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October 24, 2008

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This idea of consciousness, and realities like human autonomy and volition that are associated with it, has been evidence to my mind for some time now that there is more than materialism to the human brain/mind construct. It appears to me to be a fundamental and undeniable truth that humans beings have some sort of power to choose their behavior, thoughts, and responses to external stimuli. Regardless of what one wants to call that ability or capacity (free will, autonomy, etc.), a strictly physicalist view of the brain/mind construct does not seem to allow for that power in human experience. If the physical brain is all that is there, choice/will is an illusion, and everything we do is pre-determined (even me writing this little post denying the idea that our actions are pre-determined).

Any further thoughts on this?

Can anyone help me: what is meant by "material" and "physical" here? How are we defining these terms?

What Gefter fails to explain is that if her view is correct then what she is explaining to us is only chemical processes. If this is the case then why is she trying to persuade us? Everything that happens is the result of impersonal cause/effect. So even my belief in the soul is impersonal cause/effect and there is no need to convince me otherwise, because there is no "me" to convince. Also, there is no "her" to do the convincing.

Gabriel, I would have thought that convincing and being convinced is compatible with the truth of causal determinism: it's just that such activities and responses are causally determined. That is, there is need for her to try to convince you in this sense: her trying is causally necessitated.

Steve,
Yes, that can be said, but the problem is still there is no "me" or "I" or "her" there are no beings for the communcation to make a difference to. My impersonal causal determined chemicals doesn't care about her impersonal causal determined chemicals... in other words there is no purpose or teleology for her convincing... its just chemicals

What I find humorous about the article is that the author broadbrushes JP Moreland as a member of the "'non-material neuroscience' movement" that is "attempting to resurrect Cartesian dualism," when Moreland flatly *rejects* Cartesian dualism (he's a hilomorphic or Aristotelian dualist). Small point, true, but it just shows that someone needs to read more carefully.

"but the problem is still there is no 'me' or 'I' or 'her'"

Gabriel, I think I may agree with you, but how do we make the inference from something like "everything is ultimately chemical processes" to the conclusion that "Everything that happens is the result of impersonal cause/effect" (and thus there is no "me" or "her")?

J.P. Moreland does good work in this area, but I think the science community is really freaked out by Mario Beauregard at the U of Montreal. He's beating them at their own game: empirical scientific evidence for the existence of a non-material soul. This study wasn't conducted in Canada's Bible Belt either, Quebec is the most secular province in the Great White North. Although Beauregard forces his findings into some pretty funny pantheistic conclusions, the Spiritual Brain is worth a read.

Moreland's arguments are only good against a reductionistic physicalism. His arguments against various forms of emergentism are inadequate.

Furthermore, his arguments from introspection, as 'evidence' for an immaterial soul, are completely off base: I do not experience myself in *any* way as a non-extended being, but as one that is radically situated, with my body as my primary locus. Furthermore, my presence in my body is still spatially located and does not extend beyond my body (or, to use stricter terminology, is not extended at all); my feeling of ownership and presence to my body (which is a complex phenomenon that requires some very fine distinctions, as we can find in disorders of embodiment) *is* that of a spatially situated being.

While reductionistic physicalism surely isn't correct, dualism adds little to nothing to the *content* of our existence.

I got a B.S. in Cognitive Science and took classes with the Churchlands. They're cool.

I also read all of JP Morelands books.

But this statement by him:

"The simple truth is that in both science and philosophy, strict physicalist analysis of consciousness and the self have been breaking down since the mid-1980s."

seems a bit much.

I mean it's really only been since the mid 80's when science has actually developed the tools to even really look at a functioning human brain at all. Before then, we were quite literally shooting in the dark.

Way too early to throw our hands up and say:

"Well we gave it 20 years and we still don't understand it. So the only solution we can come up with is that there must be a ghost glued to our neurons."

Nah. It’s true that we don't understand consciousness. But still too early to throw in the towel in my opinion.

