David Brooks: The brain is not the mind

David Brooks always seems to write above his pay grade when he weighs in about science. His pop evolutionary-psychology book The Social Animal, which was excerpted in The New Yorker, was pretty dreadful, and, I think, inimical to the public understanding of evolution in its pretense that we have a thorough understanding of the evolutionary roots of our behavior. 

But even that isn’t as bad as his op-ed piece in Monday’s New York Times, “Beyond the brain.”  Brooks’s thesis is that “the mind is not the brain”, which is simply a Deepity in the Dennettian sense. For while that mantra implies something deep (i.e., the mind is separate from the brain), what Brooks says is only that the brain and its workings are hard to study. Yet his article flirts heavily with dualism, leaving the reader with a sense that the mind is in some ways independent of the brain, and There Must be More.

I’ll have to quote in extenso to convey the full fatuity of Brooks’s views. He begins by asserting his xkcd-like superiority over both neuroscientists and philosophers:

[Neuroscience] is obviously incredibly important and exciting. From personal experience, I can tell you that you get captivated by it and sometimes go off to extremes, as if understanding the brain is the solution to understanding all thought and behavior.

This is happening at two levels. At the lowbrow level, there are the conference circuit neuro-mappers. These are people who take pretty brain-scan images and claim they can use them to predict what product somebody will buy, what party they will vote for, whether they are lying or not or whether a criminal should be held responsible for his crime.

At the highbrow end, there are scholars and theorists that some have called the “nothing buttists.” Human beings are nothing but neurons, they assert. Once we understand the brain well enough, we will be able to understand behavior. We will see the chain of physical causations that determine actions. We will see that many behaviors like addiction are nothing more than brain diseases. We will see that people don’t really possess free will; their actions are caused by material processes emerging directly out of nature. Neuroscience will replace psychology and other fields as the way to understand action.

These two forms of extremism are refuted by the same reality. The brain is not the mind. It is probably impossible to look at a map of brain activity and predict or even understand the emotions, reactions, hopes and desires of the mind.

By equating free will with the absence of determinism and materialism, Brooks implicitly labels himself a dualist. And yet the program of the “nothing buttists” sounds pretty good to me: in fact, it’s the only program that is likely to make progress in understanding how and why we think.

In the last paragraph Brooks makes his big mistake: he equates the difficulty of studying the brain with the conclusion that “the brain is not the mind.” This confusion plagues the rest of his piece.

Here’s why, according to Brooks, the brain isn’t the mind. There are five reasons, none of them having the slightest bearing on his thesis. His quotes are in bold in the bulleted points below:

  • “The first basic problem is that regions of the brain handle a wide variety of different tasks.”  Brooks notes that the amygdala can light up during fMRI scans during a variety of activities and thoughts, including sexual arousal, fear, novelty, and happiness.  To this I say, “so what”?  Brain imaging is crude, and yes, brain tasks are farmed out to a variety of regions of the organ. One “region” (which of course comprises millions of neurons) can do several things. But that is one thing we’ve learned from the materialist and reductionist program that Brooks so decries. Again, this is no proof that the brain is not the mind, but only a sign that the workings of the brain are complex.
  • Then there is the problem that one activity is usually distributed over many different places in the brain. In his book, “Brain Imaging,” the Yale biophysicist Robert Shulman notes that we have this useful concept, “working memory,” but the activity described by this concept is widely distributed across at least 30 regions of the brain. Furthermore, there appears to be no dispersed pattern of activation that we can look at and say, “That person is experiencing hatred.” Again, this is no evidence for Brooks’s thesis.  Perhaps we shouldn’t be looking at crude brain scans to understand hatred, but where else can hatred come from but the brain?
  • Then there is the problem that one action can arise out of many different brain states and the same event can trigger many different brain reactions. As the eminent psychologist Jerome Kagan has argued, you may order the same salad, but your brain activity will look different, depending on whether you are drunk or sober, alert or tired. This is just dumb, for who ever thought that brain activity, visualized broadly, will be the same in all mental and physiological states, even when you make an identical decision? Does this really suggest that the brain isn’t the mind?
  • Then, as Kagan also notes, there is the problem of meaning. A glass of water may be more meaningful to you when you are dying of thirst than when you are not. Your lover means more than your friend. It’s as hard to study neurons and understand the flavors of meaning as it is to study Shakespeare’s spelling and understand the passions aroused by Macbeth.  I think Brooks is using the wrong examples here, since the evolved desire for water when you’re thirsty is probably one of the easier mental states to study. Ditto for love.  But even the notion that The Sun Also Rises is more meaningful to me than, say, The Purpose Driven Life is a notion that in principle could be studied neurologically, for that judgment is a reflection of my genes and my experiences, both of which must be reflected in the way my brain is wired. For “meaning” is simply “emotional resonance,” and that, too, resides in the brain.
  • Finally, there is the problem of agency, the problem that bedevils all methods that mimic physics to predict human behavior. People are smokers one day but quit the next. People can change their brains in unique and unpredictable ways by shifting the patterns of their attention. Here Brooks is mistaking “predictability of behavior” with “source of behavior.” It’s unlikely that, at least in this century, we’ll understand enough about the brain to make good predictions about people’s behavior. For one thing, that behavior depends on the environment, and so you can’t predict one’s behavior from studying a single brain. You also have to predict the behavior of people with which that brain interacts, as well as other things like the weather, the availability of certain foods, and so on. Such predictability is an infinite regress, but says nothing about where the mind comes from.  Likewise, the fact that one’s behavior can change says nothing about where those changes come from.  You might be able to make a smoker relapse by putting a pack of Camels in front of him, but does that show that the mind isn’t the brain? Our feeling of agency, which we don’t yet understand, may well be an evolutionary adaptation—one also coded in the brain.

