Mod+ 268. DAN HARRIS, DOES MEDITATION DEFY SCIENCE?

#41
I understand where Alex is coming from regarding neuroplasticity.

They way I understand it is, materialist theories of mind focus on the idea that thoughts, emotions, actions, everything that makes you, you are the result of chemical processes in the brain. So, the brain takes in stimuli from the environment, then using that stimuli goes about responding to this stimuli using whatever physical processes (TBD) it uses. Over long periods of consistent forms of stimuli, physical changes take place in the brain, either chemical or structural, changing the function of that particular brain region in a sense. So it is stimuli evoking a physical response within the brain causing changes within the brain. The argument here, from a materialistic perspective, is that it is outside stimuli that is causing the brain to "rewire" itself. We have no control over this, seeing as free will is an illusion. The materialist position is that we cannot direct our thoughts to change our physical bodies, because thoughts have no power in and of themselves. They are a byproduct of brain processes. The brain determines our thoughts, actions and behaviors AFTER a stimulus has been received.

So where I think Dr. Schwartz's and others works challenge this paradigm is by showing that "mere thoughts" do have a power. We not only CAN control these brain processes, we can control them in such a way as to bring about real physical change in the structure and function of the brain.

If a thought is pure physical processes that are a byproduct, and have no real power of their own, how is it that we can control our thoughts and use them to physically affect our own physiology?

Again, it really seems that materialism gets around the consciousness problem by invoking THE BRAIN as an entity in and of itself. I think it was Chalmers that said "if consciousness is an illusion, who is being fooled"?
 
#42
Vault313 said:
The argument here, from a materialistic perspective, is that it is outside stimuli that is causing the brain to "rewire" itself. We have no control over this, seeing as free will is an illusion. The materialist position is that we cannot direct our thoughts to change our physical bodies, because thoughts have no power in and of themselves.
Autogenic training was invented by a German psychiatrist called Johannes Schultz in the early 1920s :)
It showed very clearly that thought alter physiology (i.e. changes in the physical body). Before that, hypnosis! :)
 
#43
A physicalist suspects that thoughts, perception, etc (mental processes generally) are physical. The "illusion" Dennett refers to is that "you", "ego' and "consciousness" are more than a sum of those processes.
can you pls provide a reference for this because I don't think you're correct. Dennett believes consciousness is an illusion because he thinks we're biological robots... i.e. stimulus/response machines.
 
#44
I understand where Alex is coming from regarding neuroplasticity.

They way I understand it is, materialist theories of mind focus on the idea that thoughts, emotions, actions, everything that makes you, you are the result of chemical processes in the brain. So, the brain takes in stimuli from the environment, then using that stimuli goes about responding to this stimuli using whatever physical processes (TBD) it uses. Over long periods of consistent forms of stimuli, physical changes take place in the brain, either chemical or structural, changing the function of that particular brain region in a sense. So it is stimuli evoking a physical response within the brain causing changes within the brain. The argument here, from a materialistic perspective, is that it is outside stimuli that is causing the brain to "rewire" itself. We have no control over this, seeing as free will is an illusion. The materialist position is that we cannot direct our thoughts to change our physical bodies, because thoughts have no power in and of themselves. They are a byproduct of brain processes. The brain determines our thoughts, actions and behaviors AFTER a stimulus has been received.

So where I think Dr. Schwartz's and others works challenge this paradigm is by showing that "mere thoughts" do have a power. We not only CAN control these brain processes, we can control them in such a way as to bring about real physical change in the structure and function of the brain.

If a thought is pure physical processes that are a byproduct, and have no real power of their own, how is it that we can control our thoughts and use them to physically affect our own physiology?

Again, it really seems that materialism gets around the consciousness problem by invoking THE BRAIN as an entity in and of itself. I think it was Chalmers that said "if consciousness is an illusion, who is being fooled"?
thx for clearing this up... well said.
 
#45
I don't think it is merely a flavor of ice cream issue... I think it is more like a 12 ounce T-bone vs peanuts issue. Of the four mentioned experiments, only the double-slit experiment occurs outside the body, so only that one can be shown beyond a doubt to be non-local.
are you saying we can't demonstrate non-locality within an organism?
 
