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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Central dogma of materialist neuroscience, defined

Sometimes, when reporting on materialist neuroscience, I might use terms like “naturalism” and “physicalism”. Here are some lucid working definitions courtesy Stephen E. Jones:

Naturalism is the view that the natural world is all there is and that there are no supernatural beings. Whatever takes place in the universe takes place through natural processes and not as the result of supernatural causation. The most popular kind of naturalism is known as materialism or physicalism. Materialism maintains that the basic substances of the physical world are pieces of matter, and physicalism maintains that those pieces of matter are properly understood by the discipline of physics. (V.E. Reppert, C.xS. Lewis's Dangerous Idea: A Philosophical Defense of Lewis's Argument from Reason, InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 2003, pp.46-47)
and
Physicalism as a worldview holds that everything that exists is nothing but a single spatio-temporal system which can be completely described in terms of some ideal form of physics. Matter/energy is all that exists. God, souls, and nonphysical abstract entities do not exist. ... (J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity, [1987], Baker: Grand Rapids MI, 1994, Ninth Printing, pp.80-81)

It should be clear that such views are incompatible with the idea that the mind is real, in the sense that we assume. And, as recent stories have noted, they are coming under question for that exact reason.

Consider, for example, a woman who suffers from an illusion that she is the president. Her illusion is only possible because there might be a president. The illusion consists in a false relationship inferred between her and the presidency. Now, if it is an illusion that I am conscious, you must consider, how would an unconscious being have constructed such an illusion?

Most naturalist/physicalist responses have simply constructed theories to support materialism, leaving consciousness one hugely misunderstood area.

I don’t say “unsolved problem”. I am not convinced that it is a problem that needs solving. Apart from naturalism and physicalism, consciousness would probably be much easier to understand, and not a problem.

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