Home » Intelligent Design » Excerpts from the Dennis Prager show: The central dogma in neuroscience? And at least one reason why it isn’t true.

Excerpts from the Dennis Prager show: The central dogma in neuroscience? And at least one reason why it isn’t true.

Bill Dembski asked me to post some excerpts from this interview that Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard and I did with American radio host Dennis Prager, on the difference between the mind and the brain (as set out in our book The Spiritual Brain, Harper One, 2007). I finally got a chance to transcribe a bit of it, so here is that bit:

DENNIS PRAGER: We always or nearly always associate scientists with skepticism if not downright hostility to the notion that there is something in us that is not physically or materially explicable. The notion that we have a soul, well, but you can’t measure a soul, you can’t see it, and it is not available through an x-ray and yet there are some scientists who say that science itself may argue for the existence of a soul and even for a higher intelligence.

And there is a book that has received remarkable reviews, just published it’s called that argues and the neuroscientist in this case is a professor at the University of Montreal, an assistant professor in the departments of radiology and psychology and he is Mario Beauregard and in Toronto is Denyse O’Leary who is an award-winning Canadian science writer and journalist. They have co-authored this book.

So, tell our many listeners in North America, what is the basic theory of your book?

MARIO BEAUREGARD: Well, the basic theory in our book is that there are many lines of evidence that say that you cannot reduce mind, consciousness, and self to electrical and chemical processes in the brain. For instance, in the case of the placebo effect there is no good solid theory – material theory – in neuroscience that is able to explain this phenomenon because most neuroscientists believe in the central dogma of neuroscience which is that the brain produces the mind through electrical and chemical activity and that the mind does not really exist. It is more like an illusion, if you will, so an illusion cannot exert a significant effect over the electrical and chemical substances in the brain. So in other words they have a lot of trouble to be able to explain something like the placebo effect …

PRAGER: By the way, the placebo effect, for those not aware is … if you have 100 people and you give 50 people a real medicine and 50 people just a white coloured pill.* A lot of people taking the white coloured pill will have equally good results even though it’s a piece of nothing.** How does that argue [your case]?

BEAUREGARD: It shows that beliefs and expectations about the pill in question can significantly change the way the brain functions so something immaterial that we call mind or belief can exert tremendous effect upon the brain functioning. So this is another difficult area for materialist neuroscientists.

DENYSE O’LEARY: I just wanted to add that it is also worth noting that materialists themselves thought for example when the new generation of antidepressants came out in the mid Nineties … Tom Wolfe wrote a very significant essay called “Sorry but your soul just died” and the idea was that the new antidepressants showed that there really couldn’t be a soul because otherwise how previously non-functioning persons could now be back at work? But the problem was that when they did further testing they discovered that quite often the placebo effect worked just as well.

PRAGER: But why couldn’t the materialist argue – I believe in a soul but I want to be as fair as possible – if I take a placebo and my brother believes that my vitamin C is a placebo. He’s a doctor and they have a deep skepticism with regard to vitamins. I claim to my brother, you know, it’s amazing how little I get colds, I take a lot of vitamins. He says Dennis, God bless you, I want you to be healthy, but I think it’s a placebo. Maybe what is happening is my psyche is in fact triggering material reactions.

O’LEARY: Precisely. But that means that you do in fact have a psyche that can act on your brain.

PRAGER: Oh …. fascinating argument ….

Yes, it’s a new world out there, once materialism’s kludges have been placed gently in the recycle bin.

Elsewhere, I have said, on the subject of the placebo effect,

Tom Wolfe wrote an influential essay in 1996 called “Sorry, But Your Soul Just Died,” ascribing enormous power to the new antidepressants. Later, a very large amount of the miraculous effect turned out to be the placebo effect. Once people honestly believed that a drug could lift them out of depression, it could have been lithium or blue Smarties mix. Their own minds were apparently doing the heavy lifting, but they didn’t even know it. I wonder if Wolfe will write another essay titled “Sorry, But Your Soul Just Prefers the Blue Smarties.”**

Of course, our minds cannot do just everything and anything. None of this is magic. BUT – with that caution firmly stated – the main thing to see is that our minds are real and that what we believe is more powerful than we sometimes realize in shaping our lives.

*Actually, the colour of placebo sugar pills makes a big difference, according to students of the placebo effect. Most patients interpret blue pills as downers and red or orange pills as uppers.

