bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for the Divinity of Jesus – Part 19: Premise (24) of the Feeling-Superior Argument

WHERE WE ARE

For a brief summary of what has been covered in Part 3 through Part 15 of this series, see the “WHERE WE ARE” section at the beginning of Part 16 of this series.

In Part 16 of this series, I argued that Kreeft and Tacelli’s first argument against Jesus being a lunatic FAILED because both premises of the argument are too UNCLEAR to be rationally evaluated and because Kreeft and Tacelli offer ZERO factual evidence in support of the SCIENTIFIC CLAIMS and HISTORICAL CLAIMS that are asserted in those premises.

In Part 17 of this series, I argued that there was another serious problem with the first argument against Jesus being a lunatic: the available historical evidence is insufficient to draw any firm conclusions about Jesus having a high degree of practical wisdom. Then I moved on to analyze and clarify Kreeft and Tacelli’s second point against Jesus being a lunatic. Their second point actually includes two very similar arguments against Jesus being a lunatic.

In Part 18 of this series, I argued that premise (21) of Kreeft and Tacelli’s Feeling-Superior argument for (5B) is too UNCLEAR to be rationally evaluated. Also, Kreeft and Tacelli offered ZERO facts or evidence to support the SCIENTIFIC GENERALIZATION that they are asserting in premise (21). This premise appears to be either FALSE or DUBIOUS on some interpretations, depending on the strength of the QUANTIFICATIONS that were intended.

I also pointed out that premise (24) of the Feeling-Superior argument, like premise (21) has a significant degree of VAGUENESS of QUANTIFICATION, and that Kreeft and Tacelli provide ZERO historical facts or evidence to support this HISTORICAL CLAIM about Jesus. I review ten examples of Jesus meeting people from Chapter 1 of the Gospel of Mark and conclude that four of those examples FAIL to provide support for premise (24) and that six of the examples provide some evidence against premise (24).

PREMISE (24) AND CHAPTER 5 OF MARK

In their second point against Jesus being a lunatic, Kreeft and Tacelli offer two similar arguments. I call the first argument the Feeling-Superior argument:

21. When a mentally healthy person meets an insane person (a lunatic), they feel uncomfortable, and they feel that way because they feel superior to the insane person.

24. When mentally healthy persons met Jesus, they felt uncomfortable and this was NOT because they felt superior to Jesus.

THEREFORE:

5B. Jesus was not a lunatic.

I have already determined that the Feeling-Superior argument FAILS because there are serious problems with premise (21). However, I am continuing to critically examine this argument in order to evaluate premise (24). In Part 18 of this series, I pointed out two serious problems with premise (24): (a) it suffers from VAGUENESS of QUANTIFICATION, and (b) Kreeft and Tacelli provide ZERO historical evidence in support of this HISTORICAL CLAIM.

At the end of Part 18 of this series, I randomly selected one chapter from the early chapters of Mark, one chapter from the middle chapters of Mark, and one chapter from the ending chapters of Mark. This will give me a random sample of three chapters from the Gospel of Mark, which I will review for examples of where people or groups of people meet Jesus.

Those examples will now be examined to determine whether they are relevant to an evaluation of premise (24), and whether they provide evidence for or against premise (24). Chapter 5 was the chapter of Mark that I randomly selected from the early chapters of Mark.

There are five examples of groups that meet Jesus and eight examples of individuals that meet Jesus in Chapter 5 of the Gospel of Mark. The first example is where an allegedly demon-possessed man comes into contact with Jesus:

1 They came to the other side of the sea, to the region of the Gerasenes.
2 And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met him.
3 He lived among the tombs, and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain,
4 for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces, and no one had the strength to subdue him.
5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones.

Mark 5:1-5, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

Based on the description of this man’s behavior, it is pretty clear that he was NOT a mentally healthy person, so this example of a person meeting Jesus is IRRELEVANT to an evaluation of premise (24).

The story about the demon-possessed man continues, and it portrays Jesus as casting the demons out of that man and into a large heard of swine:

12 and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.”
13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, stampeded down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.
14 The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. …

Mark 5:12-14, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

There were a number of swineherds present who saw this take place, and they then “ran off and told it” to people in the surrounding area. The swineherds do NOT say that they felt “uncomfortable” upon meeting Jesus, or in seeing Jesus allegedly cast demons into their herds of swine. The fact that they “ran off” to tell others what had happened doesn’t indicate whether they felt “uncomfortable” around Jesus or not. This example neither confirms nor disconfirms premise (24).

The next example concerns another group of people, namely the people who heard that Jesus was in the area, probably from the efforts of the swineherds:

14 The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened.
15 They came to Jesus and saw the man possessed by demons sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion, and they became frightened.
16 Those who had seen what had happened to the man possessed by demons and to the swine reported it.
17 Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood.

Mark 5:14-17, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

This group of people “became frightened” and “they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood.” So, it is reasonable to say that these people felt “uncomfortable” about Jesus staying near them. Why did these people become frightened? What about Jesus made them feel afraid and beg him to leave? They don’t say, or at least the story doesn’t indicate that they gave any explanation for WHY they became frightened. It seems a bit odd, since if they believed that demons could possess people and make people act “insane”, why wouldn’t they want someone like Jesus to STAY in their area to protect them and their loved ones from demonic possession?

Perhaps they believed that demons were powerful and that any human who could have control over demons must be even more powerful. In that case, they believed that Jesus was a person who had great supernatural power, which is a kind of belief in the superiority of Jesus over other typical people, like themselves. On this interpretation, the fear of Jesus (their uncomfortableness with Jesus) was NOT based upon the belief that they were superior to Jesus, but was based upon the belief that Jesus was superior (in supernatural power) to them. So, this example could be interpreted in a way that it provides some support for premise (24).

Jesus then gets into a boat and crosses to the other side of the sea of Galilee. On the other side, a crowd gathers around him, and a leader from a local synagogue meets Jesus:

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him, and he was by the sea.
22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue, named Jairus, came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet
23 and pleaded with him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.”
24 So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.

Mark 5:21-24, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

Nobody in the crowd says that they feel “uncomfortable” upon meeting Jesus. Jairus, who asks Jesus to heal his sick daughter, also does not say that he feels “uncomfortable” with Jesus. Jairus is presumably very concerned about his daughter and doesn’t care much about whether Jesus makes him feel comfortable or not. There is no evidence here that Jairus or the crowd feel “uncomfortable” upon meeting Jesus. There is not enough information in this passage to assess how people in the crowd felt about Jesus or how Jairus felt about Jesus. So, these examples neither confirm nor disconfirm premise (24).

In the next example a woman seeks to be healed by Jesus, and believes she will be healed if she can just touch his cloak:

25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from a flow of blood for twelve years.
26 She had endured much under many physicians and had spent all that she had, and she was no better but rather grew worse.
27 She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak,
28 for she said, “If I but touch his cloak, I will be made well.”
29 Immediately her flow of blood stopped, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.
30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my cloak?”
31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’ ”
32 He looked all around to see who had done it.
33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.
34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Mark 5:25-34, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

The woman does NOT say that she felt “uncomfortable” upon meeting Jesus. She believes that Jesus has the power to heal her, so she has a kind of admiration for Jesus. She views Jesus as superior to herself and many others, at least in terms of the power to heal diseases. The writer of this passage states that when Jesus asks the crowd “Who touched my cloak?” the woman “came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.” Fear and trembling indicate feelings that are uncomfortable.

But the fear this woman felt, might well be attributable to Jesus knowing that someone had touched his cloak. She may well have inferred that Jesus was angry with her for obtaining healing without first making a public request for Jesus to heal her, thus denying him of an opportunity to publically demonstrate his powers of healing. In this case, it is not really Jesus who made the woman feel afraid. Jesus reassures her with kind words, and thus shows that her fear was misplaced. Jesus is not the sort of petty person who would become angry just because he missed an opportunity to show off his healing powers. At least that seems to be the view of the author of this passage in Mark.

Although this is a case of someone meeting Jesus and feeling uncomfortable during that meeting, the feeling is the result of a mistaken assumption about Jesus (“He is angry because I have deprived him of an opportunity to show off his supernatural healing powers.”). It is not Jesus’ actions or behavior that are causing her feelings of fear towards Jesus. So, this is not a relevant example that can be compared to how a mentally healthy person feels upon meeting an insane person. The uncomfortable feelings that a mentally healthy person feels upon meeting an insane person (in cases where this occurs) are based upon the actions and behavior of the insane person. Thus, this example does not provide confirmation of premise (24).

In the next passage from Chapter 5 of the Gospel of Mark, we have another group of people who meet Jesus, and we have three disciples who are with Jesus when he heals the daughter of Jairus:

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the synagogue leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?”
36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the synagogue leader, “Do not be afraid; only believe.”
37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.

