Pharyngula

Your brain is the next battleground

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

Sound familiar? That’s exactly the same rhetoric the Discovery Institute has used towards evolution, and it’s just as false. It’s to be expected, since this is the ranting of a DI fellow.

What Schwartz is arguing for is dualism: the idea that the mind is not the product of the activity of the brain, but is somehow generated supernaturally, with the brain being nothing but the host or receiver for the emanations of an immaterial ‘soul’. Contrary to his claims, however, this is definitely not a popular view in the neuroscientific community — if anything, the trend is going far, far away from what he claims, with the evidence growing that the reductionist, materialist approach to the brain is the best way to understand how it works. It’s not breaking down. Just as evolutionary theory has been strengthened by advances in molecular biology, so too has the materialist view of the mind been strengthened by multidisciplinary approaches in neuroscience.

The article is reporting on a meeting of these DI-sponsored loons, and it really does sound like a delightful coterie of idiots. Denyse O’Leary was there, along with Mario Beauregard, who together authored what I consider the worst book of 2007, The Spiritual Brain, and so far I’ve read nothing as bad in 2008, so they may deserve a lifetime award. It’s a book that was practically unreadable in its incoherent style, and which was full of illogical claims built from fallacious premises and bad experiments. Schwartz provides more excellent examples of the nonsense these guys are propagating.

To properly support dualism, however, non-materialist neuroscientists must show the mind is something other than just a material brain. To do so, they look to some of their favourite experiments, such as research by Schwartz in the 1990s on people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Schwartz used scanning technology to look at the neural patterns thought to be responsible for OCD. Then he had patients use “mindful attention” to actively change their thought processes, and this showed up in the brain scans: patients could alter their patterns of neural firing at will.

From such experiments, Schwartz and others argue that since the mind can change the brain, the mind must be something other than the brain, something non-material. In fact, these experiments are entirely consistent with mainstream neurology – the material brain is changing the material brain.

That makes no sense. The perception of mental activity is associated with detectable changes in the activity of the brain; that is not evidence for dualism. Would it be evidence for the idea that the mind is the product of the brain if our most sensitive instruments revealed that while people composed sonnets or solved calculus problems or daydreamed about Tina Fey nude, their brains were as inert as large lumps of cold silly putty? I think not. These data are exactly what we’d expect if thought were the product of brain activity, that we’d see brain activity while people were thinking. We even have experimental evidence of correlated brain activity preceding individual awareness of conscious thought…again, as we materialists would expect.

The article points out that this is a looming concern, and it’s one I’ve been talking about for a long time. Just as evolution challenged religious literalists preconceptions about human exceptionalism and our origins, and made itself a focus of concerted hatred by the dogmatists, neuroscience is the next big science that is going to antagonize them, since it challenges other fundamental concepts of primitive religious thought, such as the idea that we have immortal souls separate from our flesh, that we are imbued by our creator with this magical element at some instant, such as conception. Remember that this is the papal escape clause: Catholics can accept physical evolution, but that the significant spiritual event was the endowment of a soul on the human lineage at some indefinite time in the past. It’s also going to be a flashpoint for the anti-choice crowd, who want to claim personhood and identity on clumps of cells that don’t even have any neural tissue — it yanks the basis for their claims right out from under their feet.

The only thing sparing us right now is that most public school science classrooms never introduce anything about neuroscience, so it avoids the problem so far of actually directly antagonizing ignorant yahoos who don’t like their children liberated from the biases of their parents’ ignorance. Give it a few more years, though, and let it become a bit more high profile, and it will trigger furious outrage in many more. After all, it is so degrading to be told that your finest thoughts are made from well-ordered meat.

Comments

  1. #1 terry
    October 23, 2008

    mmmmm, well-ordered meat…..

  2. #2 Glen Davidson
    October 23, 2008

    It’s what they’ve “founded” ID on from the beginning, this belief that the mind is magic. Berlinski included, as he disagreed with me in the pages of Commentary that the mind/brain simply has to follow the laws of thermodynamics.

    No physical mind, no evolution, it’s really as simple as that. How the hell would an immaterial mind arise from the rules governing evolution, after all?

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  3. #3 Tulse
    October 23, 2008

    I do happen to think there’s are pretty serious philosophical problems in trying to explain how physical stuff produces mental stuff, but a) I’m damned sure is does, and b) I’m also damned sure that postulating a sky fairy doesn’t provide a solution.

    (And I’ll see Schwartz’ study and raise him one, as I did a PET neuroimaging study looking at changes in the brain under different mood states — people weren’t even thinking, just feeling, but produced observable changes in the neural activity. Is that supposed to be surprising?)

  4. #4 Nentuaby
    October 23, 2008

    “Thinking meat! You’re asking me to believe in thinking meat!”

    “Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal! Are you beginning to get the picture or do I have to start all over?”

    They’re Made out of Meat, Terry Bisson

  5. #5 Dirty Hairy
    October 23, 2008

    So…brain activity that is recorded during thought processes…is evidence of this “dualism”?

    Just what the f**k are these people smoking?

    Kids, Just Say No.

  6. #6 Hap
    October 23, 2008

    This would be the time when a basic general understanding of science would be helpful. Don’t you have to be able to distinguish between a “yes” and “no” answer to a question for it to even make sense in science? How would one test for the presence of a soul? Does Occam’s Razor ring a bell with these people?

    I’ll just file this under “evil people using bad logic to keep power they can’t possibly get another way (well, other than if they were really successful at gathering deposits into their coffee cans or accordian cases or by writing an eloquent cardboard sign)”.

  7. #7 bunnycatch3r
    October 23, 2008

    I wish the Discovery Institute success in this pursuit. Having a soul would be very cool.

  8. #8 Speaker to Third Graders
    October 23, 2008

    @2 Netuaby

    Damn! You beat me to it!
    I love that story!

  9. #9 DuckPhup
    October 23, 2008

    “Materialism needs to start fading away and non-materialist causation needs to be understood as part of natural reality.”

     
    There’s an actual word for that, isn’t there? Oh, yeah… MAGIC.

    I wonder why he just doesn’t say that?

  10. #10 Darth Wader
    October 23, 2008

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

    Sure looks that way to the ones not looking I guess.

  11. #11 Lago
    October 23, 2008

    If you have never seen Jeffrey Schwartz before, you are in for a real treat. He is a special type of bat shit crazy that makes you wonder where are the people with the nets when you need them. He not only has a position supported by pure wishful thinking, he has the demeanor of a meth-addict who thinks you stole his next fix. Eyes a glaring, and lip a quivering, he is RIGHT GOD DAMN IT!! HE IS RIGHT…HE IS RIGHT!! WAHAHAHAHA…TAKE ME SERIOUSLY……. PLEEEEASE!!!!

  12. #12 CrypticLife
    October 23, 2008

    They’ll just deny it. It will take centuries before the churches admit any of it’s true.

    They might kill a few neuroscientists, though, just to make the denial easier.

  13. #13 Gene
    October 23, 2008

    Tina Fey nude…

    Mmmm….

  14. #14 Brownian, OM
    October 23, 2008

    Just what the f**k are these people smoking?

    Not enough, for sure.

    I’ve always thought that those who are so enthralled by dualism that they accept any personal experience of theirs as somehow reflective of reality simply haven’t dropped enough acid or ‘shrooms.

    Three hours spent discussing phylogeny with a giant talking carrot named Lou should be enough to cure anyone of mind/brain dualism.

  15. #15 Speaker to Third Graders
    October 23, 2008

    Sorry, not @2, @4. Its been a long day.

  16. #16 CrypticLife
    October 23, 2008

    how threatened the scientific establishment is by the fact that it now looks like the materialist paradigm is genuinely breaking down.

    These kinds of statements always make me giggle a bit.

  17. #17 Lago
    October 23, 2008

    “Tina Fey nude…
    Mmmm….”

    I will see your Tina Fey Nude, and raise you a Tina Fey, naked, with her back arched while wearing high heels…

  18. #18 Rey Fox
    October 23, 2008

    How very egnorant of them.

  19. #19 Donnie B.
    October 23, 2008

    Schwartz and others argue that since the mind can change the brain, the mind must be something other than the brain, something non-material.

    There exists a class of computer programs known as self-modifying — they can overwrite some of their instructions with other instructions, thus modifying their own behavior when those sections of code are later executed.

    Does this prove that there must exist a non-material computer mind that is separate and distinct from the program’s instructions? By Schwartz’s logic, it does.

    Apparently there really is a ghost in the machine.

  20. #20 Kobra
    October 23, 2008

    These psychotic sycophants sure are persistent.

  21. #21 Sven DiMilo
    October 23, 2008

    What Brownian said. Which is pretty much the same thing that I said, under over a previous nym, back in 2006. (That li’l search bar at the upper left is a powerful item!)

  22. #22 Brad D
    October 23, 2008

    You know this is really easy to debunk even for people with little scientific knowledge, just look at the case of Phineas Gage or many other people that have suffered brain injuries and survived. Change your brain = change your mind.

    Besides, how do they think drugs affect the mind if they don’t affect the brain? Demons??? Well… yeah, that is probably what they think.

  23. #23 ThirdMonkey
    October 23, 2008

    Wow. It looks like there might be a market for my (tongue-in-cheek) theory of everything: That the universe is just a very complex MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game) and we are the avitars of players that exist outside of the universe. In other words, Life is just a game.
    It would really appeal to people who are sick of classical religions but can’t cope with the idea of being nothing more then thinking meat.
    Yup. Time to start me a religion. Anybody care to but a dollar in the box?

  24. #24 Clemens
    October 23, 2008

    So because the mind can alter brain activity, it’s not part of the brain.
    Okay, so since I am able to punch myself in the face, my fist is not part of my body because it can alter my body.

    On a more serious note, regarding brain/mind I take the following view:

    In the end, all though processes, emotions and what we in everyday language call personality and soul, comes down to biochemical processes and cell activity, so it really is “just” material.

    On this micro-level, however, the complexity is so big that you cannot “really” use this to explain every kind of human behaviour and experience, just in the way you cannot use plain quantum physics in a practical way to describe macroscopic phenomena. In the same way physicists need statistical mechanics and thermodynamics to deal with these issues and thus introduce macroscopic quantities such as temperature or pressure, to treat the mind/brain we must introduce abstract, macroscopic quantities like emotions.

  25. #25 Lago
    October 23, 2008

    Jeff never seems to grasp the idea that the brain is not one thing, but a huge community of interacting elements, many with priorities of their own that are in conflict with other elements.

    To look at it in overly simplistic terms, one aspect of the brain looks at a girl half naked on the beach and says, me want!…Me want now!!

    However, the self preservation part of the brain also has a say, and reminds you that you ain’t going to tag that and live as long as your girlfriend is standing next to you, and the girl in questions boyfriend is able to bench press a Hummer.

    The fact that you can over-ride a desire like this seems to be sheer magic to Mister Schwartz, while many of us can reason out much simpler explanations.

  26. #26 Abbie
    October 23, 2008

    I would recommend Godel, Escher, Bach for a very interesting take on this… it goes into some logic stuff that went over my head but for the most part it convinced me that dualism doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

  27. #27 Eamon Knight
    October 23, 2008

    I like how they just can’t resist invoking their favorite whipping boy, Darwin, even when the connection is tenuous. Even if the brain got here by purely physical evolution, one can always postulate that God imbues it with a magical “soul” (something that IIUC some churches explicitly teach). But the IDiots have always been rather vague on which bits of biology are magical, and which they can cede to plain old evolution.

  28. #28 Katharine
    October 23, 2008

    /Dualists/. I hate these assholes.

    I heavily suggest, for all of you who want some information about these idiots, familiarizing yourself with their arguments so you can formulate adequate counterarguments. Some very silly dualists are:

    Jaegwon Kim
    David Chalmers
    Richard Chappell (this guy HATES me)
    Rene Descartes (the first formal dualist)

    You will notice most of them are philosophers. Very few neuroscientists are dualists, and I don’t know anybody at my university, which is one of the leading institutions in neuroscience in the United States, who espouses such ridiculous ideas.

  29. #29 Blake Stacey
    October 23, 2008

    Remember that this is the papal escape clause: Catholics can accept physical evolution, but that the significant spiritual event was the endowment of a soul on the human lineage at some indefinite time in the past.

    Am I the only one who worries that pro-science Catholics, and others who employ the “ensoulment” escape clause, will turn out to be fair-weather friends when the full impact of neuroscience hits home?

    Give it a few more years, though, and let it become a bit more high profile, and it will trigger furious outrage in many more.

    Any field of inquiry can become a challenge to doctrinaire religious belief, depending on the particular doctrines being espoused; however, unlike cosmology or archaeology, neuroscience has direct medical and technological relevance to daily life. It’s so much easier to get steamed up about an idea when that idea strikes close to home. I suspect a good many invocations of creationist claims like “the bacterial flagellum couldn’t evolve” are secondary fluff, byproducts of the real, heartfelt assertion: “I didn’t come from no monkey.”

    The number of ways we can treat the brain and modify the mind will only increase as we discover more about the meat which thinks. Strap yourselves in — it gets bumpy from here.

  30. #30 Christian
    October 23, 2008

    I do happen to think there’s are pretty serious philosophical problems in trying to explain how physical stuff produces mental stuff, but a) I’m damned sure is does, and b) I’m also damned sure that postulating a sky fairy doesn’t provide a solution.

    I know that stuff is a catch-all term but in this case, mental “stuff” isn’t stuff at all (as the physical stuff) but actually configuration of stuff.

    In other words, it’s all patterns in motion and this is the reason why postulating some ominous substance doesn’t help at all when trying to explain the mind.
    Even if this substance exists, it must be able to assume (at least two) different states and it’s proponents should be able to explain why a mind can only be instantiated in this substance and not in ordinary matter and why it can’t even be emulated by ordinary matter.

    Above all, if the brain is only a transceiver, then there’s a lot of information flowing back and forth all the time which means that the interaction of this mind-substance with that blob of organic matter between our ears must be enormous. Heck, it must be several orders of magnitude larger than the interaction of neutrinos with ordinary atoms and yet, we can detect the latter but somehow we can’t do so with the former.

  31. #31 Brian D
    October 23, 2008

    I work in a behaviour-based robotics lab. If that viewpoint proves to be accurate, then the mind not only doesn’t exist as traditionally thought, but rather is nothing more than an illusion. It’s sort of neo-behaviourist this way. (I’m personally skeptical, but it’d be interesting to see how far we can go with this.)

    PZ, have you ever heard of Vehicles by Valentino Braitenberg? It’s an extremely short book about what he calls ‘synthetic psychology’ — building models that, through environmental interaction, produce behaviour akin to cognitive agents, and then analyzing the models (as we can’t directly analyze the mind, having an analyzable model is preferable when building theories, as it essentially gets around the psychology-as-pseudoscience argument my physicist colleagues joke about). The book’s readable in an hour, and by the end of it you feel like you could build a thinking agent in your basement. (It’s not just thought experiments, though — the second half is a layman introduction to the biological basis of every move he made.)

    I mention Vehicles here because it raises an interesting philosophical point. Braitenberg describes the machines using anthropomorphic terms (things like “attraction”, “hatred”, “fear” and so on) which start out seeming impossibly implausible. By the end, a reader accepts them and can see where they came from. And yet, there’s no clear line to where this transition (from ‘not mindlike’ to ‘mindlike’) takes place.

    In short, it shows how a mind could emerge through purely natural processes (there’s even a chapter devoted to a vehicular version of evolution by natural selection), and couples this with biological examples of each and every process that inspired the machines. People who subscribe to dualism will probably have their worldview sufficiently shaken by reading it, and since it isn’t a commonly-known book or filed under ‘biology’, they’re more likely to start reading it than, say, Origin of Species.

  32. #32 BobC
    October 23, 2008

    The Discovery Institute, a Christian creationist organization, is calling magic “non-materialist causation”. “Non-materialist causation needs to be understood as part of natural reality” means “Magic needs to be understood as part of natural reality”.

    This is more evidence for the idea that Christians are the most stupid people in human history.

  33. #33 gazza
    October 23, 2008

    Conciousness (which these fundies are claiming is basically spiritual) is a fascinating area. It’s an area where we have to say that for science it’s work in progress. Why does the distributed computing in our brain give us the impression of a ‘core mind’ in a single place apparently observing out. It’s questions like this that it’s fun to investigate.

    I’ve read a couple of popular books by Susan Blackmore on this (in the UK – don’t know if around in the US) and they are really interesting – make you doubt everything you might have thought about the subject. And I believe the book by Dennet is worth reading too – haven’t done that yet.

  34. #34 Scott from Oregon
    October 23, 2008

    I’ve always argued that nueroscience will be the nail in the religious coffin.

    I’ve got a novel in the works using the simple idea that you can’t leave your body and be sentient, because you can’t take your brain with you…

    The brain projects the mind which creates the idea of “I”. Without the projector functioning, there is no “I” to transmigrate, leaving the notions of religion dead in the water…

    Or err… something like that…

  35. #35 Kel
    October 23, 2008

    I was talking online to a guy last night who, after seeing that previous article about understanding when you die, posed the question “what if the mind isn’t material?” Yes what if? What if aliens had really built the pyramids? What if the holocaust is a Zionist conspiracy? What if the sun really does orbit the earth? Just because we don’t have absolute certainty on an issue, it doesn’t mean that any alternative is an equally valid concept. Given that if we injure the brain we lose certain mental function it would suggest that brain function is entirely a material process. It’s not a monoist assumption, it’s a deduction from decades spent analysing the brain.

    Arguing from personal incredulity is hardly a convincing argument. Just more “spiritual” nutters wanting validation of their beliefs… though the guy I was talking with is not a creationist but a “new age” nutter, and he was really against creationists attaching themselves to non-material neuroscience. Funny that

  36. #36 patrickhenry
    October 23, 2008

    Ha! I beat PZ and blogged about this one yesterday. One very neat item was in the article:

    “Progress in science is slow on many fronts,” says John Searle, a philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley. “We don’t yet have a cure for cancer, but that doesn’t mean cancer has spiritual causes.”

  37. #37 Katharine
    October 23, 2008

    SfO, are you familiar with the zombie argument?

    It sucks a lot, doesn’t it?

  38. #38 ShadowWalkyr
    October 23, 2008

    I’ve always thought of the brain as “hardware” and the mind as “software.” This has always seemed a reasonable interpretation.

    In light of this post, is this a faulty analogy?

  39. #39 Raynfala
    October 23, 2008

    @23:

    Wow. It looks like there might be a market for my (tongue-in-cheek) theory of everything: That the universe is just a very complex MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game) and we are the avitars of players that exist outside of the universe. In other words, Life is just a game.
    It would really appeal to people who are sick of classical religions but can’t cope with the idea of being nothing more then thinking meat.

    You mean I might just be some pan-dimensional entity’s gold-mining ‘bot? Oooof, now there’s a disturbing thought…

  40. #40 Katharine
    October 23, 2008

    If anyone wants to see some SPECTACULARLY TERRIBLE bullshit, find Chalmers’s idea of qualia.

    The man obviously forgot that thoughts are actions, not things, and nor is he familiar with basic perception and psychophysics.

  41. #41 Brian English
    October 23, 2008

    Brownian:
    Three hours spent discussing phylogeny with a giant talking carrot named Lou should be enough to cure anyone of mind/brain dualism. Give the man another order of Molly. That’s pure comedy gold and insightful (I think) to boot!

    I’ve always wondered why religious types didn’t attack physics as much as biology. If the law of conservation of energy is worthy of law status, then souls, should they exist, can’t interact with material brains anyway. So God’s existence still won’t get you to heaven, as there is no you (soul) that can be rewarded for the actions of you (brain). Yet that never seems to bother them. This article is in a similar vein. I guess this attack on neuroscience means they are slowly going after other sciences that threaten the belief in sky daddy and forever after….Lookout physics (just say it’s quantum indeterminacy that creates the gap that allows the soul in.)

  42. #42 Katharine
    October 23, 2008

    ShadowWalkyr, the brain is basically both hardware and software. Look at Developing Intelligence for information about the brain-computer analogy.

  43. #43 Blake Stacey
    October 23, 2008

    ShadowWalkyr:

    I’ve always thought of the brain as “hardware” and the mind as “software.” This has always seemed a reasonable interpretation.

    In light of this post, is this a faulty analogy?

    Most of the people who would tell you that’s a bad analogy have, in my experience, been using absurdly limited definitions of what “software” is. (See, for example, this discussion from a couple months ago.) So, I’d say that your analogy is basically fine.

  44. #44 Brian English
    October 23, 2008

    I’ve always thought of the brain as “hardware” and the mind as “software.” This has always seemed a reasonable interpretation.

    In light of this post, is this a faulty analogy?

    With my limited understanding of this field I’d say the hardware is the neurons (supported by glial cells, NGF and whatever), the software is the everchanging connections between neurons and brain areas (like self-altering code or virus) and the program we see as it is executing is the mind.

  45. #45 Azdak
    October 23, 2008

    Is there an equivalent of the Salem Hypothesis for clinicians in the fields of psychology or psychiatry? When I was in school, I was frequently appalled/amazed/astounded by the sort of nonsense the clinicians would buy into — “sure, the research says that, but my anecdotal evidence contradicts that, so the research is wrong!”

    I eagerly await the joint Discovery Institute/Jenny McCarthy announcement that you can simultaneously cure autism and page Jebus by wiggling your pineal gland.

