From The Scientist:
Three people with limited to no mobility in their limbs were able to navigate a specially designed wheelchair just by thinking about where they wanted to go, a study published today (November 18) in iScience reports. Unlike some previous designs which used embedded electrodes or asked users to focus on points of light on a screen, which can cause eye strain, the wheelchair uses a noninvasive brain-machine interface involving an electrode-studded cap to interpret brain activity. After training, the users were able to steer their way through a cluttered obstacle course.
“Our research highlights a potential pathway for improved clinical translation of non-invasive brain-machine interface technology,” study coauthor and University of Texas at Austin computer engineering and neurology researcher José del R. Millán says in a press release from the journal. – Christie Wilcox, November 28, 2022
Wonder how the materialists will talk their way out of this one.
The paper is open access.
53 Replies to “A mind-controlled wheelchair is a case for the reality of the human mind. Discuss.”
The wheelchair is being controlled by the person’s brain. There’s nothing here for the materialist to talk their way out of.
Now, if the wheelchair were being controlled by the mind without the brain being involved, that would be quite a different story for the materialist!
The mind decides what to do. The brain is the means by which the wishes are carried out. In this case, the interface is with a machine, not a limb.
They don’t care about the mind. All they care about is the brain:
Who needs the wheelchair example? Babies somehow become able to successfully operate the most sophisticated, complex machine in existence. Tell me how they do that without using vague language that avoids a meaningful description. It’s the most unbelievable, astounding, miraculous feat, and yet somehow we just mentally gloss over this example of mind over matter.
Nobody ever learns how to operate their physical body. Nobody teaches us. There is no manual or control panel. Just with the barest, most primordial intent, we immediately command to perfection billions of nanomachines and intricate, complex systems. And we take this shocking magic of mind controlling matter for granted because everyone can do it.
Really? Perhaps a wayward materialist, who dares to doubt the ‘nothing to see here’ hand-waving dismissals of Darwinian materialists, might be tempted to ask “how is it remotely possible for a person to be able to control his brain activity is such a way as to be able to steer a wheelchair?”
After all, I’m pretty sure that wheelchairs never existed in our supposed evolutionary history. In fact, on Darwinism, it is pretty much a given that any creature needing a wheelchair in our supposed evolutionary history would have been ruthlessly eliminated by natural selection.
So the question remains, “how is it remotely possible for a person to be able to control his brain activity is such a way as to be able to steer a wheelchair?
Shoot, Darwinian materialists are at a loss to coherently explain how activity in different parts of the brain can possibly be “synchronised”, faster than electrical signals can travel, in the first place,,
,,, much less can Darwinists coherently explain how brain activity can possibly control something the supposedly ‘evolved brain’ has never seen before. Namely, a wheelchair.
Shoot, Darwinists can’t even explain how a single neuron of the brain originated, nor operates, much less can they explain how we are able to control our brain activity in such a way so as to control a ‘brand new’ wheelchair.
Wheelchairs are designed by us so that they are usable by us humans. The wheelchair in the op video is specifically designed, so that it can be remotely operated via brain activity. You can easily design a wheelchair which can’t be used by us… but why??
For us engineers the other way around would be very nice: We could first design a product in any way we want and then ask the designer to modfify us to fit the product. Unfortunately we don’t have that option 🙁
Not so fast Andy. The whole thing is not immediately ready for usage. First, “shifts in brain patterns” is required. Question: what is causing these shifts?
Again, what causes shifts in brainwave patterns? Evolution?
“Again, what causes shifts in brainwave patterns? Evolution?”
Evolution? That’s a bit of a broad stroke. Per ID’s “theory,” God intervenes with the wheelchair user to alter his or her brainwave patterns. A miracle, so to speak.
Alternatively, in the land of “materialism” there is a well-known phenomenon that organisms exhibit when faced with novel situations, it’s called learning. As the article points out, the user of the wheelchair goes through extensive cognitive training to learn how to operate the device. Any type of learning task will show changes in brain function. Natural selection has selected for brain structure (anatomy) and function (physiology) to accommodate the learning process–which itself is a vast area of neuro- and cognitive psychology research. This learning capacity is present in every organism that exists. Researchers don’t know exactly how, at this point, but that is the point of studies such as the one reported.
