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.
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.
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:
Awareness, Comprehension, and Recognition
Anterograde amnesia/ Retrograde amnesia
Aphasias: “Fluent” or sensory aphasia/ “Nonfluent” or motor aphasia / conduction aphasia.
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
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.
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.
I just wanted to share this interview from today with Dr. James McGrath by Derek on Mythvision podcast. It’s interesting because it shows how historical reasoning works when we try to sift through the evidence to find historical nuggets. So, for instance, of John the Baptizer Jesus was recorded as saying things like:
“Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11, Luke 7:28)”
“The Law and the Prophets were until John came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is being proclaimed, and everyone tries to enter it by force(Luke 16:16)”
You can see the problem for Jesus mythicism here, since it’s hard to imagine the early church inventing Jesus saying that John the Baptist was greater than him, or that the turning point in history was John, not Jesus.
In chapter 2, Matt McCormick presents a strong probabilistic case that human cognitive abilities, memories, personalities, thoughts, emotions, conscious awareness, and self-awareness are dependent upon the brain to occur/ exist and thus cannot survive the death of the brain. McCormick makes his case by providing a broad overview of the general lines of evidence that even the highest mental functions are produced by brain activity, evidence that does not sit well with the notion of any sort of soul or ethereal double that can function completely independently of the brain. Yet this notion is presupposed by all versions of the survival hypothesis that do not depend exclusively upon miraculous bodily resurrection.
McCormick outlines his general argument as follows:
1. Human cognitive abilities, memories, personalities, thoughts, emotions, conscious awareness, and self-awareness (in short, the features that we attribute to the personal soul) are dependent upon the brain to occur/exist. 2. The brain does not survive the death of the body 3. Therefore, the personal soul does not survive the death of the body.
To begin with, McCormick makes the general point regarding the dependency of the mind on the brain.
Decades of evidence from stroke victims, motorcycle accidents, car wrecks, construction site accidents, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, positron emission tomography (PET) scans, brain imaging, and other medical studies have given us a detailed picture of which portions of the brain are active in conjunction with specific cognitive abilities and mental states. What that research has shown is that minds depend upon brains. Damaging a part of the brain destroys a part of our thoughts, eliminates a cognitive ability, or alters some personal or emotional capacity. Restoring the electrochemical functions of the brain renews the mental function.
McCormick argues what science teaches is that brain damage can pinpoint the section of the brain responsible for which cognitive functions, and that the mind is best explained as being entirely dependent. Even something as basic as awareness can be wiped away and leave a person in a permanent vegetative state. Even at the simplest level the physical can alter the mental, such as with a pill or caffeine. Mental functions are directly proportional to their physical brain complexity in creatures, and even humans in their evolutionary history became more cognitively apt as their brains developed. So why did consciousness develop?
There are countless neural assemblies that register various aspects of our environments and internal states. With conscious awareness, natural selection found a mechanism for summarizing many of the most pertinent facts quickly, making these discriminations available to executive planning faculties. The biological usefulness of conscious awareness is to “produce the best current interpretation of the visual scene, in the light of past experience either of ourselves or our ancestors (embodied in our genes), and to make available, for a sufficient time, to the parts of the brain that contemplate, plan and execute voluntary motor outputs (of one sort or another)” (Crick & Koch, 1995, p. 121). Memory, emotions, awareness of self and others, attention, and other elements of our cognitive constitutions fit into this general evolutionary picture as adaptations, byproducts, or kludges (improvised assemblages).
This goes beyond McCormick a little, but it would seem too that categorizing serves a further evolutionary function, and provides an interesting explanation of the relationship between particulars and universals beyond mere abstraction: so, a particularly scrumptious meal may have presenced to primitive man as “dinner incarnate (like we say of a Van Gogh we say “Now that’s a painting, Art incarnate) to the man’s aroused physiology; an average meal comparatively less so; and week old food hardly at all.
McCormick argues the belief in the soul also has an evolutionary ground and relates to our tendency to assign minds to things even that don’t have minds
The animism of primitive religions is a result of imbuing the weather, the oceans, and other natural objects with spiritual forces. This overactive propensity to find minds where they are not feeds the belief that souls survive or are autonomous. If we are prone to find minds where they are not, then it is only natural to conceive of minds as unhinged from brains. Minds then become things that can exist in anything, whether they have brains or not. And it is a small step from here to the idea that perhaps minds don’t need to inhabit any physical object at all. Ironically, evolution produced brains that are conscious, as well as a powerful tendency to attribute consciousness to things that don’t have brains.