  46. #46 Brian English
    October 23, 2008

    I mention physics and immediately Blake Stacey appears. More than coincidence?

  47. #47 Blake Stacey
    October 23, 2008

    Actually, it’s more a sign that I’ve been concerned about non-materialist neuroscience as “the next creationism” for a while now, so I’m likely to spend time hanging out in threads like these. Also, it means it’s not quite time to log off and head across town for gin-and-tonic night with friends, but that’ll be soon enough.

  48. #48 Brian English
    October 23, 2008

    So you’re not superhuman or supernatural then? Well, that’s another hypothesis to discard.

    By the way, I enjoyed reading your post on not understanding science without maths. No wonder I don’t understand science that well. :)

  49. #49 CJO
    October 23, 2008

    with the brain being nothing but the host or receiver for the emanations of an immaterial ‘soul’.

    Just up front, this analogy is so stupid (and I know it’s PZ’s paraphrase, but it’s not a straw-man. I have seen the argument made).

    The human brain, with its trillions of synapses, is easily the most complex, densely interconnected three-pound chunk of matter in the known universe.

    And it’s an antenna. Uh huh, sure buddy, whatev.

  50. #50 Blake Stacey
    October 23, 2008

    Thank you. I’m fairly pleased with that post and the responses it has received. In fact, with this motivation, I’ve seriously been trying to find the time to write a math book.

  51. #51 Brad D
    October 23, 2008

    Jynnan Tonnyx… Drinking those will alter your brain chemistry a bit :)

  52. #52 Brian English
    October 23, 2008

    Yes, that’s the one, the necessity of mathematics. I’d forgotten the title. Good stuff.

    I’ve tried staring threateningly at Roger Penrose’s Road to Reality in a so far vein attempt at getting that book to reveal its knowledge to me. I think that that tome perceives that my glances are empty and I won’t attack it. It appears I will have to brush up on maths to understand it….

  53. #53 Vironian
    October 23, 2008

    As someone in neuroscience I found comment #24 a really nice analogy to this brain-mind issue. Brain is the “stuff”. Mind is a concept, just like temperature. The macroscopic level comes about by something that occurs on the microscopic level – which, in turn, is too narrow for some other usages of that concept.

  54. #54 ennui
    October 23, 2008

    My homunculus had a comment, but then his homunculus didn’t agree, and her homunculus was at the Cartesian Theatre buying tickets to tonight’s show.

    Turtles.

  55. #55 ThridMonkey
    October 23, 2008

    The analogy that I’ve always liked (and has been brought up in the time it took me to write this) is that the mind is like the software running on a computer. Does it have any real tangible form? Not any more then software does. Software only exists as a pattern of 1s and 0s, on-off states of switches, the orientation of magnetic fields on a hard disk, or as electrical signals moving down a wire. Same with the mind. It is nothing more than the pattern of signals traveling through neurons. In both cases software/computer and mind/brain either is useless without the other. So you can say that “Yes” the mind does exist, but it only exists within the context of the brain. Destroy the brain and you destroy the mind and without the mind the brain is dead.
    I can definitely understand how “duelists” could perceive the mind “soul” as being separate. I can also understand their desire for the pattern that is the mind to transcend the death of the brain. However, whatever magical process allows for this has absolutely no evidence and is definitely a matter of religion until, of course, the mind-digitization scanner is invented.

  56. #56 Sven DiMilo
    October 23, 2008

    Have we gotten this far into an anti-dualism thread without anybody mentioning that the inimitable Carl Zimmer has written a book on the science-history of the idea?
    I’m a bit ashamed to admit I haven’t read it, but all his other stuff is pure win.

  57. #57 Blake Stacey
    October 23, 2008

    I’ve not read Penrose’s book myself, but I’ve heard it criticized for trying to do too much in too small a space: “You can’t expect people to learn integrals from scratch in only five pages!” or the like. I’ve always thought the Feynman Lectures on Physics did an admirable job of introducing the mathematics they need as they go along, so you might try Volume 1 of those books, as well.

  58. #58 helioprogenus
    October 23, 2008

    It’s funny how a lump of gelatinous neural tissue evolutionarily selected for by our environmental constraints allows some hairless apes to discard rational thought and embrace the kind of childhood fantasy reserved for credulous 5 years old. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were wasting their intellectual abilities in isolation, but their eagerness and need for corrupting minds that may one day potentially benefit mankind is irresponsible and inexcusable. It’s easy to justify anything with the phrase “I believe it to be so”, but much harder to say “although I may imagine a belief to be justified, ultimately, empirical evidence supersedes any belief that can easily be faulty based on certain factors that allow our minds to maintain credulous notions”.

  59. #59 Blake Stacey
    October 23, 2008

    Zimmer’s Soul Made Flesh is very good. (My copy is autographed — ha!)

  60. #60 Ichthyic
    October 23, 2008

    no time to check to see how many others noticed that last line:

    non-materialist causation needs to be understood as part of natural reality.”

    IOW, non-naturalistic explanations need to be understood as part of naturalistic explanations.

    *smacks head*

    the doublethink, it hurts!

  61. #61 Patricia
    October 23, 2008

    Hey Blake somebody is praising your book over on Free Thought Radio.

  62. #62 Ichthyic
    October 23, 2008

    How very egnorant of them.

    exactly what I was thinking.

  63. #63 Chris Noble
    October 23, 2008

    Then he had patients use “mindful attention” to actively change their thought processes, and this showed up in the brain scans: patients could alter their patterns of neural firing at will.

    In the latest ground-breaking experiments on the mind-body connection researchers have been able to demonstrate “mindful walking” where subjects have been able to modify their ambulatory status using only thought processes.

    Scientists are baffled by these results which are inconsistent with standard materialistic science!

    Future experiments are planned to test whether subjects can simultaneously perform “mindful walking” and “mindful gum chewing”.

  64. #64 ThirdMonkey
    October 23, 2008

    Raynfala #39 –
    Do you ever find yourself giving money to strangers for no apparent reason? Like panhandlers or churches? Then maybe you are a gold farmer and your pan-dimensional player is getting some sort of compensation on the outside.
    That’s it! Tithing to a church is like gold farming. Every time you tithe your player gets a BJ (or the pan-dimensional equivalent)! So come on everyone! Make your player happy and put a dollar in the box!

  65. #65 Blake Stacey
    October 23, 2008

    Hey Blake somebody is praising your book over on Free Thought Radio.

    ???

  66. #66 Cuttlefish, OM
    October 23, 2008

    At the center of this issue is a three-pound mass of tissue
    That can contemplate infinity, or love, or space and time!
    In addition to these features, this mass sits in social creatures
    That communicate these contemplations (sometimes, yes, in rhyme).
    Just how consciousness emerges from sensations, acts, and urges
    Is a complicated question, yes, but hopeless? Not a bit!
    But what doesn’t help the matter is this silly dualist chatter–
    See, it doesn’t count as science if you merely make up shit.

  67. #67 dsmccoy
    October 23, 2008

    I’ve always thought of the brain as “hardware” and the mind as “software.” This has always seemed a reasonable interpretation.
    In light of this post, is this a faulty analogy?

    It’s not too bad, just a little weak these days.

    Neuroplasticity means that the “hardware” is constantly rewiring itself based on what the “software” is doing,

    So there’s more than just the two levels.
    The fixed structure, the plastic structure and the dynamic activity.

  68. #68 Patricia
    October 23, 2008

    Didn’t you write a book about stuff falling out of the sky?

  69. #69 Anon
    October 23, 2008

    “Death from above” would be Phil Plait’s book, if that is what you are thinking of.

  70. #70 Blake Stacey
    October 23, 2008

    Um, that I know of, I haven’t written a book that’s been published yet.

  71. #71 Oded
    October 23, 2008

    @Tulse #3

    I do happen to think there’s are pretty serious philosophical problems in trying to explain how physical stuff produces mental stuff

    It’s actually pretty simple – I think the best analogy to it is like a file on your hard drive.
    You cannot physically point to any specific thing in your brain and say “that’s a thought!”, in the same way that you cannot point to any specific thing on you hard drive and say “that’s my pr0n stash!”

    A “thought” is an extremely high abstraction of the entire complex of physical things going on in your brain, put into the context of your brain. You cannot have the “single neurons of the thought” without the rest of the brain, because the brain puts it all into context, and gives that specific arrangement of neurons and electricity meaning – a thought for you.

  72. #72 Kougaro
    October 23, 2008

    And if i may add to #67, it’s more like the hardware and software are together in the brain : to push the analogy, it would something like a GPU, or other specialized chip, where “software” operation is in fact directly cabled through the hardware.
    Also, i would like to point out that as those loons will try to deny that we don’t have an immortal soul, the same loons will try to deny the results that may arise from the study of other animals, primates and other mammals especially, with the same old argument : we are “special”.

  73. #73 Patricia
    October 23, 2008

    Oh shit. Confused again, I really must start drinking earlier in the day.
    Yes, that’s the one. There you go, proof of the goddess of confusion. ;o)

  74. #74 Blake Stacey
    October 23, 2008

    Being confused with Phil Plait is one of the better things to happen to me this week. ;-)

  75. #75 onclepsycho
    October 23, 2008

    What is the evidence this gang of imbeciles put forward? Near-death experiences. That’s the thing they’re putting their money on, and big money. It’s called the AWARE project, it involves 15 hospitals, and instead of doing potentially really interesting stuff, they plan to hide boards with signs that can only be seen from a “disembodied” perspective. Largest parapsychological experiment ever done, as far as I know. I’m not surprised at all that they’re linked to the ID tribe: the core manifesto of these neo-dualists is a huge book entitled “Irreducible Mind”. Mmmh, irreducible, it sort of rings a bell…

  76. #76 Andy James
    October 23, 2008

    Like I said on RDnet:

    Make no mistake, this is not about the truth or morality or principles. Its about power and money, and religious leaders vie for both. They will say and do anything to attain it, because they loose nothing if they are unsuccessful. If they are successful, we loose the tradition of 200 years of honest scientific achievement, and perhaps the emergence of a new dark age of mankind.

    They must be countered everywhere they speak.

  77. #77 craig
    October 23, 2008

    I think of it more like this. The brain is the hardware and the software… the “mind” is the output. Same way mario jumping on a toadstool isn’t the software, it’s the output (or result) of the software (and hardware).

  78. #78 Glen Davidson
    October 23, 2008

    Then he had patients use “mindful attention” to actively change their thought processes, and this showed up in the brain scans: patients could alter their patterns of neural firing at will.

    Or in other words, he deliberately introduced a set of causes that would activate an internal causal chain to, get this, produce different effects than another causal chain would have done.

    Very good, he managed to use causality to do the obvious, change what was happening in brains in a fairly predictable manner. It’s magic!

    I’m beginning research soon to demonstrate that computers can be set up to follow chains of instructions as well, and thus to prove that computers are magic.

    See, all you have to do is to change the rules of dualism so that material causes do affect mind in predictable ways, and then when causality is shown once again to dominate the classical realm, you just claim that it’s evidence of dualism.

    Sort of like using ID to “predict” the well-known complexity of life. Natural systems are almost always complex, while intelligence is not known to (at this time) be able to handle that much microscopic complexity, therefore “irreducible complexity” would on its own tend to suggest (though this is not by itself diagnostic of evolution) that “natural processes” caused the complexity. But hey, if you can fool enough people into gawping at complexity and ignoring the identifiable evidence, you have a public relations project, if not a scientific one.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  79. #79 SASnSA
    October 23, 2008

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

    I haven’t seen that level of denial since Baghdad Bob (Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf) claimed “There is no presence of American infidels in the city of Baghdad, at all”

  80. #80 Marcus Ranum
    October 23, 2008

    since the mind can change the brain, the mind must be something other than the brain, something non-material.

    By that logic, my computer has a soul? It must suffer, running Windows all day…

  81. #81 Marcus Ranum
    October 23, 2008

    “Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal! Are you beginning to get the picture or do I have to start all over?”

    OK, wiseass. With all that meat, why do we still have McDonald’s???

  82. #82 Sastra
    October 23, 2008

    “… non-materialist causation needs to be understood as part of natural reality.”

    The other term for “non-materialist causation” is “supernatural causation.” What distinguishes those things clustered together under the term supernatural is top-down mind control. Souls, God, ghosts, ESP, PK, chi energy, magic — they’re all examples of the primary place and power of mind, life, and its products, working from ‘above’ to influence low material stuff.

    So what Schwartz appears to be doing here is a very common spiritual ploy (though I usually get it from the New Age side rather than the Traditional Religion side) — deny that you believe in the supernatural. No, the supernatural is silly. You wouldn’t believe in that. How could something outside of nature influence nature? That’s unsophisticated.

    Instead, consciousness is a special NATURAL force. God exists, but it’s NATURAL. Natural = good. Schwartz’s phrase here is another way of saying nature is supernatural.

    Scott from Oregon #34 wrote:

    I’ve always argued that nueroscience will be the nail in the religious coffin.

    So have I and, I’m guessing, a lot of the science-oriented atheists (secular humanists). God is a disembodied mind which works using psychokenetic power. Theists don’t like to put it that bluntly, but that’s what it is. Their entire way of thinking about reality is top-down. They think it’s all done by skyhooks.

    ” Let us understand that a skyhook is a ‘mind-first’ force or power or process, an exception to the principle that all design, and apparent design, is ultimately the result of mindless, motiveless mechanicity. A crane, in contrast, is a subprocess or feature of a design process that can be demonstrated to permit the local speeding up of the basic, slow process of natural selection, and that can be demonstrated to be itself the predictable (or retrospectively explicable) product of the basic process.” (Dennet, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea pg. 76)

    And it would connect to evolution:
    “Mental things, brains, minds, consciousnesses, things that are capable of comprehending anything — these come late in evolution, they are a product of evolution. They don’t come at the beginning. So whatever lies behind the universe will not be an intellect. Intellects are things that come as the result of a long period of evolution.” (Richard Dawkins)

    When the ghost in the machine goes, there goes the Ghost in the universe. Evolution pisses them off, but neurology will finish them off.

    Still, as long as it doesn’t involve children most people won’t pay attention. They’re used to compartmentalizing and explaining stuff away. Grandma’s brain being destroyed by Alzheimer’s = the gradual loss of grandma’s mind. Grandma’s brain being blown away by a shotgun = grandma’s mind is perfectly intact, and with Jesus now.

  83. #83 windy
    October 23, 2008

    And if i may add to #67, it’s more like the hardware and software are together in the brain

    In some ways it’s like firmware but one that gets updated continuously in small ways and never all at once.

  84. #84 SteveF
    October 23, 2008

    At least these guys are doing actual research and publishing their arguments unlike Dembski et al. Schwartz has written a paper laying out his arguments:

    Schwartz, J. M., Stapp, H. P., and Beauregard, M. (2005). Quantum theory in neuroscience and psychology: A neurophysical model of mind-brain interaction. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B, 360, 1309-27.

    http://www-physics.lbl.gov/~stapp/PTRS.pdf

    This is all rather over my head. They essentially talk about the need to introduce a quantum aspect to the proceedings:

    Contemporary basic physical theory differs profoundly from classic physics on the important matter of how the consciousness of human agents enters into the structure of empirical phenomena. The new principles contradict the older idea that local mechanical processes alone can account for the structure of all observed empirical data.

    they argue that certain phenomena require an explanation using a quantum based framework:

    Indeed, owing to certain structural features of ion channels critical to synaptic function, contemporary physical theory must in principle be used when analysing human brain dynamics.

    In the conclusion they essentially state that modern physics isn’t materialist:

    Materialist ontology draws no support from contemporary physics and is in fact contradicted by it. The notion that all physical behaviour is explainable in principle solely in terms of a local mechanical process is a holdover from physical theories of an earlier era. It was rejected by the founders of quantum mechanics, who introduced, crucially into the basic dynamical equations, choices that are not determined by local mechanical processes, but are rather attributed to human agents. These orthodox quantum equations, applied to human brains in the way suggested by John von Neumann, provide for a causal account of recent neuropsychological data.

    Ok, lets accept this and say that we can’t have a materialist cause. However, it’s still based on a physical theory like quantum physics and so is still naturalistic. Even accepting Schwartz’s arguments (and I’m not equipped one way or the other to say), why the need for a supernatural explanation?

  85. #85 Kel
    October 23, 2008

    Since when is quantum physics not materialistic?

  86. #86 James F
    October 23, 2008

    Brian English wrote @41:

    I’ve always wondered why religious types didn’t attack physics as much as biology. If the law of conservation of energy is worthy of law status, then souls, should they exist, can’t interact with material brains anyway

    The Discovery Institute already seems to be promoting “supernatural cosmology.” The only good thing is that this, like pseudoscientific mind-body dualism, is not something covered in high school science classes, which have always been the target. It won’t fly in peer-reviewed scientific journals, nor will it fool professors at the college and graduate school level, unless it’s at a place like Liberty University.

  87. #87 David Marjanovi?, OM
    October 23, 2008

    So you’re not superhuman or supernatural then?

    Nah. The one that’s not human in here is Cuttlefish.

    Future experiments are planned to test whether subjects can simultaneously perform “mindful walking” and “mindful gum chewing”.

    ROTFL!

  88. #88 Muse142
    October 23, 2008

    Wooo Neuroscience!!

    My field finally gets the props it deserves.

    I wonder now what percentage of neuroscientists believe in a soul. (Like I sometimes wonder how many biologists believe that Goddidit.)

    Thank you PZ for pointing out the ridiculousness!

  89. #89 Sastra
    October 23, 2008

    onclepsycho #75 wrote:

    What is the evidence this gang of imbeciles put forward? Near-death experiences. That’s the thing they’re putting their money on, and big money. It’s called the AWARE project…

    At last, the Discovery Institute is connected with an actual experiment relevant to the actual “theory” of Intelligent Design. They’re throwing out natural selection as the cause of apparent design in nature — and then being cagey on the replacement. But we know what they need: the psychokenetic power of disembodied mind force. God’s disembodied mind force. We have no scientific evidence for that.

    But demonstrate that humans (who were created in God’s image) have paranormal abilities, and you’ve got evidence for the existence of God. Praise the lord, ID would finally have a mechanism!

    Of course, if AWARE is done with all the right controls, there will be no result. And now they’re back to trying to whine their way into public schools.

  90. #90 CJO
    October 23, 2008

    the founders of quantum mechanics, who introduced, crucially into the basic dynamical equations, choices that are not determined by local mechanical processes, but are rather attributed to human agents.

    Wingnuts just love this crap, don’t they? (I’m looking at you, Fritjof.) The Copenhagen Interpretation might as well be about snuff for as well as they seem to understand it. But what I always find so deliciously ironic about it is this breed of denialist bemoans the materialist, reductionist paradigm of the sciences, an approach they try to discredit with an appeal to quantum theory, the most “reductionist” apprtoach possible.

  91. #91 SteveF
    October 23, 2008

    Since when is quantum physics not materialistic?

    I wondered that too. I’m not that well up on these matters and have basically always had materialistic and naturalistic as synonymous, which might well not be accurate. I’m prepared to accept this description as one of the authors, Stapp, is a quantum physicist.

    However, this doesn’t necessarily (to my mind) lead to supernaturalism. Indeed, Henry Stapp who co-authors the paper with Schwartz (who seems to be some sort of creationist) and Beauregard (who I’m sure is) appears to agree with this. Note that Schwartz rails against Darwinism, but Stapp says:

    The Model Allows Our Mental Capacities to Evolve by Natural Selection.

    The model makes our thoughts physically efficacious, thereby giving them both a reason to exist, and the capacity to evolve in ways that enhance an organism’s chances of survival.

    http://sts.lbl.gov/~stapp/QID.pdf

    So it would appear that one of the authors of the papers believes there is a role for evolution and that the introduction of quantum theory, whilst it is apparently non materialist, doesn’t necessarily lead to the supernatural.

  92. #92 Jason A.
    October 23, 2008

    ‘The scientists try to get us to believe that one day a steak just started thinking all on its own. They’re so anti-god they’ll come up with anything!’

  93. #93 Canuck
    October 23, 2008

    Pardon my French, but what the fuck is “non-materialist causation”? Sounds like non-sonic music. Who dreams up this shit?

  94. #94 David Marjanovi?, OM
    October 23, 2008

    The new principles contradict the older idea that local mechanical processes alone can account for the structure of all observed empirical data.

    For an overly strict definition of “mechanical”, maybe.

    The notion that all physical behaviour is explainable in principle solely in terms of a local mechanical process is a holdover from physical theories of an earlier era. It was rejected by the founders of quantum mechanics, who introduced, crucially into the basic dynamical equations, choices that are not determined by local mechanical processes, but are rather attributed to human agents.

    Ah, the familiar nonsense that “observation” means “interaction with a mind or other spirit”. It’s wrong — demonstrably wrong. “Observation” means “interaction with a particle”. No “observer”, no person, no mind required.

    And this trash got published in the Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B!?!?! Man. That’s a bigger shock than Montana voting for Obama. It’s easily the biggest failure of peer-review I’ve ever seen. Shame on the whole editorial board, like green slime poured over their heads.

    BTW, Sastra… psychokinetic. :-)

  95. #95 Greta Christina
    October 23, 2008

    Somebody — I wish I could remember who — recently suggested that neuroscience was going to be the 21st century’s equivalent of evolution: the scientific battleground in which theists fervently and desperately attempt to defend beliefs that the scientific evidence simply doesn’t support.

