This acclaimed scientist gives a friendlier face to atheistic neuroscience |331|

#41
Hi everybody,

this is my first post at Skeptiko, let's start with my thoughts about the TV-analogy you, Alex, have suggested as the one alternative to a naturalistic framework.

I do appreciate you question notions like "the mind is what the brain does" because they are really not thought through well.

In the other hand, I am not happy with the TV analogy.

Usually it is not some "pure conscious event" that strikes us first, but the contents of consciousness. Intuitively, I'd say the magic thing is e.g. the consciously experienced pain itself and not an extra ingredient "consciousNESS".

I am pointing this out because it is really the brain that shapes the contents of our conscious experience. And this is different from what a TV set does. A TV set doesn't shape the contents of a TV show.

Maybe there is some truth to the analogy on a higher level of abstraction. But I suppose the main purpose of the analogy is to convince others and I fear that instead, it gives the impression that non-naturalists underestimate the role of the brain.

Does that make sense?
Im sure that i dont understand, but when you are saying that the brain shapes the contents of consciousness - what do you mean with that? That the content of consciousness is getting created by the brain? Im not really sure what you are talking about.
 
#42
Im sure that i dont understand, but when you are saying that the brain shapes the contents of consciousness - what do you mean with that? That the content of consciousness is getting created by the brain? Im not really sure what you are talking about.
On the one hand it is correct to say "my brain determines what I consciously experience" (at least as long as my brain is functioning). On the other hand, I don't want to say "my brain creates conscious experience" because that would imply further assumptions which I think are wrong. Is my statement clearer now?
 
#44
On the one hand it is correct to say "my brain determines what I consciously experience" (at least as long as my brain is functioning). On the other hand, I don't want to say "my brain creates conscious experience" because that would imply further assumptions which I think are wrong. Is my statement clearer now?
Most people on this forum err towards the conclusion that physical brain and conscious mind are not synonymous. They are clearly connected, as alcohol, narcotics and head injury illustrate, consciousness can be altered or occluded, but to talk about unconsciousness, a lack of consciousness, is a misnomer. Even people deeply sedated and anaesthetised, whose bodies are being kept alive by entirely artificial means, remain the same people on recovery so consciousness is being maintained, not eliminated.
 
#45
On the one hand it is correct to say "my brain determines what I consciously experience" (at least as long as my brain is functioning). On the other hand, I don't want to say "my brain creates conscious experience" because that would imply further assumptions which I think are wrong. Is my statement clearer now?
A bit, but then id be interested in those further assumptions that you think that are wrong. How is consciousness, that doesnt seem to brain based in your opinion as far as i can guess, different from the contents that are brain based?
 
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#46
I would like to agree with George Paxinos' view that genetic/neural determinism makes us more sympathetic and understanding toward others but my genetically pre-programmed neurons won't allow it. All jokes aside, why ask a man who works with rats and maps brain cells questions about the nature of consciousness and whether consciousness survives brain death? Not to deride Paxinos' work, but he is clearly not in the business of trying to understand consciousness. Paxinos seems to acknowledge that consciousness is a bit of mystery to science and so dismisses any talk of consciousness as being separate from the physical body as "metaphysical" speculation. Many academics take the approach that since we have no lab experiment that can really convincingly prove that consciousness is not separate from the body, we must settle for some kind of brain-mind identity theory. I am reminded of a comment by another famous neuroscientist, Susan Greenfield, who acknowledged that the so-called 'filter theory of consciousness' may be an alternative to the identity theory but then summarily dismissed it as a hypothesis since it was impossible to prove or disprove. Personally, I find the Near Death Experience studies that Alex sites intriguing but I think they will never gain much traction, even if printed in highly respected journals, because there is no over-arching theory that explains the nature of consciousness. This is often given as a reason for why NDEs and other parapsychological phenomena are seen by "skeptics" as mere pseudoscience. But the same lack of a theory about the nature of consciousness is a problem for psychology and it's sub-field, psychiatry. Anyone who looks critically at the 'science' of psychiatry will quickly find it faces many of the same criticisms that parapsychology faces eg. concepts which are only controversially supported by data such as "Psychokinesis" in parapsychology or "Aspergers Syndrome" in psychiatry. This is ironic given that psychiatric abnormality is often given as explanation to 'explain away' parapsychological events such as NDEs, as if one explanation was more 'factual' then the other.
 