It is fascinating to think along with Bart Ehrman and the idea that Luke had a Moral Influence interpretation of the cross rather than a Paying Sin Debt interpretation. But what about Paul? Paul was the great hero of Luke’s work Acts. It seems that Luke had not read Paul’s letters nor seemed to be aware of them. Just the same, it is not unreasonable to suppose Luke would have known the core of what Paul was teaching about the cross, and then conveyed it in Luke-Acts. Perhaps reading Paul as a cross sin debt payment advocate is wrong? This takes us back to the core teaching of the cross, of whether Jesus died to pay our sin debt, or rather to make our hidden sinful nature conspicuous to inspire repentance? Clearly, there didn’t seem to be any theological significance attached to Jesus’ death before he died. If the disciples thought Jesus was supposed to die for theological reasons, they wouldn’t have gotten violent at the arrest. It’s much easier to see how the death of the Davidic heir Jesus would have blossomed into a Moral Influence sense of the cross after his death, as opposed to suddenly a blood magic sin debt atonement interpretation appeared.
In the aftermath of Roe being struck down so close to July 4th, it’s important to remember that rights and freedoms, and even democracy, are a work in progress, and are always tentative because as Reich pointed out, if history has taught us nothing else it’s that the people can and will demand their own repression. A few days ago, a 10 year old pregnant rape victim was forced to go out of state from Ohio to Indiana for her abortion: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/jul/03/ohio-indiana-abortion-rape-victim
On this July fourth, I hope my American friends understand how important their country is, but also that there is a lot of work left to be done. Back in 2018, Ana Kasparian of The Young Turks posted this viral video of the anger many feel at religious people who want to impose their beliefs eliminating abortion rights:
A great difficulty in all this is that conservatives are arguing that liberals want to kill “human person babies,” while liberals want to argues conservatives are demanding women lose their right to autonomy over their own body for an unborn that is in no sense a “person.” Clearly, a lot can be resolved here if conservatives can clarify in what sense the unborn is a “person,” since they are the ones making the positive claim.
Welcome to the June 2022 Biblical Studies Carnival at The Secular Frontier, the official blog of The Secular Web. The Secular Web is owned and operated by Internet Infidels, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization dedicated to defending and promoting a naturalistic worldview on the Internet. Naturalism is the “hypothesis that the natural world is a closed system” in the sense that “nothing that is not a part of the natural world affects it.” As such, “naturalism implies that there are no supernatural entities,” such as gods, angels, demons, ghosts, or other spirits, “or at least none that actually exercises its power to affect the natural world.” And without miraculous interventions into nature from a spiritual realm, neither prayer nor magick are more effective than a placebo.
So what is a Biblical Studies Carnival? Prof. Phil Long explains:
In the early days of blogging, people would collect blog posts on a particular topic and call it a carnival. I have no idea why a carnival (as opposed to a yard sale, a circus, or a monthly index… it’s an internet thing). There were psychology carnivals, sociology carnivals, etc. In March 2005, Joel Ng posted the first Biblical Studies Carnival at his now defunct blog, Ebla Logs. But nothing is really dead on the internet. You can still read that first carnival on The Wayback Machine. The first link is to Jim Davila, at PaleoJudaica.com, a remarkable blog still going strong after all these years. I notice the one-time keeper of the Biblioblog Top Fifty list, Peter Kirby (although his blog Christian Origins is now gone). Jim West hosted in November 2006, although that version of his blog no longer exist (as far as I know). Some of the older blogs have (sadly) been taken over by spammers.
Prior to 2012, Jim Linville kept the list of Biblical Studies Carnivals. When Jim retired from this role in August 2012, I volunteered to be the “keeper of the carnival list.” This means I try to draft (harass) people into volunteering to host the Biblical Studies Carnival. I keep a master list of Carnivals with links here on Readng Acts (in the banner, or click here).
Blogging has come and gone, and maybe come back again. Some bloggers moved into podcasting or producing YouTube videos. Others remembered they had a real life beyond blogging. Sometimes students blogged for a few years then graduated and got jobs that took them away from regular posts. Nevertheless, some have persisted. Even though I would love to see the return of N. T. Wrong, there is a new generation of biblical studies bloggers.
