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Ignorance is the Mother of all Religions

Posted by JGJ on Thursday, April 27, 2006 | Permalink
 

I am reminded of a story one of my professors in college told. The story was about the power of the imagination exhibited by a little girl at play. She and her parents were on their vacation and one night at a hotel and the little girl was craving something to do. Her father retrieved three matches from the book in the ashtray near the bed and told her to use her imagination. The little girl played with them for a little while reenacting the story of Hansel and Gretal. It was not long before the little girl screamed and started crying. When her father asked what was wrong she held up one of the matches and said the witch had frightened her and she didn't want to play with that match anymore.

It is remarkable what one's imagination can do, especially in children or those with limited capacity. I have seen how capacity can be limited by lack of education or simple ignorance even in myself. Take the human body for an example. For a long time people believed, and some still do, that the simplest act of human machination or operation is a miracle. It is ignorance of physiology that creates the miracle. The same goes for natural phenomena such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and lighting and sometimes they are still thought to be caused by a deity when we can explain these things through plate tectonics and the gravitational effects of the sun and moon on the earth's crust, patterns of oceanic currents of warm and cold water, and electro-static dishcharge caused by the friction of clouds. Take a plastic fork and rub it on your hair and let a slow thin stream of water come out of the faucet and hold the fork near the stream. The path of the water will bend towards the fork. Is that magic? Am I god for being able to move water without any visible explanation? Not too long ago I would have been.

It is well known that the Ancient Greeks revered their heroes and legends. In Greece we found something interesting. Elephant bones that were re-buried in the form of giant men. An elephant skeleton reformed in the shape of a man would give the impression of a giant with one eye socket where the elephants trunk would be. Could this be a Cyclops? In China, bones have been found of dinosaurs, could these be the Chinese dragon? In every good lie there is a hint of truth and sometimes the unexplained and mysterious are explained through myth. Paleontologists find dinosaurs, this does not mean that people a thousand years ago did not as well. It is not new science that we have today, it is just not as crowded with religious ignorance as it used to be. Consider the elephant/Cyclops when you read the Genesis account for the Nephalim, or Leviathan. Imagine what the imagination can do with fossils exposed by the elements of no living creature that is seen today and when found by ignorant shepherds and tribesman 5000 years ago! Now imagine the stories that could be spun through the centuries from these accounts to explain what, and sometimes why, they are there.

From the time we are children we have always asked questions. Why is the sky blue? Where did we come from? Religions have always attempted to answer these questions and usually through ignorance until they are faced with irrefutable proof. The world is flat, the Sun revolves around the Earth, and the Earth is the center of the Universe were all once believed to be universal truths in religion that were infallible. People were imprisoned for thinking otherwise. Every time science shoots a hole into ignorant religious beliefs the religious either deny it outright, make up excuses and in the case of apologists today they adapt the science to explain the religion. Infallibility is consistency with truth and only religion claims infallibility.

Comments [ hide comments ]
very good article and good at pointing out the fact that the only way you can answer the questions you ask is by finding the logical not illogical way (example: religions)
cgarlen, 28.04.2006, 11:32pm #
Fair criticism of religion perhaps.

But what about science?

Science began by telling us everything was made of matter.

It began by telling us space and time were Euclidean.

It began by telling us that there was one universe and it was infinite.

All these propositions of science have been found wanting. Most were always denied by religion.

No doubt some lame-brain will at this point pipe up and say that the difference between religion and science is that the latter are prepared to accept their mistakes.

Well the Pope has apologised for anti-semitism and the inquisition.
Apology is not the preserve of science.

The point is that when it comes to the big questions of life - what and who are we/where did the cosmos come from/what is the nature of reality etc etc science offers bogus answers and religion has every much a right as science to answer these questions.

In terms of our personal identity I think religion has clearly been much clsoer to the truth. Anyone who thinks about consciousness for any length of time soon sees it is ridiculous to try and claim this is part of our four dimensional world. It is clearly much more like the "soul/spirit" of religion.
field, 29.04.2006, 2:27pm #
" ... the latter are prepared to accept their mistakes" - and learn from them, and progress.
And anyway, "Science is bullshit!" is a crap name for a website!
Tim, 29.04.2006, 4:21pm #
Field,
Science is a lot different than it was 100 years ago, even 50 years ago. In science, a theory is a proposed model, explanation or description of the manner of interaction of a set of natural phenomena, capable of predicting future occurences or observations of the same kind, and capable of being tested through experiment or otherwise verified through empirical observation. It follows from this that for scientists "theory" and "fact" do not necessarily stand in opposition. (Wikipedia)

What is there about relgion that can be tested and proved correct? Nothing. It is based soley upon faith.

"No doubt some lame-brain will at this point pipe up and say that the difference between religion and science is that the latter are prepared to accept their mistakes. Well the Pope has apologised for anti-semitism and the inquisition.
Apology is not the preserve of science."

This is the actions of its followers and not the meat of religious beliefs, ie the world is flat, it is the center of the solar system, etc. Science can be criticized as well, historically. But we have moved passed the days where someone shouts an idea and everyone accepts it like religion does.
JGJ, 29.04.2006, 7:43pm #
"The point is that when it comes to the big questions of life - what and who are we/where did the cosmos come from/what is the nature of reality etc etc science offers bogus answers and religion has every much a right as science to answer these questions."

The difference is that scientists attempt to find the answers based on observable phoenomena, not oral tradition and myth.

What's more likely to you?

1. Based on the observable evidence, species change over time and man may have evolved from lower primates.

2. Based on the fact that someone else told you so, because he hasn't bothered to show himself in any verifiable manner, God made us from mud in one day and every human being on this earth is the offspring of adam and eve. If that were true, we'd all be three-legged retards since we'd all be too deeply inbred to be fully functional humans.

