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ID and Neuroscience

My good friend and colleague Jeffrey Schwartz (along with Mario Beauregard and Henry Stapp) has just published a paper in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society that challenges the materialism endemic to so much of contemporary neuroscience. By contrast, it argues for the irreducibility of mind (and therefore intelligence) to material mechanisms.

Quantum physics in neuroscience and psychology: a neurophysical model of mind–brain interaction
Jeffrey M. Schwartz A1, Henry P. Stapp A2, Mario Beauregard A3 A4 A5

Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B
doi:10.1098/rstb.2004.1598

A1 UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, 760 Westwood Plaza, NPI Los Angeles, CA 90024-1759, USA
A2 Theoretical Physics Mailstop 5104/50A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-8162, USA
A3 Département de Psychologie, Centre de Recherche en Neuropsychologie Expérimentale et Cognition (CERNEC), Université de Montréal, C.P. 6128, succursale Centre-Ville, MontréalQuébec H3C 3J7, Canada
A4 Département de Radiologie, Université de Montréal, C.P. 6128, succursale Centre-Ville, Montréal, Québec H3C 3J7, Canada
A5 Centre de Recherche en Sciences Neurologiques (CRSN), Université de Montréal, C.P. 6128, succursale Centre-Ville, Montréal, Québec H3C 3J7, Canada

Abstract: Neuropsychological research on the neural basis of behaviour generally posits that brain mechanisms will ultimately suffice to explain all psychologically described phenomena. This assumption stems from the idea that the brain is made up entirely of material particles and fields, and that all causal mechanisms relevant to neuroscience can therefore be formulated solely in terms of properties of these elements. Thus, terms having intrinsic mentalistic and/or experiential content (e.g. ‘feeling’, ‘knowing’ and ‘effort’) are not included as primary causal factors. This theoretical restriction is motivated primarily by ideas about the natural world that have been known to be fundamentally incorrect for more than three-quarters of a century. Contemporary basic physical theory differs profoundly from classic physics on the important matter of how the consciousness of human agents enters into the structure of empirical phenomena. The new principles contradict the older idea that local mechanical processes alone can account for the structure of all observed empirical data. Contemporary physical theory brings directly and irreducibly into the overall causal structure certain psychologically described choices made by human agents about how they will act. This key development in basic physical theory is applicable to neuroscience, and it provides neuroscientists and psychologists with an alternative conceptual framework for describing neural processes. Indeed, owing to certain structural features of ion channels critical to synaptic function, contemporary physical theory must in principle be used when analysing human brain dynamics. The new framework, unlike its classic-physics-based predecessor, is erected directly upon, and is compatible with, the prevailing principles of physics. It is able to represent more adequately than classic concepts the neuroplastic mechanisms relevant to the growing number of empirical studies of the capacity of directed attention and mental effort to systematically alter brain function.

Keywords: mind, consciousness, brain, neuroscience, neuropsychology, quantum mechanics

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20 Responses to ID and Neuroscience

  1. The full article is located here at Henry Stapp’s website.

  2. Interesting. There’s a great collection of essays by Hans Jonas called _The Phenomenon of Life_ that argues something similar, but from the standpoint of biology and metabolism. Jonas was a student of Heidegger and a strident critic of reductionist materialism. It would be interesting to see what someone like Behe would make of Jonas’ arguments.

    Which brings up a question I’ve been thinking on for a while. I know that the main line in the sand that ID has drawn seems to cut between Paley and Darwin in the nineteenth century. But if the ulitmate goal is to dispense with reductionist materialism, don’t you really need to deal with the dogmatic atomism and/or dualism of Lucretius/Gallileo/Bacon/Descartes/Newton? It seems to me that some kind of second look at Bacon’s wholesale rejection of Aristotle would be in order. Formal causes at least need revisiting. The 20th century is strewn with philosophers who have offered sustained, cogent critiques of reductionism, positivism, etc., but have been ignored in droves by the scientific establishment. Husserl, Whitehead, Bergson, Maritain, Chardin and Jonas are just a few.

    I realize the “telos” that ID discovers and the “telos” behind Aristotle’s final causes are two different concepts, but even just the fact that purpose is back on the table as a feature of nature might make a good opportunity to revist the question.

    One of the big challenges, it seems to me, is to revisit the question of the “nature of nature,” as Bill puts it, from a metaphysical angle. How can we affirm the salutary benefits of Baconian science while critiquing the dogmatic and harmful metaphysical dualism of the res extensa/res cogitans distinction? The paper cited above would be just the kind of work needed to undermine that polarity. But once it’s gone, what do we replace it with? It seems to me we’ll have to revisit a whole cartful of metaphysical questions that most scientists assume were put to bed by Bacon in the 16th century.

