Monday, July 23, 2007

Dangerous questions? Huh? Materialists have NO dangerous questions.

Today, I put up some stuff on why the mind obviously isn't merely the brain.

Meanwhile, materialist cognitive scientist Steven Pinker of Harvard has posed a whole bunch of "dangerous questions" in the Chicago Sun-Times.

What strikes me as remarkable is how UNdangerous his questions are. Anyway, I decided to list and answer his questions, as follows:

Do women, on average, have a different profile of aptitudes and emotions than men?

[From Denyse: Yes, of course. Get pregnant, have and raise a baby, and you will understand. But so? (If you cannot carry out this program, not to worry, you have just made my case. Thanks much. Read on.)]

Were the events in the Bible fictitious -- not just the miracles, but those involving kings and empires?

[From Denyse: Well, Steve, do you have any INFORMATION about that? Thousands of archeologists and other scholars would love to hear your news. Otherwise, take a number and wait. Anyone can have a mere opinion about events described in the Bible.]

Has the state of the environment improved in the last 50 years?

[From Denyse: Improved for whom? For me, yes. I live in a much cleaner city, and a nicer neighbourhood, too. For people in coastal China ... probably not. But they eat more regularly, and that may be worth their while.]

Do most victims of sexual abuse suffer no lifelong damage?

[From Denyse: How much damage victims suffer depends in large part on their culture. Is the victim considered "damaged goods"? Does the society offer tacit rewards for long-term unemployment or abnormal relationships? I was sexually assaulted several times when I was young but in every case managed to fight off my assailants with a ferocity that they clearly did not expect. Was I damaged? I don't know. I'd do it again today, only faster and more lethally. Is that evidence of damage or not?]

Did Native Americans engage in genocide and despoil the landscape?

[From Denyse: Yes. The Iroquois wiped out the Canadian Hurons (and the Canadian martyr priests along with them). Plains Indians ran thousands of buffalo off cliffs. But so? Europeans perpetrated the Holocaust. Who dare point a finger?]

Do men have an innate tendency to rape?

[From Denyse: If they do, they better keep it in check. Almost all societies have agreed not to tolerate it. Interesting, in view of the fact that feminists claim that men run everything ... In The Spiritual Brain , neuroscientist Mario Beauregard and I recap evidence from his study showing that men can and do suppress sexual arousal when asked by an investigator to do so. There is no basis for the belief that they cannot do that.]

Did the crime rate go down in the 1990s because two decades earlier poor women aborted children who would have been prone to violence?

[From Denyse: No. The "crime rate" went down because (1) the population aged (old guys don't do second story jobs or stickups) and (2) the government started jailing more perps (guys in jail don't do second story jobs or stickups). Enron still happened, and destroyed the pensions of thousands - far worse than yer average street shakedown - but those are the crimes old guys commit. Most people - for some strange reason - don't think of that stuff as "crime."]

Are suicide terrorists well-educated, mentally healthy and morally driven?

[From Denyse: Only if you think "well-educated, mentally healthy and morally driven" are terms that have no intrinsic meaning. ]

Would the incidence of rape go down if prostitution were legalized?

[From Denyse: No. Rapists get off on forcing themselves on the UNwilling. If all they wanted was a hooker, they could easily find one, unfortunately, irrespective of laws.]

Do African-American men have higher levels of testosterone, on average, than white men?

[From Denyse: So what if they do? See the question on rape above. An elderly mission priest told me years ago about the severe floggings that occasional rapists would receive in the African community he ministered to decades ago. I would think that a guy's t-level is his own business if he hasn't done anything he shouldn't. And in a multicultural society, I can't see the social value of making a policy issue out of ethnic/racial/class comparisons. Basically, here or there, you either observe the law or else.]

Is morality just a product of the evolution of our brains, with no inherent reality?

[From Denyse: No, it isn't. People who believe otherwise (usually expressed as "It's just The Man throwing his weight around") form the usual population of prisons around the globe. The entire spiritual tradition of the human race is against that view, and for good reason.]

Would society be better off if heroin and cocaine were legalized?

[From Denyse: Only if your society has unlimited funds to pay for treatment facilities. Write and tell me which society that is, and I will recommend that our Canadian hard cases move there ASAP.]

Is homosexuality the symptom of an infectious disease?

[From Denyse: Huh?]

Would it be consistent with our moral principles to give parents the option of euthanizing newborns with birth defects that would consign them to a life of pain and disability?