#47
One thing I learned from reading Campbell and other comparative mythologists is that what we call materialism today is really part of something bigger that started forming millennia ago. Also, the really odd thing is that Western religion is also materialistic - yes, religion itself can be materialistic. Imagining God as a potter fashioning creation as the molding of clay, Jesus in the role of a carpenter, saying you are from the dirt and will return to the dirt, imagining God as an old man in the sky, and all the literalist, physicalist interpretations, in general, of god, heaven/hell, creation, etc. -- these are all materialistic approaches and views on religion. Getting stuck on the symbol, rather than realizing the symbol references something transcendent, is a materialistic tendency.
great stuff.
 
#48
Alex at the end of the show said:
Has the paradigm shifted? It's become almost an assumption in this show because we get into this echo-chamber and we believe that we see this growing trend pointing towards the end of materialism and we see this advancement of near death experience science or mediumship research or whatever - and then we talk to George. So is this just a matter of a changing of the guard? George is at the end of his career and people who are replacing him coming in have this new paradigm perspective - is that what we're seeing? Or are we deluding ourselves about the rate of change?
To say my tuppence-worth I think we're very likely deluding ourselves. I'm not a scientist, though I did have some experience of science while doing a Biological Sciences degree for around a year and half in my early-thirties years. That really wasn't a good experience for me, so I left. From my point of view science isn't going to turn around from materialism any time soon - it is just too pervasive. I don't expect science to budge much until such times as Darwinian evolution theory tumbles. Darwinian evolution theory really does reach into the public consciousness, though in a very simplistic way, and is pretty much taken as fact. This to the extent that, as far as the contemporary public is concerned, science is seen as the arbiter of just about everything. (I should say that I'm not trying to say that evolution theory of any kind is plain wrong. I think it is worthwhile and does have value for explaining small differences that occur over time that can be noted for individuals on a intraspecies level. But taking it beyond that is just plain wrong - the evidence for being able to do that just doesn't exist.) Really it was Darwinian evolution theory that did for the Church. That was a good thing in respect of how the Church conducted itself when it had real power - boy it was murderous. But into the bargain it pretty well did for God - or at least the God that the Church portrayed as the Big Daddy in the Sky. It was good that Darwinian evolution theory tumbled that notion. Problem is that most of the public equate that as being that any God of any envisioned type is also mumbo-jumbo - and that isn't a good thing.

I'm not up on contemporary research into mediumship so wouldn't venture a comment on that. However, I have fairly recently read some books from the late 19th and early 20th centuries channelled by mediums and I honestly don't know what to make of them at all. Some of them do little better than expound Christian thought and on that basis I find them quite creepy, deeply unsettling. But the accounts written by the mediums Geraldine Cummins (channelling F.W.H. Myers) and Helen Greaves (channelling Frances Banks) were reasonably good reads. In any case anyone reading them probably isn't going to be swayed by them into believing there is an afterlife.

As to NDE research I don't think that is gaining much traction with the public at all. I recently watched a panel debate on "Is There an Afterlife". Two presenters on the pro side, one of whom was Raymond Moody, two presenters on the anti side. The pro side tried to present NDEs as evidence. At the end of the debate the audience was asked to vote on the issue and the pro side lost the vote by quite a large margin - the "scientific" anti side won. I think that is pretty typical of where the public at large are at.

Also a couple of days ago a UK newspaper ran an article by the author Margaret Drabble in which she basically said that death is the absolute final end of everything. The newspaper fairly frequently run articles with writers propounding in a similar vein. As always the comments from readers that follow the articles are very revealing; they are overwhelmingly of the point of view that death is the end and that "science" proves this (though they never provide any evidence of how science proves this). If anyone does mention NDEs in the comments, which is very rare, they usually get a very negative response - lack of oxygen to the brain, hallucinations, and I suppose you believe in Sky Fairies too. To read an example of this see here: Margaret Drabble: 'I am not afraid of death. I worry about living'.
Having had an NDE myself I know this is a totally wrong view but be damned if anyone will ever listen if you try to put the truth in their direction.

I don't think anything is changing. The paradigm isn't in any way getting ready to fall. It will in time but that certainly isn't going to be around now. We are deluding ourselves over the rate of change.
 
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#49
v

I don't think anything is changing. The paradigm isn't in any way getting ready to fall. It will in time but that certainly isn't going to be around now. We are deluding ourselves over the rate of change.
I've a question. If the materialistic applied science world were to be replaced by immaterialism how would our lives be better?I assume you and other members think it would be so, but I never hear how and why it would be.
 
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S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#50
I've a question. If the materialistic applied science world were to be replaced by immaterialism how would our lives be better?I assume you and other members think it would be so, but I never hear how and why it would be.
The conclusions of materialism make life worthless, which is why the true humanists like Meyers and James sought to challenge the paradigm through research into the paranormal.
 
