Why Steven Novella is wrong... again

#3
Here's a plot change caused by brain injury: anterograde amnesia. Here's a sitcom changed to a drama: Alzheimer's. And here's the opposite:

http://www.care2.com/causes/a-strange-stroke-of-luck-a-man-who-can-no-longer-feel-sad.html

~~ Paul
The article you linked fits in the 'filter' or 'receiver' metaphor: sadness is structurally filtered out because of a faulty tuner.
Alzheimer as an example of change from 'sitcom to drama' is as much a misleading rhetoric fallacy as Novella's original argument: we're talking here about memory loss, not the re-scripting and re-enactment of the phenomenology of a person's conscious life. That loss of memory can lead to despair is not the point Novella appeals to in his argument.
Ante-retrograde amnesia: the same thing. This is not a change of plot in the sense of a re-scripting or re-enactment of the events of a person's conscious life. Again, this is about memory loss which, again, fits in the 'filter' metaphor.

All this said, I am only willing to go as far defending the 'receiver' idea at a literal level. As you well know, and as mentioned in my article, I am not a dualist. I acknowledge that the metaphor will break at some point, when taken literally at a dualist level. I just don't think you or Novella have brought the metaphor to that point.
 
S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#4
Interesting stuff Bernardo. I lean more to the Neutral Monist position, as I think the potential observer-participancy & likely falsification of realism in QM can be explained within that paradigm without forgoing the strong feeling that there's a world external to consciousness...though I also suspect these distinctions may not mean much depending on how we define what the Hindus call "Brahman", which given its transcendental nature could easily fit both Idealist and Neutral Monist conceptions. So we may just be looking at the same thing from different PoVs.

Given your post here, I think you'd be interested in looking at Feser's refutation of Churchland's argument against dualism as well as the materialist Lycan's contention that the choice between materialism and dualism comes down to faith in one or the other.

Additionally, check out the skeptic Massimo's contention that determinism and reductionism are false & that instead reality arises from relations/patterns.

All of the above seems to fit well into your own writings, though some tweaks may be required akin to your take on Sheldrake's Morphic Resonance.
 
#5
The article you linked fits in the 'filter' or 'receiver' metaphor: sadness is structurally filtered out because of a faulty tuner.
Alzheimer as an example of change from 'sitcom to drama' is as much a misleading rhetoric fallacy as Novella's original argument: we're talking here about memory loss, not the re-scripting and re-enactment of the phenomenology of a person's conscious life. That loss of memory can lead to despair is not the point Novella appeals to in his argument.
Ante-retrograde amnesia: the same thing. This is not a change of plot in the sense of a re-scripting or re-enactment of the events of a person's conscious life. Again, this is about memory loss which, again, fits in the 'filter' metaphor.

All this said, I am only willing to go as far defending the 'receiver' idea at a literal level. As you well know, and as mentioned in my article, I am not a dualist. I acknowledge that the metaphor will break at some point, when taken literally at a dualist level. I just don't think you or Novella have brought the metaphor to that point.
Yeah, why not? If you find invoking an untestable, immaterial realm in any way satisfying I would encourage this line of reasoning.
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#6
The article you linked fits in the 'filter' or 'receiver' metaphor: sadness is structurally filtered out because of a faulty tuner.
Absolutely everything fits into that metaphor. Perhaps you could list a couple of discoveries that would cause you to abandon the external consciousness/memory model?

Alzheimer as an example of change from 'sitcom to drama' is as much a misleading rhetoric fallacy as Novella's original argument: we're talking here about memory loss, not the re-scripting and re-enactment of the phenomenology of a person's conscious life. That loss of memory can lead to despair is not the point Novella appeals to in his argument.
My mother had Alzheimer's. The script of her life was changed radically over time, and not just because she could not remember things.