No, it’s not. Even without the shift you are able to steer, just with less accuracy.
(Btw. I’ve never used the word “immediately”.)
I have no clue. Another question: Why did the third participant not show these shifts? Was he exlcluded form evolution?? LOL!
“Another question: Why did the third participant not show these shifts? Was he exlcluded form evolution”
Good question. Therein may lie some clues why we exhibit individual differences in learning.
“Alternatively, in the land of “materialism” there is a well-known phenomenon that organisms exhibit when faced with novel situations, it’s called learning.”
You do realize, on a Darwinian view of things, the way ‘new’ things are ‘learned’, (and/or encoded in genes), is solely by the trial and error process of random mutation and natural selection do you not? Yet the brain, (which Darwinists can’t even explain the existence of a single neuron of), completely without the supposed benefit of that trial and error process of random mutation and natural selection, can, in fairly short order, apparently ‘learn’ how to manipulate a totally new object, i.e. a wheelchair, via its brain activity alone. Darwinists are clueless as to providing a coherent explanation how this is possible.
Whereas under ID, where agent causality is not simply denied as being real, it makes perfect since that a person would be able to ‘learn’ how to, in fairly short order, direct his brain activity in such a way so as to manipulate a ‘brand new’ wheelchair he has never seen before.
Again, Darwinists are clueless as to providing a coherent explanation how this is possible. Almost as clueless as Darwinists are in explaining the existence of the ‘beyond belief’ brain itself,
Shoot, besides the ‘beyond belief’ brain, Darwinists also have no realistic clue how consciousness itself originated,
That’s not relevant to the point I was making.
Consider it this way: we have two hypotheses about what’s going on here.
H1: The mind controls the brain and uses the brain to control the machine (just as it uses the brain to control the body).
H2: The brain itself learns to control the machine, rather than controlling the body.
What I asked is, what is there about this study that would lead you to think that the study increases the likelihood of H1 and decreases the likelihood of H2?
Do you mean that any type of learning causes changes in brain patterns? That would be interesting.
I suppose that “shifts in brain patterns” and the improved accuracy to “95 and 98 percent” implies that the new brain patterns are situated such that the brain pulses are better connected to the “electrode-studded cap”, in comparison to the initial brain patterns.
Maybe you can come up with some evolutionary just-so-story for this brain rearrangement, but I cannot.
PM1 12, HUH? So you actually believe the person controlling the wheelchair via his brain activity is only under the illusion he is controlling the wheelchair? 🙂
That statement by Coyne should literally be the number one example of a self-refuting statement that is given in philosophy/logic 101 classes.
I don’t have any fully worked out ideas about “free will”. But from what I’ve read of Harris and Coyne, they aren’t worth my time. I would probably want to read Just Desserts and A Metaphysics for Freedom before feeling confident enough in my understanding of the issues that I’d be willing to venture an informed opinion.
“The brain itself learns to control the machine”
Why would it do that?
“before feeling confident enough in my understanding of the issues (of free will) that I’d be willing to venture an informed opinion.”
But alas, you apparently feel confident enough to proclaim, “The brain itself learns to control the machine”.
I did not ‘proclaim’ that. I called it a hypothesis. My question was and is — what is about this study that increases the likelihood of H1 over H2?
News posted this study with the comment “Wonder how the materialists will talk their way out of this one”. This clearly indicates — to me, at any rate — the belief that this study makes H1 more likely and H2 less likely.
My question is: why?
Is there a reason why this study makes H1 more likely than H2? Or is News just wasting their time — and ours as well?
CD at 8,
Apparently, you failed the same Christianity 101 class Seversky did. Natural selection, unlike human beings, has no brain. Human creativity – a gift from God – gets you from stone tools to mind-controlled wheelchairs.
