Pharyngula

Michael Egnor, tiresome little lackey of the DI that he is, is asking his readers to help me find out where altruism is located. I’m not going to link back to him—sorry, but I’m afraid it would only encourage him, and I don’t want to be an enabler—but I will try to address his flawed question.

He wants to know precisely where altruism resides, and he bizarrely illustrates his question with this diagram.

i-0f16329e5ad6ddc20e93e601569a7154-mikeys_question.jpg

That makes the answer easy.

i-ebec9d5418b20544b68ec1ec23291147-pzs_answer.jpg

Are we done now?

Of course not. We must plumb the depths of lunacy … because it is there! Especially since Michael Egnor gives the worst rationalization for dualism ever. Trust me. This is really bad.

Brace yourself. Here is his argument that altruism cannot be located in the brain.

If altruism is located in the brain, then some changes in location of the brain must, to use a mathematical term, ‘map’ to changes in altruism. That is, if you move your brain, you move your altruism in some discernable way. And ‘moving’ altruism means changing its properties. It won’t do to say that moving altruism changes its property of ‘location,’ because ‘location’ of altruism is the issue. That begs the question.

Does altruism have location? The brain does; it can move in space by moving in any of six degrees of freedom: in a Cartesian system, it can move in the x, y, or z direction, or it can pitch, yaw, or roll. These are the movements possible for a material body.

Now moving your brain through ‘x,y,z’ or ‘pitch, yaw, or roll’ does change its material properties, which are located in the brain. The pulse pressure in your brain tissue is greater when you’re recumbent than when you’re standing (pitch). The venous pressure is lower when you’re standing than when you’re recumbent. Tilting your head to the left (roll) tilts the vector of carotid arterial blood flow to the left. Even material things that are less tangible, like neuronal action potentials, change with brain movement. Action potentials have direction, and can be described using spatial vectors. When you tilt your head, you tilt the vectors along which your axons transmit action potentials. When you turn your head 30 degrees to the left (yaw), you turn the direction of propagation of action potentials 30 degrees to the left too. In this sense, material changes in the brain can map to changes in location of the brain.

But how does moving your brain change your altruism? Do properties of altruism, like benevolence, have pitch, yaw or roll? Is generosity measurably and reproducibly different when you (and your brain) are on the north, rather than the south, side of the room? Are you measurably more or less charitable if you tilt your head 30 degrees to the left? If you walk around the room does your altruism change in a reproducible way? If you stand up, is your altruism different that when you’re sitting?

For altruism to be located in the brain, changes in altruism must map, in some reproducible way, to changes in brain location. But it’s obvious that no property of altruism maps to brain location. If no property of altruism maps to brain location, then altruism is independent of brain location, and it’s nonsense to say that altruism is located in the brain. Altruism is completely independent of location, so it can’t be located in the brain, or anywhere. It can’t be ‘located’ at all.

I read the first paragraph and thought he must be building to something clever and subtle; no one could possibly be making an argument that stupid. I read on, and I realized I was being far too charitable, and yes, he really is making an argument that stupid. Because my altruistic feelings are not left behind in my chair when I get up and walk across the room, they must not be located in my brain. In Egnor’s mind (which is safely situated in a remote location, far, far away from the entity doing the typing), if properties of the mind do not have an absolute location in coordinates of latitude, longitude, and altitude, they cannot possibly exist in your brain.

I’m typing this on my laptop, on my text editor. I’d better not pick up my laptop, swivel around on my office chair, and move it to the other desk behind me, because I might leave the text editor floating in space above my computer desk. Or worse, maybe the text editor will change properties and become a spreadsheet, or one of those programs that control a nuclear missile, or the software interface to a microwave oven. Alternatively, the fact that the text editor still works when I move my laptop must mean that the program actually doesn’t reside in my computer — it’s being beamed in from the Software Soul Sanctuary located somewhere in another supernatural universe.

Here’s another concern. One of the many functions of my liver is to regulate glucose metabolism. Where is the regulation of glucose metabolism located? Well, I’d have to wave my hand vaguely over this great big spongy, bloody organ in my guts, and I’d also have to admit that it’s a property of many interacting systems—the circulatory system is essential, of course, as are peripheral tissues, glands and hormonal regulators, even the brain. Does the fact that it is currently located at 45° 35′ 19″ N, 95° 54′ 6″ W have anything at all to do with its function? Does the fact that changes in glucose metabolism do not map in any reproducible way to the absolute physical location of my liver in any way imply that my physiology must be off-site somewhere?

Of course, to normal people, the idea that the properties of the brain, a computer, or a liver are associated with those objects is not contingent on whether I’m in my chair or on the other side of the room, because when I move around I bring my brain and liver and (usually) my laptop with me. I would agree that my concept of altruism would change if getting up meant my brain would slither out of my cranium to plop onto my chair when I got up — but again, that reinforces the notion that properties of the mind are associated with the brain.

Ultimately, his argument rests on this deeply and obviously faulty analogy, and simple assertion.

Myers makes a category error. Matter and ideas share no properties. Ideas like altruism aren’t material, so they can’t have a location. Altruism has no yaw or pitch or roll. Location is a property of matter, not ideas. Benevolence is a property of ideas, not matter. Matter can’t be benevolent, and ideas can’t have location. And matter can’t, by itself, cause ideas, because they share no properties.

Of course they can share properties. We know that chemicals and the physical integrity of the brain can affect your thoughts, and vice versa. These material agents can change your personality, your perceptions, your behavior—they can make you less benevolent or more benevolent. For a neurosurgeon to claim that the mind shares absolutely no properties with that gelatinous blob he operates on is rather frightening; is he even aware of the consequences to his patient’s mental state if he tears through it? Does he think he’s working on a ball of phlegm, and that he mainly has to worry about those delicate arteries running through it?

Now what I really want to see Egnor do is return to his little diagram. I’ve said where altruism and mind are located, and done so fairly unambiguously, I think. Now it’s his turn to tell me where the satellites and transmission towers and central transmitter of the soul are located.

Comments

  1. #1 Viscount
    June 14, 2007

    Does helping someone with an undesireable task fall under Egnor’s definition of altruism? If so, it’s definitely affected by the physical state of the brain – either that, or our souls get drunk as easily as our bodies do.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?db=pubmed&list_uids=3981391&cmd=Retrieve&indexed=google

    “In Study 1, a mild dose of alcohol increased helping among high-conflict subjects pressured to help with a task they did not like, but did not increase helping among low-conflict subjects who either liked the task or were weakly pressured to help. In Study 2, a somewhat stronger dose of alcohol increased helping among all high-conflict subjects pressured to help with an undesirable task, yet again had no effect among low-conflict subjects weakly pressured to help.”

  2. #2 Numad
    June 14, 2007

    Lunacy is the only word for that level of argument.

  3. #3 mothra
    June 14, 2007

    If Michael Egnor REALLY wished to learn about altruism, he could simply buy and read vols. I, II, and III, Narrow roads to Gene land– the collected papers of Dr. W. D. Hamilton. But no, that requires both acumen and mathematics.

  4. #4 Theda
    June 14, 2007

    Ouch. Now my brain hurts.

  5. #5 AtheistAcolyte
    June 14, 2007

    *jaw agape* Huh?!

    Sometimes, I think Egnor is the perfect evidence for evolution. No merciful designer would ever have created such a quivering mass of idiocy and allowed it to make an ass of itself like that.

  6. #6 Viscount
    June 14, 2007

    Upon further thought, I guess you could make the case that the alcohol study just shows greater susceptibility to social pressure when drunk, so altruism doesn’t necessarily enter into it. Depends how you define the word I suppose.

  7. #7 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 14, 2007

    Everything which Egnor says about altruism apply equally well to, say, grammar and punctuation skills. Is my ability to conjugate verbs, split infinitives and put two spaces after every period my connection to the plane of spirit, eternity and God?

    Carl Sagan would never call someone a demented fuckwit, but I know myself, and I, sir, am no Carl Sagan!

  8. #8 ron richardson
    June 14, 2007

    Concepts have locations? This guy’s a neurosurgeon?

  9. #9 EMR
    June 14, 2007

    “Ouch. Now my brain hurts.” –Theda

    No problem, just move to a different chair. 😛

  10. #10 Kseniya
    June 14, 2007

    Does that mean that if I were to move to Minnesota, I won’t be able to remember ever having lived in Massachusetts?

    Welp. Egnor’s the brain surgeon, I’m just a silly little undergrad. I guess the fact that I’m no longer living in Atlantis is the reason why I can’t remember my past lives there. Mystery solved!

    Wow. I thought, at first, that he was leading up to this: “We haven’t figured out where, in the brain, ‘altruism’ resides, therefore it doesn’t reside there.” But no. I read it a couple of times to make sure. It hurts my brain when I try to grasp that he actually is arguing that because my altruistic personality traits don’t change when I tilt my head, that those traits don’t reside in my head.

  11. #11 mjfgates
    June 14, 2007

    Actually, a few of the things he says there are nicely testable. ARE people more altruistic when they’re tipped over this way or that? Give me a day or so to design the experiment, a lot of rope, and two dozen college students, and I’ll tell you.

    My initial hypothesis is that people are going to be a lot less altruistic when they’re hanging upside down from their feet, ‘cos they’ll all have miserable headaches after two minutes in that position.

  12. #12 Jennifurret
    June 14, 2007

    I think reading that just made me a little dumber. You said a neurosurgeon wrote that? That’s…pretty frightening. I wonder where he went to grad school, so I can make sure not to go there.

  13. #13 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 14, 2007

    Where, in the United States, is the presidential election located?

  14. #14 Caledonian
    June 14, 2007

    This kind of stuff makes me seriously glad I don’t have him as my neurosurgeon, and wonder whether he’s actually qualified to be a surgeon.

    Because if he really believes that mental functions don’t physically reside within the brain, then he has no business being allowed to cut into people’s heads. Brain surgery involves tragic but necessary sacrifices of neural function, but if Egnor doesn’t acknowledge that things like declarative memory, spatiokinetic skills, or linguistic ability are tied to specific brain regions and pathways, unneeded and gratuitous losses will be inevitable.

  15. #15 Martin Wagner
    June 14, 2007

    You’d be surprised how dippy some practitioners of neuroscience can be. A friend of mine has epilepsy, and one neurosurgeon suggested she try past-life regression therapy. I shit you not.

  16. #16 Bob L
    June 14, 2007

    I was under the impression that Christianity holds things liker altruism is just pure human selfishness, you know, that whole “humanity is utterly depraved” thing in their TULIP thing. So Egnor is asking you to locate something he doesn’t even believe exists. That’s nice and trollish of him.

  17. #17 TheBrummell
    June 14, 2007

    We know that chemicals and the physical integrity of the brain can affect your thoughts, and vice versa.

    Right there. Physical integrity implies that the various parts of the brain (Egnor, as a neurosurgeon, is aware that the brain is not a homogeneous sphere, right?) maintain their RELATIVE posititions to each other.

    I expect my altruism may actually get altered should (for example) my left temporal lobe’s spatial relationship with my cerebellum change by a centimeter or two.

    The stupidity of Egnor’s statement is painful to read. Why do you torture us so, PZ?

  18. #18 Interrobang
    June 14, 2007

    Amazing. A neurosurgeon who apparently doesn’t understand the idea of emergent behaviour in complex systems. I apparently have a better grasp of cognitive theory than he does, and that scares the shit out of me. Please don’t let the guy operate on me.

