The scientific evidence for immaterial mind defeats materialism – claims Dr. Egnor, a neurosurgeon affiliated with the Discovery Institute… Not so quickly – says Dr. Faizal Ali, a psychiatrist affiliated with CAMH and University of Toronto, who describes himself as an anti-creationist and a militant atheist. He believes that neural networks can be responsible for the emergence of the human mind, naturally…
Let’s look at their evidence…
“I often ask people who insist their mind is immaterial to put their money where their mouths are, by scooping out their brain and pulverizing it in a food processor, then continuing our discussion with their mental faculties still intact, as they should be if they were correct. No one has ever taken me up on this.”
Dr. Egnor does the scooping of the brains often by surgically removing the great majority of the brain… If Dr. Ali’s neural networks theory is correct, how come the mind is often not effected by the majority of the neural networks missing after surgery? This evidence would seem to support Dr. Egnor’s theory that the mind is immaterial and therefore unaffected by the majority of the brain tissue missing…
However, just like Dr. Ali seems to imply, not the whole brain can be discarded. Moreover, it is a well known fact, and both neurosurgeons and psychiatrists are well aware of the fact, that even a small damage to certain parts of the brain can shut down the entire neural networks and the immaterial mind…
So, who is right? Who is wrong?
This quote should give you an idea of how people can have experiences of things that do not exist:
Your perception of the purple blotch is a similar experience. Whether or not you are aware of its cause you are still having the experience.
Your ability to miss the point is impressive.
You also have an amazing ability to find examples that precisely refute your own argument — I was actually planning on contrasting my direct experience of neurons not firing with a hallucination.
I perceive a dark blotch in my visual field. Since it bounces around with my eye saccades, my brain is under no illusions that it corresponds to an object. I do not “see” it as an object, I “see” it as a defect in my vision.
I am not “directly experiencing” a purple blotch. There is no purple blotch for me to experience, directly or otherwise. SIMILARLY, when (in the Spring of 1980) I turned around and perceived by own reflection in a dappled mirror, I was not “directly experiencing” my reflection in a dappled mirror, I was hallucinating because I was stoned out of my fucking gourd. Likewise a year earlier when I perceived my head completing a 360-degree rotation about my neck. Didn’t happen. I had a perception that did not correspond to reality. I did not “directly experience” that rotation.
When I first pointed out to you what a terrible example the blind spot is (because it is utterly unlike what I experience in my visual field), I pointed out that the blind spot is a tremendous example of how your brain synthesizes what you “see”; what you see is a confection. I directed you to read up on Size-, lightness- and color- constancy. I now realize that the blind spot example that you are directing everyone to try is one that fails to demonstrate the confection aspect of your vision: try, instead, the gapped blue bar: notice that when the gap is in your blind spot, your brain synthesizes a continuous bar. Likewise with hallucinations; your brain is creating a confection for your delectation. Similarly, whilst your brain is expecting a parakeet, or a dog at the side of the road, you will “see” said animal, up until the moment that your brain reinterprets the stimuli to be a plush toy.
Not at all what I experience. I experience a failure of a group of neurons to fire.
You seem quite clueless regarding visual perception. I also think you are equivocating the meaning of “experience” and perhaps “think” in order to protect your rather odd position.
Maybe so, a hybrid of a horse and centipede is more likely to physically exist.
A few years ago, before cataract surgery, I backed into a car that I didn’t see.
Turns out, I was functionally blind in one eye. Not dark blind, but coke bottle blind.
Problem is, I didn’t notice, because my brain filled in with plausible stuff. (If you cover one eye, you don’t lose half your field of vision, just the peripheral vision on that side.)
So I saw a perfectly plausible scene, minus the car that was in the way.
Got my eyes fixed.
No I’m not confused. I asked you those questions for the sake of clarity. I would still like to know if you did the exercise and what you experienced. DNA_Jock has the experience of seeing a dark purple blotch due to defective neurons in his left eye. I would have hoped we could all agree on that. I had the experience of seeing the red spot disappear due to the lack of light sensitive cells at the point where the optic nerve of my left eye passes through the retina. This is not an illusion, it is an effect of the structure of the eye. Someone with the exact same eye defect as DNA_Jock would probably have the same experience as him even if he or she knew nothing of anatomy. He could reverse the image and use his right eye and probably get the usual effect. I was trying to get him to tell us exactly what he observed, his sense impression of the event. It doesn’t matter that he has an abnormal impression, it was his actual sense impression/experience I was after not his conclusions due to his experience as a thinker.
I think we are arguing over the use of words here. Would you prefer if instead of “experience” I used the term “sense impression”? Wikepedia has the following to say:
Obviously I’m using in the former and you the latter sense.
