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Tales of the Mind: A Neurologist Encounters the House of Mirrors

Materialism is an intellectual trap, out of which neuroscience needs to climb

Yale University neurologist Steven Novella posted recently on the science of growing brain tissue in the lab. It’s interesting stuff, but then we come to the jumbled metaphysical musings that conclude his post: There is a layer of weirdness to the very idea of brain tissue in a vat, because I think we are naturally uncomfortable with the very notion that our consciousness is the result of a clump of tissue shuttling ions around. It breaks the illusion that our brains evolved to have, a very compelling and persistent illusion – namely that the reality we perceive is real, rather than a constructed representation. That internal representation has a strong relationship to physical reality, but the two are not the Read More ›

two young baboons

Can Animals “Reason”? My Challenge to Jeffrey Shallit

He believes that animals can engage in abstract thinking. What abstractions do they reason about?

Dr. Jeffrey Shallit is an atheist mathematician who holds to the odd belief that animals, like humans, are capable of reason. It would seem that a highly intelligent man who makes his living by doing mathematics would understand that animals don’t, and can’t, do mathematics. But Dr. Shallit remains confused on this point, as he makes clear in his response to my recent post on that inability of animals to think abstractly or to reason (“An atheist argues against reason”). I observed that reason is defined traditionally in a very straightforward manner as the capacity for abstract thought. Shallit comments, Whenever Egnor talks about something being “accepted” or “simple and straightforward”, you can be pretty sure that the opposite is Read More ›

Unlocking latest smartphone with biometric facial identification scan

Yes, your brain is a machine—if you choose to see it that way

As a Nobel Prize physicist pointed out, our method of study determines what we learn

Anil Seth, a Professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex, gave a TED talk recently (linked below) in which he asserted that “the combined activity of many billions of neurons—each one a tiny biological machine—is generating our conscious experience…” So, is your brain really a biological “machine”? Or is that just an analogy, like saying that a restaurant kitchen is a “hive” of activity? If so, how good is the analogy? Why do we select the analogy of a “machine” rather than a different one? It’s an important question, as we will see, because the questions we ask of nature constrain the answers we obtain. A machine is an artifact. It is a human-built assembly of Read More ›