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.

179 Comments

  1. Posted June 19, 2013 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    It’s probably impossible to use a scanning-tunneling microscope to examine the charge state of each element of DRAM and from that, reconstruct the Windows bytecode; therefore my computer has a soul. QED!

  2. Alexandra M
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    Fortunately, quite a few of his readers commenting on line recognized the argumentum ad ignorantiam.

  3. gbjames
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    sub

  4. Posted June 19, 2013 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    If you ever listen closely to David Brook’s voice on NPR, he sounds very similar to James Woods. Yet, James Woods is infinitely more interesting.

  5. John K.
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    If some kind of mind can be demonstrated without a brain, the dualists will have a leg to stand on. So far, the ghost hunter shows have only let them down.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

      If they can demonstrate a mind without a brain, perhaps they can stand without a leg. ;)

      • John K.
        Posted June 19, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

        Nice.

  6. Lynn David
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    I wonder how he feels about the definition which says mind is the work of the brain.

  7. agentwhim
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    “From personal experience, I can tell you that you get captivated by [neuroscience]…” Well, I have been captivated by neuroscience at times, but how can he tell me that I am from his own personal experience?

    Is this guy really writing for a newspaper? Don’t they have editors?

  8. Posted June 19, 2013 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    How can anyone think the mind and brain aren’t directly linked? Damage to the brain affects the mind (like the infamous tale of Phineas Gage).

    • Myron
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 6:59 am | Permalink

      An interactionist substance dualist can happily accept that. The existence of lawful correlations between mental phenomena and physical phenomena is a necessary condition of materialism’s truth but not a sufficient one.

    • Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:33 am | Permalink

      Never mind trauma. Ever since the first time a human ingested a mind-altering substance (such as beer or certain plaints), the evidence that consciousness is a purely physical phenomenon has been overwhelming.

      Of course, in those days they probably thought there were spirits in the spirits and weren’t thinking so much in terms of biochemistry, but that hasn’t been a valid excuse since the collapse of vitalism.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Sastra
        Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:43 am | Permalink

        ‘Vitalism’ has collapsed? Quick, somebody — tell the general public!

        Dig around a little and you can get most people to advocate some form of it.

      • Posted June 19, 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

        You make a very good point. How can the addition of something physical (drugs etc) affect something that is (supposedly) non-physical like the mind? It doesn’t sound right to me.

        • Posted June 19, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

          Because it interferes with the communication between the mind and the brain! ;-)

          /@

    • praxis
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:56 am | Permalink

      This is a common misunderstanding of dualism. Dualists don’t deny that the mind and the brain interact, indeed they requre it to be so. Evidence that changes in the brain are correlated with changes in the mind do not challenge dualism any more than claims that mental states can have physical effects, which they obviously accecpt too. The real challenge of interaction for dualists is how the mental and the physical could interact, not just the observation that they do.

      • Posted June 19, 2013 at 8:09 am | Permalink

        But they don’t just interact. They appear to be coextensive. Big difference.

        • praxis
          Posted June 19, 2013 at 8:24 am | Permalink

          Right, from the point of view of the identity thesis the question of interaction dissolves. My point is just that evidence that brain changes are accompanied by mental or behavioral changes isn’t an argument against dualism.

          • darrelle
            Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:31 am | Permalink

            Sure it is. It may not be sufficient all by itself to refute dualism 100%, but it is certainly good supportive evidence that dualism is not accurate.

            This hilights the real problem for dualism. There is lots of good evidence to suggest that dualism is inaccurate, but there is no good evidence to suggest that it is accurate. All dualism has going for it is that lots of people want it to be true.

      • gbjames
        Posted June 19, 2013 at 8:17 am | Permalink

        The problem is that mental states ARE physical states.

        • Posted June 19, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

          Yes, but the physical state is just a receiver of the mental state like a radio

          Damage the radio and the signal is distorted or silenced

          Or so I’ve read

          Where this signal comes from is usually vague

          • gbjames
            Posted June 19, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

            Vague? Not at all. It comes from Mars. Which is why we need these aluminum foil hats.

            • Posted June 19, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

              Aluminum?

              Hate to break it to you, but aluminum is completely transparent to Martian mind rays. Nothing less than genuine tinfoil will do the trick.

              And, yes. That’s why you can’t buy the stuff any more.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • gbjames
                Posted June 19, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

                Now I understand these headaches!

              • Posted June 19, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

                Headaches?

                No, sorry. Those don’t come from Martian mind rays. They come from a deficiency of Uranian ear rays.

                Suffice it to say, the whole matter is quite complicated, but aluminum in a typical hat configuration blocks the Uranian ear rays, which leads to headaches.

                Yet another reason why you should accept no substitute.

                b&

              • Posted June 19, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

                What if you use uranium foil … ?

                /@

              • Posted June 19, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

                SSSSHHHHHH! Don’t be giving away our secrets!

                b&

      • John K.
        Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

        Although, if all physical phenomena affect all aspects of the mind there becomes little reason to posit a separate non-physical component. If there really was a non-physical component to the mind, it would stand to reason that physical things would be in some way limited in how they could effect it.

        It really does not make sense that things like recognizing objects, remembering faces, or parts of speech would be partly non-physical when it can be demonstrated that these functions can be permanently and completely destroyed in conjunction with brain damage, even separately of each other. The standard dualistic reply at this point is usually to move the goalposts and redefine “mind”, but neuroscience, brain trauma, and psychoactive drugs move the goalposts nearly completely out of existence.

