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?

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

  1. OMagain: I’m actually laughing at you because you so transparently ignore the idea that as a designed entity you are also following a program as much as any robot car.

    Oh, how you mock Keiths so ruthlessly.

  2. phoodoo: Oh, how you mock Keiths so ruthlessly.

    I’m sure he won’t mind. And I expect nothing less then this from you. Excoriating others for things you are unable to explain or do yourself.

    So do you or don’t you think as a designed entity you have been programmed by your designer? Why does your argument about cars not also apply to yourself?

    I obviously don’t expect an answer.

  3. phoodoo: Oh, how you mock Keiths so ruthlessly.

    It’s ok to be wrong. I’m wrong about something every day. But the point is that unless you put yourself out there you can never be wrong or right! You refuse to say whatever it is you actually believe, presumably for a fear of ultimately being shown to be wrong.

    Embrace it. I’ll make you a real human being. Not this wooden thing repeating catchphrases for literally years.

  4. I don’t have to wonder what it is you want to achieve phoodoo.

    It’s like you just want everyone to be shown to be wrong but you’ve no interest in actually determining what’s correct.

    It’s people like you that are a large problem with the world. You are unable to build, you can only tear down. You are unable to create, you can only criticize what others create.

    The evidence is in every post you make.

  5. phoodoo: Oh, how you mock Keiths so ruthlessly.

    I’m not interested in Keiths’ opinions on this. I’m interested in yours. That Keiths and I might or might not disagree on anything or everything does not help your argument in any form. Especially as you’ve not actually made one.

    It’s typical behavior for IDists however. They think that by knocking down one thing their automatically gets promoted. phoodoo thinks that if he can drive a wedge between two people asking him reasonable questions about his expressed position then that’ll save him from answering those questions without losing face.

    Incorrect.

  6. One has to wonder if phoodoo agrees with J-Mac that the majority of someone’s brain can be removed with no ill effects?

    Perhaps they can speak from their own experience?

  7. I mean, I know about my position already. If you want to learn about it it’s the one called “we don’t think we know everything”.
    So if you’ve got something to contribute, why not say it? You seem quite sure that you do know everything about free will, at any rate sufficient to say what it is not. Are you really so sure?

    I know literally nothing about how you think decisions are really made and what free will really is. Why don’t you explain?

  8. Also, how did you come to this understanding? Did you learn it or teach it to yourself? Can others learn it? Is there a fee?

  9. OMagain,

    If we have a choice between chocolate and vanilla ice cream, I think we all (most?) can understand the “I am a soul with free will, I can choose” concept.

    Now we just have to understand the “I am physics, I can choose ” argument from Keiths. This is the mysterious one. I am still waiting for an explanation from Keiths on this one. I don’t think we will get far there.

    I can understand why you also don’t get this one.

  10. J-Mac,

    A neurosurgeon doesn’t necessarily know how neural networks work. They perform surgery.

    That said neurosurgeon believes in an immaterial mind is evidence that neural networks are not his forte.

  11. Entropy:
    J-Mac,

    A neurosurgeon doesn’t necessarily know how neural networks work. They perform surgery.

    That said neurosurgeon believes in an immaterial mind is evidence that neural networks are not his forte.

    Could you rewrite this, in English perhaps?

  12. Richardthughes:
    Immaterial mindists: How does drunk work? How does unconscious work? What about sleep?

    Not sure if I would class myself as an immaterial mindist but here is my answer.

    In a post in a previous thread I gave my views as follows:

    The earth consists of four kingdoms, mineral, plant, animal and human. Humans can be said to have four lower principles, 1. ego, 2. astral ‘body’, 3. etheric or life ‘body’ and 4. physical body, demonstrated by the fact that we have self-consciousness, feeling-consciousness, life principle and obviously a physical body.

    As I see it death is a process whereby the three higher principles leave the physical body which is left to the influences of the surrounding environment like any other physical substance.

    When we become drunk the alcohol affects the relationship between the higher and lower principles and the ego does not retain the same control as it does when we are sober.

    Unconsciousness is the state where the ego and astral body become more detached from the etheric and physical bodies which is enough for the loss of consciousness. Normal consciousness requires the physical body to react against. It can be thought of as a kind of mirror which allows the ego to become aware of physical reality. We need the physical body in order to to achieve consciousness in the first place.