Ante-retrograde amnesia: the same thing. This is not a change of plot in the sense of a re-scripting or re-enactment of the events of a person's conscious life. Again, this is about memory loss which, again, fits in the 'filter' metaphor.
It's anterograde amnesia. Memories aren't lost; they are never formed to begin with. If that's not changing the script, I don't know what is.

"Say, let's take an organism whose entire internal life is based on memories and stop forming new ones. Is that radical enough?"

Do you want examples where people's personalities change? Their desires? Their activities? There are plenty of such examples.

All this said, I am only willing to go as far defending the 'receiver' idea at a literal level. As you well know, and as mentioned in my article, I am not a dualist. I acknowledge that the metaphor will break at some point, when taken literally at a dualist level. I just don't think you or Novella have brought the metaphor to that point.
What would break a metaphor that simply tacks an external store on top of everything we already know about the brain? Even when we can elicit and implant memories, it could still be argued that we are only eliciting or implanting interfaces to external memories.

~~ Paul
 
#7
I can't help thinking that, at the very least, a fairer title would be "Why Steven Novella might be wrong... again". Not as pithy or provocative though, I suppose.
 
#8
From the third paragraph of Bernardo's piece:

As my readers know, my use of the 'receiver hypothesis' is metaphorical. The hypothesis, if taken literally, entails dualism: consciousness as one kind of 'stuff' and the brain (that is, the 'receiver') as another, fundamentally different kind of 'stuff.' I do not subscribe to dualism: my position is what philosophers call 'monistic idealism,' as summarised in an earlier essay and short videos. In a nutshell, I think consciousness and the brain are of exactly the same kind of 'stuff', but I think the brain is in consciousness, not consciousness in the brain. More on this below. For now, I want to comment on Novella's article as if I were a proponent of the literal interpretation of the 'receiver' hypothesis.
Some people have the attention span of a gnat; don't register the fact that Bernardo clearly indicates he doesn't have an external model of consciousness; that he is discussing the dualistic metaphor of the brain as a receiver even though his preferred model is idealistic monism; don't realise that anterograde is a contraction of ante-retrograde.

Some people, unable to engage with what is actually said, make up stuff and prefer to engage solipsistically with that. That's why I put some people on ignore and only very occasionally check out what they have posted that gets a particular response.
 
#9
From the third paragraph of Bernardo's piece:

For now, I want to comment on Novella's article as if I were a proponent of the literal interpretation of the 'receiver' hypothesis.
Yes. And that must allow one to comment as if they were a critic of the 'receiver' hypothesis.

Calm down, dear.
 
Last edited:
#10
Yeah, why not? If you find invoking an untestable, immaterial realm in any way satisfying I would encourage this line of reasoning.
Interestingly, what is fundamentally untestable and entirely abstract is the 'external world' of materialism. The concreteness of the so-called material world is the concreteness of our experience of it. Concreteness is a quality of subjective experience, not of abstractions. What is testable are the patterns and regularities of subjective experience, for there -- and there alone -- is where knowledge resides. I do find ironic materialists' constant appeal to immediacy, concreteness, testability, when they invoke the ultimate in metaphysical abstraction.
 
#11
Perhaps you could list a couple of discoveries that would cause you to abandon the external consciousness/memory model?
I do mention it in the article, in the subsection titled 'Where I agree with Novella.'

My mother had Alzheimer's. The script of her life was changed radically over time, and not just because she could not remember things.

It's anterograde amnesia. Memories aren't lost; they are never formed to begin with. If that's not changing the script, I don't know what is.
Let's assume I go along with you that memories are created (I don't, since anterograde amnesia is described simply as loss of memory: http://www.simplypsychology.org/anterograde-amnesia.html). Even in that case, you are talking about two natural medical conditions, not a deliberate re-wiring of the brain for the purposes of creating a hallucinated new life, which is what Novella was suggesting.