**Or bad results, as a matter of fact. I happened to be talking to a research scientist last August who had directed a study of a pharmaceutical drug. The researcher told me that the team had to give medications for the side effects of the drug under study to the patients who had received the placebo … the side effects they experienced were quite real, even though the medication wasn’t.

Note: Elsewhere, another central dogma in neuroscience holds that the adult brain is not plastic. That isn’t correct either, as it happens. In general, the brain remains plastic throughout life, far more like an ocean than a museum.

Also: Today at the Mindful Hack

Can people simply decide to die?

It used to be all my mom’s fault, but now it’s all my brain’s fault?

Change your mind, change your brain seminar at Colorado Free University in Denver

Jewish community life takes root again in Germany

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12 Responses to Excerpts from the Dennis Prager show: The central dogma in neuroscience? And at least one reason why it isn’t true.

  1. Is biofeedback similar to the placebo effect in that during the process the mind causes objective changes to the body – at will? In my opinion this demonstrates both the reality of non-determined free will and the ability of the mind to alter the brain which in turn alters the function of the body (heart rate, blood pressure, body temp, etc).

  2. 2
    xcdesignproponentsists

    Firstly, I’d like to apologize to the members of the UD community who may have taken offence to my previous comments. I will refrain from sarcasm and tasteless parody in the future.

    The distinction between brain and mind is an interesting subject for debate. The book sounds interesting, so I will definitely try and borrow a copy from my library. I will also give Mario Beauregard’s paper in Progress in Neurobiology a read.

    I’m just curious as to how one is able to objectively able to draw the line between the “material” and the “immaterial”. For example, how can one conclude that an immaterial psyche is responsible for the placebo effect rather than unconscious “materialistic” neuronal processes?

  3. Why assume that any kind of unconscious “materialistic” neuronal process whatsoever should take the trouble to become conscious? If the neurons can handle the job on their own, and consciousness is really supposed to be neurophysiology without remainder, than why does consciousness bother to exist at all? After all, under materialstic assumptions, it is absolutely superfluous to the workings of neurons, and supposedly adds no causality of its own to what is “really” going on. In short, if materialism is true, why aren’t we unconscious zombies? It does no good to say that consciousness is “emergent”. Materialism simply doesn’t need it, since physical causality alone gets the job done, and there is nothing in the bare physical theory of neuronal function that would even imply its existence.

    And yet it exists.

  4. xcdesignproponentsists:

    The question is very simple:

    1) Consciousness exists, and is experienced by each one of us. Indeed, consciousness is our first experience, and all other experiences (the world, matter, etc.) come as modifications of the consciousness itsef. Therefore, consciousness cannot be denied without denying any form of knowledge (I know, materialists do exactly that, but…)

    2) Consciousness is characterized by the “unification” of a series of modifications in relation to a same perceptor, the “I”.

    3) No theory exists which can even begin to explain consciousness in terms of matter. Loops, netwoks, parallel computing, et similar are all smoke in the eyes. Thetre is no reason in the world why a system should become conscious because of its increasing complexity. The same idea of that is foolish, and completely unsubstantiated. The only reason why so many people believe such a stupid idea is that they have already decided, without any evidence for that, that we are conscious because our brain generates our consciousness, and therefore, as the brain is material, so it must be possible for a material machine to become conscious. That is circular reasoning, indeed!

    4) Any supposed evidence that some modification of the brain creates a modification in consciousness, or vice versa, is not more revealing, ultimately, than the fact, known to everybody, that we have perceptions and acts of will. Whatever consciousness is, it is strictly interacting with the brain and body. Whatever brain and body are, they are strictly interacting with consciousness. That is well known. That does not say, in any way, that the brain is the cause of consciousness. No evidence of this kind is useful for that purpose, no more than the observation that the changes in a pc game seem to interact with the gamer (modify his behaviour, and yet there is no reason to believe that the pc game generates the gamer. The relationship between the “I” and its modifications, including those induced by the external world and the brain, is exactly like that: we are the gamers, the brain and body are the instruments of the game (the interface), and our interactions with the external world are the game itself. But we, as the I who perceives and acts, are in no way generated by the game or by the interface.

  5. Interesting

  6. 6
    xcdesignproponentsists

    Matteo:

    Why assume that any kind of unconscious “materialistic” neuronal process whatsoever should take the trouble to become conscious? If the neurons can handle the job on their own, and consciousness is really supposed to be neurophysiology without remainder, than why does consciousness bother to exist at all?

    I’m not sure I fully understand your question. It seems to be similar to asking why blood must “bother” to be red.