The fact is, no one knows for fact where the universe began and no one knows where it will end. Pay your taxes, raise your kids, beware of right-wing republican crusaders who start wars against make-believe terrorists in the middle east to keep them from using their make-believe WMD's.
theAntiBush, 29.04.2006, 9:48pm #
"In terms of our personal identity I think religion has clearly been much clsoer to the truth. Anyone who thinks about consciousness for any length of time soon sees it is ridiculous to try and claim this is part of our four dimensional world. It is clearly much more like the "soul/spirit" of religion."

So you're saying that when I want to play Halo2 my soul, currently residing in a dimension unknown to us, tells my brain to tell my hands to grab a controller and commence the slaughter?

Your statement is only true if you ignore everything we currently know about anatomy/neurology. We know FOR FACT that there are specific areas of the brain that control specific physiological, cognitive, and emotional functions. The problem is that many religious folk figure that since we cannot pinpoint one specific location for all of our consciousness, it must be a spiritual process rather than a physical one. Fact is, most evidence suggests that it takes activity from many areas of the brain working together and processing the same information at the same time to perform higher cognitive functions.

If consciousness were not a part of this dimension, why aren't neurologists scouring all the distant reaches of space/time to bring people out of comas?

I don't follow your logic.
theAntiBush, 29.04.2006, 9:58pm #
AntiBush -

I'm not sure you;ve got a grip on the problem. I'm not suggesting that neurologists search the farthest reaches of space and time for consciousness - for the very good reason that they won't find it there.

Yes, I am suggesting it is your consciousness which is directing the hand to play Halo 2. Are you claiming that you have no subjective experiences of deciding to play Halo 2. Are you claiming you are an automaton?

The fact that there are correspondences between brain activity and our subjective thoughts and feelings is no surprise but that does not mean that the latter are caused by the former. Consider this: inside your transistor radio every time a certain song is played
there will be certain "radio activity" analogous to brain activity. For every single note and phrase there will be corresponding acitvity. Does that mean that the DJ prattle and songs are being generated by the radio? No they are being generated by a radio station that could be located a thousand miles away.

So brain/mind correlations are philsophically not a surprise. The issue is the direction of causality.

We have a subjective experience that the direction of causality is from out thoughts to muscle action (via, it is reasonable to assume brain activity). So my view accords with our subjective experience. Yours does not. Yours says the subjective experience is false.
field, 30.04.2006, 5:04pm #
JGJ -

I don't accept your distinctions.

If you want to play this ridiculous game of which is more oppressive of humanity - science or religion - tehn we can play.

Has religion ever produced a devastating weapon such as the H Bomb? Has science ever spawned ideas as dangerous as those of social darwinism? Over the next 100 years which is more likely to cause the extinctino of humanity - science or religion (a close run thing I admit but it seems to me that science is more dangerous).
field, 30.04.2006, 5:08pm #
Good one Field, you totally missed what I was saying. I never said that the way science is used cannot be a danger to society. You're just making shit up as you go along. I even said that even science can be criticized for its actions. Don't forget, it was the religious who dropped H-Bomb and even asked for god's blessing while they dropped it. Guns don't kill people...
JGJ, 01.05.2006, 12:35am #
JGJ -

Twas not I who set up these ludicrous oppositions. I'm simply commenting that religion for all its faults may have a better record on some of the bigger questions and that science may be a source of tears and travail for humanity as much as religion.
field, 01.05.2006, 4:22pm #
Field,

I wasn't trying to say that subjective experiences are false at all. What I'm saying is that objective/subjective don't matter. It all stems from the same organ. I don't believe in the concept of a soul or consciousness located anywhere other than in the complex activities of our brains. That doesn't make me an automaton. It just makes me a very smart, highly evolved infinitely complex machine. Just like you. Isn't that what we really are?

Instead of grasping for the inifite we should all learn to better use what's before us. Very advanced biomechanics.
theAntiBush, 02.05.2006, 5:40am #
Amen brother AntiBush. There is no point in troubling ourselves with religious concepts of an afterlife when we can spend that time troubling ourselves with this life and making it less troublsome for everyone. Just because someone doesn't understand the brain doesn't mean it has to have some "spiritual" significance, you have grasped the meaning of my blog entry where others have failed and have tried to put words into my mouth.
JGJ, 02.05.2006, 6:14am #
Antibush -

I notice you say you "believe" that thoughts are identical with brain activity. All you are doing is asserting that it is true - in other words doing just the sort of thing you claim religious people do.

This is indeed an unsupported belief.

Where is your evidence that your subjective thoughts and feelings (the ones you are having now reading this) are located in this four dimensional universe? You have no evidence. It doesn't matter however much you point to neural activity - that is not subjective. Or if it is, then presumably you think that all sorts of biochemical activities can have subjective experiences? As you rightly say, from a physical point of view the body is just a machine. And machines don't have thoughts.

Everything in this universe must (in principle) be observeable. I can't think of anything that isn't - except that is for this one thing: our subjective experience. Name me any other phenomenon and I could say it has a spatio-temporal dimension - but this one thing does not. Don't you think that's a teeny weeny bit strange?