    This is making me think, even more than I did before, that this person was dead-on right.

  96. #96 Canuck
    October 23, 2008

    Sorry. I posted too quickly without thinking about all of the things involved here. But as PZ mentions, the movement is in the opposite direction. Just listen to V.S. Ramachandran talk on the mind in relation to physical trauma and the like and you know that any supernatural phenomena are totally out of the picture. Utter bullshit. The mind is material based, and his work just sets it in stone. These peddlars of fluff and nonsense are pissing in the wind. How do people become so gullible?

  97. #97 Blake Stacey
    October 23, 2008

    Stapp is a doofus who ascribes to quantum physics properties it does not have to solve problems from which classical physics does not suffer in explaining things the brain does not do. Stapp believes that thoughts must be arrived at instantaneously, whereas experiments show that brain activity can initiate a half-second before the “conscious mind” thinks it has made a decision. Second, Stapp thinks that classical mechanics cannot include correlations, to which the only response is “WTF?”. Third, thanks to his belief that thought requires instantaneous communication, Stapp needs some way to send information faster than light, and he finds that mechanism in — surprise! — quantum entanglement. However, the real world doesn’t work that way: even the “spooky action at a distance” seen in entanglement experiments doesn’t send information FTL.

    Patterns of neural activity can be “physically efficacious” without invoking quantum phenomena — again, Stapp is trying to solve a non-problem.

    The notion that all physical behaviour is explainable in principle solely in terms of a local mechanical process is a holdover from physical theories of an earlier era. It was rejected by the founders of quantum mechanics, who introduced, crucially into the basic dynamical equations, choices that are not determined by local mechanical processes, but are rather attributed to human agents.

    I could try to explain to the person who wrote this that “the founders of quantum mechanics” did not know everything about it, nor should we expect them to have the last word, for the very reason that they were the first to explore the subject! I could try to explain that adulation of the first people to stumble onto a topic and elevation of their philosophical views to a pedestal of supremacy is profoundly unscientific. I could attempt to illustrate how, ever since the early 1970s, the trend has been to treat the “measurement postulate” of quantum mechanics as a convenient pedagogical trick, a “lie to children” which is useful during introductory treatments but which can be set aside to understand what happens without the “collapse of the wavefunction” — indeed, how quantum systems can seem to “collapse” without that extra postulate being tacked on. I could make the effort to explain how this knowledge of the ways in which classical physics can emerge from quantum behaviour have made possible the calculation of whether structures in the brain can support quantum computation, and how all calculations to date the answer is “Not bloody likely” (see A. Litt et al.,Is the Brain a Quantum Computer?“, in the journal Cognitive Science, for a convenient summary).

  98. #98 Blake Stacey
    October 23, 2008

    I could try to do all of that, but I should probably just link to the Picard facepalm and be done with it.

  99. #99 Kel
    October 23, 2008

    Thanks for that Blake.

  100. #100 David Marjanovi?, OM
    October 23, 2008

    I could try to explain to the person who wrote this that “the founders of quantum mechanics” did not know everything about it, nor should we expect them to have the last word, for the very reason that they were the first to explore the subject! I could try to explain that adulation of the first people to stumble onto a topic and elevation of their philosophical views to a pedestal of supremacy is profoundly unscientific.

    Yeah. That passage reminded me of the disgusting Founding Fathers worship found so often in shallow discussions of US ideologies.

  101. #101 Reality Czech
    October 23, 2008

    This is more evidence for the idea that Christians are the most stupid people in human history.

    Only if you don’t let Muslims compete.

    Muslims are so stupid, their most orthodox theocracy (the Taliban) outlawed weather forecasting because only Allah knows what’s going to happen. Click my name for the story link.

  102. #102 SC
    October 23, 2008

    Part 1 of Steven Novella’s take:

    http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=402

  103. #103 Owlmirror
    October 23, 2008

    I could try to do all of that, but I should probably just link to the Picard facepalm and be done with it.

    Or even embed it:

    FACEPALM
    Because expressing how dumb that was in words just doesn’t work.

  104. #104 Wowbagger
    October 23, 2008

    PZ’s indicated a dislike of embedded graphics in the past – but that’s a good one.

  105. #105 Joshu
    October 23, 2008

    @ #4: I’m glad I’m not the only person who thought of that. One of my favorite pieces of short science fiction.

  106. #106 Paper Hand
    October 23, 2008

    I agree that neurobiology is the greatest challenge to religion. It was certainly the final blow in my belief in religion. I could accommodate evolution (more or less, even though I did have the discomfort of the “when, exactly, did hominids become morally cupable and in need of salvation? And why would God wait so many tens or hundreds of thousands of years, etc.), but the clear non-existence of a soul, or at least, of anything worth being called “me”, made religion pointless.

    If there were a soul, you’d expect some degree of permanence, that part of the personality that is shaped by the soul would be unaffected by physical changes. Even the process of maturation is a challenge to the doctrine of the soul – for if the soul is eternal, than an infant’s soul must be the same as an adult’s, and if the soul can change between infancy and adulthood, then how can we be sure that it would remain constant post-mortem? The most that could possibly fit with modern knowledge would be a soul that is something of an observer. One’s actions are shaped by neurobiology (with its various influences, genetic, environmental, experience, etc.), but at the core is the “true self”, who is observing, and possibly influencing, those actions. However, since such an entity would not be the same as my conscious self, then in what sense could I be said to survive death? And even that has no actual evidence in favor of it.

    One thought-experiment I like to play with, though is this. Suppose that there is some kind of “soul”. Let’s give it a scientific-sounding name, like Extra-Corporeal Conscious Entity, or ECCE for short. This ECCE plays a role in shaping a person’s personality. The personality is simply the external manifestation. Now, let’s say that the existence of the ECCE were proven. (How, I don’t know) Would the priests be happy about that? Initially, I’m sure they would be, but then, they would find that the concept of the soul was taken up by science, and they would surely find evidence that conflicted with traditional soul beliefs. Such as, say, evidence that the ECCE does not survive indefinitely after death. Perhaps it disappears after a few weeks or a few years. At any rate, it is mortal. I don’t doubt that they’d be able to save face, but it would probably involve renouncing that the “ECCE” was actually the soul. After all, how could it be, if it’s mortal? The ECCE must merely be some product of the soul, rather than the soul itself.

    But what if some way was found to “capture” an ECCE and embody it in a mechanical structure, or a human body, and the new individual was just like the old one? That would surely indicate that the ECCE was some kind of soul? Well, maybe not. Maybe the ECCE is simply a “vehicle” for the soul. The ECCE itself has a soul. The body has an ECCE and the ECCE has a soul … turtles all the way down! :-)

    At any rate, my point is, I find it odd that religious people would *want* science to “find the soul”, as it would take the concept out of religion and put it into science, and at least some religious individuals would take science’s pronouncements about it over religion’s.

  107. #107 Owlmirror
    October 23, 2008

    Because preview does not preview properly (dammit), I just want to repost the text to see how it looks with a much looser letter-spacing. Sorry:

    FACEPALM
    Because expressing how dumb that was in words just doesn’t work.

  108. #108 eric
    October 23, 2008

    Katharine: “/Dualists/. I hate these assholes…Some very silly dualists are:
    Richard Chappell (this guy HATES me)…”

    Katharine, could you please provide a link to some online debates you’ve had with Richard? I read his blog, Philosophy, Et Cetera regularly and find him to be extremely intelligent. I’d love to see if you’ve even presented him with a bit of intellectual competition. Let me say up front, judging by your comments here, and by some of the things I’ve read on your blog, that I find it highly unlikely!

    So please, if you have a link to any of your discussions, post it so we can all evalaute the respective arguments. (Incidentaly, Richard is an atheist, so religion has nothing to do with this issue.)

  109. #109 Wowbagger
    October 23, 2008

    This nonsense is just the desperate scrabbling of the increasingly-irrelevant religious community as they try to find another so-called ‘gap’ to cram their ever-dwindling invisible super-friend into. They know they’ve lost evolution so they have to cling to whatever they can.

  110. #110 Scott from Oregon
    October 23, 2008

    If you open up a skull and take an ice scream scoop of brain out, do you lose a part of your “mind”?

    Of course you do, and it depends where the scoop was tooken…

    I take care of my 73 year old Mum who had a stroke and the parts of her “self” that no longer exist are evident.

    Those who believe in the transmigration of a soul believe in the reconstitution of the self after death.

    I always ask “which one”? The one before Bob quit drinking, or Sue had her hysterectomy and dumped her fourth husband?

    It always ends up being the most pleasant version of someone.

    And the most intact.

  111. #111 Gregory Kusnick
    October 23, 2008

    PZ:

    We even have experimental evidence of correlated brain activity preceding individual awareness of conscious thought…

    Blake @ #97:

    …experiments show that brain activity can initiate a half-second before the “conscious mind” thinks it has made a decision.

    If you guys are talking about Libet, that’s what Libet concluded all right, but that conclusion is not warranted by the experiments themselves, which did not measure intentionality directly but relied on after-the-fact verbal reports of when subjects thought they became aware of forming an intention. At most, Libet’s work shows that the brain engages in post-hoc narratization or serialization of disparate events that creates the illusion of intentionality preceding conscious awareness of same.

  112. #112 Helioprogenus
    October 23, 2008

    To #109, the infinitely prolonged, you’re going to have to wait quite a bit longer for all this religious idiocy to dissipate. The short version would involve a near-Earth asteroid rendezvous. The problem however would be that even rational minds would not be around to bask in the glow of rationality. There is no shortage of irrational human beings to continue the fight against empirical thought and maintaining their tainted archaic notions. With the world globalizing as it is, it’s not just a problem that must be fixed in America. Good luck with Latin America and the Middle East. The religious fervor that some of those nuts practice with minimal constraint will only end when humanity ends. We can fight the good fight, and perhaps become the majority, but I highly doubt that our natural proclivity towards believing some superstitious nonsense will ever become eradicated. I for one enjoy the somewhat Quixotic and masochistic quest for expanding the minds of the credulous and sharpening our mental tools towards their blaring ignorance.

  113. #113 Rey Fox
    October 23, 2008

    “recently suggested that neuroscience was going to be the 21st century’s equivalent of evolution”

    It seems as though the 21st century’s equivalent of evolution is still, sadly, evolution. If we could just get creationism/ID to get off the stage, then maybe we could move on to some nice soul panic.

  114. #114 Wowbagger
    October 23, 2008

    Helioprogenus, #112, wrote:

    To #109, the infinitely prolonged, you’re going to have to wait quite a bit longer for all this religious idiocy to dissipate.

    Oh, I’m under no illusions that religion will still be around – people choose accepting lies and allowing intellectual dishonesty for any number of reasons. What I mean is they’re eventually going to have to stop pretending there’s anything in science that helps their cause.

    I just want them to admit there’s no rational basis for their beliefs. It won’t, of course, stop many of them from maintaining those beliefs, but it might help a few.

  115. #115 eric
    October 23, 2008

    “I just want them to admit there’s no rational basis for their beliefs.”

    What exactly is it that qualifies as a ‘rational basis’ for a belief? And do all beliefs require the same ‘rational basis,’ in terms of type and quantity?

  116. #116 Wowbagger
    October 23, 2008

    Eric, #115, wrote:

    What exactly is it that qualifies as a ‘rational basis’ for a belief? And do all beliefs require the same ‘rational basis,’ in terms of type and quantity?

    If that belief makes extraordinary claims – such as the existence of a supernatural being – then it requires extraordinary evidence to support those claims. Without such evidence the belief is not rational.

    Obviously, the word ‘belief’, and its variants, has many uses. Were you to say ‘I believe I’ll have a cigar,’ then I wouldn’t ask you to provide any rationalisations for doing so. Smoke away.

  117. #117 eric
    October 23, 2008

    Wowbager, you didn’t answer my question.

    And the canard about extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence is just that — a canard. If I make the extraordinary claim that there is an elephant in the street, I’d provide the same evidence I would if I claimed that there was a man in the street. The difference isn’t the sort of evidence you’d accept, but whether you’re willing to accept what I say without justifying it for yourself.

  118. #118 Kel
    October 23, 2008

    What exactly is it that qualifies as a ‘rational basis’ for a belief?

    Empirical evidencethat doesn’t contradict established fact.

  119. #119 eric
    October 23, 2008

    “Empirical evidencethat doesn’t contradict established fact.”

    If this is what makes beliefs rational, then a host of beliefs you and I both hold are not rational. For example:

    The belief that torturing babies is morally wrong.

    The belief that 2+2=4.

    The belief that the world wasn’t created, exactly as it is now, five minutes ago.

    And, here’s the kicker: The belief that “a belief is only rational if it’s empirically supported and doesn’t contradict established facts” isn’t empirically justifiable and testable against established facts!

    In short, not only is your principle demonstrably false, it’s logically self refuting!

  120. #120 Wowbagger
    October 23, 2008

    Eric,

    I don’t consider ‘an elephant in the street’ to be especially extraordinary, despite the literal meaning of the word.

    However, if you were saying, however, that it was a magic elephant, and the magic elephant told you how you should live your life, and that you should endeavour to make other people live their lives that way then I’d ask for something a little more than your word for it.

  121. #121 Kel
    October 23, 2008

    And the canard about extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence is just that — a canard. If I make the extraordinary claim that there is an elephant in the street, I’d provide the same evidence I would if I claimed that there was a man in the street.

    The credulity of the claim has to be taken into account. If you said “there is a man in the street”, it’s a common everyday occurrance. A photo would be sufficient. But if you said “there is an elephant in the street”, a photo would not be enough as they can easily be doctored. Questions would be asked of where the elephant came from, what’s it doing in a place where it shouldn’t be, how did it get there? For an elephant I suppose some elephant dung, and evidence of a rampage of destruction that matches what an elephant would do would be enough. Had you said dinosaur…

  122. #122 Strange Doctrines
    October 23, 2008

    This somehow seems relevant. (Pertinent part starting at 2:00.)

  123. #123 Wowbagger
    October 23, 2008

    Eric,

    In short, not only is your principle demonstrably false, it’s logically self refuting!

    Ten out of ten for philosophy. Problem is that no-one is claiming that morality, mathematics – or philosophy for that matter – created the universe or has provided us with a soul. If the religious of the world were content to limit their god/s to abstract concepts then I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.

  124. #124 Kel
    October 23, 2008

    If this is what makes beliefs rational, then a host of beliefs you and I both hold are not rational. For example:

    Now those following examples are not what I was talking about, and it should be obvious where empiricism applies and where it does not.

    The belief that torturing babies is morally wrong.

    Now with torturing babies, why is it wrong? Well we understand the consequences of doing so. The baby feels intense pain, it suffers unnecessarily. It does both physical damage to the child and scars it mentally. We believe it’s wrong wholly because we can see the consequences of our actions… oddly enough it doesn’t stop the majority of yanks from cutting a newborn baby’s genitals, but that’s tradition, the tradition of not wanting people to gain pleasure from sex.

    The belief that 2+2=4.

    That’s a belief based soley on the mathematical construct of our system. It comes from what we define as 2 and what we define as 4, and what + & = mean. It’s not really a belief in the sense of belief in the way we talk about it here.

    The belief that the world wasn’t created, exactly as it is now, five minutes ago

    It would be unreasonable to think it was, though fully unfalsifiable. Of course it could have been, there’s just no reason to suggest it is. Principle of parsimony applies here.

  125. #125 eric
    October 23, 2008

    “Problem is that no-one is claiming that morality, mathematics – or philosophy for that matter – created the universe or has provided us with a soul.”

    This is of course true, but you’re avoiding the issue again. The question is, What makes a belief rational? You said that religious beliefs have no ‘rational basis,’ yet you don’t seem to have a clear idea of what constitutes a ‘rational basis’ for a belief. Surely, if you are to dismiss a belief as irrational — or, minimally, as non-rational — then you must be able to provide some criterion or criteria of ‘rationality.’

  126. #126 eric
    October 23, 2008

    “Now those following examples are not what I was talking about, and it should be obvious where empiricism applies and where it does not.”

    Kel, you’re the one who tried to identify empiricism with rationality, not me. I asked what it is that makes a belief rational, and you responded with an empirical criterion. I accept your amended response, of course, but you still haven’t provided any criteria of rationality that goes beyond the empirical.

    Note that your empirical criterion of rationality cannot satisfy its own requirements, i.e. it’s self-refuting.

  127. #127 Kel
    October 23, 2008

    Kel, you’re the one who tried to identify empiricism with rationality, not me.

    Religious belief is rationally tied to empiricism. We are talking about the existence of a deity who interacts with the world and interacts with our material bodies. That’s an empirical concept!

  128. #128 Nerd of Redhead
    October 23, 2008

    The old belief system conundrum. I have a quick answer. If the evidence is repeatable and verifiable by all parties as being there, it is there. This makes physical evidence hard to refute. One can point to a fossil, bullet, or NMR readout and show something. The conclusions as to the evidence may vary (do the bullet striations match or not). If you posit god, then you have to prove god so that all parties, including scientists, magicians, and professional debunkers conclude that the only way the evidence came about was due to divine intervention. Or an ESP experiment that isn’t faked for proof of telepathy, where scientists may be fooled, but not the magicians and debunkers.

    The old “I’m from Missouri, so show me” attitude.

    People who use the “discuss what is proof” routine are usually trying to pull a scam.

  129. #129 Wowbagger
    October 23, 2008

    Eric,

    Surely, if you are to dismiss a belief as irrational — or, minimally, as non-rational — then you must be able to provide some criterion or criteria of ‘rationality.’

    Fair enough. If someone claims (or ‘believes’) their god can affect physical reality then the rational criterion for accepting that would be to see it happen in such a way that I would be in no doubt as to how it occurred.

    Using the topic of the thread: if a ‘soul’ could be identified, taken from the human body and placed in a vessel and measured empirically then I would accept that as a rational explanation for the existence of the soul.

    Obviously, the ‘rational’ can only apply to certain claims. Belief in an abstract concept doesn’t need to have a rational basis. Belief that an otherwise abstract concept can affect physical reality, on the other hand, does.

  130. #130 eric
    October 23, 2008

    “The old belief system conundrum. I have a quick answer. If the evidence is repeatable and verifiable by all parties as being there, it is there.”

    Again, this principle is logically self-refuting. You can’t posit a principle of rationality that cannot pass its own test!

    “If you posit X, then you have to prove X so that all parties, including scientists, magicians, and professional debunkers conclude that the only way the evidence came about was due to P.”

    Surely, you know very well that no non-trivial X can pass this test!

  131. #131 Nerd of Redhead
    October 23, 2008

    Eric, then nothing you post passes any test for rationality either. But then we know that a long time ago. Take your alleged rationalityinsanity home with you, and the rest of us will deal with the real world.

  132. #132 Tyler DiPietro
    October 23, 2008

    “Again, this principle is logically self-refuting. You can’t posit a principle of rationality that cannot pass its own test!”

    The only way this works is by conflation of analytical truths with empirical ones, like you do here:

    “The belief that 2+2=4.”

    This is a perfectly rational belief. 2+2=4 is a true statement for the same reason “there are no married bachelors” is a true statement: it’s true analytically, or by definition.

    More specifically, the statement is a direct consequence of a given axiomatization of the natural numbers, there’s nothing magical about it.

  133. #133 Kel
    October 23, 2008

    Again, this principle is logically self-refuting. You can’t posit a principle of rationality that cannot pass its own test!

    First off, empiricism works. See the metal thing sitting in front of you that you press the plastic to make words: wouldn’t be there if not for empirical investigation and precise understanding. While it may not be perfect, it’s got the best track record of any concept out there.

    What do you use btw?

  134. #134 eric
    October 23, 2008

    “Eric, then nothing you post passes any test for rationality either.”

    Um, no, that doesn’t quite follow. See, that’s called a ‘non-sequitur.’ But then, ‘reasoning’ doesn’t seem to be your strong point. I’ll leave you to your blatant and blinkered dogmatism, with which you blindly ‘deal with the real world.’
    Cheers!

  135. #135 Katharine
    October 23, 2008

    Eric –

    Are you familiar with, say, basic introductory neuroscience?

    If not, go learn some if you’re going to make claims about my arguments on perception and thought. (Any of you who are also in neuroscience who are farther towards or already have earned a PhD may either augment or refute my arguments.)

    If so, you will remember a few things about perception and integration.

    Let’s take the visual system, for one. The route of visual information up until it is integrated is pretty straightforward: light goes through the eye, is focused by your lens, hits the retina, goes through the optic nerve, the lateral geniculate nucleus, the primary visual cortex, and the upper bank of the calcarine fissure of the occipital lobe which is in the visual cortex.

    It’s not hard to figure out what the optic nerve does, but the lateral geniculate nucleus, the primary visual cortex, and the upper bank of the calcarine fissure are the beginning of the integratory structures in the visual system. The lateral geniculate nucleus is part of the thalamus, which is a major integratory part of the limbic system. While the precise function of the lateral geniculate nucleus is unknown, the LGN most likely, from current research, helps the visual system focus on the most important part of the information it’s given.

    The primary visual cortex is in your temporal lobe, and after information goes through the lateral geniculate nucleus, it goes to the primary visual cortex. This is the visual processing powerhouse, which has six layers composed of cells that respond to specific features in the input (for more information, refer to the work of Nobelists Hubel and Weisel), (also, refer to the kitten experiment). The visual world is, in fact, systematically mapped via experience onto this cortex.

