Mod+ 246. DR. MICHAEL GRAZIANO LIKENS NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE RESEARCH TO ASTROLOGY

Discussion in 'Skeptiko Shows' started by alex.tsakiris, Jun 3, 2014.

  1. Alex

    Alex New

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  2. I'd take anything Graziano has to say with a grain of salt:

    Quote for the Day – Michael Graziano Thinks Puppets Can Be Conscious

    As Alex notes in the interview, Graziano just seems like someone who is trying way too hard to explain away a mystery that conflicts with his overarching paradigm and way of seeing the world.

    He mentions trying to get an objective view of the brain, but what he seems to misunderstand is there's a chasm between the third person ontology that allows for reduction to structure & dynamics in other fields and the first person ontology of conscious experience. This is why you can't replace "squirrel" with "awareness" - the idea of perceiving incorrectly - as in the case of the guy who has a squirrel in his head - or correctly is part of the mystery one is trying to explain. As the famous critique of this position goes - "If consciousness is an illusion, who precisely is being fooled?"

    AFAICTell he only compounds the problem when he says brains process information and this tricks us into thinking we have consciousness. I also feel like he's mashing together definitions of information. It seems this is what he's doing: Taking the CompSci, Claude Shannon definition - where a small number of symbols is channeled between source and receiver - and the everyday definitions - where consciousness possessing entities exchange knowledge or obtain it from the world around them. Information in the Shannon sense is measured by the possible alternate messages eliminated by the received message. Information in the everyday sense is communicating meaning via representation, which Lanier has argued is never done by computers (here + here).

    Of course even if we give him a pass on that it's still not clear why information processing leads to self-awareness, especially if someone has to be fooled into thinking they have consciousness. Seems like another appeal to the miracle of thinking meat:

    The only thing that seems to be an out for him is to say, "I don’t think we need to explain how brains produce the inner experience." even though this would seem to be the crux of the problem. Perhaps, like Sam Harris, he's been forced to conclude this is requires a nonsensical something-from-nothing type event?

    After that he just seems to tumble into the usual shaming tactics, assuming authority and in group selection of the "intelligent"/"rational"/"scientific"/"reputable" who would never research the paranormal. I don't know if there's anything in that part worth commenting on other than taking note of how human herds defend their belief in platforms/paradigms by utilizing disdain.

    I can't help but feel there's a desperation on Graziano's part to get, as he puts it, "the magic out of consciousness." This may be due to what McGilChrist refers to as the overemphasis of "left brain" thinking, which he notes cuts off information that might diminish its importance. I'll note that Donald Hoffman has discussed the ineffectiveness of using neuroscience to disprove or prove God as it applies to some of things Graziano talks about.

    Overall the interview recalls to mind a quote from Searle on the quality of physicalist/materialist explanations for consciousness:

    "I believe one of the unstated assumptions behind the current batch of views is that they represent the only scientifically acceptable alternatives to the antiscientism that went with traditional dualism, the belief in the immortality of the soul, spiritualism, and so on. Acceptance of the current views is motivated not so much by an independent conviction of their truth as by a terror of what are apparently the only alternatives."
    -John Searle, "What's wrong with the philosophy of mind?"
     
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  3. Szechuan

    Szechuan New

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    I haven't read the interview yet but this is the guy who thinks puppets are conscious. His opinion matters because.....?
     
  4. Steve

    Steve Member

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    I would suggest it matters because as a mainstream academic from Princeton he is much more likely to be interviewed and believed by the public than anyone else ? As it stands people like him have the spotlight.

    I was again shocked at the ignorance of research on evidence on NDE's just because he believes it can't be that way ?Amazing.

    I was also glad that the interview was respectful no matter how outrageous his opinions seemed, luckily puppets didn't feature. :eek:
     
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  5. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    Alex's question at the end of the interview:

    What do you make of Dr. Graziano's reliance on the idea of the emergent property of consciousness?
     
  6. Bucky

    Bucky Member

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    I haven't finished listening yet (60% done)... but I am already having stomach cramps.

    The premise is that we have a skechy, cartoonish and almost completely faulty representations of both the outside and the inside world. (So there's basically no hope) But somehow Dr. Graziano is able to tell us what consciousness is and how it works exactly! Amazing :D After that introduction I was already trying not to laugh as hard as I could.

