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Neurosurgeon: Apes are not fuzzy us

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From neurosurgeon Michael Egnor at Salvo:

It is important to understand the fundamental difference between humans and nonhuman animals. Animals such as apes have material mental powers. By material, I mean powers that are instantiated in the brain and wholly depend upon matter for their operation. These powers include sensation, perception, imagination (the ability to form mental images), memory (of perceptions and images), and appetite. Nonhuman animals have a mental capacity to perceive and respond to particulars, which are specific material objects such as other animals, food, obstacles, and predators.

Human beings have these powers, too, but they also have mental powers that entail a profoundly different kind of thinking. Unlike animals, humans think abstractly, and they have the power to contemplate universals, which are concepts that have no material instantiation. Humans think about mathematics, literature, art, language, justice, mercy—an endless array of abstract concepts. They are rational animals. More.

See also: Are apes entering the Stone Age?

and

Animal minds: In search of the minimal self

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15 Replies to “Neurosurgeon: Apes are not fuzzy us

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    A Closer Look At Human/Chimp Similarities and Differences – video
    https://www.facebook.com/philip.cunningham.73/videos/vb.100000088262100/1134643976548534/?type=2&theater

    A Listener’s Guide to the Meyer-Marshall Debate: Focus on the Origin of Information Question -Casey Luskin – December 4, 2013
    Excerpt: “There is always an observable consequence if a dGRN (developmental gene regulatory network) subcircuit is interrupted. Since these consequences are always catastrophically bad, flexibility is minimal, and since the subcircuits are all interconnected, the whole network partakes of the quality that there is only one way for things to work. And indeed the embryos of each species develop in only one way.” –
    Eric Davidson – developmental biologist
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....79811.html

    Richard Sternberg PhD – podcast – On Human Origins: Is Our Genome Full of Junk DNA? Part 2. (Major Differences in higher level chromosome spatial organization)
    Excerpt: “Here’s the interesting thing, when you look at the protein coding sequences that you have in your cell what you find is that they are nearly identical to the protein coding sequences of a dog, of a carp, of a fruit fly, of a nematode. They are virtually the same and they are interchangeable. You can knock out a gene that encodes a protein for an inner ear bone in say a mouse. This has been done. And then you can take a protein that is similar to it but from a fruit fly. And fruit flies aren’t vertebrates and they certainly are not mammals., so they don’t have inner ear bones. And you can plug that gene in and guess what happens? The offspring of the mouse will have a perfectly normal inner ear bone. So you can swap out all these files. I mentioning this to you because when you hear about we are 99% similar (to chimps) it is almost all referring to those protein coding regions. When you start looking, and you start comparing different mammals. Dolphins, aardvarks, elephants, manatees, humans, chimpanzees,, it doesn’t really matter. What you find is that the protein coding sequences are very well conserved, and there is also a lot of the DNA that is not protein coding that is also highly conserved. But when you look at the chromosomes and those banding patterns, those bar codes, (mentioned at the beginning of the talk), its akin to going into the grocery store. You see a bunch of black and white lines right? You’ve seen one bar code you’ve seen them all. But those bar codes are not the same.,, Here’s an example, aardvark and human chromosomes. They look very similar at the DNA level when you take small snippets of them. (Yet) When you look at how they are arranged in a linear pattern along the chromosome they turn out to be very distinct (from one another). So when you get to the folder and the super-folder and the higher order level, that’s when you find these striking differences. And here is another example. They are now sequencing the nuclear DNA of the Atlantic bottle-nose dolphin. And when they started initially sequencing the DNA, the first thing they realized is that basically the Dolphin genome is almost wholly identical to the human genome. That is, there are a few chromosome rearrangements here and there, you line the sequences up and they fit very well. Yet no one would argue, based on a statement like that, that bottle-nose dolphins are closely related to us. Our sister species if you will. No one would presume to do that. So you would have to layer in some other presumption. But here is the point. You will see these statements throughout the literature of how common things are.,,, (Parts lists are very similar, but how the parts are used is where you will find tremendous differences)
    http://www.discovery.org/multi.....-dna-pt-2/

