It gets worse...:
Changing the brain’s function (with drugs, electrical or magnetic stimulation, or other methods) will change mental function.
Sometimes yes, most times no. There are all sorts of induced changes in brain function that have no effect whatsoever on mental function. I’ve had MEP stimulation as an experimental subject, and while it made my arm twitch, it had no effect on my mental function. Magnetic fields change brain states, without necessarily changing mental states. Anti-epileptic drugs change brain states, and often do not change mental states (they are often well-tolerated by patients). Some seizures change brain states on EEG without discernible changes in mental states (so-called occult electrographic seizures).
This is a similar “resolution” confusion to what Egnor made above – and again he entirely misses the point. I could summarize what he is saying as this: if you change the brain a lot, you change the mental state a lot. If you change the brain a little, you change the mental state a little, and it may too subtle to be obvious or even notice.
Brain states are changed constantly by innumerable things-- electromagnetic fields, medications, etc. Novella claims that 'every single prediction of materialism-- such as changing brain function will change mental function-- is verified by neuroscience.'
My assertion is simple: not every change in brain state causes a change in mental state. This may be a consequence of the limitations of our science, or it may be a consequence of the actual relationship between brains states and mental states, or it may be a combination of the two.
But Novella commits himself to an absolute claim-- that all mental states are caused entirely by material brain states. The fact that many changes in brain states do not cause a change in mental states counts against his claim.
...He next argues that antiepilepsy drugs do not always change brain states. So why, in his version of reality, does it sometimes change brain states?
Changes in brain states sometimes, but not always, change mental states because brain states sometimes, but not always, cause mental states. That is a basic prediction of Thomistic dualism. The more basic the level of function, the more intimate the connection between matter and mind. Higher level functions-- intellect and will-- are more loosely connected to brain states, because intellect and will are immaterial acts. They are potentiated and supported by material brain states (perception, imagination, etc), so they will often be affected to some degree by changes in brain states, but they are not intrinsically material.
It's not true that every patient on anti-seizure drugs notices some effect on cognition. Some do, some don't. Dose-related effects on drugs on some aspects of cognition don't prove that the brain is the cause of the mind, without remainder.
Egnor also notes that some seizures do not cause noticeable changes in mental states. Which seizures would those be? Perhaps they are focal seizures that occur only in a small part of the brain, and not a part that would cause obvious signs.Many seizures in non-eloquent (cognitive) regions of the brain are clinically silent, and can be detected only by EEG testing. This is evidence against Novella's dogma that the mind is entirely material.
There will be no documentable mental phenomena in the absence of brain function.
I don’t know, and neither does Novella. There have been tens of millions of people (at least) who have had near-death experiences in which they had mental experiences during cardiac asystole and lack of brain perfusion.
If neither of us know, then there aren’t any clearly documented cases.There are many clearly documented cases of NDE. Whether the documentation amounts to scientific proof of the phenomenon is a matter of opinion (I don't think that the reality of NDE's has been 'proven', but the evidence is substantial).
If there were – we would know. Egnor here is using speculative and controversial claims as a premise – not exactly solid ground. I have written about NDE before and won’t repeat it here. I argue that the evidence does not support the conclusion of mental activity without brain activity. Egnor, however, is intent on repeating his non sequitur and following up with a straw man.I am pointing out the obvious: Novella's assertion that "there will be no documentable mental phenomena in the absence of brain function" is refuted by documented NDE's. There is a lot room for differences of opinion here, but Novella's dogmatic assertion is not in any way verified by the evidence.
I don’t know if any of these are real. Neither does Novella. But his statement that there are “no documentable mental phenomena in the absence of brain function.” is rank b.s. There are tens of millions of people who’ve had these experiences, and many have been documented and corroborated.
Are they all nuts? Are they all lying? Are they all deluded? Dr. Novella thinks so, but his opinion is based on his bias, not on any evidence.
Again – if we don’t know whether or not they are real, then they are not evidence – not documentable phenomena.
Of course they're evidence. Evidence comes in all sorts of degrees of credibility. But there is massive evidence for the reality of NDE's, most notably with corroborated NDE's (NDE's in which people know things that they could not have known through ordinary means).
I also never stated and do not believe that all patients who experienced an NDE are “nuts,” “lying,” or “deluded.” I think they had profound experiences during a life-threatening event. I just further think that these experiences can be explained as brain experiences, the effects of hypoxemia and hypercapnea mixed with memories from the period of recovery.Novella invokes theories to dismiss the experiences of millions of people. His evidence is minimal (and he provides none), and he provides no evidence for corroborated NDE's.
Again, rather than take the scientific approach that NDE's are widespread phenomena that are so far inadequately explained except as genuine (in some cases), he invokes materialistic dogma and dismisses out of hand the massive evidence for the reality of NDE's.
