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Where Science Can't Go.
Posted: 02 April 2005 03:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]  
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[quote author=“JustThis”]All you scientists out there, I would like you to explain consciousness to me. I would also like you to verify it’s existence. I am really curious to see where this goes.

JustThis,

What you ask is based on a misconception of what can be accomplished in a forum such as this.  You can’t simply throw down the gantlet like this and expect others to enlighten you on such a complex issue.  Rather, it is incumbant upon you to make an effort to research the relevant literature on the subject and pose meaningful questions.  As I indicated previously, this forum could do with a little more rigour, not meaning mathematical rigour, precisely, but intellectual rigour.  Each of us has a duty to do the hard work of intellectual research and then ask probing questions in an attempt to ferret out, as it were, the nature of the mind and consciousness.

Having said that, I would like to point out that many competent and thoughtful researchers in several areas are trying to answer the question of what consciousness is.  I would strongly recommend you start by looking at Daniel Dennett’s excellent study called “Consciouness Explained”. A caution.  Dennett goes a long way to explicate the major issues and point the direction to further important questions, but does not, in my opinion, truly ‘explain’ consciousness.  Still the point is to ask the questions. 

More recent investigations are available.  But I think Dennett is a good starting place.

Sincerely

Geoff
PS. I don’t think you meant “verify its existence” literally.  Surely you suppose yourself to be conscious.

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Posted: 02 April 2005 03:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]  
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First, some foundational points:

1. The world actually exists, and the people in it are not figments of my (or anyone’s) imagination.  Of course, I cannot prove it, in the absolute sense, but if this is all just someone’s imagination, then a conversation is pointless, so we might as well assume (for the sake of conversation) that this is not just someone’s imagination.

2. We have the ability to choose (AKA free will).  Of course, we might not, in which case we will still have this discussion, but it will be pointless.  Again, for the sake of actually discussing something that has meaning, we should proceed as if we do, in fact, have free will.

Explaining consciousness:

Consciousness is the term that is used to describe the awareness of environment and self that sentient beings possess.

Verification of its existence:

JT:  In your life experience, would you say that people react to their surroundings, and that their reactions are selected in an attempt to create outcomes that are to their liking?  If you recognize this, then you have already verified the existence of consciousness for yourself.

If, however, you do not recognize this, then what do we have to talk about?  You are essentially denying one or the other of my initial assertions, which is your right, but it eliminates any ability for us to move forward in any meaningful way.

Of course, if I may be so bold, what you are really after is not consciousness.  Consciousness is actually kind of boring.  What really has you going is that curious human trait we call “self awareness”.  The critical realiztion that we are.  The fact that we can think about the fact that we can think.

The problem, as I understand it, is that you are having trouble accepting the notion that human self awareness can arise from the meat of the brain alone.  What are you really driving at?  Do you suppose that the brain establishes a link to a “spirit” or something else?  Because that really seems to be where you are going with this.

Basically, we have a two stage problem.  First, is human self awareness something that can spring up from the brain alone or not?  If the answer is yes, then we want to know how.  If the answer is no, then we are likely screwed in our attempt to understand human cognition, because there does not seem to be anything beyond the meat of the brain for us to examine.

Fortunately, because of the fact that human minds degrade in specific ways when the brain degrades in specific ways, we have a mountain of data which seems to clearly indicate that the condition of the mind is directly linked to the condition of the brain.

So, how exactly does a piece of meat give rise to a thinking, self aware being?  To understand this, it is essential to better understand what it is that our minds actually do.  This is harder to do than it first seems, because we take so much of what we do for granted, that it makes honest inquiry difficult.

The first thing to understand is that minds are symbol processors.  A person samples the universe through the very narrow window of their physical senses.  From these samples, their mind creates a picture of the universe.  We know that this is true because we know that we don’t “see” everything.  We don’t see infrared or ultraviolet, but we know that they are out there.  The really important thing to realize, though, is that this picture of the universe is just an illusion, a set of symbols that our mind uses to identify the universe that the senses have sampled.  If you refuse to accept this premise, then our journey is over.  If, however, you realize the truth of this premise, then stick around, and see how deep the rabit hole goes.