    You have asked good questions which anyone who does not see the mind as just a by product of the physical brain must deal with if they want to justify their beliefs.

  13. Entropy: A neurosurgeon doesn’t necessarily know how neural networks work. They perform surgery.

    I have no choice but to agree…
    NEURO-surgeon operates on brains with 100 billion NEURONS, often on patients who are awake, so that he can test by stimulation the areas of the brain to make sure that he doesn’t damage the NEURONS and NEURAL NETWORKS. Because if neurosurgeon doesn’t know what neurons and neural networks are or do, he can cause irreversible damage, permanent loss of consciousness or essential functions of limbs and other body organs…

    Entropy: That said neurosurgeon believes in an immaterial mind is evidence that neural networks are not his forte.

    That must follow…Entropy never fails to amuse…;-)

  14. stcordova: Dr. Ali posts at “peaceful” science. He may have even visited here a few times.

    Well well, looky here! Dr. Ali himself.

    http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/does-basener-and-sanfords-model-of-mutation-versus-selection-show-that-deleterious-mutations-are-unstoppable/comment-page-1/#comment-211337

    I remember him…
    He couldn’t explain why flightless birds have no keel bone and why evolution left no evidence of it to have ever existed…no unnecessary tendon, no loose tissues, no nothing… Another evolutionary mystery with no intermediates ever left or seen… 😉

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keel_(bird_anatomy)

    BTW: When someone identifies himself/herself as a anti-creationist psychiatrist and militant atheist, it tells you a lot about the person… No evidence against their biased views gets through…

    I find that many people who have such extreme views, who filter out anything that could shake their biased views, have a distorted view on reality. They object to logic and reason either to justify their behavior, just like I mentioned it in my OP on free will, or frustration either with religion, God, prevalence of evil or their own “imperfections”…

  15. My personal view on the mind issue is that both Dr. Ali and Dr. Egnor are wrong though not 100%.

    The mind seems to be immaterial but it needs hardware…at least the essential part of the brain as even a small damage to the essential part of the brain causes vegetative state and loss of consciousness…

    On the other hand the neural network could explain the mind to a degree but if the great majority of the neural network is surgically removed, how can the network compensate for that loss?

    Could quantum mind/consciousness explain it all?

    If yes, who wins the battle? Materialists or ID?

  16. J-Mac: I find that many people who have such extreme views, who filter out anything that could shake their biased views, have a distorted view on reality. They object to logic and reason either to justify their behavior, just like I mentioned it in my OP on free will, or frustration either with religion, God, prevalence of evil or their own “imperfections”…

    So, what do we think everyone? J-Mac’s been doing the longest running Poe evah? Noone is that oblivious, are they? Are they?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poe%27s_law

    You can stop now mate. Jokes not funny no more.

  17. J-Mac:
    I have no choice but to agree…

    Of course. I don’t understand why you’d follow that with:

    J-Mac:
    NEURO-surgeon operates on brains with 100 billion NEURONS, often on patients who are awake, so that he can test by stimulation the areas of the brain to make sure that he doesn’t damage the NEURONS and NEURAL NETWORKS. Because if neurosurgeon doesn’t know what neurons and neural networks are or do, he can cause irreversible damage, permanent loss of consciousness or essential functions of limbs and other body organs…

    All the neurosurgeon has to know is that (s)he should not damage them. The neurosurgeon, again, doesn’t need to know how neurons operate. Neurosurgeons had been doing their surgeries, careful not to harm the brain tissue, years before anybody started talking about neural networks and studying how they operate.

    J-Mac:
    That must follow…Entropy never fails to amuse…;-)

    Of course it follows. Something as simple as our brain complexity compared to that of most-if-not-all other animals alone makes the “immaterial mind” suspect. Understanding the complexity of neural networks, and then understanding just a bit of how they work, should put the “immaterial mind” in serious trouble.

  18. J-Mac:
    Another example of how quantum entanglement could explain the immaterial mind/consciousness but not physical neural networks:

    The brain can be cut in half, but the intellect and will cannot, says Michael Egnor. The intellect and will are metaphysically simple

    That would be an example of a spectacular non-sequitur.

  19. J-Mac:
    Another example of how quantum entanglement could explain the immaterial mind/consciousness but not physical neural networks:

    You seem a bit misinformed: quantum entanglement is a physical phenomenon J-mac. So, if involved as such in consciousness, it would be quite the physical explanation.