"Say, let's take an organism whose entire internal life is based on memories and stop forming new ones. Is that radical enough?"
Yes, if you deliberately created and implanted those memories by brain manipulation. That would do to justify Novella's metaphor (not to defeat my actual philosophical position). But that can't be done (http://www.bernardokastrup.com/2013/08/implanted-memories-or-are-they.html)

Do you want examples where people's personalities change? Their desires? Their activities? There are plenty of such examples.
You are trying to change Novella's original appeal to intuition. My criticism is against what he originally tried to do.

What would break a metaphor that simply tacks an external store on top of everything we already know about the brain? Even when we can elicit and implant memories, it could still be argued that we are only eliciting or implanting interfaces to external memories.
Here you are appealing to parsimony, which I agree with.
 
S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#12
I can't help thinking that, at the very least, a fairer title would be "Why Steven Novella might be wrong... again". Not as pithy or provocative though, I suppose.
Would also be good to see "puppets might be conscious", "free will and/or consciousness might be an illusion", "God might not exist" and "mind might equal brain".

But then the flock wouldn't be as ready to buy New Atheist memorabilia, I suppose. <<insert appropriates smiley>>
 
S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#14
Interestingly, what is fundamentally untestable and entirely abstract is the 'external world' of materialism. The concreteness of the so-called material world is the concreteness of our experience of it. Concreteness is a quality of subjective experience, not of abstractions. What is testable are the patterns and regularities of subjective experience, for there -- and there alone -- is where knowledge resides. I do find ironic materialists' constant appeal to immediacy, concreteness, testability, when they invoke the ultimate in metaphysical abstraction.
Zeilinger, who produced the IQOQI results I think suggest Idealism or at least Observer-Participancy, seems to have a different take. His conception of Idealism, if we can even call it that and not Neutral Monism, suggests a reality that we simply can't access but which is outside of our consciousness.

In this interview he states:

What are the philosophical implications of your work?


The quantum state represents measurement results; it represents information about a concrete situation, and it allows me to make predictions about future measurement results. So it is information both about a situation that I know and information about the future. I often say that quantum theory is information theory, and that the separation between reality and information is an artificial one. You cannot think about reality without admitting that it’s information you are handling. So we need a new concept that encompasses the two. We are not there yet.
But also:

Doesn’t that bother you, too? Don’t you find the random nature of the quantum world a little disturbing?

Not at all. I find a reality where not everything is predefined much more comforting because it’s an open world. It’s much richer. To me, the most convincing indication of the existence of a world independent of us is the randomness of the individual quantum event. It is something that we cannot influence. We have no power over it. There is no way to fully understand it. It just is.
 
#15
Zeilinger, who produced the IQOQI results I think suggest Idealism or at least Observer-Participancy, seems to have a different take. His conception of Idealism, if we can even call it that and not Neutral Monism, suggests a reality that we simply can't access but which is outside of our consciousness.
In this interview he states:



But also:
I call that 'obfuscated consciousness,' which is the same thing as what analytical and archetypal psychologists call the 'collective unconscious.' So yes, I agree that there is a whole universe outside the ego, but not outside consciousness.
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#16
I do mention it in the article, in the subsection titled 'Where I agree with Novella.'
You say:

"The 'receiver' model entails that brain activity correlates with experience at the finest levels of granularity, but not that brain hardware has the same level of correlation."

I'm not sure what you're saying here. Any model is going to entail that activity correlates with experience.
Let's assume I go along with you that memories are created (I don't, since anterograde amnesia is described simply as loss of memory: http://www.simplypsychology.org/anterograde-amnesia.html).
It's loss of memory formation ability after the incident. Check out the case study at that page.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anterograde_amnesia
Even in that case, you are talking about two natural medical conditions, not a deliberate re-wiring of the brain for the purposes of creating a hallucinated new life, which is what Novella was suggesting.
What does accident versus manipulation have to do with it? Novella mentions Capgras syndrome and alien hand syndrome. Those aren't manipulations.
Yes, if you deliberately created and implanted those memories by brain manipulation. That would do to justify Novella's metaphor (not to defeat my actual philosophical position). But that can't be done (http://www.bernardokastrup.com/2013/08/implanted-memories-or-are-they.html)
Again, what does deliberate manipulation have to do with anything?
You are trying to change Novella's original appeal to intuition. My criticism is against what he originally tried to do.
I wasn't addressing Novella. I was asking you what you require in order to agree that it's a "change of plot." What produces the plot of my life if not for my memories?