I was attempting to get you describe your initial sense impressions apart from your subsequent thought processes. And as far as I can tell this was an impression of a purple blotch.
I think you have misunderstood why I asked you to do the exercise I linked to.
The red dot exercise and the blue bar exercise point to two different aspects of vision. The former demonstrates that we have a blind spot where the optic nerve leaves the eye, the latter demonstrates that our senses give us incomplete parts and we are always looking for wholeness. As Goethe wrote In “The theory of colours”, “…nature tends to emancipate the sense from confined impressions by suggesting and producing the whole”. Kanisa’s triangle is another effective example of this effect where we tend to fill in the missing information to produce the whole.
But that is not what I was trying to achieve by asking you to do the exercise. You could have done any of the exercises as long as you then described to us what your initial sense impression/experience was. i didn’t matter if it was different from that of most people, it was your initial impression I was after.
I totally agree that our senses give us unconnected impressions that we then have to use our thinking minds to combine into a whole. You seem to think that I have a problem with that. I can assure you I don’t. I am 100 % in agreement with the fact that neurons play a vital part in transmitting sense data to the brain.
I agree. The ideal triangle could never be a physical triangle as that would impose limitations which would be an impossibility.
Yes your experience is a good example that we see in part and we are always trying to achieve the whole.
So you tried to separate the visual experience from its interpretation? That feels a bit artificial: The blotch is Jock’s experience of neurons not firing.
Suppose I accidentally hit my thumb with a hammer. Would it be wrong to say that I had the experience of a hammer hitting my thumb? Would you insist that, no, I experienced a sensation of pain and then went on to conclude, by “thinking”, that a hammer landed on my thumb? It is not necessarily wrong, but feels needlessly convoluted.
Would it be fair to say that you try to isolate thought processes from the neuronal firing that forms the basis for it? It is very confusing that on the one hand you maintain that you are not a mind-body dualist, but on the other hand you claim that by “thinking” you have control over your brain activity, as if the two are separate things. That doesn’t quite add up for me.
No. I am using the former sense, and you are equivocating.
Here’s the context:
Charlie claims the primacy of “thinking”:
Charlie makes his point (to Faizal Ali):
and voices a healthy skepticism as to my direct experience:
I explain, and Charlie tells me (repeatedly) that my direct experience (or sense impression) is like the blind spot in the eye. I repeatedly explain that it is not. (I experience that too, so I have a source of comparison. D’oh.)
Charlie’s rearguard action here is to claim that I only ‘experience’ neurons failing to fire, because I know what neurons are. But my ‘sense impression’ is of a defect in my visual field. If I were a falcon or a moron, the sense impression would be unaltered, and would still be the direct consequence of neurons failing to fire. The sense impression is UNAFFECTED by the words I use to describe it.
What is it with these guys and map/territory?
Yes it is artificial. But isn’t that what scientists do all the time? They separate out in order to analyse and understand.
There are multiple occasions where we have a sensation and subsequently we look for the cause. Do you believe that everyone who takes part in the vision exercises perceives the effect and at the same time understands the underlying cause/s. How do you see the relationship between perception and understanding?
I’m not trying to isolate them, I am trying to establish the causal relationships by looking at things in time order. If you like you can talk us through the processes involved when the broken blue bar exercise is carried out and how we come to an understanding of it.
I am happy to do this as well but it probably won’t be today.
This is not what I have been telling you. Your condition is not like our experience of the blind spot during normal vision. It is like the blind spot in one instance only and that is when the exercise I linked to is carried out. During the exercise a physical feature within our eyes prevents normal vision in a certain area. Your condition means that a physical feature within your eye prevents normal vision in a certain area. They are both similar in this regard only. At the moment I am not interested in comparing your condition to the blind spot under normal day to day vision.
I don’t see any problem in separating the two. What interests me is that you acknowledge that neurons are capable of transmitting sense data, but clearly resist the idea that rational thought is solely the product of neuronal activity. My impression is that this is the reason you emphasize the distinction. Did I see that correctly?
Between what? Thought and brain activity? Do you happen to have a MRI scanner at home?
Sorry to intervene in this discussion of “mind” but Denyse O’Leary over at Uncommon Descent just made a logical argument that would left me gasping. If I drank coffee it would be all over the monitor by now.
In a comment in the thread on whether computers will ever be “conscious” (here) she says
She is quite right. The area is “bizarre”, and thus any assertion that we know that computers can be conscious is impossible to support logically.
So far, so good. But notice what she leaves out: It is also equally impossible to support the assertion that computers cannot be conscious.
She would be very loathe to draw that second conclusion, since she and her friends are very convinced that computers cannot possibly ever become conscious.
So she’s got herself trapped.