    An Interview with Stephen C. Meyer
    TT: Is the idea of an original human couple (Adam and Eve) in conflict with science? Does DNA tell us anything about the existence of Adam and Eve?
    SM: Readers have probably heard that the 98 percent similarity of human DNA to chimp DNA establishes that humans and chimps had a common ancestor. Recent studies show that number dropping significantly. More important, it turns out that previous measures of human and chimp genetic similarity were based upon an analysis of only 2 to 3 percent of the genome, the small portion that codes for proteins. This limited comparison was justified based upon the assumption that the rest of the genome was non-functional “junk.” Since the publication of the results of something called the “Encode Project,” however, it has become clear that the noncoding regions of the genome perform many important functions and that, overall, the non-coding regions of the genome function much like an operating system in a computer by regulating the timing and expression of the information stored in the “data files” or coding regions of the genome. Significantly, it has become increasingly clear that the non-coding regions, the crucial operating systems in effect, of the chimp and human genomes are species specific. That is, they are strikingly different in the two species. Yet, if alleged genetic similarity suggests common ancestry, then, by the same logic, this new evidence of significant genetic disparity suggests independent separate origins. For this reason, I see nothing from a genetic point of view that challenges the idea that humans originated independently from primates,
    http://www.ligonier.org/learn/.....-conflict/

    Darwin or Design? – Paul Nelson at Saddleback Church – Nov. 2012 – ontogenetic depth – video
    Text from one of the Saddleback slides:
    1. Animal body plans are built in each generation by a stepwise process, from the fertilized egg to the many cells of the adult. The earliest stages in this process determine what follows.
    2. Thus, to change — that is, to evolve — any body plan, mutations expressed early in development must occur, be viable, and be stably transmitted to offspring.
    3. But such early-acting mutations of global effect are those least likely to be tolerated by the embryo.
    Losses of structures are the only exception to this otherwise universal generalization about animal development and evolution. Many species will tolerate phenotypic losses if their local (environmental) circumstances are favorable. Hence island or cave fauna often lose (for instance) wings or eyes.
    http://www.saddleback.com/mc/m/7ece8/

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    Evolution of the Genus Homo – Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences – Ian Tattersall, Jeffrey H. Schwartz, May 2009
    Excerpt: “Unusual though Homo sapiens may be morphologically, it is undoubtedly our remarkable cognitive qualities that most strikingly demarcate us from all other extant species. They are certainly what give us our strong subjective sense of being qualitatively different. And they are all ultimately traceable to our symbolic capacity. Human beings alone, it seems, mentally dissect the world into a multitude of discrete symbols, and combine and recombine those symbols in their minds to produce hypotheses of alternative possibilities. When exactly Homo sapiens acquired this unusual ability is the subject of debate.”
    http://www.annualreviews.org/d.....208.100202

    Leading Evolutionary Scientists Admit We Have No Evolutionary Explanation of Human Language – December 19, 2014
    Excerpt: Understanding the evolution of language requires evidence regarding origins and processes that led to change. In the last 40 years, there has been an explosion of research on this problem as well as a sense that considerable progress has been made. We argue instead that the richness of ideas is accompanied by a poverty of evidence, with essentially no explanation of how and why our linguistic computations and representations evolved.,,,
    (Marc Hauser, Charles Yang, Robert Berwick, Ian Tattersall, Michael J. Ryan, Jeffrey Watumull, Noam Chomsky and Richard C. Lewontin, “The mystery of language evolution,” Frontiers in Psychology, Vol 5:401 (May 7, 2014).)
    Casey Luskin added: “It’s difficult to imagine much stronger words from a more prestigious collection of experts.”
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....92141.html

    Moreover, both life and the universe are ‘information theoretic’ in their foundational basis:

    Complex grammar of the genomic language – November 9, 2015
    Excerpt: The ‘grammar’ of the human genetic code is more complex than that of even the most intricately constructed spoken languages in the world. The findings explain why the human genome is so difficult to decipher –,,,
    ,,, in their recent study in Nature, the Taipale team examines the binding preferences of pairs of transcription factors, and systematically maps the compound DNA words they bind to.
    Their analysis reveals that the grammar of the genetic code is much more complex than that of even the most complex human languages. Instead of simply joining two words together by deleting a space, the individual words that are joined together in compound DNA words are altered, leading to a large number of completely new words.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....140252.htm