    • prax
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

      This is a common misunderstanding of dualism. Dualists don’t deny that the mind and the brain interact, indeed they requre it to be so. Evidence that changes in the brain are correlated with changes in the mind do not challenge dualism any more than claims that mental states can have physical effects, which they obviously accecpt too. The real challenge of interaction for dualists is how the mental and the physical could interact, not just the observation that they do.

      • lkr
        Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink

        Am I wrong or is “praxis” reposting the same mantra a sign that he/she is a meatbot?

        • praxis
          Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

          Ha, yes, but I blame that on the external software.

  9. Posted June 19, 2013 at 5:48 am | Permalink

    ….hmmmm “meat computer”….what a way to put it…

    • Notagod
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      Now don’t be getting your salivary glands in a twist, jebus’s is the only human-ish meat computer that has been approved for human consumption.

    • Posted June 19, 2013 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      Mine is more of a meat abacus.

  10. Dominic
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    Well said.

    In the Guardian, Madelaine Bunting said this of his book The Social Animal –
    “There’s a striking romanticism going on here in which a generation raised on a very optimistic view of human nature during the 60s are searching to put together their lost inheritance. The world turned out far more brutal, unjust and irrational than they were brought up to believe.”

  11. Myron
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    “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.” – David Brooks

    This is simply a non sequitur. If there is an epistemic gap between neural processes and mental processes, in the sense that facts about the latter aren’t a priori scrutable from known facts about the former, then it doesn’t follow that there is also an ontic gap between neural processes and mental processes, in the sense that the latter are not identical with the former. Therefore, the existence of an epistemic gap between brain-knowledge and mind-knowledge does not refute the brain/mind identity theory, which is an ontological theory:

    “The identity theory of mind holds that states and processes of the mind are identical to states and processes of the brain. Strictly speaking, it need not hold that the mind is identical to the brain. Idiomatically we do use ‘She has a good mind’ and ‘She has a good brain’ interchangeably but we would hardly say ‘Her mind weighs fifty ounces’. Here I take identifying mind and brain as being a matter of identifying processes and perhaps states of the mind and brain. Consider an experience of pain, or of seeing something, or of having a mental image. The identity theory of mind is to the effect that these experiences just are brain processes, not merely correlated with brain processes.”

    (Smart, J. J. C. “The Mind/Brain Identity Theory.” In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2007: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mind-identity/)

    • couchloc
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

      This is an interesting observation, but it may be worth noting that the mind/brain identity theory doesn’t itself seem to be the view Coyne is defending since he isn’t an identity theorist of the same sort. When you read through the article it is interesting in fact how many dualistic elements are part of Coyne’s description. Here are some examples:

      *”Perhaps we shouldn’t be looking at crude brain scans to understand hatred, but where else can hatred come from but the brain?”

      To say that hatred “comes from the brain” is to say hatred is nonidentical to the brain. If I come from San Franscisco, that doesn’t imply I am identical to San Fransisco in some way.

      *”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.”

      This again is inconsistent with saying the mind is identical to the brain. If the mind is “the product” of the brain then it is distinct from it. I am a product of my parents, but nevertheless a distinct thing from them. Indeed it is logically impossible for something X to be both “a product of Y” and “identical to Y” at the same time. So the identity theory cannot be the correct interpretation of Coyne’s account. Similarly, if the mind is understood as the computer software and the brain the hardware, then again it seems there’s a difference between them. The whole software/hardware distinction is a form of dualism since it posits two elements: software and hardware. So whatever position is being described in this article has no clear relation to the mind/brain identity theory it seems.

      • Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        It seems to be endemic in certain circles to say “brains cause minds”, which is like saying “stomachs cause digestion” – a bit weird. Even a textbook (admittedly old – 1994 edition) of the psychology and biology of perception I have (Sekuler and Blake, if anyone cares) makes this sort of mistake.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted June 19, 2013 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

        Or it could be that what Jerry intends to say is consistent with identity theory, but he has used language casually and loosely because this is just an informal discussion, not an academic paper.

        In the phrase “where else could hatred come from”, one could interpret it more leniently than you have by assuming identity theory, I.e. hatred is in the brain, and if it weren’t, it would have to come from elsewhere. Jerry’s statement could imply, but does not necessarily imply, he thinks hatred is something distinct from the brain and coming out of it. In fact from the entire context, the gist of Jerry’s argument seems pretty unambiguously that Brooks is making a bad argument for mind/brain duality. It seems safe to say that looking at the entire article, rather than cherry picking a few casual statements, Dr. Coyne is arguing against mind/brain duality.

        Your final conclusion depends on you assuming Jerry has produced words in every single sentence that are precisely consistent with his overall thesis. Humans being imperfect as they are, this is a very bad assumption to make. Better readers would look at the entire article to infer its meaning and intent, rather than try to deduce something about the whole from only a few parts.

        For example, you might come from San Francisco, but I could read your post using your own method and conclude you do not, because if you came from San Francisco you would know how to spell it. Obviously I might be wrong in making such a conclusion.

    • Leigh Jackson
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      “The brain is not the mind.”

      We don’t know for absolute sure, yet, whether that is false. Far less do we know for absolute sure that it is true. There is no evidence whatsoever to support the claim. The tasteless morsels proffered by Brooks are simply irrelevant. He speaks according to what he wishes to be true. Meanwhile science progresses in the opposite direction to his wishes.

  12. Posted June 19, 2013 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    To be fair, he is no worse than most non scientists when they try to write about things having science roots.

  13. TJR
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    You can argue “the mind is not the brain” only in the sense that it also includes, to some extent, the connections between the brain and the rest of the body.

  14. Posted June 19, 2013 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    Is there any evidence for the idea that the mind is something outside the brain? Nope. Is there any evidence for the opposite? Yes, very much.