    There are a number of neurological processes that one is not conscious of e.g. reflexes. It would be fallacious to say that consciousness is not necessary at all, but it is clear that there are “material” processes that exist without the need for an immaterial entity. Therefore, I am simply questioning why one must introduce variables like the psyche, which are treated as entities that are distinct from the brain, at the expense of parsimony.

    After all, under materialstic assumptions, it is absolutely superfluous to the workings of neurons, and supposedly adds no causality of its own to what is “really” going on. In short, if materialism is true, why aren’t we unconscious zombies? It does no good to say that consciousness is “emergent”. Materialism simply doesn’t need it, since physical causality alone gets the job done, and there is nothing in the bare physical theory of neuronal function that would even imply its existence.

    And yet it exists.

    I’m not sure why you think your so-called materialists have no need for consciousness. Just because something is an emergent property does not mean it is either superfluous or non-existent. Colour, for example, is an emergent property, and yet I don’t think that your materialists would deny its existence.

    gpuccio:
    I, nor your caricatured “materialists”, deny the existence of consciousness.

    The main issue is as to whether a distinct, immaterial entity must be invoked in order to explain the existence of consciousness. From a Cartesian point of view, the placebo effect does seem to be a triumph of mind over matter. However, if the mind is merely an emergent property of underlying neural networks, then the placebo effect is likely to be mediated by naturalistic mechanisms. I don’t claim to know for certain that this is the case, but I am merely questioning the need to invoke a Cartesian dualism.

    I would readily agree that the binding problem and the hard problem of consciousness are as yet unresolved, but our ignorance does not warrant making definitive conclusions about the existence of an ontological duality.

    With regards to the unification of consciousness, I would like you to give some thought to the cases of patients who have had their corpus callosum severed, and in many cases seem to have two minds. If there is a distinct entity that is necessary for “mind”, then why is it that severing the connections between the two hemispheres of the brain seemingly creates a situation whereby the individual’s left brain seems to know something, yet the right brain does not?

    I don’t think you should discount the importance of biological modifications that can affect consciousness. They are strong indicators that consciousness is at least partly dependent on biological function. Drugs can have an effect on perception, judgement, and volition, so it quite evident that unless these drugs are somehow exerting an influence on an immaterial entity, biological processes are at least partly responsible. Therefore, when the issue of the “cause” of consciousness arises, there is evidence to suggest that biological functions are largely responsible for most of these processes. The evidence of course is not sufficient to say that the brain is most certainly the cause of all mental functions, but it does seem to be responsible for most mental functions. Essentially, you seem to be claiming that what cannot currently be explained by biological function must necessarily be caused by an entity wholly distinct from the brain. If that’s the case, then it is a baseless assertion.

    Mats:

    Yep.

  7. xc,

    “Colour, for example, is an emergent property, and yet I don’t think that your materialists would deny its existence.”

    Would you think that some materialists deny the existence of beliefs? How about pain? If so, then have a look at the Churchlands or Dennett’s views on the matter. They view such concepts and definitions as outdated folk psychology.

    Now, you can turn around and say that they don’t really deny the existence of pain and belief. They simply believe those things aren’t what we think they are – they consider them to be illusions brought about by a neuronal process, and the processes are real. But, as William Valicella has pointed out, that’s like saying ‘I believe God is real – God just happens to be an anthropomorphized illusion man projects onto his environment’. It’s a nice linguistic trick, but it amounts to denying God (or in this case, pain, belief, and consciousness.)

    I think Denyse and Mario would agree that there is a link between material processes and the psyche/mind. In fact, I don’t think I know of a single person (Even including Richard Swinburne, who uses the example of a person with a split brain) who doesn’t believe that brain and mind are strongly related. Examples like the placebo effect illustrate that belief and acts we normally attribute to the consciousness happen to act on our physical being.

    Personally, I think strict materialism is dead for a number of reasons (I’ve noticed the quiet migration to physicalism in certain quarters) aside from consciousness. But even if we accept that consciousness is fundamentally linked to the material (brain, etc), I think arguments for materialism falter. Unless we’ve hit the point where immaterial entities (thought, abstract ideas, math) are filed under materialism because those things are defined as emergent from the material. In which case, you may as well run an article saying ‘Science finds where soul emerges from human brain.’

  8. 8
    xcdesignproponentsists

    nullasalus:

    I think we can both agree that things like pain and beliefs exist. What can be disputed is the nature of their existence. A lot of it does boil down to semantics, i.e. what one means by “existence” or “illusion”. Claiming that God is an delusion is can be very different from claiming that pain is an illusion. God is posited to be a distinct entity, not an emergent phenomenon like pain or belief. That is a vital distinction that must be made.

