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Phineas Gage: Evolution of a lecture room psychopath

I was at dinner the other week with a voluble atheist religion professor who, in defense of a materialist view of the human mind, raised the subject of Phineas Gage (1823-1860). Ah yes, the man whose personality changed completely after a horrific accident, a staple of Introductory Psychology.

Anyone who has taken Psychology 101 or read popular neuroscience books has probably heard Gage’s story, which upholds the “frontal lobe” theory of personality. (= You are your frontal lobes.)

The story is that in 1848, a tamping rod went through Gage’s head and totally changed his personality. He was “no longer Gage.” Which demonstrates that the mind and the self are an illusion created by the buzz of neurons in the brain. A textbook case.

I pointed out over dinner that there are good reasons to doubt this story. The prof was, of course, withering. Hundreds and hundreds of psych texts have told Gage’s story, he informed me, so how could it be false or questionable?

Well, I have written for newspapers most of my adult life, and one thing I know is this: Printing more copies of any type of information does not make it true. It makes it more widely disseminated.

A distant relative of the Textbook Case sent me an article by University of London historian Zbigniew Kotowicz, “The strange case of Phineas Gage,” History of the Human Sciences (Vol. 20 No. 1, pp. 115-131), which offers the story you and six hundred others in Psych 101 may not have heard.

First, let’s go over exactly what happened: Gage, 25, was foreman of a gang blowing away rock to lay rail for the Rutland & Burlington Railroad near Cavendish, Vermont. Gage’s job was laying explosives. On September 13, 1848, he was momentarily distracted, and the explosive detonated, pushing the tamping rod through his head. The rod was 5.9 kg (13.25 lb.), 1.05 m (over 3.5 ft) long and 44.45 mm (1.75 in) across. As Kotowicz tells the story,

It entered beneath his left cheek, passed behind the eye, pierced the base of the skull, went through the front of the brain, and fell on the ground over 100 feet (30.4 m) away. Covered in blood and brains.

Remarkably, Gage did not lose consciousness. He was able to move and speak. He took about two months to heal. He finished his recovery at his mother’s home where, Harlow recounts, he entertained his nephews and nieces with fanciful tales, and looked after farm and domestic animals.

In all, three contemporary reports were written about Gage in professional journals:

1) A report given to a medical audience by his doctor John Harlow, three months after the incident. The famous passage in physician Harlow’s account of the changed personality (“no longer Gage”) referred to that period and not to the rest of his life. More on that presently.

2) A report by Harvard surgeon Henry Bigelow, who observed Gage over a period of two months somewhat more than a year later and took a life mask of his face (pictured above). According to Bigelow, Gage was calm, “talking with composure and equanimity of the hole in his head.” and his behaviour did not fit the profile of a psychopath.

3) A report by Harlow seven years after Gage’s death, based on information from his family.

The lecture room legend

And after that? After his death, Gage slowly morphed into the lecture room legend. According to Kotowicz,

… most of the subsequent descriptions of Gage were based on hearsay. Some of them were quite florid; Gage was portrayed as having fits of temper when not getting his own way, as being disinclined to work, as having a reduced libido, as being an aimless drifter and so on. A typical description of him would say that before the accident Gage had been a diligent, reliable, polite and socially adept person: after his accident, he subsequently became uncaring, profane and socially inappropriate in his conduct.

For example, at Neurophilosophy, we learn:

Thus, the damage to Gage’s frontal cortex had resulted in a complete loss of social inhibitions, which often led to inappropriate behaviour.

The documentary evidence

Kotowicz begs to differ:

However, after examining closely the accounts of Phineas Gage as given by the doctors who knew him, Harlow and Bigelow, one must conclude that the supposed psychopathic traits are not evident.

The drastic discntinuity was not so much between Phineas Gage pre- and post-tamping rod but between Phineas Gage (1823-1860) and the lecture room legend.

What we can learn from contemporary accounts of Gage’s post-trauma life is this: For a while after the accident, he drifted, and even ended up briefly in P. T. Barnum’s freak show, exhibiting himself and the tamping rod. But he then settled down and worked a year and a half in a stable. Later, he went with a friend to Valparaiso in Chile where he cared for horses and drove a coach and six for eight years.

Kotowicz points out the obvious,

Working in stables is not a job for a psychopath. Horses are very sensitive and they require discipline and calm; they have to be attended to regularly, seven days a week, and work begins early.

 

(They are also apt to bite, kick, rear, and stampede, if startled or abused.)

Of course, Gage had been catastrophically injured, and about twelve years later, the effects caught up with him. By February 1860, back from Chile, he continued to try to work on farms while living with or near his mother, who had moved to San Francisco. But he began to have frequent epileptic convulsions. They worsened, and he died on May 21, 1860. No autopsy was performed, but Harlow later exhumed the body and recovered Gage’s skull and the tamping rod.

What no one stopped to think about

Kotowicz’s account diverges still further from the lecture room legend:

… what is really amazing is that none of the many who comment on the case seem to have ever stopped for a moment to think what Gage might have looked like after the accident.

A team of researchers using modern computer techniques decided to try to reconstruct his post-accident face, “borrowing” the face of a student whose life mask looks like the one taken of Gage by Bigelow. (A life mask gives a correct image of shape but not of facial mobility.)
The reconstruction they provide would certainly startle a new acquaintance. Kotowicz contends that, to the extent that Gage was unsettled, it was probably mainly due to his horrifying disfigurement and not to psychopathic tendencies:

First he meets his workmates. Their attitude towards him has changed; now they turn their eyes away, they are not the same easygoing fellows; and the girls do not laugh and flirt with him as they did. And if there was some lassie that he was particularly fond of, well . . . all this must be really difficult to take. Someone will look at him, and we can imagine him snapping back, ‘What are you staring at, you bastard?’ And there are also those who are only too ready to give advice, but giving advice to someone in Gage’s predicament is a risky business. Again, we can imagine him telling them to go to hell. Very ungrateful; definitely, to ‘his friends and acquaintances’ he is ‘“no longer Gage”’. It is different at home, at his mother’s, where the final recovery takes place. He entertains his nephews and nieces by making up fantastic stories; they must love Uncle Phineas, and they do not care about his scars. He also grows fond of pets, especially dogs and horses. Animals not only do not care about his scars, they do not even see them. Gage quickly becomes attached to them. But the outside world of adults cannot be ignored. Gage needs to go back to work. And here comes the first tangible blow: he is not wanted back …”

But he must work; he is a working man.

