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Human Nature Watch 2: Nature, Nurture, and Gender

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It is a deep-seated and dangerous logical fallacy to argue from the fact that some other species happens to do this or that to the conclusion that human nature has such and such properties. Human nature is what it is, regardless of how it came to be that way, and irrespective of what our cousins do or do not do. And what human nature is like is not some deep mystery—it is directly observable. Dragging in evolutionary biology is just redundant window-dressing.

Or, rather, it is worse than redundant; it is dangerous. Why is it dangerous? Because it encourages materialist and reductionist thinking. It encourages humans to think of themselves as “nothing but” animals, which is the surest means of really divesting them of their humanity. For, if our species has one decisive characteristic, it is that we live up—or down—to the image we have of ourselves.

Ideas matter. And the silly idea that because some other animal does something, we must do likewise, is as pernicious an idea as there is in our culture today.

If you don’t believe me, just listen to “The Bad Touch,” a popular rap song by the Bloodhound Gang.

– James Barham, “Human Nature Watch 2: Nature, Nurture, and Gender,”The Best Schools blog (December 31, 2011) More.

35 Replies to “Human Nature Watch 2: Nature, Nurture, and Gender

  1. 1
    Robert Byers says:

    We are made in the image of God and think like him.
    We are not like nature or her creatures.
    No comparison.
    We have never been primitive and no evidence of it.
    Our language ability alone shows our complexity.

  2. 2
    Bruce David says:

    Not to worry. The people who espouse these ideas don’t really believe them anyway. You can tell this by the way they act. They debate as if their minds were actually capable of determining truth instead of being “computers made out of meat” and thus incapable of knowing whether their internal logic was sound or not. They also apply praise and blame to others’ actions just as if we were all freely acting agents instead of robots constrained to act out our programming.

    It’s all just talk. Of course, most of them can’t actually see the incongruence between what they say and how they act. It appears to be some sort of intellectual blindness.

  3. 3
    champignon says:

    They debate as if their minds were actually capable of determining truth instead of being “computers made out of meat”

    Why do you think it’s impossible for a “meat computer” to determine the truth?

  4. 4
    Bruce David says:

    It is logically impossible for a computer to ever determine whether or not its own programming is flawed. If believe you are a computer and you are honest about it, you will recognize that you can have no confidence in any conclusion you come to, because the only tool you have with which to validate it is the (possibly flawed) computer that came to the conclusion in the first place.

    In other words, you may be right or you may be wrong, but you cannot know one way or the other. For a materialist who really believes his own philosophy, the only consistent position on any question is agnosticism.

  5. 5
    champignon says:

    If believe you are a computer and you are honest about it, you will recognize that you can have no confidence in any conclusion you come to, because the only tool you have with which to validate it is the (possibly flawed) computer that came to the conclusion in the first place.

    Have you ever made a mistake, Bruce? Human minds are flawed, and that remains true whether they are composed of “meat” or wispy, immaterial ectoplasm. Materialists and dualists are in exactly the same boat. We all have to do our best to discern the truth, despite knowing that our minds are imperfect and might be misleading us.

  6. 6
    Bruce David says:

    I disagree. It is theoretically impossible for a materialist who understands the full implications of his or her philosophy to have any confidence in any conclusion he or she comes to, ever, whereas one who believes as I do that we have within us the capacity to discern truth because our essential nature is the “image and likeness of God” will expect that we can learn from our mistakes and eventually arrive at the truth.

    The process of living is in part a process of the veils to understanding falling away over time, revealing the truth more and more clearly.

  7. 7
    champignon says:

    …one who believes as I do that we have within us the capacity to discern truth because our essential nature is the “image and likeness of God” will expect that we can learn from our mistakes and eventually arrive at the truth.

    The problem is that you can’t be certain that God exists, that he has the ability to discern the truth, and that he has passed that ability on to us. Why? Those beliefs, like all of the other beliefs you hold, are products of your imperfect mind. That means you might be wrong about them.

    There’s no escaping it. Each of us has to assess the reliability of his or her mind from the inside. This remains true whether the mind is physical or nonphysical. And because our minds are imperfect, we can’t even be sure that the assessment is correct.

  8. 8
    Bruce David says:

    You’re in denial, Champ. If your philosophy is materialism, you forfeit any claim to an ability to discern truth, period. Your philosophy implies implacably that you have no ability to assess the reliability of your mind “from the inside” or from any other perspective, because a computer is inherently unable to assess the quality of its own programming. The philosophy of materialism destroys itself.