    J-Mac:
    The brain can be cut in half, but the intellect and will cannot, says Michael Egnor. The intellect and will are metaphysically simple

    While this is utter bullshit, when people have suffered brain damage but retained, or, rather, regained, some of their faculties, reconfiguring of brain activities have been observed. These are physical. Also, there’s no connection between cutting a brain and the reconfiguration having something to do with quantum entanglement, which, I insist, even if it was related, is a physical phenomenon.

    You seem a tad confused about a lot of things. I don’t expect you to read this and understand beyond a couple words though. “Quantum” doesn’t count though. Obviously you don’t understand that word.

  20. Before there is talk of this BRAIN. Why not just work on what is proven. The memory. If one removes the memory does it affect a thinking person? yes as far as the memory has been affected. yet if anything is taken out of the skull that doesn’t affect the memory they one can predict no difference. Thus the immaterial soul shows its thinking ability is only affected by the memory. Egnor does the better job and its a embarrassment for this canuck to read about this Ali however even egnor needs to see that the immaterial soul is connected to the material world by the material memory operation. All thinking problems from infants to adults are memory interferences.

  21. Hi, everyone. I still drop by this forum every now and then, but did not realize I had become the subject of a thread here. (There has also been mention of me on EvolutionNews and the DI “Mind Matters” blog). I thought I would respond to some of the comments that seem to warrant a response here:

    EricMH:
    Such bad logic by Ali.Dismantle a car engine and randomly rearrange the parts, and the car no longer works and cannot be driven.That doesn’t entail the car is the driver.So many of these arguments against immaterial mind need a basic logic 101 class.

    Which is not an accurate analogy to my argument.

    A more accurate one would be: If you remove the steering from a car, the fact that its brakes still work is not evidence for some mysterious immaterial force operating the car.

    I have actually started a blog, largely as a mean of responding to some criticism leveled at me by creationists, so my arguments can be read in more detail there. Though, in actual fact, a couple of non-neuroscientists arguing about neuroscience may not be the most enlightening thing for someone to read. That Scientific American article looks like it could be a very useful resource.

    https://betterrightthanhappy.com/a-neurosurgeon-argues-that-mind-functions-are-immaterial-badly-pt-3/

  22. Faizal Ali: Which is not an accurate analogy to my argument.

    A more accurate one would be: If you remove the steering from a car, the fact that its brakes still work is not evidence for some mysterious immaterial force operating the car.

    I’m replying to the following quote in the OP.

    “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.”

    The immaterial mind argument does not imply that completely pulverizing or removing the brain should have no effect on the mind’s ability to interact with the body. Just like the driver theory of cars does not imply that destroying the car should leave the car drivable.

  23. EricMH: The immaterial mind argument does not imply that completely pulverizing or removing the brain should have no effect on the mind’s ability to interact with the body.

    Yes it does. What’s wrong with the carbon atoms in the rest of your body, they can’t pick up the signal? Why must there be a brain?

    What is it about carbon and sodium atoms in brain tissue that make them able to pick up the signal, that carbon and sodium atoms in your spinal column or your muscles don’t have?

    How does the mind-signal know it’s hitting a carbon atom in your brain, and how does it know how to avoid a carbon atom in your limbs? How does it know it’s hitting carbon in your brain, and not carbon atoms in someone else’s brain?

    At what point during embryonic development does the signal start interacting with the fetus? When do dividing and differentiating cells become receptive to the signal that they weren’t already?

    Are embryonic stemcells all capable of interacting with their own unique mind-signals? How do these signals tell stemcell clones apart?

  24. I look at it this way:

    Consider two competing claims:

    (1) The mind is material;
    (2) The mind is immaterial.

    What observable differences would be expect in a world where (1) is true compared to a world where (2) is true? And once you have told me what observable differences to expect, let’s go out and do a simple test.

    If there are no observable differences that we can expect, then what is this argument all about? Is it anything more than posturing?

  25. I’ve always wondered what a dualist who thinks that the “mind” is Somewhere Else thinks of this situation: you are walking along, with your brain and mind happily doing their thing. You don’t notice a tree limb and walk into it, and it knocks you out and you fall down. While you are unconscious, does your mind keep doing whatever it was doing? Or does it somehow get knocked out too?