“As we have seen, Gage finds employment in a stable. Work is hard but it is most likely Gage does not mind, he probably shuns others and keeps to himself (and who in his place wouldn’t?). It may well be that like many before him and many since, he has decided that he is better off in the company of animals than fellow humans. For the rest of his life he will work with horses. After work in the stable, Gage leaves for Chile to set up a coachline. He is ‘occupied in caring for horses, and often driving a coach heavily laden and drawn by six horses’ (ibid.: 415). This means he has strength, dexterity and an excellent relationship with the animals; Gage has evidently mastered his metier.

And, as we have seen, he worked right up to the end.

But, as we have also seen, psych profs didn’t need a working man who had independently adapted to his disability; they needed an aimless drifter, so,

… the image of Gage the psychopath has emerged; he is a contemporary construct. Harlow’s words telling us that the ‘equilibrium or balance, so to speak, between his intellectual faculties and animal propensities, seems to have been destroyed’, that he indulged ‘in the grossest profanity’ and that he was ‘no longer Gage’ are now routinely quoted, but nothing else about him is ever mentioned. In the myopic vision of the neurosciences, Phineas Gage has been reduced to a witless psychopath. It seems that the growing commitment to the frontal lobe doctrine of emotions brought Gage to the limelight and shapes how he is described. The psychopath Phineas Gage has now entered scientific folklore; according to a calculation from recent years (Macmillan, 2002: 333) some 60 per cent of psychology textbooks quote it as one of the first cases where personality change occurred after damage to the frontal lobes.

So Kotowicz asks, a century and a half – and hundreds of textbooks – later

Was this a life of a psychopath? Did be behave dismally? One neuroscientist claims that ‘Gage lost something uniquely human, the ability to plan his future as a social being’ (Damasio, 1994: 19). He asks, ‘Did he have a sense of right and wrong?’ (ibid.: 18), which is nothing short of asking whether he had a soul, and he wonders whether Gage was ‘responsible for his acts’ (ibid.). This is a slur on the dead man’s good name. Harlow does not report a single act that Gage should have been ashamed of, let alone made ‘responsible’ for. There is no mention of violence, theft, abuse; not even something as vague as ‘irresponsibility’. There is coherence and dignity in the way Gage dealt with his predicament. He deserves deep respect.

Gage indeed deserves deep respect. The materialist psychology texts routinely purveying false knowledge (“the things we know that ain’t so”) – not so much.

In recent years, the Gage industry has become more nuanced, perhaps in line with a less materialist emphasis on the mind, though many kind readers of this b log doubtless took Intro Psych before that change occurred.

Resources

Here’s the abstract:

History of the Human Sciences, Vol. 20, No. 1, 115-131 (2007) DOI: 10.1177/0952695106075178

The strange case of Phineas Gage
Zbigniew Kotowicz
Department of History, Goldsmiths College, London, [email protected]

The 19th-century story of Phineas Gage is much quoted in neuroscientific literature as the first recorded case in which personality change (from polite and sociable to psychopathic) occurred after damage to the brain. In this article I contest this interpretation. From a close examination of the story of Gage I have come to conclude that first of all there was nothing psychopathic in Gage’s behavior and that changes in his life are more coherently explained by seeing them as his way of dealing with disfigurement that he suffered after the accident. This is not just a matter of reinterpreting a case. The way Gage has been presented and discussed in neuroscientific literature suggests that the new paradigm of neuroscientifically oriented psychiatry may lead to an erosion of clinical knowledge.

Key Words: brain damage • clinical experience • disfigurement • neurosciences

Here is another Gage scholar, Malcolm Macmillan of Deakin University School of Psychology in Victoria, Australia, where he maintains a Phineas Gage page. He writes:

Most of the accounts of Gage’s life after 1848 are strange mixtures of slight fact, considerable fancy, and downright fabrication.

He deals with unanswered questions here.

Images of the injury to Gage’s skull

Discussions in journals over the years are here. Here’s a typical modern materialist account.

More stuff we know that ain’t so: 19th century Christians opposed anaesthetics in childbirth; Mediaeval people thought Earth was flat; Copernicus demoted Earth from the centre of the universe.

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62 Responses to Phineas Gage: Evolution of a lecture room psychopath

  1. Off-topic, but of interest to Ms. O’Leary: apparently Geoffrey Miller’s Evolutionary Psychology piece advocating a China strategy for ev. psych. has received a response which also has some chuckle-worthy rhetoric, in point 5.

  2. Phineas Gage is just the most well known case. There are numerous cases of personality change after brain injury. It has been witnessed by numerous doctors and family members.

  3. Thanks Denyse for posting this. I recently saw the conventional cant about Gage recycled by Patrick Grim for some Teaching Company lectures on philosophy of mind.

    B. L. Harville: Please elaborate. Phineas Gage is the most well known case of what? Fundamental change in personality and moral outlook? That’s precisely the point in question. Have other people’s personalities fundamentally changed through brain injury? That may be, but please provide some case studies.

    In any case, the burden on the materialist is to show that mind is nothing but brain and therefore injury to brain injures the mind. For the dualist to challenge this it is enough to exhibit a counterexample, not that brain injury never affects personality.

  4. William Dembski:

    Have other people’s personalities fundamentally changed through brain injury? That may be, but please provide some case studies.

    Google Search

  5. B L Harville, it might be helpful to specify what we mean by personality change after brain injury.

    It seems apparent to me that Gage’s main problem after the initial period of learning to cope with his injury was that he was a fright to behold. (At least to humans; horses wouldn’t notice.)

    So – being by inclination a working man and not inclined to sponge – he took to stabling and driving horses until he succumbed to the late effects of his injuries.

    Apart from the early stages of getting used to the unimaginable, we don’t have reliable early information that his personality really did change much. Which is why it is troubling to me that he should be the Textbook Example.

    Perhaps some people’s personalities do change, but it does not appear to be inevitable, even with catastrophic injuries.

    If my own experience of brain injured acquaintances may be considered, many things change when a person who was formerly, say, a senior civil servant or a popular filmmaker becomes a disfigured invalid.

    Their early stage rages against caregivers are best interpreted as reluctance to accept a much humbler, more dependent style of life rather than as a personality change.

    Usually, when I meet them years later, they are largely as they were – learning to live with what they cannot change and make the best of it. The surprising thing – to me – has been that the personality did NOT change much.

  6. anonym (1) – that was ridiculous and entertaining. and of course there are the obligatory strawmen, like anyone who denies Darwinism denies evolution altogether. Yes, evolution is a proven fact. Heck, look at your dog for proof of evolution. Proof of darwinian mechanisms producing extremely complex microbiological structures, meta-information in the genome, redundant yet independently systems is what is lacking. For a while I was on the borderline of atheism. I was truly agnostic towards my original faith (Christianity). But the more I really though about neo-Darwinian theory, the less sense it made. I can now honestly say I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.