~~ Paul
 
#17
Sciborg, I wasn't clear what "neutral monism" was and so had to look it up. From Wiki:

Neutral monism, in philosophy, is the metaphysical view that the mental and the physical are two ways of organizing or describing the same elements, which are themselves "neutral", that is, neither physical nor mental. This view denies that the mental and the physical are two fundamentally different things. Rather, neutral monism claims the universe consists of only one kind of stuff, in the form of neutral elements that are in themselves neither mental nor physical; these neutral elements might have the properties of color and shape, just as we experience those properties, but these shaped and colored elements do not exist in a mind (considered as a substantial entity, whether dualistically or physicalistically); they exist on their own.

Assuming that Wiki has it right, I'm still not completely clear what it is and how it differs precisely from idealistic monism. Could you explain your understanding of the distinction and the significance of that? Also, why do you prefer it to idealistic monism? Note I'm not being pejorative: I'm asking a straight and open question because I want to know more and to be able to consider that.
 
Last edited:
#18
I'm not sure what you're saying here. Any model is going to entail that activity correlates with experience.
Activity, not hardware. If it turns out that we can turn on or off each fine-grained cognitive or motor skill but closing or opening certain wires in the brain, than the receiver analogy breaks down. In a radio receiver, the electrical activity correlates perfectly with the audio produced, but not the radio's hardware. In other words, you cannot change the audio at will by opening or closing this or that wire. If we can do that in the brain, then the brain is not literally a receiver of consciousness and dualism is defeated. The question, of course, is: Can we? Personally, I don't know or care much, since I am not a dualist at a literal level. Under my formulation of idealism, the hardware also correlates with experience. I just think dualism, as a metaphor, is closer to reality than naive materialism.

What does accident versus manipulation have to do with it? Novella mentions Capgras syndrome and alien hand syndrome. Those aren't manipulations ... Again, what does deliberate manipulation have to do with anything?
Novella wrote: "A more accurate analogy would be this – can you alter the wiring of a TV in order to change the plot of a TV program? Can you change a sitcom into a drama?" Notice this segment: "...can you alter the wiring...?" Clearly, he is talking about deliberate, intentional action to create a result in subjective experience.

I wasn't addressing Novella. I was asking you what you require in order to agree that it's a "change of plot." What produces the plot of my life if not for my memories?
Here is a change of plot: I, male, around 40, enter a hospital room and am hooked up to a brain-stimulus machine. The neuroscientist than changes my subjective experience in the following way: I experience myself as a child in a meadow, playing with a soccer ball and thinking that in 1/2h I have to go back home otherwise my mother will be worried about me. Suddenly, the neuroscientist stops the machine and I come back to baseline experience.
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#19
Activity, not hardware. If it turns out that we can turn on or off each fine-grained cognitive or motor skill but closing or opening certain wires in the brain, than the receiver analogy breaks down. In a radio receiver, the electrical activity correlates perfectly with the audio produced, but not the radio's hardware. In other words, you cannot change the audio at will by opening or closing this or that wire. If we can do that in the brain, then the brain is not literally a receiver of consciousness and dualism is defeated.
I don't think so. It just means that there are a multitude of cooperating receivers. I suppose that destroys a literal radio analogy, but I don't think that's what folks have in mind.

