gravity? Are you making this up?

    Provide links!

    I haven’t been keeping up with physics. This is major!

    Posted by: Norman Doering

    Just google it.

  182. #182 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    Just google it.

    I can just imagine what the bibliography pages of your term papers must look like…

  183. #183 The Physicist
    June 4, 2007

    I got it from the same university I sent my paper. And they didn’t laugh.

  184. #184 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    There’s also blindsight, which requires certain specific kinds of brain damage. People lose visual awareness of part or all of their field of view – but if you ask them to perform tasks related to things in that field of view, or even just answer questions, they perform much better than chance.

    They have no conscious awareness of what’s there, but they can still process information about what they’re seeing. They’re just not aware of their perception.

    Methinks Sci Phi would have some problems rectifying that phenomena with his concept of qualia.

  185. #185 Norman Doering
    June 4, 2007

    It’s the same reason why philosophical zombies are meaningless.

    I’m afraid we’re all philosophical zombies in the Chinese Room talking about being self-aware when we don’t really know ourselves or our world at all. You’ll have to figure out what that means on your own — it’s almost time for Jon Stewart and The Daily Show.

    Thanks for the entertainment, Caledonian?

  186. #186 The Physicist
    June 4, 2007

    I can just imagine what the bibliography pages of your term papers must look like…

    Posted by: Azkyroth

    I don’t ask PZ for the papers or professional links he has, because I am not a biologist and won’t understand it. I understand physics, that’s my game. biology is PZ’s, I don’t ever argue or attack him personally, because I know better, evidently you don’t. I asked him for some links on evolution, and like the bright guy he is, didn’t give me some technical document that was way over my head.

    I can give you many non scientific documents explaining it, but you won’t believe, or I can give you the actual documents that you won’t understand.

  187. #187 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    I’m afraid we’re all philosophical zombies in the Chinese Room talking about being self-aware when we don’t really know ourselves or our world at all.

    Err…not all of us. Though actually something as coherent, meaningful, and conceptually grounded as “braaaaiiinnnsss” from Sci Phi would be an improvement. x.x

  188. #188 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    I can give you many non scientific documents explaining it, but you won’t believe, or I can give you the actual documents that you won’t understand.

    I’m fine with either as long as you’re willing to do the work of finding the sources you want me to refer to instead of forcing me to play guessing games.

  189. #189 Stogoe
    June 4, 2007

    The Physicist seems like a crank. I can’t imagine his claims about the ‘speed’ of gravity as anything more credible than a Hollow Earth or Loch Ness crank.

  190. #190 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    He does indeed seem like a crank, but I’m willing to give them a fair read, if only because I’m less familiar with the evidence to the contrary of gravity having a speed that has been measured than with that to the contrary of the earth being hollow or a large aquatic animal living in the lake without ever being discovered by science.

  191. #191 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    Go ahead, provide us with the documents we won’t understand. (Tee hee!)

    ***

    I’d just like to point out that Sci Phi still hasn’t yet presented us with science’s standard for judging a thing immaterial. I move that his claims be judged immaterial in a slightly different but closely-related sense of “not mattering”.

    Our language recognizes the point in its deepest levels. Something that is of no consequence “doesn’t matter”. It’s not a coincidence that matter matters.

  192. #192 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    I’d just like to point out that Sci Phi still hasn’t yet presented us with science’s standard for judging a thing immaterial. I move that his claims be judged immaterial in a slightly different but closely-related sense of “not mattering”.

    Our language recognizes the point in its deepest levels. Something that is of no consequence “doesn’t matter”. It’s not a coincidence that matter matters.

    And the rest is just mental “matterbation?” ^.^

  193. #193 Sastra
    June 4, 2007

    Unless the “supernatural” is defined as “that which cannot be discovered or explored by science,” I don’t think there’s any reason to consider it to be something science has no say in, one way or the other. It’s just that making a distinction between “in nature” and “outside of nature” rapidly turns natural/supernatural into unrecognizable mush, as Caledonian has noticed, since the lines on what is part of Nature can always be moved.

    I think those definitions which pin down the supernatural as “pure or uncaused mental entities” work better. Religious and spiritual views always seem to grow out of an innate dualism, a top-down view of reality where mind or values are creative forces or Force giving shape to the physical. A supernatural event is therefore any event involving pure mind over matter — which seems to fit everything from animism to Taoism.

    This would mean that scientifically verifiable ESP, OBE’s, PK, and NDE’s would all falsify materialism and naturalism, and support the existence of the supernatural.

    So fine — would one of the supernaturalists please tell us what would falsify supernaturalism? If you’re going to snip about materialism being “assumed,” please show that you’re not doing the same.

    And I think Azkyroth is asking a very good question. What conceivable evidence would you accept as evidence for brain/mind causality and dependence? Which is, I suppose, another way of asking the first question — what falsifies substance dualism? Or does it always just piggyback along behind whatever materialistic correlations the neurologists find?

    Kagehi: You have my sympathy.

  194. #194 Norman Doering
    June 4, 2007
  195. #195 Ichthyic
    June 4, 2007

    I move that his claims be judged immaterial in a slightly different but closely-related sense of “not mattering”.

    seconded

  196. #196 Sastra
    June 4, 2007

    The Physicist wrote:

    I can give you many non scientific documents explaining it, but you won’t believe, or I can give you the actual documents that you won’t understand.

    Others have wondered about the last part of this sentence, but I think it’s interesting that you think the science-minded folk here would not “believe” what you’re calling a perfectly reasonable scientific finding –“the minimum speed of gravity is some 300 times that of the speed of light.” I know little to nothing of physics, but something’s fishy. Why would we not want to believe a legit discovery?

    I smell woo.

  197. #197 The Physicist
    June 4, 2007

    Advantages: The Earth does not spiral into the Sun.

    Relativistic gravity is assigned an instantaneous component as well as a component that travels with the speed of light, c. If gravity were limited to c, the Earth would be rotating around the Sun where it was about 8 minutes ago. By calculating under the condition that no detectable reduction in the size of the Earth’s orbit has been observed, Tom Van Flandern arrives at the minimum speed of gravity of 2 × 1010 c. We could call these extremely fast, extremely penetrating particles gravitons.

