Mind, Or Brain?

Today’s post is simply a set of questions, for any atheist, or any theist who would care to temporarily think like an atheist. In this post at CSA, our host asks:

What tools do you use when you think philosophically about God or morality or other subjects? Among other tools, you use your mind. Knowing how the mind works can help you do philosophy better, just as knowing how a camera works can make you a better photographer.

If you are an atheist, do you think it’s accurate to use the term mind? I understand that it sufficiently conveys the point in everyday conversation, but, epistemically–shouldn’t an atheist limit themselves to belief in brains only?

I often attempt to envision the positions I’d hold if I were an atheist. As regards mind, if I were an atheist, I would probably categorize it with soul as an equally non-existent entity. In my experience, many an atheist has asked, “What does it mean to say one has a soul? Where is the evidence for the soul? What type of entity is the soul?” Similarly, what does it mean to say that one has a mind? Where is the evidence for the mind? What type of entity is the mind?

29 Comments

  1. Matt says:

    I’ve seen atheists use the word soul as well. They just have a physical definition of it.

    In college I became a Christian physicalist and had a definition of soul that was, while not itself a thing, reducible to physical things (I’m not so sure I’m still a physicalist). The physical processes that make up our body and personality produce a recognizable, outward appearance that most people can identify and that we can hold on to. That was how I conceived of a soul.

    I think when atheists say mind they mean it as either a synonym for brain or a function of the brain. They obviously are not referring to Cartesian dualism.

  2. woodchuck64 says:

    As an atheist who believes matter and energy is likely all there is, I believe in mind much the same way I believe in computer software (and believe in brain the same way I believe in computer hardware).

    There might be a more important issue beyond mind: consciousness. Technically, I believe matter, energy and consciousness is probably all there is, but I’m not sure how to separate consciousness and matter/energy. That is, I have little problem believing an introspective computer program (assuming such a thing can be written) could experience consciousness.

  3. Leah says:

    My response kind of ran away from me, so I wrote it up as a post on my blog. Hope it is of interest.

  4. cl says:

    Thanks for the comments, all. The more I think about it, the more I see a corollary between mind/brain and sight/eyes. So, I’m leaning towards the tentative position that, if I were an atheist – although I wouldn’t use mind/brain interchangeably – I wouldn’t see a necessity to exclusively use brain. At least, that’s my answer right now.

    woodchuck64,

    What about space and time? Do you fold those into the definition of matter and energy? I see space as distinct from both. Same with time. Further, what of consciousness? Do you fold that into mind?

    Leah,

    I’m not sure whether “the etiquette” would call for me to respond here or there. I guess I’ll respond at both. When you say,

    …I don’t think of my me-program or any similar program as being intrinsically limited to running on a human brain. … my existence as an embodied entity, running my software on a physical brain would be an important part of my history and identity, but not necessarily a constraint on who I might be in the future.

    …I have to say, it sounds like you’re open to the ideas of an afterlife and consciousness existing outside a brain. At least, more open than most atheists I’ve encountered. However, when you claim,

    …currently, there’s no way I could transfer the me-program to any other piece of hardware.

    …I’m not so sure. Could you explain precisely what you mean by “transfer the me-program to any other piece of hardware?” For example, in your view, would computer programming count as an example of such? Typing one’s thoughts into a computer? Or, do you mean – as I suspect – something more thorough? If so, can you provide an hypothetical example?

    Further, in your view, would the potential success of “mind uploading” falsify the claim that consciousness requires a human brain? I think it would. That said, if we falsify the claim that consciousness requires a human brain, haven’t we effectively proven the plausibility of dualism?

  5. woodchuck64 says:

    cl,

    What about space and time? Do you fold those into the definition of matter and energy? I see space as distinct from both. Same with time. Further, what of consciousness? Do you fold that into mind?

    Good point, perhaps I should say instead that I lean towards methodological naturalism, which doesn’t limit existence to a set of things but instead is open to whatever can be reliably measured/detected. Yes, space certainly exists apart from matter and energy. Time and consciousness, though, seem to be linked in some important way, and I get the impression that our perception of both may be very different from the underlying reality, but I don’t really have a coherent working model in mind yet.

  6. Garren says:

    According to a quote website, Dawkins wrote the following near the beginning of The Blind Watchmaker:

    ‘An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: “I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn’t a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one.” I can’t help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.’

    As an atheist, I recognize that we are still in a similar position with regard to apparent cosmological fine-tuning and to the hard problem of consciousness.

  7. cl says:

    As an aside, I really detest the “natural/supernatural” dichotomy and believe it to be at least as problematic as “objective/subjective,” but that’s fodder for another fire.

    woodchuck64,

    …perhaps I should say instead that I lean towards methodological naturalism, which doesn’t limit existence to a set of things but instead is open to whatever can be reliably measured/detected.

    I have to admit, I find that interesting. I’ve normally heard methodological naturalism interpreted synonymously with physicalism and the a priori exclusion of anything “supernatural,” whatever that means. Consider Paul Kurtz in Darwin Re-Crucified:

    First, naturalism is committed to a methodological principle within the context of scientific inquiry; i.e., all hypotheses and events are to be explained and tested by reference to natural causes and events. To introduce a supernatural or transcendental cause within science is to depart from naturalistic explanations. On this ground, to invoke an intelligent designer or creator is inadmissible…

    If we adopt a meaning of MN that is anywhere near Kurtz’ as delineated above, it seems we have a procedural protocol that effectively immunizes itself against “supernatural” explanations. It’s as if the methodological naturalist of this type rules the supernatural explanation as inadmissable from the start. Yet, science and empiricism are able to apprehend a significant subset of the phenomena most often described as “supernatural,” so, what grounds do we have for simply disallowing “supernatural” explanations of pertinent phenomena?