#46
can you pls provide a reference for this because I don't think you're correct. Dennett believes consciousness is an illusion because he thinks we're biological robots... i.e. stimulus/response machines.
This is certainly your spin on his position. It misses the nuance and complexity involved (again IMO):


From Wikipedia:

{Dennett's} book puts forward a "multiple drafts" model of consciousness, suggesting that there is no single central place (a "Cartesian Theater") where conscious experience occurs; instead there are "various events of content-fixation occurring in various places at various times in the brain".[1] The brain consists of a "bundle of semi-independent agencies";[2] when "content-fixation" takes place in one of these, its effects may propagate so that it leads to the utterance of one of the sentences that make up the story in which the central character is one's "self". Dennett's view of consciousness is that it is the apparently serial account for the brain's underlying parallelism.
 
#47
are you saying we can't demonstrate non-locality within an organism?
I'm not saying it is impossible. I'm saying that outside the organism it is obvious. Inside the organism it gets much more difficult to demonstrate and as far as my understanding of these experiments go, it hasn't been demonstrated. If I am wrong about that, please correct me. I think that the mechanism by which the brain or any organ of the body self organizes into form is still somewhat of a mystery unexplained by materialistic science thus far. But just because it is a gap in our knowledge doesn't mean we can automatically fill it in with this undefined thing called consciousness.
 
#48
This is certainly your spin on his position. It misses the nuance and complexity involved (again IMO):


From Wikipedia:
this is silly brain-based model of consciousness that ignores all the fundamental questions about the nature of consciousness. this is why Dennett is a joke when it comes to serious discussions in this area... he's not a player at all re consciousness research.

also, "nuance and complexity" is code-speak for arm-waving... this is pure materialistic mind=brain crap. there is no nuance or complexity to it.
 
Last edited:
#49
I'm not saying it is impossible. I'm saying that outside the organism it is obvious. Inside the organism it gets much more difficult to demonstrate and as far as my understanding of these experiments go, it hasn't been demonstrated.
I think it has:
Quantum physics meets biology
Markus Arndt,1 Thomas Juffmann,1 and Vlatko Vedral2,3
Author information ► Article notes ► Copyright and License information ►
This article has been cited by other articles in PMC.

Go to:
Abstract


also check out: http://jonlieffmd.com/blog/human-br...um-computer-quantum-effects-in-brain-and-mind
 
#50
this is silly brain-based model of consciousness that ignores all the fundamental questions about the nature of consciousness. this is why Dennett is a joke when it comes to serious discussions in this area... he's not a player at all re consciousness research.

also, "nuance and complexity" is code-speak for arm-waving... this is pure materialistic mind=brain crap. there is no nuance or complexity to it.
Whether or not you think it's "silly", I was just trying to point out why, for someone of a physicalist persuasion, neuroplasticity isn't a gamechanger.

I confess, I'm still confused what you mean by...

Materialism requires that mental processes do no work.
Who has said this?




I think Dennett is at least trying to address some of the fundamental questions of the nature of consciousness. Admittedly, some of those questions he dismisses as not being legitimate questions in the first place and I can understand how that doesn't play well with the core Skeptiko audience ;)

This exerpt from his book Conciousness Explained (p.23) may help explain what he means by "illusion":

Today we talk about our conscious decisions and unconscious habits, about the conscious experiences we enjoy (in contrast to, say, automatic cash machines, which have no such experiences) - but we are no longer quite sure we know what we mean when we say these things. While there are still thinkers who gamely hold out for consciousness being some one genuine precious thing (like love, like gold), a thing that is just "obvious" and very, very special, the suspicion is growing that this is an illusion. Perhaps the various phenomena that conspire to create the sense of a single mysterious phenomenon have no more ultimate or essential unity than the various phenomena that contribute to the sense that love is a simple thing."
The illusion that Dennett is referring to here is not that of consciousness, but that of consciousness as a single thing. He regards consciousness as a collection of "various phenomena" that together create a single sense of consciousness.
 