    On the other hand, a philosophy of mind that sees the mind as inherently non-material and ultimately able to arrive at truth has no such limitation. Such a mind may make errors, but there is no logical reason that it cannot recognize them and correct them, unlike a computer, which is the slave of its programming, from which there is no escape.

    And I contend that your insistence that you have the ability to “assess the reliability of [your] mind from the inside” is proof that you do not really believe what you say you do, as I stated in my original comment. That is, you don’t really believe that you are just a computer, not really.

  9. 9
    champignon says:

    On the other hand, a philosophy of mind that sees the mind as inherently non-material and ultimately able to arrive at truth has no such limitation.

    If you assume that an immaterial mind is “ultimately able to arrive at truth”, then you will conclude that it is “ultimately able to arrive at truth”.

    I can do the same thing:

    A philosophy of mind that sees the mind as physical and ultimately able to arrive at truth has no such limitation.

    It needs to be demonstrated, not assumed, that the mind is “ultimately able to arrive at truth” — whatever the mind happens to be made of.

    Such a mind may make errors, but there is no logical reason that it cannot recognize them and correct them, unlike a computer, which is the slave of its programming, from which there is no escape.

    A computer can be programmed to recognize and correct its errors, and even to modify its own software. It won’t be able to correct all errors, of course, but then neither can the human mind — whether it’s physical or immaterial.

    And I contend that your insistence that you have the ability to “assess the reliability of [your] mind from the inside” is proof that you do not really believe what you say you do, as I stated in my original comment. That is, you don’t really believe that you are just a computer, not really.

    Think of the ways we humans assess the reliability of our minds: We solve a problem in two different ways to see if we get the same answer. We ask our peers to double-check our work. We run experiments and check if the results match our expectations. And so on. All of these are available to us, even if our minds are physical.

  10. 10
    Bruce David says:

    champignon,

    You don’t seem to understand. Here it is in a nutshell:

    It is a logical consequence of materialism that mind simply cannot know if its conclusions are valid or not (including the conclusion that materialism is true).

    Other philosophies of mind, such as that mind is an immaterial phenomenon with the capacity to know, have no such logical limitation.

    It is also interesting to me that nearly everyone who is not a materialist understands these points immediately, whereas no materialist I have ever encountered accepts them, and as you, keeps on debating as if they can count on their minds to arrive at truth. To me, this is evidence of what I am certain is true, namely that we are each of us in essence a non-material soul, intelligent and capable of knowing, and we know this at our deepest levels of awareness, and act accordingly, whatever our more surface philosophy may be.

    In other words, you don’t act like you believe you are a computer because at the deepest levels of your being, you know instinctively and intuitively that you are not.

  11. 11

    It is a logical consequence of materialism that mind simply cannot know if its conclusions are valid or not (including the conclusion that materialism is true).

    I don’t understand the logical steps here. Can you explain?

    It seems to me that the way we know whether or not our conclusions are true is to test them against evidence.

    Why should that rule out materialism?

  12. 12
    Bruce David says:

    Elizabeth,

    I don’t understand the logical steps here. Can you explain?

    From materialism, we get:

    Premise 1: the mind is a computer called the brain.

    Premise 2: the conclusions reached by a mind are the result of the program running the computer that it is.

    Premise 3: a computer by its very nature is incapable of discovering flaws in its own programming.

    Conclusion: the mind has no way of knowing whether its conclusions are false by virtue of flaws in its programming.

    Note: your statement that “the way we know whether or not our conclusions are true is to test them against evidence” is a conclusion your mind has drawn. If you believe that your mind is a computer, then you have no way of knowing whether that conclusion is true or simply a result of flawed programming in your brain. Furthermore, you have no way of knowing whether any testing against the evidence that you perform is valid or has mistakes in its methodology or the conclusions that you reach or both.

  13. 13

    All three of your premises are false as far as I can see.

  14. 14

    And to clarify: clearly you also think they are false.

    But I don’t see that any of them are necessary premises for “materialism”.

    I’m a materialist I guess.

    1. I don’t think the mind is a computer called the brain. I think the brain is somewhat like a computer, but only somewhat. It differs profoundly from any computer we have ever built. And I don’t think the mind and the brain are the same thing.