At the end, Brooks shows his true colors: he objects to the brain/mind program because it is materialistic and reductionist.  In fact, he raises the scientistic fallacy, but to no end.  He claims that “material determinism” isn’t the way to understand the brain, but, tellingly, suggests no alternative. Should we look for souls, or the hand of god tweaking our neurons?

What Satel and Lilienfeld call “neurocentrism” is an effort to take the indeterminacy of life and reduce it to measurable, scientific categories.

Right now we are compelled to rely on different disciplines to try to understand behavior on multiple levels, with inherent tensions between them. Some people want to reduce that ambiguity by making one discipline all-explaining. They want to eliminate the confusing ambiguity of human freedom by reducing everything to material determinism.

But that is the form of intellectual utopianism that always leads to error. An important task these days is to harvest the exciting gains made by science and data while understanding the limits of science and data. The next time somebody tells you what a brain scan says, be a little skeptical. The brain is not the mind.

Ah, there it is: “the limits of science and data”! Now where have we heard that from? Could it be. . . . . the theologians?

You know why Brooks would be a bad scientist? It’s because he wants this dualism to be true: he wants there to be something more to the mind than the neuronal secretions of the brain. And yet his objections to the materialist program are not objections at all. Nor does he suggest an alternative.  His decrying materialism suggests some kind of festering spirituality, which is odd coming from someone who wrote a book claiming that much of our modern behavior is coded in our genes. For Brooks’s brand of evolutionary psychology is nothing but materialist and reductionist.

In fact, the brain is the mind in the sense that the mind is a product of the brain, and without a brain there is no mind. The brain is in fact the meat computer that, taking in physiological and environmental inputs, produces the mind as its output. That may sound reductionistic and materialistic, but it happens to be true. Unless, that is, there’s a spiritual homunculus sitting in our heads.

Once again Brooks has done science no favors. This piece is simply the usual critique of scientism with the usual flaws. All it does is enable those who want to believe in woo.


  1. Posted June 20, 2013 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    Has anyone had the chance to read Terrence Deacon’s Incomplete Nature?

    It seems that ‘his’ emergent dynamic theory is the most salient scientifically and philosophically grounded way of understanding how mind could have emerged from matter.

    I would really like to hear JAC’s comments on this text as it also convey’s fresh insights regarding what natural selection actually ‘is’.

  2. bookworm
    Posted June 22, 2013 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Brooks is probably striving for “Templeton”

  3. Posted July 5, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    The brain is matter; the mind is the motion of matter in the brain.

    Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

    • jerry
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      Yes, when you state it like that, it isn’t hard at all. But it is hard if you actually do some thinking about it. It’s called the hard problem of consciousness for a reason-a reason you glossed over by a fallacy of equivocation. Let’s see that model which empirically demonstrates mind is brain without use of conjecture or deduction or inference. If you can’t do that, it’s an assumption-an assertion.

      • Posted December 14, 2013 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

        Oh, that’s trivial.

        Pour yourself a nice tall beer. Drink it, and then a few more — all in short succession.

        We’ll pick up this conversation again when all your glasses are empty.

        (If you prefer wine or liquor or some other alcoholic beverage to beer, feel free to substitute.)

        There are other options, of course, but they either require illicit or prescription-only substances or they involve surgical procedures that carry a significant degree of risk and are non-reversible.



        • jerry
          Posted December 14, 2013 at 6:27 pm | Permalink


          • Posted December 14, 2013 at 6:38 pm | Permalink


            Physical changes to the brain alter the mind in predictable and consistent manners. This is trivially demonstrable by getting rip-roaringly drunk. Other observations and experiments have produced a surprisingly thorough, though admittedly fuzzy, map of the brain and mind.

