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NPR tries its hand at the science of consciousness

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Further to 2014: The naturalist theory of consciousness was as successful as ever. (A similar level of success is expected in 2015) …

Berkeley philosopher Alva Noë at NPR,

One of the extraordinary and exciting claims advanced in Evan Thompson’s new book Waking, Dreaming, Being is that some meditative practices — for example the sorts of focused attention practices developed in some Buddhist traditions — can actually be thought of as techniques for attending to features of experience to which we usually pay no attention. Like artists and designers who learn to notice and see what most of us tend to ignore or neglect, adept meditators can see and notice things we rarely ever do. For this reason, if Thompson is right, these expert practitioners can play a special role not as guinea pigs, but as collaborators in the development of a better, more adequate neuroscience of human experience.

Now, Thompson’s book has a much broader focus than this. He advances a specific philosophical claim — that the self is a process, not a thing or an entity — and he examines and develops this claim in the light cast not only by contemporary cognitive science but also traditional Indian philosophy and contemplative practices that are descendent from those philosophical traditions (but are not identical to them). The book takes a cross-cultural, historical and trans-disciplinary look at the self as it is treated in these different settings. Along the way, Thompson thinks about death and dying and whether consciousness can be explained in neural terms alone, as well as much else. He also participates in an open and genuinely critical dialog between science and religion. More.

Note that insights from religion are “okay” as long as they are from a non-Western origin (presumably sanitized and anyway “exotic”) religion. As a matter of fact, the Western contemplative tradition is also a fully developed one, but if anyone tried to draw on it in this context, Days of Rage would likely follow.

No wonder naturalism never had a chance of getting anywhere with consciousness.

Never had. And never would have had.

Re Alva Noë, See also: Review: Alva Noe’s Out of Our Heads:

Noë seems to want to move away from reductive explanations, but not away from the materialism that underlies them. So he ends up with non-reductive explanations that still don’t explain. By the time he ends up arguing that most human language is like dogs barking, he sounds like the people he critiques.

See also:

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

Would we give up naturalism to solve the hard problem of consciousness?

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16 Replies to “NPR tries its hand at the science of consciousness

  1. 1
    keith s says:

    Denyse:

    As a matter of fact, the Western contemplative tradition is also a fully developed one, but if anyone tried to draw on it in this context, Days of Rage would likely follow.

    The eastern tradition fits far better with Thompson’s ideas regarding the self:

    He advances a specific philosophical claim — that the self is a process, not a thing or an entity — and he examines and develops this claim in the light cast not only by contemporary cognitive science but also traditional Indian philosophy and contemplative practices…

    Denyse:

    No wonder naturalism never had a chance of getting anywhere with consciousness.

    Never had. And never would have had.

    Are you aware of a successful non-naturalist theory of consciousness?

  2. 2
    RodW says:

    No wonder naturalism never had a chance of getting anywhere with consciousness.

    Never had. And never would have had.

    Why do you say this? Because consciousness is, as he says, a ‘process’? Science is great at understanding processes. And did you notice that he says his view is illuminated by “contemporary cognitive science”

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    The insurmountable problem of trying to reduce the subjective sense of self to mere material mechanism is known as “the hard problem’ of consciousness. The clearest explanation of the hard problem of consciousness, that I have heard thus far, is in the following interview of David Chalmers.

    David Chalmers on Consciousness (Philosophical Zombies and the Hard Problem) – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NK1Yo6VbRoo

    The subjective sense of self, i.e. ‘the hard problem of consciouness’, also turns out to be a insurmountable problem in quantum mechanics.

    How observation (consciousness) is inextricably bound to measurement in quantum mechanics:
    Quote: “We wish to measure a temperature.,,,
    But in any case, no matter how far we calculate — to the mercury vessel, to the scale of the thermometer, to the retina, or into the brain, at some time we must say: and this is perceived by the observer. That is, we must always divide the world into two parts, the one being the observed system, the other the observer.”
    John von Neumann – 1903-1957 – The Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics, pp.418-21 – 1955
    per Information philosopher

    Having to divide the world into two parts, the observed system and the observer, is known as ‘the measurement problem’ in quantum mechanics. ‘Decoherence’ is what is usually appealed to by atheists to try get around the measurement problem:

    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

    Here are some of the ‘“Renninger-type” experiments in which the wave function is collapsed simply by your human mind seeing nothing’ that Dr. Henry was talking about:

    The Renninger Negative Result Experiment – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3uzSlh_CV0