    My points about naturalistic processes affecting the mind were not directed towards Mario and Denyse, and I’m sure they know more facts about this issue than I do. I only felt that gpuccio was downplaying this link in his fourth point.

    However, I don’t agree that the placebo effect is necessarily evidence that there is an unconscious entity that is affecting biological processes, i.e. the archetypal “mind over matter” scenario. Beliefs and consciousness seem to arise from naturalistic processes. If this is the case, how can one conclude that the emergent property, rather than the underlying natural processes is the causative agent in phenomena like the placebo effect? It is like making the claim that the colour white reflects all light. If one were to be pedantic, it could be pointed out that it is not the colour, but rather intrinsic properties of the object itself that are causing light of all wavelengths in the visible range to be reflected.

  9. xc,

    “I think we can both agree that things like pain and beliefs exist. What can be disputed is the nature of their existence.”

    Well, no. I believe that pain and beliefs exist. If you look up eliminative materialism on the wikipedia, you get: “eliminativists claim that no neural correlates will be found for many everyday psychological concepts, such as belief and desire, and that behaviour and experience can be explained adequately only on the biological level. Other versions entail the non-existence of conscious mental states such as pains and visual perceptions.” Again, this is indeed like the God example. If we’re at ‘I believe pain and beliefs exist, but only as illusions’, no, we’re now entered a whole new arena.

    “However, I don’t agree that the placebo effect is necessarily evidence that there is an unconscious entity that is affecting biological processes, i.e. the archetypal “mind over matter” scenario. Beliefs and consciousness seem to arise from naturalistic processes.”

    Again, if beliefs and consciousness are considered real rather than illusions, arguing that they ‘arise/emerge from naturalistic processes’ doesn’t strike me as much of a “save” for materialism. If the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, the fact that the parts are defined as naturalistic processes is down to a convenience.

    That said, I’m sure you can object to whether ‘consciousness’ – and let’s remember, that’s an extremely hard thing to define – is acting on biological processes. I don’t think Mario and Denyse would argue their book settles the issue. What it does do is point out the objection offered in this case certainly isn’t decisive, illustrates why it isn’t decisive, and shows what some of the responses people who believe in a different philosophy of mind can rally. Keep in mind this debate is happening in an age where the New York Times will run an article like ‘Scientists continue to show the soul doesn’t exist’, as if people who believe in souls (And the number of views of what constitutes a soul is diverse itself) didn’t notice roundabout the dawn of history that the material (drinking alcohol, getting knocked in the head) affects the mental.

  10. xcdesignproponentsists:

    Thank you for your interesting comments. I think that you make some non trivial points, which deserve further discussion. Here I try to suggest a few answers:

    1) You say:

    “I, nor your caricatured “materialists”, deny the existence of consciousness.”

    It was not my intention to caricature anyone. Some people do enough to caricature themselves, and sometimes I take notice of that. I am happy that you don’t deny the existence of consciousness, but you should be aware that some do. It is perhaps the most extreme position among materialists, but it is well represented. Obviously, I am well aware that many materialists have “smoother” positions, at least apparently, like that of consciousness as an “emergent property” of the brain. I’ll discuus that in a moment. Same thing for concepts like “illusion”.

    2) You say:

    “The main issue is as to whether a distinct, immaterial entity must be invoked in order to explain the existence of consciousness”

    and

    “I would readily agree that the binding problem and the hard problem of consciousness are as yet unresolved, but our ignorance does not warrant making definitive conclusions about the existence of an ontological duality”

    I think that, with your second sentence, you have given the right answer. Only, I would add: “or about its non existence”.

    I will cite here nullasalus, who has perfectly expressed the point I want to make:

    “I don’t think Mario and Denyse would argue their book settles the issue. What it does do is point out the objection offered in this case certainly isn’t decisive, illustrates why it isn’t decisive, and shows what some of the responses people who believe in a different philosophy of mind can rally. Keep in mind this debate is happening in an age where the New York Times will run an article like ‘Scientists continue to show the soul doesn’t exist’.

    In other words, I can perfectly agree with you that we cannot completely set the hard problem of consciousness “on a purely scientific basis”. Not yet. But then, why are all official materialist sources declaring with self-confident arrogance that they have? We are only asking that the problem be considered a problem, as it is, and therefore frankly debated, with equal opportunities for all points of view to be represented “in the scientific arena”. That’s not what’s happening today.