  19. #19 Sastra
    June 14, 2007

    At some level most arguments for the supernatural turn out to be category errors (which they ironically accuse us of!) Egnor is reifying abstractions, and turning them into immaterial, supernatural, spooky “objects.” Liberty, Love, Mind, Beauty, and, in this case, “Altruism.”

    Egnor should do another chart and start us working on the hard problem of where the ‘speed’ goes when the car stops. If it didn’t drop off by the side of the road, it must be part of the spirit realm.

  20. #20 Rey Fox
    June 14, 2007

    Way out in the water, I see it swimming. Egnor’s starting to reach Chopra level.

  21. #21 daenku32
    June 14, 2007

    One question: If you stab Egnor’s brain, do you have to dig out your own and place it in the chest and sail the seas of stupidity for ever?

  22. #22 Frodo
    June 14, 2007

    Your head will collapse if there’s nothing in it

  23. #23 AJ Milne
    June 14, 2007

    You know, for a moment, I could see exactly what he meant…

    Then I moved.

    Oh well.

  24. #24 sailor
    June 14, 2007

    “My initial hypothesis is that people are going to be a lot less altruistic when they’re hanging upside down from their feet, ‘cos they’ll all have miserable headaches after two minutes in that position.”

    Dammit mjfgates you got there before me – I was going to have a bunch of pirates hang them upside down in the rigging. Sure changes you altruism. Unless of course you are an old-style movie star – but then that is easy, the stunt man hangs upside down.

  25. #25 llewelly
    June 14, 2007

    Because my altruistic feelings are not left behind in my chair when I get up and walk across the room, they must not be located in my brain.

    That Egnor thinks his argument convincing implies that his head is not properly fastened to his neck. The Arrogant Worms song, Johnny Came Home Headless comes to mind.

  26. #26 M.H.
    June 14, 2007

    He’s a brain surgeon???

  27. #27 Zombie
    June 14, 2007

    Egnor can’t possibly think anybody’s going to find that drivel convincing… can he?

  28. #28 Caledonian
    June 14, 2007

    What do you want to bet that Egnor owns at least one mobile phone, but never wonders why he can move it about without changing the number that activates it?

  29. #29 Viscount
    June 14, 2007

    PZ’s question about the location of the satellites is actually dancing around a real problem for dualists – how does an immaterial, nonphysical soul cause the material, physical body to do things? Is there an interface point in the brain?

    If Egnor can be goaded into answering this question, 20 bucks says he either admits he doesn’t know, causing the universe to collapse into an irony singularity, or pulls a Descartes and claims it’s the pineal gland, in which case I will probably die laughing.

  30. #30 Science Avenger
    June 14, 2007

    I roomed with a future brain surgeon in college. Brilliant twisted bastard. Liked to tell his girlfriend he was considering suicide because he liked to hear her get upset. And now he’s cutting into people’s brains. Really.

    He and Egnor have me thinking maybe we are expecting too much of brain surgeons. It’s not brilliance that defines them, and it surely isn’t empathy. Perhaps social dispassion, apathy to the shock of cutting into someone else’s head, is what most seperates them from the rest of us. Think undertakers. Both are jobs most of us wouldn’t do.

  31. #31 Dinzer
    June 14, 2007

    Is Egnor and the gang hanging out in the basement of the Discovery Institute passing a bong around?

    I could just imagine Egnor explaining this to his bong-buddies in the basement and they’re all, “Dude, that’s awesome!” or “You’re blowing my mind, Man!”

  32. #32 Caledonian
    June 14, 2007

    Scalpel.

    “Scalpel.”

    Bone saw.

    “Bone saw.”

    Ice cream scoop.

    “Ice cream scoop?!”

    Dammit, Smithers! This isn’t rocket science – it’s brain surgery!

  33. #33 Silence
    June 14, 2007

    If ideas don’t have a location, where does an unspoken idea go when you die? With you into the grave, or off into never never land to fly around on its own?

  34. #34 AtheistAcolyte
    June 14, 2007

    @mjfgates- (#11)

    Actually, that would only go to prove his point. What must be established is that altruism, or any similar concept, is not independent of mental state. So we must then go from the dualistic assumption that our altruism exists outside of the brain, and thus exists despite of our mental states, then prove that mental state has a profound impact on altruism.

    This is easily proven with a bottle of Jack Daniels, which I intend to use later on tonight.

    Of course, this opens us up to the counterclaim that the mind is the lens through which we experience our dualistic nature. Which of course is unfounded, baseless, untestable (at the moment) bullshit.

  35. #35 Spaulding
    June 14, 2007

    I’m actually kind of curious about how things like altitude and rotation could affect the actions of, say, your brain and liver. It’s certainly conceivable that being upside down might subtly affect your thought patterns.

    In fact, I’ve been conducting a decades-long experiment in which I spend approximately 8 hours a day in a prone or recumbant position, during which I have observed a substantial decrease in altruistic activity. Although I have not published results, this experiment has been replicated extensively, consistently supporting my findings.

  36. #36 K. Signal Eingang
    June 14, 2007

    I want to print out copies of Egnor’s essay and leave them around his waiting room. His patients have a right to know.

  37. #37 Ichthyic
    June 14, 2007

    “Dammit, Smithers! This isn’t rocket science – it’s brain surgery!”

    lol

    why is it that indeed the simpsons appear to be the quintessential reference that comes to mind when creobots speak?

    It’s like it was designed for the purpose…

  38. #38 Bronze Dog
    June 14, 2007

    While the Egnor quotes were on my screen, the stupidity was so powerful, it pinned me against the closet door behind me. I was lucky my cat came along and pawed at the PgDn key.

    I never seriously thought Egnor would end up surpassing his master, Deepak Chopra.

    If ideas don’t have a location, where does an unspoken idea go when you die? With you into the grave, or off into never never land to fly around on its own?

    It does whatever dreams deferred do.

  39. #39 woozy
    June 14, 2007

    I think what he’s trying to say is changes in the brain (blood flow, chemicals, nutrients) would have to change altruism and then he assumes it is obvious that they don’t.

    Well, I don’t know about you, but if someone trips me so my brain falls to the floor I tend to feel less altruistic.

    Um, I’d expect tilting my head 30% (and thus changing my blood flow) to effect my altruism in more or less the same degree I’d expect it to effect my intellect, my sense of well being, my paranoia, my grammar, lust, etc. i.e. not very much. Likewise I’d expect a bullet through the brain, or less dramatict a severe head injury and two weeks in a coma, to effect my sense of altruism more or less the same as it does the same list. i.e. A lot!

    Uh, how has he demonstrated it in any way that it wouldn’t?

    No matter how you look at it, it’s an astoundingly stupid argument.

  40. #40 Fides
    June 14, 2007

    Hmmm…self experiement.

    Checking for the presence of alturism, by moving my brain in various ways:

    X – Check – still feel nice to others.

    y – Check

    z – Check

    Pitch – Check

    Roll – Check

    Yaw: – Made me a Republican

    Yaw is, apparently, the way to evil.

  41. #41 Ginger Yellow
    June 14, 2007

    “Where, in the United States, is the presidential election located?”

    Easy: in the office of Katherine Harris.

  42. #42 garth
    June 14, 2007

    wouldn’t altruism, ideas, etc be properties of the brain? a property of the light bulb is that it emits light under certain circumstances…a property of the brain is that it comes up with the dumb idea it would be fun to help someone move for a whole goddamn saturday.

  43. #43 Andrs Diplotti
    June 14, 2007

    I need volunteers for my candy bar flavor experiments. Volunteers will eat candy bars holding them in different positions, and in different locations too. If the bars taste always the same, that’ll be an evidence for my hypothesis that flavor is not material, is not a property of candy bars and can’t be said to have a location either.

  44. #44 Andrs Diplotti
    June 14, 2007

    I need volunteers for my candy bar flavor experiments. Volunteers will eat candy bars holding them in different positions, and in different locations too. If the bars taste always the same, that’ll be an evidence for my hypothesis that flavor is not material, is not a property of candy bars and can’t be said to have a location either.

  45. #45 Karey
    June 14, 2007

    Purely from the way logic argument goes, isnt all this example proving is that hopping up and down 3 times, spinning and doing a cartwheel just not cause a physical reaction big enough to affect altruism in your brain or whatever? It doesn’t prove its not there, just proves there’s no change. Um, lots of things don’t change measurably with too small a stimulant.

    Thanks for warning me to brace myself, but I still wasn’t prepared.

  46. #46 wright
    June 14, 2007

    Wow. Just… wWOOOw…

    Is Egnor capable of rational, sane behaviour when he’s not blogging? For the sake of his patients, I hope so.

    It makes me think of my father, who is one of the best educated, traveled and observant people I know… and still thinks Rush Limbaugh is one of the great social commentators of our time.

  47. #47 AL
    June 14, 2007

    Egnor really, really needs to look up reification. That’s all that needs to be said, really. He’s elaborating on a whole lot of nothing.

  48. #48 Caledonian
    June 14, 2007

    why is it that indeed the simpsons appear to be the quintessential reference that comes to mind when creobots speak?

    It’s like it was designed for the purpose…

    Oh, yeah, right – The Simpsons were intelligently designed. Suuuuure! Next you’ll be expecting me to believe in the Great Groening, who suffers for the sins of humanity by being contractually obligated to attend storyboard sessions for the show He once loved and watched wither with the passage of time.

  49. #49 Shishberg
    June 14, 2007

    On a slightly orthogonal topic… How many people went here?

  50. #50 Siamang
    June 14, 2007

    But where does collossal stupidity reside?

  51. #51 Anna Z
    June 14, 2007

    I guess I was mistaken thinking Egnor was a brain surgeon! I thought I might be able to counter his arguments with a reference to this article,

    “Damage to the prefrontal cortex increases utilitarian moral judgements”
    Michael Koenigs, Liane Young, Ralph Adolphs, Daniel Tranel, Fiery Cushman, Marc Hauser & Antonio Damasio
    Nature 446, 908-911 (19 April 2007)
    doi.org/10.1038/nature05631

    … but, danged, he’s being way too stupid for that. I think he needs his tinfoil hat repaired.

  52. #52 Jeb, FCD
    June 14, 2007

    Please tell me this demented fuckwit is no longer practicing. At least slice-and-dice can be reduced to cookbook.

    Myersus, this guy scares me (for his patients).

  53. #53 Hawks
    June 14, 2007

    I had to read his article more than once. This guy just keeps getting better and better. Question is, when did his writings start being more than just an April fools joke? To non-ID people, this would have been some time prior to April 1st. For the Disco institute, it will probably become one when they need to sever their ties to him and they need a convenient excuse.

  54. #54 truth machine
    June 14, 2007

    That is, if you move your brain, you move your altruism in some discernable way. And ‘moving’ altruism means changing its properties. It won’t do to say that moving altruism changes its property of ‘location,’ because ‘location’ of altruism is the issue. That begs the question.

    This goes way beyond stupid. Since location is the property at issue, then of course it will do to say that moving your altruism changes its property of location — no other property is relevant! Try this:

    If neurons are located in the brain, then some changes in location of the brain must, to use a mathematical term, ‘map’ to changes in neurons. That is, if you move your brain, you move your neurons in some discernable way. And ‘moving’ neurons means changing their properties. It won’t do to say that moving neurons changes their property of ‘location,’ because ‘location’ of neurons is the issue. That begs the question.

    Uh, yeah, right.

    Of course the difference is between a concrete thing like your neurons, and an abstraction like “neurons” or “altruism” in general, but Egnor can’t even keep track of his own point, since he refers to “your altruism” in the first sentence. Yes, of course, “Altruism is completely independent of location, so it can’t be located in the brain, or anywhere. It can’t be ‘located’ at all” — the same is true of all abstractions; that’s what it means to be abstract. This isn’t metaphysics, its linguistics. “neurons” as a general concept has no location, but specific neurons do have a location. Yeesh.