Once we accept that the world we see is just a symbolic representation of what our senses sample, we can approach the subject of our thinking from a better perspective.  The thoughts that we have about ourselves, and about other things, form a sort of “inner landscape”.  In other words, we have a set of symbols which we use to represent what we sense of our own sensory and cognitive processing!

Ok, so our minds are processing a bunch of symbols, and the world we see is just a Cliff’s Notes version of the real world, but how does all of this arise from the meat, right?  Well, first of all, the meat is really complex.  Staggeringly complex, in fact.  So complex that it has been really difficult to figure out every last little detail of how it all works.  I would be a dirty rotten liar if said that I could explain it all down to every last detail, but fortunately, I don’t have to.  I’m also lousy when it comes to architecture, but if I knock out a wall, and the roof starts to collapse, I am reasonably sure that wall was load bearing.  In the same way, damaged brains have very specific difficulties with regards to the symbol processing that we know that our minds do.  It is the specificity and repeatability of these malfunctions which leads us to conclude that these symbol processing abilities do, in fact, arise from the brain.

Look at it this way:  An engine is what gives a car its motive power.  Damage the engine, and damage the motive power.  A full understanding of how every last piece of the engine works, although nice, is not needed to know that the engine does not need the help of any “magical” forces to do its job.  The brain is the same way, but a lot more complicated.  If you cannot accept this truth, I submit that the real reason is that you have a desire to believe that there is something more.

-Matt

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Posted: 03 April 2005 02:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]  
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[quote author=“PSI”]You are falling victim to one of the classic blunders! You are confusing the unexplained with the unexplainable. The notion that science cannot study the things that go on inside the brain/mind is naive. Anything that one cares to name can be investigated scientifically. Just like any other field of inquiry, the process remains the same: Hypothesize. Experiment. Theorize. Rinse. Repeat.


PSI,

  I am really disappointed in your response especially after I reread the above post. I thought for sure that had some information on how science had verified consciousness.


[quote author=“PSI”]1. The world actually exists, and the people in it are not figments of my (or anyone’s) imagination. Of course, I cannot prove it, in the absolute sense, but if this is all just someone’s imagination, then a conversation is pointless, so we might as well assume (for the sake of conversation) that this is not just someone’s imagination.


Not very scientific at all, what happened to Hypothesize. Experiment. Theorize. Rinse. Repeat? The world is real because a bunch of us get together and agree to assume that it exists?

[quote author=“PSI”]JT: In your life experience, would you say that people react to their surroundings, and that their reactions are selected in an attempt to create outcomes that are to their liking? If you recognize this, then you have already verified the existence of consciousness for yourself.


Once again not very scientific, this line of reasoning is very similar to one used justify the existence of god; “I have verified His existence for myself!”

I will say this, consciousness is a very subtle thing, in many ways it is like light, it is invisible or undetectable except on a personal level.


[quote author=“PSI”]First, is human self awareness something that can spring up from the brain alone or not? If the answer is yes, then we want to know how. If the answer is no, then we are likely screwed in our attempt to understand human cognition, because there does not seem to be anything beyond the meat of the brain for us to examine.

Whatever happened to “Anything that one cares to name can be investigated scientifically.”


[quote author=“Geoff”]
What you ask is based on a misconception of what can be accomplished in a forum such as this. You can’t simply throw down the gantlet like this and expect others to enlighten you on such a complex issue. Rather, it is incumbant upon you to make an effort to research the relevant literature on the subject and pose meaningful questions. As I indicated previously, this forum could do with a little more rigour, not meaning mathematical rigour, precisely, but intellectual rigour. Each of us has a duty to do the hard work of intellectual research and then ask probing questions in an attempt to ferret out, as it were, the nature of the mind and consciousness.


At least PSI made a good faith attempt to contribute to the discussion instead of looking down his nose and making condescending comments. I give him credit for putting his thoughts and opinions out there.

Rather, it is incumbant upon you to make an effort to research the relevant literature on the subject and pose meaningful questions.