Also interesting, I met JP Moreland and told him about the work being done at USC to construct an artificial hippocampus.

http://www.techpsych.net/archives/000134.html

Since this device will be replacing the patients wetware with a hardware equivalent, I wanted to know if the patients soul would remain attached to him. And in turn, if, someday, his whole brain was replaced with computer parts, what would happen to his soul? (See Chalmers - Fading Qualia Argument ) Moreland told me that he was open to the possibility that “devices” could replace brains and that the soul would stick around. So if he’s right about souls, then machines can have souls too, according to him. Kinda weird.

But this whole debate could indeed end tomorrow.

Moreland wrote a book on Near Death Experiences. Supposedly, patients quite often float above their bodies and watch the doctors operate on them. Then, they are able to sometimes describe the tools that the doctors were using, and other things in the operating room.

There have been a hand full of NDE experiments. The most impressive ones to me involve simply placing a sentence above the doctors heads on a sign suspended from the ceiling. The floating person should be able to read this message, and report what it said – once he’s brought back to life. This would be such an elegant way to once and for all PROVE that dualism is true. For, given the startling number of NDEs that happen every year in hospitals, surely many people ought to be able to report what this sentence said.

However, last I checked, none of the marquee experiments were ever successful.

No one got it right.

This fact makes me highly highly highly highly suspect of any NDE data.

And I take it as a definite indicator that, possibly, some physical phenomenon is at play here in these brains of ours.

And not, a ghostly one.

But even evidence from NDE doesn't substantiate Moreland's claim as very few, if any, report any sense of being un-extended: the very idea of 'floating above one's body' is still *very* spatially situated, as are reports of moving through space at high speeds to 'see' a loved one or some remote event. In fact, any perception of any kind requires a situated observer who is taking some perspective on the perceived event.

I would only remind Gefter that Cartesian dualism is NOT the only (nor most viable) option for a dualistic understanding of humanity.

The distinction between physicalism and dualism centers around the nature of cause.

Is the cause, itself, caused; or not?

Physicalism, materialism, Evolution the Theory, require that all effects be accounted for by an infinite regression of causes.

Even if we grant that an infinite regression of causes is plausible; if it can be proven that human decision is a first cause, then that's the game - for at least some things can only be accounted for by first causes (or agency).

To the guy who mentioned Emergentism: What are the emergent properties of those things which must conform to causal law; You're not going to get agency from it because agency is a first cause, and, therefore, violates causal law.

Agency is not a first cause: the very possibility of acting requires the existence of a motile body that can act as well as a world in which to act, neither of which an immaterial substance has. I would even add that it would have a need to act, which an immaterial entity that self-exists and requires nothing in order to exist (except, in a theistic conception, God's act of sustaining existence, but that requires *nothing* from the immaterial soul) would not have. What would an immaterial act even look like, insofar as even thoughts are first and foremost about one's own living and context, and only secondarily (and, I would argue, grounded in the former) about abstract entities.

Furthermore, if we claim that an emergent entity has capacities beyond those of its parts, then there is nothing immediately apparent that would discredit the possibility of choice, when properly understood. It is only when we accept a reductionism of the whole to its parts (or, as is popular today, to the brain) that some robust notion of freedom is impossible.

"Can anyone help me: what is meant by "material" and "physical" here? How are we defining these terms?"

Things that are governed by either physics or chemistry would be called material in nature.

An awful lot of folks assume they have some idea how body (material) and soul (immaterial) are bonded together, but I suspect they are following the wrong rabbit trails. To my way of thinking, the soul doesn't need the body to function, but the body needs the soul to continue to function. So, the concept of reductionism does not apply.

"the soul doesn't need the body to function, but the body needs the soul to continue to function"

Speaking of rabbit trails, does this also apply to rabbit bodies? If so, do the rabbit souls continue without their bodies? :)

>> Agency is not a first cause:

Agency *is* a first cause - by definition. I use the term "agency" to distinguish between caused and uncaused causes. To be sure, the point of using the term "agency" sometimes, and "first cause" other times, is to help to make a distinction of identity in the mind of the reader - that is: that the nature of first causes is different from that of caused causes.

I think it is likely that the reader will recognize that *I* perceive a distinction between the terms "agency" and "caused causes", if I use both terms, which is why I do.

Now, whether or not agency exists is the issue, and, therefore, remains to be seen [as far as this thread is concerned].


>> the very possibility of acting requires the existence of a motile body that can act as well as a world in which to act, neither of which an immaterial substance has.