            There is not a single aspect of the mind that cannot be at least shut down by physical manipulation, and, in many instances, much more subtle modifications of the mind by physical brain manipulation are possible.

            There is therefore a one-to-one correspondence between brain states and mind states.

            And plain and unmistrakable evidence that this is so has been present in all human societies since the invention of beer brewing, and incontrovertible at least since Phineas Gage got that railroad spike driven through his head.

            Dualism in all its forms is deader than alchemistic astrological phrenology.



            • jerry
              Posted December 14, 2013 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

              SO? That’s why you need to read John Eccles’ work. He fully understood the brain as a Nobel prize winning neuroscientist and demonstrates with his downward causation model how correlates are not causal-something you clearly missed. You can also smash your piano with a hammer until it no longer has the ability to produce fine music. But that doesn’t mean the piano player is gone. Why suppose such a thing? Intentional states defy a materialist explanation. Non-local Consciousness is the one hypothesis that makes sense of the mystery of intention. It also makes sense of Penrose’s platonic values embedded in space-time geometry. Until you account for self-awareness and intentionality, you may be oversimplifying things a bit.

              • Posted December 14, 2013 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

                We can cut right to the chase.

                Either the mind is an emergent computational phenomenon of the physical brain, or the Church-Turing thesis does not hold. Church-Turing is generally equivalent to conservation; that is, either you need a perpetual motion machine to build a super-Turing computational device or you can use a super-Turing computational device to power a perpetual motion machine.

                Further, the laws underlying the physics of everyday life are completely understood, and those laws are entirely computable. A computer simulation of sufficient detail must, of necessity, result in a simulated brain that is every bit as conscious as meat brains, and every bit as surely as an apple must fall from the tree at an accelerating rate of about ten meters per second per second.

                Just as we don’t need to drop an apple on Pluto to know how fast it would fall, we don’t need to have a complete explanation of consciousness to know that it’s an entirely physical and computational phenomenon.

                Therefore, until somebody adduces credible evidence of perpetual motion, or, at the least, hypercomputation, I shall continue to dismiss all claims of dualism (or the equivalent) with the same lack of serious consideration with which I dismiss claims of zero-point energy, telekinesis, anal-probing alien visitors, second sight, astrology, and all the other things that go bump in the night.

                Even if those claims come from a Nobel laureate. Linus Pauling was a brilliant Nobel laureate, and yet his claims for the powers of vitamins were indistinguishable from the claims of homeopathy. Arguments from authority, even Nobel-level authorities, mean nothing to me — and they mean less-than-nothing when the claims are not about the Nobel-winning work.

                After all, I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to find a Nobel laureate in medicine who will sincerely claim that a virgin gave birth to a zombie in first century Judea, and that said zombie can be found on cracker plates and in wine bottles the world over. You wouldn’t expect me to take those sorts of claims seriously, either, would you?



              • jerry
                Posted December 14, 2013 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

                Wow!!! Talk about scientism. So physics is in the bag is it? We have no more to learn? I think scientists were saying that in the 19th century. And comparing consciousness to a fixed law such as gravity is poorly analogous. In fact, it’s downright dumb. And yes, to make blanket assertions like you have, you would need an empirical explanatory model for consciousness to justify such confidence. Anything less than that is sheer guess work. Further, all you have offered is the science of the gaps. I don’t have a problem with you BELIEVING in your reductionist philosophy which is about 6000 years old, but to put it forth as if it were fact and a resolution to all the ontological mysteries by inference or an IOU is absurd. You don’t know squat. BTW, I want to see a Nobel Laureate who believes in zombies. Show me one.

              • Posted December 14, 2013 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

                Do physicists have all the answers? Certainly not. Quantum gravity and the strength of the vacuum are two easy examples of gaps in the knowledge of modern physics.

                But all the forces that act on human scales are and have been completely understood for quite some time, and the possibility of other unknown forces acting at human scales is right down there with the Sun rising in the West tomorrow morning. Anything that could even hypothetically influence human-scale events has long since been most thoroughly accounted for.

                Holding out the possibility that there’s something we don’t know that could apply at human scales is exactly equivalent to holding out the possibility that magic is real. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but, while we’re on the topic, Santa is just your parents; look at the handwriting on the card.

                As for zombie-professing Nobel Laureates, peruse this page:


                and look for the word, “Nobel.” You’ll find dozens, living and dead both. Either they’re incorrectly included on that list (in which case you should correct the error, what with it being Wikipedia and all) or else they professed the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds in all their zombie glory — “He rose again from the dead” being the key phrase, along with “the resurrection of the dead.” And, assuming they made such professions, they either sincerely believed in such nonsense or they were liars.



