Is mind made merely of matter?

From Plato to Descartes to Berkely to the majority of religious believers today, the idea that mind (or spirit, soul, or consciousness) is a fundamentally different “substance” from matter and can exist independently of matter has been accepted as a matter of course. Another way of putting this is that we tend to believe that our mind, which stands above our brain, can cause our brain to make decisions and direct our body to do this or that. Furthermore, my mind can survive the obliteration of my brain, and I can continue to be “me” in a post-mortem existence.

Before I jumped into the crystal-blue waters of Cozumel during our 20th anniversary cruise in April, I had been reading and highlighting a good number of passages in an ebook on my smartphone. These highlights, of course, were not synchronized back to the “cloud” while on the ship before I jumped into said crystal-blue waters with my phone left inadvertently in the pocket of my swim shorts.  I’ve retroactively gleaned a few highlights to share with you from this fascinating book entitled Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist by neuroscientist Christof Koch (2012, MIT Press).

People willingly concede that when it comes to nuclear physics or kidney dialysis, specialized knowledge is essential. But let the conversation turn to consciousness, and everybody chimes in, on the assumption that they are all entitled to their own pet theory in the absence of pertinent facts. Nothing could be further from the truth. An immense stockpile of psychological, neurobiological, and medical knowledge about the brain and the mind has accumulated. The travails of more than fifty thousand brain and cognitive scientists worldwide add thousands of new studies each year to this vast collection (Koch 2012, 41).

It’s not hard to miss between the lines of the relatively well-mannered paragraph above a sense of frustration on the part of author after hearing countless know-it-alls trash the consensus views of neuroscientists who are the most familiar with how the brain and consciousness function. Most of us non-pilots would never presume to lecture an experienced airline pilot on how to avoid a stall, but we think ourselves qualified to say things to neuroscientists like, “Well, your study of the brain is admirable as far as it goes, but it’s never going to explain how mere matter gives rise to consciousness and our sense of agency. You can’t determine what makes me me just by looking at circuits and connections and currents in my brain.”

This was a challenging read for me. Sure, there were some technical discussions that were over my head, but that wasn’t my greatest difficulty. Instead, it was some of the “wu”-like concepts that made me wonder how someone as brilliant as Dr. Koch can believe things that border on the mystical and the implausible. For instance, he gives provisional assent to the notion that consciousness is largely a function of two factors: differentiation and integration, the latter denoted by the Greek letter phi:

Integrated information theory introduces a precise measure capturing the extent of consciousness called Φ, or phi (and pronounced “fi”). Expressed in bits, Φ quantifies the reduction of uncertainty that occurs in a system, above and beyond the information generated independently by its parts, when that system enters a particular state (Koch 2012, 127)

A little bit mysterious, perhaps, but nothing eyebrow-raising until he goes on to discuss the pan-psychic implications of this theory. According to  Koch, any network that informationally connects any element to any other element in the universe experiences a certain degree of consciousness, from the brain of a fly, to computer networks (especially the World Wide Web), and even to every atom in the universe (Koch 2012, 131). Consciousness is not an either-or phenomenon but is a continuum from near zero to the palpable self-awareness of humans. I suppose my misgivings about this theory are rooted in common sense, but common sense isn’t always the best guide to ferreting out the nature of reality. Otherwise, there would be no need for scientific experimentation to correct our mistaken intuition that a canon ball falls faster than a feather in a vacuum, for example. I’m willing to grant that humans and dogs and mice are conscious to some extent, but it’s a little harder to imagine what goes on the brain of a fly or of a worm, let alone what consciousness could possibly mean with reference to the Internet or to a rock or to the universe as a whole.

Despite this bit of borderline wu, I found Koch’s research to be intriguing as a whole. We live in an  exciting time, a time in which we’re finally beginning to develop the tools to study empirically the questions that have dogged philosophers with no end in sight for millennia. For instance, Koch and his team are able to use a technique called optogenetics to study the effects of temporarily turning on and off groups of similar neurons in specific regions of the brain in rats. They accomplish this by introducing harmless viruses into the neurons of the brain, and when they shine a light with a specific wavelength on these neurons, they turn these neurons on or off.  Using this technique, it’s possible to determine which neurons are required for consciousness. If you turn off certain neurons, the rats  remain conscious, but if you turn off certain other neurons, the rats succumb to a zombilike state. In other words, it’s possible to identify fairly precisely which groups of neurons are required to maintain a conscious state.

Koch argues that consciousness is nothing more than an emergent property of the integrated network of neurons in our brain, and no invocation of a spiritual realm or extra-natural laws or substances is required to explain  it. Just as the gases hydrogen and oxygen combine to form water whose properties are completely different from its constituent parts, so physical neuronal activity in the brain leads to consciousness whose properties seem to point to a realm outside the physical world. Our reluctance to accept that consciousness is “merely” an emergent property of physical brains mirrors an earlier reluctance to accept that the instructions for life itself could be encoded in a physical package. Since the discovery of DNA by Crick and Watson in the 1950s, however, we now know that all the instructions for forming life are encapsulated in physical DNA.

England’s leading geneticist William Bateson in 1916 could not imagine how life could possibly be encoded with physical instructions:

The supposition that particles of chromatin, indistinguishable from each other and indeed almost homogeneous under any known test, can by their material nature confer all the properties of life surpasses the range of even the most convinced materialism (Koch 2012, 117).