    You could look at this if you are more technical, or you can actually pay for the the research papers.
    http://metaresearch.org/cosmology/speed_of_gravity.asp

  198. #198 Zarquon
    June 4, 2007

    van Flandern is a kook.

  199. #199 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “And for the last time, what does that statement mean, in layman’s terms? O.o”

    I’m sorry I assumed you were mocking me.

    You mean, “First person private experience reducible to third person public experience” I assume.

    The experience you have of consiousness is a first person private experience. Meaning you experience it in the first person (“you” or “I” more exactly) and it is private because you are the only person who has any access to your conscious experience.

    Third person public is the opposite of that in effect. It means that anybody can look at what is being pointed to and understand it and have knowledge of it (at least in principle).

    Does that make sense ?

    Now the sort of functionalism in the philosophy of mind that PZ and others are arguing for means that all of the facets of mind can be accounted for by a sufficently detailed understanding of the operation of the brain. That is to say that anything that happens in your mind can be understood by looking at your brain.

    Which would require that this first person private experience of consciousness in your mind that you have can be reduced to a third person public observation of the behavior of your brain. Yet this has not been done and has generally been an aspect of the problem that has simply been ignored in practice by assuming that correlation == causation.

    And this is where things like Qualia come into the picture, what is the third person public explanation of the first person private experience of the seeing of the colour red ?

    Then of course we end up quickly into the terrain of thought experiments involing colour vision experts raised in black and white rooms and whether or not they learn something the first time they see a red ball or not.

    Interesting stuff.

  200. #200 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    Um, the Earth has the same general velocity as the Sun – although obviously it has further components that permit it to orbit, it’s also moving in the same direction at the same speed as the Sun is. So is the rest of the Solar System.

    We don’t need to claim that gravity travels instantaneously. As far as the Earth is concerned, where the Sun is now and where it was eight minutes ago are the same location.

  201. #201 Jason
    June 4, 2007

    Check out the website ThePhysicist just linked to. It bills itself as “Scientifically viable challenges to mainstream paradigms.” Among the other pieces written by the author of that “speed of gravity” “paper” is one that claims to “provide compelling evidence for the presence of artificial structures on the planet Mars.”

    He is most definitely a crank. The Duane Gish of Astronomy, from the looks of it.

  202. #202 Azkyroth
    June 4, 2007

    Ok.

    I think the error in your reasoning then is either 1) rejecting the idea that experimental findings that altering the state of one phenomenon (the physical state of the brain) also alter the behavior of another phenomenon (the subjective experience of the mind) is evidence (if not mathematics-style proof) for a causal relationship between the state of the first thing and the second thing, or 2) demanding that science produce absolute proof before you’ll accept its conclusions as valid.

  203. #203 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    is one that claims to “provide compelling evidence for the presence of artificial structures on the planet Mars.”

    That’s not at all pseudoscientific. We sent lots of probes to Mars, and they’re still there. NASA has already provided compelling evidence for their presence.

    ***

    I just love Sci Phi. First he insists that “experience” is something that others cannot know about or explain directly or indirectly, then says that we’re faced with the challenge of producing an explanation for it.

    Yeah, that’s a challenge, all right.

  204. #204 Ichthyic
    June 4, 2007

    Which would require that this first person private experience of consciousness in your mind that you have can be reduced to a third person public observation of the behavior of your brain. Yet this has not been done and has generally been an aspect of the problem that has simply been ignored in practice by assuming that correlation == causation.

    so much woo. so little time.

    so are you trying to say that all of the observations on the function of the brain, as relates to observation and behavior, based on the study of anomalies or injury are all correlative, with no causative data or analysis?

    If that’s where you stand, you’re no better than a creationist, claiming there is no evidence for evolution other than correlative.

    as to your whole 3rd party premise, your example is just as easily explained by shared experience.

    3rd parties recognize an object being pointed to because they themselves have learned what it is.

    seriously, you’re injecting woo.

  205. #205 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    My computer has a soul, and no matter how hard you study its circuitry and the nature of its electronic components, no matter how much programming theory and electrical engineering you learn, you will never understand what it is like to be my computer’s soul.

  206. #206 The Sci Phi Show
    June 4, 2007

    “I think the error in your reasoning then is either 1) rejecting the idea that experimental findings that altering the state of one phenomenon (the physical state of the brain) also alter the behavior of another phenomenon (the subjective experience of the mind) is evidence (if not mathematics-style proof) for a causal relationship between the state of the first thing and the second thing”

    But what if you have the causation backwards ? There is no question that you will observe a correlation between brain states and a persons subjective experience (although you do require them to report this too you). To say one causes the other might be backwards, or both could be caused by some third factor. Just observing the correlation between the two will not let you determine which of these is correct. You are welcome to assume that the correlation works the way that is claimed, but that goes beyond the evidence that is in hand. It is this extrapolation beyond what the evidnece actually shows that I have a problem with. Actually I don’t have a problem with that, I have a problem with this inconclusive result them being used as a club to push someones ideology. I don’t think this is unreasonable. PZ and others complain when Creationists do it, why should they be held to different standards ?

    “2) demanding that science produce absolute proof before you’ll accept its conclusions as valid.”

    No not at all. I know science cannot provide that sort of evidence. The problem in this case is that the conclusions go beyond what the evidence demonstrates. The evidence fails to exclude other perfectly legitimate possibilies and AFAICS they are excluded mainly for ideological reasons. Which is fine, but don’t called it science. Again, PZ and others gripe when YEC’s do it, surely it is reasonable to hold them to their own standards.

  207. #207 The Physicist
    June 4, 2007

    van Flandern is a kook.

    I don’t agree with his numbers, but at least he is way ahead of you where universities in gravitational physics. (people who know more than you) Have papers that say the minimum speed of gravity is 300 times the speed of light, just to keep Earth in orbit. I don’t care what you believe, you don’t know anything about it, I do.

    Good night.

  208. #208 Ichthyic
    June 4, 2007

    The problem in this case is that the conclusions go beyond what the evidence demonstrates.

    couldn’t agree more. You’ve just applied your reasoning to the wrong end.

    physician, heal thyself.