  55. #55 CalGeorge
    June 14, 2007

    Okay, there is no “altruism” in the brain.

    There’s just brain in the brain.

    I kinda get what he’s trying to say.

    But I disagree with him entirely that matter can’t cause ideas. It’s the only thing that can cause ideas. And the gooshie matter inside of our heads is especialy good at this game.

    Time to take ownership of your ideas, Egnor. They originate with you, they change as you do, you pass them along, and they die with you.

  56. #56 craig
    June 14, 2007

    There was an article on Slashdot yesterday about altruism in PLANTS:

    “Researchers at McMaster University have found that plants get fiercely competitive when forced to share their pot with strangers of the same species, but they’re accommodating when potted with their siblings. […] Though they lack cognition and memory, the study shows plants are capable of complex social behaviours such as altruism towards relatives, says Dudley. Like humans, the most interesting behaviours occur beneath the surface.”

    http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/06/13/191227

    Of course, it is Slashdot after all.

  57. #57 Jeb, FCD
    June 14, 2007

    Seriously, does this mean if you’re walking down the street your intelligence is still at your starting point? Seems cartoonish.

    Morris looks sweet from space. If I caome visit, I have dibs on the couch (just keep Skatje off me!).

  58. #58 waldteufel
    June 14, 2007

    The Egnorant One reminds me of myself and my cronies when we were undergraduates and drunk on Saturday night.

    You know, before we learned anything about science or learned how to control ourselves.

    The Egnorant One’s writings, as was pointed out by K. Signal Eingang, should be bound and made available in his waiting room.

  59. #59 tinyfrog
    June 14, 2007

    Let’s face the facts: the April Fool’s day joke about Michael Egnor being a fictitious character was true – he is a fictitious character because *no one*, not even the Discovery Institute could possibly be this dumb. And to claim that he’s a neurosurgeon? Please. Oh, and here’s a link to Egnor’s screed (I actually found it on google because I had a hard time believing PZ Myer’s wasn’t pulling our leg).
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2007/06/please_help_pz_meyers_find_alt.html

  60. #60 ekzept
    June 14, 2007

    You can check your anatomy all you want, and even though there may be normal variation, when it comes right down to it, this far inside the head it all looks the same. No, no, no, don’t tug on that. You never know what it might be attached to.

    — neurosurgeon Buckaroo Bonzai in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

  61. #61 Jim D
    June 14, 2007

    The only thing which comforts me in this is knowing that anyone who goes to Egnor for brain surgery is probably one of his ‘true believers’ and therefore deserves what they get as a result – good and hard.

    Jim D

  62. #62 Robster, FCD
    June 14, 2007

    This is a truly impressive display of Egnorance.

    If this term has yet to be coined, then I claim origin.

  63. #63 Karen
    June 14, 2007

    PZ, you must be amazingly generous and patient to have actually bothered to address his “argument”.

    I spend a fair chunk of time reading early and classical and Neoplatonic philosophy (which I love), but Egnor’s writings sound like the very very very worst of their semantic catergory-shifting play-trickery. Like someone took Proclus and lobotomised him. With an ice-cream scoop.

    I can’t believe an educated person, a scientist, can actually fool themselves into believing the claims he’s making. What he’s writing about is stuff that 14 year old kids sort out after quarter of an hour of reasonable thinking. Sastra and AL knocked it totally on the head – he’s taking an abstraction and trying to locate it. Physically. WTF? And he’s an educated person? He’s a scientist? He’s a neurosurgeon?????

    He’s gonna be so embarrassed a few years from now.

    It’s almost as though creationists like this are publically disembowelling themselves, and the pendulum is about to swing back to common sense, because, surely, they can’t write anymore stupid than this and still expect people to bother to read them. It’s just getting too stupid to bother! It reminds me of that South Park episode where the concerned parents protest, and die, by catapulting their bodies against a building.

  64. #64 RamblinDude
    June 14, 2007

    Rapid acceleration of the head of 30 degrees to the left, caused by a hammer upside the head, can put a serious crimp in the location of altruism.

    Invite him to try it and see how altruistic he feels afterwards.

  65. #65 CalGeorge
    June 14, 2007

    Does this mean that if I go to Egnor for brain surgery, I can leave my anxiety at home?

  66. #66 Susannah
    June 14, 2007

    Has the great brain surgeon been practicing on himself again? Bad idea, that.

  67. #67 truth machine
    June 14, 2007

    If ideas don’t have a location, where does an unspoken idea go when you die? With you into the grave, or off into never never land to fly around on its own?

    Um, if ideas don’t have a location, then of course they don’t go anywhere — you seem to have forgotten the premise immediately after you proposed it. And indeed, ideas don’t have a location, clearly, since a thousand other people, some of them in other galaxies, could have the same idea that you never spoke. It is indeed a category mistake to conflate material objects with abstractions. But Egnor’s argument is a strawman, because when biologists talk about altruism, they are talking about actual concrete altruistic behavior, not altruism in the abstract. When they talk about people having an idea, they are talking about a concrete instance of a person engaging in a particular cognitive function. And so is Egnor, except when he changes the subject to the abstraction in order to make a false claim about the concrete. And that’s his category mistake, and it’s the one that matters. It is the capacity to act altruistically that is located in the brain, and there is a casual connection between the state of a person’s brain and their actions, including altruistic actions. To confuse a capacity to act altruistically, or altruistic actions, with altruism in the abstract is a severe category mistake, and to employ that mistake to argue that brains don’t produce altruism is dishonest wordplay: “Egnor’s brain produces dishonesty” is about his dishonesty, specific dishonest acts; it doesn’t assert that Egnor’s brain is responsible for all dishonesty everywhere throughout all of history and even dishonesty that has never or will never occur.

  68. #68 Troublesome Frog
    June 14, 2007

    You know, when I see arguments that I disagree with from intelligent, accomplished people, they usually make me stop and think. For example, when Dembski puts out an argument, I need to ponder it for a while. So far, I’ve decided that the argument is incorrect, but I can certainly see how a rational person might construct it and think it makes sense.

    This is not one of those cases. This isn’t even one of those cases where a philosopher is saying something that appears nonsensical because he’s playing with axioms that I find silly. It appears to be the sort of nuttery you’d expect from an elementary school kid who is a bit advanced for his age and wants to engage in thought experiments about the physical sciences.

  69. #69 Great White Wonder
    June 14, 2007

    I thought Michael Egnor was a parody.

  70. #70 David Marjanovi?
    June 14, 2007

    Carl Sagan would never call someone a demented fuckwit, but I know myself, and I, sir, am no Carl Sagan!

    Blake Stacey for Order of the Molly. Again.

    “Where, in the United States, is the presidential election located?”

    Easy: in the office of Katherine Harris.

    Scratch that. Ginger Yellow for Order of the Molly.

  71. #71 David Marjanovi?
    June 14, 2007

    Carl Sagan would never call someone a demented fuckwit, but I know myself, and I, sir, am no Carl Sagan!

    Blake Stacey for Order of the Molly. Again.

    “Where, in the United States, is the presidential election located?”

    Easy: in the office of Katherine Harris.

    Scratch that. Ginger Yellow for Order of the Molly.

  72. #72 Jaycubed
    June 14, 2007

    “Egnor really, really needs to look up reification. That’s all that needs to be said, really. He’s elaborating on a whole lot of nothing.”
    Posted by: AL

    Absolutely correct. At no place in his writing does Egnor (what a Freudian name) define what altruism is, or demonstrate it is in a functional category like memory, vision or hunger.

    Altuism can be shown to have evolutionary benefits. Organisms can be encoded with genes that promote altruism. But nobody has the slightest idea yet what that implies for the small scale structure of the rain; it seems unlikely that it means there is an “altruism area” of the brain.

    Egnor is not just reifying, he is reifying a concept he can’t even begin to describe & define.

  73. #73 Cyde Weys
    June 14, 2007

    Wait wait, I thought Michael Egnor was an extended April Fools joke? Or did I miss something?

  74. #74 David Marjanovi?
    June 14, 2007

    This is a truly impressive display of Egnorance.

    If this term has yet to be coined, then I claim origin.

    Google.

  75. #75 David Marjanovi?
    June 14, 2007

    This is a truly impressive display of Egnorance.

    If this term has yet to be coined, then I claim origin.

    Google.

  76. #76 Grax
    June 14, 2007

    I read those quoted Michael Egnor paragraphs, and when I had finished reading my eyes were completely wide, my mouth half open. I then laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed.

    Then I wrote this post about it.

  77. #77 Ichthyic
    June 14, 2007

    I thought Michael Egnor was a parody.

    there were rumors…

    it’s just so damn hard to tell by looking at their writing any more, ain’t it?

    I know you know there really is a Michael Egnor, but I know what you mean, and do recall there being some posting on the issue a while back; that maybe all these posts are parody, if not the man himself.

    Still, it’s not like we haven’t seen extremely similar arguments from other creobots before, so if they ARE all parody, the joke ends up still being on the DI anyway.

  78. #78 jexter
    June 14, 2007

    My Dad used to bring up an old classic vaudeville gag whenever he heard someone talking nonsense:

    First man: “I understand you’re an expert in how the brain works. Can you tell me where altruism resides?”

    Second man: “Well, now – do you know anything about how the brain works?”

    First man: “No.”

    Second man: “Oh good! Then I can speak freely…”

  79. #79 Alison
    June 14, 2007

    Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I got the impression that Egnor was asserting that IF altruism resided in the brain, then change in brain location would change altruism – and since it doesn’t, altruism must come from. . .well. . .god? Soul? Spiritual GPSes? If you reduce it to the basics, I think he’s saying what creationists and IDiots say all the time – we can’t explain it, therefore goddidit. Of course, using this argument, one could assume that it naturally follows that any change in the location of god would have serious impact on altruism worldwide. I hope he never gets a really itchy spot on his back where he can’t reach it. . .

  80. #80 Ichthyic
    June 14, 2007

    Egnor’s brain is responsible for all dishonesty everywhere throughout all of history and even dishonesty that has never or will never occur.

    sorry, i like the idea the quotemine of your statement represents so much I just had to.

    forgive me.

  81. #81 llewelly
    June 14, 2007

    The creationists have figured out that the stupider their arguments are, the more functioning gray matter their readers lose. And the less gray matter their readers have, the less able their readers are to defend themselves. Their goal is to write an argument so astonishingly stupid that PZ will fall into a coma, Greg Laden will suffer a stroke, and Larry Moran’s head will explode (killing an innocent bystander, no less) . They are certain they will win by this means …

  82. #82 Alex
    June 14, 2007

    Ha! Gullible Pharyngula readers. Egnor has once again pulled the wool over your eyes, just as he did with his April Fool’s prank a few months ago. Obviously nobody of the intellectual calibre of Egnor could be so stupid and arrogant to seriously believe that the proposed altruism ‘argument’ provides any reason at all to believe in dualism. Far more sophisticated arguments were dismissed by philosophers decades ago.

    Rather than critiquing Egnor, we should all be laughing along at his merry little prank. Well done Egnor, well done.

  83. #83 truth machine
    June 14, 2007

    Seriously, does this mean if you’re walking down the street your intelligence is still at your starting point? Seems cartoonish.

