Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryPhilosophy of Mind

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light at the end of the tunnel

The MD Who Studies Near Death Experiences Is NOT Religious

Greyson was motivated by a desire to understand experiences that materialist approaches have simply not explained satisfactorily

Last week, we talked about psychiatrist Bruce Greyson and his new book, After (2021), discussing near-death experiences (NDEs). The Guardian ran an interview with Greyson the same day, in which he offers some perspectives that may be useful in trying to sort out the issues: ● Modern neuroscience does not have a simple answer that dismisses NDEs. When I ask Greyson why he decided to publish After now, after all these years, he explains that “we had to wait until we had enough knowledge about near-death experiences to be able to understand what was going on,” by which he means not that we know what NDEs are, but that advances in science have allowed us to rule out a heap…

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Anatomy human body model. Part of human body model with organ system.

Are Human Brain Transplants Even Possible?

What would be the outcome if one person received transplants from the brains of others? If it’s not possible, there may be a good reason why not

Earlier this week, I discussed the work of Dr. Robert White, a neurosurgeon in the mid-20th century who did extensive research on head transplants in animals. The operation sometimes worked, most notably in monkeys. But it has never been done in humans, mostly because head transplantation would mean cutting the spinal cord, which would cause complete and permanent paralysis. The most reasonable perspective on the soul is that it is the active principle of the body — that is, the soul is what the body does. Thus soul follows function. From this perspective, I infer that after a head transplant, I would see with my original eyes, hear with my original ears, etc. If I were able to move my…

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Intestinal villi, mucosa intestinal. Bacteria and microbes in intestines. Microscopic villi and capillary. Human intestine, chronic disease. Hepatitis viruses, influenza, cell infections, 3D Rendering

Surprisingly, Many “Alien” Cells Live Inside Us

One zoologist thinks that they create our sense of self

At New Scientist, Graham Lawton asks us to think about them: For starters, we are chimeras: some parts of us are human, but genetically not “us”. Most, if not all, of us contain a few cells from our mother, our grandmothers and even elder siblings that infiltrated our bodies in the uterus. Women who have carried children host such cells too. “Something like 65 per cent of women, even in their 70s, when autopsies were performed, had cells in their brains that were not theirs,” says David Linden at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. Chimeric cells have been found to contribute to both good and bad health, for example promoting wound healing but also triggering autoimmune disease. Graham Lawton, “Why…

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Electrocardiogram in hospital surgery operating emergency room showing patient heart rate with blur team of surgeons background

Are Head Transplants Soul Transplants?

Specifically, if your head were transplanted, would your soul go with it?

Wired offers a fascinating article about Dr. Robert White, a neurosurgeon in the mid-20th century who was famous for his extensive research on head transplants. He transplanted heads of various animals, often unsuccessfully (many animals died) but with some success, particularly with monkeys. The medical, ethical, and sociological issues are interesting in themselves, but I’ll focus here on the metaphysical issues. Specifically, if your head is transplanted, does your soul go with it? First, it worth noting that head transplantation is difficult surgery but doable. We know how to sew blood vessels together, how to fuse spinal bones, how to attach tracheas and muscles and peripheral nerves. Transplantation of an entire head (or an entire body, depending on your perspective)…

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5G Network Internet Mobile Wireless Business concept.5G standard of modern signal transmission technology.

How 5G Is Shaped By Narrative and Myth

Our perspective powerfully influences how we see things

We all use narratives and sometimes myths to organize our thinking. According to WikiDiff, … the difference between narrative and myth is that narrative is the systematic recitation of an event or series of events while myth is a traditional story which embodies a belief regarding some fact or phenomenon… It is important to be aware and careful of the narratives we use. It is even more important to be reflective of the myths we follow. Myths, with their attendant belief systems, have a greater impact on our perceptions and actions than narratives. The stories we use to frame our understanding of the facts about a topic highlight some areas but blind us to others. We should think about topics…

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pet lizard in a tank

No, You Do Not Have a Lizard Brain Inside Your Human Brain

The “lizard brain” is part of what science used to know about the brain that ain’t so

Lisa Feldman Barrett (pictured), Northeastern University psychology prof and author of Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain (2020), is candid about the way new research has cast doubt on old saws in science: “As a neuroscientist, I see scientific myths about the brain repeated regularly in the media and corners of academic research.” The myth she targets in a recent article at Nautilus is the “triune brain,” the idea that our brain developed and continues to function in three successive layers. First developed by neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean (1913–2007) in the 1960s and set out in more detail in his 1990 book The Triune Brain in Evolution, the triune brain theory posited three successive layers of brain: ●…