Koch goes on to describe the consensus views on the nature of life before and after Crick and Watson’s discovery of DNA:

To explain life, scholars invoked a mysterious vitalistic force, Aristotle’s entelechy, Schopenhauer’s phenomenal will, or Bergson’s élan vital. Others, the physicist Erwin Schrödinger of the eponymous equation among them, postulated new laws of physics. Chemists could not imagine that the exact sequence of four types of nucleotides in a string-like molecule held the key. Geneticists underestimated the ability of macromolecules to store prodigious amounts of information. They failed to comprehend the amazing specificity of proteins shaped by the action of natural selection over several billion years. But this particular puzzle was eventually solved. We now know that life is an emergent phenomenon and can, ultimately, be reduced to chemistry and physics. No vitalistic force or energy separates the inorganic, dead world from the organic world of the living (Koch 2012, 117).

Granted, when it comes to the study of mind and consciousness, we have not reached the equivalent of our DNA moment to prove that consciousness is no more than a physical phenomenon, but Bateson’s confidence that life cannot be explained in physical terms should stand as a cautionary tale for those who still insist that mind and consciousness require an otherworldly component. If physicalism or materialism is true, then in theory it should be possible to build a working, conscious brain out of physical parts. This is the aim of the Blue Brain Project, which has succeeded in reverse engineering and simulating parts of a rat brain at the molecular level and which aims to do the same for entire human brain by the year 2023. That seems a little optimistic to me, given the uncertain economy and the capricious nature of public funding for such projects, but it’s not inconceivable that within my lifetime (I just turned 44), someone somewhere will have developed an artificial brain that speaks and thinks like we do.

If and when this occurs, it will be an unmitigated triumph for physicalism and a repudiation of all the philosophers who have separated mind and matter as two fundamentally incommensurable substances. Yet I predict that those who currently insist on the necessity of a spiritual realm to explain consciousness will continue to believe in a spiritual realm, somehow readjusting the goalposts, just as the goalposts were adjusted in the wake of the discovery that physical DNA is sufficient to encode life.

Somewhat surprising to me was Koch’s confession in his final chapter that, though he grew up Catholic and left religion behind as he embraced scientific reductionism, he is not an atheist but believes in a deistic creator, one who brought into existence matter and the laws of nature, leaving the universe to unfold and evolve into what it is today. He considers that a creator must have been responsible for the exquisitely fine-tuned constants of nature that allow for a life-supporting universe to exist. In addition, he appeals to our intuition that “nothing” is a more natural state than “something,” so without a creator, we should expect there to be nothing rather than  something. He concedes that there can be no final proof for the existence of God but finds it more plausible to believe in God than in a gratuitous multiverse to explain the problem of fine tuning. I won’t rehash here the arguments atheists have typically marshaled to answer his reasons for believing in God. I have the greatest respect for a scientist like Koch who can use optogenetics to probe the foundations of consciousness, even if I find his arguments for the existence of God to be less than conclusive.

My reading of Koch’s arguments for the existence of God came on the heels of a protracted discussion on the timing of Jesus’ return on my blog, in which very intelligent individuals went head to head, certain of what they believed yet unable to convince the other to budge in the slightest. The conjunction of these two unrelated experiences gave me pause. We all know what it’s like to feel certain of what we believe. I believe without a shadow of a doubt that the earth revolves around the sun, yet for over 150 years after Copernicus advanced his heliocentric theory, there was a protracted, heated debate between the heliocentrists and the geocentrists, both of whom were certain of their respective positions. Yet the psychological phenomenon of certainty was not a sure guide to truth for at least one of the two parties in the debate. This raises questions for me regarding the nature of my own certainty on a number of topics. I do not want to fall into the morass of postmodern relativism, where anything can be “true for you” or “true for me,” because I can’t help but think there’s a real world out there and that some ideas of ours reflect the way the world really is more than other ideas. My best guess is that no god exists, but I could be wrong. My best guess is that the universe is not conscious in any way,  but I could be wrong. My best guess is that consciousness is entirely physical, but I could be wrong. I just wish more of us could admit the tentative nature of what we often believe with great certainty, particularly when our beliefs lack empirical support. That said, I do look forward to the day when some age-old questions can be put to rest empirically, questions like whether mind is made merely of matter of or something more. We may well be living in the exciting generation that will provide a definitive answer.

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30 Comments

Filed under Consciousness, Reductionism, The existence of God

30 responses to “Is mind made merely of matter?

  1. Mike Cahill

    I think one of the reasons people jump enthusiastically into a discussion of whether consciousness is merely material or there’s something else involved, is that all of us have experienced consciousness (some of us for a very long time!) and so consider ourselves to have something to say from an experiential level. I think it’s less like us trying to advise a pilot how to fly (where most of us have zero experience), and more, perhaps, like advising on whether a piece of wood could hurt you or not, where most of us have experience to determine under what circumstances wood is helpful vs. harmful.

  2. Mike, thanks for your feedback. I think I follow your point, but it seems to me that the same argument could be made for a lot of other domains in which nonspecialists have considered themselves a better authority than the specialists. For instance, when Copernicus proposed heliocentrism, I can imagine a lot of people saying, “Well, the gall of Copernicus to think he knows better than the rest of us who’ve live all our lives on solid ground! We know the earth does not spin on its axis like he says, or we would all experience some sort of spinning sensation. Instead, all we’ve experienced is the feel of solid earth beneath our feet and the sight of the sun and moon and planets moving across the sky above us.” I agree with you that we all know something of consciousness thanks to our being conscious, but I don’t know that it qualifies us to say anything about how consciousness actually works or what’s required to produce it. Another (admittedly rough) analogy: we all drive cars and have experience with what they do for us, but that does not qualify us to say anything about the inner workings of engines, unless and until we’ve actually studied and/or worked with them.