    2. I don’t think that programs run the brain.

    3. Computers are, in fact, capable of diagnosing faults in their own programming, and fixing them.

  15. 15
    champignon says:

    Bruce,

    Elizabeth’s position is very close to my own, so I won’t repeat the points she has made, but I did want to comment on something you wrote:

    It is also interesting to me that nearly everyone who is not a materialist understands these points immediately, whereas no materialist I have ever encountered accepts them…

    That is because a strong intuition of dualism — what some people call “folk dualism” — seems to be wired into us. All the materialists I know were dualists first — I have never met anyone who started out as a materialist. My own journey from dualism to materialism was one of the most exciting, and disorienting, of my intellectual life. I vigourously resisted materialist ideas at first, but the more I tested them, hoping to expose flaws, the more I realized that they held up to critical scrutiny. I recommend that you “follow the evidence wherever it leads,” as ID proponents like to say, and see what happens.

  16. 16
    Bruce David says:

    Elizabeth,

    1. I don’t think the mind is a computer called the brain. I think the brain is somewhat like a computer, but only somewhat. It differs profoundly from any computer we have ever built. And I don’t think the mind and the brain are the same thing.
    2. I don’t think that programs run the brain.

    I am using the terms “computer” and “programming” in a more general sense than you are. When I say the brain is a computer I mean that it is a material structure which processes inputs in the form of sensory data and produces outputs in the form of motor command signals. Its programming is the structure and functioning of its neurons and the pattern of their interconnections. And if you don’t regard the mind as the brain, then we can expand the statement somewhat to say that the mind is entirely determined by the activity of the brain. With this understanding, the first two premises are still valid.

    3. Computers are, in fact, capable of diagnosing faults in their own programming, and fixing them.

    Only to a limited extent, and if the subroutines that detect faults are themselves flawed, they cannot determine that nor fix it, nor can they fix faults that are introduced by the flawed program correction logic.

    So the three premises are still valid, as is their conclusion.

    Just out of curiosity, what do you, as a materialist, regard the mind as?

  17. 17
    Bruce David says:

    champignon:

    I recommend that you “follow the evidence wherever it leads,” as ID proponents like to say, and see what happens.

    I have, and it has led me to a very different place than you, apparently. I rejected materialism because there is no place for consciousness in a materialist universe. There is no explanation for experience (“qualia” is the technical term)—emotions, physical pain, sounds, visual perception, etc.—in a universe entirely composed of inanimate matter. Furthermore, the entire notion that there is anything “out there” that corresponds to our sense impressions is a conclusion we come to. We have no direct perception of anything material at all. All we have is our sense impressions, which are contained in mind.

    I am not a dualist, by the way. I am quite convinced that the world we inhabit, which seems so real, is entirely illusion. It is a kind of virtual reality. It’s like The Matrix, except that rather than the malevolent machines in the movie orchestrating it, God is doing this, so that we all appear to be occupying the same reality.

  18. 18
    champignon says:

    Bruce,

    I rejected materialism because there is no place for consciousness in a materialist universe.

    Materialists don’t yet have an explanation for consciousness, but that hardly justifies your claim that there is “no place for consciousness in a materialist universe.” Although we can’t explain how consciousness arises, the evidence is overwhelming that it is generated physically and that it cannot exist independently of the brain.

    And by the way, dualists and idealists also have no explanation for consciousness. Even if we grant the existence of an immaterial mind, consciousness does not automatically follow. It must be explained. How could consciousness arise in an immaterial mind? No one knows. Yet again, the dualist and the idealist are in the same boat as the materialist.

    Proponents of a conscious, immaterial mind have an additional problem. Why, if the mind is immaterial, is it so deeply affected by alcohol and fatigue? Why can consciousness be altered or eradicated by psychoactive drugs and anesthesia? Dualists and idealists have no plausible explanation for this, but materialists do. If mind and consciousness are products of the brain, it makes perfect sense that drugs, alcohol, fatigue, anesthesia, injury, Alzheimer’s disease, etc., should affect them — just as we observe.

    We have no direct perception of anything material at all. All we have is our sense impressions, which are contained in mind.

    At last, something on which we agree! 🙂

    I am quite convinced that the world we inhabit, which seems so real, is entirely illusion.

    That conviction is itself the product of your imperfect mind. Like the dualist and the materialist, you are stuck assessing the reliability of your mind from the inside. You can’t take it for granted.

