Saturday, August 04, 2007

Does parallel processing in the brain show that there is really no mind?

Neurosurgeon Mike Egnor, who has said kind things about the forthcoming Spiritual Brain notes,
The parallel processing model of the mind has shown up in both materialist and dualist models of the mind.

Daniel Dennett has proposed that massive parallel processing in the brain is the cause of consciousness. He calls this his 'multiple drafts' hypothesis. He believes that the brain is constantly making 'drafts' of perceptions, and when there are enough drafts going on simultaneously, we become aware of ourselves- conscious.

There are a bunch of problems with Dennett's theory. Dennett's theory compares the mind to a computer, which is an intelligently designed model of dualism (hardware and software). Not a good analogy for a Darwinist.

Also, Dennett's theory leaves out irreducible first person experience like the actual experience of seeing the color red, etc. This is called 'qualia'. Also, the parallel processing theory implies that consciousness is in some way quantitative- that a blind person should be less conscious than a sighted person because the blind person has many fewer perceptions to process, or that we would be less conscious in a dark silent room, which is of course nonsense.

Another problem has been called the Chinese nation analogy. Imagine that all billion people in China decided to 'parallel process' at the same time- to do some brain function simultaneously, and to simultaneously communicate with each other about it. This would not cause the nation of China, as a single whole, to become 'conscious', in a way different from the individual consciousness of each person in China. There's no reason to think that any number of 'parallel' brain events would yield a unitary consciousness, and proponents of the theory have never proposed an actual mechanism as to how objective parallel processing becomes subjective first-person experience.

The parallel processing issue shows up in a more interesting way in the dualist beliefs of Wilder Penfield, who was the neurosurgeon who pioneered the study of electrical stimulation of the brain in conscious people (during surgery under local anesthesia) .

By stimulating the brain, Penfield was able to elicit all kinds of things- involuntary movements, sensations, thoughts, memories, emotions, etc. But patients always experienced these things not only subjectively but as observers. They always knew that these mental events were done to them, not by them. There was always an irreducible 'I' that could not be fooled or evoked.

Penfield studied thousands of patients this way, and on this basis was a convinced dualist. He believed the soul was distinct from the brain, and that his work empirically supported this view. I agree, and I've had the same experience as a neurosurgeon (without as many patients as Penfield had!)

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Students take religious studies to be better people; profs want them to think more critically?

Students want to be better people but profs want them to distrust traditional faiths more? That's what a recent study suggests.

Some say there is a great divide in religious studies in the sense that students take it in order to become better people and profs teach it in order to ... What exactly?
Students want lots of discussion in class sessions and they want to learn facts about religious groups. They also want to become better people. Professors aren’t opposed to any of those things, but they are much more interested in teaching critical thinking. While the numbers vary, the gap between students’ and professors’ goals for these courses is evident at both religious and non-religious institutions.

Last November, lead investigator Barbara E. Walvoord of the University of Notre Dame announced these findings to a standing-room only crowd at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion. They were based on a national survey of introductory courses in religion and theology, and destined for a book.
Walvoord noted that the statistics are surprising for many kinds of institutions — noting the low percentages of professors at religious institutions with moral and religioius agendas for their students, and the high percentages of students at secular institutions with hopes for such an experience in class.

Oh, it's not THAT difficult to understand. The students know there is an ocean out there (spirituality). They don't want to drown. They also don't want to stay to the beach all their lives. Or be hijacked by a pirate. But many profs at religious institutions are just marking time. What else is new?

A friend notes,
I think the most revealing part of the article is the professors’ emphasis on so-called critical thinking. Critical thinking, for them, means being skeptical of religion; it almost never operates in the other direction. Just look at how many chairmen of religious studies departments are atheists (e.g., Paul Mirecki in Kansas, Hector Avalos in Iowa).
Well then, rubber ducky , you and me are gonna sit this one out on the beach, I guess ... unless ...


Desperate atheist rage

Here's Marvin Olasky on the current desperate atheist rage:
Nineteenth-century novelist Gustave Flaubert used to joke about archaeologists discovering a stone tablet signed "God" and reading, "I do not exist." His punch line had an atheist then exclaiming, "See! I told you so!"

He goes on,
Hitchens calls "the whole racket of American evangelism a heartless con" -- but I've met hundreds of compassionate evangelicals who must be dumb, because they've spent their lives in a racket that's yielded them almost no money. They've adopted hard-to-place children, built AIDS orphanages in Africa, helped addicts and alcoholics turn their lives around, and much besides.
So why, despite the evidence, are authors such as Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens so doctrinaire in their denunciations? Alister and Joanna Collicutt McGrath offer a reason in their book, "The Dawkins Delusion": "Until recently, Western atheism had waited patiently, believing that belief in God would simply die out. But now a whiff of panic is evident. Far from dying out, belief in God has rebounded "

Maybe it's all those hard-to-place children and last-chance guys weighing in ...

That's something we noted in The Spiritual Brain. Generally speaking, spirituality is shown by masses of research to be good for you. I'm looking forward to getting and reading the McGrath book, The Dawkins Delusion.

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