    Consider Sidney Hook in Naturalism and First Principles:

    Naturalism as a philosophy not only accepts this method but also the broad generalizations which are established by the use of it; viz, that the occurrence of all qualities or events depends upon the organization of a material system in space-time, and that their emergence, development and disappearance are determined by changes in such organization…. naturalism as a philosophy takes [the word “material”] to refer to the subject matter of the physical sciences. Neither the one [philosophical naturalism] nor the other [science] asserts that only what can be observed exists, for many things may be legitimately inferred to exist (electrons, the expanding universe, the past, the other side of the moon) from what is observed; but both hold that there is no evidence for the assertion of anything which does not rest upon some observed effects. [p.185-186]

    How can the emergence of “a material system in space-time” be “determined by changes in” the same material system in space-time? How can the emergence of the universe result from changes in the universe?

    Honestly, I fail to see how arriving at philosophical naturalism from the assumption of methodological naturalism isn’t a bona fide example of circular reasoning. Consider that the philosophical naturalist – i.e., the physicalist – often commits themselves to their position on account of their acceptance of science as the chief means of acquiring true information about the world. Yet, science depends on methodological naturalism, does it not? And, does not methodological naturalism assume a “material system” within its very definition? To me, it’s a bit like saying, “Okay, we’re going to count up all the cars in the world, but only the red ones,” and then arriving at the conclusion that only red cars exist. Uh, okay… but that’s only because all the cars that weren’t red weren’t allowed in the count.

    Nonetheless, the part of your comment that inspired all of this was the “doesn’t limit existence to a set of things but instead is open to whatever can be reliably measured/detected” part. This seems to cohere quite well with the last line of Hook’s definition: “both [philosophical naturalism and science] hold that there is no evidence for the assertion of anything which does not rest upon some observed effects.” I believe metaphysical “supernaturalism” meets this criterion.

    Well, science and empiricism are able to apprehend a significant subset of the phenomena most often described as “supernatural,” and we have a growing literature of observed effects that directly challenge the notion of philosophical naturalism.

    Garren,

    An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: “I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn’t a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one.”

    This “logic” which Dawkins calls “sound” is nothing short of an argument from personal incredulity. It reminds me of John Gribbin in response to then-current developments in big bang research in “Oscillating Universe Bounces Back,” Nature, Vol. 259, 1976: 15:

    The biggest problem with the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe is philosophical–perhaps even theological–what was there before the bang? This problem alone was sufficient to give a great initial impetus to the Steady State theory; but with that theory now sadly in conflict with the observations, the best way round this initial difficulty is provided by a model in which the universe expands from a singularity, collapses back again, and repeats the cycle indefinitely.

    This is exactly what I was just talking about in my comment to woodchuck64, about how – despite the protestations of many to the contrary – methodological naturalism stacks the deck in favor of the philosophical naturalism that often entails it. Of course, today, oscillation theory finds itself in the same unfortunate shoes steady state did at the time of Gribbin’s remark: sadly in conflict with the observations. So, now what? What’s the “best way round” that difficulty? How many “naturalist” models need to fall into conflict with the evidence until we’re finally allowed to posit a “supernatural” model? I digress.

    …although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.

    Of course, much like personal purpose, intellectual satisfaction is ultimately subjective, but if by the term we mean something like “a coherent explanation of life and the universe,” I honestly do not believe an atheist can be intellectually satisfied. I realize this may open me to the same charges we all leveled against bossmanham for the whole “pretend” thing, but, I don’t think the situations are the same. Darwin’s TENS is – at best – an explanation for the variety of living things over time. It says nothing about how life came to be, or how the universe began. This is simply another case of Dawkins being overconfident and philosophically sloppy IMHO.

    As an atheist, I recognize that we are still in a similar position with regard to apparent cosmological fine-tuning and to the hard problem of consciousness.

    Meaning, analogously, still in a “pre-Darwin position” position regarding fine-tuning and consciousness? If so, I agree. I see God and soul/spirit as good and viable explanations precisely because I believe they’re better equipped to explain the full sum of empirical observations amassed thus far.

  8. cl says:

    Leah,

    I just tried to post the following to your thread, but couldn’t for some reason. I’ll post it here for posterity’s sake [no pun intended], then try to repost at your place tomorrow. Your commenters had the following pertinent questions:

    dbp,

    This is especially so because, if we could in fact completely capture the physical state of your brain and create an effective duplicate, and assuming the result is in fact a working mind that cannot be distinguished from you as you are now (something I do not think is a given), it is conceivable that the original you might still be operational, so to speak, or that multiple copies could be stamped out. Which is actually “you”? None but the original, I think.

    You know, as I went about my daily business and continued to think about this discussion, I realized that we’re essentially being led back to the philosophical problems of zombies and other minds. Your concerns seem to reinforce this.

    Nate,

    I do know enough biology to know it could never be that simple, though.

    I would say that I agree. Personally, I find the evidence for memories being *stored* in the brain to be unpersuasive. Many animals have been expended to test this, and, in some cases, retained their memories with as much as 60% of their brain removed. Researchers have failed to locate specific memory traces in experiments with invertebrates [cf. Boycott, “Learning in the Octopus,” 44].

    And with regards to the comment on dualism, are we not also proving that consciousness DOES require a physical manifestation, doing away with dualistic soul gobbeldy-gook?

    Well, I think that if all we’re looking at is the “mind uploading” concept, then, yes: I would probably agree that in such a myopic analysis, the data seems to favor the necessity of a physical substrate of some sort. However, I think if we are to examine the totality of evidence, things change. I’ve seen persuasive evidence suggesting that consciousness does not require a physical substrate of any sort [cf. Marianne George and her experiences with the Barok tribe of PNG]. Lastly, when I questioned whether or not we would be effectively proving the plausibility of dualism, I didn’t mean “effectively proven the existence of the soul” as much as I meant “effectively proven that human consciousness can be divided from the human brain.” The latter is not strict dualism, but, certainly seems to fling the doorway wide open if you ask me.

    It seems to me that the original distinction is more between the brain as an organ that all human beings have and the mind being the set of chemical changes and data storage accumulated in an individual’s brain.

    Of course, this presupposes that data is actually stored in the brain. Yet, as I explained above, the evidence for this position is hitherto inconclusive.

    playathomedad,

    Your comparison of mind and soul is a false synonymy.

    Did I assert strict synonymy? Or, did I ask a question?

    A soul is defined as being independent of the body. It is expressly non-material.