  19. 19
    Bruce David says:

    champignon,

    Materialists don’t yet have an explanation for consciousness, but that hardly justifies your claim that there is “no place for consciousness in a materialist universe.”

    I disagree. The greatest minds in both philosophy and science have been wrestling with the “mind/body problem” for a number of centuries, and not one has come up with even a hint of a theory of how consciousness could possibly arise from inanimate matter. This is much more profound than simply “don’t yet have an explanation”. To me it is fundamental. Matter and consciousness are two entirely different types of phenomena. Believing that mind can arise from matter is like believing that starlight can generate a sentence in English.

    Although we can’t explain how consciousness arises, the evidence is overwhelming that it is generated physically and that it cannot exist independently of the brain.

    Actually, the opposite is true. Pim van Lommel, a Dutch cardiologist did a multi-year, multi-hospital study of the experiences of patients who were clinically dead but recovered (reported in the book, Consciousness Beyond Life). 62 patients (18%) in the study reported near death experiences. In these cases, the brain had ceased to function, yet consciousness continued. Not only did they remember their experiences quite vividly during the time there was no activity whatsoever in their brains, but many of them “saw”, remembered, and accurately reported events that transpired in the operating room that they could have had no way of knowing if consciousness had ceased. This was a scientific study, done under controlled conditions and published in a peer reviewed journal. In addition, of course, there is abundant anecdotal evidence of a similar nature.

    And by the way, dualists and idealists also have no explanation for consciousness. Even if we grant the existence of an immaterial mind, consciousness does not automatically follow. It must be explained. How could consciousness arise in an immaterial mind? No one knows. Yet again, the dualist and the idealist are in the same boat as the materialist.

    I regard consciousness as the ground of being. It has no more need of explanation than matter does for the materialist. It is that from which all else arises. And it is there. It is the one fact that is always present. I am conscious. Consciousness just is. For me, mind is a derivative concept. Consciousness is the fundamental fact.

    Proponents of a conscious, immaterial mind have an additional problem. Why, if the mind is immaterial, is it so deeply affected by alcohol and fatigue? Why can consciousness be altered or eradicated by psychoactive drugs and anesthesia? Dualists and idealists have no plausible explanation for this…

    My explanation is that, given that there is no actual material brain, only the illusion of one, the effects you describe are simply aspects of the working of the virtual reality—a result of the rules under which which the illusion is created, like the laws of physics and chemistry. There are reports that enlightened masters can operate outside of these rules. Ram Das, for example, reports in one of his books that his master (whose name I unfortunately forget) to prove a point to him, took LSD in his presence and was unaffected by it.

    I am quite convinced that the world we inhabit, which seems so real, is entirely illusion.

    That conviction is itself the product of your imperfect mind. Like the dualist and the materialist, you are stuck assessing the reliability of your mind from the inside. You can’t take it for granted.

    Well yes, it is a conclusion I have arrived at by assessing all the evidence and choosing the philosophy that makes the most sense to me in the light of that evidence. As you point out, we all do this, whatever our philosophical position. What’s your point here?

  20. 20
    forests says:

    “it cannot exist independently of the brain.” This is not a fact just an opinion, its usually people who say this who are not aware of the evidence. I know materialists who are open minded enough to admit consciousness can exist outside of the brain. I used to have a friend who was a strong materialist yet had an out body experience, he was moving objects around but he was not in his body the experience lasted for 45 minutes, his experience was later confirmed by atleast 3 people who witnessed the events!. A similar story was reported in a book by the author Michael Talbot author of the Holographic Universe. – He claims he left his body and floated outside his window and saw across the street a book underneath a bin. Of course after his experience the next day he went to the bin and the book was there. Consciousness can exist outside of the brain. Esoteric and occult literature is filled with people claiming man posesses not only a physical body but a more dense subtle body usually called an astral double. Such a double body can even be explained by “materialism”. The subtle body or aura of a person, can be explained in terms of Electro-Magnetic fields. One lone scientist Rupert Sheldrake has come close to discussing some of this information.

    Dr. Kennith Ring has studied atleast 40 cases of where blind people who have had out of body experiences and been able to see, he likewise documents where more than 2 people have shared the same near death experience how is such a thing possible? These things have happened. There was also a dream researcher who had documented evidence that more than one person can share and enter eachothers dreams (cant remember her name I will try and find it).