When the brain dies, mental function ends.
Ditto. If Novella has scientific evidence proving that there is no afterlife, I’d love to see it.
This is an attempt to shift the burden of evidence. I also further never said that I can prove there is no afterlife.
Yes. You. Did. That's the point of your assertion: "When the brain dies, mental function ends." You claim that this conclusion is validated by neuroscience.
You are wrong, for two reasons:
1) Neuroscience has little traction on such metaphysical questions.
2) To the extent that neuroscience can address the afterlife, there have been millions of NDE experiences that at least suggest the existence of an afterlife. There are theories both ways, but you grossly misrepresent the science when you assert that your statement "when the brain dies, mental function ends." is in anyway validated or settled by science. It is not. The question remains wide open, with a large amount of evidence favoring the reality of an afterlife.
My position is that there is no evidence for an afterlife, nor is there any evidence for mental activity in the absence of brain activity. If Egnor thinks he has such evidence, I’d love to see it.
Millions of people have had NDE's, and upwards of 20% are corroborated, meaning that there are independent checks on the experiences of the person that support the reality of the NDE. That is evidence. It is not randomized controlled evidence, so it may not be true. But it is massive, and materialist dogma won't make it go away.
Egnor finishes up with a typical rant, partly writing:
As for Novella, his “proofs” are a tangled mess of scientific/ideological assertions that actually make the case opposite the one he thinks they do… if they are to be taken seriously at all, which they shouldn’t be.
Several of his claims, coming from a practicing neurologist, are simply lies.
He keeps putting the word “proofs” in quotation marks. That implies that I used the word “proof” when writing about it. I didn’t (at least not in the article he links to)- I used the phrase “clearly establishes” which I stand by.
Same damn thing. Same overt misrepresentation of the science.
In any case – he follows with pure ad hominem fantasy. I will let the reader decide who is making unsupported ideological assertions, and who is being loose with the facts
Let the reader decide: is the mind-brain problem solved, or not?
So let's sum up at this stage of the debate.
It is important to understand that this debate is about Novella's assertions, not about the broader issue of understanding the relationship between the mind and the brain. Novella is asserting that the debate over. He asserts that neuroscience "clearly establishes" the truth of materialism.
My reply is that the relationship between the mind and the brain is primarily a logical question, not an empirical question. Neuroscience can be interpreted any number of ways. The profound philosophical questions-- how do we account for intentionality, for qualia, for subjective experience, for Chalmers' hard problem of consciousness, for the explanatory gap, for personal identity, for free will, for incorrigibility, for restricted access, which are all profound technical issues in philosophy of the mind-- are not answered and will not be answered by half-educated doctrinaire materialists who are innocent of the actual issues in the mind-brain problem.
It is perhaps the deepest problem in modern philosophy, and it will not be answered in the Journal of Neuroscience. Anyone stupid enough to believe that it will be answered by science-- let alone that it has been answered-- has no role in the real debate.
I have noted that I believe that the Aristotelian-Thomist hylemorphic framework- Thomistic dualism-- is the most satisfactory philosophical framework to understand the mind and the brain. Philosophers of the mind have many perspectives, ranging from dualism of various sorts (Cartesian, property, epiphenominal, functional, hylemorphic) to variants of materialism (eliminative, identity, behaviorist). Hard materialism of the eliminative and identity type is increasingly a minority perspective, well on it's way to becoming a fringe, for the obvious reason that the mind is not material.
Novella is, of course oblivious to all this. He's dogmatic, and has a materialist point to prove. It's worth noting that even informed materialists don't usually try to base their arguments on empirical neuroscience. They understand that the issue in the mind-brain problem is philosophical, not empirical.
Let's return to Novella's claims, and deal with them on his own terms. He makes two broad and quite extreme assertions, both outside the bounds of serious thinkers on the mind-brain problem:
1) Every single prediction of materialism has been verified by neuroscience.
It is not true of any scientific theory, and it is certainly not true of materialism and neuroscience. Novella asserts that every mental state is reducible completely to a brain state. In fact, there has not been even one reduction of a specific mental state (a thought) to a brain state-- even incompletely-- in a hundred years of neuroscience. No serious thinker on this issue-- even passionate materialists-- asserts that every single prediction of materialism has been validated by neuroscience.
Novella's claim that 'every prediction of materialism is verified' is delusional.
2) Each of six materialist theories about the mind-brain relationship has been "clearly established" by neuroscience.
I have pointed out that for higher thought-- intellect, judgement, will-- there is--again-- not one complete reduction of mental to material for any specific thought. Not one. Many materialists believe that the causal arrow from brain to mind is true, but no serious thinker on this issue claims that materialism has been "clearly established" by neuroscience.
"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."
What more needs to be said?