    • Alexandra M
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 6:10 am | Permalink

      The brain is something outside the mind? ;-)

      • Posted June 19, 2013 at 6:17 am | Permalink

        Lol!

        But the oppossite for “outside” is “inside”.

        • Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:02 am | Permalink

          The poop is nothing inside the butt?

  15. Myron
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    “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.” J. Coyne

    There is a difference between saying that mental phenomena are identical with physical/neural phenomena, and saying that mental phenomena are caused by (arise/emerge from) physical/neural phenomena.

    • couchloc
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      I didn’t notice this comment before, but maybe we are in agreement given my reply to your earlier post above.

    • gbjames
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 8:49 am | Permalink

      Would you go along with it if he phrased it slightly differently?… “The mind is the activity of a living brain. Without a brain there can be no mind.”?

      • Posted June 19, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

        “Without a brain there can be no mind” is not entailed by “The mind is the activity of a living brain. Without a brain there can be no mind” So rephrasing it doesn’t help.

        “Motored transportation is the activity of an automobile” does not entail “Without an automobile there can be no motored transportation.” (A jet ski is motored transportation).

        We would always be overstepping our evidence if we inferred that a brain like ours is necessary for minds like ours. We can say brains like ours *cause* minds like ours, but it is overreaching to say that brains are *the only things* that can cause minds like ours.

        • Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

          I don’t think anybody here is dismissing the possibility of artificial intelligence or aliens.

          Even then, “brain” is a loose enough term that it would very well apply to a sufficiently smart computer or to a biological organism whose ancestors arose in the vicinity of some other star.

          b&

          • Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink

            Ben,

            I can agree to the abstract classification of ‘brain’, but doing so loses some of the specificity between brain function/damage and mental ability/disability that identity theorists claim as support for their position.

            No one could reasonably deny that mental phenomena are importantly related to neural phenomena in ourselves (and other animals).

            I took Jerry’s claim, “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” at face value…and at face value it is false. If we understand ‘brain’ at a functional, not biological, analysis, then sure, I agree with your point.

            • Posted June 19, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

              I can agree to the abstract classification of ‘brain’, but doing so loses some of the specificity between brain function/damage and mental ability/disability that identity theorists claim as support for their position.

              I can’t imagine how that could possibly be the case.

              Might there be brains that aren’t adversely affected by ethyl alcohol? Certainly. But that has no bearing on the fact that human brains are unable to properly function with sufficient levels of alcohol.

              b&

            • Posted June 19, 2013 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

              “…but doing so loses some of the specificity between brain function/damage and mental ability/disability…”

              Why?

              You’re essentially claiming here that non-human “brains” must somehow be impervious to damage.

              So I ask: Why?

              Also: how do you know that?

          • couchloc
            Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

            I think esssbeee is right on this issue. But notice that the problem is made more complicated if you allow that the account includes the possibility of artificial intellegence (or if one suggests the mind is the software of the brain as Coyne does). The existence of software is not intrinsically dependent on the existence of a hardware system that runs it. I can go to Staples and get a copy of Microsoft Office all by itself. So I’m beginning to lose my grip on what it means to say that the mind (software) can’t exist without the brain (hardware).

            • Posted June 19, 2013 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

              What you get at Staples, though, is just a piece of aluminum with a bunch of pits in it encased in a piece of plastic. That’s it.

              And that aluminum plastic sandwich is utterly useless all by itself. You have to put it in a machine with a laser that shines on the aluminum and a photodetector that turns that pattern of pits on the aluminum into a series of voltages in circuitry which gets turned into a pattern of magnetic domains on the hard disk. That series of voltages physically works very much like a super miniaturized hydraulic valve system and is logically equivalent to a punch card. The end result is a bunch of very small lights getting turned on and off in certain recognizable patterns on your display.

              While it helps to think of it at various levels of abstractions, the fact is a computer is most emphatically entirely a physical construct. It’s the ultimate Rube Goldberg contraption, in fact.

              It might help to realize that there really isn’t any such thing as “information.” Instead, all there is is communication and computation, and we’ve known for a loooooong time that there are very hard physical limits to both, thanks especially to the work of Claude Shannon and Alan Turing.

              Biological brains are the same category of Rube Goldberg contraptions as computers, just with different mechanics.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • couchloc
                Posted June 19, 2013 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

                Ben,

                Nobody had denied that computers running programs are “physical constructs.” The issue is whether the hardware of computers are necessary for the existence of software, and that doesn’t seem to be required. Hardware is one thing; software is something else. They work together on a functioning machine as you make clear. But the symbolic code that makes up the software when it’s sitting on the shelf still exists independently of the hardware system, and in that particular respect can be said to exist without the hardware. So I worry the analogy with the mind doesn’t work because the mind isn’t supposed to exist at all without the brain.

              • Posted June 19, 2013 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

                Hardware is one thing; software is something else. They work together on a functioning machine as you make clear. But the symbolic code that makes up the software when it’s sitting on the shelf still exists independently of the hardware system, and in that particular respect can be said to exist without the hardware.

                No.

                When the “software” is sitting on the shelf, it’s still a piece of hardware.

                That the hardware is trivially disassembled or reconfigured is of no consequence.

                What you’re doing — and, make no mistrake, it’s a very useful thing to do even though it’s incorrect — is idealizing software and conceptualizing it as some sort of a Platonic ideal that exists outside of the physical world.

                It’s not. It’s still just a piece of hardware, an aluminum plate with a bunch of pits in it encased in clear plastic. It’s only different from a stack of punch cards in that it’s much more efficient. And a computer is only different from an automated loom in that the computer makes pretty patterns with lights whereas the loom makes pretty patterns with threads.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • couchloc
                Posted June 19, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

                Thanks for this reply. I think your reply is sort of interesting.