    Biologist Remy Chauvin had also witnessed mind influecing matter in the lab under controlled conditions.

  21. 21
    bornagain77 says:

    Here is a neat little formulation of the argument for God from consciousness:

    The argument for God from consciousness can be framed like this:

    1. Consciousness either preceded all of material reality or is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality.
    2. If consciousness is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality then consciousness will be found to have no special position within material reality. Whereas conversely, if consciousness precedes material reality then consciousness will be found to have a special position within material reality.
    3. Consciousness is found to have a special, even central, position within material reality.
    4. Therefore, consciousness is found to precede material reality.

    references:

    Quantum mind–body problem
    Excerpt:Parallels between quantum mechanics and mind/body dualism were first drawn by the founders of quantum mechanics including Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, Niels Bohr, and Eugene Wigner
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q.....dy_problem

    Dr. Quantum – Double Slit Experiment & Entanglement – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4096579

    The Mental Universe – Richard Conn Henry – Professor of Physics John Hopkins University
    Excerpt: The only reality is mind and observations, but observations are not of things. To see the Universe as it really is, we must abandon our tendency to conceptualize observations as things.,,, Physicists shy away from the truth because the truth is so alien to everyday physics. A common way to evade the mental universe is to invoke “decoherence” – the notion that “the physical environment” is sufficient to create reality, independent of the human mind. Yet the idea that any irreversible act of amplification is necessary to collapse the wave function is known to be wrong: in “Renninger-type” experiments, the wave function is collapsed simply by your human mind seeing nothing. The universe is entirely mental,,,, The Universe is immaterial — mental and spiritual. Live, and enjoy.
    http://henry.pha.jhu.edu/The.mental.universe.pdf

    Wheeler’s Classic Delayed Choice Experiment:
    Excerpt: Now, for many billions of years the photon is in transit in region 3. Yet we can choose (many billions of years later) which experimental set up to employ – the single wide-focus, or the two narrowly focused instruments. We have chosen whether to know which side of the galaxy the photon passed by (by choosing whether to use the two-telescope set up or not, which are the instruments that would give us the information about which side of the galaxy the photon passed). We have delayed this choice until a time long after the particles “have passed by one side of the galaxy, or the other side of the galaxy, or both sides of the galaxy,” so to speak. Yet, it seems paradoxically that our later choice of whether to obtain this information determines which side of the galaxy the light passed, so to speak, billions of years ago. So it seems that time has nothing to do with effects of quantum mechanics. And, indeed, the original thought experiment was not based on any analysis of how particles evolve and behave over time – it was based on the mathematics. This is what the mathematics predicted for a result, and this is exactly the result obtained in the laboratory.
    http://www.bottomlayer.com/bot.....choice.htm

    “It was not possible to formulate the laws (of quantum theory) in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness.”
    Eugene Wigner (1902 -1995) from his collection of essays “Symmetries and Reflections – Scientific Essays”; Eugene Wigner laid the foundation for the theory of symmetries in quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963.

    Here is the key experiment that led Wigner to his Nobel Prize winning work on quantum symmetries:

    Eugene Wigner
    Excerpt: To express this basic experience in a more direct way: the world does not have a privileged center, there is no absolute rest, preferred direction, unique origin of calendar time, even left and right seem to be rather symmetric. The interference of electrons, photons, neutrons has indicated that the state of a particle can be described by a vector possessing a certain number of components. As the observer is replaced by another observer (working elsewhere, looking at a different direction, using another clock, perhaps being left-handed), the state of the very same particle is described by another vector, obtained from the previous vector by multiplying it with a matrix. This matrix transfers from one observer to another.
    http://www.reak.bme.hu/Wigner_.....io/wb1.htm

    i.e. In the experiment the ‘world’ (i.e. the universe) does not have a ‘privileged center’. Yet strangely, the conscious observer does exhibit a ‘privileged center’. This is since the ‘matrix’, which determines which vector will be used to describe the particle in the experiment, is ‘observer-centric’ in its origination! Thus explaining Wigner’s dramatic statement, “It was not possible to formulate the laws (of quantum theory) in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness.”