#52
Who is defining and judging 'worth' then?
Darwinism coincided with the industrial revolution. If you can prove survival of the fittest, and that people are biological machines, sending them up chimneys, down mines and into gun fire isn't such a big deal, it's simply the natural order asserting itself. None of those things were new in themselves, but there was always another discourse based on morality derived from a divine world view. Without divinity, morality is relative, my brain function offering a different survival sentimentality to yours. For most of the c20th the unsentimental brain won. Movements like communism and fascism were directly influenced by eugenics, which is simply applied Darwinism. Worth is defined by the winner, and the winner is the survivor.
 
#53
I will try - if you tell me what part. What, particularly, was unclear for you? my intentions? my arguments? or my conclusions? Or do you think you understand what I wanted to say but you disagree?
I think some people err on the side of verbosity, others err on the side of being cryptic. In your case, I think explaining your ideas a little more fully would help!

David
 
#54
Darwinism coincided with the industrial revolution. If you can prove survival of the fittest, and that people are biological machines, sending them up chimneys, down mines and into gun fire isn't such a big deal, it's simply the natural order asserting itself. None of those things were new in themselves, but there was always another discourse based on morality derived from a divine world view. Without divinity, morality is relative, my brain function offering a different survival sentimentality to yours. For most of the c20th the unsentimental brain won. Movements like communism and fascism were directly influenced by eugenics, which is simply applied Darwinism. Worth is defined by the winner, and the winner is the survivor.
All well and good, but it didn't really address the question I asked Sciborg.
 
#55
The conclusions of materialism make life worthless, which is why the true humanists like Meyers and James sought to challenge the paradigm through research into the paranormal.
That doesn't answer the question. The impression I get from immaterialists is much grander than just making life worthwhile.
 
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#56
I've a question. If the materialistic applied science world were to be replaced by immaterialism how would our lives be better?I assume you and other members think it would be so, but I never hear how and why it would be.
I would never argue for immaterialism to replace materialist applied science (MAS). MAS is very, very useful and has given us a great deal of benefit. Presumably it will continue to do so into the future. My main worry is that people who work in the MAS area think that only materialism can explain things. And if something doesn't exist in the material universe then it outright doesn't exist at all - and no proof necessary to hold that view. To that extent they are pretty well operating as a religious camp with an ideology that can lead to highly destructive behaviours and attitudes.

Certainly as far as science goes for the public at large many do already unwittingly adhere to science as if it is a religion and they take on all the baggage that goes along with that; if it doesn't exist materially then it doesn't exist at all, no proof required. That kind of attitude at large is a relatively recent occurrence but it is a dangerous one because the religion of science can in time be prone to the same kinds of error as organised religion with all its spites - essentially fundamentalist science is the same beast in different clothes.

To some extent this kind of situation is being actively promoted by the likes of Richard Dawkins when he says that we should all treat religion and people who adhere to it with the contempt it/they deserves - ridicule its adherents. That effectively is a prospectus for making science itself a religion. It's a prospectus for a future world that is a technocracy and that would be, I think, very bleak for humanity. There could be an upside to it (for example the kind of world-model proposed by Peter Joseph and The Zeitgeist Movement - though I don't think that will happen because there is a high degree of altruism involved in it and that is in very short supply in a dog eat dog world) but there is a substantial risk of a highly dangerous downside working in tandem with the benefits. As gabriel points out above some of this was already manifested in the workings of the industrial revolution and of communism and fascism. Those same ideas that underpinned that mess are still very much alive in society at large.

Also we are now in a situation in which knowledge itself is becoming privatised. Bit by bit it is being turned into a privatised commodity and that includes scientific knowledge. Science is pretty much bound into capitalism now and the noose is tightening all the time. That bodes real ill for the future. Raw capitalism doesn't do morals, it doesn't do ethics and nor does raw science. Those two wedded together with their lack of concern for anything as "immaterial" and as "vaporous" as morals/ethics are extremely dangerous. There's a pretty good series on this privatisation of knowledge here: TRIPS: The Story of How Intellectual Property Became Linked to Trade They make for some pretty disturbing viewing - you can see the way things are going.

For me the only bulwark against the downside of the materialist viewpoint is a spiritual one. There really does need to be some recognition that for people living in the world some things might in fact be unknowable in an ultimate sense. That would act as a counterbalance to the lack of morality and ethical standards in a science lashed into a capitalist framework. Scientists would have to acknowledge that it has limitations as it stands just now it tends not to do that - if there isn't a solution to something in the realm of science just now then "promissory science" is wheeled out announcing that we will definitely have the answer in the future, it's only a matter of time. Having a spiritual side does, I think, lead to at least having a moral/ethical code of some kind in ones life. And being able to acknowledge the possibility of there being an afterlife and maybe even a God do offer to put the potential of there possibly being some meaning to life that goes beyond the material. If society at large believed this to be so, and that wasn't controlled by organised religion, then I would think that a social good and to the betterment of us all. Fundamentalist materialist science will never do that and that is a distorting cost to us all.
 
