There Is No Homunculus

by Luke Muehlhauser on May 1, 2010 in General Atheism,Science,Video

homunculus

Western religion would like you to believe you have a homunculus: a kind of unified decision-maker that takes input from the environment, processes it through your unified personality, memory, and will, and responds with certain thoughts or actions. Moreover, this homunculus is mostly non-physical, and makes up the bulk of your identity: it is “the real you,” and your body is merely a receiver of input and a puppet for which “the real you” pulls the strings.

The problem with this theory is that it’s just false. Our brains are distributed systems that produce only an illusion of a unified whole. And even if a homunculus was a spiritual being invisible to science, it makes little sense to say its effect in our brains would be distributed and automatic.

Below, Michael Gazzaniga summarizes recent neurological research on how the brain is not unified but why it feels that way to us.

More and more, religion will have to change its mind on things to fit with the way the world really works, or it will have to deny more and more science to cling to its ancient dogmas.

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{ 99 comments… read them below or add one }

Ant May 1, 2010 at 1:25 pm

I’ve noticed a great reluctance in Christian apologists to deal with this. AFAIC the argument about the self has been won, and it isn’t in favour of us being the sort of thing that can be damned for all eternity, or experience eternal bliss, or whatever.

I’m confident that in a written debate about the nature of the self between a top-rate philosopher of mind like Metzinger or a more dialectically combative Buddhist, and pretty much any given Christian philosopher, the former would come out on top. But that’s just my opinion. It’d certainly be interesting to see.

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Josh May 1, 2010 at 2:03 pm

This is very true.

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Josh May 1, 2010 at 2:10 pm

By the way, that picture is hilarious.

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Zak May 1, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Thanks for posting these, Luke!

In my opinion, modern neuroscience does more damage to theism than just about any other branch of science.

Ant- more so, the argument that a mind does not depend on a physical brain has long been lost. Apologists have a TERRIBLE time dealing with this fact. Check out “The Problem of the Soul” by Owen Flanagan, to see just how bankrupt the whole idea is, on just about every conceivable level.

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Scott May 1, 2010 at 2:43 pm

There’s a comic book series called “PS 238″ about a school for superheros’ kids. When the school is attacked by supervillains, one teacher says, “I had to leave a homunculus to teach my science classes. We’ll have to appreciate the irony later, though.”

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Smart Atheist May 1, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Ant and Zak- You guys are so right.

All consciousness occurs when there is neurological activity.
Therefore, consciousness depends on neurological activity.

What idiot would deny that inference!?

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Chris May 1, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Peter van Invagen is a physicalist, I think. He believes the afterlife is the resurrected body. He’s a rare specimen though.

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lukeprog May 1, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Yeah, I’m looking forward to reading Flanagan’s book.

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lukeprog May 1, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Smart Atheist,

The real inference made by scientists is more complex and compelling than the straw man you have just erected.

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Bill Maher May 1, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Everyone knows homunculus only come into being when you try to bring someone back from the dead without the philosopher’s stone. :)

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Smart Atheist May 1, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Lukeprog,
However complex the evidence is, the sum total of it can be expressed in a simple premise. So what’s the premise that logically entails that consciousness depends on neurological activity?

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noen May 1, 2010 at 3:27 pm

“Here, Michael Gazzaniga summarizes recent neurological research on how the brain is not unified but why it feels that way to us.”

So the claim is that the self is just an illusion. Do I have that right? Are you really sure about that and are you ok with the consequences of that theory to society as a whole?

If the self is an illusion, who is it that is being fooled?

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Justfinethanks May 1, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Yeah Luke! Just because my alarm clock only works when electricity is supplied to it doesn’t prevent me from postulating other, wholly superfluous and necessarily undetectable forces that might be necessary for my alarm clock to function!

Those darn materialists.

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Smart Atheist May 1, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Just…:
So you agree that the following argument is valid?

Whenever my alarm clock is working there is electricity being supplied to it.
Therefore, my alarm clock’s working depends upon its having electrical supply.

Or, would you agree with Luke that this argument is invalid?

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Chris May 1, 2010 at 3:41 pm

So the claim is that the self is just an illusion. Do I have that right? Are you really sure about that and are you ok with the consequences of that theory to society as a whole?

Right on. Think of the buddhists man. Their society is so disfunctional.

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Bill Maher May 1, 2010 at 3:46 pm

“So the claim is that the self is just an illusion. Do I have that right? Are you really sure about that and are you ok with the consequences of that theory to society as a whole?

a claim’s possible consequences are irrelevant to its truth. this is a slippery slope fallacy.

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Justfinethanks May 1, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Or, would you agree with Luke that this argument is invalid?

As a matter of deduction, then yes the argument is guilty of affirming the consequent, or post hoc ergo propter hoc. However, technically all science requires this kind of logic in the form of Abductive reasoning. So, while repeating the electricity/clock experiment, the “needs electricity” theory can rationally be held as most likely true as it is more parsimonious than rival explanation (such as say, my clock needs an immaterial soul to function, which might be true but is unsupported based upon the data I have).

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Chris May 1, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Just…:So you agree that the following argument is valid?Whenever my alarm clock is working there is electricity being supplied to it.Therefore, my alarm clock’s working depends upon its having electrical supply. Or, would you agree with Luke that this argument is invalid?  (Quote)

Science uses abductive reasoning, not deductive. What point are you trying to make?

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Chris May 1, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Damn justfine you beat me to it.

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noen May 1, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Chris
“Right on. Think of the buddhists man. Their society is so disfunctional.”

Buddhists don’t have a conception of the self (atman)? Wow, you don’t know much about it do you? Do please tell me what the ultimate aim of Buddhist practice is, ok?

(Hint: it’s called nirvana.)

Bill Maher
“a claim’s possible consequences are irrelevant to its truth.”

Maybe, but I still think it’s an important consideration. The self might be a fiction but it is I think a fiction that we cannot do without. (I’d make the same argument for free will. It is also a concept that we cannot live without.)

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Chris May 1, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Buddhists don’t have a conception of the self (atman)? Wow, you don’t know much about it do you?

Anatta. No self, no problem.

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Zeb May 1, 2010 at 4:06 pm

I think there are two problems with this, both of which Noen touched on in a curt way. The first problem with denial of reality of the self is that it denies the primary observations upon which all other observations, all thoughts and all actions are based: I exist, I perceive, and I will. The second problem is that it undermines the necessary preconditions for rational inquiry and conversation. The is no “you” to know truth or falsehood, and there is no “other” to hear your ideas or tell you theirs. Furthermore it invalidates almost every statement anyone would include in their personal story. For example, “I loved her” would be false because there was no “I” to do the loving and no “her” to be loved. To really take in and digest this way of thinking would lead to an incredibly radical change in the way people live and talk about their lives. It’s true that Buddhists hold this kind of view, but it is only the elites who really live it, and they bite the bullet and fully denounce rational inquiry as a way of truth and individualism as a way of living.