  3. James

    Another great post, as usual. For me, the best reason why mind is merely matter is that people who suffer brain injuries typically lose that part of ‘themselves’ and don’t get it back. The most famous example of this is Phineas Gage. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phineas_Gage

  4. Thanks for bringing up the story of Phineas Gage, James! I considered mentioning that incident in this post, but it was already getting long and I decided to cut it short. I referenced this story in a comment to an older blog post as follows:

    [W]e know that if the human brain is damaged in certain parts, it can drastically change our personality. The classic case is that of Phineas Gage (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phineas_Gage), who, before a railroad spike was driven through his head, was a well-respected and likable member of society, but after the accident, he became ill-tempered, fitful, profane, and unreliable. In your view, was his spirit affected by the railroad spike? After his death, did his spirit take on the likeness of his pre-accident personality or his post-accident personality? Does a spirit bear any relation to its corresponding mind while in the body? If the two hemispheres are severed and one hemisphere believes in God while the other does not (see http://www.cerebrovascularinfo.com/2011/12/split-brain-with-one-half-atheist-and-one-half-theist.html), which hemisphere represents the true spirit of the person, the [one] used as the basis for God’s judgment of him? If a personality can be changed for better or for worse through damage to certain parts of the brain or through medications, and if everything we know about consciousness indicates it’s dependent on our physical brain, then why do we need to maintain the concepts of “spirit” and “soul” to account for consciousness or anything else we experience that’s seated in the physical brain?

  5. Jay Bickford

    Ken,

    Another great post as always. I really appreciate the intellectual honesty and integrity that you express in your posts. Your blog is a breath of fresh air in a world of people who are so certain of their positions. I really appreciate the fact that you are willing to say, “I don’t know.”

    I just recently finished reading a science fiction trilogy that deals about this subject to a large degree. It is the WWW:WAKE, WWW:WATCH, WWW:WONDER series by Canadian author Robert J. Sawyer. It deals with the emergence of an AI in the structure of the internet. It is very well researched, and is based to a large degree on real science and current thinking in AI research. I think you would enjoy it.

  6. Ken,

    If I hadn’t spent so many years of my life thinking about the nature of consciousness and its relationship to our physical brains I could resist replying to this post, but alas!

    A couple of points for you to ponder:

    (1) It is very important to recognize that we perceive our consciousness as a non-physical phenomenon and that this is good evidence that it is in fact a non-physical phenomenon. To draw this conclusion out with a thought experiment: Suppose you were to go into Baskin Robbins and choose between one of the 32 different flavors of ice cream in the store as your desert for the evening. Doubtless, you would prefer some flavors over others depending upon your mood at any particular moment (assuming you like ice cream in the first place), but this time you choose Mint Chocolate Chip as your desired flavor of ice cream for the evening. One of things that you will perceive about your choice is that you “could have” chosen one of the other 31 flavors in the store in the sense that the material facts of the world did not prevent you from choosing a different flavor from the one you chose (i.e. Mint Chocolate Chip). At the same time, however, you also perceive that there are reasons for why you chose Mint Chocolate Chip over all the others flavors on that particular day so that if you were to rewind the course of your life back to the moment you chose Mint Chocolate Chip it stands to reason that you would once again choose Mint Chocolate Chip for the exact same reasons (e.g. Mint Chocolate Chip is your second favorite ice cream next to Rocky Road and you’ve already had Rocky Road the last three times you went to Baskin Robbins so that you are now in the mood for your next favorite ice cream, Mint Chocolate Chip.). The point of all this is that you simultaneously perceive that the material facts of the world did not constrain your choice of ice cream but that other sorts of facts pertaining to your conscious experience did constrain your choice of ice cream from which it follows that you perceive that the latter cannot be entirely accounted for in terms of the former, which is to say that you perceive that the facts of your conscious experience cannot be entirely explained in material terms.

    (2) Now, what are we to make of this state of affairs, how much weight should we assign to evidence drawn from the perceptions of our everyday lives? Admittedly, it’s a question that can only be answered subjectively; however, we know that the answer to that question cannot be zero. To illustrate this last point with another thought experiment: Suppose someone were to tell you that we are in fact living in a simulation run by highly advanced machines and that our physical bodies are not where we think they are but are in fact contained in vessels that harvest them for energy somewhere else in the distant future and that the life that we perceive to be living is in fact an illusion. You would respond to this person by saying that although everything he says could be true (in the sense that the facts of your experience are consistent with the theory that he’s proposing) nevertheless you do not consider his theory to be likely to be true barring any further evidence in its favor because you do not perceive your life as a simulation in the first place. In other words, you would rule out this person’s wild and crazy theory because it is at variance with the evidence of your everyday perceptions and also because he has provided no independent evidence of his own that would call into question the evidence of your everyday perceptions and thereby render your opinion of those perceptions as being mere illusions.

