Wednesday, August 10, 2011

My reply to Dr. Novella: part 1

Steven Novella has replied to my criticism of his post on the materiality/immateriality of the mind. I've already replied to one of the points he made in the post. I'll reply here in a more comprehensive fashion to the first part of his most recent post.

Briefly, for background, Dr. Novella believes that the mind can be explained entirely in a materialist framework. He's always been vague about what he means by 'materialism', a necessary stance because materialism, carefully explained, is absurd, and explains nothing. Imprecision is a prerequisite for a materialist who isn't doing stand-up comedy.  

Novella claims:

The materialist hypothesis— that the brain causes consciousness — has made a number of predictions, and every single prediction has been validated...

This would of course make Novella's "materialist hypothesis" more completely validated than any theory in science. Not even general relativity or quantum theory has had 'every single prediction validated'. This is the sort of claim that one expects from a guy in a white coat in an infomercial selling weight-loss pills, not from a scientist. He doesn't make any claims about the logic of his claim, understandably. But he seems to imply that supplies of his theory are running out and you should order now.

These are his 'completely validated' predictions:


If the brain causes mind, then:

1- Brain states will correlate to mental and behavioral states.
2- Brain maturity will correlate with mental and emotional maturity.
3- Changing the brain’s function (with drugs, electrical or magnetic stimulation, or other methods) will change mental function.
4- Damaging the brain with damage the mind – producing specific deficits that correlate to the area of the brain damaged.
5- There will be no documentable mental phenomena in the absence of brain function.
6- When the brain dies, mental function ends.
I replied:

1) The mind-brain controversy is a philosophical question, not an empirical question. Empirical findings can be interpreted in any number of ways.

2) Novella's criteria are poorly formulated. 

3) To the extent that the questions are coherent, the evidence strongly favors the inference that some aspects of mind are immaterial. 

I discussed each 'prediction' in turn, reviewed the neuroscience, and showed that immateriality of some aspects of mental function was a reasonable inference for each prediction.

Novella made some odd assertions:

Three through six are specific to the brain causes mind hypothesis and are not predicted by the mind causes brain hypothesis. 

"Mind causes brain hypothesis"? The last major philosopher to make that claim was idealist George Berkeley in the 18th century. No one today claims that the mind 'causes' the brain.

Novella again:

There are now countless experiments and cases in which it is clearly demonstrated that doing something to the brain reliably results in a change of the mind. The arrow of causation is clear.
This had nothing to do with an "arrow of causation". It has to do with the materialist claim that the mind is the brain, without remainder. The evidence thus far suggests that the "remainder" is huge, and no reasonable interpretation of the science supports strict materialism. Now it may turnout that the "remainder" will be reduced to nothing with future research, and perhaps it will remain, and perhaps it will grow. But it's crazy to assert that current neuroscience proves materialism.

Here is Dr. Novella's reply to my post, with my commentary:

The Motivated Reasoning of Egnorance
Published by Steven Novella under Neuroscience
If you want to see many examples of motivated reasoning, pay a visit to Michael Egnor’s blog, Egnorance. He’s the evolution-denying neurosurgeon that I have sparred with over the last few years, mostly about evolution and dualism. Motivated reasoning is what most people do most of the time – start with a desired conclusion and then find reasons to support it (human are very good at that).
"Motivated reasoning" is the latest materialist trope ("denialism" is getting stale). Novella's implication is that he is objective and I am a prisoner of dogma. Novella apparently believes that the assertion that every single prediction of materialism has been validated by neuroscience is free of materialist dogma, and that materialist hubris isn't a paradigm of "motivated reasoning". Materialists can be quite funny.
However, the whole point of philosophy is to rise above this tendency and follow strict rules of logic, while the point of science is similar but also to follow the evidence.
Materialism provides no basis for 'strict rules of logic'. 'Atoms in motion' is all, sorry. It's funny when a dogmatic materialist invokes an immaterial principle like logic. Novella's most potent critic is himself.

Here's my punchy aphorism for materialists: 'If you can't weigh it, you can't say it.'
Egnor can’t seem to do either, as he rants against non-believers, misinterprets study after study, and attacks those who do not share his particular faith.
I challenge people who talk nonsense. I challenge 'neuroscientists' like Novella who misuse neuroscience and assert that neuroscience proves their materialist faith.
...The materialist theory of mind is not my theory – it is the overwhelming consensus of neuroscientists and the result of over a century of research.
The materialist theories of the mind (there are several), beginning with behaviorism in the early 20th century and regressing progressing to identity theory and eliminative materialism, are philosophical theories, not empirical theories, and they are very much on the wane. Most leading philosophers of the mind-- Nagel, Chalmers, Searle, Fodor, Putnam, Anscombe-- consider strict materialism to be a transparent error.