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noen May 1, 2010 at 4:06 pm

By the by

“The problem with this theory is that it’s just false.”

That’s a pretty strong claim. I’ll try to take a look at those videos, and I do appreciate the links, but I’m… skeptical. I have some disagreements with cognitivism as I believe if suffers from some major flaws.

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noen May 1, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Anatta. No self, no problem.  

The purpose of of Buddhist practice is to achieve nirvana, the annihilation of the self (soul). Since this dogma is central to Buddhism it cannot be true that they have no concept of the self. From what I recall they have very firm ideas about what it is.

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Bill Maher May 1, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Neon,
There is no maybe, it just is irrelevant. Some truths don’t make us feel all happy and bubbly, but they are still the truth.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slippery_slope_fallacy

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Bill Maher May 1, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Neon, Buddhists view having a concept of attachment to be a very bad thing. They try to view the self as something of no importance and is temporary.

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Jacopo May 1, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Noen,

Buddhists don’t have a conception of the self (atman)? Wow, you don’t know much about it do you? Do please tell me what the ultimate aim of Buddhist practice is, ok?

You have the gall to say that others are ignorant of Buddhism. A cursory look at wikipedia would extend your apparent understanding.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anatta

“In Buddhism, anattā (Pāli) or anātman (Sanskrit: अनात्मन्) refers to the notion of “not-self”. In the early texts, the Buddha commonly uses the word in the context of teaching that all things perceived by the senses (including the mental sense) are not really “I” or “mine”, and for this reason one should not cling to them.”

…Buddhism denies the existence of a permanent or static entity that remains constant behind the changing bodily and non-bodily components of a living being. Reportedly, the Buddha reprimanded a disciple who thought that in the process of rebirth the same consciousness is reborn without change. Just as the body changes from moment to moment, so thoughts come and go; and according to the anatta doctrine, there is no permanent conscious substance that experiences these thoughts, as in Cartesianism: rather, conscious thoughts simply arise and perish with no “thinker” behind them.

Sure, some traditions like to talk about Buddha-nature or even ‘atman’, but it’s a billion miles away from the homunculus-like self that is argued for in most Christian traditions, centred as they generally are around a much more substantive view of the self/soul.

Arguing with you is entirely pointless.

With regards to the rest of the thread, reading dualists talk about physicalist concepts of mind is generally akin to reading people like P.Z. Myers talk about the kalam cosmological argument, but about ten times worse.

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Chris May 1, 2010 at 4:19 pm

The purpose of of Buddhist practice is to achieve nirvana, the annihilation of the self (soul). Since this dogma is central to Buddhism it cannot be true that they have no concept of the self. From what I recall they have very firm ideas about what it is.  (Quote)

And from what I recall, the goal is to realize there is no self, not the annihilation of the self. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anatta

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Chris May 1, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Now Jacopo beat me to it lol I’m just too slow today

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Zeb May 1, 2010 at 4:27 pm

And from what I recall, the goal is to realize there is no self, not the annihilation of the self.

That is my main problem with Buddhism, or perhaps with the simplistic Western understanding of it – who is supposed to realize that there is no self? And who is compassionate, and who are we compassionate toward, etc.

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svenjamin May 1, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Buddhists don’t have a conception of the self (atman)? Wow, you don’t know much about it do you? Do please tell me what the ultimate aim of Buddhist practice is, ok?
(Hint: it’s called nirvana.)

The pali “atta” is more appropriate than the sanskrit “atman”, which connotes more with upanishadic hindu thought. And the relevant Buddhist concept is an-atta, no-self. Further, ancient Buddhist societies weren’t any less functional than others. See Ashoka the Great.

I have no idea what you intend to demonstrate by referencing nirvana as the goal of Buddhist practice.

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Smart Atheist May 1, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Just..:

“However, technically all science requires this kind of logic in the form of Abductive reasoning. ”

Abduction is not a “logic”. You must mean “form of reasoning”. Furthermore, Abduction is an inference to the “best” explanation. Could you tell me the nec. and suf. conditions for an explanation to be “best”, and how it must be that being “the best” by such criteria gives us good reason to think that it increases the likelihood of it being true? Hopefully your argument wouldn’t be abductive, would it? Perhaps we know it a priori?

“So, while repeating the electricity/clock experiment, the “needs electricity” theory can rationally be held as most likely true as it is more parsimonious than rival explanation (such as say, my clock needs an immaterial soul to function, which might be true but is unsupported based upon the data I have).”

Why think that an explanation’s being simple (parsimonious) somehow makes it more likely? What would an argument for such a thesis look like? Hopefully it wouldn’t appeal to the principle of parsimony, would it? Or perhaps you think it could be justified a priori? Do tell!

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lukeprog May 1, 2010 at 5:52 pm

Smart Atheist.

I think your first second is false, and your question seems to assume a logical argument is being made rather than a scientific one.

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lukeprog May 1, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Smart Atheist,

Are you trying to undermine all of science just so you can feel okay continuing to believe in ghosts? You have just asked for an entire textbook of information on Philosophy of Science 101.

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Justfinethanks May 1, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Abduction is not a “logic”. You must mean “form of reasoning”.

You are totally correct. I guess I was a little sloppy in terminology.

Why think that an explanation’s being simple (parsimonious) somehow makes it more likely?

That’s a fairly complicated question, and the SEP has a quite good exploration of this issue.

It outlines the main categories of justifications of simplicity: a priori, naturalistic, and statistical.

Some of the a priori justifications include the theological justfication (which might appeal to you) and Justifications via the principles of rationality, which argues that the desire for simplicity simply flows naturally from the desire to be “rational.” Here is part of how the SEP describes it:

A line of argument [...] is to appeal to a principle of epistemological conservatism. Parsimony in a theory can be viewed as minimizing the number of ‘new’ kinds of entities and mechanisms which are postulated. This preference for old mechanisms may in turn be justified by a more general epistemological caution, or conservatism, which is characteristic of rational inquiry.