    From the point of view of philosophy, and of philosophy of science, anyway, something very important must be said. As I told previously, consciousness has a priority in our experience: no experience would be possible without it. That means that, if something is real, consciousness is that something. That means that consciousness needs to be considered in science, and cannot be so easily and aprioristically “explained” as a byproduct of one of its representations (matter).

    3) You say:

    “With regards to the unification of consciousness, I would like you to give some thought to the cases of patients who have had their corpus callosum severed, and in many cases seem to have two minds. If there is a distinct entity that is necessary for “mind”, then why is it that severing the connections between the two hemispheres of the brain seemingly creates a situation whereby the individual’s left brain seems to know something, yet the right brain does not?”

    That’s a very important point, and one about which I feel I have not been clear enough. I apologize for that.

    I think we have to nake a fundamental distinction between “consciousness” and “mind”. Although both words may be ambiguous (especially “mind”), they are absolutely two different concepts. I know any body can disagree (here we are no more on a scientific ground), but please consider that all I have said about the quality of “unity” or unification, was referred to consciousness, and not to mind. It is obvious that mind is not unified: it is, indeed, extremely complex, exactly as the body-brain with which it is interrelated. I will not try here to define in detail the concept of mind, while I make an attempt for the concept of consciousness:
    Consciousness is any process where different modifications (relating to matter or to an apparently immaterial “mind”) are “perceived by a single subject, and referred to that subject in the process. So, consciousness exists only if the network of “modifications” is “perceived by an “I”, that is a subject. That’s why a computer, however complex its computations, will never be conscious. There will never be an “I” perceiving the computations and referring them to itself.

    The mind is, at least in part, algoritmic. It is complex. It is, at least in part, deterministic. The “I” perceivev both the modifications in the body and the modifications in the mind.

    That’s why your example of the severed corpus callosum, while pertinent, does not imply any problem in the conception of consciousness as simple and unitarian: alterations in the brain can well determine alteration in corresponding structures in the mind. In any case, it is always the same subject who experiences those alterations, both of the body and of the mind. The perceiver perceives any structure which presents to him its contents: if the mind is divided (it usually is, at many levels), the perceiver percieves its divisions. Consciousness is simple, but it can perceive any level of complexity. It perceives the conscious mind, the subconscious mind, the memories, the body, the outer world. But the subject remains one. It is the same subject which enjoys or suffers, remembers or forgets, reasons or just has sensations. That “I” is the real source of the strong problem of consciousness, which is so strong that nobody will never be able to solve it in materialistc terms. Tha I is one, and cannot be explained as a complex summation of many entities. That I, and only that I, perceives and wills. Nothing else.

    4)You say:

    “I don’t think you should discount the importance of biological modifications that can affect consciousness.”

    and

    “My points about naturalistic processes affecting the mind were not directed towards Mario and Denyse, and I’m sure they know more facts about this issue than I do. I only felt that gpuccio was downplaying this link in his fourth point.”

    I am not discounting or downplaying anything. I am absolutely convinced that naturalistic processes affect the mind, in every sense, at least as much as I am convinced that the mind influences naturalistic processes. I am so convinced of that, that I was remarking that we have been knowing that for centuries, indeed for millennia: it is called “perception” and “action”, and we see that happening every day, everywhere. What I was indeed discounting is the strange idea that any further level of detail in describing that interaction, be it brain imaging of any type, neural network theories, neurophysiology in all its varieties, and so on, while very interesting and useful in exploring the mechanisms of the mind (the weak problem of consciousness, that is why conscious processes work in a certain way), cannot add anything to the solution of the strong problem of consciousness, that is “why consciousness exists”. Therefore, I really can’t understand the repeating enthusiasm of each materialist neurologist who, describing some new information about the functioning of some brain structure, proudly declares that he has (again) demonstrated that consciousness emerges from the brain. That’s total nonsense, and it so much recalls the many enthusiasms of darwinists at the discovery of each new “missing link”, while their strong problem remains unsolved.

    5) Finally, a few words about emerging properties, illusions, neural loops, parallel computing and similar smoke in the eyes. All these terms hide only one thing: nobody can explain why some things are conscious and others are not. Consciousness is not an “emerging property”, indeed it is not a property at all. Or, if we want, we can define consciousness as the only known property of an “I”, if that does not seem too “substantiating”. On the contrary, “emerging properties” of matter have a sense only for conscious beings. They are perceived, and described, by conscious beings. Objects are what they are. We see properties in things, and give them names, and classify them. The concept itself of a “property” arises in consciousness, and has a meaning in consciousness. To affirm that consciousness itself can “emerge” as a property of objects which are not conscious is nonsense.