I would like to hear phoodoo’s take on this. I once got into a discussion with him, in which he argued that organisms are machines. Not merely resemble, ARE. If you accept that conscious organisms are machines, I don’t see any obvious reason to deny that computers can become conscious as well. Of course, there may be other reasons.
@phoodoo: will you comment?
There are really two separable tracks to the debate about machine consciousness.
One is, can we tell if a machine candidate is really consciousness, or just a clever imposter.
The second is, do we have a path toward machine intelligence — real or fake — that shows promise.
I have no supportable answer, but that doesn’t stop me from having an opinion.
I’m in the camp that believes we can tell. And in the camp that thinks we haven’t found the ladder yet, much less taken the first step.
I would say that neuronal activity arrives in the brain from two directions. The senses transmit their signals from without and our thinking minds stimulate neuronal activity from within. It is thinking which combines the separate data into a unified whole. The physical organs allow us to receive the information and to transform the combined result into bodily movements through acts of will.
We could always ask someone who has direct sense experience of neuronal activity and do away with the need for a scanner 🙂
Don’t be sorry for broadening the discussion. It is fast being whittled down to a narrow point which will most likely terminate soon anyway.
For panpsychists computers are already conscious in their own way.
Anyone who wishes can read Mind, Models and Cartesian Observers: A Note on Conceptual Problems by Ronald H. Brady, in response to The Cartesian observer revisited: ontological implications of the homuncular illusion by Alex Comfort, 1979
(The response was published here)
These are quite old but I think they are relevant.
In his response Brady discusses positional identity, the complete mind/body separation of Cartesian dualism and the oceanic unity where the mind loses itself in the whole. He argues against objectifying the conceptual realm.
It is common to think that Cartesian dualism has been left well behind by modern thinkers, but how much do we still slip into this old way of thinking? I think Brady provides an antidote.
The flock stimulated the birds to take off.
The traffic jam stimulated the cars to stop moving.
The rain stimulated the droplets to fall.
You cannot separate thinking from neuronal activity like you do. That is why you continue to sound like a mind-body dualist.
I’m getting brain MRI with and without contrast this afternoon, so we have an awesome experimental opportunity; how should I distinguish “thinking causes neuronal activity” (Charlie’s position) from “neuronal activity causes thinking” (not Charlie’s position) from “thinking is neuronal activity” (Ali Faizal’s and my position) experimentally.
Although I do anticipate something of a problem with temporal resolution…
I did try thinking different things about the purple botch – it does exist, it doesn’t exist, it’s a defect in my visual field, it’s hiding a parakeet.
None of these thoughts had any effect on my sense impression…
I presume that you would claim to be self-conscious and that you know that your nervous system is made up of neurons and various other components. Does a flock have knowledge of the birds within it? Does a traffic jam know of the individual vehicles? Does the rain have knowledge of the individual drops?
How about consciousness being a property of matter?
But it adds nothing superfluous.
Ability to fly is a property of matter having a necessary configuration. Break the configuration, and no flying.
Same with thinking and feeling.
Suppose we consider a turing test for feelings. Would cats and dogs pass?
At what level of brain size would we draw the line, and why?
I take both of these as being my position. Consider this scenario:
I am walking down the street and a scantily clad, beautiful woman is walking towards me. An image appears on each retina and neuronal activity transmits it to my brain. My feelings are stimulated and I am also stimulated into thinking about how I should act. I decide to look away and pretend I’m not interested. My wife is walking beside me keeping a close eye on how I react.
The neuronal activity through the optic nerves caused me to think and my subsequent thinking caused the neuronal activity between my brain and relevant muscles.
Good luck with the scan.
You appear to be backing away from this claim:
You also appear to have retreated from the claim that the defect in my visual field is similar to the blind spot we all have, viz:
Happens a lot.
Thanks for your kind thoughts.
Brady gives us something to think about on this “double take” and the connection between thinking and perception.
We cannot separate thinking from reality as we see it.
Whichever way we think about the primacy of mind and matter any theories about it begin by thinking. So before we try to understand either consciousness of matter we should try to understand thinking.
We can see the wisdom inherent in nature in the way the aerodynamic forces are mastered.
Human wisdom allowed us to master flight using our own initiative and thinking but we achieved this by learning from our mistakes of which their was a vast amount.
I would say that anything with a nervous system no matter how rudimentary has some level of feeling.
What can I say. When we are arguing over our beliefs if I start from a position of direct opposition and then concede some ground it shows how flexible I can be 🙂
No, I haven’t changed my position on this at all. We only experience the blind spot when we do an exercise such as the red spot one. During normal vision we are unaware of this feature of our eyes and so it is not part of our experience.
Hope it went okay.
That sounds a bit worrisome. Hope everything is OK.
1) Do the falling drops cause the rain?
2) Does the rain cause the drops to fall?