Neuroscientists, who professionally study the material brain, are generally uninformed about the genuine philosophical issues and have nothing meaningful to contribute to the debate. Dr. Novella would be an example.
But Egnor would have his readers believe it is my own quirky “bizarre” theory.
Materialism is quirky and bizarre, but not Novella's theory alone. Point granted.
This is, of course, nonsense. It is Egnor who is out on the fringe of neuroscience with his antiquated dualist beliefs. But far more important are the actual arguments themselves (I make this point mainly to demonstrate how Egnor constantly rewrites reality).
Some of the leading neuroscientists of the 20th century-- Sherrington, Penfield, Eccles, Libet-- were dualists.
In our previous discussions I outlined six lines of evidence that clearly establish that the mind is what the brain does – the most parsimonious interpretation of all available evidence is that the mind is a manifestation of the brain.
It's always good in chess to leave your own king a way out of check. This is what Novella's up to here: he asserts that the "mind is a manifestation of the brain". What does he mean by "manifestation"? Property dualists believe that the mind is a property-- a manifestation-- of the brain. Does Novella admit that intellect and will are immaterial manifestations of the brain? Then he's a property dualist. Does he believe that the intellect and will are material manifestations of the brain? Then he's an identity theorist. Does he believe that the mind is just an epiphenomenon of the brain, with no casual power of its own? Then he embraces epiphenomenalism, which is a form of dualism. Does he believe that the brain is all that really exists, and the 'mind' is just folk-wisdom without genuine meaning? Then he's an eliminative materialist. Does he believe that the mind bears the same relation to the brain as form bears to matter? Then he's a Thomistic dualist.

"[T]he mind is a manifestation of the brain". Novella hides behind imprecision.

Egnor, however, would rather believe that there is something magical to the mind that cannot be explained by the matter of the brain, and so the motivated reasoning ensues.
The mind isn't magical. It bears a quite natural relation the the brain, but it can't be explained via materialist metaphysics. I believe that Thomistic dualism provides the best model for the mind-brain relationship. I'll elaborate in future posts.

I am not a Cartesian (substance) dualist, which I believe is almost as problematic a view as materialism.

My first line of evidence (a prediction made by the materialist hypothesis) is that brain states will correlate with mental and behavioral states, to which Egnor responds:
[Egnor] We can’t scan you and tell what you’re thinking, no matter how we image your brain. Period.
His point is that the correlation between brain activity and mental states is “very loose”. I have already addressed this issue – Egnor is failing to account for the limitations in our current technology.
It's the limitations of your theory, Steve, not the "limitations in our current technology".

Novella made a prediction, and he admits that the evidence doesn't support it, which is exactly what I pointed out. He blames the failure of his prediction on "current technology". Promissory materialism: 'we have no evidence for materialism, but you must keep quiet and just wait..."
I never claimed that we could look at the brain and tell what someone is thinking.
Novella claimed: "1- Brain states will correlate to mental and behavioral states."

I pointed out that we have not a single correlation between a brain state and a mental state. Not. One. We have measured countless brain states (EEG, CT, MRI, fMRI), and we experience countless mental states. Never has a specific correlation between a brain state (a specific EEG, CT, MRI, fMRI finding)  and a mental state (a specific thought) been established. The only correlation of any sort is very vague: thinking anything will change EEG and fMRI subtly sometimes. Nothing even resembling a 1:1 correlation between any brain and any mind state.

If materialism is true, then every mind state must correlate exactly with a brain state, because according to materialism matter is all that there is.

The neuroscientific evidence in no way supports such a wild assertion.
We do not yet have a detailed enough model of the brain nor the ability to measure brain activity with sufficient resolution or calibration to come anywhere near such a task. Neither is that necessary for my argument to be valid.
"We do not yet ... come anywhere near such a task." That's my point, Steve. How then can you claim that
"The materialist hypothesis... has made a number of predictions, and every single prediction has been validated..."
and

 "There are now countless experiments and cases in which it is clearly demonstrated that doing something to the brain reliably results in a change of the mind."
and then admit:

 "We do not yet ... come anywhere near such a task."
Novella refutes himself, which saves me time. But he keeps trying:
The point is – to the extent that we are able to visualize brain activity, it correlates nicely with mental activity, within the resolution of our instruments.
Some of our instruments have enormous resolution.  Depth electrodes (a form of brain wave EEG measurement) can record electrical activity in tiny groups of neurons. Never has there been a reproducible correlation between a specific thought and a specific EEG tracing. Never.

