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Information Theory - Shannon Equation
Information Theory - Shannon Equation

Why Neuroscientist Solms Is No Materialist: Information Theory

He points out that, to begin with, Einstein’s famous equation — E equals MC squared — makes the point that matter is derivative. It’s a state of energy

Arjuna, the host of the Theology Unleashed broadcast with South African neuropsychologist Mark Solms and Stonybrook neurosurgeon Michael Egnor on the mind vs. the brain (October 22, 2021) begins this portion by offering a Hindu (Hare Krishna) perspective view of the whole question of mind vs. matter… and he finds considerable common ground with the other two non-materialists! The true implications of quantum mechanics and information theory in refuting materialism are only beginning to be understood.

Summary to date: In the first portion, Solms, author of The Hidden Spring (2021), began by asserting in his opening statement that “the source of consciousness in the brain is in fact in the brain stem,” not the cerebral cortex, as is almost universally assumed. Dr. Egnor then responded that his clinical experience supports the view that brain is not mind.

Then Solms pointed to the reality that discussing the fact that the brain is not the mind can be a career-limiting move in neuroscience — even though clinical experience supports the view. Egnor and Solms agreed that the further a neuroscientist gets from actual patients, the easier it is to adopt the view that “the mind is just what the brain does” (naturalism). Solms, who trained as a psychoanalyst as well, then described how he understands consciousness — the capacity to feel things, for example, the redness of red (qualia) Talk then turned to the miraculous nature of life and Spinoza’s God., with Solms saying that he believes in Spinoza’s God, — as did Albert Einstein. Egnor then explained why Christians see God as a Person: The most remarkable thing about us is personhood.

This portion begins at 01:24:30. A partial transcript and notes, plus summaries and links to date follow.

Arjuna: We talked about what consciousnesses is. Maybe we can talk about what matter is. There’s this idea that, “Oh, it’s just matter. Matter explains that.

In Krishna Consciousness, we talk about God having inconceivable potencies. The materialist scientists attribute inconceivable potency to matter. They think matter has all these magical powers, like it can produce consciousness… It’s as if that answers the question and there’s no further questions to be asked. [01:25:00]

Mark Solms: I must be careful not to exceed my credentials. I’m not a physicist. But even as a non-physicist, I can say that it is astonishing that this is such a widespread view. It links with what Michael was saying earlier about scientists having very poor metaphysics and not even realizing that they’re starting from metaphysical assumptions of any kind, let alone unquestionable ones. [01:26:00]

Even I know that it’s really been a long time now in physics that the idea that matter is a fundamental concept has been transcended. I mean, Einstein’s famous equation, E equals MC squared, makes the point that matter is derivative. It’s a state of energy.

This naive idea that the fundamental stuff is matter — 100 years ago we realized in physics that that’s not true. I think the next really big development, beyond relativity and the basic insights of quantum physics that Michael was referring to, has been Shannon’s insight about information. [01:27:00]

Information, in neuroscience, is a crucial concept, and it’s very hard to think about quantum physics and the big questions that are unsolved that flow from it without the concept of information — which, I hasten to draw your attention to the fact, is not matter. I’m not a materialist for exactly that reason. [01:27:30]

I don’t believe that the mind can be reduced to matter. Matter is an appearance. If you’re wanting to make connections between mind and body and see them both as appearances, then you can’t be a materialist. We must always remember, as I keep saying, that these are concepts. These are abstractions. These are inferences. These are words that we use to try to articulate these profound things. I think that, among those tools, the concept of information, in the sense that Shannon introduced it into physics in 1948, has not yet begun to… The implications, the importance, the value of this concept has not begun to fully reveal itself. [01:28:30]

Note: Who was Claude Shannon (1916–2001)? “The American mathematician and computer scientist who conceived and laid the foundations for information theory. His theories laid the groundwork for the electronic communications networks that now lace the earth… ‘Shannon was the person who saw that the binary digit was the fundamental element in all of communication,’ said Dr. Robert G. Gallager, a professor of electrical engineering who worked with Dr. Shannon at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. ‘That was really his discovery, and from it the whole communications revolution has sprung.’” – IEEE Information Theory Society The binary digit is a mathematical concept, not a material thing.

