Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community


Mind: Genius flares … yet often just goes out

Recently, we were apprised that the rarest of intellectual qualities, true genius, is merely an overdose of testosterone before birth.

You heard it here first and forgot it here first.

Recently, real news – of another child genius – has been making the rounds

At 12-years-old, Jacob Barnett is a genius. He’s already in college, his IQ is higher than Einstein’s, and for fun he‘s working on an expanded version of that man’s theory of relativity. So far, the signs are good. Professors are astounded. So what else does a boy genius with vast brilliance do in his free time? Disprove the big bang, of course.For a minute, just a minute, try and follow his logic. He explained his thinking recently to the Indianapolis Star:

According to those who study the phenomenon, while child geniuses usually grow up to be intelligent adults, Read More ›

Psychologist: Human freedom holds up to scientific scrutiny

In “Jules Evans on Neuroscience and Polytheism”, psychologist Evansoffers that we can make too much of claims that humans are ruled by unconscious motives (April 6, 2011). Such a claim forms a basis for “neurolaw” and “neuromarketing” ( also here (law and marketing as if you didn’t really exist). He notes,

The ancients’ idea that we can become ‘captains of our soul’ would seem to be up the creek without a paddle. And yet…We should remind ourselves that ancient philosophers didn’t say we were all born free, rational, moral and unified selves. They said we might perhaps become so, but only after years and years of training in mindfulness, self-examination, deliberative reasoning and impulse control. Most of us won’t put ourselves through this training, and will remain in a state of “civil war”, as Plato put it, with the multiple parts of our psyche constantly competing for power.I think this nuanced conception of human freedom, morality and rationality – as a latent capacity that can be developed through training – still holds up to scientific scrutiny.

For example, if we’re completely determined by our unconscious, automatic impulses, then how come Read More ›

Great debates: William Lane Craig versus Sam Harris tomorrow night

Topic: Is the Foundation of Morality Natural or Supernatural? (Thursday, April 7 – 7:00pm – 9:00pm Eastern time) Facebook page Live webcast: www.ndtv.net One viewer commented … the atheist damage control machine is going full throttle! Craig absolutely wiped the floor with Krauss. It might be the worst debate performance ever versus Craig, adding Check out the “damage control” comments from Lawrence Krauss that Richard Dawkins posted on his website! Krauss on Dawkins’s site PZ Myers added his usual shower of roses too… Other views of the Krauss-Craig debate: Wintery Knight’s summary Possible Worlds Always have a reason Letters to Nature

The Nature of Nature — sticky

THE NATURE OF NATURE is now finally out and widely available. If you haven’t bought it yet, let me suggest Amazon.com, which is selling it for $17.94, which is an incredible deal for a 7″x10″ 1000-page book with, for most of us, no tax and no shipping charge (it costs over $10 to ship this monster priority mail). This is a must-have book if you are interested at all in the ID debate. To get it from Amazon.com, click here. Below is the table of contents and some introductory matter.

(Other news coverage continues below)


Seven years in the making, at 500,000 words, with three Nobel laureate contributors, this is the most thorough examination of naturalism to date.


Nature of NatureThe Nature of Nature: Examining the Role of Naturalism in Science

Edited by Bruce L. Gordon

and William A. Dembski

ISI Books

Intercollegiate Studies Institute

Wilmington, DE 19807

Back Cover:

Read More ›

Soul Time: Well, it must be, because we are hearing from the New Humanists again

(Who were the old Humanists, by the way? Anyone know?)

In “Natural history of the soul”, Caspar Melville profiles “the man who thinks that spirituality is essential to consciousness, and science can tell us why.”