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#57
At the end of the debate the audience was asked to vote on the issue and the pro side lost the vote by quite a large margin - the "scientific" anti side won. I think that is pretty typical of where the public at large are at.

Also a couple of days ago a UK newspaper ran an article by the author Margaret Drabble in which she basically said that death is the absolute final end of everything. The newspaper fairly frequently run articles with writers propounding in a similar vein. As always the comments from readers that follow the articles are very revealing; they are overwhelmingly of the point of view that death is the end and that "science" proves this (though they never provide any evidence of how science proves this). If anyone does mention NDEs in the comments, which is very rare, they usually get a very negative response - lack of oxygen to the brain, hallucinations, and I suppose you believe in Sky Fairies too. To read an example of this see here: Margaret Drabble: 'I am not afraid of death. I worry about living'.
Interesting, but I don't agree at all that this represents the "public at large". It may represent those willing to invest time and energy reading and responding to such content on the internet. In my experience of the world, I think a majority of people believe in NDE's, etc and are pretty much anti-materialistic.
 
#58
100 red ferraris. Oh. I see. That disproves everything. So long guys.

Oh wait. There's more evidence you say? Nah, I don't bother with anecdotes.

:eek:

EDIT

As for the follow-up question: I don't see a paradigm change coming anytime soon. Maybe a slight shift, but no change. Might have to do with my being a pessimist, of course, but I have a feeling that the public ridicule and condescension towards people who admit to having an interest in these subjects is even more ingrained where I live than in the US for example.
 
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#59
I find some of the assumptions here interesting, simply because a lot of what people used to all know has been forgotten. "God" as a concept, the THEOS in Greek, has been understood since Before Christ as not belonging to any one religion. Plato believed in the THEOS, the GOD, the ultimate source of everything. So did Socrates. So did Aristotle. Many Greeks, when they came across the Hebrew scriptured, immediately recognized the concept of God in there with the various names like YHWH and Elohim were the same idea. Early Christians like Justin Martyr and Polycarp argued that the Christian God was God. Most theologists think the Zoroastrian Aharu-Mazda and the Iwazu of the Bantu philosophers and the idea of the Brahman of deep Hinduism all are the same basic idea once universally known as "GOD"--the ultimate source of all reality, the thing that's making time and space go right now: GOD. That's what the word MEANS.

So it's interesting we now see an "atheist" quoting Plato and not knowing that Plato not only wrote extensively about God, which he believed in, but that he described why he thought God was a necessary condition for the universe to make sense at all, for physical OR moral OR ethical phenomena, or for even ideas themselves to exist. It is very strange we now all think that if you say "God" you're going to be offending someone's religion, when for thousands of years, this idea of God as the Ultimate Source That's Making Reality Go, has been bedrock knowledge. 800 years ago, in describing the Prime Mover and the source of all reality and motion, visible or invisible, physical or intangible, said, "This ALL PEOPLE call God."

You may think I'm crazy, but I think there's a genuine GOD-PHOBIA underlying a lot of "skeptic" behavior. And I say that as someone who is very much a recovered Atheist.
Agreed... Orwellian. Same goes with the atheist-Buddhist crowd who have tried to re-imagine Buddha as a secular humanist rather than someone who was so totally enmeshed in a "god conscious" that he could not even imagine to think otherwise.
http://skeptiko.com/this-atheist-ha...ciousness-science-agree-with-his-beliefs-293/
http://skeptiko.com/sean-carroll-thinks-life-is-meaningless-314/
 
#60
Interesting interview Alex and probably about as collegial a dialogue between the differing viewpoints I have seen.

He does seem like a "good guy".

What continues to amaze me as I delve further into things is the lack of intellectual honesty when it comes to language and specifically words like "science" and "faith". I just don't understand why the prototypical scientist clings so ardently to the close-mindedness on the proverbial bigger questions that humans have been most interested in for eons. Why must they extrapolate the current limits of science to declare seemingly contra-possibilities as fantasy; as primitive? It would seem much more sincere and honest to say something like, "My particular world view doesn't drive me to contemplate answers to the bigger questions you're asking of me Alex. That said, I can happily concede that we may ultimately find that brain does not equal mind, etc. In the meantime, I keep following the evidence where it leads."
the other thing I took away from this is how foolish we've been to look to brain-science-types for these kinds of answers. George is a nice guy, but he knows less about these topics than my car mechanic.
 
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