Intelligent Design

What Thomas Aquinas Can Teach Modern Neuroscientists

Spread the love

Over at FT, Michael Egnor, professor of neurological surgery at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, discusses the weaknesses of the materialist paradigm.  Sterile reductionist accounts bandied about in the 21st century are far less robust than the state of the art in the 13th century:

We can do better science—and medicine—when we recognize that human beings have abilities that transcend reductionist material explanations. In this century of unprecedented advances in brain research, it’s remarkable that the deepest insights emerge from an ancient paradigm: Thomas Aquinas’s map of the soul.

9 Replies to “What Thomas Aquinas Can Teach Modern Neuroscientists

  1. 1
    News says:

    It gets better. Modern brain imaging has led to the discovery that some people who did not have any serious problems but were merely being scanned routinely to rule out problems have anomalies that – one would think – would prevent normal functioning.

    For example, the normal 88-year-old man whose brain had never had a connection between the two halves (corpus callosum).

    See also: Neuroscience tried wholly embracing naturalism, but then the brain got away

  2. 2
    J-Mac says:

    If human being possesses a soul, why is it “disabled” along with consciousness under general anesthesia while the rest of the brain is very active?

    But if consciousness is a quantum state generated by microtubules in the brain neurons, it would explain why human beings are unconscious under general anesthetic, where the anesthetic gases selectively prevent consciousness and memory sparing non-conscious brain functions.

    Quantum non-locality could also explain why human beings function fine when parts or majority of their brain is missing or is removed…

    Also, when the part of the brain responsible for generating consciousness is damaged, somehow the soul is never able to stimulate the mind itself—the sense of “I”.

  3. 3
    Seversky says:

    Clinical neurologist Steven Novella has debated these issues with Egnor in blog exchanges a few years back, for example, here responding to a previous post from Egnor:

    The closest he comes is when he endorses outdated philosopher, which gets us back to his Thomistic dualism. He writes:

    There are three general types souls of living things:

    Plants have vegetative souls, which mediate nutrition, metabolism reproduction, growth, etc.

    Animals have sensitive souls, which in addition to the capabilities of vegetative souls, mediate sensation, locomotion, appetite, etc.

    Humans have rational souls, which in addition to the capabilities of vegetative and sensitive souls, mediate reason, judgement, will, etc.

    Previously I had argued that dualism was the logical equivalent of vitalism, and Egnor now seems to be validating that point. Vitalism, the notion of a living force, was always a mental placeholder – the vitalistic force was thought to be responsible for whatever aspect of life we could not currently explain. But as biology advanced, the vital force became unnecessary. The “vegetative soul” is the equivalent of the vital force. We now know that no magical mojo is necessary for plants to metabolize and reproduce. Biology sufficiently explains this.

    As biology is to vitalism, neuroscience is to dualism. Animals do not need sensitive souls to feel, eat, and move …. Humans do not need souls to think, reason, and judge – the brain suffices.

  4. 4
    Barry Arrington says:

    Sev @ 3,

    And yet when we ask materialists how the physical can result in the mental we get one of two things:

    1. It’s all emergent-y and stuff or

    2. [crickets]

  5. 5
    Origenes says:

    Seversky: Humans do not need souls to think, reason, and judge – the brain suffices.

    Why do you conclude that the brain suffices? If the brain’s actions are caused bottom-up from blind non-rational fermions and bosons upwards how do you explain thinking, reasoning and judging?

    Seversky: We now know that no magical mojo is necessary for plants to metabolize and reproduce. Biology sufficiently explains this.

    Something is coordinating all the various chemical processes in plants. What?

    Seversky: Animals do not need sensitive souls to feel, eat, and move ….

    Sure they do. How else can we explain the unity of an organism? Your reductionism is hopeless cause.
    Consider a muscle connected to an insect’s wing and ask yourself: what causes it to move? Let’s suppose that we trace back the signal through muscle and nerve cells to one particular neuronal cell in the insect’s brain. Now ask yourself: what kind of decision power is in there? Let’s suppose further that we could trace the signal back further to one particular fermion. What kind of explanation would we have? Does a fermion control the insect‘s wing? Does that make sense?
    Now ask yourself: what kind of answer was I hoping for?