              • Posted December 15, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

                @ jerry

                Epistemic humility — the recognition that we could be wrong — is a virtue in science as it is in daily life, but the Standard Model (SM) of physics is thoroughly validated, as Sean Carroll’s article that Ben linked to describes. Yes, it’s incomplete, but we have very good reasons to be skeptical whenever some hypothesis violates what we already know to be true.

                And dualism does just that.

                As Prof. Carroll noted in his Skepticon V presentation, the LHC results mean that anything that interacts with our physical brains at human energy scales must be made of known fermions and/or interact via one of the known force carriers (photons or other gauge bosons). No other particles that interact with matter exist at human energy scales (indeed, up to the mass of the Higgs boson), else they would have been found at the LHC. (Or they’re too short lived or interact too weakly to be relevant.)

                If we posit that “mind” exists separately from the physical brain, we find, now, that there is nothing it could be made of and no way it could interact with the brain …

                This is where your piano-player analogy breaks down, because we know the player and the piano are made of the same stuff and we know how they physically interact.

                What you’re proposing is a piano player who is not made of piano-stuff (SM particles; i.e., atoms) interacting with the piano via non-SM forces … both of which are ruled out by the LHC results.

                Questions about the origin of self-awareness and intentionality surely remain, but a dualistic explanation is precluded by both parsimony and physics.


              • jerry
                Posted December 16, 2013 at 12:07 am | Permalink

                We’re not talking classical scale-at least from the outset but the quantum scale where conscious effects do appear to take place. Buckeyball molecules, salt crystals, photosynthesis, and even migratory birds exhibit quantum effects at the classical scale. See Vladko Vedral (and he’s an atheist). Given what we know about that kind of physics, I’m not sure how you can confidently say a dualistic explanation is precluded by both parsimony and physics. I’m not even sure dualism is the solution and that it is the only option for an incorporeal consciousness to be independent of a brain. But why then a brain you may ask. Perhaps the effects of a conscious observer at the quantum scale needs to go through these intermediate steps to effect classical physics, who knows? It may be the answer to intentionality or the original neuronal impulse. See some of the popular commentary by Johannan Raatz on YouTube. He deals with these points concerning dualism. He is not a dualist but believes consciousness is fundamental and not epiphenomenal. He gives his reasons for believing so. Have you tried the Quantum Randi Challenge? If what you are saying is true-that physics is in the bag-then you shouldn’t have a problem proving materialism is true. It’s a Cornell University post-look it up.

              • Posted December 16, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

                Quantum effects are not quantum computation. Fluorescence is a quantum phenomenon. Lasers are quantum phenomenon. Superfluidity and superconductivity are quantum phenomena. None of those are examples of quantum computation.

                Wherever you got the idea that migratory birds are exhibiting quantum effects…immediately strike that source from you list of reliable sources. That’s pure bullshit.

                We can rule out dualism of all forms for the simple reason that the LHC confirmed the existence of the Higgs. You see, at that point, the Standard Model became complete — at least as complete as Newtonian Mechanics, in fact. Yes. Newtonian Mechanics can’t explain certain phenomenon, but it can explain human-scale phenomenon, and do so perfectly. Stating that we know everything there is to know about human-scale phenomenon, of course, doesn’t mean that we know anything at all about phenomena at other scales, but, at the same time, our ignorance about those scales has no bearing on the fact that we do, indeed, perfectly understand human-scale phenomenon.

                And how does the Higgs enter into this?

                Well, Feynman diagrams can be rotated 90 degrees. A claim that some hitherto-unkown force (the soul or whatever) could be remotely acting upon the atoms or molecules or neurons or whatever in the brain is equivalent to a claim that the particle that carries said field (that’s sloppy terminology, but it’ll do for now) can be created through collisions of a certain energy. The LHC (and other colliders) have created collisions of every energy up to that of the Higgs and beyond, and all the particles (and their associated fields) in that range have been accounted for, with no room for there to be anything missing.

                Therefore, anything new that hasn’t been accounted for — and, rest assured, there’s still oodles and oodles left to discover — must be too weak to have an effect (weaker than gravity, which isn’t even a rounding error in chemical reactions) or operate over too small a distance (sub-atomic interactions) to have any bearing, or some other variation on the theme.

                It’s actually a really exciting discovery, for it means that we can now narrow and target our quest for understanding consciousness. All forms of dualism, all the mysticism, all the woo — we know as surely as we do that the Sun will rise in the East that they’re all diversions, a waste of time, dead ends. The real action is in neurophysiology and information theory.