    This combines with memory functions, such as recalling one’s prior experiences – which is strongly controlled by the parietal lobe and a few handful of parts of the limbic system – to produce perception.

    Plus dualists don’t have a remotely plausible argument for anything else that has any evidence to back it up.

    Eric, what is your background in? If you’re a philosopher, I’m not going to be surprised.

  136. #136 eric
    October 23, 2008

    “The only way this works is by conflation of analytical truths with empirical ones, like you do here…”

    No, I don’t think you followed the conversation closely enough. I didn’t conflate analytic and empirical propositions; rather, I showed that it’s decidedly not the case that only empirically justifiable propositions are rational.

    “First off, empiricism works.”

    I’m not quite sure what you mean by ‘empiricism’ here. If you just mean something amorphous like ‘the scientific method,’ then I esentially agree. But if you mean you’re committed to empiricism in the sense that only empirically verifiable (or falsifiable) propositions are meaningful, then I’d certainly disagree, not only because of the logical problem I mentioned above, but because of the ultimate logical consequences of such a position (which even ardent, scientifically minded empiricists like Bertrand
    Russell conceded leads to a logical dead end).

  137. #137 Kel
    October 23, 2008

    I’m not quite sure what you mean by ‘empiricism’ here. If you just mean something amorphous like ‘the scientific method,’ then I esentially agree. But if you mean you’re committed to empiricism in the sense that only empirically verifiable (or falsifiable) propositions are meaningful

    Of course not only empirically verifiable propositions are meaningful, but it’s a damn find indicator of rationality. Which comes back to what we were talking about before.

    God is an empirical proposition. The existence and life of Jesus is an empiricial proposition. A non-material entity interacting with our material brain is an empirical proposition. To hold beliefs on matters of empiricism that are either without evidence or opposed to the nature of reality is irrational. Of course it could be that we exist in a dualism and there’s interaction between the material and non-material. Well the only way to demonstrate it is through empirical means. Otherwise you are just supplanting an extra layer of abstraction over reality and that creates more problems than it answers.

  138. #138 Wowbagger
    October 23, 2008

    Eric wrote:

    But if you mean you’re committed to empiricism in the sense that only empirically verifiable (or falsifiable) propositions are meaningful, then I’d certainly disagree, not only because of the logical problem I mentioned above, but because of the ultimate logical consequences of such a position (which even ardent, scientifically minded empiricists like Bertrand Russell conceded leads to a logical dead end).

    Which is fine, philosophically – inasmuch as I understand the philosophy involved, which (as is probably apparent) not much at all.

    But an important distinction, Eric: I didn’t, at any point, imply it was irrational for the religious (or anyone else for that matter) to consider that a belief in god was meaningful; I said that I consider a belief that god is real to be irrational.

  139. #139 eric
    October 23, 2008

    Katharine, I believe I asked for a link to a debate on these issues between you and Richard Chappell.

    First — and please do pay attention here — *nothing you said* about the visual system in any way contradicts the fundamntal claims of dualism.

    Second, note that your basic argument (to the extent that you provided one) is demonstrably fallacious. What’s relevant isn’t one’s ‘background,’ but one’s argument. By your reasoning, your snide dismissal of philosophy can be just as snidely dismissed on the grounds that you (obviously) have no strong background in it.

  140. #140 Brian English
    October 23, 2008

    Eric made the comment, often aired, that the verification principle of the logical positivists is self refuting. This may be the case, but it doesn’t apply to the weak verification principle: that all our terms have to be given meaning by their use in some statements that are verifiable or confirmable in our experience; but such terms can then be used to build up further statements for which, perhaps, no direct experiential test is possible.

  141. #141 Tyler DiPietro
    October 23, 2008

    “No, I don’t think you followed the conversation closely enough. I didn’t conflate analytic and empirical propositions; rather, I showed that it’s decidedly not the case that only empirically justifiable propositions are rational.”

    Hmmm, well that’s hardly objectionable. My apologies.

  142. #142 eric
    October 23, 2008

    “But an important distinction, Eric: I didn’t, at any point, imply it was irrational for the religious (or anyone else for that matter) to consider that a belief in god was meaningful; I said that I consider a belief that god is real to be irrational.”

    Wowbagger, yes, this is true. However, I was responding to Kel’s commitment to empiricism, and questioning just what he means by it.

  143. #143 Tyler DiPietro
    October 23, 2008

    “…*nothing you said* about the visual system in any way contradicts the fundamntal claims of dualism.”

    That would be the case primarily because dualism, in the best case, is but an unparsimonious hypothesis.

  144. #144 eric
    October 23, 2008

    “Eric made the comment, often aired, that the verification principle of the logical positivists is self refuting.”

    Brian, I wasn’t attacking the verification principle, since no one was defending it. Rather, I was criticizing the principle, which was posited in post #118, that only empirically supportable beliefs that do not contradict established facts are *rational* (not meaningful).

  145. #145 Brian English
    October 23, 2008

    Sorry eric, my mistake.

  146. #146 Kel
    October 23, 2008

    However, I was responding to Kel’s commitment to empiricism, and questioning just what he means by it.

    It should be quite clear. Claims about the nature of reality are empirical questions, claims about logical constructs made by the brain aren’t. If God exists purely as a man-made construct, then I’m fully for that. But if you are saying God exists, he interacts with the environment including by giving us consciousness, I’d ask for evidence to support that. And it would have to be some damn strong evidence too.

  147. #147 eric
    October 23, 2008

    “That would be the case primarily because dualism, in the best case, is but an unparsimonious hypothesis.”

    Tyler, it seems to me that this depends on whether you agree with the notion that there’s a ‘Hard Problem’ of consciousness.

  148. #148 Kel
    October 23, 2008

    that only empirically supportable beliefs that do not contradict established facts are *rational* (not meaningful).

    Only?!? Where does it say only? Come now eric, look at the context of my answer. You are talking about a set kind of belief (a religious belief), and then taking my answer as if it were the life, the universe and everything. Do I have to give a 4 paragraph detailed response every time to make sure you don’t mix definitions and meanings on me, or can I assume that you have the intelligence to infer meaning derived from context like an adult should be able to do? I don’t want to have to type in every little trap that’s there because I assume they would be inferred.

    Also, I ask you in advance not to bring up the problem of induction, John Knight’s insistance of talking about it over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again has worn me a little thin on philosophy grads who want to talk about the philosophical necessity for the Jew Zombie.

  149. #149 Ian
    October 23, 2008

    OH for fuck’s sake. “Jeffrey Schwartz, where do I know that name,” I thought to myself. Oh hey, it’s the guy who has been very influential in the treatment of OCD, and indeed, helped me quite a bit through his cognitive behavioral techniques! And much to my horror, he thinks that the brain is actually some sort of helper organ to a magical, independent spirit body. No, it’s not that the brain is such a sophisticated apparatus that it can reprogram itself: magic exists! The brain can’t use the conscious to alter the subconscious: magic exists! All the advances in neuroscience since Descartes? Just window dressing for magic. I’m allowed to be pissed about this, right? This would be like your wife telling you, postpartum, that she’s convinced of the Stork Theory of Procreation. And she’s fucking serious.

  150. #150 Brian English
    October 23, 2008

    Tyler, it seems to me that this depends on whether you agree with the notion that there’s a ‘Hard Problem’ of consciousness. I would have thought that because there’s no physical evidence of a mind ‘substance’, no known mechanism that doesn’t undo physics for this unknown mind to communicate with the body that parsimony would rule out dualism even given a hard problem for consciousness. But then, I’m not an expert.

  151. #151 eric
    October 24, 2008

    “Only?!? Where does it say only? Come now eric, look at the context of my answer. You are talking about a set kind of belief (a religious belief), and then taking my answer as if it were the life, the universe and everything.”

    Kel, that’s not true. My question was (verbatim), “What exactly is it that qualifies as a ‘rational basis’ for a belief? And do all beliefs require the same ‘rational basis,’ in terms of type and quantity?” Clearly, I was speaking about rationality in the broadest possible sense. *That* was the context of my question. As I said earlier, I’m of course willing to accept any amended response to a more limited conception of my question, provided that the limits are conceded, but don’t pretend I limited the question in any way initially.

  152. #152 Kel
    October 24, 2008

    It should be quite clear that all beliefs are not the same, there’s no way in which all beliefs as known by man can be rationally assessed. When talking about rational belief, we talk about belief that can be empirically measured. But now that’s all clarified, can we get on to real questions.

    What do you use to formulate your beliefs about the world? How do you know they are right and how do you verify them?

  153. #153 Katharine
    October 24, 2008

    I never said your background was necessarily relevant to the argument – I’m just trying to figure out your extent of knowledge of the issue.

    If you’d kindly point out what you think are fallacies in my argument, I’d appreciate it.

  154. #154 Katharine
    October 24, 2008

    The only field of philosophy I have any clear contention with is philosophy of mind; there are, as you can tell, views in that field that as far as I can tell are strongly contradicted by current neuroscientific knowledge which has been demonstrated empirically. I am doubtful that the majority of philosophers of mind actually have the extent of scientific literacy required to understand some neuroscientific concepts to an adequate extent (certainly, there are some who do demonstrate it, but it kind of boggles my mind why they don’t force anyone who attempts to study it as a graduate student to take the general battery of basic science classes in addition to an introductory neuroscience class – in fact, why don’t they shuffle them off into cognitive science?)

    Also, bear in mind that philosophers, like the rest of us, are subject to the imperfection and limitations of the human brain. It is, you know, what you use to do your philosophy.

  155. #155 Brian English
    October 24, 2008

    My neuroscience class used the book by Kalat. It briefly mentioned dualism as a non-explanation of mind and moved on to talk about how the scientists do neuroscience and had lots of lovely pictures of brains, neurons, etc. I’d have to agree with Katherine suggestions that philosophers of mind understand neuroscience as a prerequisite.

  156. #156 Patricia
    October 24, 2008

    Speaking as the reigning 50 something 12th grader, even I can see eric is an idiot, and an ass.
    Nice one eric.
    Fools names, like fool’s faces, are often seen in public places.
    (Edna, my darlin grandma)

  157. #157 Katharine
    October 24, 2008

    Also, this stuff about the human mind being ‘special’ – folks, we don’t know how the species before Homo sapiens thought, and besides, we’re just as much animals as any other multicellular motile organism is on the Earth. It’s a little presumptuous to assume that all of a sudden, the first member of Homo sapiens woke up one day and was suddenly able to think more abstractly, et cetera.

    In fact, dualism does seem to reek a little of giving humans special status.

    Studies of animal cognition, I think, are not considered enough in making judgments about human capabilities.

  158. #158 Kel
    October 24, 2008

    Also, this stuff about the human mind being ‘special’ – folks, we don’t know how the species before Homo sapiens thought, and besides, we’re just as much animals as any other multicellular motile organism is on the Earth. It’s a little presumptuous to assume that all of a sudden, the first member of Homo sapiens woke up one day and was suddenly able to think more abstractly, et cetera.

    Hit the nail on the head.

  159. #159 Katharine
    October 24, 2008

    Not that I’m saying there was an instantaneous change to another species or that there was a first member of Homo sapiens, per se; I’m trying to make a point about our sparse knowledge of our ancestors’ abilities. Who has met a Neanderthal?

  160. #160 Wowbagger
    October 24, 2008

    Who has met a Neanderthal?

    Well, I was once out on the street during a Klan rally…

  161. #161 Kel
    October 24, 2008

    Not that I’m saying there was an instantaneous change to another species or that there was a first member of Homo sapiens, per se; I’m trying to make a point about our sparse knowledge of our ancestors’ abilities. Who has met a Neanderthal?

    Would it be more insulting to creationists or neanderthals to call creationists neantherthals?

    As you said, animal cognition is not considered enough. Many animals are self-aware (or have an awareness of self), there are many animals that can solve complex problems as well. How far really are we abstracted from that? If a chimp has awareness of it’s own knowledge (as has been shown), wouldn’t that show fairly conslusively that consciousness is an evolved trait? I guess the other option is that those other animals too have souls…

  162. #162 truth machine, OM
    October 24, 2008

    I do happen to think there’s are pretty serious philosophical problems in trying to explain how physical stuff produces mental stuff

    Certainly for those who, like you — as you have demonstrated in every thread where this topic is discussed — are very conceptually muddled, unable to grasp complex reasoning, and are unfamiliar with the philosophical literature in which your confusions have been addressed and your claims have been refuted.

    I’m damned sure is does

    That’s nice, but you have offered arguments and claims that presume otherwise. Notably, if mental stuff is determined by physical stuff, then zombies are impossible (or we are zombies — specifically, Dennett’s zimboes), because Chalmers’ zombie world is physically identical to ours, so it cannot be mentally different. You can believe in zombies or you can be a physicalist, but you cannot coherently do both.

  163. #163 truth machine, OM
    October 24, 2008

    Also, this stuff about the human mind being ‘special’ – folks, we don’t know how the species before Homo sapiens thought, and besides, we’re just as much animals as any other multicellular motile organism is on the Earth. It’s a little presumptuous to assume that all of a sudden, the first member of Homo sapiens woke up one day and was suddenly able to think more abstractly, et cetera.

    Um, it’s a little presumptuous to tell such a ridiculous strawman fairy tale. Humans are able to think more abstractly — to deny that is to be scientifically illiterate — in part because they have language and a large forebrain. That has nothing to do with dualism or the fact that both we and flatworms are multicellular motile organisms. Sheesh.

  164. #164 truth machine, OM
    October 24, 2008

    If a chimp has awareness of it’s own knowledge (as has been shown), wouldn’t that show fairly conslusively that consciousness is an evolved trait

    If you grasp that it’s an evolved trait, than how can you say that Katherine’s ridiculous statement that denies any differentiation, as if all multicellular motile organisms have the same traits at the same level of complexity, hit the nail on the head? Humans are able to think more abstractly than other species, and to deny it shows a failure to think very abstractly.

  165. #165 Liberal Atheist
    October 24, 2008

    Nonmaterialistic science, the best kind of science… *rolls eyes*

  166. #166 truth machine, OM
    October 24, 2008

    Not that I’m saying there was an instantaneous change to another species or that there was a first member of Homo sapiens, per se; I’m trying to make a point about our sparse knowledge of our ancestors’ abilities. Who has met a Neanderthal?

    How do you know men and dinosaurs didn’t live together? Where you there?

    That’s creationist thinking. The notion that species change into other species is also creationist thinking — why are there still monkeys? And Neandertals aren’t our ancestors. Where did you get your bio education? They’re accreditation should be revoked.

  167. #167 truth machine, OM
    October 24, 2008

    “They’re” -> “their”.

  168. #168 truth machine, OM
    October 24, 2008

    In the end, all though processes, emotions and what we in everyday language call personality and soul, comes down to biochemical processes and cell activity, so it really is “just” material.

    On this micro-level, however, the complexity is so big that you cannot “really” use this to explain every kind of human behaviour and experience, just in the way you cannot use plain quantum physics in a practical way to describe macroscopic phenomena. In the same way physicists need statistical mechanics and thermodynamics to deal with these issues and thus introduce macroscopic quantities such as temperature or pressure, to treat the mind/brain we must introduce abstract, macroscopic quantities like emotions.

    An entertaining and enlightening argument to this end is Daniel Dennett’s http://cogprints.org/247/0/twoblack.htm

  169. #169 truth machine, OM
    October 24, 2008

    Some very silly dualists are:

    Jaegwon Kim

    You’re in no position to call anyone an idiot if you think that Kim is “silly”. Kim did deep seminal work in physicalism, only recently rejecting it but arguing for a form of dualism that is “physicalism near enough”. And even Chalmers, while radically wrong on metaphysics, is an order of magnitude brighter than you.

  170. #170 truth machine, OM
    October 24, 2008

    P.S. From Kim’s Wikipedia article, Kim revealed in a recent interview conducted in 2008 with Korean daily newspaper, Joongang Ilbo, that we must seek for natural explanation for mind as mind itself is a natural phenomenon and supernatural explanation only replaces “one riddle over another”. He believes that the explanation for the nature of mind would come from natural science rather than philosophy or psychology.

    Anyone who calls someone like Kim, highly respected by people like Daniel Dennett and other leading physicalists, “silly” or an “idiot”, and on top of that talks about humans not thinking more abstractly than other species just because they’re both motile and multicellular, is an ignorant and profoundly stupid poser.

  171. #171 truth machine, OM
    October 24, 2008

    I’ve always thought of the brain as “hardware” and the mind as “software.” This has always seemed a reasonable interpretation.

    The brain is hardware and the mind is a process running on the hardware. A process is an algorithm in execution; algorithm = software.

  172. #172 Catten
    October 24, 2008

    At least it is reassuring that even the ideas of the creationists are evolving. As soon as they seem to be loosing the intellectual battle on one front the arguments sufficiently “different” flourish. One things for certain; those arguments are not intelligently designed.

    Catten

    ps. I am a neuroscientist (so I cant say anything unequivocally) but: There is no reason to believe there is a soul.

    pps. A nice book about mind from emgergent phenomena is Creation: Life and how to make it by Steve Grand.

  173. #173 truth machine, OM
    October 24, 2008

    Speaking as the reigning 50 something 12th grader, even I can see eric is an idiot, and an ass.

    Patricia, you’re way out of your depth. Regardless of whether Eric is right about anything, he has argued competently here.

  174. #174 Escuerd
    October 24, 2008

    This reminds me of the joke, “Brazil is the country of the future, and it always will be.”

    Instead, we have, “Materialism is on the verge of collapse, and it always will be.”

  175. #175 Katharine
    October 24, 2008

    Truth Machine –

    Hooookay, let’s address your claims one by one.

    Also, this stuff about the human mind being ‘special’ – folks, we don’t know how the species before Homo sapiens thought, and besides, we’re just as much animals as any other multicellular motile organism is on the Earth. It’s a little presumptuous to assume that all of a sudden, the first member of Homo sapiens woke up one day and was suddenly able to think more abstractly, et cetera.

    Um, it’s a little presumptuous to tell such a ridiculous strawman fairy tale. Humans are able to think more abstractly — to deny that is to be scientifically illiterate — in part because they have language and a large forebrain. That has nothing to do with dualism or the fact that both we and flatworms are multicellular motile organisms. Sheesh.”

    You’ve forgotten gradualism, I see. Yes, humans are able to think more abstractly than our currently known ancestors, nor did our ancestors have language as we currently understand it. However, genetically, this is unlikely to have come on all of a sudden unless there were PROFOUND mutations in the genome of our most recent ancestor that led to this. I’m not saying it isn’t possible, I’m saying it’s highly unlikely.

    Also, you don’t seem to be familiar with animal cognition studies, do you.

    “If you grasp that it’s an evolved trait, than how can you say that Katherine’s ridiculous statement that denies any differentiation, as if all multicellular motile organisms have the same traits at the same level of complexity, hit the nail on the head? Humans are able to think more abstractly than other species, and to deny it shows a failure to think very abstractly.”

    I never said anything about differentiation. Also, see above.

    “How do you know men and dinosaurs didn’t live together? Where you there?

    That’s creationist thinking. The notion that species change into other species is also creationist thinking — why are there still monkeys? And Neandertals aren’t our ancestors. Where did you get your bio education? They’re accreditation should be revoked.”

    When I said ‘Who has met a Neanderthal?’, I was implying that none of us in modern times has met one. And, indeed, Neanderthals aren’t our ancestors, but they were another subspecies of Homo sapiens with markedly distinct features; I suppose I should have substituted another species for Neanderthals in that sentence – say, Homo erectus. But for you to construe ‘creationist thinking’ from that sentence is foolish. Usually, you make some pretty damned good arguments – right now, unfortunately, you’re being a fool.

    “Anyone who calls someone like Kim, highly respected by people like Daniel Dennett and other leading physicalists, “silly” or an “idiot”, and on top of that talks about humans not thinking more abstractly than other species just because they’re both motile and multicellular, is an ignorant and profoundly stupid poser.”

    Respected by them for what? Also, I addressed that second bit in another paragraph. LULZ

    Regarding the bit about the brain-mind thing, the problem with the hardware-software analogy is outlined in this blog post .

  176. #176 Pat
    October 24, 2008

    Your memories, personality, all of it are brain-based. The sense of “self” and our walls of perception are biologically based: any perusal of schizophrenic studies elicits that pretty quick. Memories are ephemeral, imperfect, and subject to rapid degradation. Even our personalities are subject to drastic alteration given the right kind of chemicals or selective ablating.

    It’s the consciousness part: the bit that looks out and is aware that I’m still puzzled by. Regardless of the trappings and its eventual return to oblivion, it’s the one component that is very hard to derive or externally describe. A brain may be just this little bit more than the sum of its parts: an interference pattern that gives rise to awareness. No awareness would ever persist, much like waves in a pond: but it could be described apart from the water, even though it can’t really exist without it.

    Yeah, I know: I’ll probably be hammered by one side or another: but to be clear, I’m not arguing for a persistence of personality. Memories, anything to do with the material brain, dies with it. It just might be that consciousness is a side effect of a complicated control mechanism, much the way pi eventually shows up when you try and make a line curve back on itself.

  177. #178 Pat
    October 24, 2008

    Humans are able to think more abstractly than other species, and to deny it shows a failure to think very abstractly.
    -truth machine, OM

    One level of abstraction is enough. After that it’s just navel gazing. Really, what sets us apart is something other animals cannot do: store knowledge externally, and extract it again. Without this ability, we might end up with some ability to make tools, but each discovery would end up after a few generations having to be made anew. Language is the very core of this: exchanged stories allow that first level of parsing a teacher from that teacher’s knowledge. Once that is done, you’ve got a societal species.

