Search Results for "dualism"

May 27 2014

The Brain Is Not a Receiver

Whenever the discussion of a dualist vs materialist model of the mind comes up, one common point made to support the dualist position (that the mind is something other than or more than just the functioning of the brain) is that the brain may not be the origin of the mind, but rather is just the receiver. Often an explicit comparison is made to radios or televisions.

The brain as receiver hypothesis, however, is wholly inadequate to explain the relationship between the brain and the mind, as I will explain below.

As an example of the brain-receiver argument, David Eagleman writes in his book Incognito:

As an example, I’ll mention what I’ll call the “radio theory” of brains. Imagine that you are a Kalahari Bushman and that you stumble upon a transistor radio in the sand. You might pick it up, twiddle the knobs, and suddenly, to your surprise, hear voices streaming out of this strange little box. If you’re curious and scientifically minded, you might try to understand what is going on. You might pry off the back cover to discover a little nest of wires. Now let’s say you begin a careful, scientific study of what causes the voices. You notice that each time you pull out the green wire, the voices stop. When you put the wire back on its contact, the voices begin again. The same goes for the red wire. Yanking out the black wire causes the voices to get garbled, and removing the yellow wire reduces the volume to a whisper. You step carefully through all the combinations, and you come to a clear conclusion: the voices depend entirely on the integrity of the circuitry. Change the circuitry and you damage the voices.

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Jun 14 2013

What is Unconscious?

I recently received this question:

I heard Seth Shostak mention in one of the “Big Picture Science” podcasts, that we are unconscious when we sleep.

I disagree. This is an altered state of consciousness.

Then.. you go further…

What about a COMA? Still not truly unconscious. People have memories after they wake up of people talking to them. They just don’t know where they come from.

What about NDE’s?

C’mon… if you were truly unconscious (regardless of scientific unmeasurability of brainwave activity) , you are still either having thoughts or remembering the thoughts before you wake up.

I contend that TRUE unconsciousness is ACTUAL death. (not clinical death – a decision made by instruments) The inability to think AT ALL in any capacity as if you had never been born.

Please discuss this? Am I wrong?

I do not believe in dualism. I trust that as I lay dying, I may have experiences that feel like fantastic dreams… but when I actually die… I am dead.

If I were unconscious while sleeping… How did my alarm clock wake me up? How did my snoring wife rouse me from non REM sleep?

Michael Goff (Aka, Evil Eye)

Thanks for the question. In short – this is wrong, or at least overly simplistic to the point of effectively being wrong. The primary problem is in dealing with consciousness as a binary state, and therefore any flicker of consciousness is not “unconscious.”

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May 16 2013

An Interview with Don McLeroy, Part III

This week I am posting a discussion with Don McLeroy, a young Earth creationist and former chairman of the Texas Board of Education during the recent controversy over the science textbook standards. This is a follow up to an interview I did with him on the SGU.

Don has been traveling a bit this week, so our e-mail conversation has been slow, but we have had a few exchanges. For today’s post I want to simply reprint that exchange and then add a few thoughts, before I go onto new territory, which I will do in tomorrow’s post.

Here is Don’s response to my prior posts:

Steven,

I do have time for one reply.

First, you keep bringing up creationism while I do not; I am only discussing the evidence for evolution–the idea that all life is descended from a common ancestor as a result of unguided natural processes.

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Jan 29 2013

Bigfoot Skeptics, New Atheists, Politics and Religion

Published by under Skepticism

The skeptical movement is having some (charitably characterized) growing pains. It’s nothing new, actually. Ever since I have been involved in organized skepticism (about 17 years) we have been struggling with the exact same identity crisis, and from speaking with older skeptics it seems much longer than that.

What is the skeptical community all about? What are the limits, if any, of skeptical analysis? What should be our goals, and our main focus of attention? There is also an even deeper question – are we, in fact, a movement at all?

These are all interesting and important questions. Recently PZ Myers wrote a brief but provocative blog post addressing some of these questions, which in turn was a response to a longer blog post at Grime and Reason. These posts reflect some common themes that crop up in this discussion, namely that skeptics should address more political, social, and religious issues. This position is nothing new – Paul Kurtz wrote about this years ago, arguing for “free inquiry in every area of human interest.”