    Elitzur–Vaidman bomb tester
    Excerpt: In 1994, Anton Zeilinger, Paul Kwiat, Harald Weinfurter, and Thomas Herzog actually performed an equivalent of the above experiment, proving interaction-free measurements are indeed possible.[2] In 1996, Kwiat et al. devised a method, using a sequence of polarising devices, that efficiently increases the yield rate to a level arbitrarily close to one.
    per wikipedia

    The following video is very good for demonstrating that “decoherence” does not solve the measurement problem:

    The Measurement Problem in quantum mechanics – (Inspiring Philosophy) – 2014 video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qB7d5V71vUE

    With the recent development with ‘Leggettt’s Inequality’, Dr. Henry was even more forceful in his claim that we live in a universe where mind is primary and material is ‘illusory’:

    Alain Aspect and Anton Zeilinger by Richard Conn Henry – Physics Professor – John Hopkins University
    Excerpt: Why do people cling with such ferocity to belief in a mind-independent reality? It is surely because if there is no such reality, then ultimately (as far as we can know) mind alone exists. And if mind is not a product of real matter, but rather is the creator of the “illusion” of material reality (which has, in fact, despite the materialists, been known to be the case, since the discovery of quantum mechanics in 1925), then a theistic view of our existence becomes the only rational alternative to solipsism (solipsism is the philosophical idea that only one’s own mind is sure to exist). (Dr. Henry’s referenced experiment and paper – “An experimental test of non-local realism” by S. Gröblacher et. al., Nature 446, 871, April 2007 – “To be or not to be local” by Alain Aspect, Nature 446, 866, April 2007 (Leggett’s Inequality: Verified to a stunning 120 standard deviations as of 2011)
    http://henry.pha.jhu.edu/aspect.html

    Moreover, whereas we have no experimental evidence that unguided material processes can create even a single protein of a single neuron in the brain, much less create ‘the illusion of consciousness’ in the brain, we have ample evidence from Near Death Experience testimonies that consciousness is able to survive the physical death of our temporal bodies:

    Near-Death Experiences: Putting a Darwinist’s Evidentiary Standards to the Test – Dr. Michael Egnor – October 15, 2012
    Excerpt: Indeed, about 20 percent of NDE’s are corroborated, which means that there are independent ways of checking about the veracity of the experience. The patients knew of things that they could not have known except by extraordinary perception — such as describing details of surgery that they watched while their heart was stopped, etc. Additionally, many NDE’s have a vividness and a sense of intense reality that one does not generally encounter in dreams or hallucinations.,,,
    The most “parsimonious” explanation — the simplest scientific explanation — is that the (Near Death) experience was real. Tens of millions of people have had such experiences. That is tens of millions of more times than we have observed the origin of species , (or the origin of life, or the origin of a protein or molecular machine), which is never.,,,
    The materialist reaction, in short, is unscientific and close-minded. NDE’s show fellows like Coyne at their sneering unscientific irrational worst. Somebody finds a crushed fragment of a fossil and it’s earth-shaking evidence. Tens of million of people have life-changing spiritual experiences and it’s all a big yawn.
    Note: Dr. Egnor is professor and vice-chairman of neurosurgery at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....65301.html

    “A recent analysis of several hundred cases showed that 48% of near-death experiencers reported seeing their physical bodies from a different visual perspective. Many of them also reported witnessing events going on in the vicinity of their body, such as the attempts of medical personnel to resuscitate them (Kelly et al., 2007).”
    Kelly, E. W., Greyson, B., & Kelly, E. F. (2007). Unusual experiences near death and related phenomena. In E. F. Kelly, E. W. Kelly, A. Crabtree, A. Gauld, M. Grosso, & B. Greyson, Irreducible mind (pp. 367-421). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

    Moreover, contrary to materialistic expectations, the memories of Near Death Experiencers are found to be ‘much richer’ than any imagined or real event:

    ‘Afterlife’ feels ‘even more real than real,’ researcher says – Wed April 10, 2013
    Excerpt: “If you use this questionnaire … if the memory is real, it’s richer, and if the memory is recent, it’s richer,” he said.
    The coma scientists weren’t expecting what the tests revealed.
    “To our surprise, NDEs were much richer than any imagined event or any real event of these coma survivors,” Laureys reported.
    The memories of these experiences beat all other memories, hands down, for their vivid sense of reality. “The difference was so vast,” he said with a sense of astonishment.
    Even if the patient had the experience a long time ago, its memory was as rich “as though it was yesterday,” Laureys said.
    http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/09/.....periences/

    Of supplemental note, Here is a recent interview with Howard Storm which I enjoyed very much:

    The Near Death Experience of Howard Storm: Parts I & II- The Chains We Forge in Life/Rescue – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsyWGPoMiMI

    Verse and Music:

    Luke 23:42-43
    Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

    Third Day Tunnel (video official) HD
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWy2tplrytM

  4. 4
    goodusername says:

    No wonder naturalism never had a chance of getting anywhere with consciousness.