I won’t get into the all the complex details of the justifications of simplicity here, but I will say that simplicity of explanation seems to be held by the majority of philosophers, including theists:

I seek…to show that—other things being equal—the simplest hypothesis proposed as an explanation of phenomena is more likely to be the true one than is any other available hypothesis, that its predictions are more likely to be true than those of any other available hypothesis, and that it is an ultimate a priori epistemic principle that simplicity is evidence for truth

-Swinburne

Simplicity, I think, can be further defended by the absurdities that result when you deny it, especially in scientific contexts. For example, I might insist that in addition to electricity and a clock soul, my clock requires the Force (from star wars), the Ghost of Jimi Hendrix, and a person born in Hawaii to be president (the clock was purchased recently) before it works. But I hope that you would join me in thinking that this would lead to an epistemological anarchy if I accepted this as equally plausible as simpler explanations.

But as it stands, repeated experimentation seems to only confirm the “needs electricity” hypothesis, and so I can rationally reject the clock soul, Jimi Hendrix, the Force, and President Obama theories.

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Justfinethanks May 1, 2010 at 6:38 pm

Luke:Are you trying to undermine all of science just so you can feel okay continuing to believe in ghosts?

He is, and I see that as great sign. In his new book On Guard, WL Craig says: “So in presenting apologetic arguments for some conclusion, we want to raise the price of denying the conclusion as high as we can.”

Of course it works both ways, and I gotta say, if the price of denying modern neuroscience is “the epistemic foundations of science aren’t justified,” this must be a fantastic line of argument.

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Bryce May 1, 2010 at 7:15 pm

So, our brains present an illusion of a unified whole to… what? Even the fact of an illusion seems to implicate some sort of center, i.e. I, mind, or soul.

Is this homunculus supposed to be my (supposedly illusory) I? If not, then what exactly is it?

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Atheist.pig May 1, 2010 at 8:09 pm

http://thesciencenetwork.org/programs/the-science-studio/enter-the-i-of-the-vortex

Watch this interview and buy his book “I of the Vortex”. Radically changed my perception of everything.

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lukeprog May 1, 2010 at 8:24 pm

Good link, atheist.pig

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noen May 1, 2010 at 8:25 pm

“Neon, Buddhists view having a concept of attachment to be a very bad thing. They try to view the self as something of no importance and is temporary.”

Apparently this is very difficult to comprehend. Let’s walk through this slowly and see if that helps:

1. The claim is made that Buddhists have no concept of self.

2. A counter claim is made that the Buddhist concept of nirvana involves the annihilation of the self.

3. A reply is made that “attachment” is “a bad thing”.

Do you not see the difficulty here? I’m going to leave the solution of this deep puzzle as an exercise for the reader. There’ll be a quiz on Monday. ;)

addendum “And from what I recall, the goal is to realize there is no self, not the annihilation of the self.”

Gee, I dunno but I think that having a theory that what everyone else calls the self is an illusion or attachment to Maya is having a theory of the self is it not?

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svenjamin May 1, 2010 at 8:42 pm

“Neon, Buddhists view having a concept of attachment to be a very bad thing. They try to view the self as something of no importance and is temporary.”Apparently this is very difficult to comprehend. Let’s walk through this slowly and see if that helps:1. The claim is made that Buddhists have no concept of self.2. A counter claim is made that the Buddhist concept of nirvana involves the annihilation of the self.3. A reply is made that “attachment” is “a bad thing”.Do you not see the difficulty here? I’m going to leave the solution of this deep puzzle as an exercise for the reader. There’ll be a quiz on Monday. –addendum “And from what I recall, the goal is to realize there is no self, not the annihilation of the self.”Gee, I dunno but I think that having a theory that what everyone else calls the self is an illusion or attachment to Maya is having a theory of the self is it not?  (Quote)

You are mixing your Indian religions again. Maya is a Hindu, not Buddhist term.

Buddhist thought provides an account for the misapprehension of a single persisting self. This is a “theory of the self” in the same sense that atheism is a “theory of god.”

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lukeprog May 1, 2010 at 8:45 pm

Bryce,

The videos I posted answer your questions.

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noen May 1, 2010 at 8:45 pm

Bryce
“So, our brains present an illusion of a unified whole to… what? Even the fact of an illusion seems to implicate some sort of center, i.e. I, mind, or soul.”

No, that’s where I part company with some here. In the second video, I’ve watched the first only so far, he talks about a part of the brain he calls “the interpreter”. This “module” weaves together a unified narrative from the various competing parts operating in the background.

So, no need for souls then, and I agree with that. Though I still have reservations about the modular model. The standard objection is to ask what if we could replace each module with computer chips that are functionally equivalent to their organic originals. Then imagine that we keep on replacing modules until the whole brain is one computer system, a “distributed network of parallel processors”. What then? Would people be ok with that?

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noen May 1, 2010 at 8:48 pm

svenjamin
“You are mixing your Indian religions again.”

It’s not important.

“Buddhist thought provides an account for the misapprehension of a single persisting self. This is a “theory of the self” in the same sense that atheism is a “theory of god.””

I know. That’s what I said. Thanks for backing me up.

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Hermes May 1, 2010 at 9:12 pm

LOL! Really. Such stunning ignorance, displayed with unrelenting confidence. I am experiencing schadenfreude right now.

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Hermes May 1, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Atheist.pig, thanks for the link. There’s so much good on TED that I haven’t bothered with TSN in a while. My mistake!

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Hermes May 1, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Jacopo: Arguing with you is entirely pointless.

Yep. Not much to add to that. Ignore or mock it. There’s not much of a possibility of a valid conversation with it.

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Zak May 1, 2010 at 9:31 pm

Smart Atheist, when the corpus callosum is severed, it creates two independent minds. Two separate spheres of consciousness in one head. This would only happen if the mind was directly a product of the brain. If our minds were immaterial, why would cutting a physical brain in half have any effect on our minds… let alone create a new sphere of consciousness?

How do you account for this?

Also, if you don’t think a brain is needed for consciousness, or any other aspect of the mind… then what exactly is our brain for? Why do we have them, if they aren’t even needed for what we think they do?

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Robert Gressis May 1, 2010 at 10:14 pm

You are mixing your Indian religions again. Maya is a Hindu, not Buddhist term.
Buddhist thought provides an account for the misapprehension of a single persisting self. This is a “theory of the self” in the same sense that atheism is a “theory of god.”  

I was under the impression that some kinds of Buddhists, in particular, Hinayana Buddhists, use the term “maya”. Is that not right?

http://www.essortment.com/all/differencesbetw_rrax.htm

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Robert Gressis May 1, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Also, just for the record, there are several prominent Christian philosophers who are materialists about the mind: Lynne Rudder Baker, Kevin Corcoran, Hud Hudson, Trenton Merricks (and van Inwagen, who has already been mentioned).

