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. 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.
-  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:
- Minds mature as brains mature
- Childhood mental development halts when childhood brain development halts
- Minds degenerate when brains degenerate (due to old age or traumatic brain injury)
- 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 induced or eliminated by brain stimulation
- Mental disorders can be cured by altering brain chemistry with drugs
- 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.