    Correct, and, given the success of mind-uploading, how would the “mind uploaded” be dependent on the body? That’s the whole point of the mind-uploading concept: to get rid of the body. If one can upload their mind successfully onto some other substrate, then, how is the mind dependent on the body? It seems you would have to push your claim back to some variant of, “the mind is dependent upon a physical substrate.” Of course, I’ve got my reservations about that as well.

    One can copy a computer file from one medium to another.

    What do you mean by “medium?” Certainly, one can copy a computer file from one computer to another. Or, one can express the contents of a digital file via an analog medium – for example printing the contents of some file on a sheet of paper. The relevance?

    Would you say that the file exists independently of the material on which it is stored?

    In a programming context, no.

  9. Garren says:

    cl,

    ‘How many “naturalist” models need to fall into conflict with the evidence until we’re finally allowed to posit a “supernatural” model?’

    Have supernatural models ever been more than a fallback when we don’t understand something in natural terms (such as special creation before Darwin)? Not entirely a rhetorical question. If there might be counter-examples, I’d like to consider them.

  10. The mind is what the brain does. Where is the evidence for the mind…. Seriously? Our species is self-aware. So are a few others. Is this not evidence for a mind? We can measure brain function using fMRI while we are thinking about something. These things are easily observed experimentally.

    As for the soul, define it first. That’s the only way anyone can assess the claim. If you are talking about some entity which is separate from the brain, even whether it survives death or not, the no. Such a thing categorically does not exist. Brain injured people can suffer incredible changes in personality due to disruption in pathways between what you can think of as modules with produce our personalities. Phineas Gage was the first nail in that coffin.

  11. woodchuck64 says:

    cl,

    I’m with you in rejecting any philosophical approach that requires you to exclude certain explanations for observable phenomena a priori. I see no problem with God (well-defined) as an explanation for anything as long as it does the best job of explaining the data. But that said, I don’t happen to find God to be a best explanation.

    Well, science and empiricism are able to apprehend a significant subset of the phenomena most often described as “supernatural,” and we have a growing literature of observed effects that directly challenge the notion of philosophical naturalism.

    Subject of future posts?

  12. cl says:

    Garren,

    Have supernatural models ever been more than a fallback when we don’t understand something in natural terms … ?

    Well, I’m afraid we’re at that point where – if we don’t attempt to deal with them now – the words natural and supernatural are going to have us talking past one another real quick. Did you ever read False Argument 13? Granted it’s going on three years old, but the content is strikingly inline with what you, woodchuck64 and myself are discussing in this thread. In a nutshell, I see the supernatural vs. natural thing as a false dichotomy. It’s a definitional mess waiting to happen. What do we mean by natural? Godless? Something like “that which actually exists?” If the latter, all that exists falls under the rubric of natural including God, angels, demons, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster for that matter.

    As far as counter-examples, again, the whole supernatural/natural thing looms, but I’m aware of several cases where a “supernatural” explanation accounts for the data far and beyond its “natural” competitors. Various NDE’s come to mind, we can discuss particulars if you’d like. Or, Marianne George’s veridical dreams. The problem is, any sort of “supernatural” explanation for such is disqualified per MN a priori. Did you ever read the Video Game Incident? Arguably trivial in magnitude, I agree, but… if you read the comments you’ll find a distinct lack of persuasive “natural” explanations. Basically, the “natural” explanations offered were that we either collaboratively lied, or had a simultaneous group hallucination / distorted perception. One other commenter offered a convection theory that I found unpersuasive. Nonetheless, I admired that commenter for putting the effort into it. I’d love to hear how you – or anyone else reading, for that matter – would parse the event if it happened to you and your friends.

    It would also help if you can articulate exactly what you mean by the phrase, “more than a fallback.”

    Shamelessly Atheist,

    The mind is what the brain does.

    I realize that many atheists shamelessly promote that assumption. Personally, I find the assumption sadly in conflict with the totality of evidence at my disposal – but that’s just me.

    Our species is self-aware. So are a few others. Is this not evidence for a mind?

    I don’t know; that’s what I’m asking. I suppose the answer depends on what one means by mind. If you’re simply using “mind” as a synonym for “brain activity,” then, sure.

    We can measure brain function using fMRI while we are thinking about something.

    I don’t dispute that humans have brains, and that human brains do things. Similarly, you can measure combustion engine function using a tachometer while a car is running, yet, for some reason, most people don’t assume racecars have minds. Why do you think that might be?

    If you are talking about some entity which is separate from the brain, even whether it survives death or not, the no. Such a thing categorically does not exist.

    Bare assertion.

    Brain injured people can suffer incredible changes in personality due to disruption in pathways between what you can think of as modules with produce our personalities.

    So? The same thing happens when you smash a lightbulb. Does that mean that light is what the bulb does? Is it not undeniable that light can exist outside a bulb?

    Phineas Gage was the first nail in that coffin.

    Bare assertion, and don’t point me to Ebonmuse’s A Ghost In The Machine. Been there, done that. I apologize for the formatting issues should you decide to investigate. I haven’t finished cleaning up around here since importing into WordPress.

    woodchuck64,

    But that said, I don’t happen to find God to be a best explanation.

    Why not? What are you looking for in an explanation?

    Subject of future posts?

    Certainly. I’ve got a wealth of stuff laying around here. Although, before I point you to anything in particular, can you give me some examples of phenomena you would – perhaps for lack of a better word – refer to as supernatural?

  13. I realize that many atheists shamelessly promote that assumption. Personally, I find the assumption sadly in conflict with the totality of evidence at my disposal – but that’s just me.

    Assumption my ass. Ever met a mind without a brain? And, yes. It is only you. Present the evidence that conflicts with this view. I am aware of none such. Correlating brain function with thought clearly demonstrates the link between mind and brain. Damage producing neurological deficits clearly demonstrates the link between mind and brain. The effects of intoxicants clearly demonstrates a link between mind and brain. Split-brain experiments clearly demonstrates a link between mind and brain. fMRI shows what parts of the brain are active when specific cognitive tasks are performed. Why would that be if there were a mind apart from the brain? What is this nebulous and conspicuously missing evidence which refutes this? What testable hypotheses does mind/brain duality give us? Whatever, dude.