PM1 @18, A.Sauber @16
Something causes brain patterns to be adjusted to the “electrode-studded cap.” Now, unless there is an evolutionary history with electrode-studded caps, this seems to be (very) supportive of the concept of a mind.
What in the evolutionary history of the brain explains its ability to adjust itself to an “electrode-studded cap”?
No materialist* would say that each and every synaptic connection is a result of natural selection. Presumably all that the materialist needs to say is that the process of learning how to use the machine produced the observed change in brain patterns.
The capacity to learn a new task does not seem to invite non-biological explanations, unless one wanted to insist that even bees and sea-slugs have souls (since learning has been demonstrated in those species).
It would be more promising, perhaps, to insist that the capacity to learn to control a machine with one’s brain needs some non-biological explanation because of the specific role of language here. After all, one of the main reasons why we couldn’t train a paralyzed dog with this technology is because we couldn’t explain to the dog what we want it to do and why.
The role of evolutionary theory is not in the proximate explanation (how do experience and learning affect brain connectivity) but in the distal explanation (how and why the capacity to learn evolve at all).
* for the purposes here, I am taking “materialist” in the broadest possible sense: materialism is the denial of (1) substance dualism; (2) libertarian freedom, and (3) the possibility of separating phenomenal consciousness (“qualia”) from psychological functional structures. (My view is materialist in the the broadest sense but not materialist in any narrower senses, and I don’t use the term “materialism” to describe my views precisely because it is too vague.)
I should mention the ‘Luke Arm’ while this is going on. No electrode cap.
“all that the materialist needs to say…”
Sigh. You are endlessly blabbing just to get materialists off their array of hooks. It’s lame.
This has to be one of PM1’s worst posts.
Irrelevant. In order to not make an utterly empty claim, the materialist needs to point to an evolutionary history that shows how there can be a “process of learning”, during which the brain adjusts its patterns to an electrode-studded cap. Absent such a history, the materialist has nothing.
Absolute barking nonsense. If there are no “biological” (you mean: evolutionary) explanations, then, of course, it screams for a “non-biological” explanation; that is the mind (your bees and sea-slugs notwithstanding).
Are you suggesting that the materialist needs to explain how learning is possible?
PM1, “Are you suggesting that the materialist needs to explain how learning is possible?”
Well to make it real easy for you, you can just demonstrate a single neuron evolving de novo.
Then, after you demonstrate that, you can work your way up to demonstrating how it is possible for Darwinian processes to evolve a “beyond belief” brain that is capable of ‘learning’.,,, I’ll grab my popcorn.
A general evolutionary explanation for all learning cannot exist. Learning that fire is hot, and adjusting one’s behavior, does not seem to require that a brain evolves the ability to rearrange its patterns according to electrode-studded cap. So, where does it get that ability from?
So, what needs to be explained is that brain patterns are rearranged to steer a wheelchair, by means of an electrode-studded cap, with 95 / 98 % accuracy. Is there an evolutionary explanation for why a brain can do this or not?
You cannot explain it with general terms like “learning” or “adjusting.” You cannot say: Oh it is just “learning” we have some evolutionary explanation for that.
“the ability to rearrange its patterns according to electrode-studded cap”
“It EMERGED” in 3…2…1…
The ability to rearrange brain patterns according to an electrode-studded cap was part of the total package when consciousness first emerged due to the complexity level of the brain. So, consciousness emerged together with a package of abilities.
“How?”, you might ask.
Well, researchers don’t know exactly how, at this point, but it must have happened because this is what we see, right?
– – – –
I always like that argument. Similarly: “evolution must have happened because, obviously, life exists.”
I would need to carefully read the published article to answer that question. I started skimming it, and I noticed that one thing that made this study original is the combination of human learning and machine learning. In the BCIs that I know about, the BCI is basically a passive detector.
For example, I know of one design in which the patient is asked to stare at one letter in a grid. When the column and row containing that letter are highlighted, the patient’s brain emits a specific electrical signal associated with expectations being satisfied. The EEK detects this signal and then selects that letter, then the system moves on to the next letter.