Our Sections This Month are
(A) Hebrew Bible
(B) New Testament
(D) The Bible And Current Affairs: Dueling Reactions To SCOTUS Overturning Roe v Wade
The Bible makes the grand claim that the creator of our planet is perfect in all its aspects including morality, and loves the innocent preborn and children, a view believed by billions. But the testaments make no mention of the fate of the souls of humans who die before they have matured enough to decide whether or not to worship God in its flawless heaven. That’s because some 50 billion children have died, and a few hundred billion preborn, due to natural causes no creator has put a stop too. My ground breaking 2009 Philosophy and Theology study was the first to calculate the shocking death toll of the young, and show how it wrecks classic Free Will Theodicy, and the possibility that a prolife God exists.
(c) [For the Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism paper Pt 1]
The Philosophy and Theologystudy disproving the existence of a moral creator was ignored by the theologians who continue to push the false concept, while paying no attention to the mass death of kids and the preborn, as well as the news media that failed to cover it. And even atheists have not caught on to the implications of the Children’s Holocaust. So I did a follow up study in Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism, updating some of the analysis, and adding a section on the Brutalization of the Animals that a creator if it exists has been callously fine with.
(d) [For the Essays in the Philosophy and of Humanism paper Pt 2]
Part 2 of my Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism studies starts by continuing to discuss how it is not possible for the good God of the Bible to exist because it set up a planet so toxic to children that it has killed tens of billions of them, while imposing immense suffering on the other innocents, the animals. It goes on the describe how worship of such a cruel creator in search of boons is deeply immoral, and poses the Moral Challenge to theists to either at long last confront the Megadisaster of the Innocents, or admit they are wrong. It concludes by describing what atheists need to do to get the word out about the premature death of most humans and the vast suffering of animals, and how that doing so has the potential to accelerate the decline of theism here and abroad.
Keith Augustine selected articles from the Secular Web Kiosk and Library
Ever wonder how you can be saved? Christians can’t agree, and the confusion is embarrassing. A survey of sixteen major denominations proves the point.
It should be noted that my reasons for writing this article were as follows: (1) A response to well-meaning Christians who try to reconvert me; (2) a way to deal with my own church-indoctrinated fear of hell (and possibly help others deal with their own fear); and (3) to get both Christians and non-Christians to examine Christianity. The article also has the ancillary intent of casting doubt on the truth of Christianity as revealed by the Bible, but this was not my main intent. Nor should this article be seen as a formal proof or technical essay for the nonexistence of God.
Is the Bible the work of God? Is it a valid guidebook? How can we know? This introduction serves as a very basic preface to the makeup of the Bible and to how the Bible came about, as well as to some basic kinds of possible biblical problems–especially the kinds of problems inherent in a fundamentalist/literalist approach to the Bible that views the Bible as the inerrant, infallible, inspired, and plenary “Word” of a perfect, omnipotent, and loving God.
Is something good because it is pleasing to God, or is something pleasing to God because it is good? Is something good because God commands it, or is what is good inherently good regardless of what God or anyone else happens to think about it? If “the wages of sin is death,” how does the death of an innocent satisfy such an obligation? How one answers these questions has profound implications.
Almost all evangelical Christians believe that the writing of the Bible was divinely inspired and represents God’s main revelation to humanity. They also believe that the Bible contains special features which constitute evidence of its divine inspiration. This would be a use of the Bible to prove God’s existence within natural theology rather than within revealed theology, since the book’s features are supposed to be evident even to (open-minded) skeptics. Furthermore, since a divinely inspired work must be true, those features are thereby also evidence of the Bible’s truth, and thus can be used in support of Christianity as the one true religion. When expressed that way, the reasoning can be construed as an argument both for God’s existence and for the truth of the gospel message from the alleged special features of the Bible.
There’s a discrepancy between the Gospel of Luke on the one hand, and the Gospels of Mark and Matthew on the other, as to where Jesus’ disciples were instructed to stay after Jesus’ resurrection. Luke has the post-Resurrection Jesus instructing them to stay in Jerusalem, whereas Mark and Matthew have him telling them to stay in Galilee. In an article for Apologetics Press, Eric Lyons attempts to explain away this discrepancy by positing that Jesus’ post-Resurrection instructions to his disciples in Luke didn’t necessarily happen on Easter Sunday, but could have happened on a subsequent day. In this response to Apologetics Press, however, J. C. Jackson points out that this interpretation is flatly inconsistent with the conclusions of innumerable Christian scholars and theologians. Worse still, it’s inconsistent with the understanding of early Christians themselves, who were willing to simply remove references to an event in Luke’s Gospel altogether in order to smooth over the timeline problems that keeping them would lay bare. But most damning of all, Jackson’s direct analysis of the context clearly demonstrates that Apologetics Press’ rationalization of the discrepancy immediately falls apart.