  209. #209 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    Sci Phi’s objections are to cognitive psychology what macroevolution/microevolution is to evolutionary biology.

    I mean sure, microevolution happens, but some people just aren’t convinced that we can extrapolate it to macroevolution. It’s a completely different thing, donchano.

    After all, just because changes in experience only occur when changes take place in the brain, and physically altering the brain can profoundly alter experiences, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the brain produces the experiences. They could be the result of gnomes, or the Invisible Pink Unicorn, or anything!

  210. #210 The Sci Phi Show
    June 5, 2007

    “My computer has a soul, and no matter how hard you study its circuitry and the nature of its electronic components, no matter how much programming theory and electrical engineering you learn, you will never understand what it is like to be my computer’s soul.”

    Ok. If your computer has private first person experiences then so be it. It is possible that that is the case. Maybe there is something it is like to be a desktop PC. I don’t ascribe to panpsychism so i’m inclined to think you may be mistaken.

    Although I would note that your computer fails to exhibit a will of its own in a way things with minds do not.

    Actually the problem you put forward shows the problem with something like the Turing Test for determining if a computer is conscious, or if anything else is conscious. You are limited by the external observation of that which is conscious. But just because it is hard to deal with doesn’t mean it can simply be excluded because it is inconvenient and causes a problem for your ideology doesn’t mean you get to ignore it.

  211. #211 Caledonian
    June 5, 2007

    I don’t ascribe to panpsychism so i’m inclined to think you may be mistaken.

    I can’t be mistaken – my computer having a soul is logically equivalent to its not having a soul. So proving me wrong only proves me right!

    Actually the problem you put forward shows the problem with something like the Turing Test for determining if a computer is conscious, or if anything else is conscious.

    You’re not conscious. You’re just a zombie that reacts precisely the same way it would if it had experiences, which it doesn’t.

  212. #212 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    June 5, 2007

    Subjective experiences and qualia are irrelevant for a complete description of my actions.

    Subjective experiences seems to consist of a system describing itself, with only black box access (or more correctly, constrained channels mostly monitoring and postdicting outward actions) to itself and similar systems.

    In that respect, it could be part of the descriptions in neuroscience. “Consciousness” and “qualia” is perhaps folk psychology, it seems there are no good correlates.

  213. #213 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    June 5, 2007

    Subjective experiences and qualia are irrelevant for a complete description of my actions.

    Subjective experiences seems to consist of a system describing itself, with only black box access (or more correctly, constrained channels mostly monitoring and postdicting outward actions) to itself and similar systems.

    In that respect, it could be part of the descriptions in neuroscience. “Consciousness” and “qualia” is perhaps folk psychology, it seems there are no good correlates.

  214. #214 The Sci Phi Show
    June 5, 2007

    “After all, just because changes in experience only occur when changes take place in the brain, and physically altering the brain can profoundly alter experiences, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the brain produces the experiences.”

    Now you are misrepresenting me. Not surprising I suppose.

    It doesn’t follow that the experiences are soley produced by the brain acting only on itself.

  215. #215 Randy Owens
    June 5, 2007

    Caledonian:

    I’d just like to point out that Sci Phi still hasn’t yet presented us with science’s standard for judging a thing immaterial. I move that his claims be judged immaterial in a slightly different but closely-related sense of “not mattering”.

    Sci Phi is antimatter?!? Get him away from me!!!

    The Sci Phi Show: I don’t suppose you would want to specify a (falsifiable at least in principle) location along the path of action from, say, my eyes reading this page, through my brain, down to my fingers typing this in reaction to what I’ve read, where the soul steps in and does something different from what ordinary matter would do, would you?

    And please don’t try to confuse the words “mind” and “soul”, either. I’d certainly agree we each have something I’d call a “mind”, but that doesn’t mean I’m just going to concede by default that a “mind” must be supernatural and equivalent to a “soul”.

  216. #216 The Sci Phi Show
    June 5, 2007

    “The Sci Phi Show: I don’t suppose you would want to specify a (falsifiable at least in principle) location along the path of action from, say, my eyes reading this page, through my brain, down to my fingers typing this in reaction to what I’ve read, where the soul steps in and does something different from what ordinary matter would do, would you?”

    Anywhere along the path were you exercise freely choosen action. Where ever there is choice.

    Or do you automatically type your responses as mechanical response in reaction to stimuli without actually thinking about them ?

  217. #217 Azkyroth
    June 5, 2007

    But what if you have the causation backwards ? There is no question that you will observe a correlation between brain states and a persons subjective experience (although you do require them to report this too you). To say one causes the other might be backwards, or both could be caused by some third factor. Just observing the correlation between the two will not let you determine which of these is correct. You are welcome to assume that the correlation works the way that is claimed, but that goes beyond the evidence that is in hand.

    I think you’re failing to understand the important difference between the following scenarios:

    “When I observe A doing X, B does Y, therefore A doing X causes B to do Y”

    and

    “Whenever I poke A in spot X, B does Y”

    In other words, between an experimental result and a simple observation.

  218. #218 Ichthyic
    June 5, 2007

    I can’t be mistaken – my computer having a soul is logically equivalent to its not having a soul. So proving me wrong only proves me right!

    LOL

    can’t argue with that.

    literally.

  219. #219 Anton Mates
    June 5, 2007

    Anywhere along the path were you exercise freely choosen action. Where ever there is choice.

    Or do you automatically type your responses as mechanical response in reaction to stimuli without actually thinking about them ?

    This assumes that you can freely choose what to think, and that your thoughts aren’t themselves mechanical responses to stimuli.

  220. #220 Kagehi
    June 5, 2007

    The funny thing is, our newly minted crank seems to have missed the recent studies on brain function that strongly imply that *conscious awareness* happens post-event. Or that, in other words, all those little black boxes that make up our *unconscious* decide to do something, **and then** we become aware of what we have chosen to do. He has also missed the paper about flies, which I posted about a few threads ago, which suggests that *choice* is a mixture of non-random, predetermined actions, with a random component fit into the mix. Or, in other words, knowing the “state” of the system (brain) prior to exposure to some thing to be acted on, we could predict *most* of the behaviors of the individual, given that state, save for those deviations resulting from the random/semi-random steps taken. And even those we could predict statistically, within the bounds of “possible” actions, given the state at each point. The only non-determinance arises from the collection of those random choices, which constitute maybe 10% of the actions taken, and the subsequent level of complexity that arises, every time an option path deviates from the “expected” prediction, due to a random step.