But this study has a system in which deep learning is applied to the robot — the human not only adjusts to the robot but both adjust to each other.
In any event, I would need to read the paper and see which cortical and subcortical areas were involved before venturing any evolutionary explanation for it.
“In any event, I would need to read the paper and see which cortical and subcortical areas were involved before venturing any evolutionary explanation for it.”
What no ‘just-so story’ at your beck and call?
From the paper:
In the summary there is mention of “significant neuroplasticity changes.”
The good news for Darwinists is these connectivity features “evolved”. However, the bad news for them is that they “evolved through training” . Dear onlooker, just so you know: ’through training’ is not the way Darwinians like things to evolve.
Again, neuroplasticity, the ability of the mind to alter the brain through focused attention, is antithetical to materialism.
Let’s give PM1 some time to mix up some word salad that looks good in pixels.
Imagine a world if you will where allegedly intelligent people have to be convinced (or worse yet, won’t be convinced) that they have minds. Yeah, apparently we live in that world. I guess realizing brain chemistry dances to the tune of the laws of physics and minds to the laws of logic isn’t enough for some people.
Unless it was rigged for some other purpose then, yes it is, for the common understanding of “mind”
On the other hand, this was not some sort of “Jedi mind trick”, some kind of telekinetic effect with no obvious physical intermediary.
The participant wore a (physical) skullcap with (physical) electrodes detecting (physical) patterns of electrical activity in a (physical) brain which were interpreted to exercise (physical) control over a (physical) device.
I don’t see anything there which would cause materialists/physicalists/naturalists any concern.
Now, if the same effect could be achieved by prayer without any apparatus involved, that would be interesting.
There is so much wrong with this its hard to know where to begin. The easy stuff first. Learning is not encoded “in genes.” Learning is encoded in the brain. Where in the brain encoding occurs depends on what sensory-motor input is involved. That much is really well understood–it’s just simple mapping which has been greatly advanced with the use of fMRI and PET scans. I’m guessing that EEGs were used in these trials because the patients/subjects needed to be mobile. Contrary to your claim that “Darwinists can’t even explain the existence of a single neuron of (nice dangling preposition), the evolution of the brain and CNS is very well understood.
Second, new things are not learned “by the trial-and-error process of random mutation and natural selection.” This is a nonsensical claim. Organisms do engage in trial-and-error learning, but again, not at the level of genetic mutations.
Third, natural selection selects the optimal structures (neuroanatomy) and functions (neurophysiology) of the brain and CNS necessary for learning. That is what evolution provides–nothing more, nothing less.
Finally, there is a hierarchy of learning completely consistent with a “materialist” model. Imprinting, mimicry, conditioned and unconditioned stimulus-response learning (a/k/a classical conditioning), response-reinforcement learning (a/k/a operant conditioning), modelling and associative learning and so on. It is only at higher levels of learning (e.g., formal operational learning, abstract learning, symbol generation and manipulation, etc.) that we need to import “non-materialist” constructs for the time being. Even language is learned primarily through a combination of mimicry, modeling and association.
I think I previously pointed out that there is a vast research literature in the areas of cognitive and neuropsychology that explores learning. Add to that child developmental psych. What is really both telling and frustrating is that philosophers (and to some extent theologians), especially “philosophers of mind” completely ignore or are simply ignorant of this literature. I think one reason is that it is easier to sit in the proverbial armchair and gnaw on age-old pseudo-problems (I think, therefore I am–I mean really, that’s how you while away your life?) than it is to educate oneself……….
You do realize there is a rather large disconnect in your logic do you not ChuckyD? You claim, without any empirical evidence whatsoever, that every facet of biology, and the brain in particular, is the result of Darwinian trial and error processes of ‘learning’, and yet you also claim that brain learning is somehow wholly different. Yet, exactly why is the supposedly haphazardly created brain so much better at ‘learning’ than its supposed blind ‘creator’ of Darwinian evolution ChuckyD? That disconnect should trouble you greatly, but it won’t.