Mark 5:25-34, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

The people who arrive from Jairus’ house seem to want to be polite and not waste Jesus’ time. But this doesn’t tell us whether they felt uncomfortable upon meeting Jesus or not. They do NOT say that they feel uncomfortable with Jesus. There is not enough information about this group of people to determine how they felt about Jesus, so this example neither confirms nor disconfirms premise (24).

What about the disciples who tag along with Jesus? Peter, James, and John have already met Jesus and have become disciples or followers of Jesus. This raises a question about the MEANING of “meeting Jesus”. Can someone “meet Jesus” only one time? Or can a person “meet Jesus” on several different occasions?

My inclination is to say that “meeting Jesus” can only happen once, although that initial meeting could extend for a number of hours in some cases. Otherwise, if a person can repeatedly meet Jesus, then clearly the claim that people will ALWAYS feel uncomfortable when meeting Jesus, and that this will NEVER be because one feels superior to Jesus becomes an even stronger and more difficult claim to prove. So, to be fair to Kreeft and Tacelli, we should assume the weaker claim is being made, and that when they talk about someone “meeting Jesus”, they are talking about an initial meeting of Jesus, not about every repeated instance where a person comes into contact with Jesus.

Because the three disciples already knew Jesus by this point in time, the examples of them going with Jesus to Jairus’ house are irrelevant to an evaluation of premise (24).

The next passage from Chapter 5 of Mark talks about a group of people who are at Jairus’ house. Jesus takes Jairus and his wife into the room where their dying (or dead) child was:

38 When they came to the synagogue leader’s house, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.
39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.”
40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was.

Mark 5:38-40, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

The group of people who were gathered at Jairus’ house were “weeping and wailing loudly” so they were probably sad and upset about the (apparent) death of Jairus’ daughter. You could say they felt “uncomfortable”, but this was obviously NOT because of meeting Jesus. Nobody in the group says they felt uncomfortable because of meeting Jesus.

The fact that they laughed at Jesus’ claim that the girl was “sleeping” indicates that they felt superior to Jesus (looking down on him as a fool). If Jesus had made them feel uncomfortable, then this example would disconfirm premise (24). But there is no indication that meeting Jesus made these people feel uncomfortable. So, if this group did NOT feel uncomfortable upon meeting Jesus, then this example would disconfirm premise (24), but if this group DID feel uncomfortable upon meeting Jesus, then this example would still disconfirm premise (24), because they felt superior to Jesus. Either way, this example provides some disconfirming evidence against premise (24).

What about Jairus and his wife? Presumably, they too were upset about the apparent death of their daughter, but neither of them say that meeting Jesus made them feel uncomfortable, and there isn’t enough information in this passage to draw any conclusions about how either of them felt about Jesus at that point. The example of these two people meeting Jesus neither confirms nor disconfirms premise (24), at least not based on this passage.

In the final passage from Chapter 5 of Mark, we have the meeting of the dying (or previously dead) twelve-year-old girl and Jesus, and the reaction of her parents to Jesus healing her (or raising her from the dead):

41 Taking her by the hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!”
42 And immediately the girl stood up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement.
43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this and told them to give her something to eat.

Mark 5:41-43, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

The young girl does NOT say that she felt uncomfortable upon meeting Jesus. She doesn’t say anything at all, or at least the writer of Mark does not mention her saying anything. Jairus and his wife were “overcome with amazement” upon seeing their daughter suddenly revived. That doesn’t indicate that they felt uncomfortable with Jesus, nor that they felt comfortable with Jesus. There is not enough information here to determine whether or not the girl, Jairus, or the wife of Jairus felt uncomfortable because of meeting Jesus. So, these examples neither confirm nor disconfirm premise (24).

CONCLUSIONS FROM REVIEW OF CHAPTER 5 OF MARK

Of the thirteen examples of groups or individuals meeting (or contacting) Jesus in Chapter 5, here is how they relate to premise (24):

  • One example was irrelevant because the person in question was NOT a mentally healthy person (the demon-possessed man).
  • Three examples were irrelevant to premise (24) because the persons in question already knew Jesus (the disciples who went with Jesus to Jairus’ house).
  • Four examples of individuals meeting Jesus neither confirm nor disconfirm premise (24).
  • Three examples of groups of people meeting Jesus neither confirm nor disconfirm premise (24).
  • One example of a group of people meeting Jesus provides some disconfirmation of premise (24).
  • One example of a group of people meeting Jesus, on one plausible interpretation of a passage, provides some confirmation of premise (24).

Out of thirteen different examples, four are irrelevant to an evaluation of premise (24), and of the relevant examples, seven examples neither confirm nor disconfirm premise (24), one example provides some disconfirmation of premise (24), and only one example provides some confirmation of premise (24).

This is VERY WEAK support for premise (24) from thirteen examples of groups or individuals having contact with Jesus in Chapter 5 of the Gospel of Mark. If the review of examples from other Chapters of Mark produces similar results, then we can reasonably conclude that the available evidence FAILS to show that premise (24) is true, and that this premise is DUBIOUS.

bookmark_borderReview of *Not* So Fast: A Response to Augustine’s Critique of the BICS Contest: Stephen E. Braude, Imants Baruss , Arnaud Delorme, Dean Radin, Helané Wahbeh

see the article here: https://journalofscientificexploration.org/index.php/jse/issue/view/85

At times Braude et al’s response to Augustine reads like a long lottery fallacy, the idea that since it’s mathematically absurd that I should win a major lottery, if I do win a miracle has taken place.  Against this, while it’s preposterous for me to think I should win when buying the ticket, given the probability cast in the light of the number of entrants it is certainly reasonable that “someone” should win.  Similarly, while it is highly unlikely that my health recovery should baffle medical knowledge, this doesn’t imply a miracle since in a planet of many billions of people unexplainable recovery, though ridiculously rare, are to be expected.

One major flaw is the god of the gaps fallacy whereby an apparent gap in the scientific knowledge of the physiology of memory opens the door to something supernatural that has access to past lives:

  • With regard to point (2) above, there are serious reasons for relaxing our commitments to standard interpretations of the neurophysiological data and entertaining possibly radical alternatives.  Some famous experiments in the 1920s by psychologist Karl Lashley illustrate this clearly. Lashley thought he knew where memories would be stored in a rat’s brain. But he found that no matter how much of a rat’s brain he surgically removed, trained rats continued to run their maze. And when Lashley reached the point in his surgical marathon where the poor critters were unable to run a maze, they were unable to do anything. (See Lashley, 1929) So some—but not Lashley—concluded that a rats’ memory is not localized at a specific place in the rat’s brain Rather, memories are diffusely localized, much as information is diffusely distributed in holograms.
  • This proposal catapulted Karl Pribram to the status of a pundit.[1] However, to someone not antecedently committed to the received wisdom about mind-brain relations, Lashley’s experiments take on a different sort of significance. They suggest that memories aren’t located anywhere or in any form in the brain. More generally, they suggest that the container metaphor (that memories and mental states generally are in the brain or in something else) was wrong from the start, because memories (and mental states generally) aren’t things or objects with distinct spatiotemporal coordinates.

  • [1] Granted, most neuroscientists are unfamiliar with the logical and conceptual errors in positing memory traces. Like Pribram, when confronted with challenges to their views on memory, their first impulse is to simply modify the nature of the trace (say, as a dense neural network) and ignore the reasons for regarding trace theory as deep (or disguised) nonsense. Moreover, the arguments for the vacuousness of trace theory are hardware-independent. No matter how they’re configured, it’s relatively easy to show that memory traces are impossible objects. For more details, see Braude, 2014, “Memory without a Trace.”

