Science Uprising: Who wins the battle over mind?

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…

Dr. Faizal Ali suggested:

“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?

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602 thoughts on “Science Uprising: Who wins the battle over mind?

  1. DNA_Jock: The purplish blotch does not exist. My brain is NOT fooled into thinking that it does. I cannot fathom how I could be having the direct experience of something that I know does not exist

    This quote should give you an idea of how people can have experiences of things that do not exist:

    The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines hallucinations as “perception-like experiences that occur without an external stimulus,” and which “are vivid and clear, with the full force and impact of normal perceptions, [though] not under voluntary control.”

    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.

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  2. CharlieM,
    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.

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  3. 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.

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  4. Corneel:

    CharlieM: Did you do the exercise? Did you experience a dark purple blotch? When I do the exercise I have a peripheral image of the red spot moving to the right it disappears and then reappears closer to the + sign. I don’t notice any purple blotch which makes me think that this aspect of the image we see is not an objective process on the screen but a subjective image due to an objective feature of the eye of the beholder.

    Looks like you got confused. It is DNA_Jock that perceives a blotch in his visual field, not me. As he explained it, this phenomenon is caused by a specific defect in his retina, which he acquired later in life. That explains why you nor me can perceive it.

    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.

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  5. DNA_Jock: CharlieM,
    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 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:

    The word “experience” may refer, somewhat ambiguously, both to mentally unprocessed immediately perceived events as well as to the purported wisdom gained in subsequent reflection on those events or interpretation of them.

    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.

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  6. DNA_Jock: 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.

    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.

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  7. newton: Maybe so, a hybrid of a horse and centipede is more likely to physically exist.

    I agree. The ideal triangle could never be a physical triangle as that would impose limitations which would be an impossibility.

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  8. petrushka:
    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.

    Yes your experience is a good example that we see in part and we are always trying to achieve the whole.

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  9. CharlieM: 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.

    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.

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  10. CharlieM: [quotes wikipedia]

    The word “experience” may refer, somewhat ambiguously, both to mentally unprocessed immediately perceived events as well as to the purported wisdom gained in subsequent reflection on those events or interpretation of them.

    Obviously I’m using in the former and you the latter sense.

    No. I am using the former sense, and you are equivocating.
    Here’s the context:
    Charlie claims the primacy of “thinking”:

    I have never consciously experienced a neuron firing, have you? But I have consciously experienced my own thinking. And if indeed it is true that neurons firing are accompanied by thinking I would say it is the latter that causes the former. We think and this causes a certain brain activity.

    I counter:

    The more I ponder on this, the more convinced I become that this must be a loop, initiated by neurons firing, which produces the sensation of thinking, and the ‘thinking’ alters subsequent patterns of neurons’ firing.
    To answer your question, I have consciously experienced a small group of neurons (a few dozen) failing to fire. In fact, I am right now. The surrounding neurons are still firing normally, and I am very much aware of the difference.

    Charlie makes his point (to Faizal Ali):

    Have you ever directly seen, touched, felt, smelled or heard neurons firing? Have you ever directly thought about anything. You infer the former (neuron firing) but you directly experience the latter (thinking).

    and voices a healthy skepticism as to my direct experience:

    I would be interested to know what direct sensations you get of neurons firing and how you know out of the billions of neurons in your body you can tell that it is these specific few dozen neurons which are inactive.

    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?

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  11. Corneel: 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.

    Yes it is artificial. But isn’t that what scientists do all the time? They separate out in order to analyse and understand.

    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.

    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?

    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.

    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.

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  12. DNA_Jock: 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.)

    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.

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  13. CharlieM: 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 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?

    CharlieM: I am trying to establish the causal relationships by looking at things in time order.

    Between what? Thought and brain activity? Do you happen to have a MRI scanner at home?

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  14. 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

    There are no good theories of consciousness. At Chronicles of Higher Education, the entire field was described last year as “bizarre.” Not my words, the writer’s.

    So when someone says “Computers can be conscious,” he has the great advantage that he needn’t mean anything specific. By comparison, if he had said, “Computers can be composed entirely of gases,” he might be right or wrong. But we could ask him to explain his view in science-based terms.

    We can’t ask for that when he says “Computers can be conscious.” But notice that he is allowed to parade as if he were making a science-based statement.

    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.

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  15. Joe Felsenstein,

    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?

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  16. 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.

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  17. Corneel:

    CharlieM: 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 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?

    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.

    CharlieM: I am trying to establish the causal relationships by looking at things in time order.

    Between what? Thought and brain activity? Do you happen to have a MRI scanner at home?

    We could always ask someone who has direct sense experience of neuronal activity and do away with the need for a scanner 🙂

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  18. Joe Felsenstein,

    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.