At the other end of the spectrum are those like Daniel Loxton who feel that the skeptical movement is best served if we focus on the basics that have defined us as a movement – the scientific analysis of fringe claims.

Before I specifically address some of PZ’s points, let me just lay out my own position. I do think, first of all, that the skeptical movement is a movement. We have organizations, outlets, meetings, activists, and our own subculture. However, we are a movement of people who generally do not like labels, are very protective of their intellectual independence, and do not like, ironically, belonging to movements. Further, skeptics represent a wide diversity of backgrounds and opinions on many topics.

What we are discussing now (and always have) is  – what is the intellectual core of skepticism?

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Jun 28 2012

Anti-Science as a Political Platform

This came to my attention through Orac at Respectful Insolence and I thought I would pig-pile on – the platform of the Texas Republican party. Mine is not a political blog and I will try to refrain from expressing any purely political opinion. Rather I do often address the science that informs politics and the intrusion of politics into science or the denial of science by political activists – all of which is evident in the platform.

Orac does his usual great job of addressing the evolution denial, anti-vaccine sentiments, and promotion of alternative medicine in the platform. Unfortunately, promoters of unscientific medicine and opponents of science-based medicine find allies on both sides of the political aisle. On the left they tend to appeal to anti-corporate and new age sentiments. On the right it’s all about freedom – health care freedom, freedom from mandates, and freedom from regulation. The platform specifically opposes regulation of vitamins and supplements, stating: “We support the rights of all adults to their choice of nutritional products, and alternative health care choices.”

I have written about the health care freedom movement before.  Essentially it is an attempt to undermine rational and reasonable measures to establish a minimum standard of care in medicine. You can’t have a standard without some criteria and some method of enforcing the criteria. The current standard is largely science-based, transparent, and fair, but proponents of unscientific methods that fall below the reasonable standard want to abolish it so they will be free to practice witchcraft as medicine. Health care freedom is presented as consumer freedom, but it is really anti-consumer and all about the freedom to sell pseudoscience and bad medicine.

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May 17 2012

What Is Consciousness? Another Reply to Kastrup

Published by under Neuroscience

I hadn’t planned for this topic to take over my blog this week, but it happens. Judging by the comments there is significant interest in the issue of consciousness, and Kastrup and I are just getting to the real nub of the argument. So here is another installment – a reply to Kastrup’s latest offering. First, however, some background.

Materialism, Dualism, and Idealism

Philosophers of mind, such as David Chalmers, now recognize three general approaches to the question – what is consciousness? Materialism is the view that the mind is what the brain does. This is often stated as the mind is caused by the brain. Some commenters took exception to this phrase, saying it implies a dualist position, that the mind is its own thing,  but I disagree. The brain is the physical substance, while the mind or consciousness is a process that emerges from the brain. A dead or deeply comatose brain has no mind, so they are manifestly not the same thing. Language here is a bit imprecise, but I think the phrase – the brain causes the mind – is an acceptable short hand for the materialist position.

Dualism is the position that consciousness is something separate from the brain and not entirely caused by it. It may be a separate property of the universe (property dualism) or be something beyond the confines of our material universe. Whatever it is, it does not reduce to the firing of neurons in the brain, which cannot, in the opinion of dualists, explain subjective experience.

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May 16 2012

Kastrup Responds

Published by under Neuroscience

Yesterday I wrote a reply to a science blogger, Bernardo Kastrup, who wrote a critique of an earlier blog post of mine. He has now written a reply to my reply. I find these blog discussions very useful – each side can take their time to compose their argument and we can usually get down to the key issues.  They can also be fun.

Kastrup begins, unfortunately, with a bit of whining.

While I appreciate his having taken the time to reply, I am also somewhat surprised by the sheer amount of space he dedicates to ad homenen attacks on me, which dilutes his argument and the quality of the debate.