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Near death experience

Physician Explains Why He Takes Near-Death Experiences Seriously

Near-death experiences don’t fit easily into traditional science categories because they occur — often with life-changing effects — when the brain is damaged or unconscious

Health and science writer Markham Heid recounts a story from psychiatrist Bruce Greyson’s book After (2021) that typifies the near-death experiences (NDEs) that have excited research interest: The truck driver’s story sounded far-fetched. The man claimed that in the middle of his quadruple bypass heart surgery — during which he was fully anesthetized and his eyes were taped shut — he had “come to” and found that he was looking down at his own body and the doctors preparing to operate on it. He described the scene in detail, and he recalled that his surgeon had waved his elbows in the air as if he were mimicking a bird flapping its wings. Later, when asked about his patient’s peculiar account,…

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Acceleration of Painted Dream

A Reader Asks: Is It True That There Is No Self?

The assertion that self is an illusion is not even wrong — it’s self-refuting, like saying “I don’t exist” or “Misery is green”

Sir, I am confused after reading the view of materialist philosophers regarding the sense of self. One of them, Thomas Meitzinger, a German philosopher and expert in conciousness, said that “There is no self” in his book. He said that self is an illusion produced by modules of brain. Is it so? Please help me understand this view. Thomas Meitzinger (pictured) is a prominent philosopher of mind who has a strong interest in artificial intelligence. I don’t know his work well, but what I do know of it, I find unintelligible. Perhaps it’s me, or perhaps he’s a sophist, or perhaps both. But this much is clear: My self cannot be an illusion, because having an illusion presupposes a self.…

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girl is flying in her bed

Yes, We Can Communicate With People When They Are Dreaming

At one time, the idea of communicating with people while they were dreaming would have been regarded by most scientists as hokey New Age stuff. But now a research group has done it.

A research group surprised the science world by reporting: “We found that individuals in REM sleep can interact with an experimenter and engage in real-time communication,” said senior author Ken Paller of Northwestern University. “We also showed that dreamers are capable of comprehending questions, engaging in working-memory operations, and producing answers. “Most people might predict that this would not be possible — that people would either wake up when asked a question or fail to answer, and certainly not comprehend a question without misconstruing it.” Cell Press, “Real-time dialogue with a dreaming person is possible” at ScienceDaily (February 18, 2021) The paper is open access. There is no clear science explanation for why we dream. But one restriction on dreams…

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hedef başarısı ve birlik beraberlik ruhu

Walter Bradley: Finding a Life of Greater Purpose

Bradley has been a pioneer in the development of appropriate technologies for developing regions of the world

In last week’s podcast, “The Life of Walter Bradley With William Dembski (Part I),” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks and design theorist William Dembski discuss the biography they have written about a remarkable engineer, Walter Bradley, For a Greater Purpose: The Life and Legacy of Walter Bradley. It also helps explain why we call ourselves the Walter Bradley Center, as we seek to extend Dr. Bradley’s work. https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-121-William-Dembski.mp3 A partial transcript follows. This transcript begins at 02:55. Show notes and links follow. Before getting down to the main business, design theorist William Dembski, possibly the best known theorist of design in nature, told Robert Marks that he plans a second edition of his Cambridge University Press book, The…

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Psychology or invent conception. Brain function model.

How Much of Neuroscience Is an Unwitting Hoax?

Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein saw that much materialist neuroscience was neither true, nor false, just nonsense

In 1996, NYU physics professor Alan Sokal published an article in a journal of postmodern cultural studies. The article, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” was a hoax. Sokal simply assembled more or less meaningless phrases about cultural theory and quantum physics in a grammatically correct but meaningless manuscript. He revealed the hoax a few weeks later in a magazine. The hoax ignited a storm of controversy and, in the view of many, revealed the essential sham at the core of postmodern philosophy. What Sokal (pictured) was doing, whether he knew it or not, was invoking philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s salient critique of philosophy and science, which is that much of our discourse is language games. By…

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Newborn Alert Baby Boy on Mint Green Blanket

Do Infants Really Have a Right to Live?