                Suppose I agree that the “software” is just a piece of “hardware” on the shelf. Then I don’t see why that doesn’t help my argument. I mean, the thing still exists in some sense independently of the computer mainframe. So in this sense it is unlike the mind, which is supposed to be totally annialated without a brain. Right?

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

                I see this whole brain/mind thing as a perception and most likely an illusion. Just as we perceive a portion of the RF spectrum through our eyes as visual inputs, I suspect we perceive some of the signals in our brains as “mind” or “self” and there is no need to separate out anything.

              • Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

                I’m not sure what you meant to type instead of, “annialated.”

                But all you’re doing is focusing on the fact that you can easily slice and dice a computer’s hardware — indeed, humans have designed them to be readily sliced and diced. Human brains aren’t modular like that.

                But if you could carve out your Broca’s area and replace it with that of somebody born in China, that would be the equivalent of uninstalling the English language version of Word and installing the Chinese language version of it in its place. Same thing if you could just re-wire your neurons in place without doing the physical swap.

                Again, you don’t have any software sitting on your shelf. You have a modular piece of computer hardware sitting on your shelf, that’s all. That hardware is useless without the rest of the computer, and the rest of the computer is equally useless without it. And it is most emphatically a physical thing, with nothing abstract about it at all.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

                Diana’s got it.

                What you experience as the “self” or “mind” or whatever is just how a computational device with the specifications of your brain (and the rest of your body) records and processes its inputs.

                We can know this because we’ve accounted for everything going on, and that’s all there is (even if we don’t understand it in as much detail as we’d like).

                b&

              • Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

                couchloc:

                In this analogy, Microsoft Office is part of the “hardware”, along with the computer. The mind is the “pretty pattern of lights” produced by the computer when it runs the program. No computer, no light patterns.

                I think that mostly salvages the analogy.

                But noting that this “hardware/software” analogy is not particularly apt doesn’t really prove anyone’s point in this debate. Doing so is a semantic red herring.

              • couchloc
                Posted June 19, 2013 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

                Coyne has said that he thinks the brain is a meat computer. He is basically appealing to the cognitive science view that the mind is the software and the brain is the hardware. I’m merely trying to make sense of his account. If, as Ben G. says, there is no software that exists because it’s all just hardware in the end, then I fear something’s wrong with the analogy Coyne is using. Indeed, in that case, I no longer understand what the mind is supposed to be analogous to. Am I supposed to believe that the mind is the hardware of the brain, which is also a piece of hardware? Maybe so but I’m starting to lose the meaning of the analogy then.

                That term was meant to be “annihilated.” Sorry.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted June 19, 2013 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

                Couchloc,
                In theory we could use some kind of scanning device to read the exact neuronal structure of the brain, and encode that in some symbolic language stored on some optical storage device.

                In theory again, we could load this stored data into a biological 3d printer that could reproduce the exact brain again.

                This is analogous to loading software into a computer, because it is not the symbolic description of software that loads and runs. That would be source code, but once a compiler has done its work, the “software” has become a stored configuration of (part of) the machine, which is nothing but electrons in solid state circuits. So the software is not, in a fundamental sense, in the machine. Instead reading the machine configuration derived from software transforms the machine itself into a new state or configuration.

                It is more correct to say that software doesn’t run in machines. It is sloppy but common language to say software runs on a machine. Software really is a stored snapshot of a machine configuration, and when the machine is set in that configuration, there us no longer a distinction between machine and software, but the machine behaves in the way the software author intended the machine to behave because it has been reconfigured into a new state.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted June 20, 2013 at 6:21 am | Permalink

                @couchloc

                Coyne has said that he thinks the brain is a meat computer. He is basically appealing to the cognitive science view that the mind is the software and the brain is the hardware. I’m merely trying to make sense of his account.

                I think the problem may be that you don’t know enough about computers. A computer is not necessarily digital, with hardware and software. There are analog computers of many varieties as well. The prevailing cognitive science view is not, as you say, that there is a brain serving as hardware to the mind as software. I don’t know where you came up with that idea, and I’ve never heard Dr. Coyne suggest such a thing. You seem to me to be projecting pre-conceived notions onto what is being said.

                The brain does not do computation in the way a Von Neuman/Turing model digital computer does. Any cognitive scientist who does not know this can’t be called a cognitive scientist. It is a complex web of neural networks of networks of networks etc.

                Any cognitive scientist ought to understand this distinction, and know that there is no software involved. It is still fair to call the brain a kind of computer, one whose computation is determined by the topology of a massively parallel web of neural networks. And since it is mostly protein, it is a meat computer.

              • couchloc
                Posted June 20, 2013 at 7:18 am | Permalink

                I am merely trying to understand what Coyne is saying. If I have interpreted him wrongly, then that’s fine and I’m glad to know that. But it seems to me that in an article complaining about someone else’s view of the mind not being clear, it is a reasonable complaint to raise that the alternative presented is not clear either. If by “meat computer” he means a connectionist/parallel processing system, then it would help to state that I think since that raises problems of its own. Given some of the other things said it’s not easy to figure out the view (as some other’s have noted around here). In any case, thanks.

              • Posted June 20, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

                couchloc:

                Did you read my response upthread just a bit?

                Nowhere in this post does Jerry present the “hardware=brain;software=mind” analogy. So your criticism and request for clarification is moot. But I went ahead and made some sense out of the analogy anyway: the computer and MS Office are both the ” brain”; the result you see on your screen is the mind. Obviously, if the computer and the program aren’t there, then neither is the result on your screen.

                In fact, Jerry presents almost this precise form of the analogy when he writes that the mind is the “output” of the brain.