              • Posted December 16, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

                @ Ben

                Thanks for elaborating on my comment and saving jerry the trouble of actually watching Sean Carrolls talk that I linked to above.


              • Posted December 16, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

                And thanks for linking to said talk! Watching it helped a lot of things “click” for me, and that’s obviously where I stole the idea of rotating Feynman diagrams from.


              • jerry
                Posted December 16, 2013 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

                All the words in the world can’t hide the obvious absurdity of your claim-that somehow there is nothing more to learn of physics or of any other reality. Resolve the quantum Randi challenge and maybe we’ll have something to talk about. I mean, after all, physics is in the can. You shouldn’t have a problem proving that materialism is true. So go for it. Spinning the same points a hundred different ways doesn’t make it so. Go ahead, make my day. Take on the Randi challenge. They’ll squash your over-bloated ego like a bug.

              • Posted December 17, 2013 at 8:12 am | Permalink

                Jerry, I have no clue whose words you’re reading, for they’re obviously not mine. I have repeatedly expressed the exact opposite of your own very absurd claims. Let me try again: there is unquestionably a great deal we don’t know about physics, with quantum gravity topping the list.

                You seem to like breathless hyperbolic challenges, so I’ll give you one of your very own.

                Independently analyze the data from the LHC and tell us where there is evidence (that the researchers themselves missed) of a particle / field not already accounted for in the Standard Model which could account for dualistic-style non-local interactions with the human brain. Alternatively, explain why the LHC data is insufficient and / or incomplete such that there may be some such particle / field that does exist but didn’t show up.

                After you’ve done that (and received your Nobel), we’ll talk. Until then, this is little more than a pissing contest with at least one participant who’s neglected to unzip.



              • jerry
                Posted December 16, 2013 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

                You’ve given me two things: physics 101 and a lot of hand waving. So many words and yet nothing to say. Maybe you should take another look at the things you are posting. Methodological descriptions do not resolve the ontological mysteries as to how and even why laws got that way in the first place. And when you resolve the hard problem-and you never will-then boast. Until then, don’t hold your breath.