    Similarly, you can measure combustion engine function using a tachometer while a car is running, yet, for some reason, most people don’t assume racecars have minds. Why do you think that might be?

    Because a car does not recognize itself when confronted with a mirror. It shows no behavior which would lead us to conclude that a car does anything of its own volition. Nor is there a plausible hypothesis for a car having any such self-awareness or thought. What a preposterous analogy!

    Does that mean that light is what the bulb does?

    What else does a light bulb do, exactly? Are you saying that the lightbulb is the same before and after being smashed? If there is an immaterial soul, how can being brain damaged affect it? Yet thousands of people who have suffered brain injury have their personalities profoundly altered. I would call that kind of thing fact being in total conflict with the idea of mind/brain duality.

    “If you are talking about some entity which is separate from the brain, even whether it survives death or not, the no. Such a thing categorically does not exist.”

    Bare assertion.

    Ah, the tried-and-true “you can’t prove there is no soul” crap. Not only is there no reason to believe an immaterial sould exists independent of the brain, the examples in the first paragraph are strong evidence to the contrary.

    “Phineas Gage was the first nail in that coffin.”

    Bare assertion…

    “La-la-la-la! I can’t hear you!” Profoundly altered personalities resulting from brain injury falsify mind/brain duality. Not assertion. FACT. The existence of such people can not be reconciled with an immaterial soul independent of the brain and is thus falsified.

    “But that said, I don’t happen to find God to be a best explanation.”

    Why not? What are you looking for in an explanation?

    I look for something that actually explains a phenomenon in an explanation, not simply transform the question. “God did it” is empty since it gives us no more understanding about how the phenomenon occurred than “I don’t know”. The former gives people the sense that it has been explained, when it is nothing of the sort, and simply changes the question to “How did god do it?”

    ….cann you give me some examples of phenomena you would – perhaps for lack of a better word – refer to as supernatural?

    Nope.

    Various NDE’s come to mind, we can discuss particulars if you’d like.

    Why did I have a feeling that somewhere in here was subjective crap like this going to come up? Seriously, man! You’ll believe ANYTHING! We’re done here.

  14. cl says:

    Ever met a mind without a brain?

    What would it matter if I told you I did? Would you really accept an “anecdote” for evidence? If so, you’re nowhere near the “rationalist” you present yourself to be, are you? So, why ask for an anecdote if you’re all about science?

    And, yes. It is only you.

    Look, all you’re doing with comments like this is demonstrating your own selective interpretation of literally decades‘ worth of literature and clinical data on the subject of consciousness. You say it is only me as if I’m the only person who believes consciousness can exist outside of the body. Consider the following from neurosurgeon, accomplished scientist, and Nobel laureate, Dr. Wilder Graves Penfield, who certainly has performed literally thousands of hours more work than you or I will ever put into the subject:

    I worked as a scientist trying to prove that the brain accounted for the mind and demonstrating as many brain-mechanisms as possible hoping to show how the brain did so. In presenting this monograph I do not begin with a conclusion and I do not end by making a final and unalterable one. Instead, I reconsider the present-day neuro-physiological evidence on the basis of two hypotheses: (a) that man’s being consists of one fundamental element, and (b) that it consists of two. In the end I conclude that there is no good evidence, in spite of new methods, such as the employment of stimulating electrodes, the study of conscious patients and the analysis of epileptic attacks, that the brain alone can carry out the work that the mind does. I conclude that it is easier to rationalize man’s being on the basis of two elements than on the basis of one.
    -Penfield, The Mystery of the Mind, pp. 113-114

    I could easily produce a laundry list of notable scientists and thinkers who align themselves with our camp, so, I’m left to consider the possibility that you haven’t given much impartial thought to the matter.

    Correlating brain function with thought clearly demonstrates the link between mind and brain. Damage producing neurological deficits clearly demonstrates the link between mind and brain. The effects of intoxicants clearly demonstrates a link between mind and brain. Split-brain experiments clearly demonstrates a link between mind and brain. fMRI shows what parts of the brain are active when specific cognitive tasks are performed.

    So what? Have I ever once denied a link between brain and mind? Of course not! I’ve explained my position on this in a semi-thorough slew of over two-dozen posts on consciousness here, and, the “arguments” you’re throwing at me indicate that you haven’t done the slightest bit of homework on who you’re dealing with. Else, why would you — four times, nonetheless — protest the link between brain and mind when I agree with you that there is a link between brain and mind?

    What is this nebulous and conspicuously missing evidence which refutes this?

    I find the question a bit imprecise. What does the second instance of “this” refer to? If the link between brain and mind, I am unaware of any evidence that “refutes” the link between brain and mind. You assume the collection of ideas I sometimes refer to as the immaterial consciousness hypothesis necessarily denies a link between brain and mind, when in fact the ICH actually requires such a link.

    What testable hypotheses does mind/brain duality give us?

    If something like the ICH is true, we might expect evidence suggesting the ability to acquire information not accessible to the agent via the traditional senses at the moment of acquisition. Or, we might expect experiences by which a person’s consciousness is present from a point not geographically congruous with their physical location. Those are just two examples. I could go on.

    Whatever, dude.

    Whatever my ass. You waltzed in here acting like you knew a thing or two, apparently didn’t even bother to read anything I’ve written on consciousness or Phineas Gage, dropped a bunch of pro-reductionist propaganda, and proceeded to ask questions that suggest that you haven’t given but passing thought to that which you emphatically deny.

    What a preposterous analogy!

    Right? That’s the sad thing: my analogy actually matched your initial criteria, which I agree are impoverished. The only way you escaped was by widening the goalpost to include the ability to recognize oneself in a mirror, but that’s okay, because I can refute your “logic” on that one too. Have you ever heard of Yale University scientists Kevin Gold and Brian Scassellati? They built Nico, who recently became the first robot able to recognize “him”-self in a mirror. So, does Nico have a mind? Which horn would you rather take? That a mind can exist outside a brain? Or, that the ability to recognize oneself in a mirror is not a reliable indicator of mind? Either way, you’re wrong, which makes your overconfidence that much more misplaced.