    But this is not what awareness is about at all. Awareness can exist without abstraction or external information storage; similarly, storing information can be done without awareness. Lakes and other sediments do it all of the time.

    Philosophy really does need to catch up with neuroscience. A quick look at the multiple versions of schizophrenia reveals that the borders of “I” are malleable, that our experiencial memories are separated only by a very thin encoding; the same for “past” and “recent past” memories (hence deja-vu). The only difference between a related story and a personal memory is the bit-player we put in to represent ourselves, a tagging that says “this is me.” In many schizophrenics this is muddled, so personal memories seem impersonal, other related stories seem personal (hence the “reading my thoughts” or “stole my life” afflictions). Even our internal monologue becomes a reedy voice of some other in the mind of the schizophrenic, their own thoughts admonishing them like an outside influence.

    The sense of “I” doesn’t make the self and is no more esoteric than memory or personality. It is awareness that if anything is the core; and whether or not this is bestrewn with trappings of the ability to meander philosophically is actually beside the point.

  178. #179 Sven DiMilo
    October 24, 2008

    Philosophy bores me–sorry, I’m sure this is a character flaw–but just for shits, grins, ‘n’ pedantry, I’d like to point out an additional layer or two of complexity to Katherine’s explication of the neural pathways of vision in #135: Quite a bit of “information processing” occurs within the retina itself, before the ganglion cells of the optic nerve are involved. Between the photoreceptors and the ganglion cells are at least three intervening neuron layers, each forming multiple connections with others. There are many fewer neurons in the optic nerve than photoreceptors, so the raw sensory information is integrated and processed quite a bit within the retina.

    We now return you to your regularly scheduled philosophical wanking discussion.

  179. #180 SC
    October 24, 2008

    Lucretius, On the Nature of Things:

    If one, moreover, denies that body feel,
    And holds that soul, through all the body mixed,
    Takes on this motion which we title “sense”
    He battles in vain indubitable facts:
    For who’ll explain what body’s feeling is,
    Except by what the public fact itself
    Has given and taught us? “But when soul is parted,
    Body’s without all sense.” True!- loses what
    Was even in its life-time not its own;
    And much beside it loses, when soul’s driven
    Forth from that life-time. Or, to say that eyes
    Themselves can see no thing, but through the same
    The mind looks forth, as out of opened doors,
    Is- a hard saying; since the feel in eyes
    Says the reverse. For this itself draws on
    And forces into the pupils of our eyes
    Our consciousness. And note the case when often
    We lack the power to see refulgent things,
    Because our eyes are hampered by their light-
    With a mere doorway this would happen not;
    For, since it is our very selves that see,
    No open portals undertake the toil.
    Besides, if eyes of ours but act as doors,
    Methinks that, were our sight removed, the mind
    Ought then still better to behold a thing-
    When even the door-posts have been cleared away…

    Besides we feel that mind to being comes
    Along with body, with body grows and ages.
    For just as children totter round about
    With frames infirm and tender, so there follows
    A weakling wisdom in their minds; and then,
    Where years have ripened into robust powers,
    Counsel is also greater, more increased
    The power of mind; thereafter, where already
    The body’s shattered by master-powers of eld,
    And fallen the frame with its enfeebled powers,
    Thought hobbles, tongue wanders, and the mind gives way;
    All fails, all’s lacking at the selfsame time.
    Therefore it suits that even the soul’s dissolved,
    Like smoke, into the lofty winds of air;
    Since we behold the same to being come
    Along with body and grow, and, as I’ve taught,
    Crumble and crack, therewith outworn by eld.

    Then, too, we see, that, just as body takes
    Monstrous diseases and the dreadful pain,
    So mind its bitter cares, the grief, the fear;
    Wherefore it tallies that the mind no less
    Partaker is of death; for pain and disease
    Are both artificers of death,–as well
    We’ve learned by the passing of many a man ere now.
    Nay, too, in diseases of body, often the mind
    Wanders afield; for ’tis beside itself,
    And crazed it speaks, or many a time it sinks,
    With eyelids closing and a drooping nod,
    In heavy drowse, on to eternal sleep;
    From whence nor hears it any voices more,
    Nor able is to know the faces here
    Of those about him standing with wet cheeks
    Who vainly call him back to light and life.
    Wherefore mind too, confess we must, dissolves,
    Seeing, indeed, contagions of disease
    Enter into the same. Again, O why,
    When the strong wine has entered into man,
    And its diffused fire gone round the veins,
    Why follows then a heaviness of limbs,
    A tangle of the legs as round he reels,
    A stuttering tongue, an intellect besoaked,
    Eyes all aswim, and hiccups, shouts, and brawls,
    And whatso else is of that ilk?–Why this?–
    If not that violent and impetuous wine
    Is wont to confound the soul within the body?
    But whatso can confounded be and balked,
    Gives proof, that if a hardier cause got in,
    ‘Twould hap that it would perish then, bereaved
    Of any life thereafter. And, moreover,
    Often will some one in a sudden fit,
    As if by stroke of lightning, tumble down
    Before our eyes, and sputter foam, and grunt,
    Blither, and twist about with sinews taut,
    Gasp up in starts, and weary out his limbs
    With tossing round. No marvel, since distract
    Through frame by violence of disease.

    *****

    Confounds, he foams, as if to vomit soul,
    As on the salt sea boil the billows round
    Under the master might of winds. And now
    A groan’s forced out, because his limbs are griped,
    But, in the main, because the seeds of voice
    Are driven forth and carried in a mass
    Outwards by mouth, where they are wont to go,
    And have a builded highway. He becomes
    Mere fool, since energy of mind and soul
    Confounded is, and, as I’ve shown, to-riven,
    Asunder thrown, and torn to pieces all
    By the same venom. But, again, where cause
    Of that disease has faced about, and back
    Retreats sharp poison of corrupted frame
    Into its shadowy lairs, the man at first
    Arises reeling, and gradually comes back
    To all his senses and recovers soul.
    Thus, since within the body itself of man
    The mind and soul are by such great diseases
    Shaken, so miserably in labour distraught,
    Why, then, believe that in the open air,
    Without a body, they can pass their life,
    Immortal, battling with the master winds?
    And, since we mark the mind itself is cured,
    Like the sick body, and restored can be
    By medicine, this is forewarning too
    That mortal lives the mind. For proper it is
    That whosoe’er begins and undertakes
    To alter the mind, or meditates to change
    Any another nature soever, should add
    New parts, or readjust the order given,
    Or from the sum remove at least a bit.
    But what’s immortal willeth for itself
    Its parts be nor increased, nor rearranged,
    Nor any bit soever flow away:
    For change of anything from out its bounds
    Means instant death of that which was before.
    Ergo, the mind, whether in sickness fallen,
    Or by the medicine restored, gives signs,
    As I have taught, of its mortality.
    So surely will a fact of truth make head
    ‘Gainst errors’ theories all, and so shut off
    All refuge from the adversary, and rout
    Error by two-edged confutation.

    And since the mind is of a man one part,
    Which in one fixed place remains, like ears,
    And eyes, and every sense which pilots life;
    And just as hand, or eye, or nose, apart,
    Severed from us, can neither feel nor be,
    But in the least of time is left to rot,
    Thus mind alone can never be, without
    The body and the man himself, which seems,
    As ’twere the vessel of the same–or aught
    Whate’er thou’lt feign as yet more closely joined:
    Since body cleaves to mind by surest bonds.

    Again, the body’s and the mind’s live powers
    Only in union prosper and enjoy;
    For neither can nature of mind, alone of self
    Sans body, give the vital motions forth;
    Nor, then, can body, wanting soul, endure
    And use the senses. Verily, as the eye,
    Alone, up-rended from its roots, apart
    From all the body, can peer about at naught,
    So soul and mind it seems are nothing able,
    When by themselves. No marvel, because, commixed
    Through veins and inwards, and through bones and thews,
    Their elements primordial are confined
    By all the body, and own no power free
    To bound around through interspaces big,
    Thus, shut within these confines, they take on
    Motions of sense, which, after death, thrown out
    Beyond the body to the winds of air,
    Take on they cannot–and on this account,
    Because no more in such a way confined.
    For air will be a body, be alive,
    If in that air the soul can keep itself,
    And in that air enclose those motions all
    Which in the thews and in the body itself
    A while ago ’twas making. So for this,
    Again, again, I say confess we must,
    That, when the body’s wrappings are unwound,
    And when the vital breath is forced without,
    The soul, the senses of the mind dissolve,–
    Since for the twain the cause and ground of life
    Is in the fact of their conjoined estate.

  180. #181 Sili
    October 24, 2008

    I thought the brain was made from fat, not meat.

    Care to do a basics-post on teh bwane at some point when you’re less busy? Cheers.

  181. #182 William
    October 24, 2008

    As an atheist pro-lifer and a math teacher quite interested in the neurological underpinnings of religion (agency detection, etc.) and mathematics (relative quantities, plurality, etc.), I’d like to state the atheist pro-life response to this claim:

    It’s also going to be a flashpoint for the anti-choice crowd, who want to claim personhood and identity on clumps of cells that don’t even have any neural tissue — it yanks the basis for their claims right out from under their feet.

    Personhood isn’t a measurable quality we associate to an object. It’s an agreed-upon label that defines our own ethical responsibilities and rights toward an object. I’m invited to slash, pound, and bake various vegetables, but not an animal. Faced with a life-or-death decision involving a man and a puppy, I pick the man.

    The boundaries of personhood have steadily grown as we have learned more and more about what it means to be a person: humanity includes those not of my tribe, those not of my nation or race, those with mental and physical disabilities, etc. Women and children are fully human; we must treat even prisoners and enemy soldiers humanely, under this and that circumstance. We could say that the expansiveness of the circle of those we treat humanely is a measure of the level of civilization in a culture. This circle has grown throughout history, and it is my hope that as we continue to advance our understanding, our circle of humanity will advance with it, and one day include people who happen not to have been born yet.

  182. #183 mwb
    October 24, 2008

    Without adventuring too far into reading his crazy, it seems easy for any fanciful interpretation of brain activity as evidence for a soul is ripe for demonstrating that other animals have souls. I think using their standard of evidence to demonstrate that a bonobo has a soul would probably cause their heads to explode with delicious cognitive dissonance.

  183. #184 Tyler
    October 24, 2008

    Wait, what?

    Even Fodor, with his reliance on folk psychology, and Nagel, with his (actually troublesome) argument from the affective phenomenological perspective, don’t have to pull DUALISM to make their points valid.

    Seriously, I thought David Davidson and Hilary Putnam answered all that crap back in the 50s and 60s.

  184. #185 meh1963
    October 24, 2008

    non-materialist causation

    There are NO words. Just…gah.

    I think I’m going to use that as an excuse next time something goes wrong with our code….”it was a gremlin! Really! Non-material causation!”

  185. #186 Ty
    October 24, 2008

    Few things are more nauseating than watching a half-bit philosopher masturbate all over a thread.

  186. #187 Tyler
    October 24, 2008

    I thought I’d add, by the way, that all their concerns about “consciousness” are old and outdone too; a lot of current work (as noted by at least one poster above mentioning Godel, Escher, Bach) focuses on self-representational models.

    Hofstadter in particular argues that if one can take a sufficiently complex axiomatic system (the neural network), one can derive self-referencing, non-derivable yet naturally explainable properties from that system (consciousness), just as Godel took the purely formal Principia System and turned its axiomatic system into a production system for (effectively) self-referencing, non-derivable statements that were still valid and true within that system (his famous “I am not provable.” statement).

  187. #188 CJO
    October 24, 2008

    The boundaries of personhood have steadily grown as we have learned more and more about what it means to be a person

    And that’s a good thing. But it doesn’t follow that any further widening of this circle, especially to encompass patent non-persons, would necessarily also be a good thing. Sooner or later you’re simply going to exhaust the set of persons. The anti-abortion crowd doesn’t care about persons, of course, and, in the main, its members would happily shrink your circle back down to its meager original size. What they care about is control over women’s sexual behavior.

    one day include people who happen not to have been born yet.

    By which I take you to mean fetuses. I refer you to your own formulation:

    “Faced with a life-or-death decision involving a woman and a fetus, I pick the woman.”

  188. #189 Sven DiMilo
    October 24, 2008

    I thought the brain was made from fat, not meat

    ? Really?
    I guess if you define “meat” as “muscle tissue” then it isn’t meat, but people eat all kinds of body parts under the rubric of “organ meats,” including brains (w/ a nice Chianti), so I think that’s the sense in which PZ meant it: any ostensibly edible animal part.

    In any case, the brain certainly is not made of “fat,” which does have a semi-technical meaning: triacylglycerol (=triglycerides) with mostly saturated fatty acids. The brain’s neural tissue does contain a probably higher-than-other-organs level of membrane lipids, but these are phospholipids, not “fat.” And of course there’s plenty of protein in there too, all them ion channels and neurotransmitter receptors and so forth, plus all the intracellular enzymes.

    But, speaking of The Brain

  189. #190 Katharine
    October 24, 2008

    William –

    I take it you are, especially because of your lack of a uterus, unaware of some of the ideas behind why abortion is still legal.

    The general rationale behind why I am pro-choice is this:

    1) A ball o’ cells, until about eight or nine weeks, doesn’t have a nervous system. Killing it is a bit like killing a plant.

    2) Unplanned children are statistically VERY likely to be unwanted, and they can be disruptive to a family’s monetary situation. Families can be put into ruin because of unplanned pregnancies.

    3) People don’t like it when their parents don’t want them.

    4) There’s too many people on the earth anyway.

    5) Unplanned children can add injury to the insult of, say, rape. Before you start gushing about the friggin’ womb boogers, think of women who have them and don’t want them.

    6) Contraception occasionally fails.

    7) Some pregnancies are better off being aborted – for example, if a woman is pregnant with a kid who is going to die a few hours after birth, spare her the torture of having to go through hours of labor and see the thing die a few hours later.

    8) Coat hangers fucking kill people.

    Abortion is necessary for psychological, economic, and medical reasons.

  190. #191 kermit
    October 24, 2008

    Just a comment to Eric: I don’t disagree with any single statement you’ve made. But I would say the purpose of philosophy is to clarify thinking and communication. I don’t think you’ve done either here. Nobody reasonably expects a full and complete coverage of epistemology in a typical post.

    “Religious beliefs” typically (and obviously were in this post) refer to synthetic statements in a particular field. There is no need to cover ethics and closed systems of logic such as arithmetic when responding. Arguing that religious claims don’t need strong empirical support, or that the supporting evidence they offer is sufficient might be appropriate. But you just sound like you want to argue in the confrontational, ordinary usage sense.

  191. #192 Katharine
    October 24, 2008

    For my part, I am never getting pregnant, and plan to either have my tubes tied or have my uterus removed (and mailed to a prominent fundie with an attached message which says ‘Fuck you!’) as soon as I can afford it.

  192. #193 Katharine
    October 24, 2008

    Sili –

    The brain is neither fat nor ‘meat’. It is made of neurons and glial cells.

  193. #194 windy
    October 24, 2008

    The boundaries of personhood have steadily grown as we have learned more and more about what it means to be a person

    No, they haven’t. Just one example, at one point it was seriously debated if the future person was already contained in the sperm. On that front the boundaries have decisively retreated.

  194. #195 Janine ID AKA The Lone Drinker
    October 24, 2008

    Posted by: Katharine | October 24, 2008

    For my part, I am never getting pregnant, and plan to either have my tubes tied or have my uterus removed (and mailed to a prominent fundie with an attached message which says ‘Fuck you!’) as soon as I can afford it.

    You would never be able to do it. But I am highly amused by the imagery. Just one question, would you send it while still covered with blood? Or would you dry it out?

    Thanks for the laughs!

  195. #196 Tulse
    October 24, 2008

    Hofstadter in particular argues that if one can take a sufficiently complex axiomatic system (the neural network), one can derive self-referencing, non-derivable yet naturally explainable properties from that system (consciousness)

    One may be able to derive self-referencing, non-derivable yet naturally explainable properties (he doesn’t make clear how), but he doesn’t explain at all why those properties would be accompanied by the qualities we ascribe to subjective experience.

    As far as I can see, his talk of “self-reference” somehow causing consciousness is about as fleshed out as Penrose’s talk of quantum effects in microtubules causing consciousness — it may sound cool, but it’s just a lot of handwaving.

  196. #197 Tyler DiPietro
    October 24, 2008

    “Tyler, it seems to me that this depends on whether you agree with the notion that there’s a ‘Hard Problem’ of consciousness.”

    I don’t think so. One could argue, as Pinker and others do, that while there is a hard problem of consciousness, dualism is a non-solution to it.

  197. #198 CJO
    October 24, 2008

    the qualities we ascribe to subjective experience.

    Well, Tulse, there’s most of our problem. What are these qualities? Let’s get them out in the open and discuss, rather than assuming that “we” all ascribe these qualities to our experience and deriving a “Hard Problem” on that basis. I will likely argue that our subjective experiences simply don’t have the qualities you wish to ascribe to them (obviously depening on how you respond).

    it may sound cool, but it’s just a lot of handwaving.

    Have you read GEB or I am a Strange Loop? Hofstadter is one of our most thoughtful investigators of these topics. You are free to disagree with his conclusions, of course, but I simply won’t accept an accusation of vagueness without an argument to support it made with specific reference to what he has written on the matter.

  198. #199 Tulse
    October 24, 2008

    I will likely argue that our subjective experiences simply don’t have the qualities you wish to ascribe to them

    Then before we even go to the specifics, let’s unpack that claim: Are you likely to say that such qualities are an “illusion”? Because that’s not a response, since even if an experiences is not veridical, it still seems that way, and what we’re talking about is precisely that “seeming”, and not what is “actually” happening in some objective third-party sense.

    But if you like, I can indeed characterize. Subjective experiences, or more specifically, qualia, are, first off, subjective — unlike all other physical phenomena, they can only be observed directly by the experiencer. Others may be able to see the physical effects associated with my subjective experience (for example, a part of my brain may show activity), but only I can actually experience them. Subjective experience is private.

    Because they are private, they are also “ineffable” — they cannot be communicated in any manner apart from direct experience. If you are blind, no amount of description given by others can give you the experience of “red”. You may come to know everything there is to know about the objective properties of red (e.g., its wavelength, its symbolic meanings, its use in popular culture), but you will never have an experience of red.

    On the flip side, qualia are “directly apprehended” — experiencing them gives you all there is to know about them (not about how they are used symbolically, but about the experience itself).

    Let’s start with those.

    Have you read GEB

    Yeah, close to three decades ago when it first came out. There’s been a bit further thinking on the matter since then.

  199. #200 CJO
    October 24, 2008

    There’s been a bit further thinking on the matter since then.
    Right, I’m not saying it’s the last word on anything. But calling it outdated is a rather different claim than that “it’s just a lot of handwaving.” So, first, some of the more recent developments are integrated into his recent I am a Strange Loop, and second, GEB is more about method –ways to think about the problem, which don’t necessarily have a sell-by date– than it is beholden to any particular advance in neuroscience or philosophy of mind.

    I’ll get into the meat of your post later. Busy now, but do check back if you’re inclined.

  200. #201 Katharine
    October 24, 2008

    Tulse –

    Your experience, however, is a conglomerate of those physical effects. We haven’t figured out how to access all those physical effects yet.

    I know my experience of the color red. I’m wearing a red sweatshirt, and it contains dye which reflects a certain wavelength of light. Having seen this color countless times in my life using the complex visual system I have and having been told at an early age that our name for this wavelength is ‘red’ and having the rest of the spectrum to compare it to, I know it is red. My reaction to it is an effect of numerous influences from the outside world.

    As for why this wavelength and our rods and cones and organismal physiology make it look red to us and other organisms that perceive red, well, I don’t think there’s any particular ‘why’ to it, actually. It just is. It’s a bit like asking why we exist – there’s no intrinsic purpose to it, that’s just what the four fundamental forces, the atoms in the universe, Earth, and evolution resulted in.

  201. #202 Katharine
    October 24, 2008

    Before my last comment is misconstrued, I should probably clarify that I mean to say ‘there is no reason why every organism that possesses red-perceiving cones in their eyes sees this actual particular color when they see this wavelength and not, say, infra-bleengrue or some other fictional color. That’s just a result of the fundamental forces, atoms, and evolution.

  202. #203 Katharine
    October 24, 2008

    I just realized I did not get my point across very well.

  203. #204 SC
    October 24, 2008

    Novella, “Reports of the Demise of Materialism Are Premature – Part II”:

    http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=403

  204. #205 Blake Stacey
    October 24, 2008

    Regarding the bit about the brain-mind thing, the problem with the hardware-software analogy is outlined in this blog post .

    Funnily enough, that was exactly the post I had in mind when I wrote the following (#43):

    Most of the people who would tell you that’s a bad analogy have, in my experience, been using absurdly limited definitions of what “software” is.

    Saying “the brain is not a von Neumann machine” is one thing; saying “the mind is not analogous to software” is something else.

  205. #206 CJO
    October 24, 2008

    that’s not a response, since even if an experiences is not veridical, it still seems that way, and what we’re talking about is precisely that “seeming”, and not what is “actually” happening in some objective third-party sense.