              • jerry
                Posted December 17, 2013 at 1:29 am | Permalink

                YOU SAID: Either the mind is an emergent computational phenomenon of the physical brain, or the Church-Turing thesis does not hold.
                I SAY: Maybe it doesn’t “hold.” The Church–Turing thesis is a statement that characterizes the nature of computation and it cannot be formally proven. The notion of what it means for a function to be “effectively calculable” (computable) — is “a somewhat vague intuitive one”. Thus, the “thesis” remains a hypothesis despite its contributions leading to effective computers.
                YOU SAID: Laws underlying the physics of everyday life are completely understood, and those laws are entirely computable.
                I SAY, along with Roger Penrose, that that is hogwash. Of course you completely understand the physics you completely understand presently. That’s a bit circular, isn’t it? And it makes sense that much of the physics we still do not know would be the physics we insist doesn’t exist-otherwise we would know it. See a problem here? A little less hubris is in order. As for what we don’t understand and yet have reasons to believe they are there to understand (or not understand for the same reasons dogs don’t understand calculus), that would reside in the nexus between the quantum world and the classical world. Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem (1931) – says that ‘any precise mathematical system must contain some statements that are neither provable nor disprovable by the means allowed within the system’. This disproved the earlier work of Hilbert (1900) – whether there was a general algorithmic procedure for resolving all mathematical questions. Roger Penrose believes we see this insufficiency in the relationship between Physics (the physical) and Maths (the ideal) and that relationship substantiates what many refer to as Plato’s ideal world. It’s possible to find ways to compute ideas at the classical level and at the quantum level, but there is a gap in this framework that is un-explained and this is where Penrose believes the answer to consciousness lies. At the classical level we see something in one state or another, never in two or more at the same time. At the quantum level we do, and something happens in the transition from quantum level to classical level (i.e. when we scale up) that results in these different observations. Looking at our brains, we are able to understand how the neurons work as they cause effects at the classical level, and it is in the transition (or scaling up) from the quantum level activity in the brain to the classical level, that Penrose believes we will find non-computability, and hence the key to consciousness.. At the lower level, the neurons are made up by the cytoskeleton, which contains micro-tubules, and Penrose believes these are the classical organelles operating at the quantum level (see ORCH OR Penrose Hameroff if you haven’t already). Thus we are left with a non-computational approach to consciousness which you believe is no more a mystery than the George Foreman Grill. But despite your beliefs and that of AI, we are still left with a blank check and an IOU. So when you come up with a computer that profusely exclaims its undying love for me and actually means it, then I’ll subscribe to your reductionist program which presently fails on many counts.
                YOU SAID: A computer simulation of sufficient detail must, of necessity, result in a simulated brain that is every bit as conscious as meat brains, and every bit as surely as an apple must fall from the tree at an accelerating rate of about ten meters per second per second.
                I SAY: that many will argue we are already at this level of detail in computers and yet still no consciousness. Penrose even did some calculations which insist an algorithm would never suffice for something as profound as self-awareness, qualia, and the hard problem-not to mention our everyday experiences. You are making such huge, insupportable claims.
                YOU SAID: Just as we don’t need to drop an apple on Pluto to know how fast it would fall, we don’t need to have a complete explanation of consciousness to know that it’s an entirely physical and computational phenomenon.
                I SAY: I can envision many things the future may hold in regard to science, but consciousness remains an enigma seemingly non-amenable to the scientific method. With more understanding it is my hypothesis that men will finally come to realize that-except for maybe the thick-headed and inflexible.
                YOU SAID: Therefore, until somebody adduces credible evidence of perpetual motion, or, at the least, hyper computation, I shall continue to dismiss all claims of dualism (or the equivalent) with the same lack of serious consideration with which I dismiss claims of zero-point energy, telekinesis, anal-probing alien visitors, second sight, astrology, and all the other things that go bump in the night.
                I SAY: That is typical of anyone seeking an easy target: create a straw man by conflating entirely unrelated concepts utilized strictly for mockery or to belittle a more sophisticated idea by placing them in the same camp as Big Foot.
                YOU SAID: Even if those claims come from a Nobel laureate. Linus Pauling was a brilliant Nobel laureate, and yet his claims for the powers of vitamins were indistinguishable from the claims of homeopathy. Arguments from authority, even Nobel-level authorities, mean nothing to me — and they mean less-than-nothing when the claims are not about the Nobel-winning work.
                I SAY: First, it’s a fact that a body absent vitamins or nutrients will suffer disease states. Ever heard of scurvy? So if you are not eating a diet with sufficient levels of nutrients, not to mention the necessary lipids, carbohydrates, and proteins (with the full complement of essential amino acids), a supplement wouldn’t be a bad idea. Folic acid is in the medical literature as necessary for many conditions. So unless you’re living in the dark ages, you will realize there is “power” in vitamins. Without them, you die. As for Linus Pauling, for every example that you give of someone like him, I can give you an example of some schmoe who towed the party line and was ultimately proven wrong, just like you will one day be proven wrong about this consciousness topic. Again, you’re conflating things in your dishonesty. I mean, hell, we can’t even cure baldness and you’re making it sound like consciousness is a no-brainer. What are you, nuts???
                YOU SAID: After all, I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to find a Nobel laureate in medicine who will sincerely claim that a virgin gave birth to a zombie in first century Judea, and that said zombie can be found on cracker plates and in wine bottles the world over. You wouldn’t expect me to take those sorts of claims seriously, either, would you?
                I SAY: About as seriously as the claim that we now understand all there is to know about physics and that consciousness is an algorithmic no-brainer. And you are clearly an atheist with an anti-biblical bent who has once again made a caricature of a counter-view. Honestly, I’m not sure why I’m arguing with you. It’s never wise to argue with a dogmatist. I actually have a job and find this rhetoric draining. There’s a flip-side to every coin buddy. One day you’ll have to learn to swallow that bitter pill.

              • Posted December 17, 2013 at 8:14 am | Permalink

                If you’re going to reject Church-Turing in your opening line with nothing more than a “Maybe,” there’s no point to further discussion. Of all the woo there is, the only purer woo is perpetual motion.

                I’ve got too much to do today to tilt at such windmills.



              • Posted December 16, 2013 at 1:00 am | Permalink

                @ jerry

                I’m not sure what you’re trying to say with the first part of your comment (classical v. quantum). That’s irrelevant to my point.

                I realised shortly after commenting that what I wrote didn’t apply only to dualism in the formal sense, but also to Chopra’s nondual idealism and, indeed, any position that posits “an incorporeal consciousness … independent of a brain”.

                What “effects of a conscious observer at the quantum scale”? I’m not sure what your point is here.

                And it seems to me that you mischaracterise the QRC.


              • Posted December 17, 2013 at 2:47 am | Permalink

                @ jerry

                “… the obvious absurdity of your claim-that somehow there is nothing more to learn of physics or of any other reality”

                Can you not read? Neither Ben nor I make that claim. In fact, we both explicitly acknowledge that there is more to learn! Me: “Yes, it’s incomplete… ” Ben: “[this] doesn’t mean that we know anything at all about phenomena at other scales.”