    Put another way, if you know someone *will*, when asked to give a list of random numbers, say, “2, 15, 97, 44, 23, 5, X”, where X is the random step, you can *still* predict everything to that point, after that point, any additional choices are going to be derived based on a *new* state, which changed the moment they made a random leap to some unknown state.

    So, what does a *soul* do? Act like a D&D player and once in a while roll a 100 sided dice, to determine which of 100 *possible* actions to take, instead of the next “logical” action in the predictable mathematical sequence of actions? Doesn’t seem all that amazing really. In fact, its just bloody dumb, if that is all souls are. Just nerds playing dice in some silly RPG…

    And as I told the other guy arguing this gibberish, if *our* stance on the matter is built on quicksand, so are theirs, since they are merely insisting on a different set of untested and unfounded definitions about what is actually going on at the most basic level. The *big* problem for them being that they have had thousands of years to provide results that explain *anything* in a way that produces usable data, which can then be extended to *doing* things in the world. All they have is a long list of excuses for why *they* can’t do anything with it, but that some invisible, untestable and evidence dodging magic spirit *can* use those things to do stuff. The only difference here being the insistence that *souls* have some limited capacity to do the same thing, but then why it makes sense for them to be limited to what the physical body can manage, when lots of religions, including their own, insist that no such restriction is necessary or actually exists, is entirely beyond me. Especially since if any of that was true, those things would have “real” effects on the world, and anyone would be able to see them.

  221. #221 The Skeptic
    June 5, 2007

    Sci-fi guy, I recently sent a paper to a university on a theory I have about using the gravitational field of the universe to enhance communications by changing the quantum states of particles. Everyone can see the effects of gravity, just like they can see the effects of human conscience, but no one is able to actually see it. Though it seems a mystery, we have calculated that the minimum speed of gravity is some 300 times that of the speed of light.

    So Einstein was wrong when he said that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, gravity can. Maybe gravity is the either of space, I believe it is, and this would revolutionize our thinking about the material world, and the possibilities before us.

    TimeCube rating: 7.5/10.

    Of course, a rating of 10 TC is reserved exclusively for the big T.C. him/herself…

  222. #222 Ginger Yellow
    June 5, 2007

    I’m quite impressed the Physicist managed to keep that level of woo under his hat for so long. Better than Sci Phi managed.

    “There is no question that you will observe a correlation between brain states and a persons subjective experience (although you do require them to report this too you). To say one causes the other might be backwards, or both could be caused by some third factor.”

    Which is why we do experiments to find out. When you manipulate the brain state, you manipulate the subjective experience. Tell me – does the will cause a stroke, or does a stroke affect the will?

  223. #223 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 5, 2007

    The Skeptic (#218):

    Somewhere, I’ve got the world’s only footage of Gene Ray being taught to play Go. Unfortunately, I filmed it before Google Video existed. . . .

  224. #224 Caledonian
    June 5, 2007

    It seems to me that people like Sci Phi want there to be an explanation for human cognition that goes beyond things science understands and that does not in itself have an explanation or a mechanism.

    This is an impossible goal – logic precludes the existence of such a thing. But that doesn’t stop them from wanting it, and as with religious belief in general, wanting a thing is used as an excuse to believe that the thing is.

  225. #225 Ginger Yellow
    June 5, 2007

    I think that’s true of Sci Phi, but it’s not true of every who argues as he does that the mainstream of neuroscience has nothing to say about how brains produce subjective experiences. Penrose for one would agree. They all seem to suffer from the same error of thinking that because a neuron (presumably) doesn’t have anything we would recognise as a subjective experience, no description of how neurons interact can ever explain consciousness. But this is a fundamental understanding. The mainstream, reductionist, position is that mind is what the brain does. So the brain does not have a subjective experience, but the mind does, in roughly the same way that a computer programme sitting on a disk doesn’t do anything, but when it is run on a computer, it does. The mind is a process of the brain – I would argue along with Caledonian (and many neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists and philosophers of mind that the subjective nature of experience is the result of different parts of our brain querying other parts of our brain/body in competition, along with metaprocessing.

  226. #226 Caledonian
    June 5, 2007

    Penrose for one would agree.

    Penrose has repeatedly demonstrated an inability or unwillingness to reason on this subject.

    So the existence of his claims does not create in me a sense of obligation.

  227. #227 Ginger Yellow
    June 5, 2007

    Well, no. I’m as disdainful of Penrose as you. I’m just saying it’s not always about wanting there to be something beyond science. Sometimes people want to cling on to quantum woo as well. Sometimes it’s about free will and determinism. Sometimes it’s about disliking a computational theory of mind.

  228. #228 Tulse
    June 5, 2007

    To clear the decks a bit, I certainly don’t believe in souls. And I don’t believe that there is anything in the physical description of the brain that cannot in principle account for human behaviour. In other words, I think that we can, at least in principle, produce a complete account of human actions solely by looking at the physical properties of the brain (through neuroimaging, cell biology, etc.). In this fashion, the brain is no different from my desktop computer — by solely understanding the physical properties of both, I can understand the physical responses of both.

    The problem, though, is that such an account would not need notions of experience, of subjectivity. And such subjectivity is certainly a fact of my existence — indeed, it is the fact that I am most certain of (my senses can be fooled, but I cannot be fooled about my experiencing what those senses tell me). It’s a fact of my existence, but presumably not my computer’s — I don’t believe that my computer feels hot or cold, or has the same experience of red that I do when its webcam is exposed to that colour.

    So the problem is that there seems to be facts about the world that are not captured in the full physical description. Or rather, there seems to be an important difference between different physical systems that isn’t accountable in terms of the physical aspects of the systems.