    What drives materialists crazy is that consciousness cannot be seen, tasted, smelled, touched, heard, or studied in a laboratory. But how could it be otherwise? Consciousness is the very thing that is DOING the seeing, the tasting, the smelling, etc… We define material objects by their effect upon our senses – how they feel in our hands, how they appear to our eyes. But we know consciousness simply by BEING it!
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-411601

    Psalm 33:13-15
    The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men. From the place of His dwelling He looks on all the inhabitants of the earth; He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works.

    Centrality of Each Individual Observer In The Universe and Christ’s Very Credible Reconciliation Of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/17SDgYPHPcrl1XX39EXhaQzk7M0zmANKdYIetpZ-WB5Y/edit?hl=en_US

    The Mind Is Not The Brain – Scientific Evidence – Rupert Sheldrake – (Referenced Notes)
    http://vimeo.com/33479544

    Music & verse:

    Brad Paisley : When I Get Where I’m Going
    http://www.cmt.com/videos/brad.....oing.jhtml

    Mark 12:24-27
    Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising–have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”

  22. 22

    I am using the terms “computer” and “programming” in a more general sense than you are. When I say the brain is a computer I mean that it is a material structure which processes inputs in the form of sensory data and produces outputs in the form of motor command signals. Its programming is the structure and functioning of its neurons and the pattern of their interconnections. And if you don’t regard the mind as the brain, then we can expand the statement somewhat to say that the mind is entirely determined by the activity of the brain. With this understanding, the first two premises are still valid.

    Two points: one is that I agree that the brain takes sensory inputs and its outputs are motor outputs (and also physiological outputs). However, those motor outputs are motor programs that do not necessarily reach execution threshold and which are fed back in as additional inputs. This is what enables us to envisage the consequences of our as yet unexecuted actions, and consider those consequences when choosing which actions we actually execute.

    As for the “mind” being “determined” by “the brain”, of course, it depends what we think of as “the mind”. If we regard the output of the brain as “mind” then the mind is determined by the brain which then is re-entered as input into the brain, making it just as true to say the brain’s activity is determined by the mind. And there is plenty of evidence that this is so (some of it frequently touted here as evidence for the immateriality of the mind!) What our brains do determines what we think but what we think also determines what our brains do.

    I think, myself, it is better to think of “the mind” as the name we give to ourselves as willing agents, in other words, as a higher-level description of what we think and are. As such, our minds certainly affect our brains (my brain has the characteristics it has because of the thoughts it has entertained and the skills I have acquired over my lifetime. It is just as true to say my mind caused my brain as my brain caused my mind. And, in a way, just as untrue.

    But that makes us extremely unlike a computer, which is a tool used by us – things with brains.

    A thing-with-a-brain is a tool user, not merely a tool. It is an autonomous agent.

    Just out of curiosity, what do you, as a materialist, regard the mind as?

    I think it is multivalent word.

    Sometimes it is the name we give to the organism when considered as a will-ing agent.

    Sometimes we use it to refer to our thoughts and decisions (“my mind is made up”).

    Oddly, we tend not to use it to refer to feelings (“my heart wasn’t in it”), although mood disorders are considered “mental” disorders.

    But if I was forced to give some kind of concise definition, I’d say that “mental events” are subjective experiences of thought or feeling, whereas “neural events” are objective observations of neural activity.

    In brain imaging, we try to correlate the two.

  23. 23
    Bruce David says:

    Well, Elizabeth, I doesn’t sound like you are a materialist to me. In my understanding, a materialist is someone who believes that it is the brain and only the brain that can cause any bodily activity. To a materialist, mind either is the brain, is an illusion, or is an “epiphenomenon” of the brain, some phenomenon that somehow arises from the brain’s activity, but which has no causal efficacy.

  24. 24

    Well, not in my view. I’m a materialist, in that I don’t think there is some “extra” ingredient in addition from the physical world that accounts for the mind.

    But the mind is not an “epiphenomenon” in the usual sense of that word – without minds, we couldn’t function, they are necessary, not simply a bonus byproduct.

    Nor is a mind an “illusion” in the usual sense of that word – something that looks to be one thing, but “in reality” is another. If the mind is an “illusion” then so is every other percept, which would render the word meaningless.

    The mind may be a percept, but it’s a perfectly valid (useful, meaningful, predictive) one.