I slogged through Daniel Dennett’s book several years ago, it made such an impression on me that I had totally forgotten about it until you recommended it, I certainly wouldn’t. I also read a lot of Zen and the Brain but couldn’t finish it. As a layman interested in more than a little intellectual theorizing about consciousness I felt that I couldn’t afford to waste any more time. I have maintained a consistent meditation practice for 30 years including more than 120 days of silent intensive retreat time. I had hoped to discuss my experience with others who have an interest in consciousness.

PS. I don’t think you meant “verify its existence” literally. Surely you suppose yourself to be conscious.


Here we go again, I make a statement saying that science is lost when it comes to the interior of the mind, you, PSI and several others jump all over me, but when I ask for some scientific verification of consciousness all I get is “Well we all know that we’re alive don’t we, that proves that it exists?” Very scientific, lots of empirical data and how did you put it, oh yeah, intellectually rigorous too.

I’ll repeat myself, based on my experience consciousness is a very subtle thing, in many ways it is like light, it is invisible or undetectable except on a personal level.

I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard on you guys, you’ve proved my point.

I would apologize for getting a bit testy but it’s really not my fault that my serotonin levels are low, you can blame it on my brain.

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Posted: 03 April 2005 02:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]  
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Sorry people, I neglected to notice that I wasn’t automatically loged on the forum.

                                  JustThis

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Posted: 03 April 2005 02:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]  
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I believe this was JustThis responding:

“At least PSI made a good faith attempt to contribute to the discussion instead of looking down his nose and making condescending comments. I give him credit for putting his thoughts and opinions out there.”

I am sorry if my tone seems condescending.  I was simply trying to point out that I doubt very much that you will be satisfied by comments in the forum.  Judging by your responses to someone you called PSI, I think that bears out. If you want to have meaningful intellectual discourse I think you will find it is prudent to do a bit of your own homework before challenging those who have to prove some position.

However, speaking of condescension:

“I slogged through Daniel Dennett’s book several years ago, it made such an impression on me that I had totally forgotten about it until you recommended it, I certainly wouldn’t. “

If you have difficulty understanding Dennett or anyone else for that matter, I’d suggest you should self-reflect on your own competence or your own biases.  Something is clearly blocking your progress.

This is my last response in this conversation.

Geoff

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Posted: 03 April 2005 04:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]  
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[quote author=“JustThis i think”]Here we go again, I make a statement saying that science is lost when it comes to the interior of the mind, you, PSI and several others jump all over me, but when I ask for some scientific verification of consciousness all I get is “Well we all know that we’re alive don’t we, that proves that it exists?” Very scientific, lots of empirical data and how did you put it, oh yeah, intellectually rigorous too.

Here we go again indeed! Man, the anti-intellectualism in this country/forum is palpable.  The religious right aren’t the only ones who lambast the intellectuals for their efforts.  And there are those of you, like JustThis, who claim rationality and being in favor of science, but then slam the science types when they offer some insight.  I don’t know who Geoff is, but he’s my kind of guy.  Geoff, if you are still reading this, are you a scientist by any chance?

Just who do you think you are, JT, claiming that science is lost?  What evidence do you supply? None.  Just plain opinion.  If you don’t understand something then ask a question in hope that somebody will provide some guidence.  Then think about the answers you get.  Stop letting your amygdala do your thinking for you,  Use your frontal lobes for a change.  Do the homework yourself.  You sound like one of my students who ask what is going to be on the test.  Lets see, how much work can I avoid by letting someone else do it.

To Geoff: Please don’t go away.  I’ve been aching for someone who has some actual understanding to contribute to this forum.  Sam doesn’t seem interested in participating.  Three “real” scientists who were registered here have abandoned the forum because of the vitriolic anti-intellectual sentiment registered by some participants.  I’ve been in email contact with two of them before they pulled out and it is really a shame they were attacked, like you, for being condescending or something close to it.  Turns out they are actually doing some interesting research in this area (close to my own interests) that might have been useful to those here who are actually open-minded and are looking for serious discussion (Matt, Dave, anyone else???).

I would like to know who you are, but I understand you may not want to reveal your identify in this forum, probably for the same reason I have not registered (one registered member has already complained of receiving hate email so I think not registering is a good idea!)