    What else does a light bulb do, exactly? Are you saying that the lightbulb is the same before and after being smashed? If there is an immaterial soul, how can being brain damaged affect it? Yet thousands of people who have suffered brain injury have their personalities profoundly altered. I would call that kind of thing fact being in total conflict with the idea of mind/brain duality.

    You didn’t even answer my question. Nonetheless, I’ll answer yours. A lightbulb shines. No, I’m not saying a lightbulb is the same before and after being smashed. A damaged brain could affect the expression of an immaterial soul in the same way a damaged filament affects the expression of electricity. That thousands of people have had their personalities altered after sustaining brain injury poses no challenge to the ICH, or any other decent dualist theory I’m aware of, for that matter.

    I would call that kind of thing fact being in total conflict with the idea of mind/brain duality.

    That’s another bare assertion. You give no explanation whatsoever of why you hold that opinion. Nothing you cited challenges mind/brain duality, in the least bit. The link between mind/brain is expected on mind/brain duality.

    Ah, the tried-and-true “you can’t prove there is no soul” crap.

    What motivates you to put words in my mouth instead of justifying your bare assertion that soul/spirit “categorically does not exist?”

    Not only is there no reason to believe an immaterial sould exists independent of the brain, the examples in the first paragraph are strong evidence to the contrary.

    I can see why you would endorse that position, as you’re clearly under-read on the subject. I’ve both alluded to and provided links for various evidences – even in this thread – that you obviously haven’t even investigated. I see strong and compelling reasons for believing in the immaterial consciousness hypothesis, and, if by “first paragraph” you mean the first paragraph of your last comment, the link between mind/brain is not evidence against mind/brain dualism. I believe in immaterial consciousness, and the link between mind/brain supports – not challenges – my belief.

    Profoundly altered personalities resulting from brain injury falsify mind/brain duality. Not assertion. FACT.

    Okay, now I’m near 100% certain that facts will never be able to persuade you. Feel free to keep talking, but, I’m confident that anyone who reads this thread can easily see that you got spanked. Not that that’s what it’s about, but, you’re coming across like you know something and like I’m some wingnut out in left field when your questions and comments are clearly the marks of an amateur.

    You’ll believe ANYTHING! We’re done here.

    False. We could talk at length about the many things in which I don’t believe. Anyways, Mr. Big Talker, unless you want to actually man up and squarely address what I’ve given you, you’re right: we are done. Go wrap yourself up in your Scarlet A security blanket, read some Dawkins or perhaps a little Dennett, and enjoy the rest of the night, because – after all – you’ve only got one life to live on your view, so why waste it on me?

    On the other hand, if you wish to learn or teach, myself and my commenters are all ears.

  15. jayman777 says:

    woodchuck64, in my opinion, the major problems facing a materialist account of the mind are: (a) consciousness, (b) qualia, (c) intentionality, and (d) paranormal/supernatural phenomena. As a software engineer, I see no way (with current hardware and software) that we could create a computerized mind analogous to our own.

    Garren, I recommend the book Irreducible Mind. It provides plenty of evidence for why the authors hold to the transmission/filter view of the mind as well as suggestions for further research. I agree with cl that differentiating between natural and supernatural is pointless.

  16. jayman777 says:

    Shamelessly Atheist:

    As for the soul, define it first.

    An immaterial entity that: (1) is conscious, (2) experiences qualia, (3) displays intentionality, and (4) has the ability to reason.

    Brain injured people can suffer incredible changes in personality due to disruption in pathways between what you can think of as modules with produce our personalities.

    This phenomena is compatible with the filter/transmission model of the mind. On this model the immaterial mind interacts with the body and the body interacts with the immaterial mind. As long as the mind is connected to the body we should not be surprised that changes to the body may effect the mind.

    Ever met a mind without a brain? And, yes. It is only you. Present the evidence that conflicts with this view.

    Let’s start with the Pam Reynolds near death experience. In particular, how did Pam’s mind acquire information from a perspective different from her brain’s point-of-view?

    Why would that be if there were a mind apart from the brain?

    Because the mind and brain interact with each other. You’re attacking a strawman version of dualism.

    What is this nebulous and conspicuously missing evidence which refutes this? What testable hypotheses does mind/brain duality give us?

    Once again I recommend reading Irreducible Mind.

    Nor is there a plausible hypothesis for a car having any such self-awareness or thought. What a preposterous analogy!

    There’s no plausible hypothesis for how the brain creates self-awareness either. The analogies will appear preposterous because functionalism is preposterous. If the mind is merely a set of functions then there is no reason why these functions could not be executed by sticks and stones (to take but one example).

    The former gives people the sense that it has been explained, when it is nothing of the sort, and simply changes the question to “How did god do it?”

    You do realize that claiming “the brain did it” also leads to the question of “how does the brain do it”? But, unlike materialist hypotheses, the immaterial soul hypothesis has the advantage of being compatible with paranormal phenomenon and is not hindered by the unresolved issues of qualia and intentionality that plague materialist accounts of the mind.

  17. cl says:

    Jayman,

    You make me wish I was nicer, and more tolerant of what I perceive to be “willful ignorance.” Well done.

  18. woodchuck64 says:

    cl,

    Why [don’t you find God to be a best explanation]? What are you looking for in an explanation?

    I would say we probably have a similar view of what constitutes a good explanation, and God may constitute a good explanation for many things, but I believe I’ve learned of better explanations. The model I have in mind of when to prefer one explanation for a phenomena over another would be the way Einstein’s physics is preferred as an explanation for objects in motion over Newtonian physics.

    Certainly. I’ve got a wealth of stuff laying around here. Although, before I point you to anything in particular, can you give me some examples of phenomena you would – perhaps for lack of a better word – refer to as supernatural?

    I have not found well-attested and replicated studies demonstrating evidence for the supernatural or phenomena that is usually interpreted as supernatural (i.e. things paranormal, such as ghosts, UFOs, ESP, NDE, etc.). That isn’t to say that I think no evidence exists, just that the evidence that I’m aware of is of low quality and does not permit assigning a strong truth value to it. I’m always open to high-quality evidence of such things, though.

