Monday, October 05, 2009

Neuroscience: More "brain in a vat" talk

In this Newsweek blog article, author Rita Carter informs us,
Oh, totally. I think we are our brains. When we change the brain, we change the person. The more you look at brains . . . it becomes unavoidable that essentially everything you are is determined by the way that organ is working. And people who, for example, have a serious accident where a bit of their brain is knocked out, there is no doubt that a bit of them goes with it. Of course, [on the other hand] it does allow one to change and to learn. And yet there is still a very instinctive sense that we are more than our brains—and I can kind of sympathize with that because it’s common to us all, but I do think that if you really look at neuroscience you are forced to admit that all we are is this particular pattern of electrical activity in an organ, really.
Uh, no. Even a materialist atheist will normally concede that we have bodies too.

Speaking for myself, essentially everything I am is not "determined by the way that organ is working". I have a number of other organs to think of, and many of their malfunctions are not "this particular pattern of electrical activity in an organ."

Indeed, there are times I wish I could be the brain in a vat this author describes, just to shut off the bodily feedback I can't do anything about. But it has never happened and never will.


Religion: Does religious literacy matter?

Montreal's McGill University Faculty of Education hosted a conference October 2, 2009, on "Why is religious literacy important?":
Participants in this symposium will have an opportunity to hear from internationally recognized experts on the topic of Religious Literacy and learn about choices made by school systems in different parts of the world.
Well, why is any literacy important?

Do I want people to graduate from high school without knowing why the bar mitzvah is important to Jews, that Muslims fast during Ramadan, that Jesus was crucified, or that materialist atheists do not believe in life beyond death? Not knowing this kind of thing closes a door on understanding events, controversies, and symbols in the world around them.

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Religion: Putting God on trial once again

I thought you couldn't be tried twice for the same offence, not here anyway.

The publicist for a new novel, banned in Malaysia, advises me that the author wishes to put God on trial.
With his new book, The Book of Walla, Krishn takes a controversial approach in capturing and relaying the power and significance of spirituality worldwide, essentially putting religion “on the spot” to explain its starring role in human conflict. Its main character, Dr. Shoorab blames religious dogma for upheaval in his life, and consequently sues God. The defendants – from all different religious sects – find themselves putting these differences aside.
Interesting, but not new, I am afraid. It is the central thesis of the Book of Job, possibly the oldest book in the Bible (3500 years old). And don't count on getting God convicted when he starts to argue his case.

Banned in Malaysia? I'd rather be banned in Britain for the anticipated publicity. But we'll see.

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Identical twins: The differences explored

We are told (in a Nova program, Ghost in your Genes, October 16, 2007) ,
Scientists have long puzzled over the different fates of identical twins: both have the same genes, yet only one may develop a serious disease like cancer or autism. What's going on? Does something else besides genes determine who we are? In this program, NOVA reveals the clues that have led scientists to a new picture of genetic control and expression. One such clue is the surprisingly modest number of genes that turned up when technology made it possible to map the human genome. The Human Genome Project was originally expected to find at least 100,000 genes defining the human species. Instead the effort yielded only about 20,000—about the same number as in fish or mice—too few, some believe, to account for human complexity. Learn more about the connection between epigenetics, aging, and cancer on the program's companion website.
"What's going on? Does something else besides genes determine who we are?"

Um, yes. Here are three obvious observations right away:

- All we need to know about any life form is not necessarily in its DNA, as the program makes clear. Frustratingly, the true causes and cures of cancer and autism are controversial and clouded.

But our DNA is not a book of magic in which all the answers are written, and it is too bad if anyone thought it was.

- Identical twins may have almost-identical DNA, but usually one is the dominant twin and the other the sub-dominant one. Also, they tend to separate as adults and have different experiences. Over a lifetime, these differences can add up.

- Also, humans are intelligent and make independent choices. Different choices lead to different outcomes. The fact that anyone should doubt this is a symptom of the damage materialism (= you are either a robot or a monkey) has done to science.

See also Identical twins does not mean identical minds

Intelligence: How much is heredity and how much is environment

How much brain do you need?

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose