Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Michael Egnor

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Bottom view of three professional doctors leaning over the patient and wearing medical masks while holding the anesthetic inhaler

What Is Your Soul Doing When You’re Under Anesthesia?

It’s an intriguing and important question and you may be surprised by some of the answers

First, no one should worry about unpleasant awareness during anesthesia. I’ve performed more than 7000 brain operations and I’ve never had a patient experience unpleasant awareness related to anesthesia. It does happen, but it’s rare, and I’ve never seen it. I’ve had general anesthesia myself four times, and as I tell my anesthesiology colleagues, I’m a big fan of anesthesia. Modern anesthesia is safe, highly effective, and indispensable. Don’t be afraid of it. But I do need to tell you that there are scientific facts about anesthesia and awareness that may surprise you. Second, when I use the word “soul,” rather than “mind” or “consciousness,” to describe mental states, I am not using the word in a spooky or New…

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Hand turning off the bulb lamp.Turning off the light.

Your Soul Has No “Off Switch”

A major modern misunderstanding of the human mind is to assume that it is like a machine with an “on” and an “off” switch

I have written, in an earlier post, about the problem of “consciousness:” — that is, the problem inherent to the word itself and to the concept it conveys. I believe that “consciousness” is a mere narrative gloss on the mind — it denotes nothing beyond the mental powers of the soul. This is not just linguistic nitpicking. The concept of “consciousness” is much worse than useless. It leads us to misunderstand the mind in a profound way, as I will explain. The point may seem subtle but I believe that, if you think deeply enough about it, you will see that it is obviously true. First, I am not saying “consciousness” is an illusion. or possibly a delusion. This witless…

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Junger Mann mit Glühbirnen-Helm

Does the Ability To Think Depend on Consciousness?

From a medical perspective, “consciousness” adds nothing to the description of mental states

The title question might seem like a strange one but it is vitally important if we are to interpret neuroscience correctly and if we are to understand the mind–brain relationship. In my view, the capacity for thought does not depend on consciousness. The term “consciousness” is at best meaningless and at worst an impediment to understanding the mind. “Consciousness” is a very vague term and, ultimately, I don’t think it has any useful meaning at all, apart from other categories such as sensation, perception, imagination, reason etc. Aristotle had no distinct term for it. Nor do I think did any of the ancient or medieval philosophers. Consciousness is a modern term that seems to subsume all of the sensate powers…

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Street Signs

Why “Critical Theory” Might Shape Your Life Going Forward

Critical Theory has begun to rule the public square and we need to understand it

2020 was the year that Critical Theory came to dominate culture in America. It ruled academia for a half century but only in the past year has it begun to rule the American public square as well. Perhaps you’re not interested in Critical Theory but Critical Theory is interested in you. It behooves us to understand it better, because it will be a central theme in American culture for the foreseeable future. For readers who are not familiar with it, I provide here a synopsis. There is a connection to Darwinism at the heart of Critical Theory, as we will see. Critical theory is, at its root, cultural Marxism. It emerged from the failure of Leninism to capture the hearts…

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A girl in a hat on top of a hill in silence and loneliness admires the calm natural landscape and balloons.

Why Consciousness Shows That Materialism Is False

The mind refutes materialism in a rather straightforward way

My friend and colleague Bill Dembski, a leading advocate of intelligent design of the universe and life forms, has done a superb short interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn on Closer to Truth. Bill takes a position that will surprise many fellow Christians—he doesn’t believe that consciousness represents an insurmountable challenge to materialism: Bill makes the point that much of the popular argument hinges on shifting meanings of “materialism” and “consciousness.” By contrast, he argues, the design inference in biology is a much more effective challenge to materialism. I agree that design in nature is an effective challenge to materialism. But I also believe that the mind refutes materialism in a rather straightforward way—and in much the same way that evidence…

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Laboratory mice in the experiment test. Blue filter.

Has Neuroscience “Proved” That the Mind Is Just the Brain?

This is hardly the first time that bizarre claims have been made for minimal findings. In neuroscience, materialism is the answer only if you don’t understand the questions.

Last month, materialist neurologist Steven Novella made a rather astonishing claim in a post at his Neurologica blog: A recent open-access study of learning and decision-making in mice shows that the human mind is merely what the human brain does. That’s a lot for mice to prove. In the study, the mice were trained to choose holes from which food is provided. Their brain activity was measured as they learned and decided which holes were best. The research looks specifically at quick and intuitive decision-making vs. decision-making that is slower and involves analysis of the situation. The investigators found that analysis-based decisions in the mice involve brain activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, which is a region of the brain…

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Atom Particle

A Materialist Gives Up on Determinism

Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne undercuts his own argument against free will by admitting that quantum phenomena are real

Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne has denied free will for years. But most recently, he has said something that puts the whole matter in doubt. A bit of background: Free will simply cannot be real if determinism is true, that is, if everything in nature falls like dominoes after the first one is pushed: If nature is truly like that, our acts, like those of the dominoes, are wholly determined by natural history and physical laws that we do not control. Nearly all arguments against free will depend critically on determinism. But there is a central problem with determinism: It is clear from physics that determinism in nature is not true. In 1964, theoretical physicist John Bell (1928–1990) proposed relatively simple…

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Asian doctor wearing face shield and PPE suit to check elder woman patient protect safety infection Covid-19 Coronavirus outbreak at quarantine nursing hospital ward.