    Then comes the guy with the squirrel in "his head" which can obviously be compared to consciousness "in our head"... . Of course, it is the same thing. Best metaphor ever! LOL :D

    I am not sure if I'll make it to the end but I think I've got the bottom line: yet another "consciousness as a computational process" guy with the worst eloquence ever ... :eek:
     
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  7. Typoz

    Typoz Member

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    I found this a really difficult interview to get into. It seems right from the start there is simply one assumption after another. I keep waiting, thinking I'll read a bit more and maybe it will be explained. But what followed were simply more assumptions, and gaping holes. I know this doesn't do justice to such a highly difficult subject area, I dare say I'd have to read the book in order to fully grasp what it is he's trying to get at, but I have to say I don't feel inspired or enthusiastic about doing so.

    Really, I had difficulty finding anything of substance here. Nothing is ever explained, it is merely ignored and skipped over.
     
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  8. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    What do you make of Dr. Graziano's reliance on the idea of the emergent property of consciousness?

    Before I answer that, Alex, let me say that I think you were on smoking hot form in the interview. You really exposed Graziano's ignorance and yes, I'm afraid, his bigotry. We now know why (if what he claims about them is true) neuroscientists don't think there is any evidence that consciousness arises other than mechanistically: they can't be bothered to read peer-reviewed literature in their own field! It may be classified as "astrology" sight unseen, and all those respected journals that do publish it, presumably, are agents of woo even though Graziano would probably be delighted to publish in them (they include the Lancet, for heaven's sake: one of the oldest and most respected medical journals in the world!).

    The cognitive dissonance is quite deafening. At one and the same time, journals like this are where people should be publishing, but if they are doing that, their work can still be ignored--unless he deems it to be within the pale. I mean, how does he do it? How does he manage to read important journals and presumably extract papers of interest to him, yet automatically exclude the ones that he thinks are astrological? He doesn't even seem to know the names of the people publishing counter-evidence, so how does that work? Does he look at the titles of papers and disregard those he doesn't like the sound of? Has he disregarded some papers that might have been in accord with his views? The odd time one might slip through the filter, does he read a couple of paragraphs, throw it in the bin and forget the name of the author? I'm really struggling figuring out how he manages to evade any information that might take him outside his bubble.

    What I think about the idea of mind as an emergent property of consciousness is that it can hardly be much else if you're a materialist. It's a notion engineered to fit in with the a priori assumption of materialism. You have to put a dent in that assumption before Graziano will pull out the earplugs on consciousness.

    The one thing I credit him with is that he was prepared to discuss things and didn't pull a Churchland on you. Full marks for that, zero for the rest.
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2014
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  9. Szechuan

    Szechuan New

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    Just finished reading the transcript. It was painful. Not as bad as the Churchland one, but frustrating nonetheless. Typoz mentioned assumptions. That seems to sum it up for me. Over and over I find it frustrating that people studying consciousness have these massive gaps in their knowledge base. How exactly can one form a coherent, meaningful, informed theory of consciousness by actively avoiding studying its range of expressions?
     
  10. Robert Perry

    Robert Perry Member

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    What a revealing interview. So this is one of the keepers of the keys to our culture's intellectual castle?

    First of all, forgive me for saying so, Alex, but my impression is that you weren't quite grasping the real nature of his argument. It seems to me that what he's saying goes like this: All sorts of theories on consciousness attempt to explain away how the brain magically produces consciousness. How does a non-conscious brain suddenly produce this whole other kind of thing: consciousness? It's like producing a rabbit out of an empty hat. The really easy way to explain that is to say there is no rabbit (or no squirrel, as he put it). In other words, there is no consciousness. That's really where he's coming from. And that's why he so objected to language about the brain producing consciousness.That's also why he considers attributing consciousness to other people to be the same as attributing it to stuffed animals(!). Again, because there is no consciousness in any of them. This is an extremely radical position. If we can't explain how this strange property called consciousness magically arises, then let's just dispense with the property. There is no property. There is no consciousness.

    To be fair to you, I personally don't get the impression that Dr. Graziano understands his own theory. He clearly thinks it is a scientific theory which can be experimentally tested and confirmed. But it's at root a philosophical one, which says that we can entirely discount, with extreme prejudice, the internal experience we are having. That internal experience can be swept aside. It's just an illusion. It's just the brain telling itself that it's conscious.

    Since the theory is at root philosophical, I think it most fundamentally needs to be countered philosophically. I would have asked him if he himself is having an internal experience of being conscious. And I would pick apart his "squirrel in the head" metaphor. We can easily imagine someone being mistaken about having a squirrel in his head. But that's profoundly different from thinking that he's not even having an experience of it, an experience of his belief in the squirrel. Are we willing to go that far? That he is mistaken about having an experience of believing in the squirrel? Yet even if we are willing to go that far, we still have subtly sneaked a conscious observer into the equation. After all, talk of a "person" who is "mistaken" implies an experiencing agent. Indeed, I think there are clear shades of an experiencing agent in his theory when he talks of the brain "concluding" and "reporting" to itself that it is conscious. Is he really saying that the brain doing that is no different than if a non-conscious computer were to do the same thing? Or has he just sneaked in an experiencing observer with the ambiguous language of a brain "concluding" it's conscious?