    There are a few standard solutions to this problem. One, functionalism, is simply to say that as long as the abstract interactions of physical parts work in some (unspecified) way, then subjective experience magically arises. In other words, it may very well be that a computer could be conscious, and have experiences just like you or me (John McCarthy famously argued that even thermostats have beliefs — “It’s too hot”, “It’s too cold”, “It’s just right”).

    Another response is to say that there there is something special about the stuff brains are made of — the physical stuff in our heads magically produces subjective experience, and different physical stuff, similarly configured, wouldn’t. This is the position of John Searle (of Chinese Room fame) and, in a different vein, Roger Penrose.

    A third response is to deny subjective experience altogether, to say that there is no private subjectivity. In other words, subjective experience is some kind of “illusion”, and there is no fact of the world to explain.

    The important thing to note is that these positions make very different claims about the facts of the world. In other words, they are hypotheses. We can see this if we think about constructing a robot analogue of a human. Functionaliists would hold that, if made correctly, it would have the same experiences that you do, even if it is made out of different stuff. Searle and Penrose would argue that it would not have the same experiences that you do. And eliminativists would argue that neither the robot nor you have experiences.

    These are truth claims. Presumably only one of these positions (or some other) is true, and the others are false. The problem is that there is no objective way of determining which is correct. No amount of circuit tracing is going to determine that computer activity is actually accompanied by qualititative experience, that when a synthesized voice says “I see red” that there is any actual experience there. In exactly the same way, no amount of fMRIs are going to determine that brain activity is actually accompanied by qualititative experience, no matter what the verbal report or other behaviour of the person is. There is no objective way of determining which account of subjective experience is correct.

  229. #229 Sonja
    June 5, 2007

    I can bring this thread full circle. The Physicist’s woo is classic thinking of manic/depressives. During their manic phases, they can produce tons of writing that all sounds very erudite, but is devoid of logic, facts and evidence.

    I had a bipolar acquaintance a few years ago that was convinced he had the secret to inexpensive space travel and would send papers off to various conferences with the expectation that he would be invited to speak and present his “findings”. This same guy quickly moved from space travel to being a cold fusion “expert”.

    The chemical and physical make-up of our brains does affect what the brains do in very interesting ways. While the complexity makes human behavior is unpredictable, there are common patterns to the thinking and behavior of people who have common mental “illnesses” such as bipolar disorder.

    Mental illness is a very strong piece of evidence that the mind is a product of the brain.

  230. #230 Ginger Yellow
    June 5, 2007

    “One, functionalism, is simply to say that as long as the abstract interactions of physical parts work in some (unspecified) way, then subjective experience magically arises. In other words, it may very well be that a computer could be conscious, and have experiences just like you or me (John McCarthy famously argued that even thermostats have beliefs — “It’s too hot”, “It’s too cold”, “It’s just right”).”

    This isn’t strictly true, at least if you insist there are only three main positions on the issue. I’d call myself a functionalist, by your taxonomy, but I don’t think computers are conscious, or thermostats. I do think, however, that an appropriately written computer programme, when running, could be conscious. It’s not a “magical” phenomenon. It’s not a question of chucking enough connections in until you cross a threshold. It’s simply that the various properties we ascribe to consciousness are differing functions of how the brain operates – a result of specific interactions of perception, memory, feedback and so on. There’s an element of “illusion” to it, in that our subjective experience isn’t necessarily an accurate depiction of our mental/brain state (see Libet and countless other examples). It is however an accurate(ish) depiction of our subjective experience. Which leads me to:

    No amount of circuit tracing is going to determine that computer activity is actually accompanied by qualititative experience, that when a synthesized voice says “I see red” that there is any actual experience there. In exactly the same way, no amount of fMRIs are going to determine that brain activity is actually accompanied by qualititative experience, no matter what the verbal report or other behaviour of the person is.

    This is true in a strict philosophical sense, but I don’t believe it is an insurmountable stumbling block, in the same way that we don’t throw up our hands over the problems of modus ponens or causality/correlation. I would argue that if you are able to query the robot about its subjective experiences and it describes them in a manner indistinguishable from something you “know” has subjective experiences, then you’re justified in assuming that it has them too. The very fact that they are subjective means that it wouldn’t know how to answer if it didn’t experience them itself. Again, this isn’t any sort of logical proof, but we don’t go around questioning whether other people have subjective experiences unless we’re autistic or deeply solipsistic, because the way they describe them is largely consonant with our own.

    Dennett proposes a methodology called “heterophenomenology”, in which you treat people’s reports of their subjective experience as more or less reliable indicators of their subjective experience, and therefore meaningful in an objective sense, but not as reliable direct indicators of mental activity.

  231. #231 Tulse
    June 5, 2007

    Of course the mind is the product of the brain — the question is how. There are various competing hypotheses about how mind (or at least subjective experience) arises, but there seems to be no way to objectively determine which is true, because subjective experience is itself not objectively observable (merely its presumed products).

  232. #232 Ginger Yellow
    June 5, 2007

    Like I say, that’s true in a philosophical sense, but not in a practical sense. If and when conventional neuroscience produces a solid, tested model of the various trappings of consciousness and how they integrate, that would be pretty persuasive evidence that the model is accurate. Similarly if Penrose manages to. Philosophers will still be able to handwave and insist that it’s magic, but the rest of us will just carry on playing with our new sentient friends.

  233. #233 Norman Doering
    June 5, 2007

    Tulse wrote:

    Of course the mind is the product of the brain — the question is how. There are various competing hypotheses about how mind (or at least subjective experience) arises, but there seems to be no way to objectively determine which is true, because subjective experience is itself not objectively observable (merely its presumed products).

    That’s changing because of work being done with Neural Prosthesis.

    Cochlear implants are actually neural prosthesis and one of the guys who got one, Michael Chorost, wrote a book, “Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human,” with some insights into those questions and how work being done with neural prosthesis could answer those questions. And it’s a good report on the subjective side of what it’s like to have a cochlear implant.

    It seems it’s a combination of functionalism and illusionism when it comes to various competing hypotheses.

    I think we’ll get more answers like that when different neural prosthesis are made and reported on. Consider the silicon chip implant that mimics the hippocampus, an area of the brain known for creating memories. If successful, the artificial brain prosthesis could replace its biological counterpart, enabling people who suffer from memory disorders to regain the ability to store new memories.