  26. EricMH: The immaterial mind argument does not imply that completely pulverizing or removing the brain should have no effect on the mind’s ability to interact with the body.

    I understand that. It would mean, after your brain is pulverized, your mind is now unfettered by the body and can roam free.

    I could easily imagine situations in which that would be desirable. e.g. if you are suffering a condition of incessant, intolerable physical pain. I could also imagine some people just wanting to exist as a disembodied mind. Why not?

  27. Neil Rickert: If there are no observable differences that we can expect, then what is this argument all about? Is it anything more than posturing?

    That’s pretty much my position. I don’t say the immaterial does not exist. I just don’t appreciate people making bad arguments in its favour, particularly when the reason they do so is so that they can ban abortion and force gays back into the closet.

  28. Joe Felsenstein: I’ve always wondered what a dualist who thinks that the “mind” is Somewhere Else thinks of this situation:

    Yes. It’s odd how little interest there seems to be in formulating testable hypotheses to clarify the details of the model of the mind. Egnor treats this as a scientific fact. Great. So now work out the details. Neuroscientists who think the mind can be explained, at least in large part, by brain functions are working very hard on the details.

  29. Faizal Ali: . Neuroscientists who think the mind can be explained, at least in large part, by brain functions

    What’s the other part?

  30. Joe Felsenstein:
    I’ve always wondered what a dualist who thinks that the “mind” is Somewhere Else thinks of this situation:you are walking along, with your brain and mind happily doing their thing.You don’t notice a tree limb and walk into it, and it knocks you out and you fall down.While you are unconscious, does your mind keep doing whatever it was doing?Or does it somehow get knocked out too?

    I wonder the same thing about my TV. If I smash it to bits, is it still showing Seinfeld?

  31. Faizal Ali:

    Neuroscientists who think the mind can be explained, at least in large part, by brain functions are working very hard on the details.

    phoodoo:

    What’s the other part?

    You tell us. What does the immaterial mind/soul/spirit/whatever actually do? How you know that?

    You’ve told us that it decides, but your reasoning has been pretty poor, going something like this:

    1. People can make decisions.
    2. Deciding can’t be a physical process. I, phoodoo, just know it.
    3. Therefore something immaterial makes the decisions.

    Your reasoning leaves something to be desired.

  32. phoodoo:

    I wonder the same thing about my TV. If I smash it to bits, is it still showing Seinfeld?

    Do you believe that your TV has an immaterial mind/soul/spirit/whatever? If not, then what’s your point?

  33. EricMH:

    The immaterial mind argument does not imply that completely pulverizing or removing the brain should have no effect on the mind’s ability to interact with the body. Just like the driver theory of cars does not imply that destroying the car should leave the car drivable.

    There’s no evidence that the “driver” functions are any less physical than the “car” functions.

    A couple of comments I made (posting as ‘Ribczynski’) at Uncommon Descent years ago:

    Regarding your second point, the idea that the immaterial mind “drives” the brain is not supported by clinical and experimental evidence (Jeffrey Schwartz’s claims notwithstanding).

    For example, there are disorders of the brain that leave victims without the desire to do things as simple as getting out of bed or brushing their teeth (technical term abulia). It’s not that they’re depressed; they simply can’t form the desire to do these things.

    If there were an immaterial mind “driving” the brain according to its will, then the will itself should be unaffected by damage to the brain. There might be cases where the brain failed to respond to the demands of the will, but the will itself should be unimpaired.

    We do see impairment of the will, however, which shows that the will is not independent of the brain.

  34. And:

    Hi gpuccio,

    If I understand your comment, you’re suggesting that while the will may not be completely independent of the physical brain, contra Domoman, there is still room for an immaterial component of the will.

    I see a problem with that approach which I will try to illustrate via an analogy.

    Imagine that you and I are physiologists trying to figure out exactly how the liver works. We both acknowledge that the liver carries out certain essential metabolic functions. Where we differ is that you believe (correctly, in the opinion of most scientists) that the liver is a purely physical organ, and that its functions can ultimately be explained in purely physical terms. I, on the other hand, insist that a physical liver alone is incapable of fulfilling these functions, and that an immaterial “liver-spirit” must also be present for the liver to work properly.