    Some homework:

    Raymond Smullyan on seeming, with commentary by Dennett.

    Also, I will be referring to Qining Qualia, an essay by Dennett.

  206. #207 Dan L.
    October 24, 2008

    Truth Machine:

    Damn, man, chill out. I took a philosophy of the mind class with Dennett, and frankly I think that just about every philosopher we read in that class (Dennett included) had his head up his ass on one point or another. There are a lot of unwarranted and implicit assumptions made in philosophy of the mind which, no matter how brilliant the analyses are, tend to invalidate the stronger assertions made by these philosophers.

    Just for example, I wrote a paper for the class where I tried to tear apart identity theory. Dennett called me in to his office because he could see that I wasn’t a philosophy student and perhaps had some good ideas but wasn’t translating them properly into a philosophy paper. Ultimately, I broke down an example of why water is NOT identical to H2O (a great many physicists and chemists would tell him the same), and it seemed to surprise the hell out of him that I had a point.

    Talking about the mind is difficult, and it seems to make sense that those who talk the most about it would know the most about it. But when a person who devotes his life to talking about the mind makes a suspicious assumption (implicitly or explicitly) and then builds his theories on that assumption, that person is not really any more credible than anyone else capable of introspection.

    Frankly, Dennett is one of the best in the field because he talks to cognitive neuroscientists &c., so heaven forbid you give Katharine, who actually has some grounding in the empirical data on the mind, some credit for coming at the problem based on what we can find through experimentation as opposed to what we can find through introspection. Both approaches are necessary, but the former is less error prone in my experience, and the latter is useless if it’s not grounded in the former.

    Eric:

    Analytical truths are empirical truths. You weren’t born knowing 2+2=4. Someone demonstrated it for you. Moral beliefs might be rational in some cases but often aren’t. Please note that some very high-functioning individuals don’t really have morals per se, so the belief that torturing a baby is wrong doesn’t have to be rational (and I would argue isn’t objectively true — what if torturing that baby had a demonstrable causal effect, to whit eliminating all other violent crime? Obviously not likely to be true, but an interesting ethical thought experiment).

    Rational beliefs are always grounded in empiricism, though they can be a few levels of abstraction removed. If you don’t like it, prove me wrong.

    Incidentally, your argument against “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” was extraordinarily weak, Truth Machine’s endorsement notwithstanding. The claim “there’s a man on the street” requires just the say-so of the person talking for the most part because it’s not an extraordinary claim — it doesn’t require a picture or even looking out the window. Where I am, the stronger claim would be that there ISN’T a man on the street. If someone told me that there’s a man in the street, I would believe them without looking out the window. Elephant? I would look out the goddamned window. Get it?

  207. #208 Tulse
    October 24, 2008

    Katharine:

    there is no reason why every organism that possesses red-perceiving cones in their eyes sees this actual particular color when they see this wavelength and not, say, infra-bleengrue or some other fictional color

    The question of why that particular experience is indeed a problem (and saying there is no reason is pretty unsatisfying), but it is actually less problematic than why there is any experience at all.

    That’s just a result of the fundamental forces, atoms, and evolution.

    I think we’re all agreed that whatever is happening is the result of the physical world, and not due to angels or free-floating souls. None of us are dualists in that sense. The question is why it happens, especially when there is no obvious way to connect up subjective experience to the physical causal chain. And saying “it just does” is profoundly unsatisfying (although in the end it may indeed be all we can say).

    CJO:

    GEB is more about method –ways to think about the problem, which don’t necessarily have a sell-by date

    Fair enough — I was admittedly being a bit flip in my response. To be more specific, the issue is that way of thinking about the problem in GEB has been wrestled with quite a bit in the intervening decades, and its pretty clear that it won’t do the job it is intended to do. (I will only speak about GEB, since I have not read I am a Strange Loop.) First off, it seems pretty clear that the brain is not some kind of abstract symbol processor, an organic Turing machine. It’s instead a fairly messy, highly parallel system, and it is not at all obvious that what it does is symbolic computation like Hofstadter describes. Hofstadter wrote GEB prior to the flowering of neural network approaches and the whole notion of subsymbolic computation, and those approaches call into question the kind of formal symbolic self-representation that he describes.

    Second, self-representation by itself doesn’t get you anywhere, because the kind of processing that Hofstadter describes runs into what Harnad has called the symbol grounding problem. That is, symbolic processing doesn’t do anything unless you connect the symbols up to the real world in some fashion, “ground” them in some way. It’s like doing very complex math problems without actually hooking up the math to, say, the number of apples in a box, or the thrust of a rocket, or the number of traffic collisions — abstract symbols can refer to anything, and thus their manipulation can’t do specific stuff unless you ground them in some fashion. And Hofstadter (at least in GEB) does nothing to solve this problem — he talks of self-representation, without giving an account of how representation itself works, how the symbols actually represent anything.

    Third, even if we ignore the above problems, at best what Hofstadter offers is an account of the propositional content of mind, how it creates meanings and models, but does nothing to explain why those meanings and models are accompanied by the subjective properties I outlined earlier. Various folks (such as Fodor and Kim) have pointed out that even if we solve the problem of propositional content, of how our thoughts actually have reference, that does nothing to address the issue of why some of those thoughts are associated with qualia. GEB doesn’t get us there.

    I hope that this make up for my somewhat terse original reply, and puts a bit more meat on the argument.

  208. #209 W. R. Klemm
    October 24, 2008

    I think reductionism will never explain the human mind. That does not mean that there is no materialistic explanation, but rather that this is a systems problem and reductionistic approaches cannot resolve system-level issues. In researching my e-book, Core Ideas in Neuroscience, the only systems-level approach I know of that neuroscientists use is chaos theory, and while that has certain descriptive value, I don’t think it explains much about human cognitive processes.

  209. #210 Katharine
    October 24, 2008

    there is no reason why every organism that possesses red-perceiving cones in their eyes sees this actual particular color when they see this wavelength and not, say, infra-bleengrue or some other fictional color

    The question of why that particular experience is indeed a problem (and saying there is no reason is pretty unsatisfying), but it is actually less problematic than why there is any experience at all.

    That’s just a result of the fundamental forces, atoms, and evolution.

    I think we’re all agreed that whatever is happening is the result of the physical world, and not due to angels or free-floating souls. None of us are dualists in that sense. The question is why it happens, especially when there is no obvious way to connect up subjective experience to the physical causal chain. And saying “it just does” is profoundly unsatisfying (although in the end it may indeed be all we can say).”

    ‘Unsatisfying’ is a dangerous assertion to make, Tulse. This is how irrationality begins: an assertion doesn’t FEEL good. This sort of assertion has brought forth bullshit like religion. I give anyone who uses this assertion ample warning.

    What do you mean by ‘why there is any experience at all’ or ‘why it happens’? And why don’t you think there is an obvious way to connect subjective experience to the physical?

  210. #211 Dan L.
    October 24, 2008

    The question of why that particular experience is indeed a problem (and saying there is no reason is pretty unsatisfying), but it is actually less problematic than why there is any experience at all.

    Dennett’s argument on zombies and zimboes is a pretty good answer to this. Plus, unsatisfying answers are not always wrong (is an electron a particle or a wave?) and I’m of the opinion that the anthropic principle carries a lot more water than most other people will allow.

    Various folks (such as Fodor and Kim) have pointed out that even if we solve the problem of propositional content, of how our thoughts actually have reference, that does nothing to address the issue of why some of those thoughts are associated with qualia.

    Symbol grounding problem. Qualia could be an evolutionary response to the necessity to ground the symbols needed for whatever sort of computation is done by the brain (they’re the “machine language of the brain” — essentially thoughts that aren’t memories of sensations). This leans on the anthropic principle, but see above. And I’m not saying this is obvious, or right, or even likely: just one possible valid answer to the problem you mentioned about “why qualia?”

  211. #212 Blake Stacey
    October 24, 2008

    God damn how I loathe the word “reductionism”. It’s one of those words which is used as a substitute for a substantive critique, and because the meaning varies sharply among speakers, the particular nature of the insult must be deduced from context each time. I hear it bandied about at complex-systems conferences, often in such horrendous constructions as “We’re moving beyond the reductionist paradigm”; when one examines the paradigm-shifting work in question, it turns out to be just as “reductionist” as the thing it was replacing. (Explaining a “systems-level phenomenon” in terms of a “reductionist” description is an entirely quotidian thing: statistical physics does so for thermodynamics, to pick the canonical example. This is relevant to neuroscience, as the aggregate behaviour of large numbers of neurons can be modelled through the techniques of statistical mechanics and field theory, through the Wilson-Cowan equations and so forth.) Some folks will lambaste as “reductionist” any claim that a bit of the world admits of an explanation. . . .

    Physics has lots of good words for various kinds of problem-solving attacks and modes of description. One can use a “linearized approximation” or posit a “weakly interacting system” or start with a “mean-field theory”. . . Of course, because these terms have meaning, it’s harder to sound profound when saying them.

  212. #213 windy
    October 24, 2008

    Tulse:

    I think we’re all agreed that whatever is happening is the result of the physical world, and not due to angels or free-floating souls. None of us are dualists in that sense. The question is why it happens, especially when there is no obvious way to connect up subjective experience to the physical causal chain.

    We don’t know how they connect but somehow they do, or you couldn’t tell us that you have subjective experiences. Right?

    (Note, I’m NOT saying that anything (chatbot, computer) that claims it has subjective experiences must have them, I am asking if you believe that you are telling us the truth about having subjective experiences.)

    Is your position that you can only communicate that you are having subjective experiences, but nothing about their content?

  213. #214 Brandon
    October 24, 2008

    PZ,
    You readily acknowledge that all of our thoughts and mental activity are rooted in the physical chemistry of the brain, but you insist that free will exists. If brains are purely physical systems with only physical inputs, where does free will enter the picture? It seems that the mental activity of any individual would be entirely determined by their sensory inputs. Sure, their genetics and past experience (residual physical effects from previous sensory inputs) may color the way their brain reacts to new sensory input. But nowhere in this picture does a person actually have control of what they are doing.

  214. #215 Brandon
    October 24, 2008

    PZ,
    You readily acknowledge that all of our thoughts and mental activity are rooted in the physical chemistry of the brain, but you insist that free will exists. If brains are purely physical systems with only physical inputs, where does free will enter the picture? It seems that the mental activity of any individual, would be entirely determined by their sensory inputs. Sure, their genetics and past experience (residual physical effects from previous sensory inputs) may color the way their brain reacts to new sensory input. But nowhere in this picture does a person actually have control of what they are doing.

  215. #216 SC
    October 24, 2008

    I hear it bandied about at complex-systems conferences, often in such horrendous constructions as “We’re moving beyond the reductionist paradigm”

    My smirk would be audible.

  216. #217 CJO
    October 24, 2008

    If brains are purely physical systems with only physical inputs, where does free will enter the picture?

    Assume the contrary (that brains are not purely physical systems and they have other than physical inputs). Where does free will enter that picture?

  217. #218 eric
    October 24, 2008

    Dan L. “Eric:
    Analytical truths are empirical truths. You weren’t born knowing 2+2=4. Someone demonstrated it for you.”

    Hmm. It seems that you don’t quite get what it means to call a truth ‘analytic’ as opposed to ‘empirical’ (or, more broadly, ‘synthetic’). Let me put it this way: the fact that someone had to tell you that ‘a bachelor is an unmarried male’ doesn’t make it an empirical proposition. Look into the distinction a bit more (read something?) and perhaps you’ll get it (hint: don’t confuse it with the related, but conceptually distinct a priori/a posteriori distinction). Then again, perhaps your repudiation of analyticity is premised on a Quniean-like critique; it’s possible, but, given the slipshod thinking exhibited in your post, not likely.

    “Please note that some very high-functioning individuals don’t really have morals per se, so the belief that torturing a baby is wrong doesn’t have to be rational”

    This is such a blatant non sequitur that I’m embarrassed to have to point it out…

    “Rational beliefs are always grounded in empiricism, though they can be a few levels of abstraction removed. If you don’t like it, prove me wrong.”

    I don’t have to work very hard at all to prove you wrong, since you’ve done most of my work for me. Try to think about this question for a moment: Is the principle, “Rational beliefs are always grounded in empiricism” *itself* grounded in empiricism? If it isn’t, then your principle isn’t rational (hint: it isn’t. Let that sink in for a moment…).

    “Incidentally, your argument against “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” was extraordinarily weak…The claim “there’s a man on the street” requires just the say-so of the person talking for the most part because it’s not an extraordinary claim — it doesn’t require a picture or even looking out the window.”

    You’ve missed the point. The point is, *what sort of evidence* would justify the claim, “A man is on the street”? Oh, hold on — you provide the sort of evidence in your next comment — you know, the one on the extraordinary claim that there’s an elephant on the street:

    “Elephant? I would look out the goddamned window. Get it?”

    Well, I get that you don’t yet get it, so go get it — got it?

    Kermit #191: “Nobody reasonably expects a full and complete coverage of epistemology in a typical post.”

    But that’s not what I was asking for. A concise answer that allowed for the various types of propositions we all take to be rational would’ve sufficed. The only reason the debate took off was because some tried to defend (what certainly appeared to be, given their formulations) a radical empiricist epistemology.

    “Religious beliefs” typically (and obviously were in this post) refer to synthetic statements in a particular field.”

    In many cases, yes, but not necessarily in the case of the question of god’s existence (since many philosophers and theologians will argue that god exists necessarily, though admittedly some, such as Swinburne, famously disagree). It seems to me that when someone calls ‘religious beliefs’ irrational, he or she is primarily referring to the belief in god’s existence.

    “Arguing that religious claims don’t need strong empirical support, or that the supporting evidence they offer is sufficient might be appropriate. But you just sound like you want to argue in the confrontational, ordinary usage sense.”

    No, not at all. In fact, in order to get to the point where one can talk meaningfully (and economically!) about whether religious beliefs need empirical support, or whether the supporting evidence is sufficient, one must often do the sort of epistemological ground clearing that we were engaged in. So, contrary to the impression you got from my posts, I was indeed trying to clarify some of the fundamental terms in advance to see just why (as I believe Wowbager claimed) religious beliefs are not rational. As you saw, the discussion never reached that point, in part because some decided that it was more fun to just insult me, and also because no one provided an adequate, concise set of criteria for the term *they* were using, viz. ‘rational.’

  218. #219 Kel
    October 24, 2008

    You readily acknowledge that all of our thoughts and mental activity are rooted in the physical chemistry of the brain, but you insist that free will exists. If brains are purely physical systems with only physical inputs, where does free will enter the picture?

    It seems that consciousness is a feedback loop, in effect the brain is an input into itself. So in terms of free will, it could be that the higher reasoning born out of the physical mind has the power to affect the final outcome.

    Though it could be argued that all “higher thinking” is still just a series of neurons firings an all free will is merely an illusion.

  219. #220 Katharine
    October 24, 2008

    From the SEP:

    “An issue that Frege’s criterion didn’t address is the status of the basic sentences of logic themselves. Are the logical truths themselves a priori because they, too, are “analytic”? But what makes them so? Is it that anyone who understands their wording just must see that they are true? If so, how are we to make sense of disputes about the laws of logic, of the sort that are raised, for example, by mathematical intuitionists, who deny the Law of Excluded Middle, or, more recently, by “para-consistent” logicians, who argue for the toleration even of contradictions to avoid certain paradoxes (see Williamson 2006 for discussion)? Moreover, given that the infinitude of logical truths needs to be “generated” by rules of inference, wouldn’t that be a reason for regarding them as “synthetic” in Kant’s sense (see Frege 1884/1980:§88, Katz 1988:58-9 and MacFarlane 2002)? Most worrisome is a challenge raised by Quine 1956/76:§II): how does claiming logical truths to be analytic differ from merely claiming them to be obviously and universally correct, i.e., widely and firmly held beliefs, indistinguishable in kind from banalities like “The earth has existed for many years” or “There have been black dogs”?”

  220. #221 Kel
    October 24, 2008

    In many cases, yes, but not necessarily in the case of the question of god’s existence

    God’s existence is an empirical question. It’s postulating the nature of reality, it goes into the territory of empirical evidence. But an all-powerful, all-knowing omnipresent interventionist God shouldn’t be hard to show empirically right?

  221. #222 eric
    October 24, 2008

    “God’s existence is an empirical question. It’s postulating the nature of reality, it goes into the territory of empirical evidence.”

    This is clearly false. Many mathematicians are Platonists; does this mean that for them the Mandelbrot set “goes into the territory of empirical evidence” simply because they’re “postulating the nature of reality”?

  222. #223 Nerd of Redhead
    October 24, 2008

    If god can’t empirically proven, then his alleged existence must be accepted upon faith. So no gain for the idiot Eric.

  223. #224 Kel
    October 24, 2008

    This is clearly false. Many mathematicians are Platonists; does this mean that for them the Mandelbrot set “goes into the territory of empirical evidence” simply because they’re “postulating the nature of reality”?

    Way to make a non-sequitor. The mandelbrot set is a mathematical concept, not a potential interactive force in the universe. Like I said 100 posts ago, if God is merely a construct of the mind then I have no problems saying God is not an empirical measure. But having an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent sky daddy who came down to earth into human form to redeem mankind from himself by being tortured and ‘killed’ is an empirical question. It’s an empirical question about the nature of our reality. If you have God interacting with the material world, then that interaction should be visible.

  224. #225 eric
    October 24, 2008

    “If X can’t empirically proven, then X’s existence must be accepted upon faith.”

    Let’s not make too much of the part about ‘empirically proving’ something. I know there’s a post by PZ somewhere in which he says that those who speak about scientific proof don’t know what science is, since science deals with evidence, not proof. It seems that, according to PZ, you don’t understand science.

    More importantly, however, do you realize how much faith *you*, Nerd Of Redhead, must have if the alternative is ‘empirical proof’ (I hate writing that) or ‘faith’?

  225. #226 Katharine
    October 24, 2008

    Eric –

    Rereading your entire argument, there are some things you’ve said which are perfectly all well and good, but stuff such as this:

    “And the canard about extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence is just that — a canard. If I make the extraordinary claim that there is an elephant in the street, I’d provide the same evidence I would if I claimed that there was a man in the street. The difference isn’t the sort of evidence you’d accept, but whether you’re willing to accept what I say without justifying it for yourself.

    “Empirical evidencethat doesn’t contradict established fact.”

    If this is what makes beliefs rational, then a host of beliefs you and I both hold are not rational. For example:
    The belief that torturing babies is morally wrong.
    The belief that 2+2=4.
    The belief that the world wasn’t created, exactly as it is now, five minutes ago.
    And, here’s the kicker: The belief that “a belief is only rational if it’s empirically supported and doesn’t contradict established facts” isn’t empirically justifiable and testable against established facts!
    In short, not only is your principle demonstrably false, it’s logically self refuting!

    “The old belief system conundrum. I have a quick answer. If the evidence is repeatable and verifiable by all parties as being there, it is there.”
    Again, this principle is logically self-refuting. You can’t posit a principle of rationality that cannot pass its own test!
    “If you posit X, then you have to prove X so that all parties, including scientists, magicians, and professional debunkers conclude that the only way the evidence came about was due to P.”
    Surely, you know very well that no non-trivial X can pass this test!
    No, I don’t think you followed the conversation closely enough. I didn’t conflate analytic and empirical propositions; rather, I showed that it’s decidedly not the case that only empirically justifiable propositions are rational.

    “First off, empiricism works.”
    I’m not quite sure what you mean by ‘empiricism’ here. If you just mean something amorphous like ‘the scientific method,’ then I esentially agree. But if you mean you’re committed to empiricism in the sense that only empirically verifiable (or falsifiable) propositions are meaningful, then I’d certainly disagree, not only because of the logical problem I mentioned above, but because of the ultimate logical consequences of such a position (which even ardent, scientifically minded empiricists like Bertrand
    Russell conceded leads to a logical dead end).”

    Is sophistry.

    First of all, how much evidence would you provide for a man in the street versus an elephant?

    Second of all, we in fact have evidence that the world came into existence more than five minutes ago. In fact, we have evidence that it came into existence approximately 4.7 billion years ago – there are rocks in the Transvaal and the Pilbara craton that are about that old. You use some pretty bad examples of beliefs that you think aren’t rational.

    Third of all, analytical truth is essentially little more than definition or logical wangling, which is not prone to taking into account new empirical information, if apparent recent behavior of many philosophers of mind has been any indication. And, frankly, the scientific method is the best thing we’ve got right now – we don’t put quite as much trust in our own minds as you philosophers do. At least, we put a healthy amount of trust in them. (Human brains are notably quite silly.)

    There is absolutely NO evidence so far to suggest a separate mind, and frankly, all the evidence we’ve got points to the brain being the mind.

    I suspect you haven’t actually got the required depth of scientific literacy to understand my entire argument, though. Asking you about your background is ENTIRELY relevant here – I’m a neuroscience student. What are you?

  226. #227 eric
    October 24, 2008

    “The mandelbrot set is a mathematical concept, not a potential interactive force in the universe.”

    You missed the extremely important part about these mathematicians being Platonists! For them, the Mandelbrot set is real — as real as the computer on which you’re typing (if not ‘more’ real, if you’ll pardon my poor use of the comparative, since it is eternal, unchanging, etc. *to a Platonist*); it’s discovered, not invented.

  227. #228 Katharine
    October 24, 2008

    And rereading the entire thread, I see it has devolved largely into philosophical masturbation.