The writers take paranormal research right out the realm of science by saying replicability isn’t an issue, but a single instance, even if a mathematical anomaly, is the gold being dug for:

  • In any case, not all parapsychological tests (including survival investigations) have failed. For example, although Mrs. Piper’s results are often ambiguous and messy, the investigation of her mediumship counts as a failure only on an indefensibly strict standard of success, one which we reject in many domains. That’s why a baseball player who gets a hit 1 out of 3 times is considered excellent.We also know that the ability to demonstrate ESP or PK reliably seems to be quite rare, even if psychic experiences can occur to virtually anyone under the right conditions. But then we must exercise caution in interpreting a parapsychology experiment’s negative results. Augustine presumably knows this, but he nevertheless fails to consider what kind of ability is under investigation. He doesn’t even entertain the counter-proposal that when OBErs and NDErs fail to identify remote targets in formal tests, perhaps they’re simply not particularly good at it—or good at it in formal tests or under mental or physical duress. After all, there’s no evidence that people generally, or randomly selected people, are good at remote viewing, or as good as the small number of outstanding RVers. But then we can say, plausibly, that the ability to Remote View is genuine (as RV superstars demonstrate) but like many normal abilities it’s not widely or evenly distributed, and it’s also situationally fragile. That’s what the data, both negative and positive, tell us. Augustine apparently considers encrypted messages and combination-lock tests to be the gold standard for testing mediums. But he claims repeatedly that all such tests have failed. He writes, “While some mediums were asked to describe the contents of sealed envelopes or provide auditory information, most direct tests of survival involve asking living persons to posthumously reveal to a medium key words, phrases, or mnemonic devices, ostensibly unknown to any living person, that would decipher encrypted messages or open user-set combination locks.” Then a few sentences later, “After 121 years of such simple tests, only undeniably fraudulent mediums (Spraggett & Rauscher, 1973) or cryptologists (Bean, 2020; Gillogly & Harnisch, 1996) have ever been able to solve them.” Predictably, Augustine doesn’t consider the option that the tests were psi-inhibitory. He also doesn’t indicate what his position would be if the tests were successful. Would he concede that the positive results count as evidence of survival? That would help clarify how open-minded he is about evidence for the paranormal….However, Augustine’s assessment of encrypted message and combination-lock tests seems viable only when we regard both experimenters and subjects as psychological stick figures, unburdened by self-defeating character traits and untroubled by the concerns, fears, hopes, and other frailties that plague most of humanity. The issues here coincide with some of those discussed in connection with the replicability problem in parapsychology (see Braude, 2018).

The author’s seem to like to argue from the “it’s not impossible” premise, that just because everything we know about the mind suggests physical dependence, this doesn’t logically exclude something immaterial that we have no access to:

  • McTaggart’s view is insightful. Strictly speaking, the evidence for mind-brain correlations doesn’t show that selfhood or consciousness is exclusively linked to bodily processes, much less the processes of any particular physical body. We noted earlier that survival-unfriendly interpretations of the neurophysiological data may seem initially compelling because their presuppositions are widespread and deeply rooted. And if so, it may be a useful intellectual exercise to try to divest ourselves of those presuppositions and then take a fresh look at the data. We might find, then, that McTaggart’s (or some other survivalist) interpretation seems more immediately appealing. It’s therefore regrettable that Augustine doesn’t rise to the challenge.       

The authors offer a helpful summary of Augustine’s arguments against survivalism:

  1. Minds mature as brains mature
  2. Childhood mental development halts when childhood brain development halts
  3. Minds degenerate when brains degenerate (due to old age or traumatic brain injury)
  4. Creatures with simple brains have simple minds
  5. Creatures with complex brains have complex minds
  6. Sickening/injuring the brain sickens/injures the mind
  7. Mental dispositions can be inherited from one’s parents
  8. Mental desires can be induced or eliminated by brain stimulation
  9. Mental disorders can be cured by altering brain chemistry with drugs
  10. Mental disorders can be brought on by altering brain chemistry with drugs

One critique they offer is

  • Regarding number 7 above
  • Mental dispositions can be inherited from one’s parents may not state a fact at all. We wonder: Why not say “learned/absorbed” rather than “inherited”? Although some genetic data suggest that certain personality traits and talents are inherited through DNA, Augustine can’t simply assume that this alleged regularity is an example of nature and not nurture. After all, many (perhaps most) families don’t exhibit this generational continuity. In fact, children often have attitudes, dispositions, and preferences that conflict with those of their parents. Are we really to believe that Augustine doesn’t know this?

This is absurd. We know extreme cases such as schizophrenia, bipolar type 1 and 2, OCD, etc have an obvious biological component and definitely have a hereditary component, often dormant and skipping between generations there was no contact with like one’s great grandparents. And it’s not simply mental. As far back as the Greeks greatness in the creative arts was often associated with melancholy because boredom and dissatisfaction inspired creating.

In the end, this was a poor response to Augustine that was neither well reasoned or argued.

bookmark_borderWhen Will Survival Researchers Move Past Defending the Indefensible? (Part 3)

So, this is my last post on Augustine’s “Defending the Indefensible” Essay I particularly liked Augustine’s distinction between analogies that illustrate and analogies that argue, since we are all familiar with debates that are just opposite sides throwing illustrations at one another as though they are arguments (eg pro life vs pro choice; conservative vs liberal).

It is a general point that there is a reason hospitals don’t have faith healer teams on staff, or that psychics don’t repeatedly predict and win the lottery. Augustine comments:

  • Until survival researchers produce evidence of the sort that replicable positive results from properly controlled tests of survival would have provided, the rest of the world is quite justified in responding: “Call me when a medium gets even one hit out of dozens of vetted attempts to get an afterlife code, or when an out-of-body NDEr has actually identified a visual target in the latest installment of the AWARE study. Then I’ll be keen for replications. Until then, tend to your own garden.”

It’s not of importance that scientific data doesn’t render survivalism impossible, since “impossibility” is a ridiculously high standard:

  • Braude et al. (2022) think that I believe that the chiefly neuroscientific evidence “puts survivalists in an awkward position empirically, because they can’t explain away a large and respectable body of neuroscientific data suggesting that survival is impossible.” First of all, I’ve always characterized this evidence as rendering discarnate personal survival highly unlikely, not impossible, since that’s the most that any evidence can do for any hypothesis.[1] Second, the issue is not that empirical survivalists cannot reinterpret away such evidence—it’s that, if they wish to proceed scientifically (rather than pseudoscientifically), they ought not reinterpret it away

  • [1] Discarnate personal survival may well be nomically or even metaphysically impossible, of course, given the true nature of consciousness (whatever that turns out to be). But the issue here is what we can know, in the same sense that we can be said to know things about other scientific matters, about the relationship between our individual mental lives and our brain functioning in light of the total relevant evidence. Here we can only speak in probabilities, as with all scientific hypotheses. As far as we can ascertain, personal survival does not seem possible, given the evidence, without technological or miraculous intervention. But that conclusion is highly probable, not certain.

There is a growing body of evidence in favor of naturalism when it comes to mind/brain dependence, so it really a question of academic honesty of letting the evidence point the way instead of explaining the evidence away:

  • Early on it might be reasonable to try to save one’s pet theories [1] from unfavorable evidence in order to avoid their falsification (or at least a reduction in their overall probability). The data themselves might have been bad, for example. But as more unfavorable evidence accumulates—and from a variety of independent, reliable sources—at some point it becomes unreasonable to continue to cling to one’s theories in the face of the evidence. All that I ask is that psychical researchers adhere to the same standards that other scientists do.

  • [1] The term ‘theory’ should be understood as a synonym for ‘hypothesis’ throughout—as Braude et al. (2022) also use these terms—following the conventions of philosophers of science.

The self is too shaped by the brain to survive in any meaningful sense after death:

  • Whenever empirical survivalists get more specific about their theories on the mind’s relation to functioning brains, they are forced by the facts to concede that the functioning brain changes our mental functioning through and through. Thus it is as if we are never really ourselves when we are incarnate. The corollary of this implication is that who we are now in a substantial or ‘thick’ sense will not survive death even if some mere part of us becomes discarnate. Some abstract impersonal part (not all that different from our bones) might ‘survive’ biological death—perhaps with the mind of a paramecium—once the brain activity that sustains human consciousness during life drops away. But that is not personal survival... [W]hat the independence thesis predicts we will find contradicts what ‘neuroscience-plus’ has in fact uncovered, whereas what the dependence thesis predicts matches it. We thus have pretty compelling evidence that having a functioning brain almost certainly is necessary for human mental processes to exist/occur.

We can see analogs to survivalist approaches with Young Earth Creationism:

  • It’s no less logically possible, after all, that fossils of simpler organisms are found in older geological strata than those of complex ones because God created the fossils that way all at once 10,000 years ago (rather than due to biological evolution). Just as no evolutionary biologist takes such “alternative accounts of the data” seriously, no neuroscientist should take a ‘dependence-looking independence thesis’ seriously, either. If all signs from reliable sources of evidence point to existential or functional dependence, then we should tentatively take such evidence to indicate exactly what it seems to indicate (barring forthcoming, comparably reliable bodies of evidence that suggest otherwise—but we are here talking about available evidence).

That concludes my 3 defending the indefensible posts. Check out Augustine’s journal exchange here: https://journalofscientificexploration.org/index.php/jse/issue/view/85 . Next time I will be blogging about further issue related to this exchange.

bookmark_borderWhen Will Survival Researchers Move Past Defending the Indefensible? (Part 2)

Augustine feels the interaction brought out many things that needed to be said, particularly a more accurate representation of the best that the skeptical eye could bring to the table. Reber and Alcock had argued in Skeptical Inquirer in 2019 as to why physics makes psi impossible. Under Braude’s final year as JSE Editor-in-Chief, either the whole issue or a significant portion of the JSE was devoted to refuting Reber and Alcock’s arguments.