    (3) As you might guess, that last thought experiment is exactly the situation in which we find ourselves with respect to the question of consciousness, we perceive that the facts of our conscious experience cannot be entirely explained in material terms but along comes people like Dr. Koch who insist that the facts of our conscious experience can be entirely explained in material terms and that our perceptions to the contrary are illusions. Alright then, does he have any independent evidence of his own to suggest that the facts of our conscious experience can be entirely explained in material terms so that our perceptions to the contrary can be judged as being mere illusions? No, he does not.

    Of course, he might tell us that since our consciousness can be impaired and/or altered by changing the physical circumstances of our brain via drugs and/or physical trauma that this is evidence that our physical brains produce conscious experience so that the latter can be entirely explained in terms of the former; however, his reasoning in that case would be faulty. For example, if the physical brain produces conscious experience then it would make sense that changing the physical circumstances of the former would alter and/or impair the latter, but it might also be the case that the brain is a receiver that transmits and/or filters consciousness somewhat like the relationship between a television set and the programming that comes into it, in which case it would also make sense that changing the physical circumstances of the brain would alter and/or impair our consciousness (e.g. if you damage a television set you’re likely to impair its ability to transmit the programming that comes into it). In other words, there are at least two different theories about the relationship between the physical brain and conscious experience and the same set of facts can be accounted for by both theories; however, only in one of the theories are the facts of conscious experience entirely explained by the physical facts of the brain.

    He might also tell us that experimental evidence suggests that there is a relationship between certain patches of neurons within our brains and various facts of our conscious experience, but again this would only demonstrate that there is such a relationship (of course!) and would not necessarily clarify the nature of that relationship so that the only theory left standing is the one that says that the physical brain produces conscious experience.

    (4) Finally, there is the mountain of evidence put forward by experimental psychologists that human minds can non-physically transmit information to each other (i.e. telepathy) as detailed in such books as Chris Carter’s, “Science and Psychic Phenomena,” suggesting that our conscious experience cannot be entirely explained in material terms as they include phenomena such as telepathy that cannot be so explained. Not to mention the evidence that comes from people having conscious experiences filled with rich audio-visual and emotional content while their cortex is shutdown as part of a near-death experience (the cortex being the part of the brain that is supposedly necessary to produce such experiences) in which they might also report facts about the world that their clinically dead bodies could not have otherwise perceived as detailed in such books as Chris Carter’s “Science and the Near-Death Experience.”

    What is Dr. Koch’s response to this sort of evidence? Well, his response would undoubtedly be to reject the evidence out-of-hand as so much “woo.” Not a very intellectual response, but it does the job in convincing people who’ve never looked into it to think that there’s nothing to it. It’s a confidence game, who are you going to believe, the men with all the degrees whose education was built around a particular worldview that is challenged by this sort of evidence or the evidence itself. Kind of like seminary professors with lots of degrees whose education was built around a worldview that says that the Bible is not inerrant; who are you going to believe, their out-of-hand dismissals of the evidence put forward by “unbelievers” or the evidence itself.

    (5) So, this is our situation. We have lots of good evidence that says that there is some kind of relationship between our conscious experiences and our physical brains (e.g. trauma to the physical brain usually impairs consciousness) along with good evidence that says that our conscious experiences cannot be entirely explained in terms of our physical brains. In the case of the latter, we have evidence both from the perceptions of our everyday lives as well as from experimental psychology in addition to rigorously conducted prospective studies on people who have had near-death experiences. Unfortunately, in the case of the proposition that says that our consciousness can be entirely explained in terms of our physical brains we have no evidence, but we have lots of highly credentialed people who say that it’s true and whose education was built around this proposition being true.

  7. Whoops, I should have written the following: “Kind of like seminary professors with lots of degrees whose education was built around a worldview that says that the Bible is inerrant…”

  8. RT, thanks for joining in again. I suspect my blog (any my available free time) will never be the same again now that you’ve joined the fray! I wondered how long it would take you to add your piece, and I’m impressed at your restraint in waiting as long as you did 🙂

    Thanks for your succinct and articulate defense of mind-body dualism. I had actually never heard of the external TV signal analogy supporting your position; I think it’s about as good a defense of dualism as I’ve come across.

    Let’s say dualism is true, that there’s something extra beyond the physical brain that’s required to support consciousness and personal agency. Furthermore, let’s say all scientists came to accept this position overnight. What do you think the effect of this would be on endeavors like Koch’s optogenetics and the Blue Brain Project? It seems to me that projects like these are driven by the desire to know more about the nature of consciousness, and if everyone suddenly came to accept mind-body dualism, there would be little incentive to push our knowledge of the physical underpinnings of consciousness to its limits. Neuroscience is in its infancy, and more is being learned about how our brains work every day. As long as more is being learned and we’re nowhere near reaching a brick wall, should we not continue pursuing this program?

    On the other hand, there are still plenty of individuals, including some scientists, who subscribe to your position and who are actively exploring paranormal phenomena like telepathy. Let them ask whatever questions interest them and use scientific research to test their hypotheses. If there’s anything to it, the truth should ultimately prevail. Sure, most scientists subscribe at least to metaphysical naturalism as a working paradigm, and certainly that paradigm influences the degree of skepticism they exhibit toward paranormal research. By the same token, most of those involved in paranormal research subscribe to some form of mysticism and want their research to point in the direction of spiritual realities (wouldn’t it be exciting to know we’re not alone and we’ll survive our death?), just as mainstream scientists want their research to point in the direction of materialism, so there’s plenty of background assumptions and biases motivating research on both sides.

