Thursday, September 20, 2012

Brain Wars

Here is the Amazon entry for Beauregard's new book.

The brain can be weighed, measured, scanned, dissected, and studied. The mind that we conceive to be generated by the brain, however, remains a mystery. It has no mass, no volume, and no shape, and it cannot be measured in space and time. Yet it is as real as neurons, neurotransmitters, and synaptic junctions. It is also very powerful.


—from Brain Wars



Is the brain "a computer made of meat," and human consciousness a simple product of electrical impulses? The idea that matter is all that exists has dominated science since the late nineteenth century and led to the long-standing scientific and popular understanding of the brain as simply a collection of neurons and neural activity. But for acclaimed neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, Ph.D., along with a rising number of colleagues and others, this materialist-based view clashes with what we feel and experience every day.



In Brain Wars, Dr. Beauregard delivers a paradigm-shifting examination of the role of the brain and mind. Filled with engaging, surprising, and cutting-edge scientific accounts, this eye-opening book makes the increasingly indisputable case that our immaterial minds influence what happens in our brains, our bodies, and even beyond our bodies. Examining the hard science behind "unexplained" phenomena such as the placebo effect, self-healing, brain control, meditation, hypnosis, and near-death and mystical experiences, Dr. Beauregard reveals the mind's capabilities and explores new answers to age-old mind-body questions.



Radically shifting our comprehension of the role of consciousness in the universe, Brain Wars forces us to consider the immense untapped power of the mind and explore the profound social, moral, and spiritual implications that this new understanding holds for our future.

39 comments:

Daniel Anderson said...

Read it! It is very good. While Dr. Beauregard took time to explain potential implications in the end of the book, I wished he would have taken more time within each individual chapter to discuss implications for the particular mental function being discussed.

Still, it was very interesting. One thing I got from it however is that Dr. Beauregard is not even one in a few mental experts out there who see particular scientific documented mental phenomena as detrimental to materialistic views of the mind.

Cole said...

If the mind was a non-physical, transendent thing then this would place it outside space-time. If it is outside space-time then it would be timeless and unchanging. How could such a thing then make decisions and choices? If it's timeless and spaceless it becomes like an eternal, unchanching, abstract object just frozen outside space-time.

Daniel Anderson said...

Cole,

You wrote, "If the mind was a non-physical, transendent thing then this would place it outside space-time."

Who said that being non-physical means transcendence? Secondly, do you have a theory of time to substantiate that idea?

Secondly, in a sense we do think beyond our material self. Victor's argument is that no belief is rationally inferred if it can be explained by completely non-rational causes.

Take software for example. It is not limited in the way hardware is. If you break the hardware the software may not function correctly. The software however could be installed in different hardware. That doesn't mean it transcends all hardware or works outside of the computer.

Now, I know software is still an interpretation of physical command signals / instructions, so the analogy is imperfect. Still, the fact that the mind could have potential immaterial functions does not mean it is unlimited.

Also, Cole, what's up? I remember reading on here several months back that you converted to Christianity because of the argument from beauty or something like that.

Cole said...

Hey Daniel,

Let me think about what you said. As to your question it's like this. If we accept the Christian's position, then God chose to create. Choosing instead to not-create would have been a greater good, as it would have necessarily avoided intense suffering and evil. Therefore, this God should have not chosen to create at all. This is one reason why I believe my Higher Power did not create the physical universe. What does my Higher Power do? Keeps me sober. Gives me peace and joy. Gives me confidence and hope. Fills my heart with love and compassion. And motivates me to take this love and compassion to others.

cl said...

Hi Cole. I hope you don't mind me sharing an objection. You wrote,

If the mind was a non-physical, transendent thing then this would place it outside space-time.

First off, I assume you're speaking of *human* minds here. If so, what makes you think that's true? What about "non-physical" or "transcendent" requires that a human mind be "outside" space-time? Why can't a human mind be ultimately non-physical despite correlation with the physical?

On my view, the word "transcendent" means "outside" in the sense of "not bound by." So, to say God is transcendent of space-time is simply to say that God is "above" or "beyond" or "not bound by" space-time. Same for the human mind: to say it is "transcendent" is simply to say that it is not bound by space-time; it transcends space-time.

I'm curious to hear how these things change your perception, if at all.

Cole said...

cl,

If it's beyond space-time then it wouldn't have any physical properties. If it's not beyond space-time then it would have physical properties. It would have time-like properties. Since it would be beyond space-time on your view and therefore not have time-like properties it would become timeless and therefore an unchanging, immaterial thing. I don't see how we could make choices if this was the case. It would become frozen like an abstract object.