BTW: I’ve read Dennett (esp. Darwin’s Dangerous Idea) and think I understand your point. Hope you keep in there somewhere in this (tongue-in-cheek) god forsaken forum!

g

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Posted: 03 April 2005 04:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]  
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JT, this will be my last response on this thread.  I believe that my two foundational points were highly reasonable, and I gave my reasons.  Since you refuse to accept them, even for the sake of conversation, we have a fundamental disconnect which I feel precludes our ability to continue forward in any meaningful way.  I generally take their truth as axiomatic, but in this case I suspected that it might by wise to articulate them, and I have been proven right.

I will make a few parting comments, however.

Just because anything can be studied scientifically does not mean that science can figure it out (although it seems that it generally can).  That remains to be seen, please don’t confuse my stance on the two.

With regards to your characterization of my comment on the verification of consciousness:  I did an excelent job of explaining the difference between consciousness and critical self awareness.  Double check the dictionary if you are confused as to what consciousness is.  With the actual definition of the word in hand, it is clear that the verification that I referenced is all that is needed to prove it exists (in people other than the observer).

Whatever happened to “Anything that one cares to name can be investigated scientifically.”

My comment on being screwed was meant to be rhetorical.  Obviously I believe that the brain is all there is.  I was actually ridiculing the stance that something that cannot be seen, touched, heard, smelt, seen in a microscope, or has any other testable interaction with the universe has any impact on human thought.  I guess you missed that though.

Good luck in your investigations,

-Matt

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Posted: 06 April 2005 02:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]  
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Geoff,

My apologies, I was a bit upset at PSI’s ‘classic blunder’ line and took some of it out on you, however:

[quote author=“Geoff”]Dennett goes a long way to explicate the major issues and point the direction to further important questions, but does not, in my opinion, truly ‘explain’ consciousness.

[quote author=“Geoff”]If you have difficulty understanding Dennett or anyone else for that matter, I’d suggest you should self-reflect on your own competence or your own biases. Something is clearly blocking your progress.

Why on earth would you recommend a book to me that you admit doesn’t accomplish the job and then get upset when I trash it?


And in case there are still some scientists in the house here are some passages from a recently published book regarding science and consciousness that inspired my opening this topic, needless to say it reflects my own views on the subject. I will have to paraphrase them somewhat since I am not an expert typist, I hope the author will forgive me.

“As science turned it’s reifying light on the mysteries of the human mind Descartes’ dualism came in for some rough treatment. Bolstered by the undeniable successes of three centuries of purely physical research many philosophers and scientists now reject Descartes’ separation of mind and body, spirit and matter and imagine that they have erased the conceptual gulf between consciousness and the physical world.
Most scientists consider themselves physicalists, this means that among other things they believe that our mental and spiritual lives are wholly dependent upon the workings of our brain. Once the lamp of neural activity is extinguished there will be nothing left to survive.
But the truth is that we do not know what will happen after death. While there is much to against a naive conception of a soul that is independent of the brain the place of consciousness in the natural world is very much an open question. The idea that brains produce consciousness is little more than an article of faith among scientists at present and there are many reasons to believe that the methods of science will be insufficient to prove or disprove it.
Inevitably scientists treat consciousness as a mere attribute of the large brained animals. The problem however is that nothing about a brain, when surveyed as a physical system, declares it to be the bearer of that particular interior dimension that each of us experiences as consciousness. Every paradigm that attempts to shed light on the frontier between consciousness and unconsciousness, searching for the physical difference that makes the phenomenal one, relies upon subjective reports to signal that an experimental stimulus has been observed. The operational definition of consciousness therefore is reportability. But consciousness and reportability are not the same thing. Is a starfish conscious? No science that conflates consciousness with reportability will deliver an answer to this question. To look for consciousness in the world on the basis of its outward signs is the only thing that we can do. To define consciousness in termes of its outward signs however is a fallacy. Consciousness may be a far more rudimentary phenomenon that are living creatures and their brains.And their appears to be no obvious way of ruling out such a thesis.
And so while we know many things about ourselves in anatomical, physiological and evolutionary terms we currently have no idea why it is “like something” to be what we are. The fact that the universe is illuminated where you stand, the fact that your thoughts and moods and sensations have qualitative character, is an absolute mystery, rivaled only by mystery ‘that there should be anything at all in this universe rather than nothing’. The problem is that our experience of brains as objects in the world leaves us perfectly insensible to to the reality of consciousness, while our experience ‘as’ brains grants us knowledge of nothing else. Given this situation it is reasonable to conclude that the domain of our subjectivity constitutes a proper (and essential) sphere of investigation into the nature of the universe, as some facts will be discovered only in consciousness, in first person terms, or not discovered at all”.