    Sorry, but it’s PZ’s cartoon, not Egnor’s. If you’re going to be serious, then at least try to understand what Egnor is saying. He said that altruism has no location — so of course he isn’t saying that it’s still at your starting point, he’s saying it isn’t anywhere. And he’s right, altruism, as an abstraction, isn’t anywhere. But when we ask “What causes altruism?” we aren’t using the word in an abstract sense. What we really mean is “What causes the specific instances of altruistic behavior we observe?”. There isn’t much need to be careful about the distinction until someone like Egnor comes along and intentionally mixes them up, employing a category mistake to make a bogus metaphysical argument. (This bogosity is not new with Egnor; it goes back at least to Plato, and is very common among professional philosophers. Unfortunately, philosophy, unlike science, doesn’t have a learning mechanism that rewards correct theses and punishes incorrect theses.)

  84. #84 tk
    June 14, 2007

    This explains when I’m sitting down I want to help the wife with the chores, but when I stand up, I make a cup of tea instead.

  85. #85 QrazyQat
    June 14, 2007

    Have we doublechecked to be sure he’s a brain surgeon, not a brain patient?

  86. #86 Ichthyic
    June 14, 2007

    I think he’s saying what creationists and IDiots say all the time – we can’t explain it, therefore goddidit.

    except, in this case, altruistic behavior has a very long record of testing and investigation in the realm of both animal behavior and human physiology.

    hence the argument from egnorance mentioned many times.

    hell, I thought Francis Collins did a better job of making shit up in his most recent book, where he tried to use altruism to argue for a larger issue of “moral law” that in his mind was the prime evidence for special creation.

    It wasn’t a much more reasoned argument, but at least it was slightly more fleshed out.

    there was a decent analysis of where Collins went wrong with his moral law argument (and right with his genetics argument in support of the ToE) here:

    http://www.talkreason.org/articles/Theistic.cfm

    scroll down and read the section titled:

    The Irreducibly Complex Moral Law

    if you want to skip the genetics part (but do go back to it later, as there is good stuff there too).

  87. #87 Sean Foley
    June 14, 2007

    I must disagree with your labeling of Dr. Egnor’s diagram. Patently, altruism must be located in one of the satellites; specifically, the Satellite of Love.

  88. #88 truth machine
    June 14, 2007

    Egnor is not just reifying

    Egnor is failing to reify, but treating “altruism” as an abstraction rather than a set of observed behaviors.

    he is reifying a concept he can’t even begin to describe & define

    I know from your folly over affect/effect that you have trouble using a dictionary, but this is a good time to consult one:

    Animal behavior. behavior by an animal that may be to its disadvantage but that benefits others of its kind, as a warning cry that reveals the location of the caller to a predator.

    For a more detailed and accurate definition of the term as used in biology, see http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/altruism-biological
    <

  89. #89 truth machine
    June 14, 2007

    there is a casual connection

    I meant “causal connection”.

    failing to reify, but treating

    I meant “by treating”.

  90. #90 Ian Musgrave
    June 14, 2007

    AnnaZ wrote

    I guess I was mistaken thinking Egnor was a brain surgeon! I thought I might be able to counter his arguments with a reference to this article,”Damage to the prefrontal cortex increases utilitarian moral judgements”[snip] Nature 446, 908-911 (19 April 2007)

    The brain damage studies correlate with brain scanning work showing involvement of the prefrontal cortex in altuistic behavior.

    “Human fronto-mesolimbic networks guide decisions about charitable donation.” Moll J, et al., Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Oct 17;103(42):15623-8.

    While there is not as much information about the brain/neural corrlates of altruism as there is about language or vision, there is still enough out there to show that Engnor is really, tragically, badly wrong. “not even wrong” as the physicists like to put it.

  91. #91 Alison
    June 14, 2007

    I think he’s saying what creationists and IDiots say all the time – we can’t explain it, therefore goddidit.

    except, in this case, altruistic behavior has a very long record of testing and investigation in the realm of both animal behavior and human physiology.

    hence the argument from egnorance mentioned many times.

    Believe me, I could see the Egnorance, it just seemed like a lot of posts were addressing it as if he’d proposed that altruism DID change when the location of the brain changed. There’s no question that altruism has been studied from many different angles, including the physiological, and has been found to exist in creatures without any belief in god!

    I do have to say, though, that at first I pictured a whole bunch of folks building for Habitat for Humanity, each with his or her head tilted at precisely the right angle for maximum altruistic hammering and sawing.

  92. #92 Ichthyic
    June 14, 2007

    I do have to say, though, that at first I pictured a whole bunch of folks building for Habitat for Humanity, each with his or her head tilted at precisely the right angle for maximum altruistic hammering and sawing.

    who knows? you might be dead on as to how folks like Egnor envision the concept of altruism in their minds. He certainly has left the issue open to speculation as to wtf he means when he uses the word.

    thankfully, I’m not blessed with the ability to visualize creobot babblings in my own mind, so I just go with what the rational world decided the word means, and then proceeded to study the phenomenon.

  93. #93 Who Cares
    June 14, 2007

    Good grief. I thought that this line of thought got trounced in the fourteenth century when people started to pile on the Scholastic school of thought. (they were such hair splitters about things like this that the question: “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” is attributed to them.)

  94. #94 truth machine
    June 14, 2007

    Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I got the impression that Egnor was asserting that IF altruism resided in the brain, then change in brain location would change altruism – and since it doesn’t, altruism must come from […]

    Just as it is a category mistake to refer to the location of an abstraction, it is a category mistake to refer to where it comes from, what causes it, etc., but Egnor seems oblivious to the latter, and he readily slips back and forth between altruism as an abstraction and concrete instances of altruism — this is a lot clearer in the original (uncited) article, where Egnor writes, for example, “There is no shared property yet identified by science through which brain matter can cause mental acts like altruism”. Sorry, Egnor, but an altruistic act is a physical act, and physical acts and brain matter share the property of being governed by the laws of physics; the relationship is of the same sort as that between your computer and its calculation of compound interest. And even if you’re just thinking of doing something altruistic, that is still a physical consequence of brain activity, and we can (crudely at the point in the technology) observe and measure such thoughts via comparative brain scans.

    Egnor may know how to cut brains, but he doesn’t seem to know much about what goes on within them. I for one would be very afraid of going under the knife of someone who doesn’t think, or pretends not to think, that there’s any causal connection between my brain matter and my mental acts.

  95. #95 Pierce R. Butler
    June 14, 2007

    If you want Dr. Egnor to look up reification, first you’ll have to tell him where it is.

  96. #96 Ichthyic
    June 14, 2007

    LOL

  97. #97 truth machine
    June 14, 2007

    “not even wrong” as the physicists like to put it

    That line is even more appropriate than you probably realize:

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

    … his most severe criticism, which he reserved for theories or theses so unclearly presented as to be untestable or unevaluatable, and thus not properly belonging within the realm of science, even though posing as such. They were worse than wrong because they could not be proven wrong.

  98. #98 RamblinDude
    June 14, 2007

    “I do have to say, though, that at first I pictured a whole bunch of folks building for Habitat for Humanity, each with his or her head tilted at precisely the right angle for maximum altruistic hammering and sawing.”

    Maybe that’s why you’re supposed to pray with your head bowed forward.

  99. #99 truth machine
    June 14, 2007

    LOL

    Ditto! Pierce, that deserves a gold star!

  100. #100 Caledonian
    June 14, 2007

    The truly awful thing is that not believing that he’s handling and cutting into the thing that holds the essence of a person probably makes it easier for him to be a brain surgeon.

    It doesn’t make him a better surgeon. It makes it easier.

    People like this are dangerous. It’s not a matter of ideological disagreement, it’s a matter of manifested delusion.

  101. #101 Jud
    June 14, 2007

    “[M]atter can’t, by itself, cause ideas, because they share no properties.”

    – Dr. Michael Egnor

    “[I]t is…impossible to ascribe an attribute of life, i.e. heredity, to a nonviable substance, deoxyribonucleic acid, for example.”

    – Trofim Denisovich Lysenko

  102. #102 Jon
    June 14, 2007

    At first I laughed hysterically. Then I just shook my head, wincing. The stupidity. The sheer stupidity. It’s remarkable. I can’t even comprehend it.

    What do they DO in medical school? WHAT DO THEY DO?

  103. #103 catbirdman
    June 14, 2007

    Just don’t sit too close to Egnor at a dinner party — no doubt the stupid in his brain will quickly jump from his mouth to your ear and if you’re hungry you’ll just have to sit there and take it.

  104. #104 Caledonian
    June 14, 2007

    What do they DO in medical school? WHAT DO THEY DO?

    They memorize large quantities of canonical data and learn to regurgitate it on command. It’s like a medical madrassa.

    Most doctors aren’t actually very well equipped to critically examine medicine. They aren’t taught to question it, they’re taught to practice it.

  105. #105 truth machine
    June 14, 2007

    this is a lot clearer in the original (uncited) article

    Oops, that was a previous Egnor article, on the same subject (I gather that PZ responded to that, and then Egnor responded in turn, but I haven’t followed this.) In it he writes

    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.

    This is pretty much an admission that his idiotic screed is an attack on a strawman. He wrote “They believe that the brain is a sufficient cause for the mind, and they see human morality as a trait crafted by evolution. I think this view is wrong.” but “human morality” consists of a set of human actions, and if all of those actions can be mediated or carried out by human brains or bodies, then sufficiency of cause is established, and in any case his nonsense about the location of abstractions isn’t about cause at all and is thus irrelevant.

  106. #106 Magpie
    June 14, 2007

    Erm… Altruism isn’t a concept, it’s a fucking behaviour! Oh god, I almost spat out my post-drinking pasta when I read this! To wit: altruism = helping another to the detriment of oneself. That’s it. That’s all that altruism means. Egnor might mean (what I call) ‘agape altruism’, which is to do so without any desire fulfuliment, but considering that this denies that the desire to act altruistically can itself be altrustic, it streches the term altruism, as Midgely (1979) argues, beyond its use.

    So yes, our term altruism, whilst obviously itself a concept, refers to a behaviour, the behaviour of aiding others at one’s expense. We don’t require said concept to be altrusitic, just as we don’t require a concept of urea to have a piss. Which, incidently, is precisely what I now what to do over Egnor’s writings.

  107. #108 Ichthyic
    June 14, 2007

    Most doctors aren’t actually very well equipped to critically examine medicine. They aren’t taught to question it, they’re taught to practice it.

    did you just define a church attendee, or a student in medical school?

    oh wait, both!

    hey now, that explains a lot.

  108. #109 PZ Myers
    June 14, 2007

    Actually, I did mention Gage. Egnor was unimpressed.

  109. #110 Caledonian
    June 14, 2007

    When you consider the very real responsibility put on doctors’ shoulders, the number of things that can go wrong, and the possible liability if you deviate from standard procedures, it’s no wonder that most doctors don’t question what they’re taught. Psychologically speaking, they couldn’t do so and still function.

    Unfortunately, this can make arguing with them (or should I say, arguing at them) somewhat frustrating. Positions accepted on authority aren’t discarded unless you present a greater authority.

  110. #111 truth machine
    June 14, 2007

    Oh Lord (in his vast nonexistence)! I went to look at the article to which PZ is responding here, and found this howler:

    Clearly matter can influence ideas (ethanol makes us think differently) and ideas can influence matter (we can move our legs on purpose). No one knows how matter and ideas influence each other.

    This from someone complaining about category errors, and arguing that “matter and ideas share no properties”! Tell us, oh Egnorant one, just which “immaterial idea” gets “influenced” by ethanol? Does the immaterial idea “The woman sitting on the bar stool next to me is average looking” become altered by ethanol, changing into the immaterial idea “The woman sitting on the bar stool next to me is the hottest woman on the planet”? If so, then how are the sober people around me able to still have the first idea? If ideas are locationless, and share no properties with ethanol, then how can ethanol influence my ideas? What does it even mean to say they’re mine, if they have no location?