    For my part, if there were anything to telepathy, for example, I would hope it would be conclusive enough to convince anyone whose mind is open to receiving it, including myself. I just haven’t heard of any such research that’s rigorous enough to be reproducible under controlled conditions. But let’s say that a breakthrough was made, and telepathy could be reproduced reliably by anyone of any prior persuasion. Then it would simply become part of science. Perhaps, as Dr. Sheldrake believes, there’s some sort of field emitted by our brains that can be picked up and read to some degree by other brains. If so, that sounds like something that could in principle be detected and studied scientifically and would not require an abandonment of materialism, any more than listing to my radio that picks up signals from miles away requires believing in anything supernatural.

    Just hypothetically, since we’re not at that point yet, if scientists were someday to succeed in reverse engineering a human brain and building a functional model of it (as is the goal of the Blue Brain Project), and if this “brain” (complete with visual, audio, and tactile inputs) were to respond and behave in ways indistinguishable from a real human, complete with all the normal declarations and manifestations of consciousness, would that in any way alter your current dualistic outlook? I’m not asking you at this point to provide your assessment of whether this project is feasible; I just want to know whether, given its success, it would in any way change your point of view.

    While I find your TV analogy intriguing, I have some misgivings about it that aren’t all that easy to articulate. Perhaps another analogy or two would help put my misgivings into words. Let’s say someone who subscribes to an extramaterial élan vital learns for the first time about the discovery of DNA and how it contains all the instructions for biological development from conception to adulthood. And let’s that say despite this new knowledge, our believer in élan vital remains committed to his prior view while insisting that yes, DNA is a vehicle for heredity and the instructions for development, but that this physical scaffolding isn’t sufficient in itself to explain heredity and development; rather, an undetectable, immaterial force is still required. It’s always possible he could be right, to be sure, but how would one know, since this force is immaterial and undetectable and cannot be positively shown to be required to explain what it’s attempting to explain? And since methodological naturalism has served so well to explain so many other phenomena that were once thought to require a spiritual explanation (e.g., lightning, disease, tides), why not at least provisionally adopt a material explanation for heredity and see if anything rules it out, even if it’s intuitively difficult to imagine that a butterfly’s development is programmed by merely physical DNA?

    Or say we come across someone who (like the village family we stayed with for three weeks during our missionary orientation in Cameroon) does not accept the white man’s germ theory of disease, preferring instead to believe that sickness is caused by evil spirits. They say, “I don’t care if you show me the germs in a microscope; I still won’t accept that it’s not caused by evil spirits.” Perhaps such people could be led to believe that germs are indeed associated with disease, and that if you remove the germs, the disease also goes away (just as when you disable certain neurons, consciousness evaporates), but what would you tell them if they said, “Well, you’re right that germs are there when disease is there and absent when disease is absent, but the germs are just the tools the evil spirits use to inflict the disease. No matter what science says, we intuitively sense that disease isn’t just a physical thing but is an extension of spiritual forces that desire our harm.”

    Near Death Experiences (NDEs) and Out-of-Body Experiences (OBE) are another set of topics that I’m frankly unqualified to debate. I’m sure you’ve read some on both sides of the issue; I’ve read very little. The common run-of-the mill NDE’s don’t interest me as there are neurological explanations for the tunnel-and-light syndrome when the brain is deprived of oxygen, but I am interested in knowing more about stories of those who saw things in the operating room they couldn’t have seen except from the vantage point of the ceiling where their spirit was allegedly floating during the NDE. So far I haven’t come across any that could be reliably verified, but if there are any, I’d be curious to know more. Until then, I adopt the perspective of British paranormal researcher Susan Blackmore:

    It was just over thirty years ago that I had the dramatic out-of-body experience that convinced me of the reality of psychic phenomena and launched me on a crusade to show those closed-minded scientists that consciousness could reach beyond the body and that death was not the end. Just a few years of careful experiments changed all that. I found no psychic phenomena – only wishful thinking, self-deception, experimental error and, occasionally, fraud. I became a sceptic.

    • Ken,

      Yes, I did restrain myself as long as possible; however, as a former AI researcher this subject also hits somewhat close to home for me and evidently I could only resist for so long.

      As usual you raised a number of interesting points that I’ll respond to separately.

      (1) If it were both true and known to be true that our consciousness cannot be entirely explained by our physical brains then it would not nullify the usefulness of such things as the Blue Brain Project; however, the focus of these efforts would change, instead of trying to answer questions about how the brain produces consciousness we would instead try to answer questions about how the brain interacts with and affects our consciousness. As you might imagine, many questions that were once active areas of research would no longer be considered appropriate for research while others that were once considered inappropriate would now be reopened for investigation not to mention that new possibilities would be considered. Of course, provided that consciousness cannot be entirely explained in material terms this sort of shift in emphasis would be of enormous benefit to the scientific community as a great deal of scholarly effort would no longer be wasted chasing after answers to what we would now know to be impossible questions (i.e. you don’t want your best cognitive scientists chasing after an explanation for how the brain produces consciousness for the same reason you don’t want your best physicists chasing after a perpetual motion machine).