  7. O’Leary,
    Certainly not every injury to the brain is going to lead to personality change. It would be very odd if that were the case. But if the mind, or personality, is seperate from the brain then personality change should never happen as a result of brain injury. By personality change we’re talking about something more than being embarrassed about one’s looks from disfigurement or disagreeableness due to pain. A glance at the google search I provided above will show that a great deal of research has been done in this area. You can’t debunk the entire field of study by attacking only the Gage case.

  8. *** meant to say “independently complex”

  9. So basically people blew Gage’s behavior change out of proportion in an attempt to explain his perceived psychopathic social tendencies with materialist ideologies. This doesn’t surprise me at all, especially after realizing how a self-conscious individual would be affected by a tragic accident that resulted in a disfigured face. His comfort level and behavior pattern around children and animals basically spells that out. I can’t see how this case would differ from the cases on the multitudes of burn victims out there.

    I think this goes more to show how followers of such a desperate world view will cling to the smallest conceivable “evidences” to justify their beliefs and then use powerful imagery and colorful rhetoric to disseminate it upon the rest of the establishment. This applies to anything from constructing an entire skeleton from a simple “skull fragment” to explaining psychopathic behavior in brain trauma patients to forging pictures that falsely represent embryonic similarities in different stages of development.

    My rhetorical question is, how do they continuously get away with it for so long without any type of intellectual repercussions or adjustments, compared to whenever an accurate explanation from a different world view is presented, it’s immediately criticized and off-handedly dismissed?

    Also, Harville @2

    Phineas Gage is just the most well known case. There are numerous cases of personality change after brain injury. It has been witnessed by numerous doctors and family members.

    Not trying to be pushy or anything, but with every thing now taken into consideration with the Gage case, can you provide any examples of said numerous cases that are completely disconnected from amplified insecurities due to facial disfigurement or other relevant causes for sporadic changes in behavior? (I.e. having bipolar disorder, being a self-conscious burn victim, various other pre-existing mental disorders etc…)

  10. BL Harville: You provided a google search for refutation. Interestingly the sixth hit from Pub Med disagreed that head injuries changed personalities…

    Abstract
    A close relative of 55 severely head injured adults rated the personality of the patient at 3, 6 and 12 months after injury, using a Yes/No judgement, and analogue scales comprising bipolar adjectives. The relative assessed the “current” as well as the “premorbid” personality at each time. Personality change was associated with many negative scores on the analogue scale, and increasing negative scores were associated with high “subjective burden” on the relative. Severity of injury (post-traumatic amnesia) was of no significance in predicting the extent or pattern of personality change.

    Here is the link to the article that really questions the emotional/social impact of head injuries. (The sixth hit on Harville’s google search)

  11. But if the mind, or personality, is seperate from the brain then personality change should never happen as a result of brain injury.

    This is on the assumption that personality is also separate from the body. To me, personality is the outward projection of a person, and it can obviously be affected by physical interference (drinking alcohol, for example). I don’t know who denies this possibility. It is even widely commented on in the Bible.

  12. William Dembski @3

    In any case, the burden on the materialist is to show that mind is nothing but brain and therefore injury to brain injures the mind. For the dualist to challenge this it is enough to exhibit a counterexample, not that brain injury never affects personality.

    You have that backwards, Dr. Dembski. If mind is independent of brain, one would not expect a brain injury to change personality (as opposed to simply reducing function, for example).

    From a materialist perspective, not all injuries would be expected to change personality. A single example of personality change resulting from physical change to the brain is not consistent with dualism, however.

    JayM

  13. joshua (10) – I dont’t know if that’s what it is saying. I think it’s just saying the severity of the injury does not have an impact on the change, but that there are changes.

  14. 14

    PaulN:

    Not trying to be pushy or anything, but with every thing now taken into consideration with the Gage case, can you provide any examples of said numerous cases that are completely disconnected from amplified insecurities due to facial disfigurement or other relevant causes for sporadic changes in behavior?

    Try reading the very first link in the google search I provided above. It lists cognitive changes in brain injured patients that are not related to pain or embarrassment due to disfigurement. It also discusses how injuries to different parts of the brain lead to different changes in personality. For example, damage to the orbitofrontal area can lead to the brain injured person doing “what they feel like doing at any point in time, without concern for social taboos or legal prohibitions. Personality changes may include a cheerful lack of concern about the illness, inappropriate joking, and other disinhibited behaviors.” There is much more information on the internet on the subject if you look for it.

  15. The story of Phineas Gage is an interesting one and it does appear there is more to it than first thought.

    But interesting though it may be, does it change what is currently known about the consequences of Traumatic Brian Injury (TBI)?

    I think Denyse’s and PaulN’s ideas about facial disfigurement are interesting, but are they supported by any clinical data? Remember too that many people who receive brain injuries are not disfigured (e.g., blunt blows to the head) and appear the same. I could not find any information on how disfigurement plays a part in behavior change for TBI patients. That it isn’t to say it doesn’t exist, but it is not easily found through Google search at least.

    Also, Denyse’s comments about the people she knows, insightful that they may be, are really anecdotal and we have no way of verifying them. But there are reports that suggest that long-term well-being is not in fact the case with every TBI patient:

    “A close relative of each of 42 severely head injured patients was interviewed at 5 years after injury, following initial study at 3, 6, and 12 months. Persisting severe deficits, in some cases worse than at 1 year, were primarily psychological and behavioural, although minor physical deficits, for example in vision, were also common. Relatives were under great strain; significantly more so than at 1 year. The best predictor of strain in the relative was the magnitude of behavioural and personality change in the patient.”

    (Abstract of “The five year outcome of severe blunt head injury: a relative’s view.
    N Brooks, L Campsie, C Symington, A Beattie, and W McKinlay)

  16. To me, personality is the outward projection of a person, and it can obviously be affected by physical interference (drinking alcohol, for example). I don’t know who denies this possibility.

    Add to that the theory of humours which was very influential in ancient, medieval and earlier modern times, and I think we can safely say that it’s always been believed that physiological changes can affect personality.

  17. uoflcard wrote:

    This is on the assumption that personality is also separate from the body.

    Moral behavior is an aspect of personality, and so many Christians want to believe that the personality has an extracorporeal basis. Otherwise, how would it make sense for God to reward or punish the soul at the time of death for behavior that is the responsibility of the body? When Jesus told the thief “Today you will be with me in Paradise”, he clearly wasn’t talking about the thief’s body.

    This accounts for the persistence of dualism among most Christians, along with their fierce resistance to the implications of modern neuroscience.