Novella:
This has held up with better tools, like fMRI. We can correlate activity in different brain regions with different types of mental activity. 
 But Novella just said:

"We do not yet have a detailed enough model of the brain nor the ability to measure brain activity with sufficient resolution or calibration to come anywhere near such a task."
It's like Gollum/Smaegol. Novella contradicts himself in mid-post: 'Every single prediction of materialism is proven...we do not come anywhere near such a task..."

!

Novella:

The materialist hypothesis of the mind further predicts that as our technology and model of the brain improve, this correlation will hold up. It has so far.

Actually, there has never been a correlation between a specific thought and specific brain anatomy or activity. After a century of neuroscience. It is a gaping hole in the materialist superstition, and Novella is hoping you won't notice. He asserts complete brain-mind correlation (and causation!), and then admits that "we do not come anywhere near such a task".

One or the other, Steve. Promises don't count.
In other words, Egnor is confusing the limitations of our resolution to see brain-mind correlation with evidence for a lack of correlation. These are not the same thing.
I'm not confusing anything, Steve. The limitations are in your theory. After a century of neuroscience you can't point to a single specific thought-brain correlation, let alone causation. Your own arguments are self-refuting. You make unhinged claims about the data ("every single prediction.."), and then admit the inadequacy of the data ("We do not... come anywhere near such a task".)

This is my view: the best interpretation of the neuroscientific evidence is Thomistic dualism. Lower functions (reflexes, motor control, etc) correlate quite well with brain anatomy and physiology. Higher functions-- intellect, judgement, will-- are immaterial and correlate poorly with brain anatomy and physiology. That is a specific prediction of Thomistic dualism, and it correlates nicely with a century of neuroscience.

Novella's dogmatic materialism-- "every single prediction..." is self-contradictory unscientific gibberish.

More to come...

18 comments:

  1. Novella:
    "Egnor is failing to account for the limitations in our current technology."
    "We do not yet have a detailed enough model of the brain nor the ability to measure brain activity with sufficient resolution or calibration to come anywhere near such a task."
    [my emphasis]
    Promissory materialism anyone? Hows THAT for a motive?
    Novella awaits the second coming of 'science'.
    One day...some day...one day...
    What I want to know is where a research scientist gets of making such criticisms on the motivation of a practising SURGEON. Your ideas, sure - but your motivations?
    Novella spends a lot of time imagining with his imaginary imagination about non existent and illusory minds.
    That would be like some military historian marching about our Land Forces base explaining warfare to veterans.
    Seeing as he is being rather personal, I would like to point out he has an appropriate name: Novella. You know? A short fiction, usually without much of a plot. In this case penned by futilist teen author, perhaps.

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  2. I love Skeptics( Read Atheist Materialist, Metaphysical Naturalists, Secular Hmanists that are part of groups entirely designed to attack anyone sort of knowledge of idea hurts their beliefs and usually carry the organization carry the name "Skeptic" )

    Give a try, search about all the big "Skeptics", they will fall in those 3 groups... I would guess 90% of the time.

    Now All this mind discussion was amazing XD, Dr you made me very interested in all this. Well shame I have no idea about neuroscience, the best I could say is that your discussion with Dr Novella are very interesting. I will stay tuned XD see if I get to learn more.

    * Modern physics O_O class!!! *

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  3. I suspect that, had Dr. Novella lived in the 17th century, he would have been an early and enthusiastic proponent of phlogiston theory.

    As a (bio)statistician, it appears to me that Dr. Novella's neuroscience is long on claim and short on definitive evidence. Also, not only is appeal to analogy the weakest form of argumentation, but his light switch analogy is inapt.

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  4. I would suggest The Spiritual Brain to anyone interested by this subject.

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  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  6. Dr Egnor, I have a question to ask. I don't want to oversimplify your position, but for arguments sake I want to boil it down to the following statement: Due to the fact that we cannot establish a 1:1 relationship with every part of the brain to every function of the mind, materialism is insufficient to explain the mind/brain relationship. This leads to the conclusion that there is more to the mind than a material, causal relationship to the brain. Again, forgive the oversimplification.