      To give an example of the kind of research that would be mainstreamed if consciousness were no longer thought of as being entirely explained in terms of the physical brain consider the case of Jeffrey Schwartz and his work with OCD patients. In particular, he has shown that individuals who suffer from severe cases of OCD can rewire and even repair the architecture of their brains via focused efforts of their consciousness so as to relieve or even cure the symptoms of their OCD. It’s exactly the kind of work that was not done earlier because under the model that says that the brain produces consciousness the latter is viewed as an epiphenomenon of the former and therefore not able to affect the former in the sort of ways demonstrated by Schwartz’s research (many people are scratching their heads about this is possible as I type this comment). A whole new world of possibilities for treating people who suffer from mental illness would be opened up by this change in perspective.

      (2) Because of the suspicion with which the mainstream has viewed experimental psychologists who try to demonstrate such things as telepathy the experiments conducted by the latter are some of the most rigorously conducted in all of psychology. For example, when skeptics raised their doubts in the 80s about the experimental protocol used by Honorton as part of his work on trying to demonstrate the existence of telepathy via the ganzfeld experiment, the latter sat down with Ray Hyman (one of the leading skeptics at the time) and crafted an experimental protocol that if continued to produce positive results would count as evidence for telepathy even by the strictest standards of the skeptics. As it turned out, researchers continued conducting ganzfeld experiments in different laboratories around the world using the same experimental protocol approved by Hyman in the 80s and continued to produce the exact same positive results just as before, slowly building up a database that is almost a trillion against chance in favor of telepathy according to the latest meta-analysis published by Radin in 2010. And not only this but there have been many other such rigorously conducted experiments by people like Sheldrake and others with results that are even trillions upon trillions against chance in favor of telepathy, so the case is quite settled for people who are willing to look at the statistics of these different databases objectively in my opinion.

      However, as you might imagine, the case is not settled for skeptics like Hyman who will continue to deny to their grave that telepathy has not been demonstrated by these researchers. Of course, the reason why he and others like him continue to be so skeptical of these results is that they would disprove their materialist worldview if accepted. The irony of it all is that these people are engaging in the same sort of thinking that young earth creationists engage in when they want to deny all the evidence in favor of an old earth and/or old universe, which is to say that they dial up their skepticism to such a degree that they can reject all the evidence that challenges their worldview and thereby relieve the cognitive dissonance it would otherwise produce in them. In my opinion, many of the criticisms that skeptics level against the best work in favor of telepathy today are no less lame and dishonest than the kind trotted out by Christian apologist who try to shore up faith in young earth creationism, biblical inerrancy, etc. Irony abounds in skeptical circles as they’ve become the inversion of exactly the sort of people they initially set out to correct.

      (3) If telepathy were accepted then it would not fit within a materialist paradigm because as an effect it would be understood as a function of consciousness and not of the elementary principles/forces that govern the material world (i.e. gravity, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, and the strong nuclear force). If telepathy could be incorporated into a materialist paradigm then its reality would have been accepted a long time ago given the strength of the evidence in favor of it.

      (4) If the Blue Brain Project could replicate not just particular forms of consciousness but by all appearances consciousness itself then it would be evidence in favor of the view that says that consciousness can be entirely accounted for in physical terms and I would seriously rethink my view of the matter. However, in my capacity as a former AI researcher I’m not exactly holding my breath on this one.

      (5) We should not provisionally adopt ay sort of metaphysical framework; in particular, just because we can only measure physical phenomena doesn’t mean that physical phenomena are the only game in town, hence we shouldn’t privilege a metaphysical framework that says that they are the only game in town. As mathematicians were the first to discover in the early part of the 20th century with the incompleteness theorem, sometimes we can demonstrably identify limitations in the ability of our methods to get at the truth of things, thereby demonstrating the fallacy of assuming that reality can be circumscribed by the limitations of our methods of investigation. Physicists were the next in line to experience this with the discovery of the uncertainty principle and the development of quantum mechanics, which for the first time provided us with an incomplete physical theory (i.e. a physical theory were previous physical states of affairs did not entirely determine subsequent physical states of affairs). I would then argue that psychologists have also experienced this sort of thing in the case of the evidence in favor of telepathy, where physical phenomena have been measured that suggest a non-physical explanation given our relatively complete understanding of the principles that govern the physical world not to mention the evidence that our everyday perceptions provide as to the relationship between consciousness and the physical world. The point is that sometimes we can demonstrate the limits of our methods of investigation in the case of certain phenomena, in which case it makes sense to account for those phenomena by principles that cannot be measured by the same.

      (6) Returning to your example of hypothesizing an élan vital at work in our biological development, at least in that case we have a material mechanism in DNA that allows us to understand the processes of biological development. Obviously, if we are ever able to entirely account for biological development in terms of DNA then it would be unnecessary to hypothesize that anything like an undetectable immaterial élan vital is also at work in the process of biological development. On the other hand, in the case of consciousness there is still no known material mechanism for explaining how the physical brain can produce consciousness (and that after a lot of effort has been spent looking for one) and so long as this remains the case we should be open to the possibility that consciousness cannot be so explained especially in light of the evidence of our everyday perceptions.

      A similar criticism can be leveled against the person who doesn’t accept the “white man’s” germ theory of disease in favor of his own demon theory (or at least thinks that the former doesn’t preclude the latter). In that case we have a material explanation that completely explains the phenomena under consideration thereby rendering it unnecessary to hypothesize that extra undetectable immaterial demonic beings are also at work in making people sick. Moreover, it might even be possible in that case to disprove demon theory by doing something that should make a holy man sick according to germ theory that should otherwise be immune to the sickness according to demon theory.