That would be Nicholas Humphrey, an evolutionary psychologist and author of Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness who

claims to have solved two fairly large intellectual conundrums. One is something of a technical matter, about which you may have thought little or not at all, unless you happen to be a philosopher. This is the so-called “hard problem” of consciousness. The problem is how an entity which is apparently immaterial like the human consciousness – it exists, but you can’t locate it, much less measure it – can have arisen from something purely physical, like the arrangement of cells that make up the human body. The second problem Humphrey claims he has solved is a rather more everyday one, about which you may well have puzzled yourself. This is the problem of the soul. Does it exist? What sort of a thing might it be? Does everyone have one, even atheists? (Volume 126 Issue 2 March/April 2011)

I’ve often wondered why just anyone who claims to have solved two hard problems in one book is accorded a lot of acceptance and respect. But credulity could have something to do with it.

Anyway, we buzzes of neurons learn, Read More ›

Why isn’t the argument that “Darwinism is false because it rules out the mind” decisive? You could also call this “The Trouble with Thomism”

Recently, Bantay, a commenter on a post addressing the origin of language, quoted

…because Darwinists need to chase their tails by denying precisely what language itself affirms (meaning, order, and purpose)”

and asked

Does that mean that when Dawkins speaks, it is meaningless, orderless and purposeless?

Well, let me try to unpack that a bit.

Conversation with friend

Recently, I was on a road trip with a friend who wanted me to listen to this wow! CD by a dynamite Catholic preacher, who was into Thomism. (Thomism, sometimes neo-Thomism, is an attempt to use the teachings of medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas to counter materialism, Darwinism, etc.)

He made clear he was not talking about (nonsense like) intelligent design or creationism when he offered “proofs for God” going back to ancient times. I listened carefully, and then my friend asked me what I thought.

I sensed I’d better not just make social noise (= Isn’t he wonderful! Isn’t he profound! Take that,atheists!). So I thought about it, then said,

He is a good preacher, but I believe his arguments will have no impact whatever today, and at present are merely a distraction. Here is what I learned, writing The Spiritual Brain:

The Darwinist does not believe in the reality of the mind, and as a result, arguments from reason and logic are dismissible, because they are simply the natural selection of your successful genes operating on your neurons to produce delusions that cause you to pass on your genes. Tht is why people continue, through the generations, to find them persuasive. As materialist cognitive psychologist Steve Pinker, has said, “Our brains are shaped for fitness, not for truth.”

To get some sense of how this plays out, Read More ›

Interview with Dutch journalist: On trolls, free will, the self, and nakedness

Here’s an introduction to Henk Rijkers’ review/profile/interview with me about The Spiritual Brain (Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’Leary) in a Dutch Catholic newspaper. The book covers the failure of materialism to fulfil its promises and offers a look at a non-materialist approach to neuroscience, hence the controversy.

Update: Here’s the complete text.

You’ll need Google Translate (just below Navbar) to follow that, so I thought I’d post a few English language comments I made: Read More ›

But I thought that thought was thought to be just the random buzz of neurons …

Scientists Steer Car With the Power of Thought ScienceDaily (Feb. 21, 2011) — You need to keep your thoughts from wandering, if you drive using the new technology from the AutoNOMOS innovation labs of Freie Universität Berlin. The computer scientists have developed a system making it possible to steer a car with your thoughts. Using new commercially available sensors to measure brain waves — sensors for recording electroencephalograms (EEG) — the scientists were able to distinguish the bioelectrical wave patterns for control commands such as “left,” “right,” “accelerate” or “brake” in a test subject. More here. Here’s the vid. We are, no kidding, advised not to try it at home. A friend comments, “Additional support for field theories of consciousness: Read More ›

Last call: Pop science not quite too stupid to parody properly?

A good laugh will help you sleep: Brain area for empty news stories discovered Satirical website Newsbiscuit has a cutting article making fun of the regular ‘brain scans show…’ news items that are a staple of the popular science pages. Scientists are heralding a breakthrough in brain scan technology after a team at Oxford University produced full colour images of a human brain that shows nothing of any significance. ‘This is an amazing discovery’, said leading neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield, ‘the pictures tell us nothing about how the brain works, provide us with no insights into the nature of human consciousness, and all with such lovely colours.’… A couple stories like this have whizzed past recently. It sounds like I’m Read More ›

Hush! Your brain is talking: “Forget all that crap they told you about me”