                I don’t think picking on language like this makes for a worthwhile argument, as I noted before. I think Jerry is being sufficiently clear. It’s just that it’s nearly impossible to escape the way our language inherently expresses dualism. This happens in the free will debate also. Critics will decry Sam Harris for writing “You do not choose what you choose”, claiming he’s upholding the notion that there is some choosing apparatus that is separate from “you”. But it’s clear that Sam’s idea is that there is no homunculus “you” making choices free from determining factors not under your control. Jumping on Sam for writing a sentence like that is not only a semantic red herring, it is also imputing notions to him that he does not espouse.

              • couchloc
                Posted June 20, 2013 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

                musical beef,

                Yes I did see your upthread response, thanks. It seemed to me that you were describing a different point than Coyne, though one I hadn’t thought about. I would say on your other point, though, that I don’t think the issues I’ve raised are merely a semantic quibble. Notice that completely independently of my worries here there are very similar concerns raised by others about the whole “computer” and “output” language being used. See response #19 and the discussion by Myron and others there. So maybe my understanding of Coyne is wrong, but I’m not wrong to raise the issue I think.

  16. Gasper Sciacca
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    Sometimes, I wonder about the NYT keeping someone like David Brooks. I understand (via Paul Krugman) he believes the push for more trains and other forms of public transportation are evidence that the government is trying to enslave us.

  17. Posted June 19, 2013 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    Dan Dennett recently twittered a very positive endorsement of the book Incomplete Nature by Terry Deacon, who argues that science is incomplete because it doesn’t incorporate some kind of teleological principle (or at least I think that’s what he’s saying). The book is very long and introduces some neo-deepities that I had trouble getting my head around. Just when I thought I was tracking him and approaching the moment when his paradigm-busting ideas would become clear, everything would disappear into a cloud of fudge. There is an extensive discussion of the theory of evolution together with criticism that purports to show that it is “incomplete”. No doubt I’m too dumb to understand what he’s saying, but I pause before dismissing the book because the estimable Dan Dennett thinks it’s great, and because the author is not simply another wordy theologian who wants there to be “something more”.

    • DV
      Posted June 20, 2013 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      the verb is “tweeted”

  18. Posted June 19, 2013 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    His thesis seems to be: Don’t do to neuroscience what I did to evolutionary psychology in my book The Social Animal; which is, simplify it into meaninglessness and then use it to explain everything. Thanks, David. Thanks for the heads up.

  19. Myron
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    Note that functionalists about the mind reject the mind/brain identity theory, because they believe in the multiple physical/neural realizability of mental phenomena: plato.stanford.edu/entries/multiple-realizability

    Since psychological functionalism is compatible with physicalism, physicalists needn’t accept psychophysical identism.

    • praxis
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      This is an important point. Functionalism is usually considered a physicalist rejection of mind-brain identity. What makes the second to last paragraph of ths post so hard to understand is that identity is asserted and then followed by the functionalist hardware/software analogy. But those are two different and probably incompatible positions.

      • Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

        One can be a selective functionalist, just like one can be a selective emergent materialist or eliminative materialist.

        Moreover, functionalists should be point-by-point identity “theorists” regardless of Fodor’s bit about immaterial function-realizers, for all the usual reasons. This is now more or less orthodoxy, but somehow took years to even state. (This latter point came out at PSA 2000!)

      • Lyndon
        Posted June 19, 2013 at 10:17 am | Permalink

        I somewhat agree with the worry here and Coyne’s closing statements did send up the alarms for me. There is the further problem that functionalism has all sorts of different adherents that go through all sorts of tricks to piece together a theory of brain/mind, and that have different tacks on the multiple realizability issue.

        On another note, I have just read Jesse Prinz’s The Conscious Brain, which in general I liked though had some questions about. But he is definitely a physicalist and I find it difficult to classify him as either a functionalist or identity theorist. I remember statements representing both and also a denial of some functionalist programs.

        I do not like the language Jerry used (and that is often used even by committed physicalist), probably just because it leads to obfuscation. But it may be no more problematic than saying that the engine produces engine power, where engine power is a shorthand for all the effects that the engine allows cars to do, and where such a “function” does not lead to any other obfuscation or misrepresentation. And we can also readily understand that two different engines can both create an equal (multiply realizable?) amount of thrust, without requiring some competing theory of functionalism and identity theory of engines.

  20. Romuald.
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    Woomasters : what Science has not explored yet, does not belong to science(but to religion-paranormal-whatever).

    Scientists : what Science has not explored yet, will be explored by science.

    me : what has not been explored yet…has not been explored yet. You can imagine whatever you want, everything you say about

    Of course, if I had to bet, I’d bet on the scientists. Their record is unrivaled. Yet, Doubt is, IMHO, important to keep alive. Black swans DO exist.

  21. Posted June 19, 2013 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    I just commented on that article and sent off a letter to the editor when I turned to WEIT to find this excellent piece.

    Here is a version of my letter.

    In a column in the June 18 New York Times, David Brooks offers up his reaction to what is going on in the field of neuroscience. Probably this is too ambitious an undertaking for a newspaper column, because it is a huge field of research. But, undaunted, Brooks claims that academic neuroscientists assert that human beings are nothing but neurons. But he does not name any scientist that has actually said this, let alone a neuroscientist. Why would any well informed person say it, as it leaves out hundreds of other cell types that are known to exist in humans?

    He also asserts that “the brain is not the mind.” Again, this is without any evidence, and quoting no expert. Defining neither “brain” nor “mind”, perhaps he feels safe from contradiction.