    “it from bit” Every “it”— every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely—even if in some contexts indirectly—from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits. “It from bit” symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has a bottom—a very deep bottom, in most instances, an immaterial source and explanation, that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment—evoked responses, in short all matter and all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and this is a participatory universe.”
    – Princeton University physicist John Wheeler (1911–2008) (Wheeler, John A. (1990), “Information, physics, quantum: The search for links”, in W. Zurek, Complexity, Entropy, and the Physics of Information (Redwood City, California: Addison-Wesley))

    It is hard to imagine a more convincing proof that we are made ‘in the image of God’, than finding that both the universe and life itself are ‘information theoretic’ in their foundational basis, and that we, of all the creatures on earth, uniquely possess an ability to understand and create information.
    I guess a more convincing evidence could be if God Himself became a man, defeated death on a cross, and then rose from the dead to prove that He was God.
    But who has ever heard of such overwhelming evidence as that?

    Turin Shroud Quantum Hologram Reveals The Words ‘The Lamb’ on a Solid Oval Object Under The Beard – video
    http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=J21MECNU

    Verses and Music:

    Genesis 1:26
    And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

    John 1:1-4
    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and that life was the Light of men.

    Casting Crowns – The Word Is Alive
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9itgOBAxSc

  3. 3
    Indiana Effigy says:

    But our intellect—our ability to think abstractly—is a wholly immaterial power, as is our will, which acts in accordance with our intellect.”

    Yet, they can be modified, inhibited or destroyed by chemically or physically altering the brain.

  4. 4
    Mapou says:

    Effigy:

    But our intellect—our ability to think abstractly—is a wholly immaterial power, as is our will, which acts in accordance with our intellect.

    Yet, they can be modified, inhibited or destroyed by chemically or physically altering the brain.

    So what?

  5. 5
    Robert Byers says:

    We are souls made in gods image. Therefore we are more intelligent. Thats the only difference. otherwise animals are the same.

  6. 6
    OldArmy94 says:

    “But our intellect—our ability to think abstractly—is a wholly immaterial power, as is our will, which acts in accordance with our intellect.”
    Yet, they can be modified, inhibited or destroyed by chemically or physically altering the brain.

    The material brain is necessary, but not sufficient, for the immaterial mind.

  7. 7
    Aleta says:

    Our mental powers are an extension of those possessed by other animals. There is not some non-material aspect of humans that is not present in the other animals. Egnor is wrong, in my opinion.

  8. 8
    specter13 says:

    Well Aleta, you would seemingly be incorrect. Even Ray Tallis who himself is an atheist concedes the immaterial aspects of the mind and what problems intentionality, qualia, and the hard problem of consciousness present for a material explanation of the world and our experience of it.

    I would like to hear your thoughts on those things though, how through chemical interactions we experience and feel what “is”?

    Is there a certain path and number of dendrites involved in something being more yellow than less yellow? What is that cutoff for something being painful or pleasurable?

  9. 9
    Aleta says:

    Hi Specter.

    First, Egnor says,

    Animals such as apes have material mental powers. By material, I mean powers that are instantiated in the brain and wholly depend upon matter for their operation. These powers include sensation, perception, imagination (the ability to form mental images), memory (of perceptions and images) …

    So it seems that Egnor believes, as do I, that apes have a consciousness and some awareness of internal events (such as memories) as well as of outside events. Furthermore, this would be true of other animals, and if one studies the sensory apparatus and behavior of organisms from the simplest organisms with primitive light-sensitive cells up to apes, it is easy to outline a continuum of increasing “material mental powers.” Furthermore, I think there is a similar continuum of “intentionality” in organisms, as organisms certainly seem to act deliberately toward certain clear ends.

    So although we don’t know how the activity of the material brain is related to the inner experiences we have, I agree with Egnor that those experiences are “instantiated in the brain and wholly depend upon matter for their operation.”

    Egnor then says,

    but they also have mental powers that entail a profoundly different kind of thinking. Unlike animals, humans think abstractly, and they have the power to contemplate universals, which are concepts that have no material instantiation.

    This is where I disagree. I do agree that the ability which distinguishes us from the rest of the animals is our ability to comprehend and use symbolic representations of reality. However, I don’t see this a sharp break from the rest of the animals: we see the rudiments of these abilities in other animals.

    The big difference is that we developed language, which includes both the ability to articulate sounds quite flexibly and the cognitive ability to attach those sounds to recognizable aspects of reality.

