Thursday, March 13, 2008

Rebutting Steven Novella

Dr. Steven Novella says:
if the brain causes the mind then: there will be no documented mental function in the absence of brain function; altering the brain biologically will alter the mind functionally; mental development will correlate with brain development; and mental activity will correlate with brain activity (this holds up no matter what method we use to look at brain activity - EEG to look at electrical activity, PET scanning to look at metabolic activity, SPECT scanning to look at blood flow, and functional MRI to look at metabolic and neuronal activity).

This evidence cannot be dismissed as the “easy problem” nor as mere correlation. Brain function correlates with the mind in every way we would predict from the hypothesis that the brain causes the mind. From a scientific point of view, the mind is a manifestation of the brain.

Leo- Here he says it cannot be dismisses as mere correlation but he says brain function correlates with the mind but there is another testable hypothesis that the brain filters consciousness or is the transmitter/receiver of consciousness.

As I have discussed previously, one way to dodge the obvious conclusion from this evidence is to confuse the question of how the brain causes the mind with the question of does the brain cause the mind. We certainly have much to learn about exactly how the brain functions to produce all mental phenomena, but this in no way diminishes the fact that the question of whether or not the brain causes the mind is settled - it does.

Leo- settled? the transmission and the production theory he cites makes pretty well the same predictions.

Here's how

The testability is related to spontaneous cases in which there is consciousness and memory while the brain could not be the source of either, such as paranormal NDEs and reincarnation type cases in young children

Dr. Egnor in his rebuttal is referring to another common fallacy used to dismiss the undeniable evidence linking brain function to mental function - retreating to philosophy, or more specifically to a conceptual realm that is not empirical and which defies common language. It is true that we lack the vocabulary necessary to define exactly what consciousness is. Egnor speaks of it as if the mind is a separate and definable thing, for example when he writes:

How can mind ‘substance’ interact with matter ‘substance’ without violating conservation laws in physics?

There is no reason to think of the mind as having “substance”, and you notice the quotations as tacit admission that this word is not adequate or accurate, but his choice is none-the-less very deliberate and meant to imply that mind has a separate existence. Yet there is no evidence to support this hypothesis.

First of all, natural laws as we define them are based on our interpretation of empirical testing and observation. Therefore, they are subject to constant change as new discoveries are found which challenge or contradict our models. Throughout history, we have constantly updated and expanded our understanding of the laws of how the universe works. In the past, it was said that things like heavier than air flight and going to the moon were impossibilities. Skeptics of those things were proven wrong of course. At one time, according to the law of aerodynamics, a hummingbird shouldn’t be able to hover, yet it did, so we had to figure out why and revise our laws of aerodynamics. When Albert Einstein discovered that light travels at a constant speed (e.g. if you’re traveling in a car and shine a flashlight forward, the car’s speed is not added to the light’s speed), and formulated his theory of relativity (time slows down as you go faster), and postulated that gravity involves distortion of space, all these things contradicted the Newtonian laws of physics at the time, yet they were eventually validated. As of now, special relativity and quantum mechanics are at odds with each other, and physicists are seeking a grand unified theory to unite them both. As history has shown, we constantly update and expand our laws of physics to fit the data, not deny the data and new discoveries just to protect our beliefs.

In fact, new discoveries in quantum physics each year are shattering the materialistic reductionist view we had of the universe, making psychic phenomena and other dimensions more plausible. These include the non-locality (meaning distance and space don’t exist) of twin particles (discovered by Alan Aspect in 1982), string theories that postulate several other dimensions beside our own, the discovery that particles behave differently when observed (making psychokinesis more probable), etc. (See Fred Alan Wolfe’s Taking the Quantum Leap and The Spiritual Universe) Each new discovery seems proves the skeptics wrong and moves us further from their views and closer to metaphysical paradigms. This is obviously not a good sign for their case. It appears that the skeptic camp is a sinking ship that one should get off to avoid embarrassment. Just the discovery alone in quantum physics that all matter is a form of vibrating energy makes paranormal and psychic phenomena much more plausible and understandable.

Materialist neuroscientists also struggle to define what the mind is in satisfying prose. Some describe the mind simply as what the brain does, or as a epiphenomenon that emerges from the collective functioning of the brain (I prefer this latter description). Still others speak of our subjective sense of consciousness as nothing more than an illusion, but I think this description, while it has merit, is more confusing than illuminating.