    You say that as if non-naturalists are doing better.

    Would we give up naturalism to solve the hard problem of consciousness?

    I don’t know, why you? Go for it, no one’s stopping you.

  5. 5
    goodusername says:

    I don’t know, why you?

    grr, should be “why don’t you?”

  6. 6
    Mapou says:

    Yin-yang dualism can explain a lot more about consciousness than naturalism. Consciousness requires two complementary opposite entities: a knower and a known. This is not unlike subject and object. Furthermore, by reason of the two being being opposites, we can deduce a powerful principle:

    The known cannot know and the knower cannot be known.

    This immediately tells us that the knower cannot be made of ordinary matter since ordinary matter can always be known.

  7. 7
    groovamos says:

    goodusername:

    You say that as if non-naturalists are doing better.You say that as if non-naturalists are doing better.

    I hope you don’t mind if I employ the term ‘non-reductionist’ as a fairy equivalent term. So yes, non-reductionists dominate the field of consciousness research. And for a lot of very good reasons as the best data on human consciousness comes from this research. In fact if you were to study the field for 30 years as I have you would understand that reductionism doesn’t have a prayer for contributing to this realm. But materialists usually don’t go into this realm because of fear of what is there, and those that have the fortitude remain materialists for not very long, as you will see by studying the literature if you care to, such as this book: http://www.amazon.com/review/R.....tore=books

  8. 8
    goodusername says:

    groovamos,

    I hope you don’t mind if I employ the term ‘non-reductionist’ as a fairy equivalent term.

    I do mind as there’s no reason to equate naturalism or materialism with reductionism. I would say that relatively few materialists are reductionists (and, in fact, it’s become kind of a dirty word). And some non-materialists have been among the leaders of reductionism.

    It’s widely believed that if we ever discover how properties such as consciousness are created, that it will be found to be the result of some kind of emergence (and probably an emergence of emergences). So I’m in total agreement that “non-reductionists dominate the field of consciousness research.”

    But this claim is rather surprising:

    But materialists usually don’t go into this realm because of fear of what is there, and those that have the fortitude remain materialists for not very long

    If you’ve been studying this field for 30 years, you’ve certainly studied it far more than I have, but it certainly runs counter to what I’ve seen. I’d wager that many, if not most, in the field are materialists. And I think Denyse would agree with that, and would probably go further. She writes as if the field is made up of pretty much nothing but materialists.

  9. 9
    Robert Byers says:

    The only thing ever out of india that was useful was the zero!
    Everyone always gets these things wrong because they don’t segregate the thinking being from a powerful, material, organ called the memory. Which is really the mind.
    Dreaming is nothing more complicated then US observing our memories playing with each other. being awake or dreaming is only a difference of how much we control our memories.
    They have turned our memory machine into a minor sidecar along with out mind/brain/thinking.
    that was the error.
    or rather the error of rejecting the soul as the only place for thinking mankind.
    The mind is a tool only. thats why it can break down. yet our immaterial soul can never break down. We ar4e always perfect thinking beings.
    never more or less here or in the afterlife.

  10. 10
    bornagain77 says:

    goodusername

    “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”
    George MacDonald – Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood – 1892

    goodusername you state:

    “that it (consciosness) will be found to be the result of some kind of emergence (and probably an emergence of emergences)”

    Aside from the fact that we now have very good scientific reason to believe that, as the Theist holds, consciousness actually does precede material reality,,,

    the argument for God from consciousness can now 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.