    Or is it possible, just possible, that ethanol causes one to have different thoughts, to have different ideas enter consciousness? That ethanol influences, not “immaterial ideas”, but material brains, which then have different ideas?

    And is it just possible that it is brain activity, not “immaterial ideas”, that cause our legs to move? “it is desirous to move one’s legs under certain circumstances” might be categorized as an idea, but my desire to move my legs at a specific moment is a very different sort of thing from an “immaterial idea”, and experiments have demonstrated that both the desire — a thought entering consciousness — and the movement are produced by brain activity at about the same time; the desire does not cause the movement, that’s an illusion.

    No one knows how matter and ideas influence each other.

    In fact, we know a quite a bit about how ethanol changes the brain to cause it to have different thoughts. No metaphysical mumbo jumbo is needed to explain this sort of causal effect. Yeesh.

  111. #112 truth machine
    June 14, 2007

    Erm… Altruism isn’t a concept, it’s a fucking behaviour! Oh god, I almost spat out my post-drinking pasta when I read this! To wit: altruism = helping another to the detriment of oneself.

    I’m looking, and I’m not see a behavior there, other than your behavior of writing down a concept.

    Egnor is by far not the only one who is confused about these issues.

  112. #113 Crudely Wrott
    June 14, 2007

    Can you imagine how incredibly still Egnor must have been keeping his brain while he was writing down his argument for the location of altruism? Wow, not even nano-motion!

    What I find fascinating is that he managed to compensate for the rotation of the earth, its solar orbit, the sun’s motion within the galaxy, the motion of the galaxy within the local group and . . . oh, shit, I looked down at the keyboard and forgot something really, importantly relevant. Dammit! That always happens.

  113. #114 Ichthyic
    June 14, 2007

    Can you imagine how incredibly still Egnor must have been keeping his brain while he was writing down his argument for the location of altruism?

    I’m actually thankful that I can honestly say:

    no, I can’t.

    😉

  114. #115 chaos_engineer
    June 14, 2007

    Viscount: Does helping someone with an undesireable task fall under Egnor’s definition of altruism? If so, it’s definitely affected by the physical state of the brain – either that, or our souls get drunk as easily as our bodies do.

    That just proves that alcohol has both a physical and a spiritual component. That’s a well-established principle of folk psychology, eloquently expressed in the phrase “Demon Rum”.

    (But your link seems to imply that alcohol can increase altruism. That contradicts what I just said, so I’m going to ignore it.)

    Opisthokont: I am surprised that nobody has yet brought up the celebrated case of Phineas Gage.

    That’s the same thing. Phineas Gage had a tamping iron pass through his skull. No one thought to say, “God Bless You!”, which is what you’re supposed to do in that circumstance. So he got possessed by a demon. You’ll notice that there’s no record of a successful exorcism ever having been performed on him.

  115. #116 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 14, 2007

    In my rebuttal of his first bit of neuro-woo, I mentioned Phineas Gage and also described an “anti-Gage” whose case history appeared in an old issue of Discover.

    I also highly recommend Steven Novella’s reply to Egnor, which Melusine links in my comment thread.

  116. #117 truth machine
    June 14, 2007

    Actually, I did mention Gage. Egnor was unimpressed.

    You folks seem to have trouble grasping what error Egnor is making — which is excusable, because it is so mind boggling. Of course he is unimpressed, because he admits that “Of course, objects (like human brains or bodies) that have location, weight, etc. can mediate or carry out altruistic acts”.

    But then he goes on and writes “but the altruism itself doesn’t have a location”. That’s the point where it’s appropriate to stand agape in bewilderment, then recover your composure and say “What the bloody effing hell are you talking about? What is ‘the altruism itself’? We’re talking about altruistic acts and their causal basis. It’s the acts that we are trying to explain, not ‘the altruism itself’, whatever the heck that is. If we remove your brain, you will no longer be able be carry out either altruistic acts or the other sorts that you are prone to. Something related to acting altruistically was removed, and that’s what we’re referring to. If ‘the altruism itself’ is an immaterial idea independent of any brain, bully for it, but it has nothing to do with explaining altruism as an observed phenomenon.”

  117. #118 Ichthyic
    June 14, 2007

    Phineas Gage had a tamping iron pass through his skull. No one thought to say, “God Bless You!”, which is what you’re supposed to do in that circumstance.

    ah. thanks.

    learn somethin’ new every day.

    I’ll have to remember that the next time I encounter someone who’s had a tamping iron embedded in their skull.

    would it be proper for tire iron embedding as well?

  118. #119 Ichthyic
    June 14, 2007

    “What the bloody effing hell are you talking about? What is ‘the altruism itself’?

    oops. you looked too closely at his argument. be watchful of brain tumors in the near future.

    that kinda stupid does permanent damage, or so i hear.

    you should be more careful!

    I figured PZ was using a mental filter to make Egnor’s latest at least comprehensible, and similar in form to the one that Collins made in his book.

    guess not.

    I can feel the stupid creeping in on me as i read you try to relate the actual argument he is trying to make….

    time to drink some beer.

  119. #120 Magpie
    June 14, 2007

    @ truth machine:

    So one can only act altruistically is said individual possesses a concept of altruism? Shurely shome mishtake! Don’t forget, Egnor never states, at least in Myers’ extract, that he is referring to some higher-order concept of altruism, merely to altruism itself. Perhaps our problem is one of defintions: me using the ethological defintion of altruism, you the moral… yet even if we use the laters, as others have argued, Egnor is dead wrong.

  120. #121 Sophist, FCD
    June 14, 2007

    You know, if I came with the same sheer tonnage of of stupid shit that Egnor does, I’d want a way to deny that it was my brain’s fault too.

  121. #122 D.R.M.
    June 14, 2007

    To be fair, Egnor is citing the “Problem of Universals”. Particular properties (i.e. the redness of the book cover on my copy of Jay Ingram’s “The Theatre of the Mind) share universal properties (being red). The problem is do universals really exist? Are particular reds one and the same? The same goes from something like altruism. There are particular instances of altruism, but altruism is a universal.

    From what I understand there are many attempts to solve this problem include platonic realism, moderate realism, conceptualism, and nominalism.

    By the way it’s ironic that Egnor brings in the concept of a “category error”, since behaviourists developed the concept to refute dualism.

  122. #123 truth machine
    June 14, 2007

    So one can only act altruistically is said individual possesses a concept of altruism?

    Did I say that, or anything like it? No, I didn’t.

    Don’t forget, Egnor never states, at least in Myers’ extract, that he is referring to some higher-order concept of altruism, merely to altruism itself.

    I have no idea what “altruism itself” is, other than an abstract concept.

    Perhaps our problem is one of defintions: me using the ethological defintion of altruism, you the moral…

    Funny then, that I gave the ethological definition above.

    yet even if we use the laters, as others have argued, Egnor is dead wrong.

    Um, I have argued that Egnor is dead wrong. I suggest you lay off the sauce, though I don’t know that it would lead to any discernible improvement.

  123. #124 Gene
    June 15, 2007

    When I saw the satellites, my first thought was that he was going to pull a Kent Hovind and start talking aout how the government was beaming secret messages into his fillings or some such.

  124. #125 D.R.M.
    June 15, 2007

    “I have no idea what “altruism itself” is, other than an abstract concept.” -Truth Machine

    The debate’s about, whether any of the participants acknowledge it or not, the Problem of Universals. Do abstract concepts exist as abstract objects in a timeless realm (platonic realism), are they just words (nominalism) or do they exist only in mental/neural structures (conceptualism).

  125. #126 truth machine
    June 15, 2007

    By the way it’s ironic that Egnor brings in the concept of a “category error”, since behaviourists developed the concept to refute dualism.

    Behaviorist Gilbert Riles, in “The Ghost in the Machine”, to be precise. And in his two pieces on altruism, Egnor commits just that sort of category mistake Riles described, over and over again. But unfortunately Egnor is far from the only one; as Daniel Dennett has pointed out, even died-in-the-wool physicalist philosophers of mind succumb to the notion that there’s a homunculus in the brain watching a Cartesian Theater.

  126. #127 BlueIndependent
    June 15, 2007

    Can he not help himself?

    If this is what he calls an argument, and if indeed he expects us to take him seriously (which I can only presume he does), then all I can feel for him is pity in that I have no idea how he continues to function in his chosen profession. How can a surgeon really stay the same man from one day to the next if he’s walking his brain about after work, exercising, running errands, etc.? One would think he’d magically change into a physicist or – gasp – an evolutionary biologist, should he wiggle his head too much the wrong way.

    Of course, whether he actually thought out his “argument” or not is beside the question, since it (by design?) leaves them a neat little logic hole with which to claim it is a god helping them to keep definitions in the proper place inside their synapses.

  127. #128 Rob
    June 15, 2007

    Well, while I agree the Egnor’s argument is flawwd, there is something in what he begins to say, as PZ hinted at. It’s simply Leibniz’s law: if there is a property that wo entites do not share, then the the entities are not identical/ So, if the mind or soul or whatever has the property of altruism, but brain states and properties do not, the they can’t be identical.

    I should say that this particular form of argument is probably invalid, although there are those who would argue that it is valid, that may be what Egnor is reaching at.

  128. #129 Caledonian
    June 15, 2007

    All of the arguments he’s offering are just rationalizations. The simple fact of the matter is that he wishes to believe that certain kinds of behavior that are given positive ethical weight in his religious beliefs are the result of a magical entity. He will accept any argument that, to his pre-rational faculties, seem to validate that conclusion.

    Arguing logic at him is pointless. Trying to induce his mind to enter into the more-complex and delicate state of rationality is so difficult as to be prohibitive. There comes a time when the only productive things to do with people is lock them away or kill them. Neither is likely to be an option with Dr. Egnor. Ignoring Egnor (once we’ve made him the object of ridicule) might be our best bet.

  129. #130 Cyan
    June 15, 2007

    That was… almost TimeCube-esque.

  130. #131 Jaycubed
    June 15, 2007

    “Erm… Altruism isn’t a concept, it’s a fucking behaviour!…To wit: altruism = helping another to the detriment of oneself. That’s it. That’s all that altruism means.”
    Posted by: Magpie

    Altruism is a man-made concept. The behaviors which we call altruistic are a complex of behaviors. There is no necessary relationship between different behaviors we might consider altruistic; particularly not for where they might be located functionally in brain tissue.

    .

    “Egnor is failing to reify, but treating “altruism” as an abstraction rather than a set of observed behaviors.”
    Posted by: truth machine

    It is quite obvious that when Egnor attributes a physical location in the physical brain to something called “altruism” he does not regard altruism as an abstraction but as something located physically in cartesian space.

    He is making a category error by reifying an abstract concept.

    You make a similiar category error when you call altruism a “set” of behaviors rather than a “complex” of behaviors. There is no necessary functional or structural (part of brain) relationship between behaviors called altruistic.

    Reify – to regard (something abstract) as a material or concrete thing (M-W)

    Set – a number of things of the same kind that belong or are used together (M-W)

    Complex – a whole made up of complicated or interrelated parts (M-W)

    .

    Isn’t a “truth machine” one of those fraudulant vocal lie detectors sold at spy gadget shops? “Never be duped again!”

  131. #132 truth machine
    June 15, 2007

    The debate’s about, whether any of the participants acknowledge it or not, the Problem of Universals.