    What differences will they notice, if any?

  234. #234 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 5, 2007

    Sonja, Ginger Yellow and I clearly have our microtubules tuned to the same wavelength. 😉

    (Incidentally, optical tweezers can be used to manipulate microtubules, and genetic engineering can certainly control the way proteins are produced. I’m hard pressed to think of a reason why we could not in principle manipulate these intracellular components to build our own devices which harness whatever hypothetical hyperquantum computation properties they may have. Wouldn’t that put Penrose’s thinking somewhat in opposition to Searle’s?)

  235. #235 Caledonian
    June 5, 2007

    Mental illness is a very strong piece of evidence that the mind is a product of the brain.

    No. It would be, if we could identify physical problems in the brains of people with mental disorders that we could show caused the disorders… but we can’t.

    There’s still a great deal of evidence supporting the idea that minds are the results of brains, though.

  236. #236 Norman Doering
    June 5, 2007

    Caledonian wrote:

    It would be, if we could identify physical problems in the brains of people with mental disorders that we could show caused the disorders… but we can’t.

    Oh come on, let’s give the neurophysiologists and pharmacologists a little more credit than that. They’ve come up with all kinds of medications, like antipsychotics to help in relieving the symptoms of schizophrenia and psychosis. There are good drug treatments for many forms of depression too.

    Schizophrenia is now being treated with new medications that are commonly called “atypical antipsychotics.” These drugs have less severe side effects than the former generation of drugs used to treat the disease. They do not “cure” schizophrenia or ensure that there will be no further psychotic episodes, but they’re obviously on to something. Schizophrenia is now a highly treatable disorder and according to the National Advisory Mental Health Council, the treatment success rate for schizophrenia is comparable to the treatment success rate for heart disease.

    Antipsychotics or neuroleptic drugs help correct an imbalance in the chemicals that enable brain cells to communicate with each other.

    Have you read any work by Oliver Sacks? Remember the movie “Awakenings,” Robin Williams was playing Oliver Sacks.

  237. #237 s9
    June 5, 2007

    The mathematicians aren’t helping either. The implications posed by computational complexity theory on the philosophy of mind are a minefield for religious believers.

  238. #238 Caledonian
    June 5, 2007

    Oh come on, let’s give the neurophysiologists and pharmacologists a little more credit than that. They’ve come up with all kinds of medications, like antipsychotics to help in relieving the symptoms of schizophrenia and psychosis. There are good drug treatments for many forms of depression too.

    Yes, so? Being able to come up with treatments is not at all the same thing as understanding the underlying problem. There’s been a great deal of progress in understanding mental disorders – we’ve eliminated a great many hypotheses.

    Finding a hypothesis that holds up… that, we haven’t managed yet.

    Antipsychotics or neuroleptic drugs help correct an imbalance in the chemicals that enable brain cells to communicate with each other.

    Aaaah! There’s nothing I hate more than when people repeat that “chemical imbalance” garbage. Antipsychotic drugs do no such thing.

  239. #239 Keith Douglas
    June 6, 2007

    PZ: Don’t forget that neuroscience and psychology are eating away at traditional understandings of freedom and responsibility, too.

    gg: Of course. Christianity owes a lot to Platonism.

    snex: Needless to say, the web browser is also a pattern of activation in something very much material.

    valhar2000: The problem with the soul interacting with anything has been a problem since Descartes. Descartes had an “out” – imperfect knowledge of conservation laws – no contemporary dualism has that luxury.

    Ginger Yellow: Searle’s position is a little weird (he seems to think brains cause minds, rather than brains minding) but your second paragraph is wrong.

    Tulse: Thoughts are material – they are patterns of activation in certain nervous systems. Similarly, numbers can be viewed in abstraction from their embodiment in the brains of those who think them. (There are some non-theistic mathematical Platonists, but the position runs into Descartes’ problem as much as any species of ontological dualism.)

    Norman Doering: Worse, he doesn’t even know enough about philosophy of mind to even use that – if he did, he’d know that Searle’s argument begs the question, that Dennett does not “dismiss” qualia (he shows there is no such thing), etc.

    Incidentally, some people might find the paper on my website on the relevance of neuroscience to philosophy useful in some of these debates, particularly on the different versions of materialism, functionalism, etc.

  240. #240 Azkyroth
    June 6, 2007

    Aaaah! There’s nothing I hate more than when people repeat that “chemical imbalance” garbage. Antipsychotic drugs do no such thing.

    Citations/explanation, please?

  241. #241 Norman Doering
    June 6, 2007

    Caledonian wrote:

    Aaaah! There’s nothing I hate more than when people repeat that “chemical imbalance” garbage. Antipsychotic drugs do no such thing.

    They don’t? Then what do antipsychotic drugs do?

    If, in part, the causes of schziophrenia include an imbalance in the actions of two brain chemicals, dopamine and serotonin, and if the basic mechanism of conventional antipsychotic drugs is to reduce the effects of dopamine, then why can’t it be said that antipsychotics correct a chemical imbalance?

    Do you have a better description? I don’t think you can just call that garbage until you’ve got a more accurate way to describe it and thus replace it with something better.

    I don’t claim to be an expert on schizophrenia, but I knew someone who had it. Your claim that “Finding a hypothesis that holds up… that, we haven’t managed yet” is a little too black and white. A good hypothesis about a complex disease like schizophrenia isn’t an either or thing, the hypothesis comes in pieces, with some pieces being right, and some not so right but close, and some dead wrong.

    I don’t think the “chemical imbalance” piece is as dead wrong as “It’s caused by demons” is. Who has the better success rate with helping schizophrenics, exorcists or neurophysiologists and pharmacologists?

    Saying there is a chemical imbalance is incomplete — it doesn’t say why the imbalance is happening — but it’s not garbage as far as I know. It’s an accurate part of the answer, a solid piece of the puzzle.

  242. #242 Norman Doering
    June 6, 2007

    Keith Douglas wrote:

    Worse, he doesn’t even know enough about philosophy of mind to even use that – if he did, he’d know that Searle’s argument begs the question, that Dennett does not “dismiss” qualia (he shows there is no such thing), etc.