    Interestingly, I have also encountered Christians who admit that the body is the seat of the personality, but who say that this doesn’t matter because it is the body that is resurrected at the Final Judgment and then placed in heaven or hell. For them, the time between death and the Final Judgment is a dreamless oblivion.

    I don’t know how these Christians reconcile this idea with the story of Jesus and the thief. Perhaps they consider the thief to have been an exception to the normal rule.

  18. Personality changes occur more often than we tend to think.

    It is common in parents that have lost a child, for example, for one or both of them to be so devastated that they experience some personality change. They just are never the same afterwards. Something has broken inside and it is clear that it does not start with the mere physical brain – mere matter and energy!

    That’s why divorce rates for couples that’ve lost a child are up around 80%.

    I witnessed this myself. And I believe it’s understandable without resorting to the materialist’s mind=brain dogma.

    Just getting drunk or stoned induces temporary personality changes.

    So? The mind=brain doctrine is not supported by these things at all. It is just as readily explained under a non-materialist paradigm.

    Change in the brain will often induce some kind of change in conduct whether it be temporary or permanent damage.

    This would be normal simply because of the intimate connection between mind and brain, and that even though materialist dogma isn’t true!

    BL Harville:

    But if the mind, or personality, is seperate from the brain then personality change should never happen as a result of brain injury.

    That simply isn’t so, as I explained above. Drugs and booze can induce personality changes.

    Now, suppose mind is not equal to matter; still the bare fact of there being an intimate connection with the physical brain is certain to produce some change in personality and/or behavior in some cases. The brain may not respond to the mind! Thus a change in behavior is explicable under either paradigm! So the point is moot.

    If parts of ones memory recall, intellectual abilities, speech capacity, etc. are disabled the brain would no longer be responding to the mind and that even against ones will!

    Indeed, how does one measure will in materialism? Well you don’t because it doesn’t actually exist under that paradigm. We are thus all organic robots under the illusion of having will.

    And this we are told most assuredly by all the materialists in the clearest of terms!

    Now, suppose these materialist pundits are truly right, why should anyone care what anyone else thinks? Its all just electro-chemical reactions to inner and outer stimuli and personality doesn’t really exist as an attribute of choice at all!

    If “you are nothing but a pack of neurons”, as Crick enjoined, then who cares what a pack of neurons says or does?! It’s all without purpose or will in the end. It’s all an illusion. All debate, proselytising and quarreling over anything at all becomes utterly useless.

    So atheism and materilaist mind/brain dogma are ideas that don’t matter. Under that doctrine the thoughts of the materialist and the thoughts of the theist would be equally nothing but movements of matter & energy – just moving differently from one brain to the next. Logical conlcusion of this? No decision is ever really made, there are only just organic circuits being engaged, branched and turned on or off.

    That spurious doctrine reduces all life to utter meaninglessness destined for perfect oblivion.
    And that means that materialism itself is utterly futile as an idea.

  19. Most personality traits are probably laid down pretty early, and are difficult to change. They can be due to inherited or acquired metabolism, to birth order*, to social and cultural circumstances …

    A catastrophic brain injury is not a guided intervention for personality change. Most people probably respond to the injuries using those life strategies they can still remember and practice.

    Lack of inhibition in some – not all – brain-injured people comes, I gather, from loss of the ability to monitor others’ reactions closely.

    We are all less inhibited when we are alone. That is why we seek what we call “privacy” in certain circumstances. So the loss of ability to monitor others closely would lead to a tendency to behave as if one was alone when was in fact in company.

    I don’t think I will spend much time looking for lots of information on the Internet.

    Quality is much more important here than quantity – as the Phineas Gage case abundantly demonstrates.

    *Men tend to be more dominant than women, but eldest sister may be much more dominant than baby brother, in a large family.

  20. 20

    See “Psychiatric disorders and traumatic brain injury” by Schwarzbold et al., Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2008 August; 4(4): 797–816, especially table 1.

    Also, see

    Can Traumatic Brain Injury Cause Psychiatric Disorders?, by van Reekum et al., J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci 12:316-327, August 2000.

    In general, the literature supports a causative relation between some psychological/psychiatric disorders and brain injury. The specific causes are of course hard to pin down, but an immaterial mind does not seem to be a serious alternative. The proposed causes for personality change are all material.

  21. If “you are nothing but a pack of neurons”, as Crick enjoined, then who cares what a pack of neurons says or does?!

    We care what other people say, think and do. If they are “packs of neurons”, then it follows that we care what “packs of neurons” say and do.

    Your comment betrays your assumption that thoughts and emotions cannot be genuine if they are physically instantiated. This is simply a prejudice.

    No decision is ever really made, there are only just organic circuits being engaged, branched and turned on or off.

    That’s like saying that a computer can’t really add up a list of numbers — it’s just a bunch of transistors being turned on and off.

  22. “Most personality traits are probably laid down pretty early, and are difficult to change. They can be due to inherited or acquired metabolism, to birth order*, to social and cultural circumstances …”

    That suggests then that personality is formed and governed by somatic and environmental factors – and is not therefore not linked to an immutable soul (the characteristics of which would presumably not be effected by materialistic factors such as birth-order or metabolism).

  23. If my brain is merely a meat computer (as the materialist reckons), and my personality changed due to a brain injury, would I know that it was abnormal?

    Exploring a different avenue, if personality (a colloquial term for consciousness) is merely an emergent property of a brain, how much brain is required for a normal personality to be present?

    A whole lot? Not necessarily.

    A half? Maybe.

    Practically none? Impossible… right?

    I’m sure glad we’ve got all that mind vs. matter thing all sorted out. Or it’ll be sorted out soon. Maybe. Possibly.

    At any rate it can’t be dualism, because like germ theory, it implies that some weird living things that are invisible to the naked eye exist, when it’s a well-established, time-tested fact that unintelligent, non-living, natural humours determine our state of health.

  24. Harville,

    For example, damage to the orbitofrontal area can lead to the brain injured person doing “what they feel like doing at any point in time, without concern for social taboos or legal prohibitions. Personality changes may include a cheerful lack of concern about the illness, inappropriate joking, and other disinhibited behaviors.” There is much more information on the internet on the subject if you look for it.

    I think I’m with uoflcard on this subject, so much as being inebriated can induce such behavioral changes. I suppose the only way to truly test the reality of an immaterial mind is to observe cases that would completely disconnect it from the brain, such is the case in some pretty well documented near death experiences. I’m at work right now so I don’t have the time to link to a good example but when I get home I should be able to provide some useful information.

  25. I agree with Borne@18. I have never understood the person who claims to be a strong advocate of materialism. If one truly believes in materialism, then one must believe that all supposed free will is an illusion. If you believe that free will is an illusion, what on earth are you doing trying to convince me to make a decision you say I can’t make!!!!