Why Did New York Have COVID Policy That Killed Elderly Patients?

For all practical purposes, the government directive was essentially an order to spread COVID to people in nursing homes

This is a difficult post to write, and a difficult post to read. I’ve thought about it for months, and what I’m going to say must be said. I see no way around the conclusions I’ll draw. So here goes. On March 25, 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York State, the New York State Department of Health, under the signatures of Governor Andrew Cuomo, DOH Commissioner Howard Zucker, and Executive Deputy Commissioner Sally Dreslin, issued a directive to New York State nursing homes requiring nursing homes to accept patients for re-admission or admission regardless of their COVID-19 status. The salient paragraph is: No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the NH solely based…

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A child with epilepsy during a seizure

Why, as a Neurosurgeon, I Believe in Free Will

The spiritual aspect of the human soul, sadly, leaves its signature in epilepsy

In his classic book, Mystery of the Mind, (1975) epilepsy surgery pioneer Dr. Wilder Penfield, asked a significant question: “Why are there no intellectual seizures?” Epileptic seizures can be experienced in a variety of ways—convulsions of the whole body, slight twitching of a muscle, compulsive memories, emotions, perceptions of smells or flashes of light, complex motor behaviors such as chewing or laughing or even walking, or subtle moments of inattention. But seizures never have intellectual content. There are no intellectual seizures, which is odd, given that large regions of the brain are presumed by neuroscientists to serve intellectual thought. It is all the more remarkable when we consider that seizures commonly originate in these “intellectual” areas of the brain. Yet…

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Doctor with MRI scan

Neuroscience Refutes Free Will? Addressing an Objection

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is not as good as Libet’s methods for assessing real-time effects

In reply to a post in which I pointed out that neuroscience strongly supports the reality of free will, commenter AaronS1978 makes a point at Uncommon Descent: First Michael Egnor is wrong about there being no brain wave activity with free won’t Patrick Haggard in 2014 discovered accidotal brain waves to free won’t I feel he kind of makes declarations, I understand his position philosophically and I do agree with a lot of it, but saying there is no activity before free won’t and saying it’s immaterial is incorrect Furthermore why wouldn’t there be brain activity when exercising your will? Wouldn’t that just mean that your soul was using your brain? Isn’t consciousness and conscious experience (hard problem of the…

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Hands of a man tearing a piece of paper with inscription free will

Neuroscience Can Help Us Understand Why Free Will Is Real

Physicist Sabine Hossenfelder and biologist Jerry Coyne, who deny free will, don’t seem to understand the neuroscience

Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne seems obsessed with denying free will. In a recent post on his blog, Why Evolution Is True, he supported the claim of theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder that we do not have free will: If you’ve read this site, you’ll know that my own views are pretty much the same as hers, at least about free will. We don’t have it, and the fundamental indeterminacy of quantum mechanics doesn’t give it to us either. Hossenfelder doesn’t pull any punches: “This means in a nutshell that the whole story of the universe in every single detail was determined already at the big bang. We are just watching it play out.”… QED! Jerry Coyne, “Sabine Hossenfelder says we don’t…

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Vintage tone beautiful pedestrian stone bridge and knee-wobbling vantage point over the second tier 69-foot drop of Multnomah Falls lower in winter time. Natural and seasonal waterfall background

How Do You Know You Are Not the Only Human Who Ever Existed?

Can evidence or logic help you decide? You might be surprised…

Solipsism is the belief that you are the only human being who has ever existed; all others are the inventions of your imagination. G.K. Chesterton famously received a letter from a reader who commented (I paraphrase), ‘Solipsism is a compelling metaphysical position. I’m surprised more people don’t believe it.” At Scientific American, columnist John Horgan describes solipsism as a central dilemma of human life. In a recent essay, “How do I know I’m not the only conscious being in the universe?”, he writes, It is a central dilemma of human life—more urgent, arguably, than the inevitability of suffering and death. I have been brooding and ranting to my students about it for years. It surely troubles us more than ever…

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split personality

Does Split-brain Surgery Show That We Have No Real Identity?