Michael Egnor: The information concept dovetails very nicely with what a number of philosophers of science have pointed out, mainly philosopher of science Bruce Gordon He… points out that when you look at the quantum world, matter doesn’t exist. Nothing in the quantum world is matter… [01:29:30]

Claude Shannon

I think the way where we went wrong in this was with Descartes and his notion of everything in nature as a machine extended in space, except for the spirit, the human mind, which is this kind of “ghost” thing.

Note: French mathematician René Descartes was famous for that view. But it came back to haunt us all, so to speak, when Gilbert Ryle (1900–1976) ridiculed the “ghost in the machine,” helping to establish the materialist dogma that the mind is simply what the brain does. The concept became the title of a book by a famous Arthur Koestler, unpacking that view.

Mark Solms: When you read Shannon’s paper… Again, as I say, I always find it very valuable to go back and actually read what my forebears wrote. The title of his [1948] paper is A Mathematical Theory of Communication not of information but communication…

Well, let me just cut to the chase. What we forget is that information doesn’t exist without there being a question that the information is an answer to. And this perhaps goes back to what you were saying earlier about personhood and some of the other profound matters that we were touching on. Then the issue becomes more: Where does question-asking come from?

Next: Reclaiming the non-materialist dimension in science (Hint: Stephen Hawking was a fine writer but not a very good philosopher )


Here’s the whole discussion in order

1.1 Here’s the first portion of the debate/discussion, where neuropsychologist Mark Solms shares his perspective: Consciousness: Is it in the cerebral cortex — or the brain stem? In a recent discussion/debate with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, neuropsychologist Mark Solms offers an unconventional but evidence-based view, favouring the brain stem. The evidence shows, says Mark Solms, author of The Hidden Spring, that the brain stem, not the cerebral cortex is the source of consciousness.

And Michael Egnor responds:

1.2. Neurosurgeon and neuropsychologist agree: Brain is not mind Michael Egnor tells Mark Solms: Neuroscience didn’t help him understand people; quite the reverse, he had to understand people, and minds, to make sense of neuroscience. Egnor saw patients who didn’t have most of their frontal lobes who were completely conscious, “in fact, rather pleasant, bright people.”

1.3. Then Solms admits what all know but few say: Neuroscientist: Mind is not just brain? That’s career limiting! Neuropsychologist Mark Solms and neurosurgeon Michael Egnor agreed that clinical experience supports a non-materialist view but that the establishment doesn’t. Mark Solms: “science is an incredibly rigid… sort of… it’s like a mafia. You have to go along with the rules of the Don, otherwise you’ve had it.”

In the second portion, they offer definitions of consciousness:

2.1 Materialist neuroscientists don’t usually see real patients. Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and neuropsychologist Mark Solms find common ground: The mind can be “merely what the brain does” in an academic paper. But not in life. Egnor takes a stab at defining consciousness: Following Franz Brentano, he says, “A conscious state is an intentional state.” Next, it will be Solms’s turn.

2.2 A neuropsychologist takes a crack at defining consciousness. Frustrated by reprimands for discussing Big Questions in neuroscience, Mark Solms decided to train as a psychoanalyst as well. As a neuropsychologist, he sees consciousness, in part, as the capacity to feel things, what philosophers call “qualia” — the redness of red.

Now, about God…

3.1 Einstein believed in Spinoza’s God. Who is that God? Neuropsychologist Mark Solms admits that life is “miraculous” and sees Spinoza’s God, embedded in nature, as the ultimate explanation. In a discussion with Solms, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor argues that it makes more sense to see God as a Person than as a personification of nature.

3.2 Egnor and Solms: What does it mean to say God is a Person? Mark Solms and Michael Egnor discuss and largely agree on what we can rationally know about God, using the tools of reason. Egnor argues that, if the most remarkable thing about us is our personhood (I am), it Makes sense to think of God as a Person (I AM).

And why materialism is a dying idea…

4.1 Why neuroscientist Solms is no materialist: Information theory He points out that, to begin with, Einstein’s famous equation — E equals MC squared — makes the point that matter is derivative. It’s a state of energy. In Solms’s view, the true implications of quantum mechanics and information theory in refuting materialism are only beginning to be understood.

4.2 Discovering the non-materialist dimension in science Hint: Stephen Hawking was a fine physicist and writer but not a very good philosopher. Neurosurgeon Egnor and neuroscientist Solms agree that great physicists have often been fine philosophers; the universe and consciousness are intertwined.

You may also wish to read: Your mind vs. your brain: Ten things to know


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Why Neuroscientist Solms Is No Materialist: Information Theory