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At Mind Matters News: Epilepsy: If you follow the science, materialism is dead

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Continuing a discussion with Arjuna Das at Theology Unleashed, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor talks about how neurosurgery shows that the mind is not the brain:

Arjuna Das: I was discussing that point in the comments under the video from your discussion with David Papineau and the person was replying, “The reason why you can never trigger a sense of agency, the sense that I’m the one moving it, is because when you’re stimulating the brain you’re triggering the action in a different way from how the brain normally triggers it.” And in this way they’re arguing that it’s not evidence that we are not identical with our brains. (01:39:59)

Michael Egnor: Well, that would be a way of looking at it. However, you have to keep in mind that the denominator in this experiment is enormous. That is that Penfield stimulated the brains of 1100 patients,hundreds of times for each patient. So, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of stimulations using different currents, different locations, different electrodes, different numbers of electrodes, different voltages, and not once was he able to find the will. So, if the will is in there, it’s awfully secret.

And in addition, on the issue of intellectual seizures, the fact that there has not been a single seizure in recorded medical history out of 250 million seizures, a quarter of a billion seizures, that has evoked abstract intellectual content, Maybe the next one will, but I’m not going to bet on it… (01:40:28)

If you’re making the argument that, well, maybe we just didn’t do the experiment the right way, maybe you should also consider that you have an ideological commitment to materialism. And you’re simply reluctant to let it go.(01:41:36)

News, “Epilepsy: If you follow the science, materialism is dead” at Mind Matters News

Takehome: Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor addresses objections to his finding that epilepsy shows that the brain does not create the mind.


Here are transcripts and notes for the first hour and thirty-two minutes, starting from the beginning:

Why neurosurgeon Mike Egnor stopped being a materialist atheist. He found that materialism is just not working out in science. Most propositions in basic science are based on mathematics and mathematics is not a material thing.

How science points to meaning in life. The earliest philosopher of science, Aristotle, pioneered a way of understanding it. Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor talks about the four causes of the events in our world, from the material to the mind.

How we can know mental states are real?
Mental states are always “about” something; physical states are not “about” anything. Michael Egnor argues that doing science as a physicalist (a materialist) is like driving a car with the parking brake on; it’s a major impediment to science.

What’s the best option for understanding the mind and the brain? Theories that attempt to show that the mind does not really exist clearly don’t work and never did. Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor reviews the mind-brain theories for East Meets West: Theology Unleashed. He think dualism makes the best sense of the evidence.

How did Descartes come to make such a mess of dualism? Mathematician René Descartes strictly separated mind and matter in a way that left the mind very vulnerable. After Descartes started the idea that only minds have experiences, materialist philosophers dispensed with mind, then puzzled over how matter has experiences.

How philosopher John Locke turned reality into theatre His “little theater in the mind” concept means that you can’t even know that nature exists. It may just be a movie that’s being played in front of your eyes.
Aristotle and Aquinas’s traditional philosophical approach, Michael Egnor argues, offers more assurance that we can truly perceive reality.

The brain can be split but the mind can’t. Neuroscientist Roger Sperry found that splitting the brain in half does not split consciousness in half. It just gives you a rather interesting, but very subtle set of perceptual disabilities.
Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor has split patients’ brains, while treating serious epilepsy, and the results are not at all what a materialist might expect.

How the split brain emphasizes the reality of the mind. Fascinating research following up Roger Sperry’s work — which showed that the mind is not split when the brain is — has confirmed and extended his findings. One investigator, whose work followed up and confirmed Roger Sperry’s, called her split brain findings “perceptual disconnection with conscious unity.”

The brain does not create the mind; it constrains it. Near-death experiences in which people report seeing things that are later verified give some sense of how the mind works in relation to the brain. A cynical neurosurgeon colleague told Michael Egnor that he could not account for how a child patient’s NDE account described the operation accurately.

Why do some people’s minds become much clearer near death? Arjuna Das and neurosurgeon Michael Egnor discuss the evidence for terminal lucidity at Theology Unleashed. Dr. Egnor argues that the brain and body constrain the mind. When dying, they may constrain it less, resulting in sudden end-of-life lucidity.

5 Replies to “At Mind Matters News: Epilepsy: If you follow the science, materialism is dead

  1. 1

    The fundamental distinction is between subjective and objective. Mathematics is objective. Concepts in the mind are objective. If you think of the number 1, it is a matter of fact that you have the number 1 on your mind.