I couldn’t have said it better, I don’t like using other people’s words to express my own thoughts but after being challenged by PSI and Gman I felt that I needed support from someone else to bolster my case.

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Posted: 06 April 2005 03:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]  
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Oh, by the way this author has a website and if anyone feels strongly about what he wrote regarding the limitations of science and wishes to post a rebuttal I will pass it on.

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Posted: 06 April 2005 07:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]  
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JustThis,

Two things:  First, an apology.  If I offended you, it was not actually my intent.  I was trying to play some hardball, but apparently I fell victim to a classic blunder of my own, and came across as something else.

Second, a compliment.  You got me to go back on a statement that I made, namely, about no longer posting to this thread.

I do, however, still disagree with you to the very core of my being.  Let me see if I can sum it up, so that my objection to dualism is at least well understood.

I believe that dualism, or any other “supernatural” belief system, for that matter, is an argument from ignorance.

This is why:

That the physical world exists is not a seriously contested notion.  When someone drops a brick off of a roof, it falls.  Even if one thousand bricks are dropped, they all fall in the same way.

What I am getting at is this:  Thus far, our experience with the physical world is that it behaves in a reliable manner.  This does not offer up any evidence for a reality beyond the physical one.  If, however, falling bricks were to begin to act in a capricious fashion, then it might be reasonable to wonder if something else was going on.

I find the notion of dualism (specifically as applied to the mind/brain issue) to be bad science, because nothing in our understanding of the universe gives us reason to suspect an otherworldly component.  In fact, the only real reason to suspect an otherworldly component is intuitive.  I would submit that, when dealing with the outer limits, so to speak, human intuition is extremely unreliable.  Take quantum physics, for instance.  Quantum physics is extremely counterintuitive, in fact, at the resolution described by quantum physicist, the universe becomes downright unsettling to an intuitive approach.

So, to recap, the physical universe is out there, and seems to act in a specific and reliable manner (even at the odd levels of quantum physics).  Nothing in our experience has lead us to believe that these laws are suspended in irregular ways, as we would expect if there was interaction from beyond the natural realm.  Why then, would we believe that the brain is somehow interacting with something beyond the physical realm?  We could certainly say that it “might be”, but then again, aliens “might be” pausing our universe every couple of minutes to conduct tests, and then starting it up again.  Both are incorrect because they assert that something is possible, without actual positive evidence.  The only reason that dualism, I maintain, seems more reasonable than the notion of alien clockstoppers, is because dualism strikes a deeply intuitive chord.  I believe, however, that this intuitive chord is nothing more than a mental “blind spot”, brought on as a side effect of the symbology which people use to represent their own collective mental identity.

Or, more simply, to recall a quote from Sam’s book:  That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.

Dualism asserts that something about the mind may transcend the brain, but offers up no concrete evidence, instead it merely points to gaps in the knowledge of how brains work.

Neuroscience, on the other hand, offers up a wealth of evidence.  Tweak this area of the brain, and the subject smells things.  Tweak that area of the brain, and the subject becoms sad.  This is positive evidence, and it cannot simply be dismissed.

So, because of what I have just layed out, I provisionally accept a physical only model of human cognition.  If, however, as medical science probes the brain with greater accuracy, evidence arises that the brain is recieving and/or sending information to to/from an unknown place, then I will happily revisit my provisional model of human cognition.  If (perhaps through stem cell research), people who have had vast areas of their brains destroyed, and subsequently rebuilt, recover not only brain function, but experience a return of patterns from before the destruction of their brain which could only be explained by some “extradimensional” component (or analog thereof), I would certainly go back to the drawing board.