    But this ability doesn’t require any new non-material aspect of our being: the same properties of the material brain which make perception, consciousness, memories, and intentionality available to other organisms, in varying degrees, are sufficient for the next step of attaching meaning to sounds in humans, and thus creating a symbolic world which can reach beyond the immediate physical world in which the organism lives.

    Concepts of universals, such as that of a perfect circle independent of any particular imperfect circle, no more requires an immaterial instantiation than the perception of the imperfect circles themselves.

    Language, and the symbolic and creative power it unleashed, is what makes us significantly different than the other animals, although those powers are overlaid on all the other properties shared by us, to varying degrees, with all other organisms.

    But this ability is still grounded in the material world.

    P.S. I had no idea who Ray Tallis is, but Wikipedia shows that he is a significant author on these issues. Can you point to a place where he describes his belief that human beings have an “immaterial aspect” to our mind?

  10. 10
    Aleta says:

    Test. My last comment didn’t show up as a recent comment, so I’m testing to see if this one does,

  11. 11
    JDH says:

    Aleta said

    However, I don’t see this a sharp break from the rest of the animals: we see the rudiments of these abilities in other animals.

    Aleta – Thanks for the most insightful comment. It is insightful, not because of what it says about the objective truth or the reality out there, it is insightful for what it says about you.

    Your comment began with the words, “I don’t see…”. This is where all the insight is. You have, (IMHO) unwittingly, similar to Caiaphas, spoken a great truth. The problem is exactly that you don’t see. You don’t see because you do not understand that the issue is not language and abstract thinking, but the issue of the existence or non-existence of morality and purpose.

    Let me humbly try to shed some light on the subject. I hope that you can begin to see. It is not language that makes abstract thinking possible. It is the ability to think of origin, purpose, and consequences. In short it is the same requirements as those for the existence of morals. Animals do not have a morality. They just do. A morality can only be if there is an origin and a purpose and actions have consequences. Let me repeat that. A morality can only be if there is an origin and a purpose and actions have consequences.

    Funny thing is that materialism ( which I assume is your belief – please correct me if I am wrong ) precisely can not have origin, purpose or consequences.

    It can’t have origin, because it admits no primary cause.
    It can’t have purpose because the simple adherence of particles to physical laws cannot ever have a transcendent purpose.
    It can’t have consequences because only an agent that has the ability to choose can deserve consequences.

    The ability to have a morality — to think about and perceive origin, purpose and consequences is what separates humans from animals. It is, to put it simply, what make man a moral creature and not an amoral creature as the animals are. As hard as it is to define, this difference of having a morality, is qualitative difference, not a quantitative difference. Animals do not have a proto-morality. They just are not moral beings. Human beings are.

    I know I have not been perfectly clear, and I know the above will not turn your mind, but maybe it will help you to see a little bit. That is my goal.

  12. 12
    Aleta says:

    Hi JDH @11: don’t believe morality is the subject here. The subject is the broader idea of the nature of our ability to create symbolic knowledge and, among other things, conceive of universals, such as a perfect circle, as opposed to our ability, which we share with the other animals, to perceive and act in the physical world.

    Egnor says that this ability involves a sharp break – the presence of a immaterial aspect of our being. I say that we see the beginnings of symbolic understanding, upon which the understanding of universals is based, in other animals, and that the power of the development and use of language and other symbol systems is an extension of the other mental powers we have, powers which Egnor says are “instantiated in the brain and wholly depend upon matter for their operation.”

    Of course Christians believe that human being have a distinctive immaterial soul, and that the role of that soul in spiritual issues is paramount. I am pretty sure this is the type of thing you are alluding to when you talk about “helping me see.” Thanks, but I don’t need that help, and that’s not what we are talking about here.