Refuting arguments that “psi is impossible” is antecedently easy to do, since anyone claiming that a thing is impossible puts a large burden on oneself to show that. Saying that the evidence makes it highly improbable, or that science needs to reject psi as a working hypothesis in order to investigate things empirically at all, is a more nuanced and defensible position. It’s also one that the echo chamber of JSE readers have likely not heard before (which is why lead author Braude’s reply to Augustine missed the mark on so much–it seems like he’s never even thought about the best skeptical arguments that could be made, just the easy-to-refute caricatures, judging by how much space in that earlier JSE issue was devoted to refuting Reber & Alcock, 2019).

Augustine is just giving voice to what non-fringe scientists have actually argued in an echo chamber that would otherwise never hear it, but only their caricatures of “materialists” or whatever. There are popularizers saying the same things Augustine’s said. He already quoted Sean Carroll on UAP/UFOs and Sam Harris on neuroscience. Consider Neil deGrasse Tyson:

  1. On NDEs and testimonial evidence, at the start (the hypercube/tesseract discussion comes later): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r43Mdq2MWjk

2. On an afterlife being scientifically unlikely (esp. at 2:25 about strokes destroying mental capacities): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwncyLyTXQ4

bookmark_borderWhen Will Survival Researchers Move Past Defending the Indefensible? (Part 1)

When Will Survival Researchers Move Past Defending the
Indefensible?
Keith Augustine

The exchange between our Secular Web/Internet Infidels director Keith Augustine and noted “soul survivalist ” proponents was published yesterday. I’ll be blogging about it, but check out the exchange: https://journalofscientificexploration.org/index.php/jse/issue/view/85

HIGHLIGHTS
The survivalists’ response to the author’s skeptical review did not
confront the novel criticisms and arguments made against the BICS essay
evidence. Such a candid and deep engagement with fundamental issues is
needed to advance the question of ‘life after death.’

ABSTRACT
The failure of five psychical researchers to confront my critique of
Bigelow Institute contest-winning essays with counterpoints or
concessions responsive to its novel criticisms is disappointing. Their
defensive and scattershot reply lost sight of whether the critiqued
essays met their directive to provide “hard evidence ‘beyond a
reasonable doubt’” of the survival of human consciousness. Those who
claim that science should expand its metaphysically conservative picture
to include things otherwise not known to exist assume the burden of
showing what they claim. My interlocutors’ almost exclusively
testimonial evidence does not adhere to the long-standing scientific
principles required by the scientific community. For the kind of
evidence that could be publicly confirmed is simply not the kind that
survival researchers have been able to provide, just as we would expect
of a hodgepodge of deception, embellishment, malobservation,
misreporting, self-deception, and so on; but which could be surprising
on the hypothesis that discarnate personal survival occurs. The survival
evidence does not even survive elementary scrutiny, let alone outweigh
our everyday experience of the biological fragility of our own minds.
The *totality* of the evidence renders discarnate personal survival
highly unlikely. Attempts to reinterpret this evidence away through
various analogies fail because a hypothesis that makes false
predictions, like that of the independence of individual consciousness
from a functioning brain, will continue to make them no matter what
analogy one uses to illustrate it.

Analysis:

Augustine points out the evidence for discarnate survival parallels to the poor evidence for the existence of God in the face of the problem of suffering:

  • It’s also perfectly reasonable to step back and take a look at the big picture. One can reasonably argue along the following lines. None of the arguments in favor of the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good God are very compelling even by theistic philosophers’ standards. On the other hand, such philosophers struggle with how to reconcile the existence of such a being with a world that has long been steeped in suffering. The parallels here should be obvious. None of the variable-quality ostensible evidence for discarnate personal survival is very compelling even by parapsychological standards (cf. Delorme et al., 2021*), and those psychical researchers who acknowledge that contrary evidence should count for something struggle with how to reconcile discarnate personal survival with independent, well-vetted evidence from cognitive neuroscience (and elsewhere) (Stokes, 1993; cf. Stairs & Bernard, 2007, p. 301). When two sources of evidence appear to conflict, is it not more reasonable (absent further evidence) to give greater weight to the more reliable of the two? (cf. Rowe, 2007, pp. 159-160).

Survivalist research is akin to negative theology which characterizes God in terms of what God is not:

  • It’s worth adding that to the extent that the existence of conjectural forces or entities is not scientifically established, paranormal explanations don’t really explain anything at all. They are just an umbrella catchall of the negation of the conventional/normal explanations that researchers have thought of (maybe they didn’t think of everything) and that don’t fit. To have a real scientific explanation, we need to know something about the positive characteristics of the ‘explaining’ hypothesized force or entity—what it is—not simply what it is not (Augustine, 2015, p. 34). Until then, the label psi is just a placeholder or promissory note for an explanation. That’s why it’s solely by convention that we don’t include unknown lights in the sky, unidentified living creatures, or other Forteana under the umbrella of psi. (If conventionally inexplicable, are ghost lights ostensible spirits, ostensible extraterrestrial probes, ostensible plasma-based cryptids, or something else entirely? No one will ever be able to say without some verifiable positive characterization of what they are.)

It’s a real problem for survivalist research that evidence is largely anecdotal and cannot be re-produced in a controlled scientific setting:

  • The specifics of how Home accomplished Victorian-era feats that have no contemporary parallels—much like Mrs. Piper’s mental mediumship[1]—seem rather moot if neither Nahm, Braude, nor any other investigator can capture comparable demonstrations today using modern tools that are more than capable of clearly documenting events through high-resolution closed-circuit, livestreamed, or otherwise unalterable video recording from multiple angles. When simply informed of the general character of this evidence, most people (survival skeptics or not) would be compelled to ask: where have all the bona fide physical mediums gone?An endless debate over the strength of inherently weaker testimonial and other poorly controlled sources of evidence could be avoided altogether, of course, if only Braude et al. had more rigorous experimental evidence to offer. But one cannot produce evidence akin to an Earth-bound extraterrestrial artifact, a Bigfoot skeleton, or a working SoulPhone if the hypothesized entities never existed in the first place.

  • [1] Cf. Robert Almeder (1992, p. 249) and Nahm on the much lower “investigability of the most compelling aspects of mental mediumship” (2021*, p. 13) today since survival researchers cannot produce contemporary mediums willing or able to pull off comparably impressive performances.

It is a real problem for paranormal research, like alien research, that the evidence is always ambiguous and could be understood in other ways:

  • That is, we should hesitate to interpret UAP as evidence for the extraterrestrial visitation hypothesis not so much because crossing the vast distances of interstellar space is potentially insuperable, but because as a matter of fact, we simply do not find the sorts of evidence that we would expect to find were extraterrestrial visitation occurring. If extraterrestrials were regularly visiting Earth, why would evidence of their presence always fall within the narrow range of possibilities that we might call the perpetually ambiguous range? There is wide continuum of conceivable evidence consistent with extraterrestrial visitation, ranging from no evidence at all to undeniable evidence (indigenous peoples did not eternally debate the presence of European colonists, for example)... Similarly, near-death researchers claim that NDErs are already able to provide veridical visual information inaccessible to the normal senses during their experiences—again, just not (so far) under controlled conditions (e.g., Holden, 2009). So what’s at issue here is a historical question: have survival researchers been able to provide evidence for putative discarnate personal survival that meets the standards of scientific rigor required in, say, pharmaceutical research—or not? My concern is not with “how a parapsychological test or experiment will turn out” (future tense), but rather with how such tests have in fact turned out (past tense).

Next time I will be commenting on the second half of Augustine’s essay.

bookmark_borderThe Myth of an Afterlife Chapter 10: The Dualists Dilemma by Keith Augustine and Yonatan I. Fishman

The Myth Of An Afterlife Chapter Ten:  The Dualist’s Dilemma: The High Cost of Reconciling Neuroscience with a Soul 

by Keith Augustine and Yonatan I. Fishman

One of the editors of the anthology, Keith Augustine, has provided a helpful brief analogy illustrating the case against the thesis that the mind somehow exists independent of the brain.  As a teacher, I think it would be an excellent hands-on activity for students.  He writes:

Consider the analogy of two bins sitting on an office desk, one labeled 
outgoing mail, and the other labeled incoming mail. Re-label the bins 
“minds require brains to exist” and “minds do not require brains to exist” 
(i.e., “the dependence thesis simpliciter” and “the independence thesis 
simpliciter”).