    My question follows, then, what if we could? What if in thirty or forty years, as imaging and probing techniques become exponentially more powerful and subtle, and able to account for an individuals brain plasticity or diffuseness, we could achieve such results? I'm no neurologist, but it seems common sense to assume that this technology will only improve. Would there be a theoretical point at which you would change your mind and accept materialism? As a side question, and I apologize if you've already covered this, is there a duelist hypothesis that you or anybody else has come up with that could be experimentally falsified, beyond the lack of a complete materialist, causal brain/mind picture. Thanks for your time.

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  7. Egnor, your a laughable idiot.

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  8. Nick,
    'What if' doesn't cut it.
    We are talking about current science here. What if we discover there really is an atmosphere on the moon?

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  9. Then there's an atmosphere on the moon. Of course, such a claim would require exeptional evidence.

    Look, I appreciate that idle speculation isn't particularly helpful, but when debating the science of something, I think it's intellectually honest to identify criteria by which you could be proven wrong. In fact, that's the essence of science.

    For example, if a well designed study was able to demonstrate the existence of a mind in the complete absence of a physical brain of any type, and that study was able to be reproduced multiple times by reputable labs, then you can bet that skeptics/materialists would sit up and take notice. And as the body of evidence for this phenomenon continued to grow, they would have no choice but to adjust their opinion.

    I'm not sure what the evidence would have to look like for Dr Egnor to reverse his position, and I think it's a relevant question.

    I also think it's relevant because it's the direction in which the science is heading. Or do you suggest that mapping of the brain isn't going to improve and become more precise? Whether it will reach the point of demonstrating a 1:1 correlation remains to be seen.

    But to dismess such a question as an irrelevent "what if" is dishonest, in my opinion.

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  10. @Nick:

    [I'm not sure what the evidence would have to look like for Dr Egnor to reverse his position, and I think it's a relevant question.]

    The relationship between the mind and the brain isn't an entirely scientific question or even primarily a scientific question, so it's hard to see how scientific evidence could ever be decisive, at least decisive in support of materialism. If near death experiences were unequivocally shown to be genuine (i.e. of mind function without brain function is shown to exist), then materialism could be decisively refuted by science alone.

    The mind-brain relation is mainly a philosophical/logical question. Most scientific evidence could be interpreted a number of ways. My purpose here is just to show that Novella's arguments are idiotic, not that materialism is wrong. I'll discuss that in due time, but it will be primarily logical arguments, not empirical arguments.

    [I also think it's relevant because it's the direction in which the science is heading. Or do you suggest that mapping of the brain isn't going to improve and become more precise? Whether it will reach the point of demonstrating a 1:1 correlation remains to be seen]

    We don't know where brain mapping will take us. It may show us that the mind-brain relationship maps even less precisely than we now think it does. Remember what quantum mechanics did to Newtonian physics. We thought that atoms were going to be little balls, or tiny solar systems, or whatever. The result was something very strange, not Newtonian at all, and much less 'classically' materialistic.

    Wait for the science, and avoid stupid inferences.

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  11. I disagree that the mind-brain relation is mainly a philosphical question. Obviously there's a philosophical component, but I'm of the opinion that it's a seperate, secondary discussion, merely informed by the science, having no bearing on it, or its interpretation.

    But I do understand your position a bit better now. You admit it's (at least potentially) unfalsafiable, and I guess that's all there is to it.

    Either way, I look forward to your further articles about the general philosophy and logic of anti-materialism/dualism/what-have-you. I'll let the two neurologists duke out the science until then.

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  12. Also, just as a side note in regard to your Newtonian physics analogy. I think it's a perfect example of better, more precise and more subtle science building on already good science. Relativity came along and demonstrated an added layer of complexity to the physical world. It didn't replace Newtonian physics, (in fact Newtonian physics still provides a remarkable working model, a testament to Newtons genius) it merely refined it. Newton didn't have all the data, but the methods for collecting data became better and better. Same goes for quantum mechanics. It provides a deeper understanding still of physical process, and yeah there's some wacky quantam effects at work, but they're mathematically modelled, they're very testable, quantifiable, and there's nothing magic about them.

    I think that analogy works in the exact opposite way than the way in which you intended it.

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  13. @Nick:

    Thanks for the comment.

    [I disagree that the mind-brain relation is mainly a philosphical question.]

    I disagree with you about the philosophy vs science issue. Empirical science is really just an aspect of philosophy (natural philosophy), and all science depends on philosophical (metaphysical) assumptions. To say 'we can resolve this with science. We don't need philosophy' is utterly misguided.