BenYachov said...

Cole,

You haven't really shown us there are no things in space time that don't have physical properties. You just assume it without convincing argument.

(not that I believe in any Cartesian non-material substances nonsense mind you)

So your logic is flawed.

I will try to refrain from further corrections so as not to upset you.

But I could not resist.

Zach said...

Does anyone know any of the detailed arguments the author uses that is compelling? Anything specific about how scientific documented mental phenomena as detrimental to materialistic views of the mind?

I don't mean just saying 'placebo effect' but does he have an argument that the placebo effect hurts materialism?

Zach said...

People just interact with Cole normally. Ben that is just insulting, as you usually are with him.

BenYachov said...

Zack I am being patient & kind with him.

You are being a troll and trying to start trouble.

Now shoo!

Daniel Anderson said...

Zach, I read it. But I just took my allotted commenting time on another post. I will come back later and supply you with some of the thoughts from the book.

Victor Reppert said...

If all we mean by physical is that it has spatial properties, then shoot, I might qualify as a materialist. But Dennett would ride me out of his camp on a rail for blatant "skyhookery."

Cole said...

Hey Ben,

I'm not sure I understand what you are asking. The whole universe including space-time is evolving and changing as it is in motion. Things like the laws of logic are necessarily true and exist in all possible worlds. They don't change and are therefore beyond space-time. They are timeless. If our souls are beyond space-time they too would become timeless and unchanching. I don't see how we could then make choices. It seems more likely that our minds/souls are reducible to our physical brains. We exist within space-time. This seems obvious when people get alzhimers and loose their memory or with the mentally handicapped etc. etc.

BenYachov said...

Cole,

>If our souls are beyond space-time they too would become timeless and unchanching.

Our souls are not material things(nor are they immaterial substances. Like I always say screw Descartes the smeghead.) they are Substantive Forms and they are not beyond time and space nor are they un-changing.

The article says "[The Mind] has no mass, no volume, and no shape, and it cannot be measured in space and time.

There is a difference between saying something is not in space and time vs saying it cannot be measured in space and time.

For example a Black Hole is in Space & Time, good luck trying too measure it.

So I cannot logically with all due respect accept your reasoning here that an immaterial soul must be beyond space and time & unchanging.

An immaterial soul can be in space and time and it can change.

You are equating immaterial souls with the immaterial God who is outside space and time and is unchanging.

I don't find that logically coherent but you can believe what you like. I'm still pulling for ya guy.

Peace.

Cole said...

Ben,

If your God is outside space-time and unchanging then He couldn't have become Christ and took on flesh. This requires change. Moreover, He would have to have underwent another change as He exited space-time back into a timeless-spaceless existence with a physical body. This makes no sense.

Crude said...

If all we mean by physical is that it has spatial properties, then shoot, I might qualify as a materialist. But Dennett would ride me out of his camp on a rail for blatant "skyhookery."

Yeah, this is a real important point, and one the Thomists finally made me able to see. One thing I'll forever be grateful to TLS regarding is making me see that there are multiple conceptions of 'physical', and some concepts of physical are actually antithetical to the typical "naturalist".

BenYachov said...

@Cole

>This makes no sense.

This is largely because you haven't studied philosophical Theology or Aquinas.
When you study that it makes perfect sense & you wonder how on Earth you
believed before knowing it.

>If your God is outside space-time and unchanging then He couldn't have become Christ and took on flesh. This requires change.

Rather the immaterial human hypostasis would be replaced by the Divine Hypostasis of the Word. At best this would be a change
in Cambridge Properties but not a substansive change. But when we say God can't change we mean substansively He can't so your
example is not valid.

>Moreover, He would have to have underwent another change as He exited space-time back into a timeless-spaceless existence with a physical body.

There is no reason not to believe the Human nature of Christ dwells in Sempiternity with the Souls of the Blessed & when they get their bodies back at the resurrection they will all dwell together in Sempiternity. While the Divine Nature is by definition in Eternity & of Course is Eternity Itself by the doctrine of the Divine Simplicity.

You can believe what you like Cole but I'm afraid my reason & knowledge won't let me agree with you.

Peace.

God be with you & I'm still pulling for you.

Cheers.

cl said...

Cole,

"If it's beyond space-time then it wouldn't have any physical properties."