Now imagine that you have a big bowl of succinct facts that scientists 
have discovered about the mind printed out on paper strips (like those in 
fortune cookies, or those printed out in old military teletype machines). 
Imagine that such paper strips say things like:

* Minds mature as brains mature
* Childhood mental development halts when childhood brain development halts
* Minds degenerate in old age when brains degenerate in old age
* Creatures with simple brains have simple minds
* Creatures with complex brains have complex minds
* Sickening/injuring the brain sickens/injures the mind
* Mental dispositions can be inherited from one’s parents

* Mental desires can be evoked and suppressed by brain stimulation (e.g., 
as shown at 3:19-6:25 here: 
bloomberg.com/news/videos/2015-09-28/brain-series-3-episode-1-charlie-rose 
; or as prominent memory researcher Eric Kandel puts it in that clip, the 
specific brain activity described is both necessary and sufficient to 
produce the desire to fight);

* Mental disorders can be cured by altering brain chemistry with drugs 
(e.g., the best dose of lithium for schizophrenia)
* Mental disorders can be brought on by altering brain chemistry with 
drugs (e.g., by ingesting bath salts)

ACTIVITY: If you were tasked to sort those paper strips into one or the other bin, 
such that you HAD TO pick one, for which bin would the preceding facts be 
MORE EXPECTED, answering honestly? That says it all, really.

That does seem to make the case in a nutshell, and would make an excellent hands-on lesson for students studying multiculturalism/pluralism and learning about secularism

Our best scientific evidence suggests mental processes can’t exist independent of a functioning brain.  Augustine and Fishman comment:

The weight of the scientific evidence supporting the dependence thesis thus puts in a bind those substance dualists who think both that the mind is independent of the brain and that it can survive the brain’s death. On the one hand, they can retain their belief in personal survival at the expense of ignoring or dismissing the implications of our best evidence. On the other hand, they can accept those implications at the expense of acknowledging that the prospects for personal survival are extremely dim. Any scientifically respectable dualist must take the latter horn of this dilemma. And that, in turn, entails conceding that one’s individuality almost certainly cannot survive the death of the brain. In a last-ditch effort the dualist could posit that the mind is unknowably duplicated elsewhere, and that this duplicated mind might survive death. However, since neither science nor introspection reveals any evidence of such duplication, this position is not motivated by the evidence.

Mill pointed out that while we can’t remove the moon to see the effect such removal would have on the tides, “we can nevertheless observe that the closer the moon is to our coastline, the higher the tide, and the farther away it is, the lower the tide (Mill, 1843/1950, pp. 225–226).”  Similarly, 

Our best data clearly indicate, under a wide range of conditions, that when we intentionally modify certain brain states, or simply observe their naturally occurring variations, we find corresponding changes in mental states. When we compare different kinds of animals (such as fish and mammals), we find that animals of greater intelligence always have more complex brains. As brain complexity increases, mental proficiency improves. Conversely, the more primitive the brain, the more limited a creature’s mental capacities. Likewise, when we compare infants with adults, we find that human beings become much more capable as their brains mature. The more that children’s brains develop, the more proficient they become; and when normal brain development is thwarted by tragic biological accident, mental development is thwarted to a comparable degree in mental retardation. Brain damage yields a similar pattern: the more substantial the damage to various neural pathways, the greater the mental deficits. Perhaps no disorder demonstrates this as clearly as the progressive brain degeneration of Alzheimer’s disease: the greater the deterioration of synaptic connections, the greater the loss of memory, recognition of others, and characteristic personality traits. Finally, various drugs affect mental states in a predictable way, with greater intoxication leading to more muddled thinking (Beyerstein, 1987, p. 165). In short, the greater the neural resources available, the more versatile the mind. The degree to which our minds function properly, then, is proportional to how well our brains are functioning … Similarly, philosopher Paul Edwards notes that the greater the damage to the brain, the greater the corresponding damage to the mind. The natural extrapolation from this pattern is all too clear—obliterate brain functioning altogether, and mental functioning too will cease (Edwards, 1996, pp. 282–283) … [A] correlation is most likely causal when it has the following five characteristics: (1) consistency; (2) strength; (3) specificity; (4) temporal relationship; and (5) coherence

By the accepted standards of when correlation implies causation, this standard can reasonably be applied in the mind/brain dependency issue:

We can already see how mind-brain correlations meet epidemiological standards for causation in the concomitant variations outlined above and elsewhere. They are consistent: mental capacities vary according to the intricacy and condition of one’s brain both across species and within them. The evidence for this point is both wide-ranging and robust. They are strong and patterned: within thresholds, to the extent that the complexity or functioning of one’s brain improves, mental capacity follows suit. The correlations are specific: damage to the left posterior lateral temporo-occipito-parietal junction prevents the ability to name tools while retaining the ability to name other items (Tranel, Damasio, & Damasio, 1997, p. 76; Vigliocco, Tranel, & Druks, 2012, p. 446).6 They have the necessary temporal relationship: brain disorders always precede the mental deficits accompanying them. Viewed as causal, they cohere well with other empirical facts: that mental activity occurs in the brain does not conflict with other scientific knowledge, and firmly situates the mind as yet another part of the natural world. They are manipulable: electrical stimulation of the brain, the use of recreational drugs or psychopharmacological agents, and neurosurgical intervention have predictable mental effects. Finally, as we shall see in the next section, the hypothesis that brain states bring about mental states has successful observational consequences aside from the facts that it was originally formulated to explain.

Mind independence theorist can double down and say correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation, but a strong case for mind/brain dependence is being made.  Augustine and Fishman cite Colin McGinn that 

 Why does brain damage obliterate mental faculties if minds do not owe their existence to brains? . . . Why are all mental changes actually accompanied by brain changes? The fact is that minds have their deep roots in brains. They are not just temporary residents of brains, like wandering nomads in the desert. Deracinate them and they lose their handle on reality. Minds don’t merely occupy brains, they are somehow constituted by brains. That is why the minds of different species vary, why minds develop in concert with brains, why the health of your brain makes all the difference to the life of your mind. Minds and brains are not ships that pass in the night; the brain is the very lifeblood of the mind. (1999, pp. 27–28)

Soul/Mind independent theorists are quite entrenched, though.  See
http://ian-wardell.blogspot.com/p/the-mind-brain-correlations.html

Augustine points out 

In essence, Wardell is saying that known mind-brain correlations do not 
provide one iota more of evidence for the dependence thesis than for 
mind-brain independence.

Because the existence of the correlations themselves is undeniable, 
parapsychologist John Palmer makes a similar desperate move to save the 
phenomena–honestly, what other recourse does he have–in his Journal of 
Parapsychology 80(2) commentary on the exchange between James G. Matlock 
and I on The Myth of an Afterlife there in 2016. Palmer wrote:

“I have never understood why materialists keep citing brain-behavior 
correlations as evidence against dualism because dualists ‘predict’ such 
relationships every bit as much as materialists do.” (p. 254)

Nevermind that for Palmer, “materialists” should be read to mean 
“dependence thesis proponents” and “dualists” should be read to mean 
“independence thesis proponents” (since there are versions of 
interactionist substance dualism that grant that minds cannot exist in the 
absence of functioning brains, such as C. D. Broad’s compound theory or E. 
J. Lowe’s non-Cartesian substance dualism). The bottom line move that 
Palmer makes is simply:

“[T]hese [brain-behavior] relationships are ‘predicted’ by both theses.” 
(p. 256)

As I point out in “The Dualist’s Dilemma,” any hypothesis can of course be 
*forced to* predict the same thing as its rival by continuously hammering   
one’s square peg into a round hole, blunting the edges until it finally 
unnaturally fits. In the face of contrary evidence, one can ALWAYS contort 
one’s hypothesis to “predict” the exact same thing as a rival hypothesis 
that much more naturally implies what’s actually found. One can do this by 
unparsimoniously tacking on untestable auxiliary assumptions to the 
otherwise disconfirmed/falsified hypothesis that one favors.

But in this case, it’s obvious that the most parsimonious versions of each 
thesis–what I call the dependence thesis simpliciter and independence 
thesis simpliciter–mostly make opposite predictions about what we should 
find if the mind functions in the way that each thesis says that it should 
function.

Augustine also provided me with the following helpful links I’d like to share:

 The entire Journal of Parapsychology exchange happens to be 
online, too.