    This is why I generally am not so fond of philosophy. Parts of it are great and even necessary – logic, ethics, et cetera – but it’s prone to abuse and is overconfident in the human mind.

  228. #229 Kel
    October 24, 2008

    You missed the extremely important part about these mathematicians being Platonists! For them, the Mandelbrot set is real– as real as the computer on which you’re typing (if not ‘more’ real, if you’ll pardon my poor use of the comparative, since it is eternal, unchanging, etc. *to a Platonist*);

    And you missed the extrememly important point about the role of empiricism in understanding the nature of our reality. The role of God in reality is empirically testable, indeed it must be so because it posits the nature of our reality.

  229. #230 Blake Stacey
    October 24, 2008

    If brains are purely physical systems with only physical inputs, where does free will enter the picture?

    Who’s saying it does? Maybe you were predestined to write that.

  230. #231 llewelly
    October 24, 2008

    And rereading the entire thread, I see it has devolved largely into philosophical masturbation.

    I keep hoping improving scientific explanations for how the mind works, how choices are made, and so forth, will steadily reduce the amount of philosophical wankery, and the credence lent to it. So far that’s not happening.

  231. #232 Kel
    October 24, 2008

    I keep hoping improving scientific explanations for how the mind works, how choices are made, and so forth, will steadily reduce the amount of philosophical wankery, and the credence lent to it. So far that’s not happening.

    Same, I would love for some neuroscientists to explain how the brain works. How do certain injuries affect mind function? How does decision making play a role?

  232. #233 Owlmirror
    October 24, 2008

    You missed the extremely important part about these mathematicians being Platonists! For them, the Mandelbrot set is real — as real as the computer on which you’re typing (if not ‘more’ real, if you’ll pardon my poor use of the comparative, since it is eternal, unchanging, etc. *to a Platonist*); it’s discovered, not invented.

    And it’s a complete non-sequitur, because the topic being discussed is not whether the concept of God is “real”, whatever that might mean, but whether the person that God is alleged to be is real, that is, has any consistent traits and/or any interaction whatosever with any aspect of the physical universe.

    And rereading the entire thread, I see it has devolved largely into philosophical masturbation.

    I don’t blame you for calling eric a wanker.

  233. #234 Owlmirror
    October 24, 2008

    This is why I generally am not so fond of philosophy. Parts of it are great and even necessary – logic, ethics, et cetera – but it’s prone to abuse and is overconfident in the human mind.

    I think the point of the “where do you go after you die” posting was that humans are… instinctively dualist, and trying to get humans to realize that this instinct cannot possibly be correct is difficult. But it is the only logical conclusion of the philosophical approaches of empiricism and parsimony.

  234. #235 eric
    October 24, 2008

    “First of all, how much evidence would you provide for a man in the street versus an elephant?”

    As I’ve said, the evidence would be the same (remember, the issue is justification). If looking out the window, as someone said, will do for the man, it will clearly also do with the elephant. The latter claim is extraordinary, *but it is justified =with the same look out the window= as the very ordinary claim that a man is in the street*.

    “Second of all, we in fact have evidence that the world came into existence more than five minutes ago. In fact, we have evidence that it came into existence approximately 4.7 billion years ago – there are rocks in the Transvaal and the Pilbara craton that are about that old. You use some pretty bad examples of beliefs that you think aren’t rational.”

    No, you didn’t understand the example. I said that the belief that the world didn’t come into existence five minutes ago *exactly as it is now* (i.e. complete with all you referred to and more, including your childhood memories, your undigested lunch, etc.) is rational. The point is, however, that the evidence would be *exactly the same* if either the proposition, “The universe is 15 billion years old” or the proposition, “The universe came into existence five minutes ago exactly as it is now” (except for whatever changes would’ve occurred in either scenario during the last five minutes, of course) were true.

    “Third of all, analytical truth is essentially little more than definition or logical wangling, which is not prone to taking into account new empirical information”

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. If you mean that analytic propositions aren’t rational, then you’re in trouble, since the science you do, to the extent that it makes use of math and logic, rests largely on the shoulders of the rationality of analytic propositions.

    “And, frankly, the scientific method is the best thing we’ve got right now – we don’t put quite as much trust in our own minds as you philosophers do.”

    Do you honestly think that scientists are *more* skeptical than philosophers?! Hello! There are countless propositions that most scientists take for granted that philosophers question incessantly.

    “There is absolutely NO evidence so far to suggest a separate mind, and frankly, all the evidence we’ve got points to the brain being the mind.”

    No, it doesn’t. You’re making a leap there that isn’t warranted by the evidence. *All* of the evidence you’ve presented is entirely consistent with any of the various types of dualism (properly understood: as Richard Chappell points out here, you don’t quite get just what philosophers mean when they talk about dualism http://uncrediblehallq.blogspot.com/2008/04/zombie-cage-match.html#c8416393164159348339 )as well as the notion that the mind is the brain. The reason we don’t appeal to the principle of parsimony here and go with your conclusion is primarily because of all the difficult (some, e.g. Mcginn, would say insoluble) questions that it completely fails to address (usually by dismissing them, without argument, as illegitimate questions).

    “I suspect you haven’t actually got the required depth of scientific literacy to understand my entire argument, though. Asking you about your background is ENTIRELY relevant here – I’m a neuroscience student. What are you?”

    Okay, I’ll play, but only to point out — yet again — the great difficulty you seem to have with properly connecting premises and conclusions. Let’s follow your reasoning out: I’m a philo student, so I don’t understand your scientific arguments; however, by parity of reasoning (and poor very reasoning, mind you), as a neuroscience student, you don’t understand my philosophic arguments.

    Doesn’t get us very far, now, does it? Why not stick to the arguments?

  235. #236 Nerd of Redhead
    October 24, 2008

    Eric, we have been through this argument recently with other not to named trolls. The end result is this. Empiricism works. Science works. Deal with it. Non empiricism leads to allowing con men to control the argument. At the moment, you are that con man.

    So Eric, time for you to present a way of knowing and defend it. I got a lot of popcorn to enjoy your demise.

  236. #237 SC
    October 24, 2008

    Wow! A unicorn just flew by my window!

  237. #238 eric
    October 24, 2008

    “And it’s a complete non-sequitur, because the topic being discussed is not whether the concept of God is “real”, whatever that might mean, but whether the person that God is alleged to be is real, that is, has any consistent traits and/or any interaction whatosever with any aspect of the physical universe.”

    Look again. I was addressing the claim that “X is real” entails that “X is empirical,” or that “X has any consistent traits and/or any interaction whatsoever with any aspect of the physical universe.” A mathematical Platonist like Penrose would argue that mathematical objects are ‘real,’ but it wouldn’t follow that they therefore must “have any consistent traits and/or any interaction…”

  238. #239 Owlmirror
    October 24, 2008

    As I’ve said, the evidence would be the same (remember, the issue is justification). If looking out the window, as someone said, will do for the man, it will clearly also do with the elephant. The latter claim is extraordinary, *but it is justified =with the same look out the window= as the very ordinary claim that a man is in the street*.

    In other words, with a direct empirical test.

    Yet you miss the point of “extraordinary”. If the elephant is in fact visible outside the window, tromping around, and perhaps looking in people’s windows, and other people see it and are reacting, then there is an excellent empirical consensus of it being there.

    But what if the claim is that the elephant was there, and is no longer? You would want empirical evidence of its having been there – perhaps a footprint, or dung, or trunk-prints on something, or additional eye-witness claims, and an explanation of where it came from and where it went.

    Now what about the claim that the elephant is there, but is invisible? Even without being visible, the physical body of an elephant would leave some empirical evidence. It might trumpet, people would walk into it with a physical thump, it might well pick things up with its trunk or break branches, and of course, it would no doubt smell like an elephant does, which can be quite whiff as I recall.

    Finally, what about the claim that the elephant is there, but is invisible and completely intangible? It does not trumpet, it does not have a smell, people walk right through it, it leaves no dung, it pulls down no branches… There’s no empirical evidence. Why would you accept this extraordinary claim as having any truth whatsoever – except, perhaps, as evidence that the claimer is deluded?

  239. #240 Nerd of Redhead
    October 24, 2008

    Eric, just because you believe in invisible fairies doesn’t mean I have to. If you posit invisible fairies, either put up the right information to prove yourself or shut up. Those are honorable, moral positions. Anything else is an immoral con game.

  240. #241 eric
    October 24, 2008

    “The end result is this. Empiricism works. Science works.”

    I agree with the latter claim, but I question the former, if only because I don’t know precisely what you mean by ‘empiricism,’ and what you mean by ‘works.’

    I do, however, hope that you understand that ‘empiricism’ (given both its acceptation and its more technical uses in philosophy) and ‘science’ cannot be identified.

    Oh, and save your popcorn. I don’t have much more time to spend here tonight.

  241. #242 Kel
    October 24, 2008

    I was addressing the claim that “X is real” entails that “X is empirical,” or that “X has any consistent traits and/or any interaction whatsoever with any aspect of the physical universe.”

    You are just making excuses for the lack of evidence for a supposedly omnipresent interventionist deity. If God interacts with this world, then God is empirically testable. It’s not a matter of God being real, it’s a matter of God being a force of nature. There’s a difference! An interventionist God is within the scientific realm of inquiry.

  242. #243 Owlmirror
    October 24, 2008

    Look again. I was addressing the claim that “X is real” entails that “X is empirical,” or that “X has any consistent traits and/or any interaction whatsoever with any aspect of the physical universe.” A mathematical Platonist like Penrose would argue that mathematical objects are ‘real,’ but it wouldn’t follow that they therefore must “have any consistent traits and/or any interaction…”

    That’s because you misconstrued “X is real” as having the same meaning for God as it does for mathematics. Fine. Be like that. Kel already clarified: we are not discussing God as a potential abstract concept that might or might not be real, for some value of “real” in the way that mathematical concepts have their reality.

    The original point still stands: God’s existence as a person is an empirical question.

  243. #244 Nerd of Redhead
    October 24, 2008

    Oh, and save your popcorn. I don’t have much more time to spend here tonight.

    :
    I’ve heard that before when?……

  244. #245 SC
    October 24, 2008

    Define science, please (and empiricism).

  245. #246 SC
    October 24, 2008

    A mathematical Platonist like Penrose would argue that mathematical objects are ‘real,’ but it wouldn’t follow that they therefore must “have any consistent traits and/or any interaction…”

    Oh, and define real.

    Thanks – much appreciated.

  246. #247 eric
    October 24, 2008

    “Yet you miss the point of “extraordinary”.”

    I miss the point of ‘extraordinary,’ yet you seem to think that ‘dung’ is extraordinary evidence! Please! You’ve only confirmed my point.

    “Finally, what about the claim that the elephant is there, but is invisible and completely intangible? It does not trumpet, it does not have a smell, people walk right through it, it leaves no dung, it pulls down no branches… There’s no empirical evidence. Why would you accept this extraordinary claim as having any truth whatsoever – except, perhaps, as evidence that the claimer is deluded?”

    No, you’re missing the point again with trite observations. The interesting question is, What would constitute evidence of an invisible, intangible elephant, *assuming that it does exist*, and in what sense would the evidence be ‘extraordinary’?

    You see, the whole point is that the “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” principle is either false on the one hand (as with the example I gave), or blatantly equivocal — with respect to the term ‘extraordinary — on the other (as with your ‘invisible, intangible elephant’ example).

  247. #248 Owlmirror
    October 24, 2008

    I miss the point of ‘extraordinary,’ yet you seem to think that ‘dung’ is extraordinary evidence!

    It’s exactly as extraordinary as the elephant itself.

    The interesting question is, What would constitute evidence of an invisible, intangible elephant, *assuming that it does exist*,

    Why would you or anyone assume that it does exist given zero empirical evidence?

    and in what sense would the evidence be ‘extraordinary’?

    If there were any evidence at all, it would be empirical evidence — and it would have to be extraordinary indeed if the only possible inference that could be drawn from it was an invisible, intangible elephant, and not, say, an invisible, intangible parrot, or an invisible, intangible diplodocus, or an invisible, intangible four-dimensional zombie.

  248. #249 eric
    October 24, 2008

    “That’s because you misconstrued “X is real” as having the same meaning for God as it does for mathematics.”

    That’s not true. Rather, I was simply saying that the ‘real’ isn’t obviously limited to ‘the empirical.’ You’ve somehow misconstrued my broadening of the concept to include not only what’s empirical, but also what’s ‘intelligible’ (as the Platonists would say) for a narrowing of the concept to only what is intelligible!

    “If X interacts with this world, then X is empirically testable.”

    That doesn’t follow; all you can logically conclude from “X interacts with this world” is that *the effects* of X are empirically testable. It’s logically possible that X can interact with this world in such a way that X itself isn’t empirically testable, though its effects of course (by definition) are. (Please, note that I’m talking about logical possibility, which, given that we’re talking about what can be deduced from your premise, is the relevant conception of possibility.)

  249. #250 Nerd of Readhead
    October 24, 2008

    It’s logically possible that X can interact with this world in such a way that X itself isn’t empirically testable, though its effects of course (by definition) are.

    Time to find my waders. The shit is beginning to get very deep here.

  250. #251 Owlmirror
    October 24, 2008

    You see, the whole point is that the “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” principle is either false on the one hand (as with the example I gave), or blatantly equivocal — with respect to the term ‘extraordinary — on the other (as with your ‘invisible, intangible elephant’ example).

    But the principle is not false. Forget the invisible intangible aspect: The example you gave was indeed a perfect example of sophistry: While the empirical test is the same as for seeing if a human is outside the window, and is therefore common and mundane, the elephant itself being outside the window is indeed extraordinary! And the elephant’s very body is therefore exactly the extraordinary evidence required for the extraordinary claim.

    Sheesh!

  251. #252 Kel
    October 24, 2008

    That’s not true. Rather, I was simply saying that the ‘real’ isn’t obviously limited to ‘the empirical.’ You’ve somehow misconstrued my broadening of the concept to include not only what’s empirical, but also what’s ‘intelligible’ (as the Platonists would say) for a narrowing of the concept to only what is intelligible!

    This is why you need to understand science, without a knowledge of how nature works, how can you adequately apply philosophy? Your argument of “God is real” as has been pointed out if “god is real” is a construct of the mind. But as a force in reality, there’s such thing as the null hypothesis and God meets that until such time as empirical evidence suggests. God is as real as dragons, fairies and Bugs Bunny. All of which are memetic constructs, but not of which have any empirical backing. But if I were to say that fairies are real in the sense of reality and that they grant wishes to anyone who asks, then that would be an irrational belief as it’s not based on any empirical evidence.

  252. #253 SC
    October 24, 2008

    My questions are like certain hypothetical elephants, evidently…

  253. #254 SC
    October 24, 2008

    It’s logically possible that X can interact with this world in such a way that X itself isn’t empirically testable, though its effects of course (by definition) are.

    OK, examples of those testable effects in the case of a god or gods, please.

  254. #255 Owlmirror
    October 24, 2008

    I was simply saying that the ‘real’ isn’t obviously limited to ‘the empirical.’ You’ve somehow misconstrued my broadening of the concept to include not only what’s empirical, but also what’s ‘intelligible’ (as the Platonists would say) for a narrowing of the concept to only what is intelligible!

    Which is once again a complete non-sequitur to the original point, and is therefore utterly irrelevant.

    all you can logically conclude from “X interacts with this world” is that *the effects* of X are empirically testable. It’s logically possible that X can interact with this world in such a way that X itself isn’t empirically testable, though its effects of course (by definition) are. (Please, note that I’m talking about logical possibility, which, given that we’re talking about what can be deduced from your premise, is the relevant conception of possibility.)

    Here in the empirical world, we call that nonparsimonious, and we say the hell with it.

  255. #256 Kel
    October 24, 2008

    I just don’t think that eric will ever be able to grasp the proper use of empirical measure. No-one here is saying empiricism applies to anything and everything, but there are points when it applies and points when it doesn’t. Unfortunately he’s playing the same game as John Knight and trying to show that empiricism is flawed (got self-refuting?), yet he’s not offering a better alternative in order to gauge reality. Instead he offers us doublespeak.

  256. #257 Patricia
    October 24, 2008

    Ha, ha! Looks like you two hooked a real retard. All mouth and no proof. As usual.

  257. #258 PZ Myers
    October 24, 2008

    I insist on the existence of free will? I certainly do not. I think free will is an illusion, but even more substantially, is a reflection of people who are asking the wrong questions.

  258. #259 windy
    October 24, 2008

    *All* of the evidence you’ve presented is entirely consistent with any of the various types of dualism (properly understood: as Richard Chappell points out here, you don’t quite get just what philosophers mean when they talk about dualism […] The reason we don’t appeal to the principle of parsimony here and go with your conclusion is primarily because of all the difficult (some, e.g. Mcginn, would say insoluble) questions that it completely fails to address

    Chappell seems to rely heavily on the zombie argument against physicalism. That entails some form of epiphenomenalism, which is very problematic in itself.

    Even if the various neurobiology experiments can’t outrule it, epiphenomenalism does not explain why natural selection would have shaped and maintained perfect correlates of coherent types of subjective experience in the brain. If there is no “feedback” from mental events to the physical, why would the correlates persist? Sure, you can always suggest a suite of one-directional psychophysical laws that just “happen to” bring about a coherent mental world, but then parsimony starts to look more and more attractive.

  259. #260 windy
    October 25, 2008

    Chappell writes

    Materialism – perhaps surprisingly – turns out to be theoretically extravagant, due to its modal ambitions. It posits ‘strong necessities’, which we have no independent reason to grant, and indeed goes against everything else we know in philosophy. Dualism is thus the more philosophically modest theory.

    Why shouldn’t dualist “psychophysical laws” bridging physical with the mental be considered at least equally extravagant “strong necessities”?

  260. #261 Tulse
    October 25, 2008

    Katherine:

    ‘Unsatisfying’ is a dangerous assertion to make, Tulse. This is how irrationality begins: an assertion doesn’t FEEL good. This sort of assertion has brought forth bullshit like religion. I give anyone who uses this assertion ample warning.

    Whoa there — I wasn’t making any claim like that. Let me rephrase my comment: To say that “there is no reason why every organism that possesses red-perceiving cones in their eyes sees this actual particular color” is to suggest an end to scientific investigation of this issue, to accept this relationship as a mysterious and in principle inexplicable brute fact of the universe, one that no theory can account for. That’s pretty much giving up on a science of the subjective (or at least a science of qualia), and goes in philosophical circles by the label mysterianism. You seem like you are committed to a science of the mind, so I found it extremely odd that you would claim this position. (To be honest, I think mysterianism may indeed by correct, but I’m not prepared to fully abandon science in this realm just yet.)

    What do you mean by ‘why there is any experience at all’ or ‘why it happens’?

    I mean why does some neural activity produce subjective states, when the behaviour of the organism can be completely described in an objective sense without needing such a notion.

    And why don’t you think there is an obvious way to connect subjective experience to the physical?

    What does the sensation of red do to your brain? Not photons with a wavelength of 650 nm, not the excitation of cones that are sensitive to that wavelength, not the neurons in the visual system and cortex that fire in response to those wavelengths, but the sensation. Where does the sensation bridge a gap in the causal chain? Where in the explanation of the effect of 650 nm on the brain is it necessary to say, “Well, of course these two sets of neurons don’t actually connect up — here is where the qualitative aspect of “red” helps things along”?

    Note that I’m not saying that the brain doesn’t (somehow) cause the sensation of red, just that that sensation, that quale, doesn’t seem to have a role to play in the physical account. The physical causal chain is complete (or at least better be if one is a materialist), and so there seems to be no way for subjective experience to be causally efficacious in a physical system.

  261. #262 Anton Mates
    October 25, 2008

    You’ve missed the point. The point is, *what sort of evidence* would justify the claim, “A man is on the street”? Oh, hold on — you provide the sort of evidence in your next comment — you know, the one on the extraordinary claim that there’s an elephant on the street:

    What? Dan’s entire point is that looking out the window is not necessary to justify the claim, “A man is on the street.” That claim is not at all extraordinary, so it can be justified with much weaker evidence–like someone shouting “Hey, there’s a man in the street” from the next room.

    Whereas, if someone shouts “Hey, there’s an elephant in the street,” you’d want the additional evidence provided by your own eyes.

    The view out the window is the extraordinary evidence required for the extraordinary claim of a visiting elephant. Do you see?

  262. #263 SC
    October 25, 2008

    …and indeed goes against everything else we know in philosophy…

    We know stuff in philosophy? Huh. What is it? How do we know it?

  263. #264 windy
    October 25, 2008

    What does the sensation of red do to your brain? Not photons with a wavelength of 650 nm, not the excitation of cones that are sensitive to that wavelength, not the neurons in the visual system and cortex that fire in response to those wavelengths, but the sensation. Where does the sensation bridge a gap in the causal chain?

    As I asked in #213, if the sensation never enters the “causal chain” of the brain, how come you are able to report having a subjective experience AT ALL when seeing a red light (if not the content of that experience?) If the experiences have no causal effects, what causes us to argue about them?

  264. #265 Anton Mates
    October 25, 2008

    Tulse,

    I mean why does some neural activity produce subjective states, when the behaviour of the organism can be completely described in an objective sense without needing such a notion

    As was pointed out previously, you can completely describe an organism’s behavior without referring to any entity above the subatomic scale. You don’t need to talk about molecules, or cells, or tissues, or organs, to have a complete causal chain. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

    Again, you can describe the weather completely in terms of the motion of individual air molecules, but hurricanes still exist.