If I am suggesting that the human mind is ultimately a non-physical entity, what do you gain, argument-wise, to point out that it would lack physical properties? Isn't that just restating a given?

Here are my questions:

What about "non-physical" or "transcendent" requires that a human mind be "outside" space-time? Why can't a human mind be ultimately non-physical despite correlation with the physical?

im-skeptical said...

Zach,

"Does anyone know any of the detailed arguments the author uses that is compelling? Anything specific about how scientific documented mental phenomena as detrimental to materialistic views of the mind?"

No.

Daniel Anderson said...

im-skeptical,

That's awesome that you read it. I'm impressed, seriously.

So, you don't think it is detrimental to mental materialism that our conscious will and mental intentionality can affect the brain itself (neural plasticity) and even cause activation (or non-activation) of certain genes? I never said the book was a nail in the coffin. I just felt that it gave reason to doubt positions that do promote a materialistic mind.

Take The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker for example. Now, I actually really liked the book and I learned a lot from it. However, he took a very opposite stance to Dr. Beauregard, based on incomplete science that Brain Wars discusses. For him, mental materialism was all but proven with the influence our genetics have on the shape of our brain and therefore our behavior. He spent an awful lot of time claiming that "the ghost" was "exonerated" because neural plasticity was false and because we can not control the behavior influenced by our genes. So what does mental materialism look like to you? A view that hasn't proved a mind/brain dualism?

I can see how someone can take a skeptical position between the views. However, if new scientific findings come along which undermines the reasoning of others in favor of mental materialism then I think it is good reason to doubt mental materialism. Don't you?

Zach said...

Daniel:
"So, you don't think it is detrimental to mental materialism that our conscious will and mental intentionality can affect the brain itself (neural plasticity) and even cause activation (or non-activation) of certain genes?"

These examples like plasticity are not very strong if they are meant to cast doubt on materialism.

Neural plasticity is studied extensively by neuroscience, and is not some anomaly ignored (and I guarantee Pinker doesn't think neural plasticity is "false"). Google long-term potentiation.

The mind does influence the brain. But for the materialist, the mind just is the brain at some level, so they are fine with the mind (i.e., the brain) influencing the brain!

If you assume some kind of dualism, then of course the mind influencing the brain is strange for materialists. But this would just beg the question.

The big problem for materialists is qualia. Why is there something it is like for your brain to be in state X? This is the fundamental question they fail with, something Descartes and Leibniz saw.

ozero91 said...

If a person's brain was replaced with a silicon network of "neurons" which were functionally identical to organic neurons, would the person notice any difference? The physicalist, I think, would say that there would be no difference. But the problem would still remain, we still would not know how consciousness (or the illusion of consciousness), qualia, intentionality and free will (or the illusion of free will) arise from matter.

Zach said...

ozero91: like implanting an artificial heart, there are higher-level features that are important, it may not be the molecules that are relevant, but the spatiotemporal organization, information-processing facts, etc.. This doesn't mean it is a mystery any more than a pump (pumps are also multiply realizable).

The problem with qualia, unlike the pump, is that there is no intelligible link from the machinery (even if you include its organization and information-processing facts) to qualia. No need for weird neuron-replacing thought experiments to see this, IMHO.

cl said...

Daniel Anderson,

Your comments bring to mind something I've been thinking about lately WRT epiphenomenalism. Those who hold that view claim that the activity of the mind is merely a sort of neurological steam release. Here's how Stanford defines it: "the view that mental events are caused by physical events in the brain, but have no effects upon any physical events."

Doesn't the bolded part strike you as falsified in so many ways? For example,

1) Google around for research on the way thinking can affect the brain and body. That is an instance of the "mental" affecting the "physical."

2) If the mental cannot affect the physical, how do actors learn to cry on command?

3) If the mental cannot affect the physical, then how can people move objects using thought, either aided or unaided?

Etc.

cl said...

ozero91,

"If a person's brain was replaced with a silicon network of "neurons" which were functionally identical to organic neurons, would the person notice any difference?"

Taking that one step further, is it even possible, in principle, to verify a difference? After all, we can only rely on the perception of the subject.

Zach said...

cl: hopefully nobody here is advocating ephiphenomenalism. Most materialists, even, are not epiphenomenalists. The only people that are have obviously become wedded to a silly view from which epiphenomenalism is a consequence. That is sufficient to reject the original view!

cl said...

Zach,

Do you believe the things I mention are only problems for epiphenomenalists? If so, what other types of materialist are they problems for, and why? If not, why not?