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  19. 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.
    He writes:

    The conceptual realm is not beyond investigation, but it cannot be approached through any form of objectification, since this mode of thinking, by definition, works only with conceptual artifacts — with the text. Normal thought is tempted to believe that objectification is the only route to clarity because normal thought in our age is entirely Cartesian, and the loss of the concept within ‘reality” is the most important illusion of a Cartesian outlook. When Descartes contradicted his own cogito argument by supposing “extended substance” to be entirely separate from “thinking substance” he laid the foundation for the troubles I have examined above. Such an objectification of mind suggested that mind could be separated from its objects in the manner that those objects are separated from each other. But mind is not an object among objects, but a contexting activity that is necessarily present to all its objects. It is the muddled habit that leads us to take mind, or its conceptual structures, as objects among objects, that provides the foundation for Cartesianism in our day and sends almost all modern thought into objectification, despite the trouble with recursive functions that this creates…

    The Cartesian “split,” by which I mean the separation of mind from its objects after the manner of separation of objects, has been the basis of Western thought since the eighteenth century, with few exceptions.

    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.

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  20. CharlieM: […] our thinking minds stimulate neuronal activity from within

    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.

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  21. CharlieM: We could always ask someone who has direct sense experience of neuronal activity and do away with the need for a scanner

    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…

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  22. Corneel: 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 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?

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  23. Corneel,

    I have just decided to press a key on my keyboard, = There it is, I’ve done it.

    Can you describe my action, including neuron activity, that you can be fairly sure of?

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  24. How about consciousness being a property of matter?

    Explains nothing.

    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?

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  25. DNA_Jock: 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)

    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.

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  26. CharlieM,
    You appear to be backing away from this claim:

    And if indeed it is true that neurons firing are accompanied by thinking I would say it is the latter that causes the former. We think and this causes a certain brain activity.

    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:

    Surely when you say that you, “have consciously experienced a small group of neurons (a few dozen) failing to fire”, what you actually experience is a partial lack of sight in the same way that we can all experience our blind spot in each eye. You don’t experience neuron activity through the senses, it is something you add to the process by thinking.

    Happens a lot.
    Thanks for your kind thoughts.

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  27. DNA_Jock: 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.

    Brady gives us something to think about on this “double take” and the connection between thinking and perception.

    Through the concept of experience we distinguish between the world as it is for us and the world as it may be in itself. Our experience of things is constituted, in part, by what we take them to be, and it is this “taking,” or sometimes “mistaking,” that forces us to recognize the distinction.

    The reader not familiar with this form of thought can make it concrete by a simple exercise. Everyone is familiar with the “double-take” by which we “look again” and discover that we “took” something wrongly the first time around. We correct through the second try — the second half of the “double-take” — and, being assured that our present experience is the right way to view the matter, sit back and forget how we came by that experience. That is, we do not maintain, for our consciousness, the fact that the process by which we came by the wrong “take” is the very same activity of “taking” by which we arrive at the present experience. Yet in the case of the “double-take” it is clear that the second try was, if anything, even more active, and more self-consciously active, than the first, because it was an attempt to reconstruct the appearances. If the original construction was due in part to our own activity, certainly the reconstruction is also. Even so, readers who are familiar with any of the shadow-projections of a Neckar cube (a cube constructed of wires) will remember that these projections can always be seen in at least three ways: as a flat pattern, as a cube viewed from one angle, or as a cube viewed from a second angle. This viewing is not an interpretation that takes place after the fact of perception, but part of perception itself. We do not “think about” the appearance in order to get three different interpretations, we actually construct, or think, three different appearances,
    or take the sensory input in three different ways. This kind of thinking does not merely elaborate an experience, but actually constitutes it to a large degree. Once we are aware of this active contribution to perception, we can never again suppose that our perceptions, the appearances presented to our consciousness, are innocent of our thinking and can therefore be abstracted from it.

    But if this is indeed the case, then the world “out there,” the world extended in space, is no more separate from mind than the world of thought. We may not originate our sensations, but we have a great deal to do with how they are formulated. And space itself, and the dimension of depth that represents, for the human observer, the very “outness” of things, is a formulation like any other — no more separable from thinking than any other. Depth is, by the way , a very good example, for the “image,” if one would like to call it that, on the retina of the eye is essentially flat. The depth we see is a construct of our minds, and as such, anything but a true separation between us and that which our minds have placed “out there.” It is, as all spatial differences are, an indication of distinction but not, unless all of the above is forgotten, of separation.

    We cannot separate thinking from reality as we see it.

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  28. petrushka:
    How about consciousness being a property of matter?

    Explains nothing.

    But it adds nothing superfluous.

    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.

    Ability to fly is a property of matter having a necessary configuration. Break the configuration, and no flying.

    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.

    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 would say that anything with a nervous system no matter how rudimentary has some level of feeling.

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  29. DNA_Jock:
    CharlieM,
    You appear to be backing away from this claim:

    And if indeed it is true that neurons firing are accompanied by thinking I would say it is the latter that causes the former. We think and this causes a certain brain activity.

    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 🙂

    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:

    Surely when you say that you, “have consciously experienced a small group of neurons (a few dozen) failing to fire”, what you actually experience is a partial lack of sight in the same way that we can all experience our blind spot in each eye. You don’t experience neuron activity through the senses, it is something you add to the process by thinking.

    Happens a lot.

    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.

    Thanks for your kind thoughts.

    Hope it went okay.