Some argue that children who are not yet self-aware do not have a right to live

In last week’s podcast, “Jonathan Wells on Why a Baby Should Live,” neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviewed molecular and cell biologist Jonathan Wells on that topic, which he discussed in articles at Evolution News and Science Today: (here and here). It’s becoming a hot topic now that a bill to protect babies born alive from abortions from being killed or left to die was recently defeated in the Senate. There is an academic debate about whether babies, post-birth, have a right to live. Meanwhile, a number of countries are also moving toward child euthanasia, with or without parental consent as well. https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-120-Jonathan-Wells.mp3 A partial transcript follows. This portion begins at 01:13. Show notes and links follow. Michael Egnor: Where did that…

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Artificial intelligence (AI), data mining, deep learning modern computer technologies. Futuristic Cyber Technology Innovation. Brain representing artificial intelligence with printed circuit board (PC

Is the Mind Really Just “What the Brain Does”?

Many theories claim so. None of them work. Functionalism, the current survivor, is the best of the lot but deeply flawed

Over the past century there have been several paradigms or patterns of explanation by which philosophers and neuroscientists have tried to understand the mind. Behaviorism was the view that the input to and output from the nervous system was all that mattered. The ‘mind’ was deemed irrelevant to science. Behaviorism was eclipsed by reality—it was more or less demolished in the 1960’s by Noam Chomsky (1928–), who pointed out that language could not be understood in behaviorist terms. The study of the mind is indispensable to linguistics, neuroscience and philosophy. That this needed to be said is a scandal in itself. Identity theory — the view that mental states are identical to brain states — was the rage for several…

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Vice grip tool squeezing a plank with the word free will

A Reader Asks: Does Neuroscience Disprove Free Will?

Materialists sometimes misrepresent the evidence for free will, especially Benjamin Libet’s work

Here’s the question: I have a question regarding free will. Sam Harris in his interview with Dan Dennett said that “If we decide to do go to somewhere we experience it later but our brain decided it much earlier than our experience to this decision. If we scan the brain at that time we will tell you before you came to know” Now it raise a question because we decide through intellect. You said that free will is due to intellect so intellect is challenged here. It’s an excellent question. The answer in brief is that we most certainly do have free will. We can see this from three perspectives: scientific, philosophical, and logical. The scientific evidence The scientific evidence…

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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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Futuristic design of an elevator cabin with mirrors with neon illumination and metal panels. Modern elevator design. Reflection to infinity.

The Infinity Mirror Trap: Part 2: The Thought Determinism Paradox

The infinity mirror experience shows that thought determinism cannot explain all human thoughts

In Part 1 of this series, we saw how the belief that “every human thought is an illusion” proves empty and powerless when trying to account for the infinity mirror experience. Part 2 here puts another view held widely by science-trained people, materialism, to the same mirror test. Materialism is the view that everything we observe results from the interplay of matter and energy. Under materialism, each human’s every thought is produced by electrochemical events in the brain. As Marvin Minsky, an artificial intelligence pioneer, wrote in Society of Mind (1988), “Everything, including that which happens in our brains, depends on these and only on these: A set of fixed, deterministic laws and a purely random set of accidents.” Philosopher…

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Time concept

Why the Idea That the Human Mind Is an Illusion Doesn’t Work

There is a simple way to test whether our thoughts are all illusions

Sitting in a room with me are some smart people listening to a podcast of neuroscientist Sam Harris. They nod solemnly as Harris tells them that their thoughts are all illusions. No one has free will either, Harris says, both on the podcast and in his 2012 book, Free Will. Sir Francis Crick (1916–2004) said much the same in his 1994 work, The Astonishing Hypothesis. Harris and Crick are science-trained and Crick is a Nobelist. But popular culture influencers think the same way. The widely-read manga graphic novel artist, Masashi Kishimoto, has a character say in his 2009 work, Naruto, Every single one of us goes through life depending on and bound by our individual knowledge and awareness. And we…

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Spiral Profile

Toward a Serious Scientific Theory of Consciousness

Quantum physics arises from the fact that when we do not observe a particle, it can be in two different places at once, such that it interacts with itself

Consciousness is the ultimate hard problem of philosophy of science. As of today, there is absolutely no scientific solution to the problem. The nature of consciousness seems ineffable: first person experience appears to be a completely different category of existence than objective externaldescription. This dilemma has led philosophers such as Daniel Dennett to use the ultimate solution: deny the problem exists. Unfortunately, that solution never worked for me at school. The objective reality of bad grades is quite hard to deny. Yet, we need not resort to Daniel Dennett’s ultimate solution. There are concrete things we can say about consciousness if we use the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum physics and the computer science concept of Kolmogorov complexity. Quantum physics…