Neuroscience

Is even New Scientist now scoffing at materialist neuroscience?

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An old media saying is, it takes three to make a trend. If so, scoffing at materialist neuroscience may be a trend.

It’s not just medical neuroscientist Raymond Tallis, but back to him in a minute. New Scientist, the National Enquirer of pop science, recently featured a cautiously favourable review of two new books trashing the idea that current neuroscience is anywhere along the path of “reading minds.”

This matters because, as the New Scientist article puts it,

That, at least, is the popular conception of neuroscience – and it’s worth big money. The US and the European Union are throwing billions of dollars at two new projects to map the human brain. Yet there is also a growing anxiety that many of neuroscience’s findings don’t stand up to scrutiny. It’s not just sensational headlines reporting a “dark patch” in a psychopath’s brain, there are now serious concerns that some of the methods themselves are flawed.

Flawed methods? That’s the least of the problems. A bigger one is the basic idea.

Here’s where Darwin-doubting neuroscientist Raymond Tallis can help. Responding to the claim that brain scanning can locate Muslim fundamentalism, he notes,

You don’t have to be a Cartesian dualist to accept that we are more than our brains. It’s enough to acknowledge that our consciousness is not tucked away in a particular space, but is irreducibly relational. What is more, our moment-to-moment consciousness – unlike nerve impulses – is steeped in a personal and historical past and a personal and collective future, in cultures that extend beyond our individual selves. We belong to a community of minds, developed over hundreds of thousands of years, to which our brains give us access but which is not confined to the stand-alone brain. Studies that locate irreducibly social phenomena – such as “love”, the aesthetic sense, “wisdom” or “Muslim fundamentalism” – in the function or dysfunction of bits of our brains are conceptually misconceived.

Even the concept of fundamentalism is misconceived if it ignores the nature and outcome of beliefs.

It is scary to think that people are trusted with brain scanners who shouldn’t be trusted with a push mower. But maybe fewer people are listening to their insights these days …

6 Replies to “Is even New Scientist now scoffing at materialist neuroscience?

  1. 1
    turell says:

    What is crazy is that an fMRI is measuring blood flow increases to areas of the brain, not the brain neurons. The brain is extremely interconnected between all regions. So what is being shown, really? Scientific garbage. But one has to merit grants to survive. Part of the fault is unthinking sources of money. Part is publish or perish.Part is the buddy system in peer review. Hurray for Tallis.

  2. 2
    Joealtle says:

    Uh are you questioning the validity of fMRI? Wow you must have some serious evidence to back that one.

  3. 3
    Robert Byers says:

    I watched some of Tallis’s youtube videos after introduction to him here at UD.
    He indeed questions that there is found in the “brain machine’ all the thoughts of humans. He doesn’t question descent from apes but questions conclusions from evolution about the thinking man.

    It all comes down to a rejection of man as a soul. If not a soul in this body then it must be out thinking comes from bits and pieces of the brain.
    They seek and find/don’t find as it seems to them.
    Tallis mocks their brain imaging stuff.
    If we were souls and were connected to our brain it would show things lighting up and yet be a deception the lights are our thoughts origins.

    The Christian must reject the brain as being who we are. Its just a middleman machine between us and our body. Thats the equation.
    knowing this can explain and heal the problems with human thinking.
    There is no problem with any person’s thinking.Any interference is by a breakdown of non soul parts. Just the triggering aspect of thought retention.  

  4. 4
    DonaldM says:

    If our minds and our brains are one and the same thing, then it is difficult to see how to avoid strict determinism. On such a view, there doesn’t seem to be any principled way to separate thought from bio-chemical processes. Thus our thoughts, or what we call our minds, are nothing more than the products of bio-chemical processes that are determined by the laws of physics and chemistry. The very idea runs counter to our normal every day experience and how we encounter the world and others. But if our minds are more than the matter of our brains, then materialism is in deep weeds, because there really would be something beyond just the material, beginning with ourselves.

    Bio-chemical processes that are determined by the laws of chemistry and physics do not explain our individual selfhood – our personality – our common experiences of each other and the world around us. To say that it does doesn’t even make sense because we would have no way to know that any of our thoughts about such matters were even true. How can undirected, natural causes expressed through biochemical processes governed by the laws of physics and chemistry have the aim of providing us with true beliefs? The very idea is absurd!

  5. 5
    Barb says:

    The advantages to fMRI would include its high spatial resolution and the fact that it can record signals from all parts of the brain (EEG tends to be biased towards the cortical surface). However, its disadvantages include how the images are interpreted , since correlation does not imply causality, and brain processes are complex and often non-localized.

    Statistical methods must be used carefully because they can produce false positives. The BOLD signal is only an indirect measure of neural activity, and is therefore susceptible to influence by non-neural changes in the body. This also means that it is difficult to interpret positive and negative BOLD responses, and fMRI has poor temporal resolution.

    A couple of articles:
    http://teaching.ust.hk/~econ69.....eption.pdf

    Spence, Sean A. “Playing Devil’s advocate: The case against fMRI lie detection.” Legal and Criminological Psychology, Volume 13, Number 1, February 2008 , pp. 11-25(15)http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/bpsoc/lcp/2008/00000013/00000001/art00002

  6. 6
    Axel says:

    I marvel at the psychopathic half-wit, who stole Einstein’s brain – in order to find out why and how he was so brilliant! Shades of Mung’s GPS Sat Nav system….!

    Evelyn Waugh once said of a fellow writer, ‘To see him fumbling with our rich and delicate language is to experience all the horror of seeing a Sèvres vase in the hands of a chimpanzee.’

    The metaphor transfers wonderfully to the atheist lame-brains who treat the mortal remains of fellow human beings, as if, well, as if they shared a common simian ancestry. Oh, the irony…

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