    I assume you are talking about “The Sci Phi Show” when you say “he.”

    I am the one who brought up Searle’s argument claiming that “The Sci Phi Show” would use it. It’s thus a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy since claiming he’d use it forced him to mention it, but not actually use it.

    I like it when people try to use the metaphor arguments like zombies and the Chinese room. Manipulate it right and you get to say things like “if philosophical zombies are just like us and they use the word consciousness to describe their own mental states but aren’t really conscious — then the only clue would be how they can’t define consciousness — and if you can’t define it yourself, doesn’t that mean you’re a zombie?” The Chinese room can also be turned into a metaphoer for the human condition.

  243. #243 Caledonian
    June 6, 2007

    They don’t? Then what do antipsychotic drugs do?

    The traditionals act as dopamine agonists. That’s why they’re called neuroleptics: “to seize the neuron”.

    If, in part, the causes of schziophrenia include an imbalance in the actions of two brain chemicals, dopamine and serotonin,

    That’s a meaningless claim, on a variety of levels. And ‘imbalance’ is so vague that it could be used to describe virtually anything, but is almost certainly wrong. Our brains are very, very good at adjusting themselves to work with different levels of neurotransmitters.

    There’s a reason terms like ‘balance’ and ‘imbalance’ are thrown around so much in wooish pseudomedicine – they don’t actually mean anything.

    Do you have a better description? I don’t think you can just call that garbage until you’ve got a more accurate way to describe it and thus replace it with something better.

    There ARE, but your understanding is wrong from the very basics. It’s like talking about how aspirin reduces fevers by altering the balance between the four humors.

    Your claim that “Finding a hypothesis that holds up… that, we haven’t managed yet” is a little too black and white.

    No, it is quite accurate. Dozens of models have been proposed, and the vast majority of them have been ruled out because they weren’t adequate.

    I don’t think the “chemical imbalance” piece is as dead wrong as “It’s caused by demons” is.

    Guess what? You’re wrong.

    Saying there is a chemical imbalance is incomplete — it doesn’t say why the imbalance is happening — but it’s not garbage as far as I know. It’s an accurate part of the answer, a solid piece of the puzzle.

    There’s no “imbalance”. Neuropsychologists have tried to explain schizophrenia as an excess or dearth of various neurotransmitters, but we can create those states artificially with various drugs, and the effects simply do not match the symptom profile of schizophrenia.

  244. #244 Norman Doering
    June 6, 2007

    Caledonian, I don’t entirely disagree with you. You do seem to know more about neurochemistry than I do (but who are you and why do you know this? Is your information reliable? I don’t know.) Yes, the “imbalance” explanation is a bit wooish and doesn’t do us much good. But I am not pharmacologists, I don’t have to know.

    The thing is, you’re missing the whole point of bringing up the mental illness and drug treatments line of evidence. This started with your comment to Sonja.

    Sonja had said:

    The chemical and physical make-up of our brains does affect what the brains do in very interesting ways. While the complexity makes human behavior is unpredictable, there are common patterns to the thinking and behavior of people who have common mental “illnesses” such as bipolar disorder.

    Mental illness is a very strong piece of evidence that the mind is a product of the brain.

    To which you replied, taking only the last sentence:

    No. It would be, if we could identify physical problems in the brains of people with mental disorders that we could show caused the disorders… but we can’t.

    There’s still a great deal of evidence supporting the idea that minds are the results of brains, though.

    That last sentence you wrote there is Sonja’s point. The drugs and their effects on mental disorders are evidence that the mind has a material basis that can be affected by chemicals.

    I then brought up neurophysiologists and pharmacologists and new medications for relieving the symptoms of schizophrenia to counter your claim that we had to completely identify physical problems in the brains of people with mental disorders and show what caused the disorders to make Sonja’s point.

    We don’t have to do that. We do not have to identify every physical problem in the brains of people with mental disorders. Just being able to identify a few aspects of these disorders leaves theists with only a god/soul-of-the-gaps argument. And we can make some identifications imperfectly. The point is that the whole path of understanding we are on is a materialist path when it comes to the brain and that path is giving us some success — bit by bit the puzzle how the brain works is being solved.

    Which disorders do we more fully understand? Parkinson’s disease? Manic depression? I’m sure there are some we understand better than schizophrenia. Any real cures? Those might be better lines of evidence.

    I said they’re obviously on to something. Schizophrenia is now a highly treatable disorder and I quoted the National Advisory Mental Health Council saying “the treatment success rate for schizophrenia is comparable to the treatment success rate for heart disease.”

    This counters your original point because it’s evidence of a growing understanding of the chemistry we use to fight mental illness. It’s still a piece of the puzzle even if I myself don’t know the puzzle myself. It’s like I said, your thinking is too black and white.

    I may be wrong about “an imbalance in the chemicals that enable brain cells to communicate with each other” being corrected, but that doesn’t alter the main point. Mental illness is being treated with drugs, physical, material molecules getting up their in the brain and changing the way people think, feel and value.

    And there’s nothing more dramatic that I’ve seen than a schizy on and then off meds for too long. It’s a close to a transformation of the soul as I’ve witnessed.

  245. #245 Caledonian
    June 6, 2007

    I don’t disagree with your point about drugs demonstrating that minds are physical and physiological, but we don’t need to bring up antipsychotics. A cup of strong coffee proves the point just as well.

  246. #246 Norman Doering
    June 6, 2007

    Caledonian wrote:

    A cup of strong coffee proves the point just as well.

    Not as well as a hit of LSD.

  247. #247 Ichthyic
    June 6, 2007

    I eagerly await the chain of LSD outlets that rivals Starbucks.

    wonder what it will be called?

    can’t wait for my first acid frappucino.

  248. #248 Norman Doering
    June 7, 2007

    I eagerly await the chain of LSD outlets that rivals Starbucks.

    wonder what it will be called?

    Timothy Leary’s Psychedelic Emporium.

    But seriously, do you guys understand why I bring up schizophrenia and LSD? Both of LSD and schizophrenia touch on religious experience in ways other mental illnesses and other drugs do not. People on acid and and schizzies sometimes have religious experiences.

