Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Confusing neuroscience with philosophy of the mind

Neuroscience or philosophy of mind?
Or both?

A nice example of a rudimentary confusion, which I'm happy to clear up:

Commentor bachfiend, who asserts that he understands neuroscience (unlike moi):

By neuroscience, I mean the field of knowledge that uses evidence to produce a picture of reality,
Neuroscience a branch natural philosophy that deals with the nervous system. Colloquially, it is the scientific study of the nervous system. It entails the usual methods of science-- the systematic study of nature using the scientific method.

and makes the perfectly reasonable statement that the mind is a product of the brain,
Neuroscience certainly makes no such statement, which is a assertion proper to philosophy of the mind, not natural philosophy of the nervous system. Neuroscience can identify correlations between brain processes and mental acts, but causation between brain and mind is simply not in its purview.

In fact, it couldn't be in its purview, because neuroscience is the study of material processes. The mind is not material.

To publicly affirm that neuroscience disproves the existence of the soul is to publicly affirm that, on that topic, you are an idiot.
and if you affect the brain you will alter the mind.
Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't. Your brain is affected by myriad things. Not all affect the mind in a discernable way.  Having an MRI of your brain profoundly affects your brain-- it changes the spins of gadzillions of protons in your brain and causes the emission of gadzillions of photons. Yet your mind doesn't change during the scan (unless you're claustrophobic!).

Of course, some things-- like ethyl alcohol-- do alter your mind. There's very much we don't understand.

The actual correlations between brain changes and mind changes are very poorly understood. We have no idea-- none whatsoever-- what thoughts are, in terms of chemicals and action potentials and cells.
Whereas, you adopt a bizarre philosophical argument that assumes that the mind and brain are separate.
The relationship between the mind and the brain is an issue addressed by philosophy of the mind, and there have been many solutions proposed. Some philosophers propose that the mind doesn't exist at all, or that only behavior matters, or that the mind is the brain, or that the mind is what the brain does, or that the mind is a separate substance from the brain, or that the mind is a property of the brain, or that the mind is one aspect of the soul, which is the Aristotelian form of the body.

The debate rages.

I think that Thomistic dualism is the most satisfying paradigm-- the mind is a power of the soul, which is the form of the body. It is a view normally filed somewhere between substance dualism and materialism.

People who are interested in these questions discuss and debate them all the time.

None of this is neuroscience, which does not have metaphysics in its purview. 


  1. bachfiend is always confused but he does not realize it. His love of (pseudo) science blinds him.
    Poor soul, I will pray for him...

  2. Michael,

    Golly, 128 threads already so far for the month of April. You've obviously decided that you can't achieve quality in your blog, so you've definitely gone for quantity.

    I'm only reading to the end of the month. I'm curious to see how many threads you actually start for the month. Thank Gawd it's April and not March or May.

    I'm also waiting for you to apologize for fabricating a quote that you claimed I made. I suppose that's the reason you didn't provide a link to the previous thread, because it would demonstrate to your readers what a dishonest person you are.

    You didn't provide a link to the thread in which I'd made the comments, so I can't check the context. Although I don't dispute that I made them, because they are completely reasonable statements, and are also completely true.

    Neuroscience doesn't disprove the existence of the soul or the separation of the mind from the brain. It just makes them completely unnecessary. If you want to posit a soul or an independent mind, then you have to show some evidence for them. Made-up philosophies without a scintilla of evidence, that just happen to 'explain' something you can't understand are just bogus.

    Out of body experiences and near death experiences aren't evidence either for a soul or an independent mind. Even just simple psychological tricks can fool the brain into thinking that a limb doesn't belong to the person or that someone else's limb belongs to him.

    Perception occurs within the brain, and the brain constructs a model of what is occurring in the outside world, based largely on expectation. And it may or may not be true. In the famous 'invisible gorilla' experiment, in which 50% of subjects don't see an actor dressed in a gorilla suit walking across a basketball game and pounding his chest for 7'', even subjects who look directly at the 'gorilla' insist vehemently that there was a gorilla there.

    It's an oxymoron to say that since there are times when the brain is subtly affected by outside influences and the mind is not detectably altered, that then that shows that the mind is independent from the brain. To do that, you'd have to demonstrate that there are times that the mind is altered without the brain undergoing some sort of physical change.

    From neuroscience, we know that the perception of 'self' is lodged in the left parietal cortex and the perception of 'self' within space in the right parietal cortex. Certain illicit psychotropic drugs affect parietal lobe function (as can be demonstrated in a fNMR scan) giving glorious out of body experiences, which apparently difficult for the subjects to describe, but appear religious in quality.

    I won't address Pepe. He's an idiot who thinks that 'the Spiritual Brain' is a science book.

    1. Oops,

      As usual, when I was proof reading, I read what I expected to read, not what was actually there!

      It should have read in the famous invisible gorilla experiment 'even subjects who look directly at the gorilla, DENY vehemently that there was a gorilla there'.

    2. ...the Spiritual Brain' is a science book.

      It is!

      You deny that because it invalidates your atheism and materialism as most new scientific discoveries do.

      You're on the loosing end, bachfiend, and that makes you mad (in both meaning of the word!)

    3. Pepe,

      No, 'the Spiratual Brain' isn't a science book. It's just a collection of anecdotes.

    4. "You're on the loosing end, bachfiend, and that makes you mad (in both meaning of the word!)"

      A person who cannot properly spell simple words like "losing" really has no business telling anyone what is or is not a science book.

    5. Anonymous,

      I too noticed the 'loosing', but I decided to ignore it, because I know I'm just as capable as making typos' like this. Neuroscience informs us that the human brain has evolved to be good and adequate but not perfect!

    6. I am flabbergasted by the "à propos" of the last three (3) comments!

      These atheists really know how to use reason...

      Chapeau bas, Messieurs!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Michael,

    My original answer is still 'disappeared'. I'm retired, but there still aren't enough hours in the day to repost (unlike you, who apparently has the time to write 128 threads so far this month alone, to be read by so few people).

    I don't confuse neuroscience and philosophy of the mind. One is a rigorous field of research with a lot of empirical evidence. The other is wishful thinking without a skerrick of evidence. And don't even for a moment claim I've actually reversed the descriptions.

    The 'raging debate' exists in your and similar minds who are attempting to fill a gap in our knowledge (and there are always gaps, but they're constantly being narrowed) with 'God'.

    Correctly noting that we don't understand precisely how the human brain works means we can makeup 'souls' and 'independent minds' is nonsense. The human brain is the most complex structure we know of in the universe. Were it simple enough for us to understand it, we'd be too simple to understand it (I think I'm paraphrasing Isaac Asimov, but I might be wrong).