    Brooks likes to read and comment about science, which is fine, but he ought to realize that, since the time of Francis Bacon, a basic tenet of science has been that phenomena should be investigated without reference to the supernatural. With the right equipment, neuroscientists can tell with some precision whether a human subject is going to press one or the other of two buttons before that subject is aware of which one it is. This observation indicates that a lot of brain activity goes on without our being aware of it. A little introspection will provide some homespun support for this. Ideas fly into our heads, seemingly from nowhere; we eat chocolate ice cream but sometimes we switch to, say, cherry. Why? We don’t know. We as individuals know very little about why we think what we think. To say we are in control of our thoughts would appear to be an exaggeration, or perhaps a simple mistake of language. What do we mean by “we?”

    Like it or not, individuals, both human and animal, are responsible for their actions in the sense that some consequences of those actions will fall upon them, no matter what. But if the premise of science is right, that phenomena are to be investigated without reference to the supernatural, then we need to consider the body and the brain as integrated biological systems, in which the laws of physics and chemistry are not violated. Our feeling of agency, of being a witness to our lives, must somehow arise from the activities of these systems, in ways that neuroscientists are working hard to understand. Contrary to Brooks, they are not making unfounded or extraordinary claims for the most part. If they did, their papers would not be accepted in peer-reviewed journals. So the next time somebody says “the brain is not the mind”, ask for a definition of the terms and don’t hold your breath waiting for an answer.

    • Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:20 am | Permalink

      Sweet. It amazes me how much supernaturalist baggage we (generally speaking) retain when using supposedly neutral words like “mind” and “brain”. And then there’s the lack of clarity evoked when people talk about the “mind / body problem” as if body=brain in this context (ignoring brain-body as a system of awareness and cognition).

      It’s as if every conversation with a non-specialist has to begin from scratch, as there are conceptual & linguistic pitfalls everywhere.

  22. Myron
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    By the way, strictly speaking, it is not really correct to say that the mind is the brain or the CNS, since losing one’s mind is not the same as losing one’s brain/CNS. When I die, my mind ceases to exist but my brain/CNS doesn’t (unless the cause of my death is an explosion which destroys my mind and my body at the same time); it just becomes irreversibly inactive. So materialists should say that the mind is the active or functional brain/CNS.

  23. Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    “The mind is not the brain” can be held by materialists, the statement does not (necessarily)entail dualism. I reject dualism, but equally reject the claim that the mind is the brain (in anything but a trivial sense).

    Gilbert Ryle, Dennett’s mentor, famously argued in Concept of Mind (1949) that claiming that “the mind is the brain” is *just as mistaken* as dualism’s “the mind and the brain are distinct.”

    ‘Mind’ is an abstract and theoretical descriptor of certain behaviors and dispositions, according to Ryle. It is a category mistake to act as if ‘mental’ is a contrast class to ‘physical’, but it is also a category mistake to act as if they are a comparative class. No doubt the two are contingently correlated, but you’ll never reduce one to the other in any meaningful way.

    • Myron
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      According to behaviorism, “[t]he mind is not a thing related to the body; the relation of mind to body is the relation of activity to agent.”
      (Campbell, Keith. Body and Mind. 2nd ed. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984. p. 63)

      So, for behaviorists the mind is neither a spiritual nor a material thing, and mental descriptions are nothing but descriptions of an organism’s behavior and dispositions to behave.
      But according to psychophysical identism aka central-state materialism, the mind is a thing which is part of an organism: the brain or the CNS.
      “If the mind is thought of as ‘that which has mental states’, then we can say that, on this theory, the mind is simply the central nervous system, or, less accurately but more epigrammatically, the mind is simply the brain.”
      (Armstrong, D. M. A Materialist Theory of the Mind. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968. p. 73)

  24. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    At the highbrow end, there are scholars and theorists that some have called the “nothing buttists.” Human beings are nothing but neurons, they assert.

    If you don’t know about glia, I don’t think you can honestly claim to be at “the highbrow end.”

  25. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Neuroscience doesn’t need a grand theory to advance
    by Zen Faulkes

  26. Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    The duo-bro buttists sound like an interesting species to study.

  27. Kurt Helf
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    I can’t bring myself to read the whole column as I despise David Brooks. However, your excerpts read to me like he watched the recent BookTV interview with Sally Satel and wrote a synopsis.

  28. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    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.

    Well that just sounds rude and seems somewhat reductio ad absurdum. Who are these “neuro-mappers” who say these things? This paragraph really reveals Brooks’s strong discomfort with the free will question.

    Moreover, the other examples he provides where stimuli cause various areas to light up in the mind doesn’t prove there may be a mind and a brain (whatever that really means) but that there is no central self (maybe this is what he means by mind). These examples show there is no self, and no mind just the meat brain helping to control the entire meat bags of our bodies. This seems to really frighten him.

  29. Posted June 19, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    David Brooks’s status as a go-to intellectual for print, radio, and TV baffles me.

    • Greg
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      see: http://www.theonion.com/articles/actual-expert-too-boring-for-tv,1764/

      also see: McCain, John; holds the record for most appearances on Sunday morning news shows, despite a track-record of boneheaded predictions.

    • Larry Gay
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      The supply of more or less presentable conservative commentators is running pretty low. Brooks may be as presentable as they come.

  30. Sastra
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    ‘Greedy reductionism’ is another word for what’s been called the “nothing but” fallacy: if X is made out of Y’s, then X is “nothing but” Y’s in the crudest sense of the phrase. Any complexity and phenomenon which come from the interaction of Y’s isn’t real. Levels of understanding and degree don’t exist. If the mind is the brain then if you open up a brain you ought to see thoughts directly, as irreducible little units of being bouncing around in there like marbles. Right?