JGJ - Understanding or not understanding the brain is not the issue. The issue is whether we can understand the apparent difference between subjective and objective experiences. You don't have to be a brain scientist to understand this distinction. But many people seem to find it difficult. I think you do understand it. I think you just don't like some of the implications of the distinction.
field, 02.05.2006, 8:53am #
But, why do human thoughts, feelings, and conciousness have to be some mysterious 'other'? Is it because, as Homo Sapiens, with our conciousness, we have a real difficulty seeing ourselves as the fleshy bags of mostly water that we are? Surely this is just another of the handy comforts of religion, belief that part of us is somehow permanent, and trancending of death. Because we are cursed with conciousness, we have knowledge of our own inevitable mortality, and it terrifies us. The idea that we may not be special, and really are just ants on that mote of dust, disturbs us enormously.
It's not the soul that we really want to be eternal, it's the ego.
Pinchbeck, 02.05.2006, 10:53am #
Pinchbeck,

You are quite right. It is, for some, damn near unbearable to think that there isn't at least some part of us that is eternal. I can sympathize with that. How many of us can honestly say they've never dreamed of immortality? Unfortunately, we aren't built for it.

We can truly be considered very advanced automatons that grew to be even more advanced over time. We are complex machines, everyone has to accept that. Everything we do, say, or think originates in electrical, chemical, or physical processes, not metaphysics.

Basically, the computer (our brain) that controls ALL our functions has become so advanced and complex that it gained self-awareness, the ability to express that awareness, and the desire to know what happens when the physical processes end.

In that respect we are special. There's really nothing mysterious about it. It's all contained in a very neat, water-tight package.
theAntiBush, 02.05.2006, 9:31pm #
Pinchbeck/Antibush -

You aren't really following this are you?

Where have I said that this quality of consciousness is confined to humans? I don't believe it is. Quite clearly apes and dogs for examples experience subjective conscious experiences.

Also, I never said it meant there was an eternal soul, so you are quite wrong to imply I did say that.

Further I never said this consciousness was "myesterious". It is clearly the least mysterious thing there is.
field, 03.05.2006, 8:35pm #
Field,

So...um...what are you saying?
theAntiBush, 04.05.2006, 1:20am #
Defensive aren't we, Field?
I was merely commenting on the human desire to be somehow eternal, which every religion has in one form or another, and you seem to have taken it as an attack on your post. It was a generalisation.
You're not really following this, are you?
Pinchbeck, 04.05.2006, 11:01am #
I'm saying your argument - that there is no supernatural element to consciousness - is an unproven assertion that flies in the face of the facts. The facts being:

1. We have subjetive conscious experiences.

2. These experiences must be real and must exist somewhere.

3. They are not observable in the known universe.

Rather than asking echoing questions - why not try disputing these facts or my conclusions based on the evidence?
field, 04.05.2006, 3:44pm #
Pinchbeck -

Please don't add fibbing to your CV. Looking back at the posts it is clear you were responding to my post - yours came two hours after mine and starts with a "But..." It was responding specifically to what I said.

I'm not all defensive. I'm on the offensive. I'm challenging you and others to demonstrate where in the universe you can observe our subjective thoughts and experiences. You can't rise to that challenge.
field, 04.05.2006, 3:49pm #
Geez Field, I observe my thoughts the same place I observe everything else in the universe, in my own mind. I observe the sun, moon, stars, my neighbor, and my own thoughts in the same place, my own mind. My subjective thoughts are no different than anything else in the universe. It is what my brain observes. Using the intangibility of thought, because it cannot be seen and yet exists to promote your belief in a creator deity because it cannot be physically seen by others, like our own thoughts outside our own head,is ludicrous. By your logic we might as well believe in unicorns and fairies while we are at it and no matter how much you try to manipulate the paradoxes of logic, I refuse to believe in unicorns, fairies, and a creator deity.
JGJ, 04.05.2006, 3:59pm #
JGJ -

You are not making any sense.

You begin by agreeing that it is in our own mind that we observe thoughts and so on.

But you don't tell us where that mind is located. You must agree it is real. So it must have a location. Please, please, please give me SOME clue where you think this subjective experience might be located.

You then switch from talking about the mind to talking about the brain. We can all agree where that is located - in the cranium. But the brain - as you obviously realise - is not the same thing as our subjective thoughts and feelings.

It is absurd to say that my logic leads equally to belief in unicorns and fairies. There is no rational basis for a belief in such entities. But there is a solid rational basis for considering that something (too early to say a deity in my view) outside the known universe created or led to the creation of the universe. Further there is a rational basis for supposing that this something has some connection to our subjective experience since that also is not to be found in the known universe.

The first rule of any discussion about consciousness is that it is not permissible to keep jumping from talking about the mind to the brain and back to the mind. That is exactly what most scientists do and it is has no basis in rational discussion - it assumes an identity that has not been proven and exists in no other area of our experience (i.e. nowhere else is it claimed the objective is exactly the same as the subjective). If this swip-swap approach were jsutified I could say the Sun is a small yellow disc in the sky - much smaller than most clouds (because that it how I subjectively experience it). We don't accept such talk when we discuss the reality of the sun and we should not accept it when we discuss the reality of consciousness.
field, 05.05.2006, 9:05am #
Field,

The mind is located in the brain. The brain creates our subjective thoughts and feelings. The mind is the reaction to the sum of stimuli we are involved with in our environment and experiences. It is not located on some other plane, in our heart, or anywhere else other than our brain. If you take the brain out of the body, the mind goes with it. If the brain ceases to function, the mind does as well. Activity in the brain when emotions, interpretation of sensory persception, etc., takes place we can measure it with EMRI's, PET scans and a number of other diagnostic tools. It relies upon nutrients and oxygen and when you prevent the brain/mind from obtaining these essentials activity in the brain/mind stops.

Your main arguments have always been the nature of perception and reality.

