Archive for January, 2007

Welcome visitors!

January 29, 2007

Wherever you come from, thanks for dropping by. I’ve given the most attention to people who try to convince me that I’m wrong. One of my visitors, Lee, has been really hounding me and coming up with better and better objections to my ideas. His comments have really got me thinking, so I’ll be writing another post pretty soon. I think I have a way to answer all his questions.

I want to respond to Dan’s comment:

As I mentioned in my last comment on your brain post, most common science seems to work backwards. We create definitions and then look for a part of the body that suits our definition, instead of studying the body and then deciding what’s what. I think if we followed this logic instead of the backwards reductionist ideas, science would be very different.

Yes! Scientific theories are killing science. We always say “I think” until we’re really sure of something — then we say “I know.” So, “knowing” is what happens when we stop thinking. Scientific theories are what happen when we find out a few things, make up a story to explain them, and stop looking for answers.

The hypocrisy of physicalism

January 22, 2007

I think it’s funny that physical objects cannot detect, measure, or record consciousness, or any sort of emotion or feeling, but — according to physicalist — physical objects, like brains, can create consciousness, emotions, and feelings. That one fact right there pretty much destroys any credibility of physicalism.

Making the “Hard Problem” of consciousness disappear

January 22, 2007

I read this article in Time yesterday, and it really bothers me, because the writer makes the same old fallacious arguments in favor of consciousness as a construct of the brain. This was a big let down because the article starts off by making a fantastic point:

To make scientific headway in a topic as tangled as consciousness, it helps to clear away some red herrings. Consciousness surely does not depend on language. Babies, many animals and patients robbed of speech by brain damage are not insensate robots; they have reactions like ours that indicate that someone’s home. Nor can consciousness be equated with self-awareness. At times we have all lost ourselves in music, exercise or sensual pleasure, but that is different from being knocked out cold.

Yes! When I read that paragraph I though, “Wow, finally someone gets it. Maybe this is going to be good.”

The article then explains what the Hard Problem of consciousness is and offers the least controversial solution:

The Hard Problem is explaining how subjective experience arises from neural computation. The problem is hard because no one knows what a solution might look like or even whether it is a genuine scientific problem in the first place. And not surprisingly, everyone agrees that the hard problem (if it is a problem) remains a mystery.

Although neither problem has been solved, neuroscientists agree on many features of both of them, and the feature they find least controversial is the one that many people outside the field find the most shocking. Francis Crick called it “the astonishing hypothesis”–the idea that our thoughts, sensations, joys and aches consist entirely of physiological activity in the tissues of the brain.Consciousness does not reside in an ethereal soul that uses the brain like a PDA; consciousness is the activity of the brain.

Strange…this is not news. This is what scientists have thought for a long time, and this article brings up the same old tropes as always. I think the point of this article is to remind us that our lives are meaningless, we have no soul, and that when we die it’s all over.

One of the arguments the article give is this: since brain activity is entangled with actual emotions and thoughts, the brain must be creating emotions and thoughts. Here’s an example from the article:

Using functional MRI, cognitive neuroscientists can almost read people’s thoughts from the blood flow in their brains. They can tell, for instance, whether a person is thinking about a face or a place or whether a picture the person is looking at is of a bottle or a shoe.

This proves nothing. Why do scientists assume that blood flow in the brain is creating thoughts, when they could just as easily assume that thoughts cause the blood flow in the brain? Here’s a better example that I just made up: If I see you smiling, I know you’re happy. Therefore, the mental state of happiness must be created by your mouth! Sheesh, I can practically read your mind.

Another argument the article makes is: since consciousness is affected by physical events, the brain must be creating emotions and thoughts. Here’s an example from the article:

And consciousness can be pushed around by physical manipulations. Electrical stimulation of the brain during surgery can cause a person to have hallucinations that are indistinguishable from reality, such as a song playing in the room or a childhood birthday party.

Isn’t this exactly what we would expect if we believed in a “soul” or “ghost in the machine”? If we believed that the brain interprets visual information to present an image for the “soul” to look at, then of course you could effect that image by manipulating the brain with electric impulses. Here’s an analogy I like: If I start zapping your computer with electricity, you might see some weird images on your screen. Therefore, you must be a creation of your computer! As dumb as that sounds, it’s pretty much what the article says.

Chemicals that affect the brain, from caffeine and alcohol to Prozac and LSD, can profoundly alter how people think, feel and see.

All it takes to affect how I think and feel is to see a naked girl. Yes, our consciousness reacts to physical reality — that’s always been known. Hell, it’s the very nature of experience. The fact that our consciousness reacts to brain activity is no different. It actually makes a lot of sense if you believe in a metaphysical consciousness: the brain rewards your “soul” with pleasure when you do things that keep it alive — like eating — an punishes your “soul” with pain when you do something that might hurt it — like punching yourself in the face.

What’s really funny about the “Hard Problem” of consciousness is that it simply disappears when you don’t believe the brain creates consciousness. If something like a soul exists, all of the above phenomena still make sense, and there’s no need to explain how joy, sorrow, or love arises out of a hunk of meat.

Another way — actually, the only other way — to solve the “Hard Problem” is to theorize that all matter-energy is conscious in some way. Many people don’t like that idea, but if you look at a rock through a microscope, you’ll find lots of tiny, whirring particles and bustling energy transactions of heat and vibration. Rocks are more “alive” than they appear to the naked eye.

Disclaimer: I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in some authoritative god, but I do entertain the belief in a metaphysical reality if it makes sense.