    Four intersecting lines of experimental evidence from quantum mechanics that shows that consciousness precedes material reality (Wigner’s Quantum Symmetries, Wheeler’s Delayed Choice, Leggett’s Inequalities, Quantum Zeno effect)
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1uLcJUgLm1vwFyjwcbwuYP0bK6k8mXy-of990HudzduI/edit

    Aside from that complete undermining of the materialistic position by quantum mechanics, assuming, as you do, that consciousness simply ’emerges’ from a material basis leads to the epistemological failure of your position.
    You simply forfeit any right to argue coherently for your ’emergent’ materialistic position if you hold material to be primary and mind to be secondary (i.e. mind to be ’emergent’ from a material basis). Ross Douthat put the dilemma for your ’emergent’ position like this:

    The Confidence of Jerry Coyne – Ross Douthat – January 6, 2014
    Excerpt: But then halfway through this peroration, we have as an aside the confession that yes, okay, it’s quite possible given materialist premises that “our sense of self is a neuronal illusion.” At which point the entire edifice suddenly looks terribly wobbly — because who, exactly, is doing all of this forging and shaping and purpose-creating if Jerry Coyne, as I understand him (and I assume he understands himself) quite possibly does not actually exist at all? The theme of his argument is the crucial importance of human agency under eliminative materialism, but if under materialist premises the actual agent is quite possibly a fiction, then who exactly is this I who “reads” and “learns” and “teaches,” and why in the universe’s name should my illusory self believe Coyne’s bold proclamation that his illusory self’s purposes are somehow “real” and worthy of devotion and pursuit? (Let alone that they’re morally significant: But more on that below.)
    http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.c.....oyne/?_r=0

    CS Lewis put the problem for your emergent position like this:

    “Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.”
    —C.S. Lewis

    So goodusername, are ‘you’ as a person real or are ‘you’ merely a neuronal illusion?

    “In evolutionary games we put truth (true perception) on the stage and it dies. And in genetic algorithms it (true perception) never gets on the stage”

    Donald Hoffman PhD. – Consciousness and The Interface Theory of Perception – 7:19 to 9:20 minute mark – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=dqDP34a-epI#t=439

    Moreover goodusername, do you believe that you can make sound arguments based on logic?
    If so, then you have a huge problem with your emergent belief since it undermines you ability to use logic in order to make sound arguments in the first place:

    “One absolutely central inconsistency ruins [the popular scientific philosophy]. The whole picture professes to depend on inferences from observed facts. Unless inference is valid, the whole picture disappears… unless Reason is an absolute, all is in ruins. Yet those who ask me to believe this world picture also ask me to believe that Reason is simply the unforeseen and unintended by-product of mindless matter at one stage of its endless and aimless becoming. Here is flat contradiction. They ask me at the same moment to accept a conclusion and to discredit the only testimony on which that conclusion can be based.”
    —C.S. Lewis, Is Theology Poetry (aka the Argument from Reason)

    Sam Harris’s Free Will: The Medial Pre-Frontal Cortex Did It – Martin Cothran – November 9, 2012
    Excerpt: There is something ironic about the position of thinkers like Harris on issues like this: they claim that their position is the result of the irresistible necessity of logic (in fact, they pride themselves on their logic). Their belief is the consequent, in a ground/consequent relation between their evidence and their conclusion. But their very stated position is that any mental state — including their position on this issue — is the effect of a physical, not logical cause.
    By their own logic, it isn’t logic that demands their assent to the claim that free will is an illusion, but the prior chemical state of their brains. The only condition under which we could possibly find their argument convincing is if they are not true. The claim that free will is an illusion requires the possibility that minds have the freedom to assent to a logical argument, a freedom denied by the claim itself. It is an assent that must, in order to remain logical and not physiological, presume a perspective outside the physical order.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....66221.html

    Thus goodusername, from basic logic alone you should reject the ’emergent’ view of mind as untenable since it undermines your ability to argue logically in the first place.
    But goodusername, aside from the fact that your ’emergent’ view of mind is logically irrational, and aside from the fact that quantum mechanics has now given us very good scientific reason to believe that consciousness precedes material reality (i.e. reason to believe that Theism is true), we also have much evidence from biology itself. Evidence that simply cannot be reconciled to the ’emergent’ view of the brain.
    For instance, from Jeffrey Schwartz’s and others work, we now know that the ‘intention’ of the mind is able to effect brain plasticity. That is to say, focused attention of the mind has been shown to be able to alter the brain in such a way as to alleviate particular neurological disorders

    Dr Jeffrey M Schwartz ‘You are not your brain’ at Mind & Its Potential 2011
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcrGlUHlu4M

    The Case for the Soul – InspiringPhilosophy – (4:03 minute mark, Brain Plasticity including Schwartz’s work) – Oct. 2014 – video
    The Mind is able to modify the brain. Moreover, Idealism explains all anomalous evidence of personality changes due to brain injury, whereas physicalism cannot explain mind.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBsI_ay8K70