  19. woodchuck64 says:

    jayman777,

    in my opinion, the major problems facing a materialist account of the mind are: (a) consciousness, (b) qualia, (c) intentionality, and (d) paranormal/supernatural phenomena. As a software engineer, I see no way (with current hardware and software) that we could create a computerized mind analogous to our own.

    I agree materialism/naturalism must account for consciousness to have validity, it can’t just ignore it. But at the moment, I don’t see a huge problem with the idea that any sufficiently complex algorithm that simulates it’s own behavior may become conscious and experience qualia. This may just be a necessary fact of our universe. But the obstacles in our way currently are lack of sheer parallel processing power to test that assumption.

    On intentionality, I lean towards Dennett’s view that intentionality doesn’t really exist but its something we attribute to other people because it helps us predict the outcome of the immensely complex processes that govern their behavior. I admit I’m not certain I get the whole issue with intentionality and would appreciate your view of the problem.

  20. jayman777 says:

    woodchuck64:

    The model I have in mind of when to prefer one explanation for a phenomena over another would be the way Einstein’s physics is preferred as an explanation for objects in motion over Newtonian physics.

    I see two ways to take this statement: (1) we should choose the explanation that has not been falsified by new observations or (2) we should choose the explanation that explains more of our observations. Either option seems reasonable. But, for me, this is a reason to choose some form of dualism over materialism.

    I have not found well-attested and replicated studies demonstrating evidence for the supernatural or phenomena that is usually interpreted as supernatural (i.e. things paranormal, such as ghosts, UFOs, ESP, NDE, etc.).

    Part of the problem might be that some of these subjects are not amenable to replication in the way that experiments in the hard sciences are. Just look at the examples you supplied. Humans cannot control ghosts, UFOs, or NDEs. How do you propose studying such things and replicating the results?

    That isn’t to say that I think no evidence exists, just that the evidence that I’m aware of is of low quality and does not permit assigning a strong truth value to it.

    What do you make of something like auto-ganzfeld experiments? Statistically, the numbers are very far from the numbers expected if materialism is true and it has been replicated many times.

    I’m always open to high-quality evidence of such things, though.

    I mentioned the Pam Reynolds NDE above. What do you make of it? How could the evidence in NDEs be made stronger than in that case?

    But at the moment, I don’t see a huge problem with the idea that any sufficiently complex algorithm that simulates it’s own behavior may become conscious and experience qualia.

    First, I don’t see how the complexity of the algorithm would make a difference. It’s like saying that a bigger math equation is more likely to become conscious and experience qualia. Second, I don’t know what you mean by an algorithm that simulates its own behavior.

    But the obstacles in our way currently are lack of sheer parallel processing power to test that assumption.

    The Blue Brain Project is attempting to create a synthetic brain by reverse engineering the brain down to the molecular level.

    On intentionality, I lean towards Dennett’s view that intentionality doesn’t really exist but its something we attribute to other people because it helps us predict the outcome of the immensely complex processes that govern their behavior.

    Do you doubt that you have beliefs and intentions? If so, then you can’t believe anything. If not, then you must admit that intentionality is a piece of data that any respectable theory of mind must be compatible with.

    I admit I’m not certain I get the whole issue with intentionality and would appreciate your view of the problem.

    Intentionality signifies the capacity of a mental state to point at, to be about, to mean, to stand for, or to represent something beyond itself. Your intentions, beliefs, desires, and perceptions all exhibit intentionality. The problem for the materialist is to explain how matter alone can account for intentionality.

    Let’s take your example of a computer running an algorithm. Does the computer believe anything? No, it merely stores ones and zeros while having no idea what those ones and zeros mean to humans. Does the computer desire anything or intend to do anything? No, it operates without any volition of its own. Does the computer perceive anything? No. How would putting in more ones and zeros and running more algorithms possibly change the answer to any of these question?

  21. woodchuck64 says:

    jayman777,

    I see two ways to take this statement: (1) we should choose the explanation that has not been falsified by new observations or (2) we should choose the explanation that explains more of our observations. Either option seems reasonable. But, for me, this is a reason to choose some form of dualism over materialism.

    I’m not really up on dualism, what form of dualism do believe?

    Humans cannot control ghosts, UFOs, or NDEs. How do you propose studying such things and replicating the results?

    The goal behind controlled experiments is to reduce known and unknown variables that may affect the result. If you can’t do a controlled experiment, you end up with known and unknown variables potentially affecting the result. This means you can’t be as certain of the result as you could for a controlled experiment. To me, that means some areas are simply not easy to study.

    What do you make of something like auto-ganzfeld experiments? Statistically, the numbers are very far from the numbers expected if materialism is true and it has been replicated many times.

    If the results are consistently replicated, then the affect likely exists I’d say. But my understanding is that studies are hit or miss, sometimes finding positive results, sometimes not. It might be relevant to mention that most published research findings even in controlled studies are false–in any field, not just the paranormal (Ioannidis). Replication is the only reliable way to strengthen the truth value of something.

    I mentioned the Pam Reynolds NDE above. What do you make of it? How could the evidence in NDEs be made stronger than in that case?

    My opinion would be that the Pam Reynolds NDE needs replication of the most controversial claims before I would consider those real affects. But I also understands NDEs occur frequently enough to be studied and even controlled in a fair amount of detail, so I expect a lot more can and will be known about the experience. Most of the aspects of NDE I find somewhat compatible with materialism (or at least compatible with the emerging understanding of the brain’s abilities to force sense onto unusual situations), except of course for claims of “extrasensory” perception as in the Reynolds case. The latter would be most damning to materialism but that’s where I don’t see much replicated in controlled circumstances.

    First, I don’t see how the complexity of the algorithm would make a difference. It’s like saying that a bigger math equation is more likely to become conscious and experience qualia. Second, I don’t know what you mean by an algorithm that simulates its own behavior.