    I don’t really see coffee being a big challenge to religious people.

    With schizophrenia and LSD you’ve got the question about whether religious experiences are really just people coming into contact with their own dreaming and insane unconscious mind.

  249. #249 Anton Mates
    June 9, 2007

    But seriously, do you guys understand why I bring up schizophrenia and LSD? Both of LSD and schizophrenia touch on religious experience in ways other mental illnesses and other drugs do not.

    I’d bring up temporal lobe epilepsy and DMT myself. Something like 20% of DMT experiences put you in contact with otherworldly intelligences. I gotta try that someday.

  250. #250 Norman Doering
    June 9, 2007

    Anton Mates wrote:

    I’d bring up temporal lobe epilepsy and DMT myself. Something like 20% of DMT experiences put you in contact with otherworldly intelligences. I gotta try that someday.

    I might have brought those up too if I knew what you knew — but I probably don’t. All I know now is “20% of DMT experiences put you in contact with otherworldly intelligences.” That does sound interesting, but then so do Ketamine and XTC. And they’re probably dangerous and not healthy to be experimenting with.

    But I have heard about Vilayanur S. Ramachandran’s experiments with temporal lobe epilepsy and hyperreligiosity. If not for knowing about that I wouldn’t be connecting religion and temporal lobe epilepsy or understanding what you meant — in part at least.

  251. #251 Anton Mates
    June 9, 2007

    That does sound interesting, but then so do Ketamine and XTC. And they’re probably dangerous and not healthy to be experimenting with.

    AFAIK, they’re actually pretty safe, though you want a friend around to make sure you don’t do anything stupid. DMT and ketamine are comparatively hard to overdose on, and not very addictive. In fact, ketamine’s one of the safest anesthetics around–it tends not to depress your breathing and heart rate, unlike most others, and the main reason it’s not used more widely is that hospitals don’t want their patients having mystical experiences on the operating table.

    For DMT info, RJ Strassman’s published a number of peer-reviewed papers. (He’s also a New Agey sort who thinks that the beings you hallucinate are really from another dimension, and the soul enters the brain through the pineal gland during gestation, and so forth…but I think his papers manage to separate the data from the theology.)

    Ecstasy I don’t know much about, although of course lots of my friends have used it. Me, I’m appallingly well-behaved for having grown up in Berkeley; I think I’ve gotten drunk about twice in my life, and I drink Coke on long driving trips, and that’s it for substance abuse.

    But I have heard about Vilayanur S. Ramachandran’s experiments with temporal lobe epilepsy and hyperreligiosity. If not for knowing about that I wouldn’t be connecting religion and temporal lobe epilepsy or understanding what you meant — in part at least.

    Yeah, I suppose schizophrenia’s being so well known makes it a better disorder to point out to religious people. Still, it might be worthwhile to brief them on all sorts of drugs and mental disorders, just to make it clear how many possible ways there are to get divine visions and out-of-body experiences.

    I often think that if we had everyone experience a few drug-induced hallucinations under controlled conditions, as part of growing up, then they might be less prone to believe that visions and unexpected feelings came from somewhere other than their own brain.

  252. #252 Caledonian
    June 9, 2007

    Isn’t ketamine also associated with increased cell death? Moreso than other general anesthetics, at least.

  253. #253 Anton Mates
    June 9, 2007

    Olney’s lesions, you mean? It’s possible. AFAIK that effect has only been shown in rats, and at doses well above the usual amount taken by a recreational user. But it hasn’t been shown not to happen in people, either.

  254. #254 Norman Doering
    June 9, 2007

    Maybe just telling people about some of the old research on psychedelics and religious experience would be safer. For example: Pahnke’s “Good Friday Experiment.”

    After all, Timothy Leary was taking a lot of LSD and his ideas about it were getting rather woo-woo toward the end. His earlier work made more sense.

    Unlike the new drugs, LSD was used by many thousands of people and if there were any certain signs of brain damage they would have been pointed out and verified by now. That doesn’t mean there isn’t subtle disturbances and damage beyond our ability to detect.

    And that doesn’t include the occasional rare, crazy and suicidal things people have done when on psychedelics, like jumping out windows.

  255. #255 truth machine
    June 14, 2007

    Current estimates are 2020 to 2029 but given the pace of expoential growth in this area it may be as early as 2012.

    Sorry, but what is growing exponentially is memory capacity and processor speed, which are unrelated to the rate of development of AI, which has been relatively stagnant, largely due to funds drying up after many way-overly-ambitious estimates failed misably. You don’t say whose “current estimates” these are, but I can assure you that they are as ignorant of the field as you are. A Turing Test passing machine is completely out of sight, and will remain so without a large number of major breakthroughs. We can’t even emulate the behavior of a spider with its tiny ganglion, let alone the vastly more complex human brain.

  256. #256 truth machine
    June 15, 2007

    “Mental illness is a very strong piece of evidence that the mind is a product of the brain”.

    No. It would be, if we could identify physical problems in the brains of people with mental disorders that we could show caused the disorders… but we can’t.

    Hogwash. There are many instances of people with mental disorders that are the results of identifiable physical problems — tumors, lesions, viral infections, prion deseases — in the brain.

  257. #257 truth machine
    June 15, 2007

    One, functionalism, is simply to say that as long as the abstract interactions of physical parts work in some (unspecified) way, then subjective experience magically arises.

    Only a non-functionalist could characterize it that way. All objects and systems have experience. Some systems record their experience; some systems even react their experiences. And some systems record and react to their own reactions — they model themselves as subjects. A system that performs the functions of modeling its own reactions functionally has subjective experience; there’s nothing magical or unspecified about it.

    Searle and Penrose would argue that it would not have the same experiences that you do.

    Penrose would, Searle wouldn’t. Searle has repeatedly said that robots are capable of mental states, but not solely by virtue of running a symbolic computer program. (Searle says he’s not a dualist, but there’s no way to make coherent sense of his claim.)

    And eliminativists would argue that neither the robot nor you have experiences.

    I know of eliminativists in regard to qualia, in regard to consciousness, in regard to propositional attitudes … but I’ve never heard of an eliminativist in regard to experiences. I don’t think you understand what eliminativism is.

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