    Either materialists truly do not believe what they say they believe, or they do not accept the logical consequences of their beliefs. Either way, its a strange position to take. If they are right all arguments about the subject are moot.

    Evolution may have occurred. But purpose can not be created by evolution.

  26. JDH,

    The philosophy of free will is more nuanced than you suppose.

    Being a materialist does not require believing that free will is an illusion. Even if it did, it does not follow that persuasion is futile or that people are incapable of making decisions.

  27. Re: 22

    Who said the soul was immutable?

  28. JDH @26,

    Ever here of the Butterfly Effect? Materialism doesn’t mean a belief in a wind-up, billiard ball universe, which is a good thing. Any philosophy that relies on dice thrown behind a curtain is not about to take away your free will.

  29. Why are we wasting our time debating a completely discredited theory (Cartesian dualism) which most Christians don’t accept and which the Christian Church has never accepted, anyway? The favored theory of the Catholic Church, for instance, is hylomorphism, originally developed by Aristotle and Christianized by St. Thomas Aquinas. A further discussion of hylomorphism may be found in this article by by Fr. John O’Callaghan. The author demonstrates that belief in a soul does not imply substance dualism – the belief that soul and body are two things. On the contrary, every human being is a unity. An organism’s soul is simply its underlying principle of unity. The human soul, with its ability to reason, does not distinguish us from animals; it distinguishes us as animals. The unity of a human being’s actions is actually deeper and stronger than that underlying the acts of a non-rational animal: rationality allows us to bring together our past, present and future acts, when we formulate plans. When Aquinas argues that the act of intellect is not the act of a bodily organ, he is not showing that there is a non-animal act engaged in by human beings. He is showing, rather, that not every act of an animal is a bodily act.

    Hylomorphism claims that some acts that persons perform (acts of the intellect and free decisions) are non-bodily acts. But “personality” is much broader than these. Hence we should not be surprised at findings that personality is linked to the brain. In any case, an individual’s personality may change significantly during their lifetime, even without brain injury; yet we still say they are the same person. Indeed, personality can change as a result of a voluntary decision. My wife tells me that she was a very shy child until the age of ten – and then she suddenly decided to change her personality. Everyone remarked upon how different she was.

    Speaking for myself, I would not be one whit perturbed if my personality does not survive my death – indeed, I rather hope it doesn’t!

    Thus the following comments are attacking a straw man:

    JayM:

    If mind is independent of brain, one would not expect a brain injury to change personality (as opposed to simply reducing function, for example).

    JTaylor:

    That suggests then that personality is formed and governed by somatic and environmental factors – and is not therefore not linked to an immutable soul …

    The above comments are problematic only for dualists who hold that all mental phenomena (thoughts, decisions, memories, mental images, emotions, feelings and sensations) reside exlusively in an immaterial soul.

    A hylomorphist, by contrast, will happily grant that the following are all acts we perform with our brains and nervous systems: seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting; feeling happy, sad, angry or afraid; imagining something; and remembering something.

    What about the evidence that brain damage impairs intellectual function, as described in this article by Joanne McGee? (Thanks for the link, B. L. Harville.) We have to keep in mind that abstract thought is a very high-level operation, which cannot occur unless a whole host of lower-level activities are occurring. The brain is a magnificent information processor. Hence, damage to the information processor can mean that the intellect has nothing to process. It is not that the intellect has ceased to be; it is lower-level functions that are at fault here.

    For those readers to whom the prospect of bodiless survival appears too dismal to contemplate, the Christian message is: well, it should! I suspect that a disembodied soul could not deliberate about anything without a massive degree of Divine assistance to make up for the loss of a brain. In any case, this artificial mode of post-moterm existence is but temporary. What a Christian looks forward to is resurrection: a permanent reunion of soul and body.

    Finally, this article by Professor Alfred Freddoso is well worth reading for any Christians who may be tempted to jettison the doctrine of a dismebodied soul altogether:

    http://www.nd.edu/~afreddos/papers/soul.pdf .

  30. Some people have almost no brain at all due to a condition they are born with called hydrocephalus. An example is a person whose skull was filled with fluid with the skull lined by a millimeter of brain substance, still he was in college with an honours degree in mathematics and wasn’t even aware he had virtually no brain, see

    http://www.flatrock.org.nz/top.....essary.htm

  31. mentok [31]:

    Looks like the Egyptians were right all along:

    The first organ removed was the brain. The Egyptians believed that the brain was of little importance and it was thrown away when removed… With the corpse lying on its back, they inserted the hook through the nose and managed to pulverize the brain tissue into an almost liquid state. Then they turned the body over onto its stomach, and the liquefied brain tissue drained out through the nostrils. Palm wine and frankincense was used to flush and clean the cranial cavity.
    - Mummification

  32. B. Harville:

    But if the mind, or personality, is seperate from the brain then personality change should never happen as a result of brain injury.

    B, if you understand the mind as interface between soul and body, there is no issue.

    Moreso, our behavior only makes sense in the light of a tripartite configuration, modelled from the tripartite nature of the trinity.

    Addiction (along with suicide), are clear examples. The body, lacking any influence from a soul, could not work against itself since preservation of the body is the organism’s primary goal.

    Question is, why is it that the body seemingly seeks pleasure that the mind knows leads to the denigration of the body, yet does not nothing to stop it?

    Do we not all feel this at one time or another in our lives?

    Coffee makes me irritable, causes excema, sleepless nights (leading to another set of physical issues) and a host of other problems, but I am not about to stop the coffee because I “neeeeeeed” it, waaaaaant it; it feels good at the moment I drink the coffee, smell its wonderful aroma, taste the unique quality of the bean. Good thing its only coffee, eh!

    Some poor folks like my late bro were tormented by addiction. No matter what he tried he couldn’t defeat it. Thinking about that for so long, and getting into these ID/ND debates in the past year, I’m thinking how does the genome that is me, if there is no duality, seemingly fight itself. It makes no sense. The brain should, in the interest of preserving itself, override any conflicting signals generated by other parts of the brain, that apparently waive any authority to control the desire of any single body part?

    It seems TOE props are forever trying to construct yet another plausible argument to reconcile the conflict between the fundamental tenets of TOE and the conclusions of our abductive reasoning.

    Is our abductive cognition yet another illusion of design?

    Hmm.

  33. May I add, personality exists as a result of the interface between mind and body. If the body is injured, the mind must compensate for the break in the original path. A new path is built, which may appear as a change in personality. But it does not change the self.

    That is why I don’t believe personality to be ME. Personality is an expression of ME in the body I have. If I reincarnate into another body, with a different set of wiring, I must still be ME.

