Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Podcasts with non-materialist neuroscientists

Materialism and human dignity

On this episode of ID the Future, Casey Luskin interviews Michael Egnor, professor of neurosurgery at SUNY, Stony Brook, on the relationship between the mind and the brain.

Listen in as Dr. Egnor explains how a materialist understanding of the mind undermines human dignity, affecting bioethics, criminal law, and ultimately how we treat one another as human beings.

Listen here.

I personally think this is a serious problem. A materialist understanding of life justifies manipulating people because neither they nor we are ultimately responsible for what we do.

Now here's the fun one!:

On this episode of ID the Future, Casey Luskin interviews neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and UCLA psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz on the interaction between the mind and the brain in science fiction. Could the mind really be an illusion from a computer program, like in The Matrix? Listen in as Drs. Egnor and Schwartz explain how materialist fictions ultimately beg the question.

Hey, if life is all just this big fiction:

Step this way, please ma'am ...

Oops, where'd she go? Down there?

Oh, that's right. Too bad nobody remembered to replace that staircase.

Oh, well, life is all just this big fiction anyway .... uh, not!

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More on Norman Doidge and The Brain That Changes Itself ...

Yesterday, I posted on Norman Doidge's book The Brain That Changes Itself, and Stephanie West Allen of Brains on Purpose has kindly forwarded me some links for Dr. Doidge:

Here's an interview with both Doidge and Jeff Schwartz, author of The Mind and the Brain, at Australia's ABC National Radio. (Note: You must scroll down to near the bottom of the list - the interview opens immediately you click the link.)

Also, here's a roundtable discussion featuring Charles Brenner, Norman Doidge, Walter Freeman, Arnold Modell, Bradley Peterson, and David Pincus on transference and the imagination.

And here's a materialist's impression of Doidge.

Which reminds me: I asked a friend whether he thought that the popularity of Doidge's work was an attempt on the part of materialists to co-opt neuroplasticity ("Okay, so your brain isn't really a machine but your mind is still an illusion!"). He replied,
I don't think it is materialist damage control at all and in fact, it actually causes some damage to materialism in my opinion.

Pop media is finally catching up.

We learned about neuroplasticity and changes in receptive fields, processing regions of the brain increasing or decreasing, how behavior and experience can change the brain's "wiring" (which incidentally is why they told us that you can't say the size of this brain area is responsible for homosexuality). This doesn't really have much to do with materialism per se.

Neurons compete for space. Behaviors or senses that are used more get more space. This is why people born without hands can do amazingly dexterous activities with their feet. The feet don't take over the hands, they simply get more space allocation in the brain.

Actually, materialism kind of got us into the mess that we have in this area. The concept of "wiring" is materialist and is completely off track when it comes to the brain.

David A. DeWitt
One of Dr. DeWitt's neuroscience publications on Alzheimer syndrome is here. Others are here.

Hey, if my mind rots in old age from too much TV and bingo, I will certainly know where to turn for help.

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Neuroscience: Where does it hurt? How?

This conference on pain neuroimaging and the law has set itself a difficult goal:

The issue of the existence or extent of pain comes up hundreds of thousands of times each year in the United States legal system, through personal injury suits, disability determinations, and workers compensation. Current methods of detecting pain are well short of perfect. The science of pain is being revolutionized by neuroimaging technologies, which may in turn have important implications for the law. The goal of this conference is to explore whether and how neuroimaging can help the law deal with claims about individuals’ pain.
My sense is that neuroimaging can help somewhat, but only somewhat.

When I first learned about Mario Beauregard's studies of people in a state of deep mystical contemplation, which we discuss in The Spiritual Brain, I asked him, "How do you know they aren't just faking it?"

He replied, "Oh, that would be no problem. Then they would generate plenty of beta waves but no theta waves, typical of deep meditation."

My guess is that, in the same way, neuroimaging technologies could help identify situations where people are simply faking an injury. (Like the legendary insurance disability claimant who is filmed playing rugby .... )

But many real life situations are much more complex. Some people magnify pain, some diminish it. Some choose to ignore pain. Some cope with it much more effectively than others. For some people, pain brings sympathetic attention, and for others it doesn't.

That was brought home to me when I was having a baby in 1973.

True to my upbringing, I remained silent about any discomfort during labour. But I was horrified to hear a woman down the hall shrieking something like "Jesus!" "Mary!" "Jesus!" "Mary!"

"Can't anything be done for her?", I asked my nurse, "Will she die? Will the baby die?"

"You mustn't worry," the nurse reassured me. "She is going to be fine and the baby will be fine too. In her culture, it is okay to scream like that."

That wise nurse did not assess pain or discomfort merely by the level of self-expression because that varies with culture.

Similarly, if you think that a shooting pain is a mere discomfort, you will experience it differently than if you think that it warns of an impending heart attack.

There is brute fact, to be sure, but there is also interpretation of the fact. The human experience of pain includes both.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

See also:

Finally, an idea! (which recounts a very interesting experiment on pain)

Neuroscience: Making sense of uncontrollable itching

Commentator Dinesh D'Souza on stuff he didn't know - like the power of the placebo effect

Placebo effect: Your mind's role in your health