    You point out that all the liver functions we’ve studied to date have had physical explanations. I concede the truth of your statement, but I counter by insisting that the liver-spirit is responsible for some of the so-far unexplained functions of the liver.

    In terms of sheer logic, my position is unassailable. It truly is logically possible that there is an immaterial liver-spirit, responsible for some of the more esoteric liver functions that have not yet been explained.

    Yet I suspect you would be unhappy with my position. Why? Because it is essentially a “liver-spirit of the gaps” argument. An immaterial liver-spirit is being invoked not because of any positive evidence for its existence, but merely to fill in the gaps in our understanding of physical liver function.

    I believe that by invoking an immaterial component of the will, you make the same mistake vis-à-vis the brain as I, in our fictitious scenario, am making about the liver.

    Where is the positive evidence that the will is not purely a function of the physical brain?

    You also point out that materialists have not solved the “hard problem” of consciousness — the problem of how a purely physical system can give rise to subjective experience.

    True enough, but I would point out that as a dualist, you are in an even worse position.

    The materialist has the problem of explaining how a physical brain can give rise to consciousness. The dualist has the problem of explaining how an immaterial spirit (or whatever term you wish to use) can give rise to consciousness. The only explanation of this I’ve ever heard from a dualist is “It just does. That’s the nature of spirits.” Not very persuasive.

    Beyond that, the dualist faces some additional problems that leave the materialist unscathed:

    a) how does an immaterial soul/spirit/consciousness interact with the physical world? If the physical and the transcendental are really two separate realms, how can an immaterial mind direct or influence the physical body?

    b) many dualists, because of their religious convictions, want to see the soul as something that is responsible for our ethical decisions. If the will is even partly dependent on the physical brain, and can be disrupted by damage to the brain, then in what sense can we continue to attribute moral responsibility to the soul?

    c) The near-death experiences that Domoman alluded to are claimed to happen in the absence of brain activity. If so, then the soul/spirit/consciousness is capable of seeing, hearing, thinking, remembering, deciding, and feeling without help from the brain. Yet all of the neuroscientific evidence to date suggests that this is not the case, and that all of these functions depend, at least to some extent, on the brain.

    None of these objections apply to the materialist viewpoint.

    The evidence really is overwhelmingly against the existence of a soul as most people envision it.

  35. keiths:
    phoodoo:

    Do you believe that your TV has an immaterial mind/soul/spirit/whatever?If not, then what’s your point?

    Do you believe Seinfeld no longer exists if you break your tv?

  36. keiths: but I counter by insisting that the liver-spirit is responsible for some of the so-far unexplained functions of the liver.

    Like designing a building for example?

  37. keiths: We do see impairment of the will, however, which shows that the will is not independent of the brain.

    Now, if you can just explain will…then maybe you will have a point.

    I wonder what the will is of a bucket of Dupont #29276c. To be blue?

  38. phoodoo,

    Do you believe Seinfeld no longer exists if you break your tv?

    I can demonstrate that the signal is still there despite a broken TV.

    Let’s see you demonstrate that the immaterial mind/soul/spirit/whatever is still there when your brain has been pulverized.

  39. Now, if you can just explain will…then maybe you will have a point.

    Says phoodoo, who cannot explain the will. He just assumes, against the evidence, that it’s immaterial.

  40. phoodoo:

    I wonder what the will is of a bucket of Dupont #29276c. To be blue?

    phoodoo logic:
    If the will is physical, then everything physical must have a will.

    Try again, ace.

  41. phoodoo:

    If the will is physical, explain it.

    If the will is non-physical, explain it.

  42. phoodoo: I wonder the same thing about my TV. If I smash it to bits, is it still showing Seinfeld?

    Not really the relevant question. Rather, it is: If we break the TV, can we demonstrate that the program “Seinfeld” still exists in some form?

    In that case, we can. I see no evidence that the same applies to the mind when the brain is no longer operational.

  43. For dualists, there is the interesting question of whether the “will” existed in the ancestors of humans. Do our mammalian relatives who branched off earlier have it? Does a mouse have “will”? A lemur? A macacque? An ape?

    For dualists who are creationists, they can simply deny that there is any ancestry. But there is the uncomfortable fact that other mammals sure look like they exhibit “will”.

    The same issue arises for consciousness. Its rudiments appear in other mammals and creationists engage in a lot of furious handwaving to deny that.

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