Sure, I got a bit snarky in my reply, but I will point out that my criticisms were all valid. Also my two sharpest barbs were direct quotes from Kastrup against me. It’s bad form, in my opinion, to open up a debate with personal attacks and then whine when you get the exact same thing back.  But fine – let’s get past that and focus on the substance of the discussion. His next point, however, is also about form. He writes:

This is correct. So let me take the opportunity to be explicit: I only read the post that was forwarded to me, and my comments were based on that alone. If Novella’s position in other posts was more nuanced, I’ve missed that, since I do not know Novella’s work.

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May 15 2012

Another Blogger Jumps Into the Dualism Fray

Published by under Neuroscience

It has been a while since I wrote about dualism – the notion that the mind is something more than the functioning of the brain. Previously I had a blog duel about dualism with creationist neurosurgeon, Michael Egnor. Now someone else has jumped into that discussion: blogger, author, and computer engineer Bernardo Kastrup has taken me on directly. The result is a confused and poorly argued piece all too typical of metaphysical apologists.

Kastrup’s major malfunction is to create a straw man of my position and then proceed to argue against that. He so blatantly misrepresents my position, in fact, that I have to wonder if he has serious problems with reading comprehension or is just so blinkered by his ideology that he cannot think straight (of course, these options are not mutually exclusive). I further think that he probably just read one blog post in the long chain of my posts about dualism and so did not make a sufficient effort to actually understand my position.

Kastrup is responding specifically to this blog post by me, a response to one by Egnor. Kastrups begins with this summary:

I found it to contain a mildly interesting but otherwise trite, superficial, and fallacious argument. Novella’s main point seems to be that correlation suffices to establish causation. He claims that Egnor denies that neuroscience has found sufficient correlation between brain states and mind states because subjective mind states cannot be measured.

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Aug 09 2011

Still More Misdirection and Illogic from Egnor

Michael Egnor has responded to my prior post in which I outlined his numerous failings in logic and misrepresentations of neuroscience. His response continues to be incoherent, but does offer some further teaching points.

One of the main points of contention is this – what can we infer from the relationship between damage to the brain and resulting neurological signs and symptoms. My position is that, if the mind is entirely caused by the functioning of the brain, then damage to the brain will damage the mind. I maintain that this is true, as far as we can tell from our current technology and understanding of neuroscience.

Egnor maintains that this is not true – that the relationship is “not the least bit predictable.” Further, that this lack of total correlation is evidence for dualism, that the mind is produced, at least in part, by something immaterial. There are both factual and logical problems with his position. To my criticism of his claims, he writes:

Mental deficits – specific defects in reasoning, judgement, planning, memory– are highly variable. One cannot look at a CT scan done after a head injury and predict with any certainty that ‘this person will have an inability to remember numbers’. High level mental function localizes very poorly to specific brain regions. This is odd, if, as Novella claims, the material brain is entirely the cause of all mental function.

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Aug 05 2011

The Motivated Reasoning of Egnorance

Published by under Neuroscience

If you want to see many examples of motivated reasoning, pay a visit to Michael Egnor’s blog, Egnorance. He’s the evolution-denying neurosurgeon that I have sparred with over the last few years, mostly about evolution and dualism. Motivated reasoning is what most people do most of the time – start with a desired conclusion and then find reasons to support it (humans are very good at that). However, the whole point of philosophy is to rise above this tendency and follow strict rules of logic, while the point of science is similar but also to follow the evidence. Egnor can’t seem to do either, as he rants against non-believers, misinterprets study after study, and attacks those who do not share his particular faith.

A few weeks ago he wrote a response to a blog post of mine about materialism. This is familiar ground, but he does nicely reveal his tactics in the article so I thought I should eventually respond. He starts by misrepresenting the very topic of the discussion:

He put together six assertions that he claims are proven scientifically and thus prove his theory that the mind is caused entirely by the brain.

The materialist theory of mind is not my theory – it is the overwhelming consensus of neuroscientists and the result of over a century of research. But Egnor would have his readers believe it is my own quirky “bizarre” theory. This is, of course, nonsense. It is Egnor who is out on the fringe of neuroscience with his antiquated dualist beliefs. But far more important are the actual arguments themselves (I make this point mainly to demonstrate how Egnor constantly rewrites reality).

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