The very possibility of *materials* to affect, and to be affected, by other materials, requires the existence of a motile body - but this is not the issue.

The issue is whether or not said motile body can be, and has been, acted upon by something which does not conform to causal law.

I'm sure that you would not say that because a Slinky has a motile body, that it, therefore, is possessed by agency.

What I think the commentators on this blog have missed about this article is its philosophical totalitarianism. It suggests that positions contrary to the dominant "scientific" view should have no hearing in the academy since it is led by "creationists." Not only is the creationist connection false (as well as the Cartesian connection), but it should send shivers through the spine of anyone who believes that the philosophical world should not be monitored by intellectual gate keepers who label their own view "science" and think that's enough to win the argument.

BTW, one of the problems with the whole mind/body debate is that it is dictated by the parameters put in place by Descrates. But if one rejects the final and formal cause denials implied in the Cartesian, materialist, and emergent views, then the debate is wide open. For example, the idea that knowledge is better than ignorance, or that truth is better than falsity, or that humans can acquire knowledge of universals such as "one ought not to be ignorant" or "human beings ought to be respected" or "human nature is X," is not even in the epistemological ball park for the materialists and their emergent friends. But as long as they can smuggle in philosophical capital from classical realism without giving it credit, they can get away with asserting materialism and defending it in the language of realism. They are much like the Soviet planners that read the Wall Street Journal in order to set prices.

This is for Tony and the rest of the atheists on here, can you all PLEASE give me your top evidences for atheism? What are they, let me see them! Thanks.

RD

Based on what I've read from Tony over the years, I'd be surprised if he described himself as an atheist.

Plus, that seems off-topic.

>> This is for Tony and the rest of the atheists on here, can you all PLEASE give me your top evidences for atheism? What are they, let me see them! Thanks.

Atheism, in structure, is similar to the belief that unicorns don't exist - the only evidence you need to support negative positions is a lack of evidence against it.

The burden of proof is on those holding the affirmative position.

Nice comment there by Frank Beckwith. To put it succinctly, science does not equate to naturalism, and to claim that it does is gratuitously reductionistic. (See The Wedge by Philip Johnson.) Naturalism/materialism/mechanism itself is not a scientific conclusion but only an a priori philosophical commitment that illegitimately purports to dictate in advance of inquiry what can be allowed to count as knowledge. Science should be about discovery and should follow the evidence wherever it leads, even if this requires adjusting paradigms. Any epistemic commitment that dictates what reality must look like before looking is not science. In fact, it's not even knowledge; it's an attempt to hamstring discovery.

I understand the basic assumption of atheism, but what I'm specifically asking for is what evidence supports and or helps confirm the darwinistic materialistic paradigm? What are the best proofs that the darwinian naturalists here have to offer? That is what I'm needing to know. Thanks.

RD

"Agency *is* a first cause - by definition. I use the term "agency" to distinguish between caused and uncaused causes."

No, it is not: it is one aspect among a whole set of other conditions, including motile embodiment, that are necessary to make agency possible in the first place. The whole extraction of agency from such a situated and embedded context (which includes embodiment, needs, desires, etc.) is what is sending much of the discussions of free will into the realm of largely unnecessary thought experiments.

"The very possibility of *materials* to affect, and to be affected, by other materials, requires the existence of a motile body - but this is not the issue."

But you completely ignored the rest of my argument: without a context within which to act (which includes a body and objects to interact with) and certain needs to act on (needs that a more or less self-existent immaterial entity would not have), there would be no reason to act in the first place.

"The issue is whether or not said motile body can be, and has been, acted upon by something which does not conform to causal law."

While that is the generally traditional way of understanding the issue, I think it is much more complicated than that. The issue is whether the abstraction of 'causal law' is even true in the first place. For example, it seems to be true that causation in the physical universe is much more formal than it is linear, as in field theory. I don't think we've really come to grips about the significance of that on this issue, among others.

"I'm sure that you would not say that because a Slinky has a motile body, that it, therefore, is possessed by agency."

No, because a slinky doesn't have a "motile body"; it is material, yes, but it is not motile. I understand motile body in the sense of Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology of embodiment. My body *certainly* isn't an object for me like the slinky or my computer is for me; it is not one body among others, but has a particular structure that is significantly different from other objects.