  3. This is a wonderful development! It declares that MIND is a fundamental, irreducible component of physical reality based on reasonable interpretations of contemporary physics. I have seen the idea of “MIND as fundamental” being mentioned directly or alluded to in the works of Wigner, Barrow, Tipler, Davies, Gribbin, Morowitz, von Baeyer, etc. — all respected physicists. T

    Mention of the contemporary view was beautifully stated by Morowitz commenting on Wigner:


    The views of a large number of contemporary physical scientists are summed up in the essay “Remarks on the Mind-Body Question” written by Nobel laureate Eugene Wigner. Wigner begins by pointing out that most physical scientists have returned to the recognition that thought — meaning the mind — is primary. He goes on to state: “It was not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics in a fully consistent way without reference to the consciousness.” And he concludes by noting how remarkable it is that the scientific study of the world led to the content of consciousness as an ultimate reality.”

    Of all places, that quote by Mororwitz/Wigner is from an essay in Daniel Dennett’s and Douglas Hofstadter’s book, “The Mind’s I”

    http://www.mayogenuine.com/old/minds_i.htm

    PS
    ISCID fellow, Kenneth de Jong, now works at the Krasnow Institute of Advanced studies where Morowitz was former director. The institute is dedicated to the study of mind, brain, and intelligence. I’m grateful Schwartz and other are taking up the banner where Morowitz and others left off.

    http://krasnow.gmu.edu/index.php

  4. As I have remarked before, NOT all of neuroscience is based on materialism. Also, the problem with past ideas of materialism was that it was meaningless (i.e. an object can only be described in abstract, classical mechanical terms). However, recent studies have shown that the natural world can be described as meaningful without turning it into a mentalist construction (i.e. a stick is perceived as graspable without reverting to the idea that it is some mind that imposes the concept of ‘graspable’ on the object). Thus, the idea of ‘feelings’, ‘knowing’, etc. do not have to be defined as some mentalist structure at all. Furthermore, information (what the object means) is not the same as stimuli. As Dembski does say, information is not imposed on us, however, (what I think Dembski is wrong) information is not imposed on an object. As Francisco Varela states, information is enacted, which means that the environment is shaped by our motorsensory system. However, this differs from materialism in the way that objects are, as noted above, meaningful.

    All in all, it is false to say what Schwartz et. al. are claiming; that is, that psychology and neuroscience have not found these problems. It is a lack of research and disingenuous to be making such universal claims. In fact, most of psychology and neuroscience are in the midst of working through them without turning towards a pure mind (for philosophical accounts look at the phenomenologists Heidegger, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty). Here is a list of papers by Walter Freeman who started this kind of work in the 70′s: http://sulcus.berkeley.edu/Fre.....ripts.html . In addition, look at any work that deals with ecological psychology, the enactive approach to neuroscience, sensorimotor contingency theory where, as Alva Noe states (In “Vision and Mind: Selected Readings in the Philosophy of Perception” Ed. by Alval Noe and Evan Thompson), “The brain is necessary for vision, neural processes are not, in themselves, sufficient to produce seeing. Instead, seeing is an exploratory activity mediated by the animal’s mastery of sensorimotor contingencies. That is, seeing is a skill-based acitivity of environmental exploration. Visual experience is not something that happens in an individual. It is something he or she does” (pg. 6).

  5. In response to dave (I did not see the response before I commented), Husserl is gaining more respect in the scientific communnity, especially in the mathematical and cognitive community. For an excellect resource, go see this book: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obi.....8;n=507846 . In addition, Merleau-Ponty has a much more rigorous (though influence highly by Husserl) refutation to materialism/reductionism, which paved the way to ecological psychology. Furthermore, Merleau-Ponty influenced those in the enactive approach (the ones in the above listed book). Here is an excellent site on Merleau-Ponty against materialism and reductionism.

    Conor

  6. The paper mentions Oxford mathematical physicist Roger Penrose. There is an interesting twist to discussions of reductionism that was inspired (perhaps inadvertently) by both Penrose and Douglas Hofstadter.

    If mathematics tends to be prophetic of the physical world we have reason to possibly reject the classical view of reductionism. Hofstadter discussed that certain features of axiomatic mathematical systems could not be logically reduced to explanations by the underlying axioms. In a sense, we might therefore fully expect to see such irreducible phenomena in physical reality, and indeed we are beginning to see evidence of this empirically where physical phenomena are emerging which have no reductionistic explanation.

    Hofstadter’s pulizter prize winning book “Godel,Escher, Bach” tried to promote a form reductionism by saying that consciousness emerges from the strange Godelian loops formed by physical matter. But by doing so, perhaps inadvertently, his writings ended up refuting the very reductionism he was trying to promote!

    I think Schwartz and company are on the right track. Penrose has established a solid mathematical basis for arguing that the mind can not possibly be understood by a reductionistic/deterministic model where the mind is essentially a Turing machine crunching algorithms.