The specific links to Matlock, myself, and Palmer are linked here (under 
“Books”):

https://infidels.org/library/modern/keith_augustine/keith-bio.html

And, if you want to get really precise, the specific links to the page 
numbers from my Palmer quotations are here, respectively:

p. 254: https://www.rhine.org/images/jp/JPv80n2.pdf#page=118
p. 256: https://www.rhine.org/images/jp/JPv80n2.pdf#page=120

(The page numbers are off because the PDF pages numbers aren’t the same as 
journal issue page numbers; there’s a way Adobe be set so that they match, 
but most editors–even those from publisher who make e-book 
versions–rarely bother or know how to configure that setting for their 
PDFs. The final proof copy of my Myth of an Afterlife PDF is off, for 
example, but any purchasable one probably wouldn’t be. I think Kindle uses 
a different format than PDF.)

 So, this is a particularly meaty chapter, and I will proceed on to the next part of it in my next blog post.

bookmark_borderThe Myth of an Afterlife ch 6

Chapter Six No Mental Life after Brain Death The Argument from the Neural Localization of Mental Functions Gualtiero Piccinini and Sonya Bahar

In a thorough, rigorously argued chapter, Piccinini and Bahar outline their position as follows:

To make our case, we will sample the large body of neuroscientific evidence that each mental function takes place within specific neural structures. For instance, vision appears to occur in the visual cortex, motor control in the motor cortex, spatial memory in the hippocampus, and cognitive control in the prefrontal cortex. Evidence for this comes from neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, neurochemistry, brain stimulation, neuroimaging, lesion studies, and behavioral genetics. If mental functions take place within neural structures, then they cannot survive the death of the brain. Therefore, there is no mental life after brain death. 

Before I get into the meat of their argument in my next blog post, I just want to highlight a methodological point they make

Fourth, our argument is as close to a refutation of substance dualism as anyone can get in this kind of case. We cannot definitively prove that nonphysical minds don’t exist anymore than we can definitively prove that unicorns or fairies don’t exist. But the overwhelming thrust of the empirical evidence is that there are no unicorns, no fairies, and no nonphysical minds. The burden of proof is on the believers. If they want to affirm that something exists, it’s their job to produce evidence for it. Our point is that there is none.  What evidence there is supports the conclusion that the mental functions are localized in the brain.

Clearly, the responsibility is on those making the existential claim.

bookmark_borderThe Myth of an Afterlife, Chapter Five: The Argument from Brain Damage by Vindicated Rocco J. Gennaro and Yonatan I. Fishman

This is a pretty meaty essay, so I’d like to cover it over a few posts.  Today, I’d like to talk a bit about this passage here:

“There are, to be sure, several much-discussed objections to materialism, but most of them question the notion that materialism can currently fully explain conscious experience. And even if they are successful, these objections do not really dispute the dependence thesis. For example, Joseph Levine (1983) coined the expression “the explanatory gap” to express a difficuty for any materialistic attempt to explain consciousness. Although he doesn’t aim to reject the metaphysics of materialism, Levine gives eloquent expression to the idea that there is a key gap in our ability to explain the connection between conscious or “phenomenal” properties and brain properties (see also Levine, 2001). The basic problem is that it is, at least at present, very difficult for us to understand the relationship between brain properties and phenomenal properties in any explanatorily satisfying way, especially given the fact that it seems possible for one to be present without the other. There is an odd kind of arbitrariness involved: Why or how does some particular brain process produce that particular taste or visual sensation? It is difficult to see any real explanatory connection between specific conscious states and brain states in a way that explains just how or why the former are identical with the latter. There is therefore arguably an explanatory gap between the physical and mental. David Chalmers has articulated a similar worry using the catchy phrase “the hard problem of consciousness,” which basically amounts to the difficulty of explaining just how physical processes in the brain give rise to subjective conscious experiences. The “really hard problem is the problem of experience. . . . How can we explain why there is something it is like to entertain a mental image, or to experience an emotion?” (Chalmers, 1995, p. 201). Unlike Levine, however, Chalmers is much more inclined to draw antimaterialist metaphysical conclusions from these and other considerations. Chalmers usefully distinguishes the hard problem of consciousness from what he calls the (relatively) “easy problems” of consciousness, such as the ability to discriminate and categorize stimuli, the ability of a cognitive system to access its own internal states, and the difference between wakefulness and sleep. The easy problems generally have more to do with the functions of consciousness, but Chalmers urges that solving them does not touch the hard problem of phenomenal consciousness. However, Chalmers favors property dualism, which, as we have seen, does not dispute the dependence thesis. Unlike others, he is clearly not motivated by a belief in immortality.”

Continental Philosophy since Nietzsche, drawing out the implications of Greek thought on “presencing,” has argued sensory experiences are largely aesthetic, representing a way we are “outside-ourselves.”  So, we don’t just taste wine, but a particular glass of wine may taste good to you.  What does this mean?  The wine is not simply encountered as a thing in itself, but as a symptom expressing an interplay of forces.  So when I say the wine tastes good, I mean that it seems pleasant in terms of the absence of off-odors and off-flavors, and in general, the positive aspects of the interplay of aroma/bouquet, taste/texture, acidity, bitterness, sweetness, astringency, body, and balance.  These are subjective in the sense that you can give this same glass of wine to someone who really doesn’t like wine and it will taste gross to them.  Similarly, with visual sensory experiences, we don’t simply sense objectively, but aesthetically.  So, a mansion may be appearing as magnificent to us, but as gaudy to the next person.  It was Plato, in his critique of Antisthenes, who argued we don’t just deal with simple beings, but complex ones: something as something.  So, “house,” isn’t simply a category for organizing or abstracting to, but is also aesthetic: Now that’s a house!  It’s as though exemplary housness was presencing through the mansion.  The notion of “essence” brings with it this ambiguity, which was true in Plato’s time, in that (i) when I talk about the “essence” of a house I usually mean what is common and general, but (ii) if I talk about the “essence” of Socrates I mean what is most singular, special, and ownmost about him (eg., being a gadfly – that’s our Socrates!).  So, the part of the brain that deals with aesthetic preference plays a large role framing/structuring the sensory content of experience.

(ii)

BRAIN DAMAGE, LESION STUDIES, AND THE LOCALIZATION OF MENTAL FUNCTION

This chapter provides a wonderful short examination of how brain damage can be shown to eliminate all the different parts of what is traditionally associated with the soul.  For example, regarding emotions, we read:

Emotion Damage to brain regions involved in emotional regulation—such as the limbic system, particularly the amygdala—commonly results in impaired processing of emotional stimuli (Berntson et al., 2007; Sergerie, Chochol, & Armony, 2008). For example, subjects with damage to the amygdala often exhibit an impaired perception of danger and will fail to display typical emotional responses to stimuli that generally elicit fear. Damage to the orbital and cingulate cortices may result in a disorder called alexithymia, which is characterized by an inability to read emotions, including one’s own (Beaumont, 2008). Damage to the insula may result in the inability to experience disgust and may cause impaired perception of disgust in others (Ibañez, Gleichgerrcht, & Manes, 2010). Although the capacity for emotion is said to be an essential property of the soul, the evidence from brain damage indicates that this capacity cannot survive the death of the brain.

I won’t go through the various analyses provided in this essay by the authors, but as a teaser here are the topics covered:

Perception

Cortical blindness

Awareness, Comprehension, and Recognition

Agnosias

Hemiagnosia

Prosopagnosia

Akinetopsia

Phonagnosia

Simultanagnosia

Visual agnosia

Anosognosia

Memory

Anterograde amnesia/ Retrograde amnesia

Personality

Language

Aphasias: “Fluent” or sensory aphasia/ “Nonfluent” or motor aphasia / conduction aphasia.

Emotion

alexithymia,

Decision-Making

Social Cognition and Theory of Mind

Moral Judgment and Empathy

Neurological Disorders and Disease

The Unity of Consciousness

What we get from this anthology again and again are arguments showing physiology-soul dualists are arguing for an entity (the soul) that is completely undetectable and serves absolutely no function, except as theological wishful thinking used to explain such things as why an existence of such inexplicable human and animal suffering could be permitted by a powerful God whose main trait is love (Justice promised in the next life, not this one), or how life could be meaningful if we just exist for a brief time and then nothing.  In a life that is so obviously not traceable back to an omnipotent, omnibenevolent creator, we have been thrown into a history that willed wishful thinking in the place of common sense (as humans often do). 