    Imagine an algorithm sufficiently complex that it can create internal models of the reality it perceives and use them to predict what is going to happen around it. If it also creates an internal model of itself, then it can reflect on its own past and future behavior in kind of a feedback loop. But I don’t mean to say that consciousness must then light up like a lightbulb, but rather that there may be a continuum of consciousness, from what we humans experience, down to the simplest organism capable of some glimmer of self-understanding. Of course this is all quite tentative, but hopefully testable as computing power increases.

    The Blue Brain Project is attempting to create a synthetic brain by reverse engineering the brain down to the molecular level.

    Yes, an interesting project, let’s hope Moore’s Law continues and we can resolve some of these issues one way or the other some day.

    Do you doubt that you have beliefs and intentions? If so, then you can’t believe anything. If not, then you must admit that intentionality is a piece of data that any respectable theory of mind must be compatible with.

    We’re both in software. I find intentionality to be expressing much the same concept as representations, symbols, languages, formats (gif, png), etc. A gif image is about the scene it represents. Computer software that generates a representation of input uses intentionality–the memory of the computer is about something outside of it– but this is considered “derived” intentionality because the representation is defined by a programmer.

    What if the computer algorithm has an evolutionary/genetic algorithm that uses trial and error to arrive at an efficient internal representation of the input (audio/visual, etc.). Or what if the representation changes based on the input? There’s various ways to imagine a program complex enough to dynamically get further and further away from the original programmer’s plans and conscious intent while using and modifying internal models (hash tables, lists, arrays, etc) of external inputs. This seems to me to be creating something rapidly becoming indistinguishable from intrinsic intentionality.

    Is this sort of intentionality still a problem for materialism as long as such computer algorithms aren’t conscious? If it isn’t a problem, than I have less problem seeing intentionality in humans as drastically different from intentionality in random computer programs (I see the human brain as an algorithm randomly designed by evolution). If such programs are a problem for materialism, I would be interested to know how transistors and circuits can create something immaterial if that would be the conclusion.

  22. jayman777 says:

    woodchuck64:

    I’m not really up on dualism, what form of dualism do believe?

    The transmission/filter model of mind-brain relations seems plausible to me, but I’m not dogmatic on the matter. I would summarize my current beliefs as follows:

    (1) The mind is immaterial. A mind is an entity that is conscious, experiences qualia, displays intentionality, and has the ability to reason. I believe the mind is immaterial because I don’t see how materialism can account for paranormal phenomena, consciousness, qualia, intentionality, and reasoning.

    (2) When the mind is (fully or partially) separated from the body it is capable of realizing potentials that it generally cannot realize in our normal bodily state. This belief is based on various descriptions of people who have experienced such a state.

    (3) In our normal bodily state the brain “filters” the mind’s capabilities so that we can focus more on bodily survival.

    (4) The mind and brain interact with each other. In other words, the communication goes both ways. This is why changes to the brain can effect the mind.

    This means you can’t be as certain of the result as you could for a controlled experiment. To me, that means some areas are simply not easy to study.

    True on both counts (certainty of results and ease of study). However, this problem is not unique to investigations of the paranormal/supernatural and I don’t see why it should be viewed as a hurdle to learning at least something about the paranormal/supernatural.

    If the results are consistently replicated, then the affect likely exists I’d say.

    I encourage you to read up on the subject listening to both sides before making up your mind.

    My opinion would be that the Pam Reynolds NDE needs replication of the most controversial claims before I would consider those real affects.

    There are other NDE cases where the “dead” person acquired knowledge that the materialist would not expect him to be able to acquire in that state. What separates the Reynolds case from others is that there was medical equipment recording her vital signs throughout the whole surgery.

    I find intentionality to be expressing much the same concept as representations, symbols, languages, formats (gif, png), etc. A gif image is about the scene it represents.

    The problem for materialism is what might be called inherent intentionality. If I think about Mt. Rushmore my mental state is inherently about Mt. Rushmore whereas a digital representation of Mt. Rushmore is not inherently about Mt. Rushmore. By themselves the bits that make up the digital representation of Mt. Rushmore are not about anything at all.

    What if the computer algorithm has an evolutionary/genetic algorithm that uses trial and error to arrive at an efficient internal representation of the input (audio/visual, etc.).

    Once again, by themselves the bits of input are not about anything.

    This seems to me to be creating something rapidly becoming indistinguishable from intrinsic intentionality.

    It seems to me that such a process may make the bits about nothing at all, even in what you call the “derived” sense.

  23. Garren says:

    cl,

    Well, I’m afraid we’re at that point where – if we don’t attempt to deal with them now – the words natural and supernatural are going to have us talking past one another real quick.

    Yeah, I get that. Those words are useful when speaking roughly, but lose their usefulness quickly in any sort of argument.

    I’m aware of several cases where a “supernatural” explanation accounts for the data far and beyond its “natural” competitors. Various NDE’s come to mind, we can discuss particulars if you’d like. Or, Marianne George’s veridical dreams.

    I’m not convinced enough to take that sort of thing at face value, but I do think such stories are widespread enough to keep an agnostic stance rather than one of flat denial.

    It’s always interesting to watch characters in works of fiction find out what sort of world they live in. I try to keep in mind that I could be mistaken in the same way overly skeptical or overly accepting people in those stories are. One way to look at epistemology is just that: What sort of world do we live in?

    The problem is, any sort of “supernatural” explanation for such is disqualified per MN a priori. Did you ever read the Video Game Incident?
    […]
    It would also help if you can articulate exactly what you mean by the phrase, “more than a fallback.”

    I don’t have a good natural answer for the Video Game Incident. However, it does bolster my point about spirits and such being ‘fallback’ explanations.

    Supposing there really are powers beyond what we understand through science, I would still want something more positive to go on than occasionally not having another good explanation. If nothing else, this would help sort out which new thing we’re encountering: ESP, aliens, spirits, divine intervention, or something else we hadn’t imagined?

    jayman777,

    Garren, I recommend the book Irreducible Mind.

    I added it to my list. Thanks!

  24. woodchuck64 says:

    jayman777,

    (1) The mind is immaterial.