    A computer is an object which makes calculations, a complex object indeed, made of simpler parts, executing procedures which have no meaning for the object itself. The scenario, conceived by Searle, of the Chinese room, is a very efficient way of perceiving the difference between a non conscious object, however complex, and a conscious being. Adding circuits to a computer does not make it conscious. Adding complexity to the computations executed by a machine cannot make it conscious. Or maybe the computations themselves should become conscious? (Indeed, AI theory, in its strong form, usually postulates that the results of a computation are independent of the hardware which performs them. So, who is conscious? Our brain? Or the computations it performs? The answer is simple. Neither.

    “We” are conscious. “We” are subjects. Our minds, bodies, computations, feelings, sensations, are the things we perceive. They are objects. Different levels of objects. And we perceive them all.

  11. Of all the various arguments posited by opponents of reductionist
    materialist theories of mind I also like Searle’s “Chinese Room” argument the best. Chalmers promulgated the point that the “qualia” of conscious experience are not reducible to matter. But even though these arguments are convincing at least to many like me, Searle and Chalmers are still unwilling to completely give up materialism in their theories of mind and admit to some form of dualism.

    However, all of this philosophical/metaphysical debate is basically dry and empty, since it blandly ignores a mountain of empirical evidence for a “spiritual” or nonphysical component to man’s consciousness. The empirical evidence trumps any amount of philosophical theorizing.

    Another aspect of this debate is the issue of “zombies” (that is, the rhetorical/philosophical kind, not the Haitian kind). They have no internal experience. They are unconscious, but give no obvious externally measurable evidence of that fact. The extreme materialists can be considered by their own theories to be such “zombies”. Searle’s Chinese Room is essentially an example of one of these.

    Computer scientist Jaron Lanier has written a clever and biting critique of the “zombies theories”. The title is You Can’t Argue with a Zombie, at http://www.davidchess.com/word.....ombie.html. It is interesting that he is still not a dualist, having clung to materialism though in a more sophisticated form. Lanier seems to have some social clout as computer scientist at UC Berkeley and columnist for Discover Magazine.

    He opens by cleverly quoting an old Navajo proverb: “It is impossible to awaken someone who is pretending to be asleep”.

    Lanier makes some very good arguments against the “mind is a computer program in operation” concept. He says: “Let’s suppose you run a more normal program ….. that implements the functional equivalent of your brain, a bunch of other people’s brains, and the surrounding environment, so that you and the rest of the brains can have lots of experiences together. (This is the condition in which my test zombies thought that nothing
    fundamental would have changed; they’d still experience themselves
    and each other as if they were flesh.) You save a digital record, on the same disk that holds the program, of everything that happens to all of you. Now the experiences “pre-exist” on the disk. Take the disk out of the computer. Is this free-floating disk version of you still having experiences? After all, the information is all there.
    Why is this information sanctified into some higher state of being by
    having a processor just look at it? After all, the experiences have
    already been recorded, so the processor can do no new computation. A much simpler process that just copied the disk would perform exactly the same function as running your brain a second time.”

    However, I think Lanier’s own theory of mind has many of the same problems. He seems to believe that consciousness is one and the same as levels of abstraction which he admits still ultimately arise from patterns of neuronal interaction. Lanier: “Brains don’t exist on their own any more than computers do. It is layers of abstraction, known sometimes as concepts, platonic forms, cultural context, or words, which make a brain, or the thought-processes in it, exist….. So consciousness is like a radio with a dial that might be marked “qualia” or “semantics”, that selects from an infinity of equally available “layers of abstraction”.”

    This seems deeply problematic because it still begs the question of what it is that “experiences”, that selects, that chooses. Definition of “abstraction” from Wikipedia: “Abstraction is the process of generalization by reducing the information content of a concept or an observable phenomenon, typically in order to retain only information which is relevant for a particular purpose.” That such a pure abstraction can be a conscious agent is not coherent to me.

  12. magnan,

    “But even though these arguments are convincing at least to many like me, Searle and Chalmers are still unwilling to completely give up materialism in their theories of mind and admit to some form of dualism.”

    Searle is hard for me to decipher – I’ve heard it suggested that he’s best as a critic, rather than as someone who poses solutions. But you may want to look up Chalmers again, as I’m pretty sure he endorses dualism. (Property, rather than substance, but dualism nonetheless.)

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