    To make valid inferences from data we need to have valid philosophical frameworks in which we work. If the philosophical framework in which we work is gibberish (I believe that materialism is gibberish) then our conclusions from data will be gibberish, regardless of the quality of the data.

    The mind is (in part) immaterial because the acts involved aren't material. Intentionality (the 'aboutness' of a thought) is immaterial because 'reference to other' is not a power of matter.

    As I've pointed out in my argument for Thomistic dualism, the solution of the mind-brain problem lies in adopting a metaphysical system capable of explaining the mind-brain relationship. Materialism does not. Hylemorphism does. Interestingly, hylemorphism actually predicts the loose correlation between brain function and higher cognitive acts. Data does help in many ways to sort out the truth, but the fundamental issue is the logical understanding of the connection between the mind and the brain, which is a philosophical question.

    A good analogy would be: let's say we were trying to understand triangles. We could measure real triangles, and find that the angles add to 180. But a real deep understanding would be an intellectual understanding of how it is that they add to 180 (understanding the mathematical proof). Students in math class don't learn that the angles sum to 180 by measuring triangles. They learn the truth by proving it mathematically.

    The fundamental issue in the mind-brain problem is philosophical, not empirical.

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  14. @Nick:

    [Also, just as a side note in regard to your Newtonian physics analogy. I think it's a perfect example of better, more precise and more subtle science building on already good science. Relativity came along and demonstrated an added layer of complexity to the physical world. It didn't replace Newtonian physics, (in fact Newtonian physics still provides a remarkable working model, a testament to Newtons genius) it merely refined it. Newton didn't have all the data, but the methods for collecting data became better and better.]

    Einstein didn't develop relativity because he had better data. It's actually remarkable how little his theory was originally driven by data. He didn't develop his theory to explain the perihelion precession of Mercury. He developed his theory and subsequently realized that it explained the precession of Mercury. You misunderstand the process by which Einstein worked.

    [Same goes for quantum mechanics. It provides a deeper understanding still of physical process, and yeah there's some wacky quantam effects at work, but they're mathematically modelled, they're very testable, quantifiable, and there's nothing magic about them.]

    There's a lot "magic" about them. Quantum indeterminacy, quantum entanglement, Young's slit experiments, Bell's theorem, etc are astonishing. If your reply is 'ho hum' you don't get it.

    My analogy is simple and obvious. You assumed that further refinement of neuroscience will proceed along the current path of revealing closer correlations between mind and matter. I pointed out that science sometimes takes radical turns, because nature is radical, and it's naive to assume that there will be no sea-changes in our understanding of nature.

    I think that analogy works in the exact opposite way than the way in which you intended it.

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  15. "Egnor, your[sic] a laughable idiot."

    If I were lacking in native intelligence like you, I suppose I would want to remain anonymous also.

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  16. Egnor: A good analogy would be: let's say we were trying to understand triangles. We could measure real triangles, and find that the angles add to 180. But a real deep understanding would be an intellectual understanding of how it is that they add to 180 (understanding the mathematical proof). Students in math class don't learn that the angles sum to 180 by measuring triangles. They learn the truth by proving it mathematically.

    What this example illustrates is your lack of understanding of the distinction between science on the one hand and philosophy, logic, and mathematics on the other. In science, you cannot just reason your way through. You need empirical input. This is while philosophy of mind is a big failure.

    The proposition that angles in a triangle add up to 180 degrees is a mathematical result that can be derived from Euclid's parallel postulate. In fact, the two propositions are equivalent and one can take either of them (as well as a number of others) as the fifth postulate of Euclidean geometry. So proving the triangle postulate may be a good exercise in mathematical logic but it generates no new knowledge.

    But of course angles in a triangles do not have to add to 180 degrees. Mathematicians realized that in the 19th century. A triangle drawn on a sphere has angles summing up to more than 180 degrees. In a hyperbolic plane, the sum is less than 180 degrees.

    Once that was realized, whether the angles of a triangle add up to 180 became an empirical question. Lobachevsky proposed an astronomical measurement to check whether our space is curved.

    And now we know that our space is indeed curved. Curvature of our spacetime is created by massive objects. That is Einstein's theory of gravitation in a nutshell. Which of course could not have been deduced by pure logic. It required empirical input.

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  17. So proving the triangle postulate may be a good exercise in mathematical logic but it generates no new knowledge.

    _________________________

    yeah it does XD. You now can find the sum of the internal angles of geometrical entities thanks to that discovery XD.

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  18. Libet was a dualist? Why does he get cited constantly by materialists who deny free will?

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