In the meantime, dualists should theorize less, and gather data more.

-Matt

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Posted: 07 April 2005 04:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]  
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Matt, 

You said that dualists should gather more data, the only data that I have that is relevant comes from years of meditation which you seem to recognize as a legitimate method of gathering information. I will share my thoughts on what I have learned in another post.

[quote author=“PSI from another topic”]I think that the real point (and this is what Sam gets at) is that people can be given precise instructions for meditating, and achieve similar mental states by following them. If scientific rigor is applied to this, it is possible to define a science of inner cognition.

[quote author=“PSI”]It is important, though, that we maintain a clear understanding of what is actually illuminated by this process. Many ancient mystics made, in my opinion, the mistake of assuming that wierd images in their heads could somehow be directly related to the nature of the physical universe, which we are rightly skeptical of.

You have me a bit confused here. I guess the first thing that needs to be settled is whether you consider thoughts to be physical in nature. If so do you have any evidence to support this, any empirical scientific evidence I mean? Then in the latter part of the quote above you seem to saying that ‘images in the head’ are not related to the physical universe.

[quote author=“PSI”]Why then, would we believe that the brain is somehow interacting with something beyond the physical realm?

It is common knowledge that thoughts (images in the head) affect the body.  I need you to clarify this in order to move to another area.

                        Thanks , Mike

PS. What are your thoughts on the passages that I quoted from the book?

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Posted: 07 April 2005 07:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]  
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[quote author=“JustThis”] You said that dualists should gather more data, the only data that I have that is relevant comes from years of meditation which you seem to recognize as a legitimate method of gathering information. I will share my thoughts on what I have learned in another post.

As I have said before, meditation is a valid means of gathering some kinds of information.  Specifically, it is of use in illuminating the relations of certain aspects of cognition.  In order to draw conclusions about the physical universe, however, any intutions which arise in meditation must still be verified through external testing.  Understand also, that I believe that there is nothing more to thought than the mechanics of the brain.  However, we are still a ways out from being able to understand it completely at a mechanical level, so other models are certainly useful.

[quote author=“JustThis”]
[quote author=“PSI from another topic”]I think that the real point (and this is what Sam gets at) is that people can be given precise instructions for meditating, and achieve similar mental states by following them. If scientific rigor is applied to this, it is possible to define a science of inner cognition.

[quote author=“PSI”]It is important, though, that we maintain a clear understanding of what is actually illuminated by this process. Many ancient mystics made, in my opinion, the mistake of assuming that wierd images in their heads could somehow be directly related to the nature of the physical universe, which we are rightly skeptical of.

You have me a bit confused here. I guess the first thing that needs to be settled is whether you consider thoughts to be physical in nature. If so do you have any evidence to support this, any empirical scientific evidence I mean? Then in the latter part of the quote above you seem to saying that ‘images in the head’ are not related to the physical universe.

Yes.  I do consider thoughts to be physical in nature.  As for evidence, I offer the following:  There is no evidence for anything other than the physical, and there is plenty of evidence that the mind is influenced by the physicality of the brain.  Altering the physical structure of the brain results in changes of the mind.  Altering the chemical balance of the brain also changes the mind (all mind altering substances).

[quote author=“JustThis”]
[quote author=“PSI”]Why then, would we believe that the brain is somehow interacting with something beyond the physical realm?

It is common knowledge that thoughts (images in the head) affect the body.  I need you to clarify this in order to move to another area.

The brain affects the body by sending nerve impulses, and regulating hormone levels.  I am unaware of any data which shows that the brain interects with the body in any other way.

[quote author=“JustThis”]
PS. What are your thoughts on the passages that I quoted from the book?

The book quote is a classic argument from ignorance.  It says, “science cannot prove that the brain is only physical and that nothing of the mind survives the death of the brain, so why not suppose that it might be that way?”  Well, this takes us right back to the alien clockstoppers.  What empirical evidence can you show that aliens do not freeze our universe every couple of minutes to perform experiments?  None?  Well, I guess they do then.