We gather data using our senses which are sent to the brain. We use these inputs as empirical data which is compared with our past experiences and senory input. All of the interpretation is evaluated in the white matter of our brains, the mind. It is well proven that when you alter the white matter of the brain the mind can be altered. The mind is consciousness that is influenced by thought (the actions of neurons), perception (interpretation of the sensory input whether it be proprioception or exteroception), emotion (the physical manifistation of thought), will (the decisions or determinations we make in a course of action), memory (the stored recollections of the concious and subconcious experience), and the imagination (the mental picture of something that is neither real or present to the senses.)

If you are wanting to discuss Freud, Lacan, Berkely, or Plato say so. If you are wanting to discuss the philosophy of the mind-body problem, then say so. I can't determine if you are just trying to figure this stuff out or trying to trap someone into your philosophical paradoxes to make a point that you seem reluctant to state clearly. Are you a substance dualist? Is this what your trying to trap people into or trying to figure out?
JGJ, 05.05.2006, 2:33pm #
let's also keep in mind we ARE the brain.

lobotomy for example, when that cute lil' ice pick is driven into the frontal lobe, the personality goes with it. mind partially destroyed.
Shaggy, 06.05.2006, 12:10am #
I was going to say something, but my brain percieved it to be a waste of time, and found something else to subjectively experience that appeared more interesting than banging my head against the wall.
Pinchbeck, 06.05.2006, 11:12am #
that made me rofl
Shaggy, 06.05.2006, 6:34pm #
JGJ - Well at least you have got off the fence - as most people finally do when pressed hard enough. You think the mind is to be found in the brain.

Appeals to correlations between brain-poking and mental experiences seem to me irrelevant. If I fiddle with the knobs on a radio I'll affect the output - it doesn't mean the radio isn't a "receiver". If I perform a radical procedure on a radio equivalent to a "lobotomy" I can of course damage the receiver.

I am of course not arguing that there is a strict analogy between a radio and the brain - I am using it to show that brain/experience correlations do not prove that the experiences are located in teh radio anymore than a DJ is located in the radio.

It seems to me the problems with your assumption are many but here are a few:

1. Why should only part of the nervous system (the brain) form the mind?

2. The brain is nothing more than a highly complex series of electro-chemical reactions, no different from those to be found throughout nature. How do these generate "I" experiences? Do they do so collectively? If so - how do they communicate the "I" ness (the subjectivity) collectively? As far as as the atoms and sub-atomic particles are concerned they are just doing "what comes naturally" - exchanging ions and so on. If, by some magic, they are creating "subjectivity" out of non-subjectivity at what point does this occur? Do very simple creatures enjoy such subjectivity? If we can keep a few brain cells alive outside the human being are they enjoying suybjective experiences?

3. Assuming you are using the emergent property argument, do you not think there is a difference between consciousness and all other emergent properties in the universe? And don't you find this at all surprising?

4. Do you accpet that many patients feel unhappy doing certain things while having their brains poked even though they might not do them? Why is that any different from having soemone lift my arm for me when I don't want it lifted?


As to my motivation, it is philosophical - I love knowledge. It seems to me that this
field, 06.05.2006, 7:45pm #
Well, if you can dismiss out-of-hand any evidence and substitute it for supporting your ideas with only the lack of evidence as empirical data then why are we even discussing anything at all? Like Pinchbeck said, we would be beating our head against the wall. Messing with the white matter in our brains does produce "I" changes, not only physically messing with it but with drugs as well. But, if you want to dismiss all that evidence as irrelevant than there is no point in discussing anything further on this subject.

I wasn't sitting on the fence, you just didn't ask the right question.

Sorry, your analogy doesn't make much sense.

1. It doesn't completely form it, the Central Nervous System and the Autonomic Nervous System as a whole is the mind. I was being simplistic for the sake of brevity.

2. It depends on what you are throwing into your definition of nature.

3. Strict emergent properties? Not at all. Combining hydrogen and 2 oxygen molecules do not a conscious being make. A single-celled organism does not a conscious being make. Taking a few brain cells out and keeping them alive does not a conscious being make, it is the collective. There has to be sufficient numbers of cells that are complimenting and supporting each other in such a way as to support thought and decision. A single-celled organism does not make decisions based upon experience. It only responds. Once an organism is complex enough to make a decision or choice of action as opposed to another action then it is conscious.

4. You are assuming that no interview of the patient is taking place during such procedures so yes, it is different than having someon lift your arm when you don't want it lifted. Having one's brain "poked at" whether by direct stimulation, surgical alteration, or medication can result in perceptional, behavioral, conceptual, and physical changes to the mind. One example in a sea of possible examples is that testosterone treatement in males has been shown to change behavior, emotional states, even favorite foods. But since you are going to just throw out all the evidence and rely upon ignorance as evidence, what's the point?

Note: I'm not calling you ignorant, I'm just saying that you tend to use the lack of knowledge about any phenomena AS EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE for any possibilty that crosses one's mind. There is nothing wrong with suggesting possibilities without evidence or any kind of logical support as long as one doesn't propose it to be truth. And when the logical support or evidence is only supported by paradox, that is to not accept it as truth because the proposed alternative can only be false is still claiming truth through ignorance.
JGJ, 07.05.2006, 4:50am #
On number 1 I meant to say that the Central Nervous system as well as the Endocrine system and not the ANS make up the mind. Guess I was in a hurry. I actually have more to say on the subject, but I am still in a hurry so maybe later.
JGJ, 07.05.2006, 12:01pm #
JGJ -

Well, it seems you were being inaccurate for the sake of brevity - not quite the same as being simple. Of course you don't want to start bringing in these other bits because then the casual uncommitted observer begins to get counter-intuitive feelings - "what: you're saying this white stuff in my finger is my mind?"