    I would say, rather, that the debate is a largely due to confusion about, or failure to appreciate, the Problem of Universals. It isn’t just that the participants don’t acknowledge it, it’s that they don’t grasp the problem.

    Do abstract concepts exist as abstract objects in a timeless realm (platonic realism), are they just words (nominalism) or do they exist only in mental/neural structures (conceptualism).

    This is a false dichotomy, as becomes clear when one carefully analyzes the word “exist”. To say “Xs exist” is to say that some set contains members of type X. Since there are many such possible sets, there can be many senses in which Xs do or do not exist. If one considers the set of all “abstract objects” of the sort that “altruism” might be an example of, altruism “exists” as an abstract object. If one considers the set of all words, “altruism” “exists” as a word. If one takes the set of all “mental/neural structures” of which “altruism” might be an example … well, I’m not sure that notion is coherent, but if it is then altruism exists as a mental/neural structure. But taking “exists” to be some sort of essential property of a thing, whether a concept or anything else, is hopelessly confused, as Russell pointed out.

    And the possibilities you mention are not exhaustive, and I don’t think any of those are good models for understanding concepts. I subscribe to a Quine/Wittgensteinian view that “meaning is use”, that the meaning of a word is determined by the sum of all social behavior in which it plays a role, that it does not and cannot have any sort of meaningful “existence” beyond that, that Plato’s “museum theory of meaning”, as Quine put it, is not a viable model. Because I take this operational view of language, I find phrases like “altruism itself” to be mired in essentialist assumptions. We have the word “altruism”, to which we have given various definitions, we have instances of behavior that we identify as fitting the definition, and we have organisms and classes of organisms that exhibit such behavior under some circumstances. If there is some “altruism itself” above and beyond that, I don’t know what it refers to — saying that it refers to some Platonic reality doesn’t help, because I have no idea what that is, and it doesn’t fit my understanding of the word “real”, which I take as referring to physical phenomena, and nothing else.

  132. #133 Jaycubed
    June 15, 2007

    “So, if the mind or soul or whatever has the property of altruism, but brain states and properties do not, the they can’t be identical.”
    Posted by: Rob

    What evidence do you know of for the existence of mind outside of brain function?

    What evidence do you have for the existence of a Soul, “the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life (M-W)”?

    Without evidence of their existence, how can any property be attributed to them?

  133. #134 truth machine
    June 15, 2007

    It is quite obvious that when Egnor attributes a physical location in the physical brain to something called “altruism”

    How can that be “quite obvious”” when Egnor explicitly says “Altruism is completely independent of location, so it can’t be located in the brain, or anywhere. It can’t be ‘located’ at all.”?

    You make a similiar category error

    No, I didn’t. Your understanding of category errors is on a par with your ability to read what Egnor wrote, or to understand what the dictionary says about affect/effect.

    Isn’t a “truth machine” one of those fraudulant vocal lie detectors sold at spy gadget shops?

    Isn’t Jaycubed an asshole? Why yes, he is. Good bye, asshole.

  134. #135 Kristine
    June 15, 2007

    The pulse pressure in your brain tissue is greater when you’re recumbent than when you’re standing (pitch). The venous pressure is lower when you’re standing than when you’re recumbent.

    I don’t know about altruism, but when I’m recumbent I feel much less generous about sharing my late-night nachos with sudden guests.

    But Dr. Egnor, after my nachos are selfishly digested, do they then become altruism? I’m kind of fuzzy on that part…

    And when my nachos becomes my altruism, does that mean I don’t carry my nachos/altruism with me? If not, where do nachos go? To heaven?

    If God dwells inside of us, I hope He likes nachos, because that’s what He’s getting.

  135. #136 truth machine
    June 15, 2007

    It’s simply Leibniz’s law: if there is a property that wo entites do not share, then the the entities are not identical

    But Liebniz’s law is well known not to hold in intensional contexts. For instance, you know that the person who goes by the handle “truth machine” is posting here, but you do not know that the person who goes by [my real name] is posting here. Yet they are identical entities.

    Consider a listing of a piece of code, and a program running on a computer. Looking at the code, we discern no bug. The program, OTOH, manifests an obvious bug. If we can be shown that the program being run is the same as the program listed, we now know that the listing has a bug. Something similar applies to brains and minds — we are able to ascertain altruistic behavior, or tendencies, in the mind, but can find none upon examining the brain. But that does not refute the claim that the mind is what the brain does.

  136. #137 Kseniya
    June 15, 2007

    Spaulding #35:

    In fact, I’ve been conducting a decades-long experiment in which I spend approximately 8 hours a day in a prone or recumbant position, during which I have observed a substantial decrease in altruistic activity. Although I have not published results, this experiment has been replicated extensively, consistently supporting my findings.

    Smile Of The Day! Thank you!

  137. #138 Jaycubed
    June 15, 2007

    “Isn’t Jaycubed an asshole? Why yes, he is. Good bye, asshole.”
    Posted by: truth machine

    Sticks & stones.

    When you have nothing to say…name call.

  138. #139 Ichthyic
    June 15, 2007

    actually he said quite a lot…

    then he name called.

    It was also my reading that Egnor was definetly saying there was NOT a locatable source for altruism in the brain. That seemed essentially his core argument, AFAICT.

    but then, I’m seeing all sorts of nuances of idiocy that i hadn’t noticed before TM started pointing them out, so at this point I’m just ready to throw my hands up and chalk it up to nothing more than the usual severe ‘tard from Egnor.

  139. #140 JD
    June 15, 2007

    How can a brain surgeon be over a century out of date WRT our knowledge of how personality and the brain are intimately tied?

    Frontal Lobe Syndrome in Childhood

    Frontal lobe syndrome was first defined in 1868 by J. M. Harlow. Harlow particularly emphasized the personality and behavior change after a frontal lobe lesion. In the DSM-IV classification system, the main category titled “Personality Change due to a General Medical Condition” includes the conditions related to head trauma. For the child, particularly cerebral injuries associated with severe head trauma cause ordinary behavior changes as well as deviations in development.

    Euphoria, excessive activity or socially destructive behavior (the condition characterized by disinhibition and impulsivity) may occur owing to injury of the orbitofrontal zone of the prefrontal cortex. Frontopolar injuries cause apathy, lack of interest, insensitivity, loss of motions or activities (Caine & Lyness, 2001).

    This is just one small sample of course. What a quack!

  140. #141 tj
    June 15, 2007

    Well, this is only my 2nd post on any blog ever, as I’m usually too swamped, but this one seemed to beg for something. I read Egnor’s commenbts and … wow! I was completely dumbfounded. Awestruck. Dumbstruck.

    What is more, being dumbstruck, it has inspired in me a theory so radical, that will tie up all mysteries of physics of so succintly, that I figured I should commit them here before somebody else (like Egnor) thinks of them.

    As many here already know, most matter has a property called mass. This property seems to be proportional to the gravitational force. However, what may not be so obvious is that if I take a piece of matter and rotate it, so that the yee and the yaw changes, the mass remains the same. How can this be? The coordinates have changed, and since obviously mass is dependent on the coordinates, the mass should have changed as well! Clearly, the mass is being projected from “the other side”. It seems reasonable to ask from where is the mass projected (where is the other side?). The only answer is that the mass is kept in dark matter and projected from there (so, we expect dark matter to exist, consistent with observations). To touch on another point, we can draw a corrollary from Egnor’s ahem..astute (?) observation. Something falsifiable even. He seems to be desperately trying to imply that the soul is responsible for altruism. Where does the soul reside? It should be obvious to the casual observer that since soul size is below the order of the Planck constant, that the residence of choice for souls is the curled up dimensions of string theory. As the population of the earth grows, more souls are created (or intelligently designed depending upon your favorite MO for your creator). So the curled up dimensions, as they fill with more souls, will push the universe, causing expansion. This of course, explains dark energy. In fact, one sees a direct correlation that as the arrow of time progresses, the earth’s population increases and the universe expands. Further, using relativistic time dilation with [insert furious hand-waving arguments here] that the correlation exactly matches. So, 2 of the greatest mysteries in physics are now solved, thank you very much.

    In all seriousness though, I do agree with another poster here that further debate with Egnor will likely be fruitless. His conception of the world seems so vastly removed from reality, that his semantics are totally mismatched from any argument he hears.

    cheers,
    tj

    PS..love the blog PZ. Great job.

  141. #142 truth machine
    June 15, 2007

    When you have nothing to say…name call.

    This from the hypocritical jackass who, unable to form a coherent rebuttal, made some stupid comment about my handle. I did say something, something entirely appropriate to that comment. And once again you have no rebuttal — Egnor’s words, contradicting your ridiculous claim, are there in black and white, asshole.

  142. #143 Jaycubed
    June 15, 2007

    You appear to like to pick & choose what you respond to, so let’s look at the entire interchange you “condensed”

    “Egnor is failing to reify, but treating “altruism” as an abstraction rather than a set of observed behaviors.”
    Posted by: truth machine

    It is quite obvious that when Egnor attributes a physical location in the physical brain to something called “altruism” he does not regard altruism as an abstraction but as something located physically in cartesian space.

    “How can that be “quite obvious”” when Egnor explicitly says “Altruism is completely independent of location, so it can’t be located in the brain, or anywhere. It can’t be ‘located’ at all.”?
    Posted by: truth machine

    That is because he is attempting to build a straw man so he can tear it down. Your quoted statement is his conclusion. He posits altruism as a thing located in the brain for the purpose of proving it cannot be there.

    By positing altruism as existing in the brain he engages in reification. This is regardless of whether he believes that altruism is a real thing.

    You do not appear to understand the word regard v– 1: to consider and appraise usually from a particular point of view 2: to pay attention to : take into consideration or account.

    To give regard doesn’t mean to believe in. Egner does appear to Believe that altruism is an abstraction, presumably located in the Soul. He does reify altruism by regarding it as a thing existing within the brain throughout his argument. That is his straw man.

    .

  143. #144 AL
    June 15, 2007

    Egnor is failing to reify, but treating “altruism” as an abstraction rather than a set of observed behaviors.

    He is reifying. His ultimate conclusion is that altruism must be a “thing” akin to the “forms” of Platonic realism. It’s a thing which exists in another realm (whatever second realm dualists believe in), rather than a concept we’ve abstracted to conceptualize a set of behaviors that have certain noticeable traits in common.

  144. #145 Kseniya
    June 15, 2007

    Perhaps Dr. Egnor can explain to us why moving ones head around a bit also fails to have much effect on the following ummmmm concepts:

    Autism, schizophrenia, coma, annoyance, love, hate, lust, fear, homophobia, xenophobia, acrophobia, agoraphobia, ailurophobia, delight, suicidal ideation, rage, migraines, pride, indignation, paranoia, empathy, Borderline Personality Disorder, epilepsy, grief, joy, catatonia, mental retardation, bemusement, disgust, disappointment, scorn.

    Kristine: “Dr. Egnor, after my nachos are selfishly digested, do they then become altruism?”

    No. They become Dr. Egnor’s article on altruism. See? The universe is all connected!

  145. #146 Jaycubed
    June 15, 2007

    When you have nothing to say…name call.

    “This from the hypocritical jackass who, unable to form a coherent rebuttal, made some stupid comment about my handle. I did say something, something entirely appropriate to that comment. And once again you have no rebuttal — Egnor’s words, contradicting your ridiculous claim, are there in black and white, asshole.”
    Posted by: truth machine

    My rebuttal is above. You have engaged in insulting name calling, which I have previously not returned, on other posts. Also, I did not call you an “asshole” or “hypocritical jackass”, Instead I made an ironic comment about your chosen handle.

