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Michael Egnor

Michael Egnor: It’s a matter of fact, not belief, that only humans reason

Readers may remember philosopher Justin Smith, who thinks that we can understand life better if we “give up the idea of rationality as nature’s last remaining exception.” Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor weighs in, responding point by point to the essay, for example: Material states of the brain can, of course, influence our power of reason—an ounce of whiskey can have quite an effect on our judgment—but the power of reason itself is immaterial. It cannot “evolve” because natural selection, whatever its worth as a scientific hypothesis, needs matter to act on. [Smith:] “Reason is exceedingly rare, a hapax legomenon of nature, and yet this rarity has led to a bind: when pushed to account for its origins, thinkers who champion reason’s Read More ›

Michael Egnor: Apes are NOT spiritual beings

Never mind what Jane Goodall thinks: In an otherwise silly article about the “evolution” of religion, journalist Brandon Ambrosino quotes primatologist Jane Goodall on the topic of… religious belief among apes: “The chimpanzee’s brain is so like ours: they have emotions that are clearly similar to or the same as those that we call happiness, sad, fear, despair, and so forth – the incredible intellectual abilities that we used to think unique to us. So why wouldn’t they also have feelings of some kind of spirituality, which is really being amazed at things outside yourself?” … But what apes (and other non-human animals) cannot do is think abstractly. That is, they cannot think of concepts abstracted from concrete things. Apes Read More ›

The academic study of stupidity has turned up some interesting findings

As Michael Egnor tells us, scientism is not a cure for stupidity. But never mind, quite a few science savants have rushed in fearlessly: Evolutionary biologist David Krakauer, President of the Santa Fe Institute, told Nautilus, “Stupidity is using a rule where adding more data doesn’t improve your chances of getting [a problem] right. In fact, it makes it more likely you’ll get it wrong.” I won’t contradict an evolutionary biologist on the topic of stupidity. In any event, Italian economic historian Carlo M. Cipolla (1922–2000) argued that “A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses” (his Third Basic Law Read More ›

Why Thomas Aquinas would like intelligent design research

It’s been fashionable for Thomistic philosophers to avoid harassment by claiming to oppose ID but their positions rarely seem to make any sense. And when they do, it so often sounds as if the Thomist would be happier as a naturalist (nature is all there is). It might be workplace issue, who knows? Read More ›

Michael Egnor: Is your brain a billion little biological machines?

As pop neuroscientist Anil Seth claims in a TED talk? What the brain “is” depends on how you study it. We live in a mechanical age, so we study it as a machine. But our method of study determines what we learn. Theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Werner Heisenberg noted perceptively that “…what we observe is not nature itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning” ( Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science, 1958, p. 78). By its nature, the brain is an organ. It is a functional part of a living being. We can draw analogies to it in order to help us understand it, but we must remember that what we then learn about the Read More ›

Michael Egnor: Does your brain construct your conscious reality?

Part I A reply to computational neuroscientist Anil Seth’s recent TED talk Anil Seth’s talk is a breathtaking compendium of fallacies on the mind and the brain. We can learn a lot from him—by understanding the errors into which he falls and the way out of those errors. Part II Does your brain construct your conscious reality? In a word, no. Your brain doesn’t “think”; YOU think, using your brain The brain understands nothing, imagines nothing, sees nothing. It wills nothing. We understand, we imagine, we see, and we will, using our brains. See also: Can machines really learn? A parable of a book that learned Machine learning is a powerful and important tool that is likely to be of great Read More ›

Michael Egnor: Apes can be generous. Are they just like humans then?

Reading the claims for ape generosity in The New York Times, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor offers a clarification: There is a fallacy about the human mind that regularly appears in research on animal behavior, and this fallacy is related to the pervasive misunderstanding about machine “intelligence.” It is a misunderstanding about the most basic characteristic of the human mind—that the human intellect and will are immaterial. That the human intellect and will are immaterial abilities is supported by a mountain of logic and empirical research. It is precisely this immateriality that animals and machines lack. Science writer Carl Zimmer has an essay in the New York Times, “Seeking Human Generosity’s Origins in an Ape’s Gift to Another Ape” (September 11, 2018) Read More ›

Jeffrey Shallit takes on Mike Egnor: Machines really CAN learn!

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor tells us that computer engineer Jeffrey Shallit, known for attacking ID, has responded to his recent parable explaining why machines can’t learn. According to Shallit, a computer is not just a machine, but something quite special: Computer scientist Jeffrey Shallit takes issue with my parable (September 8, 2018) about “machine learning.” The tale features a book whose binding cracks at certain points from the repeated use of certain pages. The damage makes those oft-consulted pages easier for the next user to find. My question was, can the book be said to have “learned” the users’ most frequent needs? I used the story about the book to argue that “machine learning” is an oxymoron. Like the book, machines Read More ›

Is Darwinism “completely worthless to science”?

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor doesn’t mince words: I despise Darwinism. It is, in my view, an utterly worthless scientific concept promulgated by a third-rate barnacle collector and hypochondriac to justify functional, if not explicit, atheism. Richard Dawkins got it right: Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. A low bar, admittedly, but “natural selection” satisfied, and still satisfies, many. Even bright Christians, regrettably. Darwin still has some cache among design advocates — the usual trope is that he provided evidence for common descent and explained microevolution. In this I differ from some of my friends and colleagues sympathetic to ID/Thomism. Darwin’s “theory” is completely worthless to science, a degradation of philosophy, and lethal to culture. As Jerry Fodor Read More ›

Neurosurgeon: We are more different from apes than apes are from viruses

From neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, reflecting on Tom Wolfe’s new The Kingdom of Speech at Evolution News & Views: I have argued before that the human mind is qualitatively different from the animal mind. The human mind has immaterial abilities — the intellect’s ability to grasp abstract universal concepts divorced from any particular thing — and that this ability makes us more different from apes than apes are from viruses. We are ontologically different. We are a different kind of being from animals. We are not just animals who talk. Although we share much in our bodies with animals, our language — a simulacrum of our abstract minds — has no root in the animal world. More. No, language has no Read More ›