Daniel Anderson said...

Zach, before anything else I should point out that Pinker does agree with neural plasticity to some extant, he just describes it as a change due to learning. Something has to "change" for learning to be possible, which makes sense. So, I don't know what led me to that mistake but it was a mistake. Thanks for pointing it out.

I agree with you in relation to qualia and conscience thought as true problems for completely materialistic conceptions of the mind.

I also did point out that Dr. Beauregard's point's were not a "nail" in the coffin for material conceptions of the mind. The science however is not affirming materialism by any means, and could lead one to doubt solely material conceptions of the mind.

im-skeptical said...

Daniel,

Why should you be surprised that I read a book? Do I seem that uninformed? I advise everyone to read things that might challenge their beliefs.

"you don't think it is detrimental to mental materialism that our conscious will and mental intentionality can affect the brain itself (neural plasticity)"

- Absolutely not. Actually, it's the other way around. The brain creates our conscious state. Our conscious state can in turn influence the body and the brain itself. Nothing there that needs a non-material explanation.

"and even cause activation (or non-activation) of certain genes?"

- I don't believe it. No citation given.

This book contains no new scientific findings, and some material that is dubious. It speaks of mystical experiences, (which I don't question), but assumes without any supporting evidence that there is something non-material behind it. Where is the evidence? All the real evidence he provides tends to support the physicality of the mind.

Daniel Anderson said...

"Why should you be surprised that I read a book? Do I seem that uninformed? I advise everyone to read things that might challenge their beliefs."

I was complimenting you. I was glad that you read it so we could discuss it further. I don't pretend to have all the answers or to be able to read and learn everything completely objectively. I appreciate that you read it and that you are discussing it with me. In my experience people don't take up on such an opportunity. Also, you got it done quick! :)

"The brain creates our conscious state. Our conscious state can in turn influence the body and the brain itself"

Hmm...considering the limited knowledge on consciousness, where it resides, etc etc. This seems a little suspicious. I would be a little more persuaded if you pointed to a particular area of the brain not subject to such change, like the central cortex (which I do not believe undergoes such changes). Even so, I do not believe one has shown that consciousness truly resides there. I wish BDK was here for this one.

"I don't believe it. No citation given."

It was on page 97 of the kindle edition of brain wars in relation to studies by Psychologist Jeffery Dusek and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School.

Cite below...

Beauregard, Mario (2012-04-24). Brain Wars: The Scientific Battle Over the Existence of the Mind and the Proof That Will Change the Way We Live Our Lives (p. 97). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Daniel Anderson said...
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Daniel Anderson said...

im-skeptical,

By the way, I should have wrote, "gene expression." More accurate but not much different.

im-skeptical said...

Daniel,

The article talks about changes in gene expression, which sounds more like changes in metabolic function than modifying the genetic code. I'll reserve further comment on that until I learn more about what he's really saying.

Daniel Anderson said...

im-skeptical,

I think that would be a pretty good assessment.

In the book Dr. Beauregard wrote - "Increasingly, we are seeing evidence that the mind also affects gene expression— the process of how a gene works within a cell. Each cell in the human body contains several thousand genes, but not all of them are active at the same time. Within any given cell, some genes will be expressed (or 'on') while other genes will not be expressed (they are said to be 'off'). Genes that are turned 'on' may somehow alter, for instance, our body’s response to stress."

im-skeptical said...

Regarding, where the mind resides, I hold the materialist view that the mind is the product of the brain. Of course, this is a topic where there is much unknown. But it's fair to say that the dualist position enjoys no greater scientific support. If you are a dualist, it's easy to see this material as consistent with that view. The same can be said for a materialist.

You may not have seen my comment in the other thread. As I read the book, I was trying to see if he said anything that specifically shows that the mind is non-material. I didn't see it.

ozero91 said...

Daniel, have you read The waning of materialism, by any chance? It's a fairly recent collection of essays concerning philosophy of the mind.

Daniel Anderson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel Anderson said...

ozero91, no I have not. It sounds very interesting. I have added it to my wishlist. Thanks for the recommendation.

Zach said...

cl: I think mental causation is a problem for every view of mind (all dualisms, materialisms) that are not idealist or eliminativist in flavor. I.e., all reasonable views of mind.

Epiphenomenalism I see as a reductio of itself (though note it is orthogonal to dualism/materialism--you can be a dualist epiphenomenalist, in fact most property dualists are stuck there).