A prominent philosopher built his career arguing against the existence of personal identity

One of the most bizarre consequences of the modernist materialist conception of human beings is the notion that personal identity is not real or not continuous. This view is, of course, contrary in every way to the lived experience of each of us. Like everyone else, I am the same person I was as a child, and the same person I will be a moment before my death. I am me, and I am no other. Of course, at different times of my life I have had different memories, experiences, and perceptions, but it is the same I (the only I) that has them. This is so fundamental to reality that it seems beyond question. It is not even clear…

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Creative background, the human brain on a blue background, the hemisphere is responsible for logic, and responsible for creativity. different hemispheres of the brain, 3D illustration, 3D render

Why the Mind Can’t Just Be the Brain

Thinking it through carefully, the idea doesn't even make sense

Philosopher Roger Scruton (1944–2020) defined neuroscience thus (I paraphrase): Neuroscience is a huge collection of answers with no memory of the questions. Over the past century, neuroscientists have amassed vast libraries of data. But their interpretation of their data on the mind-brain question shows no meaningful understanding of the genuine questions their research is tasked to answer. These questions are ancient: What is the relationship between the soul (or mind) and the body (or brain)? How is it that matter can think? How is it that third-person stuff gives rise to first-person experience? Answers to such questions from the neuroscience community show little evidence of the profound and subtle nature of the questions. Thus, neuroscientists provide answers to questions they…

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Incognito warrior in iron helmet and red cloak.

What would Plato Say About Antifa? Or Darwin?

A careful reading of Plato and Arendt goes a long way toward explaining the current scene—but it is unsettling reading

In college, I hated Plato. We read his Republic, and, as a patriot and an idealistic young (small “d”) democrat, I was appalled at the hegemony of the Guardians and at Plato’s disdain for democracy. It seemed to me that his Guardians were the archetypal totalitarians, and that it was a fundamental human right — enshrined in the Constitution — to be ruled only by consent of the governed. In my dotage, I am more sympathetic to Plato — it’s remarkable how much smarter the old philosopher has gotten in the past 40 years! I am still uncomfortable with Guardians, at least of the secular sort. But I think John Adams got it right when he observed that “our Constitution…

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Baby girl in surprise talking on a vintage phone

Why Linguist Noam Chomsky Is a Great Scientist of Our Era

He singlehandedly rid linguistics of a stultifying (and technically mistaken) behaviorism

Noam Chomsky (right, in 2017) is, in my view, the best scientist of the past half-century. His work fascinates me, which is not a necessary criterion for being a great scientist—but it helps! I hasten to add that I do not share his politics—I’m of a conservative bent. But his theory of linguistics is brilliant and represents an anthropological, biological, and even metaphysical insight unrivaled in science since relativity and quantum mechanics. A case can be made that Chomsky’s insights are more profound than even those of modern physics, because they plumb the human soul in ways that physics cannot. To understand Chomsky’s achievement, it’s helpful to understand what linguistics was until Chomsky transformed it in the 1950s. Philosophers and…

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Lady in Glass

Interview With a Woman (or Women) Formerly Called Susan Blackmore

A professor of psychology argues that there is no continuity between our present selves and our past selves

Much of modern philosophy of mind is a compendium of New Age gibberish. An exemplar of this mess is Susan Blackmore, a Visiting Professor (Psychology) at the University of Plymouth. She is an atheist, a “skeptic,” and a prolific author. When she was interviewed in 2016 about her philosophy of mind, remarkably, in addition to the usual atheist denial of immortality of the soul and of free will, she denied personal continuity over time. How does Blackmore account for the doggedly persistent sense we have of personal continuity? “Parallel processing” is her explanation. Blackmore points out that there are many brain pathways that are active simultaneously when we perceive, think, and act. What does that have to do with personal…

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Groupe de Bonobos autour d'un hôtel à insectes

Can Animal Minds Rival Humans Under the Right Circumstances?

Are we just not being fair to animals, as some researchers think?

In 2007, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, a psychologist and primatologist , published a paper in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science with a remarkable citation: Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Kanzi Wamba, Panbanisha Wamba, and Nyota Wamba, “Welfare of Apes in Captive Environments: Comments on, and by, a Specific Group of Apes,” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 10:1 (2007): 7–19. What is remarkable about the paper is not the text but the authorship statement. Kanzi, Panbanisha, and Nyota Wamba are not co-author colleagues—they’re apes, bonobos to be specific. Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh (right) is a controversial scientist who believes that animals have intellectual powers that can, under the right circumstances, rival the human intellect. She included her ape subjects as co-authors on the paper because…

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Young man shaving

Nominalism: The Stubble Left by Ockham’s Razor

Ockham was a methodological minimalist, not a philosophical minimalist
Ockham did not say that complex metaphysical realities don’t exist. He said that we should trim our understanding of reality to the use of as few concepts as possible for reasons of efficiency, even at the cost of absolute precision. Ockham may thus be said to be a methodological minimalist. Read More ›
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walnut split on a white background

My Right Hemisphere Is An Atheist! No, Wait …

In reality, split-brain surgery does not split consciousness in any meaningful sense

The atheist neuroscientist who has made bizarre claims about the outcomes of split brain surgery appears not to know much about neurosurgery.

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