Why you should swear off all popular science media (except for Uncommon Descent and other sensible blogs) for your own mental health: Where does all this leave us?Let me return to the beginning, to Cordelia Fine and how we can think better about science, neural function, and human difference. The essentialist view of the brain is rapidly falling by the wayside. It is not just the recognition of neuroplasticity, and how experience and use can shape how the brain fires and wires together. Today, how we think about what parts of the brain do has changed – the essentialist view of innate modules, as well as our projection of human categories onto the brain, has come largely undone in the Read More ›

Computer vs Mind 2011 – getting out of Dodge

In “Mind vs. Machine”, in The Atlantic (March 2011), Brian Christian reflects When the world-champion chess player Garry Kasparov defeated Deep Blue, rather convincingly, in their first encounter in 1996, he and IBM readily agreed to return the next year for a rematch. When Deep Blue beat Kasparov (rather less convincingly) in ’97, Kasparov proposed another rematch for ’98, but IBM would have none of it. The company dismantled Deep Blue, which never played chess again. The apparent implication is that—because technological evolution seems to occur so much faster than biological evolution (measured in years rather than millennia)—once the Homo sapiens species is overtaken, it won’t be able to catch up. Simply put: the Turing Test, once passed, is passed Read More ›

Do atheists know enough about the concept of God to reject it on rational grounds?

Sometimes I think atheists are simply having arguments with themselves – or, more precisely, with phantoms bred by their own ignorance. It’s easy to see why atheism does not make more headway, even in modern secular society: Once atheists begin to spell out the sort of deity they are rejecting, it becomes clear that they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Read More ›

Mind and popular culture: Placebo effect increasing? Big pharma not exactly delighted

This very interesting article by Steve Silberman in Wired (“Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why,” 08.24.09) notes

True, many test subjects treated with the medication felt their hopelessness and anxiety lift. But so did nearly the same number who took a placebo, a look-alike pill made of milk sugar or another inert substance given to groups of volunteers in clinical trials to gauge how much more effective the real drug is by comparison. The fact that taking a faux drug can powerfully improve some people’s health—the so-called placebo effect—has long been considered an embarrassment to the serious practice of pharmacology.

Ultimately, Merck’s foray into the antidepressant market failed. In subsequent tests, MK-869 turned out to be no more effective than a placebo. In the jargon of the industry, the trials crossed the futility boundary.

MK-869 wasn’t the only highly anticipated medical breakthrough to be undone in recent years by the placebo effect. From 2001 to 2006, the percentage of new products cut from development after Phase II clinical trials, when drugs are first tested against placebo, rose by 20 percent. The failure rate in more extensive Phase III trials increased by 11 percent, mainly due to surprisingly poor showings against placebo. Despite historic levels of industry investment in R&D, the US Food and Drug Administration approved only 19 first-of-their-kind remedies in 2007—the fewest since 1983—and just 24 in 2008. Half of all drugs that fail in late-stage trials drop out of the pipeline due to their inability to beat sugar pills.


After decades in the jungles of fringe science, the placebo effect has become the elephant in the boardroom.

Although longish, this article is indispensable in understanding the damage that materialism and mechanism has done to medicine. The placebo effect should never have been either a problem or an embarrassment. It only became so because of a need to pretend that the patient’s mind does not matter, because mind is an illusion created by the buzz of neurons in the brain and causes nothing. It is increasing only because its potent effects are ignored.

Well, they are paying for their mistake now.

The good news is that a new approach is developing, one that harnesses both the placebo response and pharmaceuticals. As Silberman says,

The placebo response doesn’t care if the catalyst for healing is a triumph of pharmacology, a compassionate therapist, or a syringe of salt water. All it requires is a reasonable expectation of getting better. That’s potent medicine.

Of course, that means that your mind exists and is doing the heavy lifting. But so? If you’re better, you’re better. You want to complain about that? Save it for when you are sick and not getting better. That happens too.

Go here for the rest.

See also:

Mario Beauregard on “The Neuroscience of Spirituality”

Big mystery [not!]: Why you feel sick when doctors tell you you are Read More ›