Depends on the philosopher of mind! Some of us don’t think that the empirical research is relevant to what we do — and others of us (such as myself) take psychology and biology seriously. That’s why I sometimes call myself a philosopher of cognitive science instead of a philosopher of mind (though I do both, and neither of them especially well). Even so, I’m not against the armchair stuff: some of it is really quite intriguing, and in a few cases, has actually inspired new directions in empirical science.
CD at 37,
“Learning is encoded in the brain.” By what? What “encoded” the concept of learning?
“… the evolution of the brain and CNS is very well understood.” By who? Let’s see the step by step process.
“Third, natural selection selects the optimal structures (neuroanatomy) and functions (neurophysiology) of the brain and CNS necessary for learning. That is what evolution provides–nothing more, nothing less.”
So, evolution has intelligence? It can pick the brain as a goal? It can build toward that because it can see future outcomes?
So kids brought up in Ethiopia just pick up the language with no prior schooling? Their first words are structured – not random. My first words were not English. I spoke a non-English language until I was 4.
You’ve got nothing.
Hopefully you understand I’m being hyperbolic. I thought it was Descartes that once said that to laugh at philosophy is itself a philosophy. I have never been able to track down the origin of the quote, but it is true, regardless of who said it……..
No, Relatd, Ethiopian kids learn language just like the rest of us…….
Your logic and my logic are obviously two very different things……
CD at 42,
Learn how? Tell me – How is it done? How did evolution pick a goal? Your answer explains nothing.
Another example: I took Spanish in high school. Later, I studied another language on my own.
CD at 43,
I disagree since “logic” is not involved in your case.
Just you can put technical-sounding descriptions on ideas, doesn’t mean you’ve explained anything.
As you know from quantum mechanics, the CHOICE of what to measure fundamentally alters reality (as experimentally verified with entanglement and collapse of the wavefunction).
CHOICE applies information to a system and observation/measurement somehow limits the quantity of information that can be extracted from a system (as experimentally verified with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle).
So, how is the human brain associated with CHOICE? Several questions can be asked:
1. Is the human brain more like (a) an isolated electronic programmable calculator, or is it more like (b) a cell-phone with a calculator and other apps connected to the internet (the internet representing an external source of free will, inspiration, and creativity)?
2. How can we test (a) versus (b)? Can we create an experiment where human CHOICE is substituted with some kind of AI running on a computer. A big obstacle is the possibility of a Von Neumann Chain—a domino effect of inserting human observation/measurement anywhere with a causal chain.*
Also related is the Quantum Zeno Effect, where continuous observation/measurement apparently prevents spontaneous radioactive decay of an unstable nucleus, and other quantum effects such as quantum tunneling:
3. What is it in the conscious brain that interacts with observed phenomena to produce the well-known mysterious quantum effects?
* Here’s a summary of von Neumann’s quantum theory from a paper with a perspective on the subject:
ChuckDarwin is not here to explain anything.
He’s here to nitpick and if possible find some minor thing wrong with what’s being said. He has never contributed anything. He mainly disparages others.
Have some compassion for Chuck. Here’s a man in his 70’s who has a goal of trying to make others look bad with trivial comments. He’s incapable of defending anything he says he believes. Be thankful it’s not something you are or would do.
If not the genes, what is doing the encoding? And how did it, whatever it was, encode the brain to form …. “… short-time direct directed transfer function (SdDTF) connectivity features”? Note, that these “significant neuroplasticity changes” are in accord with some electrode-studded cap and the steering of a wheelchair.
So, again, what has encoded the brain to do that? Not the genes, you say. And since there is no evolutionary history featuring electrode-studded caps and wheelchairs, how do you explain what’s going on here?
Jerry at 48,
Chuck is in his 70’s? Good for him.
CD at 43: “Your logic and my logic are obviously two very different things…”
Earlier in the thread,
A few more notes to drive that point home.
Verse and quotes:
Mental Reality Theory Vs External Reality Theory: Checkmate
The Immense Negative Impact Of External Physical World Theory