As for substance dualists who are aware of the relevant neuroscience, Charles Taliaferro and Stewart Goetz come to mind. See http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/debates/great-debate.html

Either one might be good for Luke to interview on this subject.

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Mark May 1, 2010 at 11:41 pm

That is my main problem with Buddhism, or perhaps with the simplistic Western understanding of it – who is supposed to realize that there is no self?

Accepting no-self in Buddhism doesn’t mean accepting that you don’t exist. Buddhists think you definitely exist. But they think that you are nothing over and above a bunch of co-occurrent mental processes like thoughts, perceptions, etc., which can be said to persist only conventionally, much in the same way that sports teams “persist” long after all of their players have been replaced.

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Mark May 2, 2010 at 2:59 am

With regards to the rest of the thread, reading dualists talk about physicalist concepts of mind is generally akin to reading people like P.Z. Myers talk about the kalam cosmological argument, but about ten times worse.

Haha, I love this.

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a Nadder May 2, 2010 at 3:53 am

I think Smart Atheist’s expression and glee in stating that Ockham’s Razor is circular suggests that he might be a troll or sockpuppet. Plus of course that discussion is irrelevant to the question: even if consciousness is not directly caused by neurological activity, a homunculus would still be an incoherent concept.

As for the idea that there is no unified self and the supposed consequences for society, I don’t see what the big deal is. This is exactly what Freudian theory claims and even though it’s now deprecated, society has lived with the concepts for over 100 years and I don’t think it’s made our personal lives grind to a meaningless halt.

There might be more benefits to people believing in their selves as disparate systems working together as this might cause people to question their thinking a bit more and make them stop and consider their cognitive biases.

Finally, this kind of revolution reminds me of the one we had when we turned from the naive realism of a pre-scientific society (we experience things directly) to the idea that we experience things through sense organs. That was a radical change in how we perceive ourselves, but it’s one we’ve survived and are doing quite well.

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James Onen May 2, 2010 at 4:11 am

Everyone knows homunculus only come into being when you try to bring someone back from the dead without the philosopher’s stone.

LOL, Bill Maher. Full Metal Alchemist?

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Hermes May 2, 2010 at 5:14 am

I’m am willing to listen to and take seriously anyone who can demonstrate*not merely assert or speculate about* — an immaterial essence for even *part* of an individual human psyche.

I’ve had detailed conversations with a few dozen people on this, and not one person can provide a demonstration.

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Bill Maher May 2, 2010 at 5:50 am

LOL, Bill Maher. Full Metal Alchemist?  

yup yup. It is also relevant in the fact that the main character of the show, Ed, is very blatantly an atheist.

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James Onen May 2, 2010 at 6:54 am

yup yup. It is also relevant in the fact that the main character of the show, Ed, is very blatantly an atheist.

Is he? I guess I should update the list of famous non-believers on my blog then :-) Edward Elric!

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Al Moritz May 2, 2010 at 7:10 am

Thanks for posting these, Luke!
In my opinion, modern neuroscience does more damage to theism than just about any other branch of science.
Ant- more so, the argument that a mind does not depend on a physical brain has long been lost. Apologists have a TERRIBLE time dealing with this fact. Check out “The Problem of the Soul” by Owen Flanagan, to see just how bankrupt the whole idea is, on just about every conceivable level.

These comments do not exactly reflect the facts. No serious theistic philosopher, physicalist or dualist, would claim that the mind is not dependent on the brain. For one thing, if there is a thing as a ‘soul’, it would, at the very least, depend on the brain to steer the body. To those who believe in a soul (a mind that is more than just the brain), the brain is an instrument of the soul (perhaps in a rather crude analogy, with them standing in a similar relation as software to hardware). As such, you would of course expect thoughts to correlate with brain activity, which is exactly what we see. In that sense, neuroscience does not do damage to the ”soul’ concept at all. It is also noteworthy that the neuroscientist John Eccles, who won the Nobel Prize for his work on the synapse, was a theistic mind-brain dualist (not that his scientific credentials would bolster his philosophical position, it just shows that a great scientist seriously involved in the particular field of neuroscience through his daily work can hold this position nonetheless).

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Hermes May 2, 2010 at 7:49 am

Note [edits] added for clarification;

Al Moritz: For one thing, if there is a thing as a[n][incorporeal] soul’, it would, at the very least, depend on the brain to steer the body. To those who believe in a soul (a mind that is more than just the brain), the brain is an instrument of the soul (perhaps in a rather crude analogy, with them standing in a similar relation as software to hardware).

Do we have any examples of this?

What I’m asking for is what I’ve discussed earlier, such as this summary;

I’m am willing to listen to and take seriously anyone who can demonstrate*not merely assert or speculate about* — an immaterial essence for even *part* of an individual human psyche.

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Mark May 2, 2010 at 8:08 am

Hermes, he wasn’t trying to provide evidence for the existence of an immaterial soul.

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Erika May 2, 2010 at 8:49 am

Some people seem to be getting up on the idea that there is no such thing as “I”. Perhaps a better way to put it is not that there is no such thing as “I” but that “I” does not mean what you think it means.

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Hermes May 2, 2010 at 8:58 am

Mark, I realize that. I’m still throwing the question open and asking for a demonstration of immaterial souls or some subset. Maybe someone — even an atheist — has an example of something?

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Zak May 2, 2010 at 9:18 am

Al Mortiz,
I have never heard any dualist philosopher say that the mind is dependent on the brain. In fact, I always hear exactly the opposite. I am always told that there is just a correlation, and that a mind can exist even when a brain doesn’t (such as with god and other spirits).

Saying that you need an immaterial mind to steer a body (setting aside the question of why an immaterial mind could influence a physical brain, but not a physical body, or how this could even happen in principle) is in no way the same as saying the mind is dependent on the brain. What I meant is that a mind cannot exist without a brain first existing. And no dualist would ever accept that.

We don’t see just simple correlations, we see direct causation. As evidence by split brain patients who then have split consciousness. Why would cutting a physical brain in two also create two spheres of consciousness, unless consciousness is created by a brain?

To quote another Nobel laureate, Eric Kandel, “All mental processes, even the most complex psychological processes, derive from operations of the brain.”

