Search Results for "dualism"

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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44 responses so far

Jun 13 2008

B. Alan Wallace and Buddhist Dualism

Published by under Uncategorized

Previously I have discussed, largely in the context of an ongoing debate, the notion of cartesian dualism – the belief that consciousness is due, in part or whole, to a non-physical cause separate from the brain. (I hold the neuroscientific view that consciousness is brain function.) This form of cartesian dualism seems to be favored by Western dualists, like Michael Egnor from the Discovery Institute.

There are other forms of dualism as well. David Chalmers, a philosopher of consciousness, holds what he calls naturalistic dualism – that the brain causes mind but consciousness cannot be reduced to brain function. There therefore must be some higher-order (but still entirely naturalistic) process going on. This view is opposed by other philosophers, like Daniel Dennett, who believe no such higher order process need be invoked. Consciousness can be understood as an emergent property of brain function (the position I find most compelling).

Today I want to discuss the dualism of B. Alan Wallace, a former Buddhist monk. I interviewed Alan about a year ago for the SGU podcast and it was an interesting discussion. He is quite a prolific writer on the topic of science, Buddhism, and dualism – so in addition to the interview there is no shortage of material explaining his views.

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34 responses so far

Jun 10 2008

Ether of the Mind: Chalmers and Dennett on Dualism

Published by under Skepticism

Consciousness is undoubtedly one of the most complex and interesting phenomena in the universe. Wrapping our minds around the concept of mind has vexed philosophers and scientists for centuries – perhaps because it is the task of the brain trying to understand itself. This has led to many theories and bizarre beliefs about consciousness – that it is non-physical, that it is due to quantum weirdness, or that it requires new laws of nature to explain. And yet modern philosophers and neuroscientists are increasingly of the opinion that perhaps it’s not such a hard problem after all. Perhaps the real trick is realizing that it’s not even a problem at all.

Yesterday I wrote my most recent reply to Michael Egnor’s rather lame attempt at defending what is called cartesian dualism – the notion that consciousness requires the addition of something non-physical. Ironically he invoked the writings of David Chalmers to his cause, not realizing (or not caring) that Chalmers is a harsh critic of cartesian dualism and rather supports what he calls “naturalistic dualism.” Chalmers believes that the “something extra” required to explain consciousness is a new law of nature, not a non-physical spiritus.

Today I will discuss Chalmers’ proposed solution (actually he points the way to a solution but acknowledges he does not yet have one) and its major critic, Daniel Dennett.

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36 responses so far

Jun 09 2008

Michael Egnor, Cartesian Dualism, David Chalmers, and the Hard (non)Problem

Published by under Uncategorized

I’m assuming my readers are enjoying reading a debate about neuroscience and dualism between a creationist neurosurgeon and a skeptical neurologist. I hope you are enjoying reading it at least as much as I am writing it. One of the best ways to learn about a topic is to confront your own misconceptions about it or those of others. I have therefore found this ongoing debate between Dr. Egnor and myself to be quite instructive.

Dr. Egnor has issued his latest response, and it is chock-full of instructive misconceptions and misrepresentations. The debate is about a particular version of dualism, which Egnor defends, that states that the functioning of the brain does not and cannot account for everything we observe and experience as our mental selves – consciousness. Therefore something else is needed – something not physical, spiritual if you will. I take the materialist neuroscientific position – that the brain is a completely adequate explanation for consciousness and so far the evidence points consistently in that direction. Further – Egnor’s version of dualism (and perhaps all versions of dualism – more on that later) in fact add nothing to our ability to explain consciousness, in precisely the same way that Intelligent Design adds nothing to our ability to explain the diversity of life.

Confused About Chalmers

Egnor builds his latest blog entry, The Hard and Easy Problems in the Mind-Brain Question, around philosopher David Chalmers. If one relied upon Egnor’s article to understand the dualism debate or David Chalmer’s position in it, this would lead only to profound confusion. Egnor writes:

David Chalmers, a leading philosopher of the mind and a particularly lucid thinker on the matter of consciousness, published a paper in the Journal of Consciousness Studies in 1995 entitled “Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness.” This seminal paper has given rise to much debate, and I believe that Chalmers clarifies the issues in the mind-brain debate in a very important way.