    Here’s another way to see it. If you know another language deeply, does it change YOU. My mother tongue is French Canadian, my language growing up was American English, and my current language is Chinese. I speak it to the bone. I am fully immersed in the culture.

    I see myself as having been three different people in my life. Am I still me? Yes, because I do not recognize myself by my personality, but the control I have over it.

    I could easily imagine myself in another body. But is it still ME?

    Without question.

    I would advise all reader to immerse themselves deeply into another language in culture, only if the realize the true self that steps away from the trappings of language, habit and culture. It is liberating. do this in tandem with meditation like Buddhists do, where they practice the cessation of thought.

    I said this to an atheist a while back and he thought it was absurd that a person could stay sane without thinking. Well, if you try to do it you will notice what I mean. There is an indescribable experience of peace and tranquilty. I believe it is experiencing reality in real time, without the filter of consciousness

    These exercises, disruption of habit (language/culture) and meditation IMO will go a long way in helping one discover the real nature of our (tri)ality.

  34. Sorry I forgot to edit the last post. The first sentence should ready ‘personality exists as a consequence of the interface between soul and body.

    There are some other typos but its still readable so guess we can let it slide.

  35. 36

    mentok [31], that article almost three decades old. As the article admits, the scans of the time were pretty poor and ambiguous. What does the much better current scanning technology say about such cases?

  36. skeech@27 and Pendulum@29

    One of the difficult things about discussing something on a board like this is people assume the ignorance of their opponents. Chaos theory, quantum theory, none of these rescue the materialist from the fact that a world with only materialism means a world without a causitive agent. This immediately implies no free will.

    In my understanding, whether or not there is free will does not depend upon whether the world interactions are correctly modelled by hard billiard balls or Feynman diagrams, it only matters if an agent can take a knowing action with real, not “perceived” purpose.

    You appear to hide the logical consequences of your belief behind a theory I think you don’t fully comprehend and then claim “nuance”. Of course I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.

  37. JDH,

    It is you who are assuming that materialists rely on chaos theory and/or quantum theory to rescue the possibility of free will. In fact, the dominant view among philosophers today is that free will is possible even in a deterministic universe, and that agent causation — an idea to which you evidently subscribe — is incoherent whether or not determinism is true (and even whether or not materialism is true).

    For a nice primer on the subject, I recommend Robert Kane’s A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will.

  38. Berceuse said @28: “Who said the soul was immutable?”

    You’re right – I’m not who said it. In fact I’m not even sure what the soul is or isn’t. Christianity is rather vague about it, and other religions have their own ideas that contradict one another. Some equate the soul with the spirit, some consider them separate. Even Christians don’t agr

  39. Berceuse said @28: “Who said the soul was immutable?”

    You’re right – I’m not who said it. In fact I’m not even sure what the soul is or isn’t. Christianity is rather vague about it, and other religions have their own ideas that contradict one another. Some equate the soul with the spirit, some consider them separate. Even Christians don’t agree among themselves. Why is that?

  40. Berceuse said @28: “Who said the soul was immutable?”

    You’re right – I’m not who said it. In fact I’m not even sure what the soul is or isn’t. Christianity is rather vague about it, and other religions have their own ideas that contradict one another. Some equate the soul with the spirit, some consider them separate. Even Christians don’t agree among themselves. Why is that?

  41. Previous post got cut off…let’s try again…

    Berceuse said @28: “Who said the soul was immutable?”

    You’re right – I’m not who said it. In fact I’m not even sure what the soul is or isn’t. Christianity is rather vague about it, and other religions have their own ideas that contradict one another. Some equate the soul with the spirit, some consider them separate. Even Christians don’t agree. Why is that?

  42. Some poor folks like my late bro were tormented by addiction. No matter what he tried he couldn’t defeat it. Thinking about that for so long, and getting into these ID/ND debates in the past year, I’m thinking how does the genome that is me, if there is no duality, seemingly fight itself. It makes no sense. The brain should, in the interest of preserving itself, override any conflicting signals generated by other parts of the brain, that apparently waive any authority to control the desire of any single body part?

    Oramus,

    Evolutionary theory does not predict that humans (or any other animal species) will behave optimally in all possible circumstances. Humans evolved in environments in which drugs were unavailable, so resistance to addiction was not selected for. Vigorous physical activity was a necessity and food was scarce, so we evolved a tendency to crave high-energy fats and carbohydrates.

    These characteristics don’t serve us well today, but that is no surprise. Evolution has no foresight. It couldn’t possibly have anticipated the society we live in today, where drugs, fats and sweets are all readily available and vigorous physical activity is largely optional.

  43. JayM @12: Dualism doesn’t hold that brains and minds are independent. There’s clearly interaction. But it does hold that one is not reducible to the other. I perhaps didn’t make my point as clear as I might have. A materialist can, obviously, affirm that certain brain injuries don’t transform personality (e.g., injury to some motor center). But sufficiently extensive brain damage (of the sort Phineas Gage experienced?), if unaccompanied by radical personality change, would count as evidence against brain-mind identity (which is what the materialist affirms and requires).

    Cf. the following passage from ch. 1 of THE DESIGN OF LIFE (http://www.thedesignoflife.com):

    Reliable reports exist of people exhibiting remarkable cognitive function with very much reduced brain matter. For instance, anthropologist Roger Lewin reported a case study by John Lorber, a British neurologist and professor at Sheffield University:

    “There’s a young student at this university,” says Lorber, “who has an IQ of 126, has gained a first-class honors degree in mathematics, and is socially completely normal. And yet the boy has virtually no brain.” The student’s physician at the university noticed that the youth had a slightly larger than normal head, and so referred him to Lorber, simply out of interest. “When we did a brain scan on him,” Lorber recalls, “we saw that instead of the normal 4.5-centimeter thickness of brain tissue between the ventricles and the cortical surface, there was just a thin layer of mantle measuring a millimeter or so. His cranium is filled mainly with cerebrospinal fluid.”

    Or consider the case of pioneer microbiologist Louis Pasteur. As historian of science Stanley Jaki remarks,

    A brain may largely be deteriorated and still function in an outstanding way…. A famous case is that of Pasteur, who at the height of his career suffered a cerebral accident, and yet for many years afterwards did research requiring a high level of abstraction and remained in full possession of everything he learned during his first forty some years. Only the autopsy following his death revealed that he had lived and worked for years with literally one half of his brain, the other half being completely atrophied.