Do pick up a copy of the anthology if you are interested in pursuing these issues further here: https://www.amazon.com/Myth-Afterlife-against-After-Death-ebook/dp/B00UV3VFW8

bookmark_borderThe Myth of An Afterlife 8: Chapter 4 on Wasting Away

The Myth Of An Afterlife

Chapter Four

Dissolution into Death

The Mind’s Last Symptoms Indicate Annihilation

David Weisman

From previous posts, I’d like to make a distinction between the causal understanding of the unconscious and the frame mode.  For instance, we might say some repressed trauma in my younger life is causing dysfunction at my present age.  Put this way, it’s like saying expertly riding a bike would entail unconsciously experiencing one’s long gone training wheels as one expertly rides.  That’s not what I’m interested in here, but rather how the mind unconsciously frames experience so that these frames color the objects of experience.  So, for instance, the paranoid schizophrenic may experience the couple across the street as conspiring against him, but this depends on the schizophrenic’s mind presenting or framing the world to him in a conspiracy laden way.  The individual object of experience (the supposedly conspiring pair of people) announces its world, like, to use Heidegger’s example,  the van Gogh picture above of the peasant’s shoes expresses a world of abject poverty.  This twofold “what” and “how” of experience, what we encounter and how the mind frames it, will helps us to further understand what the brain is doing in creating experience.  This what/how context is the basic interpretation of Being (essentia/existentia) which we have inherited from the tradition, and guides us even today.  Even thoughtful apprehension follows this pattern, and so we are not only concerned with the “what” of our concepts, but also “how” they are grounded.

 In the introduction to today’s chapter, we read

  • This paper looks at progressive neurological diseases showing brain decline correlated with the decline of consciousness, as well as the content of consciousness. For instance, a young man’s healthy and fully functional brain generated an intelligent and lovely self, but then an aggressive brain tumor grew deep within his brain. As the tumor grew, it rendered brain tissue dysfunction and direct effects followed. From focal destruction of brain tissue, an aphasia first results. What follows is the dissolution of a functional brain, a mind, a person, and what some call a soul. From more widespread destruction of brain tissue, more functions erode until a minimally conscious state results. Intact and functional brain tissue is required to produce one’s consciousness and personality. When these brain tissues become dysfunctional and die, everything taken as the soul appears to die with them. 1. Left Brain Slow Progressive Decline – 1.1 Behind the Case — 2. Right Brain Progressive Decline — 3. Alien Limb — 4. Fallacious Objections — 5. Lucid Moments, Coma Recoveries — 6. The Correlation is Not Causation “Problem”

Weisman’s essay  examines in detail how all the characteristics traditionally attributed to the soul, even awareness and will, can slowly be seen to waste away as the corresponding causal sections of the brain waste away.

  • On the way to death, these brains progress from normal to abnormal. The mind, supported by the brain, does so as well, and in lockstep with the brain’s progression.

Weisman gives the powerful example of Mr. McCurt to show how we can see a 1 to 1 correspondence between the deterioration of the brain and the deterioration of the mind:

  • At some moment Mr. McCurt was alive and at another moment he was dead. But as a person, he dwindled down to nothing long before then. In every way that matters, he had died long before his heart stopped beating. He experienced the death of linguistic ability, independence, an internal mental life, and even his consciousness, followed by the death of the primitive reflexes responsible for his breathing and heart rate. And then, and only then, our society judged that he had fulfilled the criteria for death. But what does that mean? By then he had been run down quite extensively. His cardiopulmonary death was only the tiniest step over our society’s arbitrary finish line … Sadly, Mr. McCurt is only one person among many who have succumbed to a neurologically irreversible process. He clearly demonstrates the perfect correlation between brain destruction and mind erosion, but nearly any other case would be illustrative. I see patients with Alzheimer’s disease, in which a version of Mr. McCurt’s story is replayed, presenting with memory loss, progressing into cognitive disturbances across the board, becoming mute, and, if allowed, vegetative over a decade or so. A similar process unfolds in frontotemporal dementias. Seeing a loved one stricken with a brain illness compels the recognition that brain functions produce mental functions, and consequently brain diseases affect the mind—that thing that most religions take to be the soul. These cases happen all around us; here we’re only looking at one of them … Consider the meaning of “soul” again: “The spiritual or eternal part, separate from the body.” For a person to survive death in any meaningful way, something must survive. For Mr. McCurt to survive death, that inner life—that feeling that only he had, as only you have—needs to survive. This unified little god, the one with control, moods, linguistic ability, and insight, needs to survive. That’s what religious conceptions of an afterlife promise. Otherwise, what’s the point? And why not accept it? After all, you feel like an immaterial little god up there, just behind your eyes. It’s an easy belief to hold because it feels like it might just be true. But feeling that something is true doesn’t make it so. The idea of a soul rings true until the moment that you consider Mr. McCurt’s presentation, decline, and death. For his symptoms and decline are only understandable in terms of the way that his tumor affected his brain …Mr. McCurt’s case demonstrates a scientifically modest but theologically profound conclusion. With either dysfunction (first) or destruction (later) of language circuitry, a person is rendered aphasic. Our linguistic abilities do not survive the death of our left temporal/frontal cortex. Nor do our memories survive the death of hippocampal neurons. So how could linguistic ability or memory possibly survive the death of the entire brain?. Does anyone believe that a dead kidney can make urine? Or that a dead heart can push a pulse? These are trivial scientific questions, and it is only due to ancient religious assumptions and modern cultural inertia and indoctrination that anyone doubts them when considering the death of the brain. It gets worse for the soul proponent. Take a moment to think about yourself, or the people that you love. Everything that you think about relies on assigning meaning. Our internal mental life relies mostly on words. Our thoughts are largely verbal, residing mostly in the left hemisphere (which controls the right side of the body, the side that it is usually much easier for us to control). Language underlies the bulk of our thoughts, and it is difficult (but not impossible) to communicate nonverbally, even subjectively. After his first surgery, Mr. McCurt did not become deaf to words; his problem went much deeper than that. He couldn’t assign meaning to the collections of phonemes that he heard. Nor could he utter words—even though he wasn’t mute. Again, we see belief in a soul cut to the bone. How can a soul proponent possibly account for the data? What survives the death of neuronal activity if every mental function and experience is due to neuronal activity?  Language function could neither withstand the initial dysfunction of his neurons, nor survive their later destruction.

In the second part of the paper, the Weisman wants to show how the mind is not a “soulish” unified stream of consciousness, but actually multiple flows.  Dennett is cited that

  • There is no single, definitive “stream of consciousness,” because there is no central Headquarters, no Cartesian Theatre where “it all comes together” for the perusal of a Central Meaner [a single soul or ‘decider’]. Instead of such a single stream (however wide), there are multiple channels in which specialist circuits try, in parallel pandemoniums, to do their various things, creating Multiple Drafts as they go. Most of these fragmentary drafts of “narrative” play short-lived roles in the modulation of current activity but some get promoted to further functional roles, in swift succession, by the activity of a virtual machine in the brain. (1991, p. 253)

The example of alien limb syndrome is given by Weisman to show how there are multiple processes going on that are not a unitary system.

  • Alien limb syndrome occurs when the right, nonverbal hemisphere becomes disconnected from the volitional control of the left, verbal one. The right hemisphere then performs an action that is not under the volitional control of the person’s consciousness. This phenomenon supports (and informs) the notion that the brain carries multiple narrative streams… You’ve likely experienced exactly this if you’ve ever found yourself absentmindedly picking a scab, picking your teeth, or fixing your hair. Competing streams within our motor system can be demonstrated by a simple home neurology experiment. Sit comfortably, lift your right foot off the floor, then rotate it in clockwise circles. Got it going? Now concentrate on drawing the number six on the page with your right hand. Check your foot. In which direction is it moving? Counterclockwise… Regardless of specific neuronal mechanism, this little test shows how one stream (“move the leg clockwise”) can be overruled by a competing stream. Moving the right leg in a clockwise manner seems entirely volitional, but as soon as you start drawing the six (or even just imagine drawing it), you can see just how illusory the perception of volition is. We are buffered by nonvolitional experiences all of the time. It is a wonder that we consider ourselves to be volitional agents at all, but the very nature of the soul delusion affords the ability to overlook the obvious.

Weisman argues this is entirely brain based, and even the illusion of an existing will is contradicted by experiments that show brain activity prior to conscious events.

  • When averaged over many trials to get rid of background noise, the EEG picks up a summed neuronal firing that precedes the subject’s voluntary action by approximately one-half to one second. Amazingly, the EEG signal becomes more robust with increased motor complexity, need of accuracy, or risk (Regan, 1989). It is a signal reflecting neuronal activity preceding movement. The implications are immediate. Brain events come first, then conscious events. The brain is causing both movement and the synchronous conscious perception of willful movement. Considering one’s own finger would seem to indicate that volition and motion are exactly the same thing. There is no seam to movement unless the neuronal machinery responsible for the false perception breaks down. But when tested, we see evidence of a group of neurons firing, becoming a new stream, sending their collective impulses down to the spinal cord, and breaking into consciousness at the same time, displacing the previous stream before diving below the surface.