#51
Hey Alex,

Great interview, thanks for posting.

I'm curious about Dawkins claiming that we are biological robots as it relates to consciousness. It certainly has become one of your staples when discussing the "dogmatic materialist creed", and I was wondering if you could provide a link or any reference about when and under what context Dawkins made this statement.

Thanks.
 
#52
Alex, thanks for the links. I read through them but did not find any hypothesized mechanism to explain self-directed neuralplasticity. These articles give overviews of quantum effects and hypothesize how such quantum effects might begin to affect biological systems, but we are still at a very early stage of trying to figure all that out. As the first article states in the conclusion: "As of today, experimental demonstrations of quantum coherence in biology are still limited to the level of a few molecules."

I think we would both agree that consciousness exhibits properties that are similar to quantum effects so we are on the right track to look for mechanisms by which quantum effects influence biology. But we're still at a very early stage. We have a long ways to go before we can even begin to hypothesize a complete mechanism by which self-organizing bodily structures are guided by a higher dimensional morphogenetic field or by consciousness through quantum effects.

All I am saying is that if I were debating a materialist on the expanded properties of consciousness, self-directed neural plasticity wouldn't be my first go-to argument. I would stick to experiments that leave no uncertainty as to whether classical physical principles are being violated by consciousness.
 
#53
Autogenic training was invented by a German psychiatrist called Johannes Schultz in the early 1920s :)
It showed very clearly that thought alter physiology (i.e. changes in the physical body). Before that, hypnosis! :)
Right, research regarding neuroplasticity has been around for a long time. Here's the thing, most mainstream science, even practicing psychologists, do not believe such things as hypnosis and meditation are effective. It's been only recently that anyone "mainstream" has even bothered to reference it. Prior to me listening to programs like Skeptiko and doing my own research, I, like nearly everyone else I know, believed hypnosis to be a fraud. A trick performed by no-talent "illusionists" in scrappy old theaters, and most of the "participants" we're in on it. Hypnosis is still considered a joke by most people. I'm sure if you were to ask the public at large what they think regarding hypnosis, you would likely hear that it was a fraud.

As for Autogenetic Training and Biofeedback, this is just now being somewhat accepted as a viable treatment. My daughter underwent biofeedback training herself for chronic headaches. But I don't see how either of these support a materialistic explanation for neuroplasticity.
.Scientists cannot yet explain how biofeedback works. Most patients who benefit from biofeedback are trained to relax and modify their behavior. Most scientists believe that relaxation is a key component in biofeedback treatment of many disorders, particularly those brought on or made worse by stress. Their reasoning is based on what is known about the effects of stress on the body. In brief, the argument goes like this: Stressful events produce strong emotions, which arouse certain physical responses. Many of these responses are controlled by the sympathetic nervous system, the network of nerve tissues that helps prepare the body to meet emergencies by "flight or fight."
http://psychotherapy.com/bio.html
The way AT works is not fully understood, but its effects on the body are measurable. Experts believe that AT works in ways that are similar to hypnosis and biofeedback. The exercises allow communication between the mind and the body, allowing you to influence body reactions that cannot normally be controlled, such as bloodpressure, heartbeat, and body temperature.
http://www.m.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/tc/autogenic-training-topic-overview

As seen in these two references, the mechanism is not understood. Nor will it be, IMO, until the "hard problem" is solved.

This was interesting:

The value of a feedback signal as information and reward may be even greater in the treatment of patients with paralyzed or spastic muscles. With these patients, biofeedback seems to be primarily a form of skill training like learning to pitch a ball. Instead of watching the ball, the patient watches the machine, which monitors activity in the affected muscle. Stroke victims with paralyzed arms and legs, for example, see that some part of their affected limbs remains active. The signal from the biofeedback machine proves it. This signal can guide the exercises that help patients regain use of their limbs. Perhaps just as important, the feedback convinces patients that the limbs are still alive. This reassurance often encourages them to continue their efforts.
This was elucidated in Dr. Jefferey Schwartz's book The Mind and the Brain. As long as stroke patients, or anyone else suffering from paralysis, believes their limb to be non-functional, it is. Once it is shown to them that it is capable of function, thus the patients belief changed from believing the limb to be useless to being useful, their therapy becomes far more effective, some to the point where full functionality is restored after years of having none.