[From Denyse: Would it be consistent with our moral principles to give the surviving kids the option of euthanizing parents who face age-related defects that would consign them to a life of pain and disability? Surely, in the interests of justice, the two bills should be passed together. That way, neither group would have the obvious advantage. (I pray that neither bill will be passed in Canada.)]

Do parents have any effect on the character or intelligence of their children?

[From Denyse: Are home-raised children better than street children? Why do we even wonder about this? If love doesn't matter, what does?]

Have religions killed a greater proportion of people than Nazism?

[From Denyse: No. The mortality from World War II was catastrophic. Human sacrifices at the pagan summer solstices and occasional burnings of heretics by monotheistic religions were nothing by comparison with the eugenic ambitions of the twentieth century, to get rid of whole nations deemed genetically inferior.]

Would damage from terrorism be reduced if the police could torture suspects in special circumstances?

[From Denyse: No. The damage done by undermining traditional legal systems in the Western world that have protected witnesses and suspects for many centuries would quickly exceed the benefit from the information gained from an occasional tormented suspect.]

Would Africa have a better chance of rising out of poverty if it hosted more polluting industries or accepted Europe's nuclear waste?

[From Denyse: How much would cleaning up the mess cost? We need figures here. Without figures, it is not a reasonable question.]

Is the average intelligence of Western nations declining because duller people are having more children than smarter people?

[From Denyse: Is average intelligence declining at all? Is this a trick question? The fact that lots of people enjoy watching Ann Coulter or Michael Moore does not prove that they are getting stupid. They may be getting something they shouldn't be getting, but that is a matter for their spiritual advisers. I think Coulter should wear more obvious clothes on TV and Moore should lose weight and grow up. But so?]

Would unwanted children be better off if there were a market in adoption rights, with babies going to the highest bidder?

[From Denyse: If you want to avoid raising a criminal, would you rather a child be raised by Tony Soprano or by the family of "Daddy was an old time preacher man"? Is this another trick question? It must be .... Pinker must be running out of sensible questions altogether ... isn't he?]

Would lives be saved if we instituted a free market in organs for transplantation?

[From Denyse: The lives of potential donors would NOT be saved, from what I hear from China. They execute lots of young adherents of Eastern and Western religions, and use organs for executed prisoners - and could probably underbid anybody. Here in Canada, we wait for a fatal accident and hope that the victim signed a wallet card. Not very enterprising, are we? But would you rather be in trouble here or there?]

Should people have the right to clone themselves, or enhance the genetic traits of their children?

[From Denyse: Who wants to be responsible for the failures? Isn't nature's bounty enough to manage? Taxpayers underwrite the current sustainable number of failures because we assume that no one simply chose to produce failures as opposed to successes. What if they did?]

Pinker goes on, "Perhaps you can feel your blood pressure rise as you read these questions."

No, in my case. All this stuff is way, way past its stale date.

If you are into dangerous ideas and you are a materialist, you are nowhere. In reality, the only really dangerous idea nowadays is non-materialism .

Pinker is QUITE right to point out that "Writers who have raised ideas like these [listed above] have been vilified, censored, fired, threatened and in some cases physically assaulted." But that is principally because the vile doctrine of political correctness - the business arm of materialist social policy - currently has so much power.

People are only permitted to advocate a materialist doctrine that is obviously popular at any given time. If you want to help stop that, support The FIRE. (Anyone who knows of other similar groups, please write in and I will add them to this post. The FIRE isn't perfect but it does clean up a lot of sludge.)

But ultimately, you can't stop the effects of materialism if you do not think that the mind is real. And you need to know why and how it is real.

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Just how much brain do you need? Could you use that space for something else?

Recently, I blogged on a guy who was apparently leading a normal life whose head turned out to be full of water. The neurosurgeon who said such kind things about The Spiritual Brain, also writes to say:
The redundancy of much of the brain (most of the cerebellum and cerebral hemispheres) is remarkable. The brain stem and the deeper structures (thalamus, basal ganglia) are less tolerant and more 'hardwired', and it's essential in this business to know what's hard wired and what's not. Most of the brain isn't hardwired. For example, it's well known (in my experience and in the experience of other neurosurgeons) that removal of most of both cerebellar hemispheres (because of strokes or tumors) causes no discernable long-term disability. I have many patients with large portions of their cerebellums missing who are completely normal. The invariable assumption- 'some other part of the brain took over'- is merely an inference. We generally have no actual evidence what, if anything in the brain, 'took over'. Perhaps the inference is because we start with a materialist bias, and we can't imagine neurological function without an identifiable region of the brain to cause it. We really don't understand a lot of whatever correlation exists between neuroanatomy and neurological function.