2/3. I have to admit to some frustration as you appear to be unable to address the issue. The difference between consciousness and all other so-called "emergent properties" is that the former involves subjectivity - an "I" (you/me) having the experience.

Are you in fact saying there is an identity between the brain and the mind? It's never been a very persuasive philosophical position in all I have read since what you seem to be saying is that suddenly atoms and so that were having no subjective experiences begin to have them for no apparent reason. The fact that brain cell x has connections with say 16,000 other brain cells matters not at all. It's all still atom stuff. Why should the connections result in subjective experience.

I haven't said that testosterone or any other hormone has no statistical connection with feelings and behaviour. But equally religious people claim huge effects on behaviour associated with religious conversion. Such changes are well attested. YOu will dismiss them - but on what basis?

Regarding 4 you said I was assuming no interview took place. I assumed no such thing. I assumed they WERE being interviewed.

The point is that
the person feels an objection to what he is being made to do. It feels "foreign"; it is not willed. It is therefore consistent with my interpretation that the conscious will resides outside the brain. It may also be consistent with Watson of Watson and Crick's and his contentino that there is a sort of "homunculus" in the brain which is the self. But of course that approach no more solves the riddle of the location of the subjective experience (as opposed to any objective correlate) than do your comments.

I'm quite happy to discuss any empiricial evidence. I did do with Ben on the subject of evolution to show that naive neo-Darwinism is quite incapable of explaining evolutionary phenomena.
field, 10.05.2006, 1:50pm #
Why is field trolling his own debate?
Ben, 10.05.2006, 8:00pm #
I'm not sure Ben, I'm wondering why he can't make the association between the brain stem, the reptillian brain, the lymbic system, and the cerebral cortex to figure this out himself. The answer seems obvious to me but regardless of what I say, he will dismiss it even it is a known scientific fact. I see no point in even talking to him when he can just arbitrarily dismiss anything he feels like.
JGJ, 11.05.2006, 12:30am #
I thought trolling was where one assumed an identity. Anyway as far as I am concerned I have been conducting a rational debate.

It seems to me though that JGJ has been avoiding my questions. What he calls "evidence" I would say was mere assertion. To merely assert that the brain is the same thing as subjective experience is not evidence anymore than if I asserted the mind was the soul.

Let me try again:

JGJ seems to be saying that our subjective experience of thoughts/feelings - the mind - is either (a) identical with the brain/nervous system or (b) something that emerged from the brain/nervous system.

If (a) then he has not demonstrated how this is so. The sorts of atoms in the brain are no different from other atoms. Why should the brain atoms suddenly develop subjective experiences? And how, if true, DO they have these experiences, given that in reality the only activity taking place between atoms is the usual exchanges of sub-atomic particles (exchanges we recognise as electro-chemical changes).

Furthermore the "whole system" explanation which JGJ seems to be advancing is clearly false. People can continue to have subjective experiences even if they lose half their brain. Clearly it is not simply a case of mass and complexity that is generating the subjective experience.

If (b), then I am entitled still to ask where this subjective experience is located and can be (in principle) observed. There is nothing else in the universe whihc cannot be said to have a location and be in principle observable except it seems this one thing: our subjective experience - strange.

JGJ needs first to make clear whether he is a mind/brain identity theorist or an emergent property theorist. For a physicalist those are the only two shows in town. The first is their honest option. The second is their dishonest "hide and seek" option.
field, 11.05.2006, 8:54am #
This from the Massachussets Institute of Technolocy "Technology Review".

This is about a leading neuroscientist's search for a causal explanation of consciousness.


"Scientists are learning volumes about the brain -- how it can make split-second decisions, how it learns from past mistakes, how it converts pulses of light into a complex visual scene. But, for some, deciphering the "language" of the electrical pulses that travel through our brains is only half the story. The second part, and one that is far more philosophical and complex, is how that brain activity translates into consciousness -- a person's self-awareness and perception of the world around them.


Bill Newsome, a neuroscientist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA, has spent the last twenty years studying how neurons encode information and how they use it to make decisions about the world. In the 1990s, he and collaborators were able to change the way a monkey responded to its environment by sending electric jolts to certain parts of its brain. The findings gave neuroscientists enormous insight into the inner workings of the brain.


But Newsome is obsessed with a lingering question: How does consciousness arise from brain function? He feels the best way to answer that question is by implanting an electrode into his own brain -- and seeing how the electric current changes his perception of the world. "

MY COMMENT: It is quite clear from this - which one has to presume is at the cutting edge of knowledge - that neuroscience has no explanation for how consciousness is generated. So I cannot see how JGJ can be so confident that it "must" be generated by or identical with the brain if neuroscience has yet to find an explanation.

Clearly neuroscientists - people who work with brains - think it comes from the brain (just as, by analogy, car mechanics no doubt stress the importance of mechanical efficiency to safe driving) but they have as yet not put forward any acceptable description of the causal mechanisms that produce subjective experience.

Others - Roger Penrose is one of the leading exponents - have identified ways in which the real source of consciosuness may lie outside the brain. I will bring to the table some of this evidence since you seem determined to rubbish my rational objections to your theory rather than answer them.


Newsome would not be the first person with a brain implant. Epilepsy patients undergo electrical stimulation prior to brain surgery. A paralyzed man in New England has an experimental implant that translates his brain activity into movements of a robotic arm. And, perhaps most famously, Kevin Warwick, a cybernetics professor at the University of Reading, U.K., first implanted a chip into nerve fibers in his arm in 2002, then implanted a chip in his wife's arm, as part of his quest to become a cyborg.