  265. #266 Tulse
    October 25, 2008

    Dennett’s argument on zombies and zimboes is a pretty good answer to this.

    As I understand his argument, it really isn’t a good answer as to why there are qualia (even in the “illusory” sense he seems to accept). Dennet’s approach is essentially a computationalist one, and computationalism (and functionalism in general), however well they may explain propositional content, simply have no plausible account of why some of that propositional content is accompanied by subjective states, or how such subjective properties could enter into the “objective” symbol processing that they postulate.

    Qualia could be an evolutionary response to the necessity to ground the symbols needed for whatever sort of computation is done by the brain

    First off, I think it is extremely doubtful that the brain is doing symbolic computation, at least as it is traditionally conceived — it is a highly parallel, rather messy biological system, not a serial Turing machine. Second, see my points above about the apparent lack of causal efficacy of qualia — there isn’t any way for subjective experience qua subjective experience to influence brain function (of course the neural activity that is correlated with such experiences can influence other neural activity).

  266. #267 Tulse
    October 25, 2008

    windy:

    We don’t know how they connect but somehow they do, or you couldn’t tell us that you have subjective experiences. Right?

    The same could be said for the existence of free will — we must have something in us that lets us transcend our purely physical nature and be more than just biological machines, because we couldn’t argue about free will, right?

    I think I have free will, and it sure does seem like my subjective experiences control my behaviour, but I don’t think there is room in materialism (as currently conceived) for either conclusion. (Just to be clear, invoking a sky daddy doesn’t offer a solution to either problem.)

    I’m NOT saying that anything (chatbot, computer) that claims it has subjective experiences must have them

    OK, but then what are your criteria? As I’ve said before, because we as humans have such experiences, we’re in a sense too close to the problem to see it as a problem — it just seems “natural” to us that tiny bits of the material universe would be imbued with subjectivity. But if we step back, and ask how we would tell if something decidedly different from us had subjective experiences, the issue becomes much more difficult to decide, and the criteria determined by fiat (e.g., “It must be conscious if it acts like us”) rather than offering any compelling argument. So I think it is profoundly useful to look at these non-human examples, and wonder at what point, if ever, a chatbot becomes “conscious”.

    I am asking if you believe that you are telling us the truth about having subjective experiences.

    Of course I believe I have subjective experiences — it’s the only thing I can be certain is true. That’s not in dispute — the issue is how that is possible within a purely physicalist framework.

  267. #268 CJO
    October 25, 2008

    Tulse:
    Second, self-representation by itself doesn’t get you anywhere, because the kind of processing that Hofstadter describes runs into what Harnad has called the symbol grounding problem.

    Lots to respond to, and against an epistemological tide to boot, so I’m trying to be brief. Your critique of GEB vis parallel noisiness and the realities of what we know about the neural substrate of cognitive processes doesn’t really address Hofstadter’s focus in the book; he’s coming at the question from the other way: can symbolic processing give rise to self-awareness and what are the implications of symbolic processes making self-representations?

    Oh, and I read the piece at your link, and while I think there are some serious issues at least competently addressed there, Harnad finds no support with this, and it’s always dismaying to me to see Searle’s Chinese Room trotted out like this, uncritically:

    Searle’s simple demonstration that this cannot be so consists of imagining himself doing everything the computer does — receiving the Chinese input symbols, manipulating them purely on the basis of their shape (in accordance with (1) to (8) above), and finally returning the Chinese output symbols.

    The switch here comes at “[Searle] imagining himself doing everything the computer does.” He does no such thing. In fact, the whole set-up serves to highlight precisely Searle’s inability to imagine the scope of the problem, or his unwillingness to invite his reader to do so. The putative agent inside the room can only assign symbols to their “slots” (or whatever) by consulting some kind of look-up table. The claim depends on our willingness to ignore the truly vast complexity of any system that could perform as the stated system can: it acts, linguistically, in a manner indistinguishable from that of a native speaker of Chinese. Forever. In response to any conceiveable utterance. Searle has presented this and then essentially asked us not to imagine it.

    It is evident that Searle (who knows no Chinese) would not be understanding Chinese under those conditions — hence neither could the computer.

    The blatant misdirection should be obvious, but, incomprehensible as it is to me, fine minds, better than mine at least, are taken in.

    Finally, Tulse:
    That is, symbolic processing doesn’t do anything unless you connect the symbols up to the real world in some fashion, “ground” them in some way.

    And we have a ready-made explanation right to hand, it seems to me. Our evolutionary history here in the real world is as responsible for our symbolic processing ability as for any other human trait. Our symbols are grounded the hard way. (Lakoff’s linguistics invites a tangent here, but enough, for now. I still want to get back to qualia, but I have a feeling events may overtake the thread)

  268. #269 Tulse
    October 25, 2008

    windy:

    As I asked in #213, if the sensation never enters the “causal chain” of the brain, how come you are able to report having a subjective experience AT ALL when seeing a red light (if not the content of that experience?) If the experiences have no causal effects, what causes us to argue about them?

    I don’t know, just as I don’t know how free will is possible in a purely physical system. That’s why it’s a “hard problem”. And just arguing that sensation somehow must be causally efficacious without explaining how such a thing is even possible in a physical system doesn’t get us very far.

    Anton:

    As was pointed out previously, you can completely describe an organism’s behavior without referring to any entity above the subatomic scale. You don’t need to talk about molecules, or cells, or tissues, or organs, to have a complete causal chain. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

    First off, all of that higher level organization, and their functionality, is in principle derivable from the properties of the lower levels — even with emergent properties, it is not that such properties are somehow separate from the lower level properties. As an example, we can (in principle) study the emergent properties of hurricanes by simulating the activity of masses of individual atoms, and as long as we get the atomic details correct, our simulation should predict how hurricane behave. There are no “external” properties we would have to add to make our simulation work correctly. This would of course be a hugely cumbersome way to predict hurricane behaviour, but it is in principle possible.

    Likewise, although organs and organisms exist, their properties (however emergent) are ultimately the result of the properties of atoms (or subatomic particles, if you want to go there). It is far more convenient for us to do causal stories using larger chunks of matter than subatomic particles, but ultimately there are no properties that organisms have that aren’t predictable (no matter how difficult that prediction) from their smallest constituent parts.

    But subjectivity doesn’t seem to be like that — it seems to be a property that isn’t necessary to tell the causal story, and one that isn’t predictable from material causation.

    Secondly, all of those things you list are objectively observable — any third-party observer can see how they interact with the rest of the physical universe. The whole point of subjectivity is that it isn’t observable — all that can be seen is behaviour.

  269. #270 Anton Mates
    October 25, 2008

    First off, I think it is extremely doubtful that the brain is doing symbolic computation, at least as it is traditionally conceived — it is a highly parallel, rather messy biological system, not a serial Turing machine.

    So far as I know, parallelism alone doesn’t keep the brain from behaving as a Turing machine, at least over a finite span of time. (A parallel Turing machine is equivalent to a normal one if the speeds of its component machines have computable ratios–but the computable numbers are dense, so a parallel Turing machine with any processing speed ratios can be perfectly simulated over a finite timespan.)

  270. #271 windy
    October 25, 2008

    The same could be said for the existence of free will — we must have something in us that lets us transcend our purely physical nature and be more than just biological machines, because we couldn’t argue about free will, right?
    I think I have free will, and it sure does seem like my subjective experiences control my behaviour, but I don’t think there is room in materialism (as currently conceived) for either conclusion. (Just to be clear, invoking a sky daddy doesn’t offer a solution to either problem.)

    Argh. I am not aware that anyone has suggested an epiphenomenal free will, separate from the material but not affecting anything causally. In contrast you seem to be arguing for epiphenomenal subjective experiences. However that’s NOT a solution to why subjective experiences have anything to do with your actions at all!

    So I think it is profoundly useful to look at these non-human examples, and wonder at what point, if ever, a chatbot becomes “conscious”.

    It’s useful when you want to sidetrack the issue, at least.

    I am asking if you believe that you are telling us the truth about having subjective experiences.

    Of course I believe I have subjective experiences — it’s the only thing I can be certain is true. That’s not in dispute — the issue is how that is possible within a purely physicalist framework.

    I didn’t ask simply if you believe you have them. I asked whether your beliefs affect what you are TELLING us about them. At some point your physical brain arrived at the idea that ‘red’ appears to be associated with a particular subjective experience and communicated this finding to us via physical nerves, physical fingers, physical keyboard etc.

    If subjective experience never enters the “chain”, your body appears to be a fully functional zombie capable of spinning stories to us about ‘Tulse’s’ subjective experiences without having any input from these experiences. And this amazing coincidence is perpetuated day in, day out. This is worse than just a “hard” problem, IMO.

  271. #272 Pat
    October 25, 2008

    Interesting: some of this conversation has me wondering if eye gave rise to brain. An eye requires more than a simple bitwise stimulus once resolution gets beyond a few pixels: persistence and change must be monitored. If the “view” changes, one can derive important information from the environment that doesn’t exist as an either-or or threshold condition, but as a temporal condition.

    The more layers of this change one could store and analyze, the more nuanced and energy conserving the response could be. More and more layers of processing, such as storing conditions and matching them where danger was great would further enhance the energy savings. It looks like one could postulate most of the early brain, aside from homeostasis, is VRAM.

    I would think humans would be one of the few that would actually have to differentiate between related and experienced “personal” memories, since most other creatures can’t communicate well enough to relate an experience with enough realism and description. The “I” of most other animals probably doesn’t have to make this distinction.

  272. #273 CJO
    October 25, 2008

    there are no properties that organisms have that aren’t predictable (no matter how difficult that prediction) from their smallest constituent parts.

    There’s equivocation here. Subjective experience, making aprehensible representations of the world (in diverse aspects and levels of complexity), is a property that (some) organisms have. Back to the analogy with hurricaines: you’re asking us to take a kind of information asymetry in the case of subjectivity (which is as real and as obvious to me as to you) that we do not have in the case of atmospheric phenomena as they relate to the physcial conditions of non-meteorolical objects. It’s tricky to formulate, but stick with me.

    I’m saying, you can derive wind speeds, surge heights, all of this, from the subatomic level “(no matter how difficult that prediction),” but if you deliberately set aside your prior knowledge of the conditions onshore, the tensile strengths of housing materials, the depth of the pilings holding up levies, you can profess ignorance about the correlation between hurricaines and Major Property Damage. It would be the “Hard Problem” of ‘why the ocean gotta be wreckin’ my shit?’

    Idunno, man. The old arguments aren’t finding any traction. I’m getting experimental.

  273. #274 windy
    October 25, 2008

    A blog post on the problem of epiphenomenalism and zombies.

  274. #275 Anton Mates
    October 25, 2008

    Tulse,

    Likewise, although organs and organisms exist, their properties (however emergent) are ultimately the result of the properties of atoms (or subatomic particles, if you want to go there). It is far more convenient for us to do causal stories using larger chunks of matter than subatomic particles, but ultimately there are no properties that organisms have that aren’t predictable (no matter how difficult that prediction) from their smallest constituent parts.

    Yes, exactly.

    But subjectivity doesn’t seem to be like that — it seems to be a property that isn’t necessary to tell the causal story, and one that isn’t predictable from material causation.

    …really? You don’t think it’s possible to predict what a person will experience if you know enough about how their brain works? I would think the entirety of neurology argues against you there–we can make all sorts of predictions about what happens to a person’s mind if we poke their brain in the right way. If you’re worried about subjectivity, I can even make predictions about what will happen to my own mind if I, say, dose my brain with a particular chemical. Then I can verify those predictions directly.

    What’s your evidence against the predictability of the mind?

    Secondly, all of those things you list are objectively observable — any third-party observer can see how they interact with the rest of the physical universe. The whole point of subjectivity is that it isn’t observable — all that can be seen is behaviour.

    And why doesn’t a sufficiently exhaustive observation of your behaviour equate to, or include, an observation of your subjective experience? This seems to me to be begging the question.

    Certainly, when I observe you, I don’t share your exact experience of observing yourself…but that’s true of observation in general. Systems generally don’t look the same when observed from two different perspectives.

  275. #276 Gibbon
    October 25, 2008

    I knew. I bloody knew it. That neuroscience would eventually become a concern for the creationists is no surprise; reducing the mind to functions of the brain is after all, a greater threat to Western religion than any other science.

    And since they believe in dualism, does that mean these lunatics believe that safety helmets are unnecessary in any situation? That one can take a severe knock to the head without suffering even the slightest change to their mind? How do these morons explain amnesia? What about Alien Hand syndrome? Anosognosia? Capgras syndrome? If they believe the mind is separate from the brain, how do they propose curing Alzheimer’s? Do they believe that Alzheimer’s is even a problem?

    Does this mean that creationists are now going to ally themselves with the scientologists? I would even be interested in what the creationist position on artificial intelligence is.

    The creationist wackos have even less of a chance of success against neuroscience than they do against evolution.

    Interestingly though, in advocating dualism these idiots can suddenly become materialists in an unexpected way. If a person could be teleported, then the person reconstituted at the destination would only be a clone according to dualism, since that immaterial essence, the soul, could not be teleported. (The dualist would have to believe that since the person is materially dead then that is it, and any replica would be a soulless clone). And it becomes all the more interesting in that anyone who believes the opposite of dualism is suddenly able to believe in life after bodily death, since a person could be brought back to life by the recreation of every part of their material self.

  276. #277 Anton Mates
    October 25, 2008

    Certainly, when I observe you, I don’t share your exact experience of observing yourself…but that’s true of observation in general. Systems generally don’t look the same when observed from two different perspectives.

    To expand on this, Tulse, you said earlier that

    Subjective experiences, or more specifically, qualia, are, first off, subjective — unlike all other physical phenomena, they can only be observed directly by the experiencer. Others may be able to see the physical effects associated with my subjective experience (for example, a part of my brain may show activity), but only I can actually experience them.

    But experience and observation are not the same thing. If you wish to observe the explosion of a nuclear bomb, you don’t have to explode in order to do so. Indeed, no one has ever had such an experience…and survived to reflect upon it, anyway. Yet lots of living people have observed nuclear explosions.

    So why should it be necessary to experience someone else’s sensations/feelings/thoughts/qualia in order to observe them?

  277. #278 Anton Mates
    October 25, 2008

    But experience and observation are not the same thing.

    And to expand on that a little…

    In fact, no observation of the external world involves direct experience. When I look at a brick, or an electron, or the sun, I am not experiencing what it’s like to be a brick or an electron or the sun. So your objection doesn’t really imply anything special about qualia, as opposed to other properties. I may not be able to experience your happiness, but I really can’t experience an electron’s state-of-being-spin-down.

    If anything, I have a better chance of accurately imagining what it’s like to be Tulse, than what it’s like to be an electron.

  278. #279 John Morales
    October 25, 2008

    Gibbon,

    And since they believe in dualism, does that mean these lunatics believe that safety helmets are unnecessary in any situation? That one can take a severe knock to the head without suffering even the slightest change to their mind? [etc]

    I’ve had this discussion with a dualist friend before, and the explanation provided went along the lines of: the brain was like a car, the soul was like the driver, and the mind was like a car being driven. If the car is damaged, then of course it will not drive well, though the driver is uninjured; enough damage, and it will not drive at all.

  279. #280 Blake Stacey
    October 25, 2008

    Consider the Blue Brain project: a simulation of 10,000 physiologically and biochemically realistic neurons interconnected by 100 million or so synapses. Although this effort is being done on a massively multiprocessor system, the simulation could in principle be translated to a single Turing machine — one with a stupendously big region of tape in use.

    I say this could be done in principle; the salient point is that such a task would be both impractical and, by all odds, uninformative. It’d be analogous to writing a Schrödinger Equation for the wavefunction of all the particles in a cortical column — why bother? Are you just trying to hurt yourself?

  280. #281 windy
    October 26, 2008
  281. #282 Interesting Ian
    October 28, 2008

    “What Schwartz is arguing for is dualism: the idea that the mind is not the product of the activity of the brain, but is somehow generated supernaturally, with the brain being nothing but the host or receiver for the emanations of an immaterial ‘soul'”.

    Dear Mr Myers,

    Where on earth do you get your definition of dualism from? There is absolutely nothing about dualism which rules out the notion that the mind and consciousness is entirely a product of the brain.

  282. #283 truth machine, OM
    October 29, 2008

    Usually, you make some pretty damned good arguments – right now, unfortunately, you’re being a fool.

    The fool is the one who repeats her idiotic strawmen and amplifies her earlier mistakes.

  283. #284 truth machine, OM
    October 29, 2008

    Damn, man, chill out. I took a philosophy of the mind class with Dennett, and frankly I think that just about every philosopher we read in that class (Dennett included) had his head up his ass on one point or another.

    Bully for you.

    There are a lot of unwarranted and implicit assumptions made in philosophy of the mind which, no matter how brilliant the analyses are, tend to invalidate the stronger assertions made by these philosophers.

    And the same is true of you, and of Katherine. So who is silly, and who is an idiot?

  284. #285 truth machine, OM
    October 29, 2008

    Where on earth do you get your definition of dualism from? There is absolutely nothing about dualism which rules out the notion that the mind and consciousness is entirely a product of the brain.

    And black is white.

  285. #286 truth machine, OM
    October 29, 2008

    So I think it is profoundly useful to look at these non-human examples, and wonder at what point, if ever, a chatbot becomes “conscious”.

    It’s profoundly stupid to “wonder” such a thing, let alone to offer such wonderings as “profoundly useful”. Chatbots don’t “become” anything, they are simply chatbots. There isn’t even a technological evolutionary path from chatbots to conscious AIs because chatbots and AIs address quite different problems and thus use quite different technologies. Chatbots address the problem of fooling incompetent rubes and ignoramuses into thinking that they are human-like, whereas AIs address the problem of cognition and problem solving.

  286. #287 truth machine, OM
    October 29, 2008

    I didn’t ask simply if you believe you have them. I asked whether your beliefs affect what you are TELLING us about them.

    Tulse simply is not intellectually competent to understand the difference — despite it being plain as day — between the question you asked and the question he answered. I have encountered this sort of problem from him repeatedly, and his obvious muddle in confusing quite different questions and quite different concepts evidences itself in his ongoing confusion about qualia, subjective experience, etc.

  287. #288 truth machine, OM
    October 29, 2008

    it’s always dismaying to me to see Searle’s Chinese Room trotted out like this, uncritically

    No one competent accepts Searle’s Chines Room argument. Chalmers himself demolishes it in a couple of pages of “The Conscious Mind”, pointing out that it involves a serious confusion of levels. Larry Hauser wrote his thesis on the Chinese Room Argument, demonstrating that, even with the most charitable interpretation, Searle piles fallacy upon fallacy and freshman logical gaffe upon gaffe. And Hauser, Dennett and others have noted Searle’s extraordinary bad faith, simply ignoring rebuttals and continuing to claim that he proved something that he never proved.

  288. #289 truth machine, OM
    October 29, 2008

    It is evident that Searle (who knows no Chinese) would not be understanding Chinese under those conditions — hence neither could the computer.

    The blatant misdirection should be obvious, but, incomprehensible as it is to me, fine minds, better than mine at least, are taken in.

    Not much different from Ken Miller being taken in by Catholicism.

    Aside from the fact that it’s a simple fallacy of composition — what is true of Searle is not necessarily true of the computing system he is a part of — understanding is operational, not some sort of spirit essence. Just as we can tell whether someone understands English without looking inside of them, we can tell that the Chinese Room understands Chinese because … well, it understands Chinese, as demonstrated by its behavior.

  289. #290 truth machine, OM
    October 29, 2008

    Before my last comment is misconstrued, I should probably clarify that I mean to say ‘there is no reason why every organism that possesses red-perceiving cones in their eyes sees this actual particular color when they see this wavelength and not, say, infra-bleengrue or some other fictional color. That’s just a result of the fundamental forces, atoms, and evolution.

    Good grief, you think there actually is a natural entity which is “this actual particular color” and yet you call Jaegwon Kim “silly” and an “idiot”. You’re as confused as Tulse.

    There are no “actual particular colors”; there are no qualia. What there are, are perceptual spaces and relationships among their elements.

  290. #291 truth machine, OM
    October 29, 2008

    Frankly, Dennett is one of the best in the field because he talks to cognitive neuroscientists &c., so heaven forbid you give Katharine, who actually has some grounding in the empirical data on the mind, some credit for coming at the problem based on what we can find through experimentation as opposed to what we can find through introspection.

    Look, moron, I didn’t comment on Katherine’s grounding in empirical data, I commented on how stupid were her dismissals of people like Jaegwon Kim and … Descartes!! Whom she dings for formalizing dualism, as if before Descartes everyone was a materialist! Her comments were plain stupid and ignorant.

  291. #292 truth machine, OM
    October 29, 2008

    ‘Unsatisfying’ is a dangerous assertion to make, Tulse. This is how irrationality begins: an assertion doesn’t FEEL good.

    Another dumb comment from Katherine. “unsatisfying” is a motivation that drives scientists; religionists lack it, satisfying themselves with goddidit. Notably, Dawkins said that, before Darwin, one could not be an intellectually satisfied atheist. That would be a very strong incentive for someone to seek an explanation of the origin of species and everything else that was traditionally explained by goddidit — see Hume.

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