      In any case, not only is there currently no known material explanation for how the brain could produce consciousness but we have independent evidence for believing that there is no such material explanation in the first place as briefly outlined in my previous comment, which makes it all the more reasonable to suppose a theory in which consciousness is a separate immaterial thing that interacts with the material world as in the theory that says that the physical brain is a receiver that transmits and/or filters consciousness.

      (7) You should be aware of the fact that Blackmore was able to quickly move up the ranks in skeptical circles as a former parapsychologist who now repudiates her old work (kind of like how former atheists get a lot of pub in Christian circles). Chris Carter covers her career in his book and it seems she only did a handful of experiments and was never one of the major players in the parapsychology world before switching teams. By all appearances, it was a good career move for her but I don’t her examples counts as evidence for much of anything. The databases that parapsychology researchers have built up over the decades speak for themselves at this point.

    • Ken,

      “Thanks for your succinct and articulate defense of mind-body dualism. I had actually never heard of the external TV signal analogy supporting your position; I think it’s about as good a defense of dualism as I’ve come across.”

      Thank you for the compliment! The philosophical argument I gave is my own but the idea that the brain is a receiver that transmits and/or filters consciousness goes back at least a century to the pioneering American psychologist William James.

      Somewhat of a tangent, but my own suspicion is that the expanded form of consciousness that certain drug users claim to experience when they go on their “trips” can best be accounted for by supposing that the drugs they use temporarily interrupt and/or weaken the connection between the mind and the brain in such a way as to free up the former to experience an expanded (if distorted) form of consciousness that is less constrained and/or filtered by the latter. There is some real explanatory mileage that we can get out of a theory that says that the brain is a receiver that transmits and/or filters consciousness.

  9. RT,

    I’m glad you would be prepared to adjust your views if something like the Blue Brain Project were to succeed in creating consciousness artificially, even if you don’t think it will ever happen. Something tells me it’s unlikely you’ll abandon dualism until and unless such a project succeeds, and something tells me I’m unlikely to abandon monism/materialism until it’s clear that all the pieces have come together and consciousness fails to materialize. Just a gut feel, but by 2050 (if not before), I would guess that the CPU power available at that time should have reached the point where the entire brain could be modeled at the molecular level, and it should be possible to bring the question we’re debating to a conclusion one way or another. Until then, I’ll break out the popcorn and wait for the results.

    Why do I gravitate provisionally toward materialism? It’s partly because so many phenomena in the past were thought to require a spiritual explanation (e.g., lightning, disease, heredity/biological development) but ultimately gave way to naturalistic/materialist explanations, so by analogy I’m also inclined to give materialism the benefit of the doubt on the question of mind/consciousness. It also strikes me as implausible that the brain, which is the most fantastically complex organ in the known universe, should have to be as complex as it is if its purpose is merely to receive and process a signal from outside itself, a signal where the real action originates. If we know that damage to the exquisitely organized prefrontal cortex results in an impairment of one’s ability to judge the consequences of one’s actions, then it seems a good starting assumption that the prefrontal cortex is responsible for one’s ability to judge the consequences of one’s actions, just as it’s a good starting assumption that the heart is responsible for pumping our blood, given the knowledge that a stopped heart means stopped blood circulation.

    It seems to me that attributing ulterior motives to both camps is a two-way street and is not going to do anything to resolve the question. I’m inclined to think that those who believe in psychic phenomena are no less motivated by prior metaphysical commitments than are the skeptics. I say let’s just call it a wash and move beyond this ulterior motive argument. It’s a favorite but misguided tactic of young-earth creationists, for example, to paint those who believe in an old earth as motivated by a need to rid their lives of God (I’m not sure how Francis Collins fits in!).

    As for the telepathy research you referenced (e.g., the ganzfield experiments), I’m going to take the lazy man’s way out and refer you to this article by Susan Blackmore, which I found to be less bombastic and more provisional (though admitting her provisional penchant for materialism) than I would have expected.

    • Ken,

      I agree with you in saying that I would need something like the Blue Brain Project to arguably replicate consciousness before I could consider abandoning my substance dualism. If that were to happen we would finally have some evidence that consciousness can be explained in entirely material terms (as of now we have none!) and that would force me to reevaluate everything I previously interpreted as evidence for substance dualism. However, besides everything else I’ve said, the reason why I doubt that consciousness will ever be mechanically replicated is because the ability of our consciousness to soundly discern mathematical truths seemingly transcends any particular formal system (I am speaking as a professional mathematician here) whereas the ability of a machine to soundly discern mathematical truths must be limited by the limitations of a particular formal system via a well-known diagonalization argument put forward by Gödel, and if I can identify at least one property of our consciousness that cannot be mechanically replicated (even one as unusual as our ability to soundly discern mathematical truths) then it stands to reason that our consciousness cannot be mechanically replicated hence also consciousness writ large. Unfortunately, that last argument is a bit technical and so I don’t expect it to mean much to you or hardly anyone else for that matter, but it does carry some weight as a philosophical argument and I find its existence to be rather troubling for the prospects of the Blue Brain Project being able to arguably replicate consciousness.