It's not certain that Newsome will get approval for such a radical undertaking. But, if he does, his experiment won't be in the interest of curing a disease or become a human machine. He's hoping to do something broader: understand consciousness.


Technology Review: Why is understanding consciousness so important to you?


Bill Newsome: I think that how consciousness arises out of brain function is one of the most fascinating and important questions in all of neurobiology. If we understand the system completely (from input to output) at a cellular level, but still do not know exactly what causes conscious mental phenomena, we will have failed.
field, 11.05.2006, 9:13am #
Sorry - my post got tangled up in itself. The last four paras. are actually part of the article and not part of my comments.
field, 11.05.2006, 9:14am #
Thought I would post this extract from an essay by Ted Honderich, renowned philosopher to show that what I have been saying (that consciousness is not the same as your nerve cells) is not some curious idea I dreamt up:


"Whatever is to be said about its Epiphenomenalist tendencies, the clear fate of Neural Functionalism is that it runs up against something. That is The Wholly Resilient Proposition About Consciousness. It is simple. It is that the properties of conscious events aren't neural ones. Consciousness isn't cells. The proposition recovered its strength and defeated the corpuscular materialism of Thomas Hobbes in the 17th Century. It also did in early neurophysiological materialism in the 19th Century, and eventually made Behaviourism dead as a doornail in the 20th. It will do in Neural Functionalism early in the 21st. But no doubt you would like to hear an argument for it, since it just is what materialism tries to deny. Professor Papineau mentions two familiar ones."

The issue then is what IS consciousness if it is not the brain and other cells?

I hope to post more on that shortly.
field, 12.05.2006, 2:13pm #
Here is an extract from an interview with Karl Pibram PhD of Stanford University's Dept. of Neuropsychology:

"MISHLOVE: Many neuroscientists today -- it's almost axiomatic, when they talk about the mind, which they sometimes do -- they say the mind is sort of located in the brain. I gather that that way of putting it is totally discordant with your own view of things.

PRIBRAM: Yes. There are lots of different ways of phrasing this. One is that mental phenomena are emergent properties of how the brain works, and so it's almost like the brain is secreting vision and mind and all that. But maybe a better way of talking about it would be to say that mental phenomena arise through the interaction between brain and body and the environment and -- this is what Karl Popper says -- that whole interactive thing produces an emergent, which we call mind and spirit, and so on. I think that's a better way than just thinking of the brain secreting it."

Clearly then my view that the mind is not located in the brain (or brain plus central nervous system) is not a hare-brained notion that anyone versed in the subject is bound to dismiss.

I'm not saying I entirely agree with Pibram's views - as I have already indicated, we probably need to think of the brain more as receiver than transmitter and I don't believe consciousness is any meaningful sense an "emergent property", but clearly his view is not a million miles from mine in the sense that he is prepared to say that the mind has some location independent of the brain - which was what seemed to piss off you guys the most.

Anyone prepared to accept that was I said was neither idiotic nor outlandish? Or do I have to keep producing more and more grade A philosophers and scientists who say much the same as I do.
field, 14.05.2006, 4:09pm #
Seems to me that picking through the verbose waffle, all these people are saying is 'We don't know.'
How about just applying Occam's Razor?
Pinchbeck, 15.05.2006, 11:00am #
Pinchbeck -

Yes - "we don't know" is a very good summary.

If we apply Occam's Razor, i.e. not mutliplying unnecessarily explanation beyond our experience, then it is easiest actually to say the subjective self is not the same as or part of the brain. To say the subjective self self IS means you then have to construct another layer of causal connectivity - to explain how the brain produces the subjective self: but that's precisely what nobody can do at the moment.

If people are going to dishonestly pretend that they have proof the subjective self forms part of or is synonymous with the brain then I am going to take them to task for that. And I think in the absence of an agreed explanation for what consciousness is, it is legitimate to speculate as I have done. That is how science has progressed in the past - through a combination of speculation and experimentation.
field, 15.05.2006, 1:41pm #
Field, that's funny. You can't prove any of your beliefs and yet you expect everyone else to prove theirs and when you don't believe in their beliefs you think they are being dishonest. Quite the double standard. All I have said is that the mind resides in the brain, does that make me dishonest?
JGJ, 15.05.2006, 4:21pm #
That's not dishonest. But it's presumptuous.

The dishonesty came in earlier when you were trying to give the impression that your assertion was evidentially based whereas my assertion (broadly, that the mind lies outside the brain) was unsupported.

I have shown that your assertion is backed by no hard evidence of causality and that many eminent philosophers and scientists agree with my view that the mind is not located in the brain.
field, 16.05.2006, 9:15am #
Field,
So where exactly was I being dishonest? When I said that if you remove the brain, the mind goes with it? Was it when I said, "The mind is consciousness that is influenced by thought (the actions of neurons), perception (interpretation of the sensory input whether it be proprioception or exteroception), emotion (the physical manifistation of thought), will (the decisions or determinations we make in a course of action), memory (the stored recollections of the concious and subconcious experience), and the imagination (the mental picture of something that is neither real or present to the senses.)"

Pribram believs that the mind is in the brain so using him doesn't support your beliefs. Pribram's view is that the individual parts of the brain perceives and the mind (the culmination of the brains interactions on a quantum level) reacts but both are located within the brain which is no different from what I have stated, that the mind is located in the brain.

"Clearly neuroscientists - people who work with brains - think it comes from the brain (just as, by analogy, car mechanics no doubt stress the importance of mechanical efficiency to safe driving) but they have as yet not put forward any acceptable description of the causal mechanisms that produce subjective experience"

There you go again using ignorance as evidence to prove your theories.
Since we don't know enough about leprechauns, they must exist. You cannot prove to me that they do not exist.