Many years ago I removed a tumor from the left frontal lobe of a patient. Adequate resection of the tumor required removal of most of the lobe, but I had to take care to avoid injury to the speech areas and the motor areas of the frontal lobe, located posteriorly. I did the surgery under local anesthesia (for the scalp- the brain has no sensation of pain) so I could electrically 'map' the speech and motor areas during the surgery and avoid injury. As I was removing nearly the entire left frontal lobe, the patient (under the surgical drapes) and I had a conversation, discussing life in general, philosophy, family stuff, etc. She never turned an hair as I was removing large portions of her brain.

I was cured of my 'materialist' neuroscience dogma. The brain's important, needless to say, but there's much more to the mind than the brain. To paraphrase Eddington, not only is the mind-brain interface stranger than we imagine, it's stranger than we can imagine.

Dr. Egnor draws my attention to Dr. Wilder Penfield, who - like Mario - worked in Montreal. He writes,
Brain surgery under local anesthesia is fairly common, usually to treat intractable epilepsy but also at times to remove tumors while permitting stimulation of the brain to test for functional areas that cannot be removed safely. The press pays a fair amount of attention, but science reporters rarely discuss the philosophical implications of this kind of surgery. When they do discuss the implications, its usually to vaguely support a materialist neuroscience perspective.

Wilder Penfield was a Canadian neurosurgeon in the mid-20th century who was the pioneer in epilepsy surgery. He is one of the finest scientists the field of neurosurgery has produced. He started out as a materialist, but his experience with brain surgery on thousands of conscious patients made him a mind-body dualist.

His insights are fascinating. He found that he could elicit all kinds of things from electrically stimulating the brain- memories, emotions, movements of the body, etc. The mental processes elicited were remarkably vivid.Yet in all instances, patients knew that the evoked response was not caused by their own will. Penfield called it 'double consciousness'. Patients always saw the response from a third person perspective, as well as experiencing the response in the first person. Patients always knew that the response was done to them, not by them. Penfield noted that patients always experienced their own responses as observers, as well as participants, and they could always distinguish their own coincident experience from the simultaneous induced response. There always remained a first-person subjectivity that was untouched by electrical stimulation of the brain.

Penfield recognized that there was an irreducible component of human experience that was itself independent of neurophysiology. He noted "Something else finds its dwelling place between the sensory complex and the motor mechanism. . . . There is a switchboard operator as well as a switchboard." (reference in link above).

Science clearly points to mind-body duality. The materialist monist model of the mind is an ideological construct, and is indefensible philosophically and empirically.

Further, he adds, "Penfield's experiments and observations are still considered superb neuroscience. He firmly believed in the distinction between the mind (soul) and the brain. He wrote a book on his observations on the soul-brain duality. The default position of materialism in neuroscience is a recent aberration."

But what about lobotomies? Remember how that guy in Planet of the Apes was turned onto a total zombie by a lobotomy? Dr. Egnor comments:
Lobotomies were rather imprecise procedures that had a variety of effects on people. Some people were quite functional afterwards.

This is particularly interesting to me because thirty-five years ago I met and talked with a woman who had had a lobotomy (to cure some mental ailment that had resulted in frequent hospitalizations). She wasn't the brightest light on the string, but she seemed quite normal - and I actually don't know what she was like before the lobotomy. Lobotomy sounds like an awful idea and I can't imagine anyone in their right mind thinking of it today, but that woman certainly wasn't a zombie.

If you want to pursue the question of (mostly) brain absent people who appear to function normally in more detail, here's an article from the early 1980s, and a link to additional resources.

My sense is that we are only just beginning to discover the relationship between the mind and the brain, and the last thing we need is a bunch of materialists telling us that the mind doesn't really exist. Still, I would not advise you to try renting out that space upstairs. It all undoubtedly does something really important for you - but it clearly isn't the sum total of who and what you are.

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Spiritual Brain cover now up, audiobook rights announced

Here's the cover at Amazon, finally!:

Patrick Lawlor will be narrating The Spiritual Brain.
An AudioFile magazine Earphones Award winner and Audie Award finalist, Patrick Lawlor is also an accomplished stage actor, director, and combat choreographer. His recent audio includes the New York Times bestseller The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell (Tantor). “Lawlor is masterful.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer

Tantor Audio promises samples (coming soon, they say). I will link to them as soon as they are available.

By the way, here is the Web page of my lead author, Mario Beauregard, and here is a photo of him:

(I think he's cute too, and he has a lovely wife named Johanne, who is also a neuroscientist.)

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