    So I personally think the chief answer to his position is philosophical, since it's at root a philosophical position.

    That being said, I think your NDE points, Alex, were great. And I think his smug answers dismissing the whole of the field of near-death studies as being on par with astrology were extremely revealing. He clearly has a gift for dismissing the existence of data he finds uncomfortable.

    On the other hand, I really hate to say it, but I personally think he's absolutely correct about the angle taken by Jeffrey Schwartz. I read his book The Mind and the Brain, which was an incredible book. But I think Schwartz is just wrong about how the ability of thought to affect the brain is proof of a kind of substance dualism in which mind is ontologically different than brain. I think Graziano's response is one hundred percent correct--we have always known that the mind's activities have an effect on the brain. So whereas I think highly of Schwartz (and am very glad he'll be on the show--congratulations!), I just don't think he's correct about this. And the unfortunate effect is that by offering up his argument as decisive evidence against materialism, we are lobbing up a softball for the materialists to knock out of the park.

    Finally, with many of your guests, I find myself thinking that I fundamentally disagree with them, but they are very likable guys. Unfortunately, I found Dr. Graziano to be surprisingly smug and condescending. He gives the impression that he thinks he is the smartest guy in some very big rooms. He's the one who's risen above all the magical thinking of his fellow materialists. He's the real neuroscientist who rubs shoulders with other real neuroscientists and who can therefore simply laugh at the oxymoron of "near-death science." What eludes everyone else is all too obvious to him.

    I found it particularly satisfying, therefore, that he doesn't seem to see the real nature of his theory. What he sees as a brilliant intellectual move is actually just a denial of the existence of the thing that's so difficult to explain, a denial of the existence of what all of us are experiencing all the time. Moreover, what he sees as a responsible position is one that, ethically, would mean that we have no basis for treating people any better than we treat stuffed animals. For a guy who thinks he sees more than the rest of us, he is remarkably blind to the monstrousness of his own position.
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2014
  11. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    Superb posting, Robert. Thanks for clarifying what Graziano was saying: I wasn't 100% sure myself. Your saying that he was smuggling in consciousness caused a wry smile: it's very similar to the way that neo-Darwinists sneak information into computer simulations purportedly showing that no information is required to explain how random mutation and natural selection can have feasibly worked, even on geological timescales.
     
  12. Alex

    Alex New

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    thx for the links. yea, it's like the only reason we're even talking about this guy is because he is a professor at Princeton... otherwise I would have cut off the silliness half way thru the show :)
     
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  13. Alex

    Alex New

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    actually, I think you got it :)
     
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  14. Alex

    Alex New

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    thx. I think there's value in continuing to expose this silliness... even if we've all been there before :)

    love... "The cognitive dissonance is quite deafening."
     
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  15. Alex

    Alex New

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    I hear ya... good points... then again, this the problem in sorting our such nonsense... where do you begin?! I mean, of course there is consciousness... I mean, it's just completely absurd to assume otherwise... and of course he is assuming that a functioning brain is required (you and I might not, but he is). so the whole thing is just nonsense.
     
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  16. Robert Perry

    Robert Perry Member

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    You're right, it really is nonsense. Of course there is consciousness. That's the one thing that none of us can ever doubt.

    I think that functioning brain issue is part of where you weren't quite getting him. Of course he believes you need a functioning brain to, well, do whatever the brain does. His point is different. What he was saying is that you don't need a functioning brain to produce consciousness because the brain does not produce consciousness. The brain does no such thing because, again, there is no consciousness.
     
  17. Ian Wardell

    Ian Wardell New

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    Robert Perry you are absolutely spot on in everything you said in your post.
     
  18. Vortex

    Vortex Member

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    Michael Graziano said:

    Well, I do know a lot of fully serious and highly reputable scientists (Nobel Prize winners included) who have bothered to do experiments to examine the claims of psychic phenomena and obtainted postivie results - from William Crookes and Charles Richet in the past to Daryl Bem, Stanely Krippner, Jessica Utts and Peter Sturrock today. Apparently none of them exists to Dr. Graziano. :eek:
     
  19. Devane

    Devane New

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    Just like consciousness apparently. Convenient.
     
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  20. Sharon Rawlette

    Sharon Rawlette New

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    Yes. I had some sympathy for Graziano's points until he started implying that he ruled out all psychic phenomena without so much at a glance at the literature.
     
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