Don't be vague with your accusations quote me where I was dishonest. I feel for you, because now any claim you make will now be picked apart. I will no longer let you slide with vagueness. Also all points that you make will be numbered by me and each brought to conclusion before I move on to the next point since you have a habit of ignoring what points you cannot answer and changing subjects to avoid answering.

1. Where is the mind located if it is not in the brain?
JGJ, 16.05.2006, 12:30pm #
clearly it must be located in sky kingdom central!

yes i am that bored.
Shaggy, 17.05.2006, 12:59am #
JGJ -

I think it was this statement that was fundamentally dishonest:

"Geez Field, I observe my thoughts the same place I observe everything else in the universe, in my own mind. I observe the sun, moon, stars, my neighbor, and my own thoughts in the same place, my own mind. My subjective thoughts are no different than anything else in the universe. It is what my brain observes. Using the intangibility of thought, because it cannot be seen and yet exists to promote your belief in a creator deity because it cannot be physically seen by others, like our own thoughts outside our own head,is ludicrous. By your logic we might as well believe in unicorns and fairies while we are at it and no matter how much you try to manipulate the paradoxes of logic, I refuse to believe in unicorns, fairies, and a creator deity. "

I think any neutral observer would derive from this statement the following:

1. That there is no difficulty about identifying the mind with the brain (while the truth is there clearly is, as even neuroscientists accept).

2. It draws a false analogy, which I find difficult to accept a person of your intelligence couldn't see was false to begin with, between statements about mind location and beliefs in imps and sprites.

Yep, I think that was pretty dishonest.

I think you need to re-read the Pirbam interview. He does NOT say he believes "the mind is in the brain". He agrees explicitly with the suggestion of the interviewer that he would find it "discordant" with his views to say the mind is located in the brain. He says that the interactino of brain, body and environment produces an emergent which we can call "spirit" for instance. Those are his views incidentally, not mine. I'm not happy with the "emergent property" concept - I'm not convinced it is coherent.

Since you are away with the fairies again, please don't try this tack again it's pathetic. There is a world of difference between asking whether a leprechaun exists and whether subjective thoughts and feelings exist. We all know the latter exist. To deny their existence would be to deny ourselves and is a logical impossibility. To deny the objective existence of leprechauns is NOT a logical impossibility (and I do so no in case you are in any doubt).

If something exists necessarily (as subjective thoughts and feelings must)it is entirely legitimate to ask where it exists since everything we know of has a location.

So where is the mind located if not the brain? I don't claim to know definitively (it was you who claimed to know) but I would say the evidence suggests that it exists outside the four dimensional space-time world. Clearly the mind is in some sort of (probably interactive) communication with the brain - the nature of which we don't understand. However, I would go along with those who see the quantum level as the point of contact between mind and brain, since no other possibility seems to present itself. Also we do not that there is this strange subjectivity/objectivity relationship at the quantum level (where observation seems to have some effect on reality).
field, 17.05.2006, 9:19am #
I'm with Shaggy. We don't know, there's no agreement, and no matter what anyone says, I still think that the mind and the brain are the same thing. Remove the brain, no more mind.
This is boring, and I call for a change of subject.
Pinchbeck, 17.05.2006, 11:01am #
All religions are blackmail, and are based on fear and superstition.

Religion offers a supposed comfort-blanket, or carrot to the believers, and waves a stick at the unbelievers.
ÀœDo as we say, and you'll go to heaven, don't do as we say, and you'll go to hell. What they conveniently leave out here is the unspoken threat, which is only made manifest in those societies which are theocracies: €œIf you don't do as we say, we can make sure you go to hell really painfully, and quickly.
Thus all '€œpriests' are liars and/or blackmailers. They may not be deliberate liars, but nonetheless, they are telling untrue fairy-stories.

Fear of exclusion from the community, in one form or another, is a standard part of the power-structure of any religion or cult. Excommunication, anathema, banishment, exile, fatwah, etc,   Fear of entry being refused in "the next world", or "the community of saints", or "the party". Fear of real physical punishment by the "secular arm", the NKVD, the Saudi religious police, or whomsoever the current set of spiritual thought police happen to be.

BTW:Corollary: Marxism is a religion.

I believe Bertrand Russell was the first to note this, but the behaviour of both individual Marxists, and marxist organisations conforms to classical religious behaviour. For example: people read a set number of Trotsky's saying each day, just as if he were Jesus, or Mahmud. Or appeal to €œthe historical inevitability of the revolution etc  
G. Tingey, 18.05.2006, 8:40am #
Pinchbeck -

I'm quite happy to change the subject on the basis that people who before confidently asserted that the mind is located in the brain now seem to accept we don't know. That's good enough for me.

G. Tingey - I agree but I'm not sure that is the most startling revelation ever. This discussion has ended up being about something a bit more fundamental.
field, 18.05.2006, 9:04am #
Sorry, you remove the brain, the mind follows. Believing that the mind exists somewhere else is pure speculation/philosohpy. You asked me where I thought it was and I told you what I thought. You can no prove that the mind exists outside the body than you can prove the existence of a divine creator. For that matter, I can't prove that the mind is in the brain any more than you can prove it isn't. It's a question as old as Aristotle and if there was an easy answer we would have found it by now. But it is my firm belief that as our knowledge of the brain progresses we will prove that the mind is in the brain, and that it is a combination of several parts of the brain. Furthermore it all depends one's definition of "mind."
JGJ, 19.05.2006, 6:14am #
HOUSTON -- (May 19, 2006) Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) have mapped not only where trust forms in the brain but have also uncovered clues as to how humans represent themselves and others as physical responses in their brains. Results are reported in this week's issue of the journal Science.
The study, led by Dr. Read Montague, professor of neuroscience at BCM and director of its Brown Human Neuroimaging Laboratory, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to monitor brain activity in pairs of subjects during a social exchange game. The study made use of a new approach to studying social interactions, called hyperscanning, where two interacting brains are monitored simultaneously. The work revealed the existence of a new kind of map in the brain a "social agency map" that keeps track of "who" is responsible for an outcome during a social exchange between two interacting partners. The group found the map in an area of the brain called the cingulate cortex, which is known to be involved in bonding and social interactions.