Again, if thoughts have no inherent power, why is it that a mere belief can literally change our abilities?

From the materialist POV, how do molecules or smaller entities of matter, reorient themselves to change themselves, thus changing the system, without outside stimuli? If thoughts are a chemical process, or perhaps an "emergent" property of the movement of molecules, how on earth would they self direct? What is it that is causing them to change themselves? Evolution gets around this by stating "random mutation". So are thoughts the result of random molecular changes that somehow not only emerge as organized thought processes, but also cause these self-same changes within the system? Are materialists proposing some sort of some how self-initiated positive feedback loop? If so, what is the initial impetus?
 
#54
We have a long ways to go before we can even begin to hypothesize a complete mechanism by which self-organizing bodily structures are guided by a higher dimensional morphogenetic field or by consciousness through quantum effects.
I agree. OTOH, materialist explanations suffer from this same inability to justify its current conclusions regarding consciousness based on physical processes alone.


All I am saying is that if I were debating a materialist on the expanded properties of consciousness, self-directed neural plasticity wouldn't be my first go-to argument. I would stick to experiments that leave no uncertainty as to whether classical physical principles are being violated by consciousness.
Agreed again. But, IMO, this issue of self-directed neuroplasticity still stems from an inherent misunderstanding of what exactly the research is telling us. To explain the results that Dr. Schwartz and others have seen as no more remarkable than neurological changes due to, say, drugs or chronic exposure to exogenous stressors, is completely misunderstanding the research
 
#55
This shift in position from "thoughts can do no work" to self-directed neuroplasticity is a complete game-changer that gets glossed over with a "yeah, we already knew that" casualness -- BULL!

Here's another way to look at it -- explain mind=brain given what we know about self-directed neuroplasticity. You can't... so, when did the shift happen.
I have mentioned this several times on this forum and want to re-affirm my agreement with Bucky, Hermanetar and presumably many others-
We have a fundamental disagreement on this one. Machines can self adapt (and I will assume you are not asserting some type of consciousness behind this behavior), and based on many types of evidence so can the physical human brain. I don't see any silver bullet here pertaining to proving or disproving the mind=brain theory. In other words. I think it is perfectly plausible to me that "mental" behavior (such as sports visualization for example) can cause physical changes in the brain.

Your "other way to look at it" is a simply logically fallacious. The fact that one can't "explain mind=brain given what we know about neuroplasticity" proves nothing. As a matter of fact I contend that the reason one can't reach any significant conclusions from these two data points, is because the two are not necessarily causally related. (They could be, but you haven't proven to me that they are...)

With all due respect- and you can say "bull" all you want, but you haven't proved anything to me with this particular logical approach. I think you have a VERY weak argument here, and if I were a skeptic I would laugh at the idea that you think this is proof of anything. As a matter of fact, I would use this particular argument as a exhibit #1 with my fellow skeptic buddies when discussing why those deluded woo-woo people are arguing in support of a non-physical aspect of human existence.

Just my 2 cents on this,,, again
 
#56
I agree. OTOH, materialist explanations suffer from this same inability to justify its current conclusions regarding consciousness based on physical processes alone.
Right. Both materialists and proponents of the expanded properties of consciousness have a serious gap in our knowledge where consciousness and biology meet. Each of us wants to fill in that gap with our own preconceived beliefs. I think looking into quantum effects is moving in the right direction, but we still have serious gaps. This is like the creationists and the evolutionary cosmologists arguing about what caused the big bang. The creationists default to their conception of God and the evolutionary cosmologists promise a future materialist explanation will be found. The actual answer is probably more interesting than either option!