  25. 25
    Bruce David says:

    Forgive me, Elizabeth, if I find it a little hard to understand exactly what you mean by the word “mind”. You have variously characterized it as,

    1. the output of the brain
    2. the name we give to ourselves as willing agents, in other words, as a higher-level description of what we think and are
    3. the name we give to the organism when considered as a will-ing agent
    4. [the set of one’s] subjective experiences of thought or feeling
    5. a (useful, meaningful, predictive) percept

    In all of this discussion, you have been attempting to escape the materialist trap: that which thinks is the brain and only the brain, and thus none of one’s conclusions can be trusted because the brain, being a material computer (in the general sense in which I defined it), is incapable of assessing the validity of its own internal logic by which it draws conclusions.

    You claim to be a materialist, and you state that “I don’t think there is some ‘extra’ ingredient in addition from the physical world that accounts for the mind.” Given that belief, there is nothing in any of these characterizations from which one could derive a mind that is not totally dependent on the activity of the brain, ie.,

    1. The output of the brain is obviously dependent on the activity of the brain. If it is then fed back into the brain as input, this simply constitutes a feedback loop within the brain’s processing.

    2. A name we give ourselves is an idea, and you have said nothing to indicate that ideas reside anywhere except within the brain and/or brain’s processing.

    3. Same comment for the name of an organism.

    4. Subjective experiences, given the belief that there is no “extra ingredient” beyond the material, must be the result of and dependent upon activity in the brain. From what other part of the material world could they originate?

    5. By a “percept” I assume you mean that which is perceived. A percept, then is a type of subjective experience, and falls under #4.

  26. 26
    Bruce David says:

    Bornagain,

    You’ve don it again. You quote Richard Conn Henry (in part):

    The universe is entirely mental,,,, The Universe is immaterial — mental and spiritual. Live, and enjoy.

    This is exactly my position on the nature of the universe, a position which you characterized as ridiculous. I asked you once before why you quote a passage that expresses a view that you have ridiculed, but your response changed the subject. I ask you again. Have you changed your mind about my claim that the physical universe is an illusion, a kind of virtual reality, that all there is is consciousness?

  27. 27
    champignon says:

    I have several questions for dualists who believe that near-death and out-of-body experiences provide evidence for an immaterial mind that is capable of functioning independently of the body:

    1. If a cognitive or emotional function can be impaired or eliminated by damaging or disrupting a particular brain region, how can that function be intact during an NDE, when the brain is supposedly shut down completely?

    2. Similarly, if consciousness is independent of the brain, why can it be suppressed by anesthesia?

    3. Ditto for memory and Alzheimer’s disease. Memory can be disrupted due to brain damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease. If the brain shuts down during NDEs, why do subjects retain their memories?

    4. If the immaterial mind can see and hear from its vantage point outside of the body during NDEs and OBEs, why do we have eyes and ears? Why can’t we employ the same faculty of direct perception in normal life?

    5. If NDEs and OBEs actually involve the mind leaving the body, why is it that so many of them don’t match reality? For example, why do NDE subjects so often report encounters with living people during their experiences? Think of Ben Breedlove, whose famous NDE involved the living rapper Kid Cudi, who of course did not share the experience.

  28. 28
    Bruce David says:

    champignon,

    I am not a dualist, nor do I have a lot of time, but I will attempt some brief answers to your questions.

    In general, it is important to understand that incarnation into a physical body involves a great deal of forgetting—forgetting Who We Really Are, forgetting from whence we come, forgetting our past lives. This is deliberate and is necessary to fulfill the purpose of physical existence. The purpose, however, also involves remembering, slowly, over many lifetimes.

    So for your five questions:

    1. Cognitive function in the soul, which is Who We Really Are, is never shut down or diminished. During an NDE, the physical body is non-functinal, but not the soul. In some cases (18% in von Lommel’s study) the soul’s experiences are remembered after it regains consciousness in the body. This is undoubtedly because in those cases, it serves the soul’s purpose to remember. In the others it does not.

    2. During anesthesia, deep sleep, and other states of “unconsciousness”, the soul is awake and experiencing. We just don’t remember those experiences when we awake (unless we do).

    3. Again, the experience of memory while in a physical body in a conscious state is limited according to the purposes to be served by that particular incarnation. A person suffering Alzheimer’s has chosen to experience that state for the learning and spiritual growth it will entail.

    4. We have eyes and ears because that’s part of having a physical body, and having a physical body is what we came here to experience. In short, it serves the purpose to forget our larger capabilities while incarnated (unless it doesn’t, in which case one can access those capabilities).