-Matt

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Posted: 08 April 2005 03:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]  
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I’ve been keeping quiet on this topic because so much can be said about it. In fact, I’ve written quite a bit about topics such as defining mind and consciousness and answering mind-body questions. Why have I written about such inpenetrable subjects? For me, writing, and of course reading, are the only ways I know of to settle these kinds of issues to my own satisfaction. Sure, it would be nice if publishers came knocking at my door begging me for my manuscripts, but I’m realistic enough to understand that they get thousands of queries a day. The real reason I write is to at least approach some kind of finality within my own mind on matters that have perplexed me and many others. I know of no other way of thinking long thoughts other than to read and write about them. With that in mind, here’s a short excerpt from one of my recent dialogues. As always, comments both negative and positive are welcome—but it’s always the negative comments that help me as a writer.

“I think therefore I am.”

Unfortunately, therefore you are nuts, according to your particular brand of thinking.

Descarte, one of the key inventors of processes now known as “science,” knew very well that his physical body existed in space, whether or not he was able to think.

As I understand it, Descarte wanted to cover all the bases—just in case he was merely dreaming that he had a physical body.

Why do you suppose he would entertain such a ludicrous idea? And why have readers of philosophy by the millions found it worthwhile to ponder “I think therefore I am” throughout the centuries since Descarte’s life?

They found it interesting, obviously.

But why? Why not ponder the ramblings of schizophrenics?

Why don’t you tell me? And by the way, if a motto ever gets attached to your name, it’ll probably be “I think; therefore I guess.”

Not bad. Having been raised in a Jesuit environment, Descarte’s head had been filled with much “understanding” that was anything but scientific. When a child is so indoctrinated, key parts of his brain never fully recover from the experience.

I was waiting for you to bring religion into the picture. Once again, you’re generalizing your own life experience into that of others who you assume have been similarly damaged.

I don’t think that “damaged” is quite the word to describe what happened to me, but I’ll let it go. The fact remains that when a child is relentlessly drilled toward seeing the world in a certain way, nothing he can do will ever fully erase that upbringing, short of a frontal lobotomy. We are talking about physiological fact.

Give me an example, if you can keep it brief.

If I get specific, I fear that I’ll start to sound crazy.

Start? I’d say you’re well on your way.

I’m now holding my hands out in front of me, looking at my fingers. When I ponder my fingers—where they came from and how they operate—I cannot see them as elaborations of ancient fish fins, much as I might try. I may understand the facts of evolution, but my mind operates in a neurological environment that was formulated to see the workings of the world, including my own body, in a fundamentally different way.

And you assume that everyone else, including Descarte, is just like you.

Somewhat—if they were indoctrinated religiously enough when they were children. I realize that human fingers have their origins in long adaptation from something primitive, gradually having formed knuckles, nails, and a bit of hair in my case. I may realize it, but I am not able to feel it as a fact, in the way that I can feel other facts. Descarte must have experienced similar sorts of problems with his own concept forming. His rational mind had never truly doubted his own existence. But irrationality had set up housekeeping in other parts of his neurological system, which he viscerally felt the need to address and reconcile, as much as he possibly could.

So we’re back to literality?

We are, indeed. Obsession as well. You must realize by now that I keep bringing God into the picture because societies are so entrenched in Deism. We see the world in ways that we are taught to see it.

Or in ways we figure out for ourselves.

Yes, but we are ultimately taught how to figure things out. I could refer to religious indoctrination as tending to lead toward mental crippling. But I won’t, because religious belief has also had an overall unifying effect on humanity.

We each sacrifice individuality for the whole human race?

You certainly have, but not everyone does. All I’m trying to say is that when a person decides to reinvent himself, so to speak—as Descarte did—he can tend toward seemingly absurd literalism in his analysis. For good reasons.

Such as?

A world that is run by God has every detail set into order. No question is unanswerable, even if many answers simply end up being, “Because it’s a mystery that only God can understand.” Someone who is brought up this way tends to view the world around him as a place of perfect order—but an order that cannot have been invented through a conspiracy of man and nature.