Agreed again. But, IMO, this issue of self-directed neuroplasticity still stems from an inherent misunderstanding of what exactly the research is telling us. To explain the results that Dr. Schwartz and others have seen as no more remarkable than neurological changes due to, say, drugs or chronic exposure to exogenous stressors, is completely misunderstanding the research
I agree that the findings about exactly how plastic our brains are is amazing and wonderful and has the potential to bust certain psychology paradigms, but at the current level of our understanding, I don't think it has any potential to bust the materialist mind=brain paradigm.
 
#57
.Right. Both materialists and proponents of the expanded properties of consciousness have a serious gap in our knowledge where consciousness and biology meet. Each of us wants to fill in that gap with our own preconceived beliefs. I think looking into quantum effects is moving in the right direction, but we still have serious gaps. This is like the creationists and the evolutionary cosmologists arguing about what caused the big bang. The creationists default to their conception of God and the evolutionary cosmologists promise a future materialist explanation will be found. The actual answer is probably more interesting than either option!
Lol! Yes, I wholeheartedly agree.

I agree that the findings about exactly how plastic our brains are is amazing and wonderful and has the potential to bust certain psychology paradigms, but at the current level of our understanding, I don't think it has any potential to bust the materialist mind=brain paradigm.
Again, I totally agree. While these specific instances of neuroplasticity are certainly intriguing and cause me, at least, to really question the materialist explanation (or more accurately, theories) on consciousness and what exactly our thoughts are made of, it isn't really going to change many people's minds. It's just too nuanced for that. NTM, I only see materialism and it's first cousin atheism, becoming more mainstream, not less. I do not think a "paradigm buster" or consciousness shift is coming any time soon. Humanity has always moved at the speed of pitch where changes are concerned. It seems a slow trickle does the trick, not some spectacular event that changes minds in an instant. I would imagine that the likes of Susan B. Anthony would have thought that women's rights would have progressed farther than they have by 2015. While things have improved, we still have a long way to go, and this is true for many human endeavors, within and without the social lattice.
 
#58
Hey Alex,

Great interview, thanks for posting.

I'm curious about Dawkins claiming that we are biological robots as it relates to consciousness. It certainly has become one of your staples when discussing the "dogmatic materialist creed", and I was wondering if you could provide a link or any reference about when and under what context Dawkins made this statement.

Thanks.
this one is very easy to google... here's a wiki quote:
  • We are survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment.
 
#59
Alex, thanks for the links. I read through them but did not find any hypothesized mechanism to explain self-directed neuralplasticity. These articles give overviews of quantum effects and hypothesize how such quantum effects might begin to affect biological systems, but we are still at a very early stage of trying to figure all that out. As the first article states in the conclusion: "As of today, experimental demonstrations of quantum coherence in biology are still limited to the level of a few molecules."

I think we would both agree that consciousness exhibits properties that are similar to quantum effects so we are on the right track to look for mechanisms by which quantum effects influence biology. But we're still at a very early stage. We have a long ways to go before we can even begin to hypothesize a complete mechanism by which self-organizing bodily structures are guided by a higher dimensional morphogenetic field or by consciousness through quantum effects.

All I am saying is that if I were debating a materialist on the expanded properties of consciousness, self-directed neural plasticity wouldn't be my first go-to argument. I would stick to experiments that leave no uncertainty as to whether classical physical principles are being violated by consciousness.
I hear ya re these points. Maybe it comes down to a matter of style. I don't like spoon-feeding science-as-we-know-it types that think willful ignorance is a virtue :)
 
#60
Right, research regarding neuroplasticity has been around for a long time. Here's the thing, most mainstream science, even practicing psychologists, do not believe such things as hypnosis and meditation are effective. It's been only recently that anyone "mainstream" has even bothered to reference it.
great point... and when we really take it in it can make your head spin. kinda like Schrodinger and the double slit... science-as-we-know-it says: "yea, I see that he's demonstrated that consciousness collapses the wave function, but that doesn't fit with my worldview so I'm gonna pretend I didn't see that result."

in the same way we've had to pound on neuroplasticity... and then "self-directed neuroplasticity" to drive the point home.
 
Top