Like the brain's sensory mechanisms that interpret and respond to sights and sounds, the process of building trust involves constructing models of other people and using those models as foundations for making decisions. Social decisions are among the most important kind for humans. "This is a region of the brain that is overdeveloped in humans and other social species and is a region you can monitor in social exchanges between people with either functional or dysfunctional social capacities," said Montague. "A degree of credit is something your brain has to assign before it ever starts assigning social agency. Your self-image, the degree to which you can carve yourself off from the rest of the world, is critical before you ever become a social creature."

Previous results from the same study, reported last year in Science, showed where and when trust forms in the brains of two anonymous people interacting via hyperscanning. Dr. Brooks King-Casas, first author in the previous paper, says this work will improve understanding of a variety of psychiatric and developmental disorders that are primarily social in nature. He plans to use the same tasks in clinical populations where the capacity to model or trust others is broken or performing pathologically.

"We've had a tough time understanding illnesses like borderline personality disorder on a biological level because we're only beginning to understand basic neural mechanisms underlying cooperation," said King-Casas. "However, with hyperscanning, we're able study brain activity between two people as interpersonal relationships develop and break down."
JGJ, 19.05.2006, 6:32am #
Your posts demonstrate your inability to grapple with the implications of this question.

Firstly, there is no surprise that I cannot prove the mind is located outside teh brain. That fits perfectly with my overall view. But you SHOULD be able to prove that the mind is in the brain. After all, you've got plenty of brains to look at; you;ve got electron-microscopes and you've got some of the cleverest people in the world working in this field. But no - you can't prove it.

Your last post shows your difficulty. The claims about "trust" and so on are mistranslations of what the scientists will have observed. They will have observed changes in brain chemistry etc and correlated changes in behaviour - no less and no more.
They will not have identified the location or indeed the CONTENT of the subjective experience. For the content they will be relying on either (a) people telling them the truth about their feelings and thoughts or (b) inference on the basis of behaviour. Neither are in any way direct observation. The subjetive experience has not been either located or dissected.
field, 19.05.2006, 1:16pm #
I can't understand what you are looking for. Photographic pictures of thoughts? You looking for little images on a microscope slide of what people are thinking? Your denials are utter nonsense and no matter what evidence is brought forward you wont accept it, as far as I'm concerned this conversation is over since you just deny whatever you feel like denying. I can see the truth now of what others have said about you.
JGJ, 20.05.2006, 8:48am #
Exactly. Plenty of people I've discussed this with seem to think that you should be able to "see" thoughts, and that they must somehow exist physically in another dimension or something!
Presumably thoughts are merely (not a good choice of word) the product of electrical brain activity.
As for Field's mention of Roger Penrose, well, I read the Emperor's New Mind some time ago and, although I can't remember much about it, I think his point was that conciousness cannot - at present - be replicated.
Tim, 20.05.2006, 1:15pm #
JGJ/Tim -

It isn't that I think one should be able to "see" thoughts, it is that if you believe thoughts exist in the four dimensional universe it is you who should be saying that they should in principle be observable. Now you are saying things like they are the "product" of electrical brain activity.

Electrical brain activity has no products other than those that flow from applciation of the four fundamental forces of the universe. The product must be
observable in terms of sub atomic particles.

Are you saying that thoughts being a product are made up of sub atomic particles? At least Tim, if you are, you are being more straightforward about this than JGJ is - he refuses to answer the question.

Tim's post reminds me to make clear a distinction between different types of emergent properties.

People often say thoughts are no different from the digestive porcess in principle. Thoughts have "emerged" from the evolution of the brain and "digestion" has emerged from the evolution of the digestive system.

Howeve there is clearly a difference. The digestive process is in principle observable at all points: we can see food broken down in the mouth, we can see food being dissolved by acid in teh stomach, we can see the extraction of proteins and minerals etc; and we can see the evacuation of waste. What we call a process is a in reality a series of interactions at the sub atomic
level, which we choose to dub "digestion".

Contrast that with subjective thought processes. We cannot "see" or observe those processes by any means. We can only infer from behaviour or from correlated brain activity what is going on in the mind. But we have no scientific basis for saying that the inference reflects a causal relationship that exists solely in this four dimensional universe.

Of course, don't forget I believe that thought processes are REAL. So I am not saying they don't exist. I am merely pointing out we can't observe them in the four dimensional universe. If we can't observe them here, they (and we of course) must be somewhere else. That has always been the traditional claim of religion and it appears a reasonable one on the face of it.
field, 20.05.2006, 2:10pm #
It is the mystery and fear of death that created religions, not the search for God. If you are religious, ask yourself, would I still be interested in God if I were to suddenly become immortal?
antivenom, 21.12.2011, 4:19am #
While it may be true that thought processes cannot be observed, our lack of ability to observe them does not mean that they must originate from some other place than the physical universe. It is entirely possible that there are senses that we do not possess. How would a planet of blind people observe color? If they were to claim that colors must come from another plane of existence, would they be correct?
antivenom, 21.12.2011, 4:32am #

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