At MercatorNet today:
… all that fMRI ((brain imaging) really does is show which brain areas have high oxygen levels when a person is thinking something. It simply cannot tell us what people are thinking, because many brain centres are active and those that are active may be activated for many reasons. Each brain is unique so data from studies must be averaged. But thoughts are not averaged; they belong to the individual.
Then, when you are done with that you run smack dab into the hard problem of qualia.
Qualia? As Mario Beauregard and I (Denyse O’Leary) wrote in The Spiritual Brain,
There are good reasons for thinking that the evidence for materialism will actually never arrive. For example, there is the problem of qualia. Qualia (singular, quale) are how things appear to us individually—the experiential aspects of our mental lives that can be accessed through introspection. Every person is unique, so complete understanding of another person’s consciousness is not likely possible in principle, as we saw in Chapter Four. Rather, when we communicate, we rely on general agreement on an overlapping range of meaning. For example, historian Amy Butler Greenfield has written a three-hundred-page book about one primary color, A Perfect Red.
As “the color of desire,” red is a quale if ever there was one. Reviewer Diane Ackerman notes:
Anger us, and we see red. An unfaithful woman is branded with a scarlet letter. In red-light districts, people buy carnal pleasures. We like to celebrate red-letter days and roll out the red carpet, while trying to avoid red tape, red herrings and going into the red. Indeed, fashion houses rise and fall on the subtleties of shades of red. Yet, however “red” affects us individually, we agree communally to use the word for a range of meanings and connotations, not merely a range in the color spectrum. (pp. 104–5)
Sometimes, the signals can be completely opposite and we still converge on a common meaning! In the United States, red connotes “conservative” in politics; in Canada, it connotes “liberal.”
Scan that, genius. Your first task will be to sort out the people who are exclusively Canadian in culture from those who are exclusively American in culture, and good luck with it. You picked it up; you own it.
Materialist neuroscience has a hard time with qualia because they are not easily reducible to a simple, nonconscious explanation. In The Astonishing Hypothesis, Francis Crick grumbles:
It is certainly possible that there may be aspects of consciousness, such as qualia, that science will not be able to explain. We have learned to live with such limitations in the past (e.g., limitations of quantum mechanics) and we may have to live with them again.
Crick was a real scientist, honest enough to admit that. Don’t expect quacks, cranks, and hustlers to notice, or want to. They take refuge in pseudo-disciplines, claiming that, as a book review in The Scientist put it,
“‘Brains are hot,’ Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld acknowledge in Brainwashed, their ‘exposé of mindless neuroscience’ (mostly practiced not by neuroscientists, they stress, but by ‘neuropundits,’ among others). The ‘mediagenic’ technology of fMRI imaging has made the brain, aglow with metabolic hotspots, into a rainbow emblem of the faith that science will soon empower us to explain, control, expose, exploit, or excuse every wayward human behavior from buying to lying, from craving to crime.”
This is not so much an unsolved problem as an unsolvable one, at least in the terms in which the materialist wants it solved.