“All conscious states are caused by brain processes. There aren’t any exceptions. Every single conscious state is caused by brain processes… No dualist has ever been able to give an account of how a brain can affect a mind, or how a mind can affect a brain. Dualism, for most philosophers today, is not a real option.” –John Searle

“An immaterial spirit that occupies individual brains and that only evolved in humans — all that is complete nonsense. It’s basically superstition.” –VS Ramachandran

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Robert Gressis May 2, 2010 at 9:19 am

Mark, I realize that.I’m still throwing the question open and asking for a demonstration of immaterial souls or some subset.Maybe someone — even an atheist — has an example of something?  

Hermes,

I’m not clear what you’re looking for. Are you looking for empirical evidence for the existence of an immaterial thing? Or are you looking for evidence in the broader sense, as in general considerations in dualism’s favor?

If you’re looking for empirical evidence, you’re going to be disappointed, because the only empirical evidence for dualism is that there are certain things that (according to dualists and some materialists, like Colin McGinn) can’t be explained empirically; moreover, if we could find empirical evidence, say a new ‘force’, like David Chalmers suggests, materialists would just say that’s material, in the same sense that gravity is material.

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Robert Gressis May 2, 2010 at 9:29 am

I have never heard any dualist philosopher say that the mind is dependent on the brain. In fact, I always hear exactly the opposite. I am always told that there is just a correlation, and that a mind can exist even when a brain doesn’t (such as with god and other spirits). [...] What I meant is that a mind cannot exist without a brain first existing. And no dualist would ever accept that. [...] No dualist has ever been able to give an account of how a brain can affect a mind, or how a mind can affect a brain.  

I’m pretty sure this is factually false. William Hasker, in his book, The Emergent Self, holds that the soul is an immaterial substance, but one depends on the brain, a physical substance, for its existence. He also holds that if the brain went out of existence, so would the soul, unless God allowed the soul’s existence to continue through a miraculous intervention.

Also, I’m not sure that the fact that we can’t explain how the brain and soul interact is a big problem, seeing as how I’m not sure we can explain how anything interacts with anything else.

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Zak May 2, 2010 at 10:42 am

Robert Gressis,

I am not familiar with Hasker… I would be curious to see what he thinks in regards to God’s mind. Since he thinks mind emerges from a brain, does he think God has a brain (as well as other spirit entities)? I would also be interested in what he think happens to minds when the brain is destroyed, as well as why severing the corpus callosum creates another mind.

Perhaps I am misunderstanding you, or am ignorant on the topic, but it seems that physical causation explains how things interact with each other quite well.

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Robert Gressis May 2, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Zak,

He does not think God has a brain. He thinks God is an immaterial mind. There doesn’t seem to me to be any problem with that. It seems that Hasker is reasoning as follows:

(1) some immaterial substances are such that they require a physical substance to exist.
(2) God is an immaterial substance.
(3) It is not the case that God requires a physical substance to exist.

(1)-(3) aren’t an inconsistent triad.

As for what happens to minds when brains are destroyed, like I said, he thinks that they will go out of existence unless God miraculously keeps them in existence. Are you asking what the state is of minds that are miraculously kept in existence without a brain?

I’m not sure that severing the corpus callosum creates another mind. Why not just say a corpus callosotomy creates a diminished mind? The Wikipedia article on the subject doesn’t give me the impression that two minds are created from a corpus callosotomy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Split-brain#Control

Alternatively, you could think that normal people have two extremely well-integrated minds, and that corpus callosotomies create two not-so-well-integrated minds.

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Robert Gressis May 2, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Zak,

As for physical causation, what I meant was something like this:

Case 1: A person P’s brain undergoes a brain-event B, and then P raises his right arm. Neurologists looking on say, “B caused the raising of P’s right arm.” A skeptical philosopher asks the neurologist, “how did B cause the raising of P’s right arm?” The neurologists respond, a bit bemusedly, “uh…it just did.”

Case 2: A person P’s soul undergoes a soul-event S, and then P raises his right arm. Pneumatologists looking on say, “S caused the raising of P’s right arm.” A skeptical philosopher asks the pneumatologist, “how did S cause the raising of P’s right arm?” The pneumatologists respond, a bit bemusedly, “uh…it just did.”

The point of the cases is that it’s not clear what role the “how-did-that-work?-question” (“how-that question”, for short) can be answered to the satisfaction of the philosopher. You can start invoking smaller and smaller particles, but he can keep on asking how those small particles caused the events they caused. It’s not at all clear what would satisfy him except to say, “look, things of this sort bring about things of that sort. That’s just what they do. There’s nothing more to say.”

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Hermes May 2, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Hermes,I’m not clear what you’re looking for. Are you looking for empirical evidence for the existence of an immaterial thing? Or are you looking for evidence in the broader sense, as in general considerations in dualism’s favor?If you’re looking for empirical evidence, you’re going to be disappointed, because the only empirical evidence for dualism is that there are certain things that (according to dualists and some materialists, like Colin McGinn) can’t be explained empirically; moreover, if we could find empirical evidence, say a new ‘force’, like David Chalmers suggests, materialists would just say that’s material, in the same sense that gravity is material.  

Robert, any reasonably inferred or direct demonstration.

In my first post, I started to write out an example such as [ deleted ], but I removed it because I did not want people to go off on that one narrow example as the only type that would be acceptable.

I will say this; my deleted example was not of the same flavor as what you gave so there are multiple ways to approach this.

My personal preference isn’t for bullet proof philosophical abstractions, but plausible demonstrations that are not directly contradicted by known facts. Anything approaching brain-in-a-vat solipsism is something I do not take seriously.

As that is a wide open request, the merits of any demonstration may be trivially acceptable to most people, or may require quite a bit of effort to make it clear that the demonstration is plausible if not most likely.

If it turns out that there is no way to describe anything that is immaterial and then demonstrate it, then how can it be taken seriously by anyone?

Let me rephrase that.

I know that people do take these things seriously, that I do not deny. There are some friends that I do not attempt to have these types of discussions with because if I convinced them — and I think I could — there is a good chance that they would mourn again the deaths of people who were close to them.

Note that I am not asking why they do — there are many reasons — but how (by what reasoning) do they if they use any reasons at all? As far as I can tell, the ancient Jews had no concept of an afterlife, but the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans did, as well as some other groups. How someone passed into that realm differed from society to society. As such, a completely incorporeal soul is not the default position.

I’m a very inventive and imaginative person myself, yet I try and keep alert for when I can say something is speculation and when I say something is likely.

That said, I am not asking for a demonstration that is based on materialism, but I am asking for a demonstration that is consistent with other known facts or explains them better than the current explanations. If those explanations of the facts are consistent with materialism then that just shows that the materialists have something to crow about. I recommend that the immaterialists get a cock in that squawk and have a reason to raise a few octaves by offering a demonstration of how what they say is even partially plausible.