Chalmers, who is probably best described as a property dualist, notes:

Consciousness poses the most baffling problems in the science of the mind. There is nothing that we know more intimately than conscious experience, but there is nothing that is harder to explain. All sorts of mental phenomena have yielded to scientific investigation in recent years, but consciousness has stubbornly resisted. Many have tried to explain it, but the explanations always seem to fall short of the target. Some have been led to suppose that the problem is intractable, and that no good explanation can be given.

Egnor makes it sound as if Chalmers is defending his position, but he isn’t. Egnor notes that Chalmers would be considered a property dualist, but he does not define property dualism nor explain how it is related to the version of dualism Egnor promotes – Cartesian Dualism. Cartesian dualism, named after Rene Descartes, holds that mind substance is something different than brain substance or physical matter. The mind (at least part of it – that part that cannot currently be reliably measured by science – i.e. god-of-the-gaps) is non-materialist – not matter, and cannot be fully explained by matter.

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27 responses so far

Dec 03 2007

More on Dualism and Denial

Last week I wrote about dualism – the philosophical position that the mind is somehow more than or separate from the biological activity of the brain. I argued that dualists commit the same error in thinking as creationists when they doubt the causal relationship between brain an mind because we cannot fully explain how the brain causes mind, not recognizing that this is a separate question from does the brain cause the mind. In the same way creationists confuse scientific knowledge concerning how evolution works with the evidence for the fact of evolution. We can know that life evolved without knowing all the details of how, just as we can know that the mind is a manifestation of brain function without knowing all the details of how brain function creates the experience of mind.

In response to this post The Agnostic Blogger wrote this response. In it he writes:

Simply put, he does not understand the dualist’s position. The dualist usually begins with an assumption- the mind exists. Now, this mind displays properties that are unlike physical entities- rationality, volition, awareness. Furthermore, science has not found a neural correlate for consciousness, and it is very possible that they never will. And it is the dualists that are being unskeptical?

It is true that I have never separated out the various forms of philosophical dualism. I am not a philosopher and when I discuss philosophy it is only to the extent that it intersects science, as the question of dualism certainly does. Further, I am interested in how critics of science use philosophy, which often reveals how philosophy has trickled down to the popular culture. Interestingly, while taking me to task for not distinguishing various types of dualism the Agnostic Blogger carelessly uses the phrase “the dualist’s position” – let us, rather, agree that there is a spectrum of dualist positions.

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21 responses so far

Jun 15 2007

More Dualism Nonsense from Michael Egnor

Michael Egnor is a neurosurgeon who has been shilling for the Discovery Institute – an intelligent design (ID) propaganda organization that smilingly sells itself as a “think tank” or research organization. I have had some fun picking apart his ridiculous mental shenanigans in his attempts to defend ID. Most recently he has taken to defending dualism – the notion that the mind and the brain are separate things – and attacking strict neuroscience materialism. His arguments are reassuringly childish, even silly. He has lowered the intellectual bar further with his latest entry – this time replying to critics of his previous piece.

The core of the article is a response to PZ Meyers’ analysis of Egnor’s prior argument that altruism has no location. Meyers responded that altruism does have a location – in the brain. Egnor quotes Meyers thusly:

“His altruism does have a location. It’s the product of activity in his brain. Where else would it be, floating in the air, in his left foot, or nonexistent?”

Egnor grossly misinterprets this quote from Meyers. Whether the misinterpretation was deliberate or just intellectually sloppy I will leave up to the reader to decide, but not far down Meyers made another statement that clearly shows what he meant:

“We also know that a sense of altruism is generated by patterns of electrical and chemical activity in a material brain; modify the patterns, change the feeling or action.”