"Any epistemic commitment that dictates what reality must look like before looking is....not even knowledge; it's an attempt to hamstring discovery."

Do very many Bible-based beliefs fall into this category?

"

"Any epistemic commitment that dictates what reality must look like before looking is....not even knowledge; it's an attempt to hamstring discovery."

Do very many Bible-based beliefs fall into this category?
"
That depends on what the Bible-based belief in question looks like. It depends on the intellectual honesty, motives and careful scholarship with which he arrived at that belief. Of course, that belief should correspond to observable reality.

Ronald Dean.

>> This is for Tony and the rest of the atheists on here, can you all PLEASE give me your top evidences for atheism? What are they, let me see them! Thanks.

Nah I’m not an atheist. I think the arguments for the existence of a sentient creator of the cosmos are pretty good.

I just don’t think he’s Jesus.

If you like though, I’ll give you what are in my opinion, the top 3 challenges to my world view:

----------------------------------------------
1. Why is there something and not nothing (why does the cosmos exist?)
2. Epistemology: What is the nature of the laws of physics, logic, and reason? (Is Platonism true – how can a materialist’s philosophical framework somehow account for the apparent existence of platonic forms?)
3. What is the nature of human and animal consciousness? Is it merely a substrate-dependent epiphenomenon? And if so, how can we model it.
----------------------------------------------

>> what I'm specifically asking for is what evidence supports and or helps confirm the darwinistic materialistic paradigm?

Hmm if you want some “darwinistic” arguments, I think the best evidence I’ve seen thus far is the new ERV data.

You can learn about it here.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=De-OkzTUDVA

I’ve tried to remain skeptical of evolution.

But if I were still Christian, this data would make me a little nervous.

Finding an absolutely physcial explanation for human consciousness would not really eliminate the concept of the human soul.

For the atheist it would in their mind cinch the denial of a spiritual soul.

But the fact of a human soul would not be really be disproven.

The only thing that would be proven would be the physical dependence of our consciousness in this physcal existence we experience.

Chemistry, physics, the electron and quantum nature of biology yet to be discovered and understood. In the programming of DNA and RNA in the building of life.

No one is gonna offer a counter-argument to the ERV data?

I've been searching pretty hard for a Christian retort but I can't seem to find one that's even reasonably intelligent.

Ideas?????

Atheists are making at least two "positive" positions that are unsubstantiated by evidence.

One is that all non-atheist positions are wrong. Despite having been held by the majority of the human race throughout history. And therefore it is the responsibility of the rest of the human race to change their opinions, causing no end of bother, when there is no obvious gain in changing and no obvious harm in remaining.

The other is that any opinion that is not held on the basis of "scientific" evidence(including of course science which cannot prove itself)has absolutely no legitimacy whatsoever.

Now if Atheists are demanding only that they be allowed to continue being Atheists, that is their affair, and their "unicorn" claim might have substance. But in my experience a number of Atheists claim that they have the right to deny respect to others who disagree with them. Which is a claim that others do not have the right to refrain from being atheists. Under those conditions the burden of proof in fact lies on the Atheists as they are demanding that others change.
Of course every opinion proselytes itself to some degree. But Atheists claim that ONLY opinions gained by reason are valid. And if this is so, consistency demands that they have convincing proof.

There was a time (not long ago) when consciousness was universally seen as a supernatural event. But then Phineas Gauge came along, and piece of metal in his frontal lobe dramatically change is very personality. Since then, neuroscience has shown us unequivically that phyisical manipulations of the brain have a direct, observable and measurable impact on consciousness. Whether it be a lobotomy, psychotropic drugs, hormones, sleep deprivation, etc., all are physical reaction of the brain. Real-time brain scans during various mental activities show where in the brain praying occurs, math occurs, creativity occurs, memories occur, etc. Whatever role supernaturalism once played in consciousness, it has undeniably been dramatically reduced. To think this progression of understanding the mind/brain connection has reached its end, and only supernatural explanations remain, is naive.

Can science fully explain how consciousness works right now? No. But one cannot ignore the evidence right in front of one's nose...unless of course that nose is not ultimately connected to a brain I suppose.

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