    Pretty thin skin it seems.

  146. #147 Torbjrn Larsson, OM
    June 15, 2007

    Egnor isn’t cut out to be an armchair philosopher. He may make it as a footrest though.

    Ultimately, his argument rests on this deeply and obviously faulty analogy, and simple assertion.

    Myers

    Let us give Egor some credit for finally learning PZ’s name. In return I will endeavor to learn Igor’s. He must be awfully tired of seeing Ignor misspelled by now.

  147. #148 Torbjrn Larsson, OM
    June 15, 2007

    Egnor isn’t cut out to be an armchair philosopher. He may make it as a footrest though.

    Ultimately, his argument rests on this deeply and obviously faulty analogy, and simple assertion.

    Myers

    Let us give Egor some credit for finally learning PZ’s name. In return I will endeavor to learn Igor’s. He must be awfully tired of seeing Ignor misspelled by now.

  148. #149 Kseniya
    June 15, 2007

    Thorbear! Don’t insult Doctor Eggnog like that!

  149. #150 truth machine
    June 15, 2007

    Also, I did not call you an “asshole” or “hypocritical jackass”, Instead I made an ironic comment about your chosen handle.

    Ah, yes, “ironic” implying that I’m not telling the truth. Nice strawman — I never said that you called me “asshole” or “hypocritical jackass”, you hypocritical jackass asshole.

    Pretty thin skin it seems.

    More hypocrisy. I find whiny turds like you an opportunity for sport.

  150. #151 Jaycubed
    June 15, 2007

    Ah, yes, “ironic” implying that I’m not telling the truth.

    I would automatically consider anyone calling themselves “truth machine” to be a liar.

    You engage in more name-calling, yet no response to my previous rebuttal of your comments.

    Your skin seems even thinner now.

    Enjoy your whine & turds.

  151. #152 Ichthyic
    June 15, 2007

    Pretty thin skin it seems.

    meh, he gets like that. You should have seen the argument we had about Wiki a while back. There’s another poster on PT that is the same way.

    both intelligent guys, often make very salient points, both very prone to utilizing vehement expletives.

    just keep working on the points and ignore the rest, if you want to continue, or roll with it and do what I do and insult him back.

    it’s kinda fun, actually.

    to tell the truth, at first reading I thought you were insulting him via his handle too, but then realized you were just making a random comment that had nothing to do with anything but trying to figure out where the handle came from.

    I see what you mean that he set up essentially a strawman argument for the “placement” of altruism in the brain to argue with, but it seems a tiny strawman to use to prop up his larger argument that altruism doesn’t even “exist” in the “material realm” for want of better terminology to describe his inane rant with.

    so, a casual reader doesn’t come away with the idea that he was arguing against any specific location, but rather that he is arguing FOR a non-materialistic property of “altruism”.

    really, when the inane fluff is stripped away, this does indeed look much like Collins’ argument.

  152. #153 ichthyic
    June 15, 2007

    I would automatically consider anyone calling themselves “truth machine” to be a liar.

    ah my bad, I thought you were just curious.

    roll on.

  153. #154 Ichthyic
    June 15, 2007

    er, in my previous post, the paragraph starting with “I see what you mean that he set up…”

    the “he” refers to Egnor, in case it wasn’t obvious.

  154. #155 DM
    June 15, 2007

    Wow. That is stunning. It is almost unbelievable that the man has cut on brains for so many years, but knows so little about the mind.

  155. #156 Azkyroth
    June 15, 2007

    Isn’t Jaycubed an asshole? Why yes, he is. Good bye, asshole.

    Posted by: truth machine

    Based on past experience with the two posters in question, I have two comments:
    1) There is merit in this statement.
    2) The explosion of my irony meter just took out a few city blocks.

    🙂

    Seriously, does this mean if you’re walking down the street your intelligence is still at your starting point?

    You know, if that was true of Egnor, it’d explain a lot. O.o

  156. #157 Science Goddess
    June 15, 2007

    Altruism is easy: It was just described on CNN health:
    http://www.cnn.com/2007/HEALTH/06/14/brain.altruism.reut/index.html

    SG

  157. #158 Julie Stahlhut
    June 15, 2007

    Well, it’s good to know that if I make a trip to Connecticut to help my mother with home repairs, I can’t accidentally leave my altruism in upstate New York. Of course, it could set out on its own for the Wisconsin Dells and get itself stuck in Chicago rush-hour traffic. (Lost altruism must be what explains all those honking horns.)

    All for now — this is making my altruism hurt.

  158. #159 Vyoma
    June 15, 2007

    No wonder Egnor can’t “find” altruism; after reading this babbling font of nonsense, it’s clear he couldn’t find his ass with both hands. How can he be a brain surgeon when it’s so obvious he hasn’t been near a brain in his life?

  159. #160 Digger
    June 15, 2007

    After all that, I still don’t see what dGPS has to do with volunteering at an animal shelter. That has to be the worst analogy I’ve seen to date.

  160. #161 Mike Saelim
    June 15, 2007

    Refutation from the physics major: if the mind and its properties (ex. altruism) are dependent on its position, then I must say… with respect to what?

  161. #162 Dan S.
    June 15, 2007

    died-in-the-wool physicalist philosophers of mind
    Let’s hope this refers to philosophers who have passed away in warm clothing, and not from, er, overexertion involving sheep . . .

    If not, where do nachos go? To heaven?
    This idea gives a whole new twist to “pie in the sky when you die” – and

    If God dwells inside of us, I hope He likes nachos, because that’s what He’s getting.
    Kristine, that’s magnificant.

    Particular properties (i.e. the redness of the book cover on my copy of Jay Ingram’s “The Theatre of the Mind) share universal properties (being red). The problem is do universals really exist? Are particular reds one and the same?

    Really, this is why I’m not a philosopher – I just end up going, well, being red means a wavelength of about 625 – 750 nm . . . and shrug at the actual question.
    Well, it’s one reason I’m not . . .

    I find whiny turds like you an opportunity for sport.
    Poo-sticks. (ht to Terry Pratchett.)

    “Ice cream scoop?!”
    “Dammit, Smithers! This isn’t rocket science – it’s brain surgery!”

    Mmmm . . . brain ice cream . . .

  162. #163 Kseniya
    June 15, 2007

    With respect to its previous position? 🙂

  163. #164 PZ Myers
    June 15, 2007

    Let’s be clear on one thing: Michael Egnor does NOT believe your altruism changes when you walk across the room.

    The problem with Egnor is that he is claiming that the idea that mind is generated by the brain predicts that your altruism will change when you walk across the room. This is not true.

  164. #165 Chuck C
    June 15, 2007

    You know, I would think that, even at DI, someone would at some point say “Dude, we can’t post this: I mean, there are some levels of stupid to which we cannot afford to sink, at least in public.”

  165. #166 Scrofulum
    June 15, 2007

    Can one be surprised at the levels of babble to be found in the work of someone who espouses the (alleged) virtues of Behe and his evidence-ignoring concoctions?

    Not really.

  166. #167 J-Dog
    June 15, 2007

    It’s times like this that I really wish there were a god, so I could pray to him that Dr. Egnor would be on my approved HMO list. Then god could afflict me with a hideous brain disease so I could get a referral to Dr. Egnor. I would be totally cured through the curative power of humor and fun, the actual cure as a direct response from me telling Dr. Egnor (as I was eating some nachos – thanks Kristine, now I’m hungry) that he was fired for being a DI / ID lackwit and toad. This would occur as a result of my altruistic urge to thelp others avoid the stupidity of Dr. Egnor, so it would happen in public, in front of a room full of potential patients.

    Ah! If only there were a god!

  167. #168 tony
    June 15, 2007

    I’ve come to this late today (actually had some work to do) and havee read all of the commentary – and the original piece by Egnor – and have come to the following unassailable summary and conclusion:

    category errors: check
    irrelevant strawman: check
    lack of originality: check
    acting like an IDiot: check

    Conclusion: What a freeking dumbass!

  168. #169 tony
    June 15, 2007

    I think Kristine deserves an OM just for altruistically sharing her Nachos.

    mmmmm.

    Hungry again 🙁

  169. #170 VWXYNot?
    June 15, 2007

    This explains when I’m sitting down I want to help the wife with the chores, but when I stand up, I make a cup of tea instead.

    First belly laugh of the day!

    Where does Egnor live? If I ever visit that area I want to have a customised “do not resuscitate” bracelet made in order to protect myself from his medical care.

  170. #171 Skeptico
    June 15, 2007

    Ideas like altruism aren’t material, so they can’t have a location.

    He’s assuming his conclusion – as fine a piece of circular reasoning as I’ve seen.

  171. #172 Denis Castaing
    June 15, 2007

    I must say that Michael Egnor is good for only one thing. A good hearty laugh at all his creationist nonsense. I think he should stick to his Neurosurgery and I’ll be happy to find humor elsewhere.
    DenisC

  172. #173 Richard Harris, FCD
    June 15, 2007

    PZ, “The problem with Egnor is that he is claiming that the idea that mind is generated by the brain predicts that your altruism will change when you walk across the room. This is not true.”

    Huh! It might change. It depends upon what you’re exposed to on the way, or when you reach the other side.

    But seriously, what does he mean by “your altruism”? Does he mean one’s underlying psychological make-up, in relation to altruism, that remains fairly constant over time? Or does he mean one’s moment-by-moment psychological state, in relation to altruism, that can change according to, for instance, an argument with a vexatious person?

    What the heck does he think the brain does, anyway, if not model the world & mediate social interactions, etc? Oh, of course, this is the dork who doesn’t accept that we’ve evolved from earlier species of primates by the process of natural selection.

    He owes it to his patients to keep up to date, so, bearing in mind that research on other primates informs much of what we know about the brain, is he fit to be a neuro-surgeon? I don’t see how he can be.

  173. #174 gex
    June 15, 2007

    why is it that indeed the simpsons appear to be the quintessential reference that comes to mind when creobots speak?

    Because they, like the Daily Show, are one of very few mass entertainment vehicles that uses critical thinking skills to form their humor.

  174. #175 Luna_the_cat
    June 15, 2007

    Exactly what Caledonian said in #14. Thank you, Caledonian. Yes.

    Is there a possibility that Egnor is going senile, or is micro-stroking? This would be nicely ironic, but seriously. I’ve seen this kind of obvious, gratuitous error in reasoning appear in previously intelligent people as a result of strokes, drug-induced seizures, and senility.

  175. #176 Scott Hatfield, OM
    June 15, 2007

    Everyone: We have got to figure a way to get this guy in a public debate and tape the whole thing. Ignore (ahem) the potential entertainment value, which is considerable. The mere fact that we can pin this donkey’s tail on the DI’s greatly-attenuated wall of folly makes the prospect irresistible.

    To put it bluntly, if this guy’s pronouncements can be publicly outed on a sufficiently grand scale, no one will ever take the DI seriously again about anything. They can produce a document with 2,000 ‘dissenters from Darwinism’, instead of just 700, but all we need is this one loopy excuse for a medical doctor.

    So, at the risk of speaking out of turn, how about some academics in Egnor’s neck of the woods make it their business to figure out the guy’s habits and schedule of events, etc. and whether he could be roped into some sort of public defense of this nonsense.

  176. #177 Homostoicus
    June 15, 2007

    We are obviously being bated. Imagine Egnor saying this. “See, it doesn’t matter what I say. They always respond.”

  177. #178 matthew
    June 15, 2007

    I didn’t know PZ is Mongolian…

  178. #179 HP
    June 15, 2007

    We have got to figure a way to get this guy in a public debate and tape the whole thing.