  13. 13
    specter13 says:

    Hi Aleta,

    Please see these links if you are interested in seeing more about Ray’s ideas:
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....57231.html
    http://www.amazon.com/Aping-Ma.....1844652726

    I have read your response and while I don’t agree with much of it, I would like to posit you a question: If the mind and conscious experience is the sum of the chemical activity in the brain, where do things like numbers exist? If you see three apples on a table in front of you (which even there I have to assume you can as I assume your mind works the same as mine) where does the number three that you associate that group with exist? The group of apples is just that, only you have given them that label so the number doesn’t exist in any physical spatial capacity. That leaves your proposition that it is an amalgamation of chemicals and certain neural networks that produced that idea of ‘three’. Great. So how can you be sure with any type of certainty when you write the number three on a piece of paper and show it to someone else that they are understanding the same concept that you have written? I don’t think you can. Do they have the same network pathways and chemicals interacting to have the same representation of that? There is no possible way you could even test that to know, so for something as simple as the number ‘3’ or a color, or an idea, or a feeling and on and on you can never have any sureness that the other subject (I call them a person) has any grasp of what YOUR idea is that you laid out.

    To see some much more detailed discussion of this just Google ‘philosophical zombies’ and you can read people much more dedicated to the subject than I explain in deeper detail.

  14. 14
    Aleta says:

    Hi specter.

    Let’s start with the easy question first

    You ask,

    So how can you be sure with any type of certainty when you write the number three on a piece of paper and show it to someone else that they are understanding the same concept that you have written? I don’t think you can. Do they have the same network pathways and chemicals interacting to have the same representation of that? There is no possible way you could even test that to know, so for something as simple as the number ‘3’ or a color, or an idea, or a feeling and on and on you can never have any sureness that the other subject (I call them a person) has any grasp of what YOUR idea is that you laid out.

    This is true. It may be that I am the only entity in the universe that has an internal mental experience, despite the fact that you say you do, and it’s certainly true that you may see what I would call yellow but call it green so I think you see the same color as I do, or perhaps we are just players in some 4-d video game played by trans-dimensional adolescents.

    But these are sophomoric philosophical positions, and not worth spending time on, I think. I assume that your mental experience and mine are similar: we both see three rocks, we both see the color yellow, we both have internal experiences of images and thoughts has opposed to experience of external sensory stimuli, and so on.

    Second, I want to reiterate that I am starting with Egnor’s statement, and working from there, that

    Animals such as apes have material mental powers. By material, I mean powers that are instantiated in the brain and wholly depend upon matter for their operation. These powers include sensation, perception, imagination (the ability to form mental images), memory (of perceptions and images), and appetite. Nonhuman animals have a mental capacity to perceive and respond to particulars, which are specific material objects such as other animals, food, obstacles, and predators.

    So before we tackle the question about what is the nature of the existence of mathematics, which I an very interested in, let me ask what is the nature of my perception of a tree?

    Egnor says that animal perception is “instantiated in the brain and wholly depend upon matter for their operation.” It requires no immaterial component, and I assume he would agree that human perception – just the basic sensory perception, is likewise a material phenomena. What exactly consciousness is is mysterious, no doubt, but there is no special mystery that separates my perception of the tree from the gorilla’s.

    Note well that I understand that I also have a whole set of cognitive understandings about trees that the gorilla doesn’t have – that is in part the subject of this discussion, but at the level of having a conscious perception, the human and the gorilla are equally grounded in the material world. There is a difference between the tree itself and my perception of it, but the difference is not that the tree is material and my perception of it is immaterial.

    I know there are some who would say all internal conscious experience is immaterial, including at various levels the perceptual life of organisms much simpler than the gorilla. However, this would not be consistent with the statement of Egnor’s that animal perception is wholly dependent on the material world. (Or, I suppose some might say that the material brain gives rise to an immaterial perception, but that would then apply to animals also, and would face the problem of the gradual changes in perceptual abilities that we see in organisms throughout the tree of life.)

    So, before going on the existence of numbers, which would begin to address Egnor’s point that we are qualitatively different than the other animals when it comes to abstractions, I’d like to know what you think about these issues so far.

    Do you accept Egnor’s position that perception and other mental powers “below” the ability to abstract are based in the material world? Do you think at its root level consciousness is an immaterial property, and if so do you think other organisms – the gorilla, the cat, the bird, etc. – share in this immaterial property.

    Where do you stand on these basic, preliminary issues?

  15. 15
    Aleta says:

    P.S. I did read the links on Ray Tallis. He says he’s not a dualist, and therefore I don’t think it’s correct to say that he “concedes the immaterial aspects of the mind.” According to the second article, he calls himself an “ontological agnostic” on the issue of consciousness, which is a nice phrase and one that I, with the proper explanations and disclaimers, could adopt for myself.

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