True because there is so much still to understand

The biggest problem with dualism is that the materialist neuroscience model explains all observed phenomena - there is nothing left for the dualists to explain. They are clinging to the notion of “qualia”, that subjectivity itself needs a separate explanation, but they have not made this case. Often they use mere semantics to make it seem as if something more is needed, but there isn’t. Further, the dualist hypothesis does not generate any hypotheses or predictions that distinguish it from the materialist hypothesis. Every prediction points to materialism as the answer.

Leo- Wrong there is overwhelming evidence from Psi, Survival of bodily death, stigmata, internal impressions etc as perfectly demonstrated in the irreducible mind book

The dualist hypothesis, which supporters put forward to fill the apparent gap of how the brain causes mind, only succeeds in replacing a non-mystery with an actual mystery. Namely, if the mind is something separate from the brain why is the correlation so strong? Why is it that any and every aspect of the mind can be altered, even eliminated, by modifying the biology, physiology, or anatomy of the brain?

Leo- The transmission theory does not ignore the strong correlation the wustion at hand is the brain producing consciousness or constraining it.

Some dualists, like B. Alan Wallace, have “solved” the problem by saying that the brain creates the mind, but that the mind, once created, is something more than the brain. The problem with this is that it is non-falsifiable, and neither Wallace nor anyone else has figured out how to test this notion. Wallace has argued, post-hoc, that the brief delay (100ms) that occurs from the moment a neuronal network fires to the report of the subject experience of it firing is evidence for the mind being separated from the brain, but this is nonsense. The delay of 100ms is simply how long it takes for nerves to conduct signals and for the brain activity to work its way to conscious awareness.

I think it is no coincidence that dualists and creationists have found common ground. Both commit these same logical errors. Intelligent design is an attempt to render evolution denial non-falsifiable, just as dualism has retreated from modern neuroscience until it has also become non-falsifiable. Both have rendered themselves not even wrong.

Le0- Intelligent design does not deny evolution it's true that there are creationists who hijack the idea of intelligent design and use the bible as proof. intelligent design says that looking at the fine tuning argument and the the intelligence in the universe that it could have not evolved by natural selection alone.


Steve Novella said...

"Leo- Here he says it cannot be dismisses as mere correlation but he says brain function correlates with the mind but there is another testable hypothesis that the brain filters consciousness or is the transmitter/receiver of consciousness."

Leo - thanks for responding to my blog post. You need to ask - how is the transmitter-receiver hypothesis testable. I don't believe you stated this in your rebuttal. If it cannot be distinguished from the brain causing mind - what good is it?

But, I think it is testable. If brain function could be shown to precede the manifestation of mind then that would support the brain causing mind and refute the transmitter hypothesis.

The evidence clearly shows this. Here is just one example from my b log this week:

Leo MacDonald said...

Hi, Steve thanks for the comment

I have read some of those studies on free will. To me they can be interpretated in more than one way.

You may be interested in this

Revolutionary findings of Nobel Laureate Roger Sperry in the area of brain science. Sperry demonstrated beyond doubt that the conscious intention to do something comes first--before the firing of the brain cells and the whole neural network connected with this human intention. Sperry specified the supplementary motor area (SMA) as the brain area that is activated first by human consciousness. These findings contradicted Sperry’s own theoretical inclinations. Originally, and for decades, Sperry had wanted to prove that brain processes create consciousness. His fact-based scientific discoveries showed otherwise. Consciousness can precede and alter brain events.

Now about the transmission theory and how it maybe tested Professor William James goes into great detail about the transmission theory here

You maybe interested to hearing what cognitive scientist Donald. D Hoffman says about materialism

Despite substantial efforts by many researchers, we still have no scientific theory of how brain activity could create or be conscious experience. This is troubling, since we have a
large body of correlations between brain activity and consciousness, correlations normally assumed to entail that brain activity creates conscios experience.

In short, the scientific study of consciousness is in the embarrassing position of
having no scientific theory of consciousness.
This remarkable situation provokes several responses. The first concludes that,
although consciousness arises naturalistically from brain activity, humans lack the
cognitive capacities required to formulate a scientific theory. As McGinn (1989) puts it,
“We know that brains are the de facto causal basis of consciousness, but we have, it
seems, no understanding whatever of how this can be so.” Pinker (1997) agrees. After
asking how conscious experience arises from physical systems he answers, “Beats the
heck out of me. I have some prejudices, but no idea of how to begin to look for a
defensible answer. And neither does anyone else. The computational theory of mind
offers no insight; neither does any finding in neuroscience, once you clear up the usual
confusion of sentience with access and self-knowledge.”

Leo MacDonald said...

It can be found here