    These objects in the mind are creations just the same as anything else in the universe is a creation. Therefore they are called “material”. Just as like in a newsroom, stories are called material, eventhough stories aren’t physical objects.

    Egnor is just another wolf in sheeps clothing. What is required is straigtforward acknowledgement of the inherently subjective spirit making choices. The acknowlegement must be unequivocal, as a matter of basic logic.

    What he is doing instead, is just stretching from objective physical substance, to more exotic objective substances. It is just more callous disregard of the spirit, people’s emotions.

    In academics the situation is like Oliver Twist begging: “Please sir, please can I have an emotion?”

  2. 2
    zweston says:

    Mohammed, what is the point you are trying to make overall? What thought pattern/worldview would you have us hold to? I just don’t follow your posts well. (I’m a pea-brain though too).

    What is it that you believe about all this? Are you Muslim? If so, how does that inform it?

  3. 3
    Seversky says:

    And in addition, on the issue of intellectual seizures, the fact that there has not been a single seizure in recorded medical history out of 250 million seizures, a quarter of a billion seizures, that has evoked abstract intellectual content, Maybe the next one will, but I’m not going to bet on it… (01:40:28)

    Why on Earth would Egnor even expectseizures to elicit abstract intellectual thought? Such thought is obviously the product of the ordered firing of neurons in a healthy, normally functioning brain. Epileptic seizures are the product of abnormal, random firing of neurons. It is to be expected that they would disrupt intellectual thought rather than evoke it.

    And in addition, on the issue of intellectual seizures, the fact that there has not been a single seizure in recorded medical history out of 250 million seizures, a quarter of a billion seizures, that has evoked abstract intellectual content, Maybe the next one will, but I’m not going to bet on it… (01:40:28)

    If you’re making the argument that, well, maybe we just didn’t do the experiment the right way, maybe you should also consider that you have an ideological commitment to materialism. And you’re simply reluctant to let it go.(01:41:36)

    And if you have a database of 250 million seizures which failed to evoke intellectual thought, then perhaps it’s your religious commitments that are preventing you from accepting the physical explanation which is staring you in the face.

  4. 4
    zweston says:

    Sev… perhaps it is your religious commitments that keep you dogmatically dug in on Neo-darwinism?

  5. 5
    doubter says:

    Seversky@3

    Not so fast.

    Penfield was a expert neurosurgeon and was well aware of the prevelant materialist neuroscience view. Yet he still pointedly noted the lack ever of forced abstract willed thoughts in response to deliberate electrode brain stimulation at literally thousands of different points on the brain, when the patient was calm and not undergoing a siezure. No massive disorganized firing of neurons. Surely for subjective experience of memories, emotions, sensations, and motor actions, etc. to be evoked by electrode stimulation (as was observed), this must require coordinated action of myriads of neurons, but still never ever an abstract willed thought and never a willed motor action, out of hundreds of thousands of stimulations during Penfield’s career.

    “Wilder Penfield operated on 1100 patients with epilepsy and really developed the whole field of doing brain surgery to prevent seizures. His specialty was awake craniotomy.
    …………………………
    …he would stimulate all kinds of things. He could stimulate sensations where the patients would see flashes of light or feel tingling on their skin. He could stimulate the brain and stimulate movements where the patient would raise their arm or raise their leg. He could stimulate memories where they would have this vivid memory of their mother’s face or their first day of school or being in college, and he could stimulate emotions where they would have intense emotions, to feel intense pleasure or intense fear. (01:34:04)
    …………………………
    “….he wrote a book about it, actually — The Mystery of the Mind (1975) — that never once in hundreds of thousands of stimulations of the brain was he ever able to stimulate what he called “mind action.” He meant by that, “abstract thought.” He was never able to stimulate a person to think about philosophy or logic or do mathematics. And he said, “Isn’t that strange that most of our mental contents entails abstract thought, and that’s the one kind of mental state that I have never been able to evoke by stimulating the brain.” (01:34:44)

    He said, it kind of makes sense then that maybe it doesn’t come from the brain. Maybe it’s dependent upon the brain for its normal function, but the brain is not what gives rise to it. He thought that was clear evidence for dualism. And he said that he had started out his career as a materialist and at the end of his career he was a passionate dualist. He said that this mind-action, this ability to have abstract thought, clearly does not come from the brain. (01:35:24)”

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