  6. 6
    critical rationalist says:

    @Origenes

    Why do you conclude that the brain suffices? If the brain’s actions are caused bottom-up — from blind non-rational fermions and bosons upwards — how do you explain thinking, reasoning and judging?

    Brains make a leap to universality just as Universal Turing Machines (UTM) make a leap to universality. They both make a disproportional leaps despite making only material changes. Both are examples of emergent properties.

    Specifically, mere calculators are not UTMs is because they lack the necessary material computations required for a UTM. However, once the last necessary material computation is present, a disproportional leap to universality occurs. No magic is necessary. No divine intervention is required. Nothing in fermions and bosons in the atoms of silicon are universal. Yet, that universality emerges there, as it would if we used cogs or vacuum tubes instead. These are necessary consequence of the theory of computation.

    So, we have a concrete example of emergence, not just “emergent-y and stuff”. Nor does the lack of an exhaustive explanation mean we know nothing.

    Your reductionism is hopeless cause.

    Except, assuming we must have such an exhaustive explanation is itself reductionist. And it is indeed hopeless because justificationism is impossible.

    So, you mean your reductionism, right? Explanations can occur at different levels, without resorting to some sort of dualism.

    If you are defeated by a chess program, were you defeated by atoms?

  7. 7
    J-Mac says:

    Seversky,

    But as biology advanced, the vital force became unnecessary.

    Really? No offence but you have no idea what you are talking about…

  8. 8
    Origenes says:

    CR #6

    The emergent mind, instantiated on the computationally universal brain, decides to move an arm.

    If the mind is the brain, and is produced by neuronal behavior, then the whole path from intentionality to neural change is a purely physical affair. There is no gap between the ‘mental’ and the physical, so no need for a mechanism to close such a gap. I have no questions concerning this scenario.
    If the mind is semi-independent or something, please provide a clear picture.
    If, as a third possibility, the ‘emergent’ mind is independent from neuronal behavior, if it can reach down, by free will of its own, and cause neural change, I would like to know how this works. If the mind is independent from neural behavior there is by definition a gap between the mind and neurons. Again, if there is no such gap, no such independency, I have no questions. Assuming the gap exists, I would like to know how the hoovering consciousness reaches down causally effective and on what basis it chooses between various options.
    Specifically how does the independent mind control the neurons?

  9. 9
    Origenes says:

    //follow-up @8//

    For clarity, I’m interested in the ground on which decisions are made. A decision is either made by a free rational responsible person, or decisions are made by an irrational process in which case we will never get to rationality.

    CR: Brains make a leap to universality just as Universal Turing Machines (UTM) make a leap to universality.

    Universal machines are only ‘universal’, in the sense of being able to solve any computational problem, because they are not programmed to solve any problem in particular. Nothing to see here. Essentially, all a universal Turing machine does is: read instruction, execute it, read instruction, execute it, read instruction, execute it, etc.
    This doesn’t even relate to the problem I’ve raised. Again, what I am interested in is the ground on which those instructions (decisions) are made.

    CR: However, once the last necessary material computation is present, a disproportional leap to universality occurs. No magic is necessary. No divine intervention is required.

    While universality is not the “disproportional leap” you think it is, magic is certainly necessary. As we all know, a Turing machine can do nothing unless it is properly programmed to do so. Again, all a universal Turing machine does is: read instruction, execute it, read instruction, execute it, read instruction, execute it, etc.
    Only once a Turing machine is properly programmed, will it produce the solution to any computational problem. But humans — read “intelligent designers” — invariably do the programming.

    CR: Explanations can occur at different levels, without resorting to some sort of dualism.

    The relationship between these levels is of interest WRT the question of origin of decision-making see #8.

    CR: If you are defeated by a chess program, were you defeated by atoms?

    Essentially, by intelligent designers.

Leave a Reply