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  30. DNA_Jock: I’m getting brain MRI with and without contrast this afternoon

    That sounds a bit worrisome. Hope everything is OK.

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  31. CharlieM: Does the rain have knowledge of the individual drops?

    Better questions:

    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?

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  32. Corneel:
    Joe Felsenstein,

    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?

    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?

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  33. phoodoo: 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?

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  34. phoodoo: . Computers are nothing more than circuits that electric currents flows through according to whatever instructions a programmer designs it to do.

    That description also applies to you.

    phoodoo: Will mousetraps one day be conscious?

    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?

    How odd.

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  35. phoodoo: Computers are nothing more than circuits that electric currents flows through according to whatever instructions a programmer designs it to do.

    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.

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  36. Corneel: Better questions:

    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 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?

    DNA_Jock wrote:

    “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.

    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:

    The model is drawn from the very level which is to be explained by it, and bears with it the conceptual relations of that level. Since it is the conceptual framework that is to be explained (the framework of distinction), any model understood through the conceptual framework of the first level cannot be used to explain the conceptual framework of that level — not, that is, without allowing the explanandum to show up in the explanans, the item to be explained in the explanation.

    And he gives his explanation as to why this problem arose:

    The difficulty arose, however, when we selected a model for mental function which made those functions similar to those found on a phenomenal level. The phenomenal level, the world of familiar appearances, is always contexted by mental structure (intentionality), but just because this is so, we see that such structure must be quite dissimilar from that found at the phenomenal level. After all, if all phenomenal structure is contexted by intentional structure, then since text and context are dissimilar, intentional structure and phenomenal structure must share the same difference. I can agree, therefore, that we may speak of mental operation in the form of an activity that contexts what we see, but we cannot treat that context through an objectification — a treatment that assigns its subject matter to the level of an object among objects, and in this case reduces context to text. Such a reduction only leads us to an attempt to explain the context of our new text, and thence by easy repetitions to infinite regress. We cannot think that which contexts in the same manner as we think that which is contexted — context cannot be reduced to text. Such a conclusion implies, as well, that context cannot be modeled by text. I am afraid that this is correct. We can never explain conceptual activity by reference to conceptualized objects, for the latter are already artifacts of conceptual activity. Operations of this sort only take the action of the concept for granted when the whole purpose was to investigate it.

    These results are not indications of paradox. The conceptual realm is not beyond investigation, but it cannot be approached through any form of objectification, since this mode of thinking, by definition, works only with conceptual artifacts — with the text. Normal thought is tempted to believe that
    objectification is the only route to clarity because normal thought in our age is entirely Cartesian, and the loss of the concept within “reality” is the most important illusion of a Cartesian outlook.

    Concepts cannot and should not be objectified.

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  37. phoodoo: 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?

    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?

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  38. Corneel: 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?

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  39. Steiner:

    The only question is whether in the course of world-history they are going to be brought on to the scene by men who are unselfishly aware of the great aims of earth-evolution and wish to shape these developments for the healing of mankind, or by groups of men who want to use them for their own or the group’s selfish ends. That is the issue. The point is not what is going to happen, for it certainly will happen, but how it happens — how these things are handled. The welding together of human beings with machines will be a great and important problem for the rest of the earth-evolution.

    I have often pointed out, even in public lectures, that human consciousness depends on destructive forces. During public lectures in Basle I twice said that in our nerve-system we are always in process of dying. These forces of death will become stronger and stronger, and we shall find that they are related to the forces of electricity and magnetism, and to those at work in machines. A man will be able in a certain sense to guide his intentions and his thoughts into the forces of the machines. Forces in human nature that are still unknown will be discovered — forces which will act upon external electricity and magnetism.

    That is one problem: the bringing together of human beings with machines, and this is something which will exert ever-increasing influence on the future.

    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.

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  40. phoodoo: to Corneel,

    BTW, I have said organisms are machines, I never said machines are organisms.That’s different.

    We should be cafeful in the way we think.

    Steiner:

    In the near future, it must itself develop into something which has life in itself,recognise the life inherent in the earth for what it is. For in a deeper sense it is true, it is the thoughts of man that prepare the future. As an old Indian aphorism rightly says: What you think today, that you will be tomorrow.

    The very being of the world springs out of living thought; not from dead matter. What outward matter is, is a consequence of living thought, just as ice is a consequence of water; the material world is, as it were, frozen thoughts

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  41. phoodoo: Why stop at computers, do you think graffiti might become conscious? What about buckets of paint? A blender? Matchsticks? What’s to stop it?

    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.

    phoodoo: BTW, I have said organisms are machines, I never said machines are organisms. That’s different.

    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?

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  42. Corneel,

    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.

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  43. CharlieM: We should be cafeful in the way we think.

    I see nothing in that following paragraph that changes my opinion whatsoever.

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  44. phoodoo:
    to Corneel… A computer doesn’t think.It doesn’t choose .It doesn’t consider.It just looks that way if we squint….

    I have encountered plenty of people who only seem barely intelligent, if you squint.

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  45. 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?

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  46. 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?

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  47. Robin,

    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…

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