    And further, the physicists are showing that MIND must be primitive to reality. These are all very ID friendly developments:

    1. The death of reductionism
    2. MIND being primitive to physical reality

    The anti-reductionist view is exciting, in that un-anticipated scientific discoveries which can not be predicted from first principles await our discovery. The human mind is indeed an exciting frontier for scientific discovery!

  7. I wonder if Dembski understands what’s going on in that paper. It is, in fact, a materialist view of mind, but a non-classical physicalist form of materialism. It argues that we should have been using quantum, rather than classical physical concepts to understand the mind, and that when we do this, the mind-body problem will dissolve away, not into dualism, but into materialism! I can’t help but wonder if Dembski saw the word “irreducible,” understood it in his own terms instead of in the philosophical ones associated with classically conceived concepts of supervenience, and decided to post a link to a paper that actually contradicts his own beliefs becaue of it.

  8. One more thing. This is a subtlety that, judging by his endorsement of this paper, Dembski may have missed, but non-reductionist forms of materialism actually dominate in most of the cognitive sciences. Of course, this paper is arguing for a different form of reductionism that actually bipasses the neural and goes straight to the quantum properties of the physical systems, and is unlikely to be endorsed by either neuroscientists or cognitive scientists. Perhaps that’s why Dembski likes it. He may believe that this form of radical materialistic reductionism (one that, if we took it seriously, would not only require the elimination of folk-psychological terminology in the science of the mind, but also the elimination of ordinary neuroscientific terminology in favor of quantum physical terminology) will strike the materialists who dominate the cognitive sciences and neurosciences to abandon their materialism because its consequences are too damaging.

  9. I can’t quite see how quantum mechanics eliminates materialism. Granted, I only took one class in QM; the text was called “Electrical Properties of Materials.” Hm.

  10. Dembski, Decoherence and the brain

    Over at Dembski’s blog you will find him commenting on neuroscience. Dembski wrote: My good friend and colleague Jeffrey Schwartz (along with Mario Beauregard and Henry Stapp) has just published a paper in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal …

  11. Salvador Cordova wrote:
    “ISCID fellow, Kenneth de Jong, now works at the Krasnow Institute of Advanced studies…”

    I think, that he is not the same Kenneth de Jong.

    Kenneth de Jong, (ISCID fellow, Assistant Professor of Linguisitics): http://www.cogs.indiana.edu/pe.....ejong.html
    Kenneth (A.) de Jong (head of the Evolutionary Computation Laboratory, and a research faculty member of the Krasnow Institute): http://cs.gmu.edu/faculty/dejong.html

  12. Chris:

    What exactly is a “non-classical physicalist naturalism”? You seem to be implying that anything short of full-on Cartesian or Platonic dualism would be dissapointing and irrelevant to ID. It is precisely the “non-classical naturalism” that makes it interesting to ID. Also, I’m not sure that a “non-classical” materialism is even a coherent concept, if material is understood, the way it has always been understood, as extended matter.

    It was precisely Bacon’s (and before him Lucretius and the atomists) rejection of formal and final causes and reduction of all of physis to efficient and material causes that got us here in the first place. St. Thomas understood design as a feature of nature without recourse to dualism, so why should present-day ID advocates need it? When you say “non-classical” don’t you really mean “non-Newtonian/Baconian,” and isn’t that precisely the aspect of the argument that makes it interesting, from the standpoint of ID?

    How does this help ID? It seems to be at the very least a challenge to the dogmatic materialist reductionism (properly understood) that underpins the definition of science that is so often used to rule ID arguments out of court before they even gain a hearing. Moreover, both the paper and ID argue that intelligence is scientifically detectable as a feature of the natural world.

    Also, what relevance is it to ID that the paper doesn’t lead to dualism? First of all ID is agnostic as regards the metaphysics proximate to the substances it inspects. It discovers or rules out design as a feature of a particular natural object, and no more.

  13. Just read the Panda’s thumb response, which essentially echoed Chris’s argument. Both seem to be attempts to locate quantum effects in some kind of hypothetical Newtonian space and somehow claim it for “materialism.” This simply won’t work. Neils Bohr understood the implications of quantum theory for materialist reductionism, which is why he thought for a while that someone like Kierkegaard (!) might be more applicable than someone like, say, LaPlace for twentieth-century physics.

    We’re playing semantics now, and apparently with some philosophical dilletantes who don’t realize how close to giving away the store they are. Let’s get a couple of things straight:

    1) A robust non-reductionist worldview does not need dualism.
    2) A “non-classical” materialism is actually no such thing, if materialism is understood in mechanistic terms pace Bacon and Descartes. These “non-classical” characteristics of the physical world are interesting from the standpoint of ID because they challenge reductionism, properly understood. Simply claiming quantum phenomena for the “material world” is a semantic move that changes nothing, and doesn’t make quantum mechanics any less problematic for LaPlacian reductionism. Bohr, Whitehead, Jeans all understood this. You should too.