But Egnor distorts Meyer’s quote into a straw man that he then props up to represent the materialist position. Egnor now write:

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

Egnor expands on this theme that altruism has no physical location, while the brain does. Therefore the brain cannot be or cause altruism, by which he means the mind. Therefore the mind is not the product of the material brain, therefore it is spiritual – and you have dualism.

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May 31 2016

Postdictive Illusion of Choice

Published by under Neuroscience

fmri brainDo we truly have free will? This is a vexing question, and as with the question of consciousness, there are complementary philosophical and neuroscientific approaches. Philosophy gives thoughtful possible answers given what we know, but neuroscience advances what we know.

As I have discussed many times before, the totality of neuroscientific evidence strongly supports the conclusion that consciousness is a phenomenon of brain function. Dualist philosophies, those that posit that consciousness is anything other than or in addition to brain function, are simply trumped by the scientific evidence.

Free will, however, is a thornier question and more entangled with the philosophy. There are those who maintain that free will is entirely an illusion, because our brains are machines so they must follow physical laws which determine their behavior, hence our behavior, therefore no true free will. While I do not think this can reasonably be refuted, some think the real question is whether or not we make choices. If we do, whether or not those choices are free from physics, then perhaps that can be considered a form of free will.

Putting aside the philosophical question here, the neuroscientific question is this – to what extent do we make conscious choices vs subconscious choices?

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160 responses so far

Sep 21 2015

44 Reasons Creationists Are Deceptive

Published by under Skepticism

Part I: Transitional Fossils

Creationists are an endless source of material for skeptical analysis. The reason for this is that modern creationism is what I call “sophisticated nonsense.” It is an elaborate system of motivated reasoning crafted to defend a particular religious view.

The energy, time, and resources that some creationists put into this endeavor is astounding, resulting in a mountain of false claims, half-truths, misdirections, unsound arguments, and misinterpretations.

Creationists are engaged in science denial – denying evolutionary science. The purpose of denial is doubt and confusion, so they don’t have to create and defend a coherent explanation of the origins of life on Earth. They don’t have to provide an explanation for all the available evidence. All they have to do is muddy the waters as much as possible.

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33 responses so far

Jun 29 2015

Drinking the “Integrative” Kool-Aid at the Atlantic

A recent article at the Atlantic by Jennie Rothenberg Gritzi demonstrates just how thoroughly the alternative medicine movement (I will refer to this as CAM) has been able to influence the cultural conversation over the practice of medicine.  This is great evidence of how successful a persistent marketing campaign can be.

Gritzi relates early on in the article that she was predisposed to CAM from a young age, which might explain her journalistic failures in this piece.  She writes:

After visiting the NIH center and talking to leading integrative physicians, I can say pretty definitively that integrative health is not just another name for alternative medicine.

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6 responses so far

Jan 12 2015

Another Salvo in the Mammoth Extinction Controversy

Published by under General Science

There are many enduring controversies within science, and they are fun to follow. There are raging debates about the so-called Hobbit or Homo floresiensis, is it a new species or a diseased human? You may be surprised to hear that there is still a controversy over whether or not the dinosaur extinction was due to a meteor impact or other terrestrial factors (although I think this one is heavily tilting toward the impact theory).

One controversy I have been following, here and on the SGU, concerns the Young Dryas and whether or not the cooling characteristic of that period was due to melting glaciers or a local comet impact.

Such controversies always raise a few general issues for me. The first is how the mainstream media covers them, which I always find disappointing. Properly covering genuine scientific controversies is challenging, but that is what science journalists are supposed to do. What I find is that they tend to present each new study in the debate as if it is definitive and has ended the debate, rather than putting it into the proper context of the ongoing controversy.

Another common mistake is to rely on one expert rather than getting a reasonable sample. They tend to weight the story toward the side of the expert on which they relied, and maybe provide only token coverage of other views. There is also, of course, the issue of proper balance. Reporting should reflect the balance of opinion in the scientific community. It’s OK to present minority opinions but they should be presented as such.

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