    Is there a theory of “immaterial”? Because that’s how I would evaluate its explanatory power. Without a theory or model of how “immaterial” works, it seems to me just a big question mark, an unknown black box. Nothing wrong with unknowns, but I think the first unknown I’d focus on (given a chance to prioritize) is whether materialism is really inadequate to explain the paranormal and consciousness, qualia, intentionality, reasoning. I call this an “unknown” rather than a foregone conclusion because of difficulty replicating experiments that demonstrate paranormal activity, and because of difficulty understanding, defining and testing what we mean by the other four. In the case of the last four, philosophers seem hopelessly divided on what it all means, and I think this area needs to continue to move into neurological studies and brain/mind simulation to get some hard answers one way or the other.

    However, this problem is not unique to investigations of the paranormal/supernatural and I don’t see why it should be viewed as a hurdle to learning at least something about the paranormal/supernatural.

    Well, that’s the question: how useful is learning a proposition with an uncertain truth value (which is what lack of replication means to me)? If it later turns out to be true, great. But if it’s false, there’s some risk. It seems to me that more skepticism is a better position, not less. That’s the lesson I take away from the Ioannidis paper (“Why Most Published Research Findings Are False”); scientists and laypeople need to be more skeptical of results that have not been replicated.

    The problem for materialism is what might be called inherent intentionality. If I think about Mt. Rushmore my mental state is inherently about Mt. Rushmore whereas a digital representation of Mt. Rushmore is not inherently about Mt. Rushmore. By themselves the bits that make up the digital representation of Mt. Rushmore are not about anything at all.

    True, but a face-detection computer algorithm can take those bits and recognize faces, basically doing the same thing a person would do. By itself, the representation is just ones and zeros, but a computer algorithm can treat the representation as if it is “about” faces (or “about” an outline of something with peculiar pixel arrangements that we would recognize as a face).

    This strictly fits the definition of derived intentionality (which is considered borrowed from inherent intentionality as you say). But what happens if the computer algorithm is complex enough that the human programmer can no longer predict or expect its behavior? Or if the algorithm takes a great deal of randomness or environmental input for new representations and new behavior? In this case, the computer algorithm reacts as if its representations are “about” whatever actions it takes in response to them, but these representations and actions are no longer anything that the programmer had in mind. This can’t really be derived intentionality because the human programmer has no idea what the computer representation is “about”; only the computer knows what the representation is “about”, and how that affects its subsequent output. Inherent “aboutness” seems to form between the computer algorithm’s representational memory and its final output linked via a series of internal states.

    We would agree that the computer algorithm has no sense of consciousness, but I think such a thought experiment can still demonstrate how a representation can point to something else, be “about” something else, simply by virtue of the existence of an algorithm that links the two.

    So in that sense, I would say materialism explains something of intentionality (assuming I’ve understood it correctly) by saying that human beings may be complex algorithms that relate representations (thoughts, beliefs, words, books, images, bits and bytes) to other representations and/or to input (our environment) for the purpose of creating output (acting in our environment now or in the future).

  25. jayman777 says:

    woodchuck64:

    Is there a theory of “immaterial”?

    Not that I’m aware of. Like the distinction between natural and supernatural, so the distinction between material and immaterial is hard to define precisely. I’m using the term to mean that the brain cannot be equated with the mind and that the mind is not entirely composed of known particles and energies.

    This can’t really be derived intentionality because the human programmer has no idea what the computer representation is “about”; only the computer knows what the representation is “about”, and how that affects its subsequent output. Inherent “aboutness” seems to form between the computer algorithm’s representational memory and its final output linked via a series of internal states.

    In such a scenario, I would go in the opposite direction and say that the computer’s representations are not about anything at all. But, I admit, I have a hard time believing the scenario you describe could ever come about.

    We would agree that the computer algorithm has no sense of consciousness, but I think such a thought experiment can still demonstrate how a representation can point to something else, be “about” something else, simply by virtue of the existence of an algorithm that links the two.

    A key-value pair contains a link between two representations but I don’t think that is an example of inherent intentionality.

  26. Ronin says:

    cl,

    Have you read Rethinking Human Nature: A Christian Materialist Alternative to the Soul?

    http://www.amazon.com/Rethinking-Human-Nature-Materialist-Alternative/dp/0801027802

    I would be interested to see what you think.

  27. cl says:

    No, I haven’t. I just read this review though, and, while I definitely agree that the Bible speaks of a bodily resurrection, I would also say that the Bible unequivocally teaches that man is a tripartite being. If Corcoran is a Christian who denies that, I’d be very interested in hearing the justification.

    I’m currently going through my modest library, getting rid of old stuff to make way for new. Perhaps I’ll put this one on the list. Thanks for the suggestion.

    BTW, have you read it? If so, what parts did you find persuasive? What parts did you disagree with?

  28. Ronin says:

    cl,

    I am currently reading the book. As soon as I get a chance I will post some of the notes I have taken, or at least try to highlight the parts that I think are important (though I think the book so far is really good). He attempts to explain why he finds dualism wanting (he tackles Cartesian dualism, Thomistic dualism, and Hasker’s emergent dualism if I recall correctly). I must admit that I am a dualist (I am currently rethinking my position and I might purchase the book mentioned by Victor Reppert at the bottom of his post (see: http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/search/label/defining%20materialism)). Corcoran seems to favor some of Peter van Inwagen ideas I believe.

  29. Umunandi says:

    I think people sometimes confuse ‘atheism’ with ‘materialism’. Materialism is the belief that matter-energy is all that exists (and what ‘appears’ to be subjective experience is ‘really’ objective brain activity). Atheism is a lack of a belief in a god. Consistent materialists have to deny the existence of mind/soul, atheists don’t. All materialists are atheists by any meaningful (or at least traditional) concept of ‘god’ but all atheists are not materialists, atheists can be emergent property dualists (mind emerges from and is causally dependent on mindless brain activity that it can’t be ontologically reduced to) pan-psychists (the non-emergent form of property dualism which holds that mind and matter are fundamentally different but necessarily codependent, they are the internal and external aspects of the same ‘thing’- being), Cartesian substance dualists (mind and matter are fundamentally unrelated and can exist independently) or idealists (mind is all that exists and matter is an illusion, the polar opposite of materialism).

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