    Evolutionists, when confronted with such anomalies, will often remark that the brain contains lots of redundancy. Lorber himself concludes that “there must be a tremendous amount of redundancy or spare capacity in the brain, just as there is with kidney and liver.” But that raises another problem. If much of the brain is redundant, then why didn’t we evolve the same cognitive abilities without developing larger brains? Redundancy carries hidden costs. Big brains make it difficult for human babies to pass through the birth canal, which, historically, has resulted in heavy casualties—many mothers and babies have died during delivery. Why should the selective advantage of bigger brains with lots of redundancy outweigh the selective advantage of easier births due to smaller brains that, nonetheless, exercise the same cognitive functions, though with lowered redundancy?

    There are many deep questions here. Evolutionists may be right that large complex brains have an inherent selective advantage. But that has yet to be established. It remains an open question how our higher mental capacities (such as composing a symphony or proving a deep mathematical theorem) relate to the size and structure of our brains. Evolutionists generally regard mind as simply a function of electro-chemical activity in the brain. But this materialist assumption (that mind is reducible to brain) remains for now without empirical support. What we have are correlations between brain images and conscious mental states. What we do not have is a causal mechanism relating the two.

  44. While I can’t vouch for personality change, a 14 year old boy lost half his brain in a shooting. In the video he seems normal and happy – it’s truly shocking how much of his head and brain is actually missing. According to the video one half was removed:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....re=related

  45. Thx Skeetch for your comments.

    following your logic why did we evolve a craving for cocaine, heroin, caffeine, nicotine, sex (for pleasure), ambulence chasing (adrenaline?), kleptomania (again adrenaline maybe?)

    How does evolutionary theory demonstrate empirically the survival benefits of these addictions? We can make plausible explanations as to how they could, in some fashion, contribute. But all I’ve seen are explanations stretched way thin.

    You mention evolving a tendency? I’m not being facetious here. But how does a tendency evolve, a craving? What are the mechanisms? I find it to be an unsurmountable problem for TOE.

    More so, how about suicide? In this case NS doesn’t even have a chance to raise its club in protest. How does an organism know 1) that it is unfit and 2)that it should terminate itself for the good of the group?

  46. WHD wrote [43]:

    If much of the brain is redundant, then why didn’t we evolve the same cognitive abilities without developing larger brains? Redundancy carries hidden costs. Big brains make it difficult for human babies to pass through the birth canal, which, historically, has resulted in heavy casualties—many mothers and babies have died during delivery. Why should the selective advantage of bigger brains with lots of redundancy outweigh the selective advantage of easier births due to smaller brains that, nonetheless, exercise the same cognitive functions, though with lowered redundancy?

    There are many deep questions here. Evolutionists may be right that large complex brains have an inherent selective advantage. But that has yet to be established. It remains an open question how our higher mental capacities (such as composing a symphony or proving a deep mathematical theorem) relate to the size and structure of our brains.

    You seem to be saying that vestigal organs are evidence for intelligent design (with the brain supposedly the ultimate vestigal organ). Or let me restate that: You think that a huge cumbersome organ of questionable utility and huge costs is more consistent with an intelligent designer than with evolution.

    But supposing that it were discovered that the brain was completely useless. Where would we look next to explain cognition? It would have to be something that could be physically measured and observed. Or would brain research become the domain of paranormal studies?

    Just a guess, but it wouldn’t seem surprising if cognition was distributed throughout the entire nervous network of the body to a greater degree than previously supposed.

    But the conclusion of Lorber was apparently that brain matter was being compressed, not lost. Here are some quotes from the article that mentok provided [31]:

    Although anecdotal accounts may be found in medical literature, Lorber is the first to provide a systematic study of such cases. He has documented over 600 scans of people with hydrocephalus and has broken them into four groups:
    those with nearly normal brains
    those with 50-70% of the cranium filled with cerebrospinal fluid
    those with 70-90% of the cranium filled with cerebrospinal fluid
    and the most severe group with 95% of the cranial cavity filled with cerebrospinal fluid.
    Of the last group, which comprised less than 10% of the study, half were profoundly retarded.

    Note that it does not say that 600 people functioned perfectly well with hardly any brain. It only talks about the last group. And also, it doesn’t state at all how much brain was lost – only what percentage of the cranium was filled with fluid. This is signficant because there are subsequent quotes to the effect that the brain tissue was merely being compressed. Given that the brain is an amorphous blob, it hardly seems its gross 3-D structure would be integral to its function, so some signficant distortion of this amorphous shape might not have any impact at all.

    “When you implant a shunt in a young hydrocephalic child you often see complete restoration of overall brain structure, even in cases where initially there is no detectable mantle,”claims Lorber. “There must be true regeneration of brain substance in some sense, but I’m not necessarily saying that nerve cells regenerate,”he says cautiously; “I don’t think anyone knows fully about that.”

    What, then, is happening when a hydrocephalic brain rebounds from being a thin layer lining a fluid-filled cranium to become an apparently normal structure when released from hydrostatic pressure?

    According to Epstein and on the basis of his colleagues’ observations on experimental cats, the term rebound aptly describes the reconstitution process, with stretched fibres shortening, thus diminishing the previously expanded ventricular space.

    Lorber himself acknowledges that the “Virtually no brain” claim was hyperbolic: “As to the question “Is your brain really necessary?” Lorber admits that it is only half serious. “You have to be dramatic in order to make people listen.” So Lorber used the tongue-in-cheek hyperbole to shock the medical community. He didn’t intend it as a strict scientific claim.

  47. I’m moving on to other stories now, but for me the big fun will be the future textbooks that merely repeat the Phineas Gage lecture room legend verbatim from other books.

    If there is a neuroscience version of National Center for Science Education, someone is sure to be testifying that the Gage legend is critical to science.

  48. skeech – thanks for the book recommendation. I will probably get it and read it. I still think that by definition materialism is in contradiction with the concept of free will. At this point in my understanding, I don’t see how one can believe in no purpose, but at the same time believe in purposeful actions. To me it just does not make sense.

  49. Denyse O’Leary said @48 “If there is a neuroscience version of National Center for Science Education, someone is sure to be testifying that the Gage legend is critical to science.”

    I hope instead the text book says that there is a well-established body of knowledge which shows a causal link between Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and behavioral and personality changes (and long-term at that). If they talk about the Gage case perhaps they might say that this is an illustrative case, although recent research shows that there is some mythology attached.

    Bottom line is that even if the Gage story is wrong it does not show what is currently known about TBI. Whether Gage is true or not does not invalidate or falsify this, although O’Leary seems to imply this and I guess hopes it will stick.

  50. JTaylor, I am glad I came back one last time.

    You write:

    “Bottom line is that even if the Gage story is wrong it does not show what is currently known about TBI. Whether Gage is true or not does not invalidate or falsify this, although O’Leary seems to imply this and I guess hopes it will stick.”

    Spoken like a true Darwinist!!