                “Science knows it doesn’t know everything, otherwise it’d stop.” — Dara Ó Briain


              • jerry
                Posted December 17, 2013 at 9:18 am | Permalink

                You’re right about science and its continuing explorations. But read all of Ben’s posts more closely. He insists that we DO know all there is to know about physics and the absence of anything resembling the supernatural is a sort of PROOF that none of that exists. So you’re wrong on this point-he DOES overreach on what science can claim

              • Posted December 17, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink

                See, that’s why witnesses at trial are required to tell, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

                The physics of everyday life is completely understood. Much of physics at other scales is understood, but much is not.

                And I’ve written as much in every post on this subject.

                And I and Ant have pointed out to you your lie of omission in a not insignificant number of those posts.

                I’ll try one last analogy in case your misunderstanding is sincere and not a transparently cheap and poorly-executed rhetorical trick.

                I know everything there is to know about the game of Tic-Tac-Toe. I don’t even know enough about the game of Go to be able to play it. The fact that I don’t know much about Go doesn’t mean that you can beat me at Tic-Tac-Toe, even if you happen to be the reigning world champion of Go. The game of Go is much more fascinating than Tic-Tac-Toe, and I wouldn’t mind knowing more about it. But I don’t even need to know that it exists in order to have perfect mastery over Tic-Tac-Toe.

                You, on the other hand, are claiming that there are not-well-understood strategies in Go that, if you were a better Go player, would let you beat me at Tic-Tac-Toe — and this despite the assurances of Go masters that, no, Go really doesn’t have any bearing on Tic-Tac-Toe, despite any similarities that might strike you.



              • jerry
                Posted December 17, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

                I’ll just say this and then I’m finished here. The retort to your point is found in your own words:

                “Much of physics at other scales is understood, but much is not.”

                I won’t make an argument from ignorance so don’t worry. The point here is that you are assuming that those other scales have nothing to do with this classical scale of “everyday life.” That’s the real crux of it all-you’re assuming HUGE! And you know what they say about people when they assume-they tend to make an ASS out of U and ME. As for the tic-tac-toe analogy, well, anyways. Have a good one Ben. At least you’ve been civil about all this. One day we’ll know the truth or will know nothing. That depends on who’s right, doesn’t it? But don’t confuse me with a fundamentalist theist. I don’t think you’re going to hell.

              • Posted December 17, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

                @ jerry

                The point here is that you are assuming that those other scales have nothing to do with this classical scale of everyday life.

                Um. Have you actually read Prof. Sean Carrolls article yet? Theres nothing uniquely classical about quotidian physics. Otherwise, for example, GPS would be unreliable. And fucking magnets wouldnt work.

                /@ >

              • Posted December 17, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

                …and fluorescent lights wouldn’t fluoresce…lasers wouldn’t lase…microwave ovens wouldn’t make neat wave patterns in your melted chocolate….


              • Posted December 17, 2013 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

                @ Ben


                Oh. Um



              • Posted December 17, 2013 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

                @ jerry

                No, he doesnt. He and I are claiming only that quotidian physics are completely understood, reiterating the point of Prof. Sean Carrolls article that Ben linked to earlier. Sean understands this far better than any of us hes a well-respected physicist and author of an award-winning popular science book on the Higgs boson so, please, go over to Seans website and tell him that hes overreaching!


              • Posted December 17, 2013 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

                …and, in this case, the argument from authority isn’t fallacious. Sean is an actual quantum cosmologist, with dozens of peer-reviewed publications on the subject, dozens of doctoral students, teaching positions in the field at the most prestigious institutions, memberships in the relevant societies, and praise for popular publications on the topic from research institutions in the field.

                That’s the reasons why you should pay attention to what Sean has to say on the topic. Of course, it’s not reason why you should blindly assume that he’s correct; you should always evaluate his claims for their own merit.

                However, if you take the time to read his words and watch his presentations, you’ll understand why he’s regarded as a superlative educator: he is clear, concise, and makes his explanations in a manner that’s very easy to follow and understand.

                If you’re not convinced after watching that particular presentation that, yes, Virginia, we really do know everything there is to know about the physics (not chemistry, not biology, but physics) of the everyday world (not the sub-atomic world, not the quantum world, but the everyday world), then either you’ve got a valid criticism of the data and science he presented or you’re too thick to reason with.

                The data he presents is drawn from the most rigorous experiment in all of human history, and the Nobel laureates who designed and performed the experiments have praised Sean for the way he presents the results to the public; they agree with him. And the science is introductory-level quantum mechanics, such as you’ll learn in any college course on the subject.

                So all you’re left with is a giant conspiracy theory that the LHC people have fabricated the data or an even bigger conspiracy theory that everybody who’s teaching quantum mechanics has it completely worng and you’ve got the real truth.