    I think we should try to find an atheist, materialist rocket scientist to debate him: “Rocket Scientist vs. Brain Surgeon in a Creo/Evo Cage Match!”

    As I read Egnor and the various comments here and elsewhere, it occured to me that Altruism (as conceived by Egnor) is exactly as real as God is (as conceived by Egnor). Egnor’s God is a category error.

    I’ve often found that otherwise intelligent people will struggle to come up with some conception of God that it is possible to believe in. The problem is that such a God is invariably indistinguishable from no God at all.

  179. #180 Marcus Ranum
    June 15, 2007

    It’s amazing that the religious persist in looking for an external source for behaviors. Anyone who has spent a lot of time around stroke victims, brain cancer sufferers, or others who have brain trauma – can tell you that gross changes to the brain affect behavior, mood, and personality. You don’t have to be Phineas Gage to understand this.

  180. #181 Marcus Ranum
    June 15, 2007

    > Is generosity measurably and reproducibly different
    > when you (and your brain) are on the north, rather
    > than the south, side of the room?

    In my case I have noticed that my generosity is measurably and reproducibly different depending on how much Jack Daniels’ I have drunk in the last hour. If generosity is not “in the brain” then presumably it wouldn’t be affected by alcohol or stimulants.

  181. #182 Phobos
    June 15, 2007

    Simply stunning nonsense.

  182. #183 Orac
    June 15, 2007

    Dr. Egnor has posted a followup.

    Arrggghhh!

    Time to get that mask to cover my face in shame that Egnor is a fellow surgeon.

  183. #184 Graculus
    June 15, 2007

    The real question is where does Mikey get his ideas?

  184. #185 Kseniya
    June 15, 2007

    Anyone who has spent a lot of time around stroke victims, brain cancer sufferers, or others who have brain trauma – can tell you that gross changes to the brain affect behavior, mood, and personality.

    Absolutely. I bring this up whenever someone tries to argue that consciousness exists independent of the brain. I’m astounded by the blindness and denial some people exhibit when it comes to the obvious (to me) implications of these easily observed effects.

    Let’s be clear on one thing: Michael Egnor does NOT believe your altruism changes when you walk across the room.

    Exactly; he believes it will not – and of course it does not, from which he concludes that it is not a product of the brain, therefore God (or more likely, given Egnor’s choice of graphical analogy, VALIS).

    The implication of his argument is that there are aspects of the mind that are a product of the brain, and which should then therefore change as their location attribute changes. This implication is the source of a lot of this chatter, I think. The mind-numbing inanity of his argument is difficult to lampoon, but it’s fun to try.

    I do seriously wonder which, if any, aspects of the mind Dr. Egnor does believe are a product of the mind, and which should then (presumably) change in some way if the location attribute is changed. Hence my ostensibly random and pointless list of mental states, emotions and pathologies. Surely there is at least one among them that, according to Dr. Egnor, is a product of the mind. I wonder if he could argue (or demonstrate) that a locational change produces a qualitative change in that state, emotion, or pathology, and offer an explanation as to why it changes.

  185. #186 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 15, 2007

    My rebuttal of Egnor’s follow-up is now available, in full glorious color.

  186. #187 Kseniya
    June 15, 2007

    Well done, Blake. Apparently Engor’s mind has vanished into whatever color hole lies beyond the Verizon Horizon.

    I find Engor’s argument (quite apart from the blandly inadequate cell-phone analogy) to be disturbing. Are we to believe our bodies are nothing more than receivers for some sort of (undetectable) broadcast? We’re nothing more than radio-controlled vehicles doing essentially nothing, in the service of nothing, at the whim of some (undetectable) controlling heaven-bound soul-entity that steers our flesh and bone around for a few decades before it wears out? Are these entities nothing more than voyeurs? Or parasites?

    The hoops these guys jump through in their mad scramble to avoid mortality in the face of eternity. It’s sad. How can they even bear to be alive? I don’t get it.

  187. #188 Ichthyic
    June 15, 2007

    Egnor’s God is a category error.

    on the nosie.

  188. #189 Ichthyic
    June 15, 2007

    nice summary, Blake.

  189. #190 Brownian
    June 15, 2007

    Are we to believe our bodies are nothing more than receivers for some sort of (undetectable) broadcast? We’re nothing more than radio-controlled vehicles doing essentially nothing, in the service of nothing, at the whim of some (undetectable) controlling heaven-bound soul-entity that steers our flesh and bone around for a few decades before it wears out? Are these entities nothing more than voyeurs? Or parasites?

    That was my reading too, Kseniya. Does anyone else wonder if Egnor that his argument also attributes the problem of evil not to humans but to god (because where in the brain does evil reside?)

    Thank you Dr. Egnor, for demonstrating conclusively that god is responsible for hate, violence, greed, rape, murder, theft, torture, genocide, and people sticking gum in payphone coin return slots.

    Are we sure he’s not secretly on our side?

  190. #191 Brownian
    June 15, 2007

    “Does anyone else wonder if Egnor that his argument…” should read “Does anyone else wonder if Egnor has considered that his argument…”

    Thanks for making me make a typo, god.

    Asshole.

    Great. Thanks for making me call god an asshole, god.

  191. #192 Farb
    June 15, 2007

    I have deduced THE ANSWER to a long-standing question I have had.

    For over a generation now, I have suspected that school administrators and educational psychologists underwent pre-frontal lobotomies (followed by plastic surgery) some time during their second semester of graduate training.

    This accounted for the almost universal stupidity I encountered whenever I dealt with any of them.

    When I made a half-hearted attempt at school administrative certification, I followed my habit of never subjecting my papers to any revision (in contrast to the painstaking agony I devoted to all others) before submission. When an EdAdmin professor suggested that I publish, I sensed the lobotomist’s needle, immediately quit taking EdAdmin courses, and never looked back. I think I narrowly escaped the path leading to the Dark Side.

    But I digress. I always wondered who that meatball lobotomist would be, and now I have THE ANSWER. It’s Michael Egnor! He must be a busy man.

    Now don’t complain about my scientific reasoning. It’s at least as good as his.

  192. #193 Fernando Magyar
    June 15, 2007

    This is interesting: This is your brain on altruism, any questions?

    GOODNESS OF ONE’S BRAIN: A new study finds evidence for altruism in the brain.

    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=2B7B262E-E7F2-99DF-3C58313E8265771A&chanID=sa003

  193. #194 Kristine
    June 15, 2007

    Where, in the United States, is the presidential election located?

    Easy. In 2000, Florida; in 2004, Ohio. Blakey Stacey! You set yourself up for that!

    Dr. Egnor, bleah! You’re a bad doctor. God liked the late-night nachos, but the nachos didn’t like God. Now God says that my altruism is in the toilet.

    (Sorry. I couldn’t resist.) 😀

  194. #195 Tanya
    June 15, 2007

    When you turn your head 30 degrees to the left (yaw),

    Which is exactly what I was doing as I read this, that askance look you give something that can’t possibly be real.

  195. #196 Kseniya
    June 15, 2007

    See, Kristine? I toldja your nachos would turn into Egnor’s argument!

  196. #197 Trv
    June 15, 2007

    On similar lines:

    Deepak Chopra on Mind outside the Brain and mirror neurons.

    “To gain credibility, the mind outside the brain must also be mirrored inside the brain. If your brain didn’t register what the mind is doing, there would be no way to detect the mind. Like a TV program being broadcast in the air, a receiver picks up the signal and makes it visible. The brain is a receiver for the mind field. The field itself is invisible, but as mirrored in our brains, it comes to life as images, sensations, and an infinite array of experiences.”

    “So far, the phenomenon of mirror neurons hasn’t been isolated to single neurons in the human brain. Due to the complexity of the laboratory work, it hasn’t traveled very far into the general public. This means that mirror neurons will be held captive for the time being by the belief system of neurology, which is overwhelmingly materialistic. That is, the brain being a solid object comes first while mind, if it exists at all, comes second. Yet I would argue that most of the things we most cherish about the mind, including empathy, language, and learning, depend on mind coming first, and the mirror neuron serves its purposes.”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/the-mind-outside-the-brai_b_52404.html

    The Mind Outside the Brain (Part 4)

  197. #198 Neel
    June 15, 2007

    They really need to have a course in basic logic at medical school…

  198. #199 Torbjrn Larsson, OM
    June 15, 2007

    Don’t insult Doctor Eggnog like that!

    Okay, how do you like to insult him? 🙂

    It was probably my last chance to make fun of his name, given what I said, so I had to get it out of my system. Now I will have to ridicule his arguments instead… oops, nothing there. Now what?

  199. #200 Torbjrn Larsson, OM
    June 15, 2007

    Don’t insult Doctor Eggnog like that!

    Okay, how do you like to insult him? 🙂

    It was probably my last chance to make fun of his name, given what I said, so I had to get it out of my system. Now I will have to ridicule his arguments instead… oops, nothing there. Now what?

  200. #201 Flux
    June 16, 2007

    Has he researched where the sleepy is located? My personal testing has revealed that it becomes much stronger when I’m lying down than when I’m standing up. Perhaps there’s a correlation to altruism involving oh… headstands?

  201. #202 Caledonian
    June 16, 2007

    By ignoring the functioning of the brain and trying to put the responsibility for thought on some ill-defined ‘something’ that does the actual work, Egnor is succumbing to the homunculus fallacy. We can’t explain how our minds work by thinking of them as machines operated by a minded entity, because that doesn’t explain how the new entity functions. Sooner or later we have to get down to brass tacks and reduce minds to more basic parts, and the ‘transmitter hypothesis’ is not only unnecessary but is an obstacle to that vital step.

  202. #203 CalGeorge
    June 16, 2007

    Egnor: “It can’t be ‘located’ at all.”

    Mike, I’ve located your altruism – it’s at the riverbank. Francis found it!

    Francis Collins: If I’m walking down the riverbank, and a man is drowning, even if I don’t know how to swim very well, I feel this urge that the right thing to do is to try to save that person.

  203. #204 Keith Douglas
    June 16, 2007

    Bloody hell. This guy’s sure a thick one. Hint for him: your ideas are “simply” processes in your brain. And yes, they change (relationally) when you walk across the room.

    ron richardson: Indeed they do, and another philosophically unfortunate neurosurgeon pioneered techniques in localizing them – Wilder Penfield.

    Martin Wagner: That makes three surgeons. Hmmmmmmmmmm.

    QrazyQat: I don’t know if living in an Poe story would be more or less horrifying than what seems to be really the case …

    D.R.M.: I don’t think that’s it – since he hasn’t picked any examples like (say) mass, or length, or other properties not traditionally associated with minds.

    Dan S.: Except that it isn’t that simple, unless you just want to redefine the word “red” in a stipulative fashion.

  204. #205 Figbash
    June 16, 2007

    Ideas … aren’t material, so they can’t have a location.

    Well now. This discussion has totally ruined my theory about ideas and memory. You see, I’m sitting at my desk and I have to get up and go out my door and down the hall and into another office to ask somebody about … ??? what? or to do … what??? It isn’t until I’ve walked ALL the way back to my office and can let that “idea” that was left floating there above my desk re-enter my brain that I can then go do or say whatever it was that I originally thought to do or say.

    I mean, really. Hasn’t this ever happened to you? I could swear that ideas have location in these particular instances. **g**

  205. #206 ArtK
    June 17, 2007

    Well, if Dr. Egnor’s strawman were correct, then he’d forget everything he knew about biology and neurology, and lose the ability for rational thought every time he moved.

    Oh…

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