In this highly original and challenging essay, Raymond Bradley develops an argument that all religions are probably false inspired by David Hume’s famous discussion of the ‘contrary miracles’ of rival religions. According to Bradley’s argument from contrariety, any one of the vast numbers of religions ever conceived (or to be conceived) makes factual claims contradicted by the claims of all of the other religions. Moreover, the claims of any particular religion are generally as well-attested as the claims of all of the others. Consequently, given the “weight” of the “evidence” of all of the other religions, the probability that the claims of any one religion are true is exceedingly low. From this it follows that all religions are probably false.
“I want to give thanks to the Virgin Mary because today the unborn in our country are little more protected; this is the work of God,” @bpdflores at Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle.
·The SC decision today vindicates every Christian who voted for Trump despite their understandable concerns about some of his personal behavior. Life and death policy always trumps personality. Millions of babies will now live because enough people voted policy over personality.
·Twice yesterday, I heard @CNN hosts ask “but what about all the unwanted children that will be born?” Can we please retire that talking point? 1. There are long adoption waiting lists; 2. Even if a child will be unwanted that isn’t a morally sufficient reason to kill it in utero.
~ Sean McDowell
ROE is overturned. Amazing. I honestly never thought I would live to see the day.
Pray for those, many, in fact, who undoubtedly are angered over the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade. A heart that is convinced it is justifiable to murder an unborn child is a heart that is in desperate need of transformation, which only God can accomplish.
~ Lee Strobel
·On all levels, Roe v Wade was an abomination. Thank God it was overturned today by a courageous court. Pray for safety of pro-life centers that are already being attacked by domestic terrorists. Now this becomes a state-by-state struggle for the lives of the unborn.
·Big thanks to @JohnBlakeCNN for including me in this article that is currently on the @CNN homepage. I hope many people will read it and see why, not just Christians, but any reasonable person should support legal protection for the unborn:
‘A LIFE IS A LIFE’: @kayleighmcenany blasts the Left for framing abortion rights around bodily autonomy only.
·Praise God and thank you President Trump!
~ Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene🇺🇸
~ United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
“Now is the time to begin the work of building a post-Roe America. It is a time for healing wounds and repairing social divisions; it is a time for reasoned reflection and civil dialogue, and for coming together to build a society and economy that supports marriages and families, and where every woman has the support and resources she needs to bring her child into this world in love.”
·As a woman, as an American, and as a Christian, I am mourning today’s devastating SCOTUS decision in the Dobbs case. I look with dread at what the future might hold for the health and welfare of women, for our individual rights and liberties and for equality under the law.
~ Michael Moore
·Make no mistake: The Supreme Court — 2/3 men & 2/3 Catholic — today forced its religious zealotry and bigotry upon an entire nation. We are now all told we must adhere to the teachings of the Catholic Church and Jerry Falwell. A fertilized egg is a full blown human being! SHAME!
~ Andrew Copson
An excellent point by the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief. In addition to all its other horrendous aspects, the end of a right to abortion is a massive violation of women’s freedom of conscience.
~ Ahmed Shaheed
·A huge setback for freedom of religion or belief of women and girls. There should be a renewed effort to reclaim equal rights for women & girls!
~ Barack Obama
·Today, the Supreme Court not only reversed nearly 50 years of precedent, it relegated the most intensely personal decision someone can make to the whims of politicians and ideologues—attacking the essential freedoms of millions of Americans.
Catholics on the right spent decades reducing church teaching to a single issue and linked arms with a conservative movement that is hostile to the church’s teachings about a consistent ethic of life and the common good. This ruling is the culmination of that misguided campaign.