    It is clearly of NO consequence to you that the story is probably false – as long as it fronts your agenda. You are not ashamed of the hundreds of false stories fronted about this man.

    No, I did not think you would be.

    Would you raise a single objection to the next imposition on students about Phineas Gage?

    Trashing the good name of an honest man who coped surprising well with a catastrophic disability is a small price to pay for fronting the truth that we are but naked apes.

    I will make a post of this, I swear.

  51. 52

    Denyse, the key point JTaylor made was this:

    that there is a well-established body of knowledge which shows a causal link between Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and behavioral and personality changes (and long-term at that).

    If this is true, then JTaylor is right.

    Frankly, I’ve never heard anyone make the case for materialism based on Gage. I’ve heard people use it to discuss brain localization, but that’s a different thing.

  52. David Kellogg wrote:

    mentok [31], that article almost three decades old. As the article admits, the scans of the time were pretty poor and ambiguous. What does the much better current scanning technology say about such cases?

    The article mentok linked also mentioned a practically identical case from 2 years ago, with pictures of the scans. I linked earlier in the thread to a New Scientist article about the same case.

    The phenomenon can’t be dismissed as just a mistake or an urban legend.

  53. 54

    angryoldfatman, the case is similar in that in both cases the amount of brain loss is guessed at rather than measured, but in the Lancet study even that guess shows less loss than the older study. The subjects in these cases developed the condition in early childhood. Such cases support high developmental plasticity in the brain rather than an immaterial mind. The recent article has produced just a few citations (not surprising given that it’s just a single case report), but one of those suggests a material explanation for the retention of brain function. See Masdeu et al., Ventricular Wall Granulations and Draining of Cerebrospinal Fluid in Chronic Giant Hydrocephalus, Archives of Neurology 66.2 (2009): 262-267.

  54. Oramus asks:

    following your logic why did we evolve a craving for cocaine, heroin, caffeine, nicotine, sex (for pleasure), ambulence chasing (adrenaline?), kleptomania (again adrenaline maybe?)

    You’re lumping a lot of things together there. Sex is pleasurable because individuals who take pleasure in it tend to leave more offspring. The reward system in the brain that makes sex (and eating and socializing and music) pleasurable can be directly stimulated by drugs, which is why addictions occur.

    How does evolutionary theory demonstrate empirically the survival benefits of these addictions?

    Addictions are not beneficial, though the reward system that gives rise to them is.

    You mention evolving a tendency? I’m not being facetious here. But how does a tendency evolve, a craving? What are the mechanisms? I find it to be an unsurmountable problem for TOE.

    Back to the sex example. Imagine you have a population of animals. Some of them like sex and engage in it often. The others hate sex and avoid it at all costs. Which group will leave more offspring, on average? What will happen to the population over time? Repeat this over many generations, and your population evolves a craving for sex — just like humans.

    More so, how about suicide? In this case NS doesn’t even have a chance to raise its club in protest. How does an organism know 1) that it is unfit and 2)that it should terminate itself for the good of the group?

    I’m not sure where you got the idea that organisms commonly do either of those things. Could you elaborate?

  55. David Kellogg wrote:

    angryoldfatman, the case is similar in that in both cases the amount of brain loss is guessed at rather than measured

    What better measure is there besides the brain scans? You can see with your own eyes what the scan shows.

    I can’t tell you how many times I was shown Terri Shiavo’s brain scans as an example of consciousness being directly related to brain tissue. Her scans showed much more brain tissue than these pitiful things. And we all remember her state, and that she was starved and dehydrated to death because she didn’t have enough brain to think. I guess Mr. French Social Worker needs to be euthanized ASAP.

    but in the Lancet study even that guess shows less loss than the older study.

    No it doesn’t.

    Such cases support high developmental plasticity in the brain rather than an immaterial mind.

    Are you telling us the current scientific dogma about us being born with all of the brain cells we’ll ever have is wrong? If not, why do we have so much useless brain matter?

    Look at Phineas Gage, for example. How much of his brain did he lose, and yet he went on to perform as well or better than human beings possessing all of the brain matter they were born with?

  56. skeech wrote:

    Sex is pleasurable because individuals who take pleasure in it tend to leave more offspring.

    Sex is pleasurable because a certain number of nerve endings are in certain areas of the body.

    Thus you present a chicken-and-egg sort of problem.

  57. AOFM,

    You have a very limited appreciation of sex if you think it is pleasurable only because of nerve endings in certain areas of the body.

  58. I once briefly met a man who was being cared for by a friend of mine. The man had attempted to kill himself by placing a loaded gun in his mouth. The bullet effectively gave him a lobotomy.

    I had not met the man before this event, but it is hard to imagine he had the same personality before the shot went off.

    Also, I have not studied psychology.

    That being said, in the case illustrated by O’Leary, she does make some very good points. The best, in my view, is this:

    I have written for newspapers most of my adult life, and one thing I know is this: Printing more copies of any type of information does not make it true. It makes it more widely disseminated.

    Indeed, even first person accounts of qualitatively described events are as much a reflection of the accounter’s bias as they are of the events being recounted.

  59. That kind of throws a monkey wrench into brain-as-computer idea. I suggest anybody drive a steel spike *anywhere* through their computer, I can almost guarantee that their complaints won’t be just confined to “Excel just doesn’t want to save for me anymore.”

  60. skeech wrote:

    You have a very limited appreciation of sex if you think it is pleasurable only because of nerve endings in certain areas of the body.

    I certainly don’t, but then again, I’m not a materialist.

    A true materialist cannot believe that things can be experienced outside of neural activity. For something to be perceived by a person (or any creature, for that matter), it must first be detected in some way by sensory organs and transmitted to the brain via neurons.

    To imply some sort of transcendence from a pleasurable act denies materialism.

    Now, to state that “[s]ex is pleasurable because individuals who take pleasure in it tend to leave more offspring” is to skip a whole bunch of neural engineering that must occur for this to be true. It’s a circular argument, hence my “chicken-and-egg” statement.

    It’s also untrue. Microorganisms, which make up most of the biomass on the planet, have no brain so they can’t experience any pleasure or pain. The asexual ones reproduce just as fast or faster than the sexual ones. Thornhill and Palmer have told us that rape (definitely unpleasant sex) evolved and continues to exist in all human cultures because it was more successful from an overall evolutionary viewpoint than courtship was.

    As a materialist, you surely agree with this, correct?

  61. I used to walk around slapping plants and leaves. Untill last month i slapped some torn, hurt my finger and so i completely stopped doing that.

    Funny, this lesion didnt even hurt my brain, but still, my behaviour changed. I wonder what would have happened to me if i had a torn stucked into my head, id rethink a lot of stuff, would probably change my mind and personality somehow…

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