    This is a form of composition fallacy. And it’s usually held by people who claim that no, they don’t believe it — that’s what the other guy believes.

    No. Naturalism isn’t eliminative reductionism.

    Brooks does indeed look like he’s playing with deepities: a word, phrase, or idea which can be interpreted as true but trivial OR as extraordinary but false. The deepity player plays on the resemblance to go back and forth, forth and back, asserting — and then denying having done so — at the same time, or as needed. Wink wink nod nod. Clever.

    • Posted June 19, 2013 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      If Layer Cake Reductionism is faulty, and given that we would need to include things at both higher and lower levels to reduce any class of properties at an intermediate level to a lower level in this way it surely is, what alternative is there? I want to suggest something I haven’t seen proposed (but given my ignorance of the field almost certainly has been, and much better than I will do here): Pizza Reductionism.

      John S. Wilkins

      /@

  31. Matt G
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    The best part about David Brooks’ columns is the comments section, in which his readers demonstrate their intellectual superiority to him. How he can show his face in public (much less continue to write) after the clobbering he gets with each article?

  32. Posted June 19, 2013 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    I thought I’d come across a piece on Raymod Tallis, who similarly has romantic notions about the mind, and criticises neuroscience, and Darwinism (Neuromania and Darwinitis are his terms).

    But Tallis too is full of criticism of straw men, and offers nothing himself except deepities.

    It really does seem like there is a fear about the possible loss of some nebulous ‘humanity’ that will ensue if we admit or discover that we really are ‘just’ animals, or that our minds are ‘just’ our brains. It’s as if even atheists like Tallis really wish there was a human soul that sits immutably on some lofty throne above the messy dirty fallible biology.

    But they’re not dualists of course, so they never actually say that. It’s all innuendo, hinted at by language that is so familiar to the theologians:

    1) Be vague and lofty about ones own position, making it hard to criticise – if you don’t claim too much, and offer nothing concrete yourself, then you’re in the clear, above criticism, noble, wise. (Or so it seems in their own minds.)

    2) Though science is a contingent endeavour that never actually provides absolute logical proof of anything, criticise it as though it should, or as though scientists are claiming it does.

  33. Greg
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    In focusing all our criticism onto David Brooks, we’re ignoring the irresponsibility of the NYT editors for publishing op-eds with such little scientific merit. I’m sure that the NYT scrutinizes the political op-eds for obvious fabrications before publishing; why can’t there be a similar peer review process for op-eds about science?

    • Marta
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      You’re kidding, yes?

      It’s an Op-Ed, the go-to location for any writer who knows a little something about something, and avails themselves of the bull-horn provided by the NYT to convince their readers that their ill-informed opinion is a fact.

      David Brooks is a pretentious gob who frequently writes stupid stuff that is subsequently fisked and shredded by readers, but in this case, he is certainly no worse than Ross Douthat, a raging Catholic who is expert on women’s lady bits and what they shouldn’t be allowed to do with them, or Thomas Friedman, who tortured a metaphor (“The World is Flat”)until readers wanted to conk him one with a flat iron then, and now just want him to shut up with his idiotic wrongness about economics.

      • pacopicopiedra
        Posted June 19, 2013 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

        Yes, Greg appears to be unfamiliar with how the op-ed columnists operate, but he’s probably better off for it.

  34. AndrewF
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    I agree the mind is not the brain just like digestion is not the GI tract. Though I did read somewhere that it has a mind of its own (Second Brain?).

    • AndrewF
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      The mind is what the brain does.

      • Myron
        Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:22 am | Permalink

        The brain does a lot of non-mental things. Not all neural processes are mental or experiential processes.

      • gbjames
        Posted June 19, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

        Zackly.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      Yeah the gut is like a second brain in that it controls a whole bunch of stuff we don’t really want to know about (though I think it would be nice of it to throw a specific error to the brain so I don’t have to guess what it wants when I get tummy trouble) :)

      Isn’t there just a brain? There has to be just a brain.

  35. matt
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    i kinda feel like he contradicts himself in the very first paragraph. either way, his ideas are seriously lacking in any scrutiny.

    the only mind is not brain worth considering: http://youtu.be/MQf2TSDRLkQ

    • matt
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      that is safe for work, by the way.

  36. Gordon Hill
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    My problem with ‘Doctor’ Brooks is his certainty in the throes of the other: “These two forms of extremism are refuted by the same reality. The brain is not the mind.”

    What’s missing is the recognition of the mind/brain challenge; i.e., the scientific characterization of how the mind/brain functions. As an engineer I am intrigued by problems and understanding the brain in any universal sense seems unlikely, if not impossible, what William Uttal deems “intractibile due to computational complexity.”

    Since I am well beyond my knowledge grade I suggest you check his latest book, Mind and Brain: A Critical Appraisal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

  37. neil
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    I’ve always liked the analogy of the software/hardware distinction in the mind/brain problem, but I am sure someone will soon tell me, with great certainty, that is completely stupid.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      Well, I can see limits to the analogy. A piece of software can be easily transmitted to another computer of the same type, but the “coding” of a brain is built right into its structure.

      • neil
        Posted June 19, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

        Some specialized microprocessors have the coding built in too, so that is not a distinction.

        Perhaps we consider the brain not reprogrammable simply because we don’t know how to do it. I suspect the brain is reprogrammable and we already do it on a limited scale–we call it brain-washing.

  38. Lukas1986
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    This was a perfect post. Like it very much..

  39. Lukas1986
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    I meant the whole article/criticism of David Brooks.. Sorry for the double post..

  40. Brian
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    I’d love to ask Brooks to turn the whole question around. If human behavior was controlled only by our brains what does he think it would look like?