  14. And another thing, Chris, Panda’s Thumb, and a number posters on places like Philosophy of Biology have carped about how they’re “non-reductionist” and “non-classical” but somehow fail to own up to the fact that this admission is devastating for materialism.

    A few questions:

    What in the blue-green world can these concepts possibly mean? If you’re not Baconian materialist then what are you? And don’t start citing “quantum physics” and “string theory” or Dennett or Penrose or Philosophy of Mind anecdotal stories that point to “non-reductionist” views. What specific metaphysic do these “non-reductionist” sciences point to, if not to a mechanistic view on the one hand, or a transcendant, mystical view on the other?

    Why should we not view these semantic shifts as simply fudges designed to postpone the conclusion that science itself is pointing (and has been pointing) to a natural world that strict reductionism (the great hope of the Enlightenment) cannot account for?

  15. Dave, thanks for the dilettante remark. I’m sure you’ve got plenty of evidence that it’s true. Of course, my degrees in philosophy are irreleavnt for that.

    Anyway, I’m well aware that materialism doesn’t have to be reductionist. In fact, as I mentioned in my previous comment, nonreductionist materialism is the rule, rather than the exception, in most of the cognitive sciences (including large swaths of cognitive neuroscience).

    It might be better to distinguish physicalism from materialism. Even in the philosophy of science and mind literatures, these two tend to be lumped together, so that materialism no longer refers to the belief that all that exists is matter (if it did, then even in non-quantum physics, we’d have all sorts of things that didn’t exist, because they are not matter). Of course, I’m a philosophical dilettante, so perhaps there’s some other distinction not found in the literature that you, in your infinite wisdom, are aware of.

    Anyway, my point from the first post still stands, even if you dissociate physicalism from old-school materialism. QM, as far as discussions of the mental is concerned, is a strict reductionism, and one that is even more reductionist than the reductionism found in most of neuroscience. For neuroscience, the mental can be reduced to the physical interactions of neurons (and perhaps at a lower level, electrical and chemical interactions within neurons). When one argues that we cannot understand the mental at this level, but instead most go to a more basic physical level (that of QM), we are being even stronger reductionists! We are saying that the interactions at a higher level (the neural) can only be understood using principles from a lower level (the quantum level). Perhaps QM is not a reductionist theory as a physical theory, but as a theory of mind, QM is extremely reductionist, by any definition of the term, and it is a non-dualist, physicalist, and in the contemporary sense of the term (the sense in which neuroscientists use it), a materialist view of the mental.

    But hey, since you’re not a philosophical dilettante, I’m sure you knew all that.

  16. Dr. Stapp has responded to my original letter. I have posted his reply: here.

  17. Chris, you seem to have a basic misunderstanding in regard to quantum entanglement, quantum uncertainty, and the role of the observer. The authors of the article in question appear to understand what you do not. In the quantum realm the act of observing changes the thing being observed. This is so counter-intuitive that most people simply don’t believe it and cling to a reductionist mindset that says reality can be reduced to knowable arrangements of matter and energy. It was the unknowable, irreducible aspect of QM that Einstein objected to but the experimental evidence of the irreducibility of quantum states is undeniable. Einstein went to his grave struggling to prove that the universe is deterministic. I suspect a lot of neo-Darwinians will go to their graves struggling to prove that their just-so evolutionary narrative is deterministic too.

  18. Sorry, Chris, the dilletante remark was out of line, consider it retracted. And it was not specifically directed at you, although it certainly came across that way.

    But now that you’ve pushed the question from one of the definition of materialism to one of reductionism, could you cash that out, i.e, reduction to what?

  19. “When one argues that we cannot understand the mental at this level, but instead most go to a more basic physical level (that of QM), we are being even stronger reductionists! We are saying that the interactions at a higher level (the neural) can only be understood using principles from a lower level (the quantum level).”

    The terms “higher” and “lower” here indicate that you’ve smuggled in metaphysical assumptions. You’ve assumed reductionism before you begin.

    The question is not what is “higher” or “lower,” but what is the fundamental nature of the reality/phenomena in question? If you’re going to say that QM is fundamental, then I want to know, what is the nature of QM? Is it formal or material? Extended or abstract? And if you cannot adjudcate between those terms, then your “reductionism” is no such thing, but merely interesting data that you’ve decided to describe with metaphysical terms that don’t apply, at least not to the data at hand.

  20. [...] You can read more about the OCD research here. The scientist is Jeffrey M. Schwartz – he is a Buddhist! Not a Christian! He has also published work on this in peer-reviewed journals. [...]

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