The more I ask, the more silence I get. On WWGHA, I’ve had to ask and re-ask a few serious contenders and while I believe they are earnestly wanting to demonstrate what they mean, they fall silent after replying that they are looking into it. It’s as if those who complain are generally impotent in the clucking department, not that they just don’t give a cluck.

My tentative conclusion is that there is no support for immaterial souls and thus there is no way to get to an afterlife that is also immaterial. I’ve got my shingle out; the lack of response is not for want of asking.

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Hermes May 2, 2010 at 2:02 pm

See also my comments in this thread;

The Death of Pascal’s Wager

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Al Moritz May 2, 2010 at 2:11 pm

I had said:

“No serious theistic philosopher, physicalist or dualist, would claim that the mind is not dependent on the brain.”

Ok, I am going to rephrase. Above sentence, continued:

“… if not for its existence per se, then at least for its union with the body in order to constitute a human being.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, for example, states (numbers are parapgraph numbers):

“365 The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the “form” of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.”

This really doesn’t fit well with the ‘homunculus’ idea (but also does not necessarily imply that *any* life has to have a non-material component — just to diffuse the inevitable objections). However, the existence of the soul is not strictly dependent on the body:

“366 The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not “produced” by the parents – and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.”

And yes, God does not need a ‘brain’. That is also why theists usually find Dawkins’ triumphant ‘proof’ that the existence of God is highly unlikely so ludicrous. His ‘proof’ (chapter four, The God Delusion) basically implies that God would have to be an immensely complex, giant ‘brain’ (which then of course could not exist without having evolved). No theist would claim that God’s nature is of that kind, which is why Dawkins’ ‘proof’ is generally considered by theists an uninformed strawman.

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Hermes May 2, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Al, thanks for the quotes. Commenting on the RCC’s text only;

“366 The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not “produced” by the parents – and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.”

That either;

1. Contradicts available evidence. (details provided on request)

2. Requires a very complex and contorted explanation for a multitude of immaterial souls or independent soul fragments. (this way towards nonsense and/or incoherence)

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svenjamin May 2, 2010 at 2:29 pm

I was under the impression that some kinds of Buddhists, in particular, Hinayana Buddhists, use the term “maya”. Is that not right?
http://www.essortment.com/all/differencesbetw_rrax.htm

First, that site isn’t very accurate. For one thing, most serious academic sources on early Buddhist history would avoid using the term “hinayana” as it was a pejorative used by the Mahayana to refer to the earlier schools. Maya in Hinduism is a pretty technical term that doesn’t really correspond to the early Buddhist thought that I take as relevant to this discussion.
Buddhism outdoes even Christianity in terms of variety and syncretisms though, so there are probably some later schools that use the hindu concept of maya in some sense or other.

http://www.sacred-texts.org is an excellent source for religious texts from many different traditions. The famous questions of King Milinda ( http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/milinda.htm ) are probably the best place to start for people interested in a basic exposition of the doctrine of non-self.

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Robert Gressis May 2, 2010 at 4:26 pm

@svenjamin,

I agree that that site didn’t look very accurate, but I wanted to cite something other than the authority of my pal Charles Goodman. Nevertheless, I invoke his authority now. He’s a professor of philosophy at SUNY, Binghamton and wrote the well-reviewed defense of Buddhist ethics, Consequences of Compassion. He is also a practicing Buddhist. He has invoked “Maya the deceiver many times”, and his brand of Buddhism is a mix of Theravada and Mahayana (actually, he was a Theravada/Mahayana mixture–he’s added a few flavors to his blend and taken some away).

Since I don’t know how to include HTML links, I’ll just link to his faculty profile and amazon book site now.

http://bingweb.binghamton.edu/~cgoodman/
http://www.amazon.com/Consequences-Compassion-Interpretation-Defense-Buddhist/dp/019537519X/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1238951386&sr=8-1

He’d also be a good guest for lukeprog!

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Robert Gressis May 2, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Hermes,

What do you think of this?

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn12301-man-with-tiny-brain-shocks-doctors.html

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,290610,00.html

http://www.unexplainedstuff.com/Mysteries-of-the-Mind/Living-without-a-Brain.html

I’m guessing that you don’t find those cases to be interesting. The question is, how little brain matter would someone have to have (while functioning normally) before you did find them suggestive vis-a-vis dualism? Would it have to be 5%? 1% 0%?

There’s also Benjamin Libet’s experiments, which showed that unconscious factors leading to acting take place between 500 and 350 milliseconds before the motor action, but a conscious wish to act takes place 200 milliseconds before the motor action, and this conscious wish to act can act as a “conscious veto” to the unconscious factors that take place 350 milliseconds before the motor act, and stop the motor act from taking place. I think.

http://www.imprint.co.uk/pdf/Libet.pdf

Regardless, if the way I described Libet’s studies was correct, I wonder if that would cause you any pause? I assume not, but I’m just wondering.

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Leon May 2, 2010 at 5:00 pm

a kind of unified decision-maker that takes input from the environment, processes it through your unified personality, memory, and will, and responds with certain thoughts or actions.

This sounds a lot like utilitarianism or neoclassical economics to me, and not much like Christianity.

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lukeprog May 2, 2010 at 6:38 pm

Guys,

If you’ve got recommendations for my interview podcast, would you mind posting them over here? I’d like to keep things organized if possible.

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Hermes May 2, 2010 at 8:11 pm

Robert, I’ve heard of the response reaction timings and I do find that to be a fascinating mystery. Many interesting things are popping up in neuroscience especially over the past couple years and I try and keep generally informed especially after reading Gladwell’s Blink and later criticisms of it.

I’m not sure where they support immaterialism, though, and I’ve not heard any professional even hinting at that. As a layman (please excuse any misuse of proper neurology/neuroscience terms), I took those timing issues to be an example of us being ignorant of how brains actually function and that there are some non-intuitive processes going on that may be difficult to explain to people who aren’t specialists in the field. As I have contact with some neurologists, they may have some insights in this. Maybe I’ll pick their brains? If you have researched that a bit yourself and can connect the dots, I’d be interested as long as the conclusions are properly framed and are not overreaching.

As for the other patients, do you have more details? I looked and couldn’t find much except for a repeat of many of the same basic details. Specifically, I’d like to know how many neural connections there were in comparison to someone else with a similar IQ. If I remember my neuroanatomy, most neurons exist in the surface layers and the folding in human brains increases the space for those surface layers.