Dave

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Posted: 08 April 2005 02:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]  
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[quote author=“PSI”]Yes. I do consider thoughts to be physical in nature. As for evidence, I offer the following: There is no evidence for anything other than the physical,

This really a very weak argument and has no science behind it. As evidence that thought is nonphysical in nature I offer the following; Thought cannot be touched with the hand, seen with the eye, heard with the ear, tasted with the tongue or smelt with the nose nor can it be examined with any instruments which are extensions of these senses thus it must be nonphysical in nature. Further your demand for proof of the nonphysical nature of thought is using circular reasoning. Your definition of proof demands that it be physical in nature. It is logically inconsistent to ask for physical proof of the nonphysical. 


[quote author=“PSI”]and there is plenty of evidence that the mind is influenced by the physicality of the brain. Altering the physical structure of the brain results in changes of the mind. Altering the chemical balance of the brain also changes the mind (all mind altering substances).

This is a stronger argument and difficult to counter. I will offer a different theory, please examine it with an open mind.

The mind is really our sixth sense, it apprehends mental phenomenon. Altering the physical structure of the mind or it’s chemical balance affects our perception. If you take a drug and get dizzy the world isn’t really spinning. Similarly if you take a drug and can’t think clearly it could be that it is your perception of your thoughts that is altered.


[quote author=“JustThis”]It is common knowledge that thoughts (images in the head) affect the body. I need you to clarify this in order to move to another area.

[quote author=“PSI”]The brain affects the body by sending nerve impulses, and regulating hormone levels. I am unaware of any data which shows that the brain interects with the body in any other way.

I said ‘thoughts’ in my statement, for instance if you are thinking angry thoughts about this post quite likely your blood pressure and pulse rate are up. Of course hormone levels and nerve impulses are the mechanism. The question is did the brain cause the thoughts which then caused the brain to send the impulses and change hormone levels or was it thoughts by themselves? To manage stress we are counselled not to dwell on angry or upsetting thoughts.

Finally, I am not too concerned about the nature of thought or other mental phenomena, they may be physical in nature or not. Certainly the mind and the brain have a close working relationship. What interests me is the nature of the mechanism by which mental and physical phenomenon are known or perceived, this is the real mystery.

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“Every minute we spend oblivious to the value of a minute is a minute of unconsciousness. This isn’t some screwball scheme to latch onto the present moment in time, it’s simply what it means to be awake.”

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Posted: 08 April 2005 04:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]  
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JustThis:

Let me try to clarify my stance, because I do not believe my argument to be circular.

First, though, a bit of a conventional note:  Often, brain and mind are used interchangeably, but for the purpose of this post, brain refers to the “meat” or physical entity that resides in (most) people’s heads.  Mind refers to the abstract concept of thought, memory, identity, etc.  Fair enough?

The mind clearly does, at the very least, interact with the physical world in some way.  If I decide that I want a hamburger, I might go and get into my car and go get it.  It is clear, in this case, that something happened in what we might call my mind, which translated into a physical manifestation (the actual act of going and getting the burger). This physical manifestation provably originates in my brain, and travels to my body from there.  The question, then, as I understand it, is whether or not the brain is the “first mover” so to speak, or whether something else (other than the brain) actually decided to get a hamburger first, and then told the brain which in turn told the rest of my body.  So far so good?

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that there is some non-physical thing/plane/place which is actually where the mind resides.  Still, we know that this other thing/plane/place where we suppose that the mind resides would have to interact with the physical world in some way.  At a bare minimum, it would have to be able to manipulate electrons (or something larger) in order to affect change in the brain.  Also, since the communication must be bidirectional, this other thing/plane/place must be able to observe electrons in the physical world.

So, the question becomes this:  Are there large bodies of experimental data which support this?  This kind of thing most certainly would be testable.  Electrons should be behaving in capricious manners as otherworldy processes manipulate them.  Human brains and other complex systems should have inexplicable net increases or decreases in energy as a result of these “extra-dimensional” interactions.

Thus far, no such evidence has been uncovered.  Although I would like to fully understand how the mind works, I don’t need to understand it any better to provisionally accept that there is no extradimensional component to it.

Finally, to recap:  That which interacts with the physical universe should leave a detectable trace, and thus, even if only indirectly, be observable.  If it leaves no detectable trace, it has, by definition, not interacted with the physical universe. 

-Matt

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