Novella wrote: "A more accurate analogy would be this – can you alter the wiring of a TV in order to change the plot of a TV program? Can you change a sitcom into a drama?" Notice this segment: "...can you alter the wiring...?" Clearly, he is talking about deliberate, intentional action to create a result in subjective experience.
No, clearly he is not. Otherwise he would not have mentioned Capgras, alien hand, strokes, or seizures. Once we learn how Capgras works and can cause it deliberately, would you suddenly be interested?

Here is a change of plot: I, male, around 40, enter a hospital room and am hooked up to a brain-stimulus machine. The neuroscientist than changes my subjective experience in the following way: I experience myself as a child in a meadow, playing with a soccer ball and thinking that in 1/2h I have to go back home otherwise my mother will be worried about me. Suddenly, the neuroscientist stops the machine and I come back to baseline experience.
I see no reason why we won't be able to do that in 10 years. But isn't that just evoking memories?

~~ Paul
 
Last edited:
#20
I call that 'obfuscated consciousness,' which is the same thing as what analytical and archetypal psychologists call the 'collective unconscious.' So yes, I agree that there is a whole universe outside the ego, but not outside consciousness.
IOW, as I see it, we are localisations of the one consciousness that is all that exists. We have a restricted view of all that exists, that's all, which creates the impression of inside and outside, of the the separateness of the mental and the physical. We interpret some of what we can perceive as concrete, particularly that which more than one observer can perceive and agree about.

"Inside" and "outside" are inherently dualistic terms. As soon as one's description of what one can perceive is divided into the physical (out there) and the mental (in here), one has two pots in which to place things. That's why one can have arguments about radio receiver metaphors, either in support of, or in opposition to, materialism.

When one gets tied up in the metaphor, it's easy to get lost in the dualistic language and create straw men for polemical purposes. I must confess I was a fan of the radio receiver model, even after I became aware of your monistic idealism. It's so very hard to get beyond the constraints of inherently dualistic everyday language, which is actually very useful for many purposes. It's mainly when we get into philosophical discussion that we start to see its limitations and drawbacks.

I think we all have some degree of difficulty in thinking non-dualistically, but perhaps particularly materialists, even those who claim monism. That's because if one acknowledges the existence of consciousness ("inside"), one still has to construct its ontogeny, for instance by saying that it emerges from matter ("outside"). OTOH, if one completely denies its existence, one can't do so without implicitly acknowledging the experiencing of it. There is "something" whose existence has to be explained, even if it's claimed to be "illusory"; just as an optical illusion is a phenomenon that actually exists (and can be shared by more than one observer at the same time), therefore needs explaining.

It's a bit comical, really. Reminds me of the way that many atheists (who are usually materialists) think. They've been indoctrinated by religion to the extent that the only God they can imagine is Abrahamic. So when they dismiss that God (I do too), they say there's no God at all, which is a non sequitur. Likewise, they've been indoctrinated (as have we all to some extent or other) by dualism, so that the only world they can imagine is differentiated into matter and mind, even if they deny the very existence of the latter. Quite how it manages not to exist and yet still merits ardent refutation by people who experience it every bit as much as I do evades me.

It's not a symmetrical situation, I don't think. Materialistic monism has more problems than idealistic monism. Explaining consciousness from the materialist perspective necessarily involves explaining how matter can generate it (or at least the illusion of it). Suppose that scientists will be able, eventually, to synthesise from scratch something that generates consciousness. I can't see that that could be proved without being able to detect and decipher consciousness signals in some way. I mean, scientists can't currently point at anything, or measure it, and say it's consciousness, and that it's saying this or that, or definitively claim that it's localised within the brain.

It's true that idealists can't point at anything either, but if there's one thing that everyone can and does experience, it's consciousness. Consciousness is the sine qua non of the existence of anything whatsoever. If the entire universe consisted of nothing but non-conscious objects, that fact could never be known; it would effectively be the same as it being inexistent. The idea of such a universe managing to generate something capable of detecting itself and thereby confirming its existence seems to me much more dubious than that of one in which consciousness manages to create impressions thought of as matter.
 
Top