    What should be needless to say goodusername, if your ’emergent’ view of consciousness were correct, then the preceding results for brain pasticity should have been impossible.
    Moreover, as if that was not more than enough to overturn the emergent position, it is now found that, besides the mind being able to effect ‘brain plasticity’, the mind is also now shown to have the ability to reach all the way down to the genetic level and dramatically alter the expression of genes in our body:

    Scientists Finally Show How Your Thoughts Can Cause Specific Molecular Changes To Your Genes, – December 10, 2013
    Excerpt: “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression within subjects associated with mindfulness meditation practice,” says study author Richard J. Davidson, founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and the William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
    http://www.tunedbody.com/scien.....ges-genes/

    Needless to say, this directly undermines the materialistic belief that we are merely helpless victims of our genes with no control of our genetic fate.
    There are many more arguments, goodusername, to support the position that mind is not ’emergent’, but what I have pointed out thus far, barring any unforeseen spectacular evidence to the contrary, (i.e. the overturning quantum mechanics and such), I simply see no reason why anyone who choose to believe ’emergentism’ as tenable:

    “We have so much confidence in our materialist assumptions (which are assumptions, not facts) that something like free will is denied in principle. Maybe it doesn’t exist, but I don’t really know that. Either way, it doesn’t matter because if free will and consciousness are just an illusion, they are the most seamless illusions ever created. Film maker James Cameron wishes he had special effects that good.”
    Matthew D. Lieberman – neuroscientist – materialist – UCLA professor

  11. 11
    groovamos says:

    goodusername:
    If you’ve been studying this field for 30 years, you’ve certainly studied it far more than I have, but it certainly runs counter to what I’ve seen.

    I really don’t think you read the book review I supplied to you. Consciousness research at the level that provides information about human consciousness MUST obtain information through induced non-ordinary states of consciousness and the book review should have indicated why to you. And a read of the book and many others like it should prove it to you and the scientific community. But it has not because of the a priori commitment to materialism of scientific practice. Materialist science has provided ZERO benefit to the understanding of the issues surrounding mental health and mental illness. Any refutation of this would be laughable but for the harm having been done in the name of ‘science’ to suffering human beings such as electroshock, lobotomy, prescription drugs, etc. I challenge you: read the Grof book and/or the book review which I supplied. Why bother coming back at me without even taking a look. And there is a whole library of information on similar studies in human consciousness. Please come back and comment on the useful information which I have supplied.

  12. 12
    goodusername says:

    groovamos,

    I have read the review. I’m not sure how it contradicts or has any bearing on anything I’ve said.

  13. 13
    KRock says:

    @groovamos #11

    I read the link you provided in post #7. It seems both fascinating and profound for anyone looking to separate consciousness from the clutches of materialism. That being said, I found the review a little hard to follow; which was likely do to the fact I understand very little in the subject. I may order the book, but judging by the book review, it’s likely way above my pay grade.

  14. 14
    groovamos says:

    goodusername:

    You say that as if non-naturalists are doing better.

    Maybe we should take a look at what you mean by “non-naturalists”. Excuse me for reading too much into it if it is the case, but naturalism as applied to human consciousness would imply material basis for all mental phenomena correct? Yes or no?

    If the answer is yes, then it is safe to say that “non-naturalists” in studies of non-ordinary states of consciousness are virtually all non-materialists by necessity. I know this because I am familiar with the literature from this vast field, and with the personalities involved, including Albert Hoffman who was no materialist. And I have met others of them, Grof included.

    So yes, “non-naturalists” are doing much (actually vastly) better, and you would know this from a serious study of the literature with which I have familiarity over a 30 year period of interest on my part.

    Albert Hoffman was Ph.D chemist, the discoverer of LSD-25 at Sandoz in Switzerland in the 1930’s, and one of the researchers whose philosophical writings have had my interest.

    I have read the review. I’m not sure how it contradicts or has any bearing on anything I’ve said.

    Really. I don’t know how more plainly it can be shown.

  15. 15
    groovamos says:

    KRock:

    Thanks for the comment.

    judging by the book review, it’s likely way above my pay grade.

    Don’t sell yourself short. The information in the book is somewhat shocking to some people but will resonate with what you already know, given thought and time to settle in.

  16. 16
    KRock says:

    @groovamos

    Alright then, I will definitely add the book to my amazon wishlist.

    Thanks!

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