3) Someone sets up an experiment to “establish the causal relationships” by looking what happens first: drops falling or rain. Is this useful?
I don’t really know what there is to comment on here. Computers are nothing more than circuits that electric currents flows through according to whatever instructions a programmer designs it to do. As cool as computers may seem and appear to be doing, ultimately it’s actually just a designer making an electric mousetrap. Will mousetraps one day be conscious? Will graffiti?
In what ways are organisms different from the computers? They have organic instead of copper circuits. Nerves made of cells travel along your body, up your spine, and into your brain, where neuronal and ganglial and axonal circuits make up the organic computer there. And your programming is your genes and your upbringing. So if the organic machine can be conscious, why can’t the inorganic one?
That description also applies to you.
If your designer wants them to be conscious, then presumably they will be conscious. Or is your designer limited in that regard to things that contain neurons or similar?
Over at UD one of your friends, Joe G, believes that organisms were designed to evolve.
Why can’t computers be designed to decide? Unsupervised learning is basically a computer teaching itself. Not that I’d expect you to be up on recent developments of course, given that you think it’s all bunk.
I wouldn’t say they were better questions, but they are good questions.
To gain a more complete understanding of rainfall there are a multitude of concepts which need to be understood. Concepts such as gravity, heat, the properties of matter, cause and effect. And as you imply the relationship between a rain shower and individual raindrops cannot be understood in causal terms.
So how do things stand with thinking and neuronal activity?
I replied that I agreed with both the first and second position, but that is not quite true. It depends on what we mean by “causes”. Are we talking about proximal or distal causes? Pressing a switch might be the cause of a computer to become active but it is not the ultimate cause of its activity. With thinking and neuronal activity either can stimulate the other into action.
My position would be the opposite of the third position. Thinking is mental activity and neurons firing is physical activity. Out of all the activities in existence thinking is unique. There can be thinking about thinking but there cannot be neuron firing about neuron firing, or raining about raining. No process can be directed at its own activity in the same way that thinking can be directed about thinking.
Brady highlights a difficulty:
And he gives his explanation as to why this problem arose:
Concepts cannot and should not be objectified.
Thanks for answering.
First, it seems you agree with Denyse O’Leary that computers will never become conscious (I am undecided on the matter). For me, that is a puzzling statement in light of your previous claim that organisms are machines.
When you say that computers are nothing more than circuits that electric currents flows through, that is just the material component you are describing. I believe that you previously claimed that consciousness has some immaterial component as well, which is bestowed upon us from a supernatural source. What makes you so certain that in the future android machines will never acquire this immaterial component? Isn’t that completely unknowable to us?
Why stop at computers, do you think graffiti might become conscious? What about buckets of paint? A blender? Matchsticks? What’s to stop it?
BTW, I have said organisms are machines, I never said machines are organisms. That’s different.
Just look at the massive strides (pun alert) being taken in the development of prosthetic limbs and artificial organs to see how this prediction has materialised.
And look what is happening here. Whereas in the past discussion groups met in person. But here we are communicating by means of machines. And who can deny that we lose much of the human element through this.
We should be cafeful in the way we think.
That’s not so hard, is it? I suppose some kind of processing network, analogue to our brains, is required. That requires some complexity, but since animals with relatively simple nervous systems exist, it doesn’t seem like something human designers cannot overcome.
OK. Still, both are ostensibly designed and constructed. So why are only the creations of the supernatural Designer capable of consciousness, and ours not? More interestingly, how do you know?
First, there is no processing network, analogous to our brains in a computer. That’s the problem with trying to anthropomorphize just because we can make things in the shape we want and add sound and color, etc…There is nothing like a brain in a computer. A computer doesn’t think. It doesn’t choose . It doesn’t consider. It just looks that way if we squint.
So, once again, there is no more reason for a computer to gain consciousness then there is for a soda fountain.
I see nothing in that following paragraph that changes my opinion whatsoever.
I have encountered plenty of people who only seem barely intelligent, if you squint.
Been away for a bit and just now reading through some threads to see what has not changed in about a year…
I realize I’m late to this party, but here goes: if mind is separate from the body/brain and is something immaterial that the body/brain somehow receives like radio waves or some other electro-magnetic radiation, how come I can’t receive someone else’s mind waves under certain circumstances?
And I’ve been skimming this thread, so I may have missed something, but it appears to me that most of the finalists (Phoodoo in particular) seem to think that actual choice decisions are only being made if an entity has the ability to choose something outside the specific set of decision options (the whole can a car building robot choose to do something outside of car building.) Am I understanding that correctly?
Hmmm…somehow “dualist” got changed to “finalist”. My phone must have made a choice I didn’t. Pity it’s wrong…
In any event, it appears I have no way to either edit it or delete it; yet another choice made for me by machines I guess…