  41. Posted June 19, 2013 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Right, the brain is not the mind; the mind is what the brain does.

    I think a lot of people get tripped up about a lot of things because they can only think in terms of things, not in terms of processes. The mind is not a material thing, but it does not follow that it is an immaterial thing. Instead it is a process arising from the operation of something material.

    (Same with personal identity, by the way. There are a lot of philosophically inclined people who make a lot of hay of the fact that I of today am not physically identical to the me of thirty years ago, so am I really still the same person? Thing-thinking again. If I am understood as a continuous process instead of a thing the conundrum disappears.)

    • gbjames
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      It is easy to get tripped up. Even your sentence: “Instead it is a process arising from the operation of something material.” falls into the trap a bit. Saying “arising from the operation” suggests a thing arising from another thing when in fact there is nothing arising, there is only the brain operating.

      • Posted June 19, 2013 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

        Good point, but I think it is fair to say that processes “arise” as long as one understands what a process is. The problem is that we need to use words for processes (driving, life, etc.) in a certain way because “there is only a car operating” or a “there is only biochemistry happening” is not quite as precise.

      • Myron
        Posted June 19, 2013 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

        As David Chalmers emphasizes (in The Conscious Mind, pp. 125-6): “It is common to hear, ‘Of course I’m a materialist; the mind certainly arises from the brain.’ The very presence of the word ‘arises’ should be a tip-off here. … The very fact the the mind needs to arise from the brain indicates that there is something further going on, over and above the physical facts.”

  42. Brygida Berse
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    David Brooks always seems to write above his pay grade when he weighs in about science.

    The above sentence should have ended after the word “grade”.

  43. Lukas1986
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

    The mind is the brain. Nothing to argue here I think because people who are born with a brain that is a little bit damaged they behave like their brain behaves. Lets take for example people who are born with Asperger syndrome or Autism they behave this way because their brain is damaged to some degree.

  44. Hopalong Cassowary
    Posted June 20, 2013 at 2:27 am | Permalink

    Gazzaniga says that our feeling of being a conscious agent is only a story being told to us by a subset of our neurons to explain what we just did.

  45. TJR
    Posted June 20, 2013 at 2:29 am | Permalink

    To summarise the thread: we don’t have an agreed definition of “mind”.

    The definition “the mind is what the brain does” seems reasonable, but of course then the mind would include post-mortem decomposition as well.

    • Myron
      Posted June 20, 2013 at 3:20 am | Permalink

      A mind is either that which has mental properties, i.e. a (material or immaterial) bearer of mental properties, and as such it is a thing (object or substance); or it is a group of mental properties (abilities), and as such it is a nonthing, ontologically speaking.

      • TJR
        Posted June 20, 2013 at 6:34 am | Permalink

        Define “mental properties”?

    • gbjames
      Posted June 20, 2013 at 4:55 am | Permalink

      Simple modifications take care of that. “The mind is what a living brain does.”

      The problem we have is that we use a noun where a verb would be more appropriate.

      • TJR
        Posted June 20, 2013 at 6:34 am | Permalink

        But then you have to define “living” (or “working”, below) first…..

    • Lynn David
      Posted June 20, 2013 at 4:57 am | Permalink

      The mind is the work of the brain. When the brain quits working there is no more mind.

      • neil
        Posted June 20, 2013 at 7:24 am | Permalink

        I lose my mind every night when I go to bed, but fortunately I do not lose my brain and I recover (so far.)

        • Lynn David
          Posted June 20, 2013 at 8:25 am | Permalink

          You do? Then what are dreams? And how do you remember anything when you wake up? Is your personality remade every time you wake up?

          Obviously, you aren’t losing your mind when sleeping.

  46. John Weiss
    Posted June 20, 2013 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    Why pay any attention to Brooks? He’s just another “intellectual” moron.

  47. Sagra
    Posted June 20, 2013 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    Don’t they ever learn? If you loudly claim that scientists will never, ever explain a phenomenon, all you’re doing is encouraging a few young people to make the study of said phenomenon their life’s work.

    I suggest an alternate tactic: “I’m sure science could determine how the _____ works, but that would be tedious and boring and I seriously doubt that anyone would ever care.”

  48. Mary
    Posted June 20, 2013 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Just what the mentally ill need, another wanna-be-pop-scientist trying to claim that the brain has nothing to do with it. Someone should really give him some psychiatric meds, so he can experience reality, in which altering your brain chemistry really does dramatically alter how you think.

  49. Marvol
    Posted June 20, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Good analysis Jerry, I totally agree.

    Means I don’t have to comment any more than this either :3.

  50. Marvol
    Posted June 20, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Actually, there is one thing. The usual reply which Jerry has also used.

    To anyone who holds the position that the mind is more than the brain: show us. Show us a mind without brain.

    Shut a brain down and show that more than nothing is left. Something left that might be part of a ‘mind’.

    Bet you a tenner you can’t do that. Until you can, the mind is no more than a physical brain function.

    • jerry
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      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 no less than the other way around. Also, resolve the hard problem. Do that and I’ll believe your insupportable assertion is not a bluff. There isn’t any region in the brain that you can stimulate that will cause someone to decide-Wilder Penfield

  51. 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’.

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

    Brooks is probably striving for “Templeton”

  53. 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.

        Cheers,

        b&

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

          and?

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

            Seriously?

            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.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • 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?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • 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:

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Catholic_scientists

                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.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • 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.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • 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.

                b&

              • 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.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • 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.

                Sorry.

                b&

              • 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.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • 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….

                b&

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

                @ Ben

                Checkmate!

                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.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • 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.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • 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

                dorks…

  54. 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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