Speaking as a layman, I would expect that the loss of support for those nerves and a substantial number of neurons will probably lead to quite a few problems for these types of patients around age 50-60 (the time most healthy people have lost a substantial amount of neural mass), but that they may still have substantial neural mass still available even if they do not have nearly as much to hang it on. It’s really hard to tell with the pictures provided. (While I respect reporters — respect; a word I do not use lightly — I generally do not trust reporters to include the extra details needed to make an accurate assessment, and some are not very interested in just the facts. If you’ve been interviewed a few times then watched what happened with the interview, you may understand what I’m talking about.)

In the case of the third article, if that person has been autopsied, that would be informative. In the case of the person in the first two articles, the same question but against other people with IQs of ~75. Also, with that person being 44 years old, they are more set in a pattern (literally) and may have no problem executing those well-worn patterns. After all, quite a bit of brain tissue has been lost by that age anyway due to lack of use.

Without the extra details, I can’t say anything about it but considering immaterial support seems to be a bit of a stretch.

Would it be reasonable to expect any layman to come to any conclusions, however tentative, that are drastically different without overreaching?

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Mike Young May 3, 2010 at 3:15 pm

SEARLE SEARLE SEARLE. Damn it luke before you post this shit you should at least make an effort to become aware of what is going on the the liturature in philosophy of mind. Even the materialists reject the bullshit that this guy is spewing. Read any of the supreviniece theorists (start with Jae-gwon Kim) or emergence theorists (Read Searle) and you are going ot wind up with a huge set of issues. Neuroscience works on certain assumptions which we A
Also. if you think that there is no unified whole of conciousness you are going to have a serious problem, namely you are pinned with epiphenomonalism. Read dammit luke, Read before you post. Take classes, do your readin Luke. Most of the time you’re not bad (as fas as Atheists go) but come on, a strawman with bad info to boot. You’re better then that.

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lukeprog May 3, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Looks like I’ve hit a nerve. :)

Mike, have you considered that I may simply have more respect for neuroscientists than philosophers?

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a Nadder May 3, 2010 at 3:28 pm

I’ve read some Searle and based on that I’m less impressed with him than ANY philosopher of mind I’ve read… I don’t think Luke was missing much.

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Al Moritz May 3, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Looks like I’ve hit a nerve.
Mike, have you considered that I may simply have more respect for neuroscientists than philosophers?  

No, Luke, Mike did hit a nerve I guess. He is right. Read for example “Philosophy of mind” by Jaegwon Kim. I just read it, and there are huge issues indeed. And no, neuroscientists have little clue about these issues.

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Al Moritz May 3, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Jaegwon Kim, by the way, is not a theist.

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Al Moritz May 3, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Also. if you think that there is no unified whole of conciousness you are going to have a serious problem, namely you are pinned with epiphenomonalism.

Yes, epiphenomenalism is the stupid idea that neuroscientists often arrive at. You are sure, Luke, that you have more respect for neuroscientists? Certainly, in their own field they may achieve great things, but their scienitifc expertise does not make them in any way philosophically competent.

I really have a hard time with this ‘veneration’ of science by non-scientists, perhaps because I am a scientist myself and know a bit more from the inside how scientists think and are trained — certainly not in philosophy, and not even in philosophy of science.

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Robert Gressis May 3, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Don’t tell my scientist friends, but I more or less second what Al says.

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Atheist.pig May 3, 2010 at 9:38 pm

“Mike, have you considered that I may simply have more respect for neuroscientists than philosophers?”

I’m impressed Luke. A bunch of theists telling you to read John Searle and Jaegwon Kim before posting recent scientific studies. Sounds religious alright.

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Al Moritz May 3, 2010 at 10:57 pm

I’m impressed Luke. A bunch of theists telling you to read John Searle and Jaegwon Kim before posting recent scientific studies. Sounds religious alright.  

Uncritically worshipping at the altar of Science without a proper philosophical foundation to one’s thinking sounds religious alright.

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lukeprog May 4, 2010 at 1:06 am

Al,

Is this blog not philosophical enough for you, or something? :)

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Al Moritz May 4, 2010 at 4:11 am

Al,
Is this blog not philosophical enough for you, or something?   

Your blog is in that respect far superior to other atheist sites. Is it good enough yet? Well, there is always room for improvement, let’s put it that way.

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Hermes May 4, 2010 at 5:54 am

Al, what is the value of philosophical ponderings that never leave the field of philosophy? Or, if your focus is narrowly on shunning the sciences and possibly some other specific fields, can you tell me why they deserve to be ignored when other non-philosophical fields and endeavors do not?

More generally, why ignore anything that gains us a better understanding of reality? Why prefer an uninformed philosophy to a fully informed discussion?

As I see it, the scientists are putting themselves out there and directly dealing with reality — and revel in gaining a better understanding of reality by shedding mistakes as they are identified. What more noble intellectual pursuit can there be?

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Al Moritz May 4, 2010 at 6:19 am

Hermes,

I am a scientist myself and would be the last one to want to ignore anything that gains us a better understanding of reality. However, science and philosophy should properly inform one another, and when science ventures into territories that strongly border on philosophical issues, it is important to not smear out the distinctions between science and philosophy. Since scientists often do not know much about philosophy, they frequently make statements that masquerade as science, while they really are philosophy (leading both to bad scientific statements and bad philosophical statements). Neuroscience and cosmology are two of the areas where this happens all the time. Everyone should inform themselves on both science and philosophy, and work from there.

As I see it, the scientists are putting themselves out there and directly dealing with reality — and revel in gaining a better understanding of reality by shedding mistakes as they are identified. What more noble intellectual pursuit can there be?

It is a noble intellectual pursuit, no issues with that.

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Atheist.pig May 4, 2010 at 6:41 am

Al Moritz is an ID’er/creationist but doesn’t want to admit it, here’s a couple of quotes from Moritz:

Divine revelation is important evidence…It is the dual, combined evidence from both rational arguments for the existence of God and divine revelation that forms for me an unbeatable combination and keeps me firmly grounded in theism (in my personal case, Catholicism) and also excludes deism.”

Is this the proper philosophical foundation to one’s thinking your talking about.

“At some point, I may present my own thoughts on why natural selection does not suffice to explain the recognition of truth by the human mind…Other than when it comes to the human mind, I am a ‘die-hard’ evolutionist throughout, and I also hold, following the scientific evidence which grows ever stronger, that the origin of life must have had natural causes….(no, I am not talking about the Intelligent Design position that denies the science of evolution).