    5. The only case of which I am aware in which a person experiencing an NDE encounters a living person while away from the physical plane is the one you cite. I don’t know why he experienced the presence of Kid Cudi, but I surmise that his guide took that form to communicate with Ben because Ben would have been most comfortable with that manifestation.

  29. 29
    champignon says:

    Bruce,

    Thanks for tackling my questions.

    The problem I see with your responses you offer ad hoc rationalizations to save your beliefs from disconfirmation, but the rationalizations are unfalsifiable. Most of them boil down to “the soul chose to do it that way.”

    To wit:

    This is undoubtedly because in those cases, it serves the soul’s purpose to remember. In the others it does not.

    We just don’t remember those experiences when we awake (unless we do).

    A person suffering Alzheimer’s has chosen to experience that state for the learning and spiritual growth it will entail.

    In short, it serves the purpose to forget our larger capabilities while incarnated (unless it doesn’t, in which case one can access those capabilities).

    The question you are asking is “Given the evidence, what do I have to propose in order to save my beliefs from disconfirmation?”

    The question you should be asking is “What hypothesis best fits the evidence?”

  30. 30
    Bruce David says:

    Champignon,

    The problem I see with your responses you offer ad hoc rationalizations to save your beliefs from disconfirmation, but the rationalizations are unfalsifiable.

    What is one man’s rationalization is another man’s truth. And I have no need for my beliefs to be falsifiable. These statements reflect what I am convinced is the true nature of reality, based on extensive reading, thinking, and intuitive knowing, as well as work with several spiritual teachers. The fact that you can see no way to falsify them is inconsequential to me.

    The question you should be asking is “What hypothesis best fits the evidence?”

    To me, the evidence from NDEs (particularly van Lommel’s study), from OBEs (particularly Robert Monroe’s two books), from the work of Michael Newton reported in Journey of Souls and Destiny of Souls, and last but not least from the fact (and to me it is a fact) that materialism simply cannot explain the most basic and fundamental of all phenomena, namely my own conscious experience, overwhelmingly supports the hypothesis that what we are is spirit, not matter.

    I am not a novice to philosophy. It should be obvious that I have thought long and deeply about these issues, and have read and studied many philosophical, religious, and spiritual systems. The system of beliefs that I have outlined to you fits all the evidence better than any other I have encountered or can imagine. That is why I embrace it.

  31. 31
    champignon says:

    The fact that you shrug off the importance of falsifiability is telling. I wonder if you truly understand the implications. Unfalsifiable beliefs are unconstrained by the evidence, which means that if they start out false, they stay false forever. Your only hope is that you got it right the first time, by pure luck. Not a good approach if you actually care about the truth.

    Falsifiable beliefs, by contrast, can be corrected, opening the possibility of getting closer to the truth over time.

  32. 32
    Bruce David says:

    I beg to differ. Just because you find certain of my explanations unfalsifiable does not make my beliefs “unconstrained by evidence” nor does it imply that they cannot be modified based on new evidence. I cited some of the evidence for my beliefs, and if new evidence shows up, I will evaluate it and make changes accordingly.

    The current configuration of my beliefs is the result of a lifetime of study, and has been continually evolving. It is different now than it was even ten years ago.

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    Bruce David says:

    Furthermore, I have given you evidence which to me falsifies materialism, but which you either discount or choose to ignore. So from my point of view falsifiability is not a very strong factor in your own beliefs either.

  34. 34
    Bruce David says:

    champignon,

    I would like to also add this regarding falsifiability:

    The deepest and most profound truth cannot even be accurately expressed in words. Words can only point to the truth, which can only be known by a kind of seeing into reality. It is in fact revealed to our inner knowing, and we can try to express it in words, but they always fail, ultimately. Therefore in the most profound sense, truth is always unfalsifiable because ultimately it is inexpressible. In fact the real truth is not even a matter of evidence. Rather, it is just something that is known, that becomes apparent to our faculty of inner knowing.

    No doubt you will find the above just more self delusion on my part, but nonetheless it is very true in my reality.

    And by the way, many years ago I was a materialist myself, but the evidence convinced me otherwise.

  35. 35
    Joe says:

    champignon:

    The fact that you shrug off the importance of falsifiability is telling.

    Then tell us how one can falsify the claim that the bacterial flagellum evolved via accumulations of random mutations.

    My prediction- you will either ignore that or bloviate away…

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