~ Andrew L. Seidel
·Please listen to the brilliant @LeahLitman @kateashaw1 and @ProfMMurray break down this absolute trash opinion. No law, no rule of law, just vibes. Stay until the end, especially to hear Prof. Murray’s last lines.: see Episode 56: Roe is Dead. Now What? https://crooked.com/podcast-series/strict-scrutiny/
~ Michael Shermer
·I’m disinclined to catastrophize but I know religious conservatives well so believe me when I say that overturning Roe is just the beginning. They absolutely want it banned in every state. Some (a minority) would also like to ban contraception & same-sex/interracial marriage.
·For those senators who feel hoodwinked by the justices who lied to you in order to get your vote, please remember that YOU ARE THE BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT THAT LITERALLY MAKES THE LAWS. You CAN do something beyond just clutching your pearls for the cameras.
~ “But these historical facts don’t matter to Alito and the antiabortion movement because they undermine the version of American history they subscribe to what sociologist @GorskiPhilip calls ‘white Christian nationalism.'” (via Nick Fish)
~ Perspective by Samira K. Mehta and Lauren MacIvor Thompson
The Supreme Court’s abortion decision is based on a myth. Here’s why:
-The messaging needs to be clear, consistent and true. “Congress can override what the Supreme Court did and pass a law to legalize abortion. To do that, we need to elect 2 more Democratic Senators and to hold the House. Pres Biden will sign a law codifying Roe if that happens.”
~ Pastor Zach W. Lambert
I really wish the Christians who are celebrating the overturning of Roe could see the anxious and fearful messages I’ve been getting from women in our congregation all day. Maybe take a break from your online victory laps and listen to people who are really hurting right now.
~ Rev. Dr. Charles Allen on why the Supreme Court decision effectively establishes religion:
And while the Justices are at it, may be they can relocate the Supreme Court to Kabul, Tehran, Riyadh, Moscow or the Vatican. As a father of three girls, I take any assault on women’s rights & gender equality both a personal & professional challenge.
~ United Nations
“Access to safe, legal and effective abortion is firmly rooted in international human rights law” @mbachelet says Friday’s US Supreme Court ruling is “a huge blow to women’s rights and gender equality.”
~ Kyle Griffin
Clarence Thomas writes, in a concurring opinion, that the Supreme Court should reconsider Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell — the rulings that now protect contraception, same-sex relationships, and same-sex marriage.
~ –JL Martyn “History and Theology in the fourth gospel.
One thing, at least, is shared by all New Testament authors…none of them merely repeats the tradition. …everyone shapes it, bends it, makes selections among its riches, and even adds to it.
&, if personhood starts at conception, then what about identical twins? Do they split one & the same “personhood”? If not (as seems obvious), what do we call that thing that existed prior to it splitting? Terminating it cannot be terminating a human *person.*
“In the 18th century, abortion was completely legal before what was called the ‘quickening’ of a fetus – when a woman could first feel fetal movement, or roughly four and a half months through a pregnancy.”
– Law Prof. Geoffrey R. Stone
There was a push in the last century by postmodern philosophers such as Jacques Derrida and Emmanuel Levinas that Ethics, not Metaphysics, needed to be first philosophy. Some have extended this to the idea that Ethics needs to be first religion as well. Clearly, it is possible to come up examples, analogies, etc to illustrate contradictory positions like pro-life vs pro-choice, so obviously we need to do better in our ethical reasoning than just endlessly throwing examples at one another. In many ways, the debate seems odd. Being alive doesn’t carry with it a right to stay alive, and so we kill carrots, mushrooms, insects, chickens, etc. If the debate is to be framed in terms of the right to life of the human baby trumping a woman’s autonomy over her own body, I suppose a beginning point would be for conservatives to show, say, at 6 weeks that an unborn is not merely alive, but a person, however you’d like to define person. Conservatives are the ones making the positive claim, so the responsibility is on them to clarify in what sense the unborn is a person.
Why would someone equate being an embryo with being a person? …
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
Certainly, a human embryo becomes a lot more sacred if it is viewed as endowed with a life plan by God, rather than a human just being a evolutionary member of a DNA group that includes rodents (rats and mice) and rabbits. Still, it’s hard for me to watch 2 year old children dying of starvation and cancer, and still entertaining the possibility that despite this there is nonetheless a benevolent creator with a divine plan hidden in such horror. Human life seems to be so obviously not lived according to a plan of a loving creator, that claims we can’t terminate pregnancies because God intended the embryo to be the next Einstein seems absurd. So, let’s talk …
Thanks For Stopping By THE JUNE 2022 BIBLICAL STUDIES CARNIVAL!