This average everyday notion of will is different from the philosophical one.  With Kant, for instance, as I explained in a previous post, Will is not freedom from, but freedom for, where the will unconsciously self-legislates rules that the person follows as a function of being human.  For instance, I unconsciously give my self the rule that I morally accompany all my actions.  This rule is the condition of the possibility of humans being moral animals.  Schelling clarified this that our humanity consists in our capacity for evil, in that only humans can sink below animals in terms of depravity.

To conclude, Weisman argues soul proponents are really guilty of special pleading, because in every other physical process it is obvious the effects are grounded in physiological functioning, so why wouldn’t that be true of the brain/mind?

  • kidney failure prevented a patient from producing urine, it would be logical to think that kidneys function to make urine. If certain toxins collect in the blood, it is appropriate to believe that the kidney filters them out of it. Kidney functions are not “merely correlated” with urine production, just as kidney lesions are not merely correlated with absence of urine, or gut activity is nothing more than correlated with digestion. Perhaps this is easier to see than the implications of the correlations between brain activity and mental activity, but we find the exact same principles at play. The spinal cord is correlated with sensory and motor signal transfer. But what do we mean by this? Just that when it is intact, the spinal cord allows sensory signals from the feet to go up to the brain, and motor signals from the brain to go down to the feet.

Above I said “This average everyday notion of Will is different from the philosophical one,” which comes across a little disrespectful. What I was trying to stress was that the usual understanding of “Will” can be, for instance, (i) I decide to get up, (ii) then I get up. From the point of view of the brain, this understanding of Will is preserved, just that brain activity is shown to precede the conscious state of wanting to get up. By contrast, when Kant speaks of “Will” he means a causality of freedom (humans founded on themselves) where the will auto-affects itself with rules, for instance in morality, that I am morally attached to all my actions, as opposed to lower animals and certain mentally challenged people who aren’t morally responsible in this way. Unconsciously legislating this rule makes moral experiences and judgments possible.

bookmark_borderBlogging Through Augustine/Martin’s Anthology “The Myth of an Afterlife” part 7

The Myth of an Afterlife post 7: Personality

Chapter Three: (pg 69) Explaining Personality: Soul Theory versus Behavior Genetics

By: Jean Mercer

 As I mentioned in a previous post, the guiding perspective we inherited from the history of Philosophy is the issue of Being, which has traditionally been interpreted in terms of essentia or questioning beings in terms of “what” they are, and existentia or questioning beings in terms of “how” they are.

Even in Plato’s time, there has been an ambiguity in what we mean by “essence.”  On the one hand, if I ask after the essence of house, I’m asking for what is general or common.  By contrast, if I ask after the essence of Socrates, I mean what is central and unique about him.  Keeping these issues in mind, what is ownmost in Socrates, let’s consider the topic of personality.

The introduction for this chapter reads:

  • This paper explores the causes of the unique individual patterns of reaction we call personality and compares the view that these are determined by the individual’s soul with the view that biological factors are responsible for personality characteristics. The paper discusses current evidence for genetic influences on temperament, psychopathology, and intelligence and examines complexities such as the influence of environment and epigenetic factors. It concludes that in all likelihood our unique personality traits are determined by biological factors alone, without any need to appeal to a nonmaterial or ethereal element. 1. Confirming Nonexistence — 2. What is a Soul? — 3. Personality, Soul, and Behavior Genetics — 4. Measuring Personality – 4.1 Temperament – 4.2 Psychopathology – 4.3 Intelligence — 5. Examining the Genotype and Its Effects – 5.1 The Human Genome – 5.2 Polygenic Effects – 5.3 Epigenesis and Imprinting – 5.4 Gene-Environment Interactions – 5.5 Evolutionary Psychology — 6. Connections between Genotype and Behavioral Phenotype – 6.1 Temperament – 6.2 Psychopathology – 6.3 Intelligence — 7. Conclusion: The Principle of Parsimony Undermines Soul Theory

Before systematically applying the study of genetics to humans, we have seen this connection in animals:

  • Before technology for the study of genetic material was developed, some information about the effect of the genotype on the phenotype was already in place. This was derived from familial studies and from systematic breeding of plants and domestic animals. Work on behavior genetics began with insights gained from observation of domestic animals; for example, it was well-known that some breeds of pigs take excellent care of their offspring, while others must be monitored to prevent them from lying on or even eating their piglets.

We can see the importance of genetic influence in all types of environments:

  • First, there are active interactions when an individual’s genetic makeup pushes him or her to seek out specific types of environmental experiences. A person who is biologically inclined to risk-taking, for example, may involve himself in risky physical sports, become expert at them because of practice, and thus become more inclined to carry out risky actions. Second, in passive gene-environment interactions, a child is born into an environment that has already been shaped by the parents’ genetically determined behavioral traits. If the parents are predisposed to low activity levels, for instance, they may provide little encouragement for the child’s physical activity and may even punish it, or may choose to live in a home full of breakable possessions that are likely to produce trouble for even a moderately active child. Finally, in evocative gene-environment interactions, children’s genetically determined behavior causes specific types of responses from adults, and those responses help shape the child’s behavioral phenotype. In each of these situations examination of the genotype alone would be no more than partially successful in explaining behavioral traits.

The author points to the genetic dependence of the personality from such varied aspects from psychopathology to intelligence.  For instance, she writes:

  • Strong heritability of general cognitive ability (GCA) has been reported by a variety of studies carried out on different populations (Johnson, 2010). Interestingly, the measured heritability of GCA increases with age—that is, older monozygotic twins are more likely to have about the same IQ than younger ones. During childhood, shared environmental influences account for about 35 percent of variation, and genetic factors for about 30 percent; in later adulthood, genetic factors account for 80 percent of the variability.

This makes good sense given what we know about aptitude and creativity.  Aristotle interestingly asked why people who have achieved so much in the various intellectual pursuit domains were so consistently melancholic.  Even Thales and Heraclitus remarked that thinkers are not close to life.  There seems to be a genetic connection between this kind of creativity and being a step back from life, not being caught up in the everyday goings on of things.  In German this is called Nicht-Da-Sein or Weg-Sein, a distance from life.  It makes sense, because such a personality trait as melancholia would grant perspective, being able to see the forest despite the trees:  It’s like a person who can’t see the toxic nature of their romantic relationship even though it is blatantly obvious to her friend because she is too caught up in it and close to it.

The genetic base for intelligence also makes good sense when we further analyze it into its component parts of the various aptitude domains of Multiple Intelligences.  So, for instance, someone might be highly effective and creative when it comes to linguistics and music and art, but not so in the domains of math and bodily/kinesthetic pursuits.

As for things like anxiety, bipolar, and schizophrenia, that there is a biological base for these traits is amply evidenced by the effectiveness of medication on treating them.  Certainly, there are environmental factors.  Descartes redefined truth as certainty, free from doubt, following a tradition that stretched from Thomas to Luther that what had to be certain, in the sense of freedom from doubt, was certainty at the salvation of the soul.  The problem for us moderns with this “certainty stance” toward life is that if we are in the mode of securing against doubt all the time, this is going to increase anxiety levels analogous to the diet-er obsessed with healthy food who is exacerbating a problem because they are thinking about food all the time.  A Cartesian-like experience of obsessive systematic doubting could certainly result in a psychotic episode or balloon into OCD, but all of this simply represents what is going on at the physical level, which is why medication is so important along with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, for instance.

 Similarly, our “person-ality” (constructed like animal-ity) is going to affect the way we experience the world.  So, an average person like myself is not going to experience the world like Einstein or Mozart, any more than I will experience the conspiracy-laden world of certain bipolars/schizophrenics, or the profound lack of certainy of someone with severe OCD.  The way the mind encounters the stuff of sense is not primarily  “knowing,” but organizing/schematizing this chaos because of how it is enjoyable, revulsive, and useful to us.  Hence, if the material did not serve this function, it may not be encountered.  Hence, Heidegger says:

  • “The angle of vision, and the realm it opens to view, themselves draw the borderlines around what it is that the creature can or cannot encounter.  For example, a lizard hears the slightest rustling in the grass but it does not hear a pistol shot fired quite close by.  Accordingly, the creature develops a kind of interpretation of its surroundings and thereby of all occurrence, not incidentally, but as the fundamental process of life itself: ‘The perspectival is the basic condition of all life (VII, 4) … The living creature possesses the character of a perspectival preview which circumscribes a line of horizon about him, within whose scope something can come forward into appearance for him at all (Heidegger, 1991, 212).” 

When we speak of beings as “substances with properties,” this is an effective way of organizing the world, though it is not “objective,” which we see the more empirical we get, such as at the quantum level where “substance with properties” is not as much of a useful descriptive category as it is at the macro level.  Physicist Carlo Rovelli has argued Time is like this, not existing at the quantum level.