Switch the “human mind” with the “bacterial flagellum” and its Michael Behe. The ID position doesn’t deny the science of evolution, many ID’ers I’ve heard accept common descent and natural selection among other things as a mechanism.

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Al Moritz May 4, 2010 at 7:21 am

Switch the “human mind” with the “bacterial flagellum” and its Michael Behe. The ID position doesn’t deny the science of evolution, many ID’ers I’ve heard accept common descent and natural selection among other things as a mechanism.  

Except that the human mind is not a ‘design’ issue and an issue of ‘irreducible complexity’, but an issue of category: is blind matter able to allow for universal frameworks of rationality?

Mike Young has raised the issue on that ongoing thread:

http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8854

and an evolutionary argument can be formulated as well, see the final part of Plantinga’s review of The God Delusion:

http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2007/marapr/1.21.html

I will not further discuss this issue here, since this would be another whole new discussion that would demand an investment of time that I do not have, but I will point out that even the atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel worries about a naturalistic evolutionary account for reason, in particular abstract reason, in his powerful book ‘The Last Word’.

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Hermes May 4, 2010 at 10:27 am

However, science and philosophy should properly inform one another, and when science ventures into territories that strongly border on philosophical issues, it is important to not smear out the distinctions between science and philosophy.

I agree, though that dos not mean that a hard restriction should go both ways;

* A scientist should not wax philosophical, though they should (by necessity) have a keen understanding of logic while they practice science.

* A philosopher should identify and address any evidence and conclusions from the practices of other disciplines. Conversely, though, they should not ignore what is accepted as valid in other fields.

I hear and generally agree with your gripes about philosophy being misused.

My gripe is that in these conversations, philosophy is given a heavy hand — to the point that staggering nonsense is taken seriously even for a moment. Solipsism and solipsistic ideas (including but not limited to various presuppositionalism(s) (mainly Christian though not only Christian)) kill many conversations or are used as shield to deflect valid questions or to discredit or remove demonstrable facts from a conversation. The whole sniping at materialism is an example of this. Well, if the materialists or even someone who mentions material support for or against a claim are incorrect in a specific instance, then show that. If they aren’t then it’s just sour grapes to complain that they have something to show and non-materialists don’t. I’m willing to accept any evidence for a proposition if it is actually evidence for that proposition. The materialists — well — have lots of stuff that can be used to support claims with.

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Hermes May 4, 2010 at 10:35 am

[ repost: the editor function reported I had 2 minutes left to make changes -- then rejected the changes because I had somehow run our of time! ]

However, science and philosophy should properly inform one another, and when science ventures into territories that strongly border on philosophical issues, it is important to not smear out the distinctions between science and philosophy.

I agree, though that dos not mean that a hard restriction should go both ways;

* A scientist should not wax philosophical, though they should (by necessity) have a keen understanding of logic while they practice science.

* A philosopher should identify and address any evidence and conclusions from the practices of other disciplines. Conversely, though, they should not ignore what is accepted as valid in other fields.

I hear and generally agree with your gripes about philosophy being misused.

My gripe is that in these conversations, philosophy is given a heavy hand — to the point that staggering nonsense is taken seriously even for a moment. Solipsism and solipsistic ideas (including but not limited to various presuppositionalism(s) (mainly Christian though not only Christian)) kill many conversations or are used as a shield to deflect valid questions or to discredit or remove demonstrable facts from a conversation. The whole sniping at materialism is an example of this. Well, if the materialists or even someone who mentions material support for or against a claim are incorrect in a specific instance, then those who complain should show that is the case. If they aren’t then it’s just sour grapes to complain that those using material evidence have something to show to support a claim (or to discuss someone else’s claim) and non-materialists don’t have that flexibility. I’m willing to accept any evidence for a proposition if it is actually evidence for that proposition. Material or not. The materialists — no surprise! — have lots of stuff that they can use to support claims with.

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Zeb May 5, 2010 at 12:34 pm

I finally got to watch the two videos, and while I can see how it is likely the case that the brain constructs the contents of our minds (including all thoughts, feelings, and beleifs), I don’t see how it could construct a witness to the mind. “Zeb” might be a fictional character living in a semi-fictional world in a story told by the interpreter module of a brain, but the tellling of a story does not create an audience.

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Hermes May 5, 2010 at 4:15 pm

[ The following is not in direct reference to the videos. ]

Zeb, currently “Zeb” can witness various processes of the autonomic nervous system that “Zeb” ‘possesses’. [dropping the excess quote usage] If you take effort, you can dig into the autonomic nervous system and take control of it in a limited respect. Yet, Zeb is oblivious to those controlled systems without that excess effort. In effect, you are split from yourself. There’s the Zeb part and there’s your neighbors The Automatons. Through meditation you can break the fiction somewhat.

This split is necessary because without it the manager “Zeb” would not be able to pilot the craft of a whole body Zeb since “Zeb’s” attention would be on keeping such things as the heart going and air going in and out. Delegation is needed, but just as a manager can’t deliver the goods for their whole department, the other parts have to be working as well. That said, if the manager takes a vacation, the efforts of the other members of the department can’t be applied.

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Hermes May 6, 2010 at 5:54 am

The videos linked to above are only two from a much longer playlist;

http://www.youtube.com/user/EdinburghUniversity#g/c/EA9467E8E8D991AE

Items in that playlist;

Terry Eagleton – The God Debate

Michael Gazzaniga – What We Are

[ the two videos in the blog post ]

Michael Gazzaniga – Free Yet Determined and Constrained

Michael Gazzaniga – The Social Brain

Michael Gazzaniga – We Are the Law

Diana Eck – Globalization & Religious Pluralism

Diana Eck – The New Cosmopolis: Cities and the Realities of Religious Pluralism

Diana Eck – The Civic Perspective: Citizens, Nations, and the Challenges of Religious Pluralism

Diana Eck – Religious Views of Religious Pluralism I

Diana Eck – Religious Views of Religious Pluralism II

Diana Eck – The Pluralism Within

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Bill Herd September 29, 2011 at 8:33 am

a claim’s possible consequences are irrelevant to its truth. this is a slippery slope fallacy.
Yes indeed. And, I submit, the consequences of our popular philo-scientific views entail radical epistemological skepticism and existential nihilism. Our views lead us back to Schopenhauer, only without the antiquated metaphysics and idealism. Once we have killed (to speak like Nietzsche) God and the soul and its free will, the consequences are irrelevant. Nihilsm no longer knocks at the door, he’s eating at our table.

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