                If that ain’t quackery, I don’t know what is.



              • jerry
                Posted December 17, 2013 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

                saying we understand quotidian (ordinary) physics is like saying we understand what we understand. And I thought you guys hate it when guys like me make an argument from authority and popularity. Doesn’t it cut both ways?

              • Posted December 17, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

                Yes, that’s exactly it. The physics of the brain is perfectly ordinary, and we understand it just the same way that we understand the physics of bouncing balls or microwave ovens or stellar life cycles.

                We also understand the chemistry of the brain; there’re no elements in there not on the Periodic Table.

                We haven’t put all the pieces together, sure, but we’ve got all the pieces laid out before us.

                And I already explained that Sean’s authority and popularity are reasons why it’s worth your time to listen to his explanation, but not reasons to blindly accept what he says as gospel. The rest of my remarks about him were an effort to help put the strength of his arguments in context — essentially, to note that the evidence and reasoning he presents is every bit as solid as the evidence and reasoning why you might believe that the Earth orbits the Sun and that said Sun will rise in the East tomorrow. Short of insane conspiracy theories, there really aren’t any other options that fit the facts.



              • jerry
                Posted December 17, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

                And just one more thing. You accuse me of laying out a diatribe but have you seen Ben’s posts? It’s the Gettysburg address for crying out loud. My diatribe is a point-by-point response to another diatribe. I believe you just agree with Ben’s diatribe and thus his points aren’t bothersome to you. This reminds me of my mother who would crank up the volume on her Frank Sinatra but would complain that my rock and roll was too loud. It wasn’t any more loud than her music-she just didn’t like mine.

              • Posted December 17, 2013 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

                @ jerry

                Well, theres a new logical fallacy!

                /@ >

              • jerry
                Posted December 17, 2013 at 9:38 am | Permalink

                You’re wrong. He doesn’t say it emerges from brain but the larger space-time geometry where Platonic values are embedded. Penrose is very much a critic of the reductionist brain model but that doesn’t mean he’s a spiritualist or a theist. As for decoherence, are you referring to warmer and wetter and noisier environments not being conducive to decoherence? See Vladko Vedral’s SA article on this point (he’s an atheist by the way). Such things are accumulating more evidence to the contrary in photosynthesis and even migratory birds etc. Since that debacle in that Beyond Belief symposium in 2006, Krauss has been forced to eat more of his words year by year after having ridiculed Hameroff who even then shut him down along with all his other present detractors. Guys like Hameroff are so cutting edge that he’s mistaken for woo and is conveniently written off by those with very closed minds. But as they say, success is the sweetest revenge. I say this as we are finding more examples of quantum effects in biological systems. But I will defer on this point that that is still not proof of Penrose’s and Hameroff’s theorem. What most upsets me is not a difference of opinion but that those who differ take a rigid stand either way and then caricaturize their opponent’s beliefs as tantamount to belief in fairies or goblins. It’s disrespectful and unnecessary.

              • Posted December 17, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

                @ jerry

                Well, forgive me for not remembering exactly what Penrose had claimed. I was just going by your précis. I’m really not sure why Penrose sees the need, or the justification, to inset Platonism (essentially supernatural) between quantum (entirely physical) and neurochemistry (entirely physical). He’s clobbered by the LHC results again: What is the QFT description of this Platonic space time — what is it made of and how does it interact with the SM components of our brains?

                /@ >

              • Posted December 17, 2013 at 2:58 am | Permalink

                @ jerry

                I’ll leave it to Ben to reply (or not) to your last diatribe.

                However, I’d just point out that even if Penrose is correct about the origin of consciousness (which seems unlikely, because of decoherence), he’s still positing that consciousness emerges from the physical brain, different from your earlier assertions, and not inconsistent with physics in the way that dualism, nondual idealism, &c., are.


              • kevin
                Posted January 24, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink


  4. jerry
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Sounds like the science of the gaps argument employed as a rebuttal to the god of the gaps argument. To assert mind is brain is overstepping what we know as many neuroscientists like John Eccles show how that point hasn’t really been proven-it’s just an assumption. Is it a coincidence that the defenders of materialism are also atheists? Only someone attempting to dodge moral accountability eg God, could possibly want to defend a philosophy (yes, a philosophy and not a science) that makes meaninglessness and purposelessness king. And to demonstrate mind is equal to brain, you must resolve the hard problem of consciousness. Have anything like that? I’ll listen to that. Anything less is simply the science of the gaps dressed up a science.

    • Posted December 15, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      See above. Eccles may be right to say that the assertion that mind is brain has not been validated (“proof” is for logic and mathematics), but modern physics has falsified the alternative.


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