      The argument that says that humanity has in the past wrongly attributed to various phenomena (e.g. lightning, disease, etc.) immaterial explanations therefore there is no phenomena that cannot be entirely accounted for in material terms is fallacious. The important point here is that I don’t believe that consciousness has an immaterial explanation for the same reasons that premodern peoples believed that lightning, disease, etc. have immaterial explanations. Indeed, there are good reasons for thinking that consciousness cannot be accounted for in material terms from a modern perspective whereas there are no such reasons for lightning, disease, etc.

      “It also strikes me as implausible that the brain, which is the most fantastically complex organ in the known universe, should have to be as complex as it is if its purpose is merely to receive and process a signal from outside itself, a signal where the real action originates.”

      I don’t share your intuition here, perhaps it needs to be as fantastically complex as it is in order for it to be able to transmit the level of consciousness that we enjoy as human beings over above all the other creatures. After all, what does it mean to transmit and/or filter immaterial consciousness? I don’t have the foggiest idea, but until we can begin to answer that question we are not in a position to say whether such a thing doesn’t require the level of complexity found in our brains.

      “If we know that damage to the exquisitely organized prefrontal cortex results in an impairment of one’s ability to judge the consequences of one’s actions, then it seems a good starting assumption that the prefrontal cortex is responsible for one’s ability to judge the consequences of one’s actions, just as it’s a good starting assumption that the heart is responsible for pumping our blood, given the knowledge that a stopped heart means stopped blood circulation.”

      Again, this sort of reasoning is fallacious. For example, I believe that blood circulation also stops if you disable the brain stem but it would be false to conclude from this that the brain stem was the part of the body that pumped the blood (that would be the heart). All you could reasonably conclude is that there is a relationship between the body’s ability to pump blood and the brain stem such that if the latter is disabled so also is the former, whether the relationship between the two is direct or indirect would have to be decided by further investigation.

      “It seems to me that attributing ulterior motives to both camps is a two-way street and is not going to do anything to resolve the question.”

      Certainly, both sides have their biases (no doubt, I have some of my own!), but so do young earth creationists and that doesn’t stop us from rightfully attributing to them ulterior motives that allow us to call into question their assessment of things.

      “As for the telepathy research you referenced (e.g., the ganzfield experiments), I’m going to take the lazy man’s way out and refer you to this article by Susan Blackmore”

      I read the article, apparently Blackmore remains skeptical because of various unnamed problems she observed with the way the ganzfeld was conducted in her lab in the 70s along with the fact that there is ongoing controversy as to how to interpret the ganzfeld database. Of course, she acknowledges that since the time she did experimental work in this field that the protocol had been tightened up and that in her words “the new autoganzfeld results appear even better. Perhaps errors from the past do not matter if there really is a repeatable experiment.” At no point in the article does she venture an alternative explanation as to why the autoganzfeld database favors telepathy by almost a trillion against chance. Seriously, what am I to make of someone who remains skeptical of the reality of a phenomenon that has been demonstrated with such a high level of statistical significance and with such a rigorously designed experimental protocol and who even acknowledges the strength of the results without attributing to them ulterior motives?

      According to that article published in March/April 2001 she remains skeptical in spite of the autoganzfeld database because “The problem is that my personal experience conflicts with the successes I read about in the literature and I cannot ignore either side;” however, in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, vol.83 , April 1989, p. 152 she had this to say about her personal experience in the field “I am glad to be able to agree with [Rick Berger’s] final conclusion–`that drawing any conclusion, positive or negative, about the reality of psi that are based on the Blackmore psi experiments must be considered unwarranted.'” At one moment she agrees that no conclusions are to be drawn about the validity of psi (and by extension telepathy) from her prior work but in another moment she says that she can’t accept the evidence found in the autoganzfeld database for psi because of her prior work. I don’t know about you but she sounds like a person whose suffering from a serious case of cognitive dissonance.

      Oh wait, she admits to that in The Elusive Mind pgs. 250-1 “Human beings are not built to have open minds. If they try to have open minds they experience cognitive dissonance. Leon Festinger first used the term. He argued that people strive to make their beliefs and actions consistent and when there is inconsistency they experience this unpleasant state of ‘cognitive dissonance’, and they then use lots of ploys to reduce it. I have to admit I have become rather familiar with some of them.”

    • Ken,

      To wrap things up on my end, the question of how we understand our consciousness is a difficult one. I’m persuaded that the ultimate explanation is immaterial because of the aforementioned evidences (i.e. philosophical arguments, research on telepathy and near-death experiences); however, there have certainly been others who have familiarized themselves with the same evidences without coming away nearly as impressed as I have and that’s understandable.

      I guess I would have you be familiar with an outline of the argument in favor of substance dualism and how the latter can be defended against the usual objections raised against it. I would hope that you can see that the argument in favor of substance dualism is both surprisingly strong and resilient so that the position remains an intellectually respectable one in our day (well, at least until the Blue Brain Project pulls off the impossible).

      You can have the last word.

      • RT,

        Regarding my heart analogy (knock out heart => blood stops flowing => therefore heart is responsible for pumping blood), just after I posted my comment, I thought, “You know, I bet RT is going to say that just because you knock out an organ, that doesn’t prove that said organ is solely responsible for the functionality in question.” I almost responded to my own response to preempt such a response from you, but I figured it would make for a good discussion if I were to let you respond 🙂

        I agree with your assessment that my argument was fallacious, if indeed you were to treat my reasoning as as formal, air-tight mathematical argument. But that was not how I intended it. I was merely musing and attempting to articulate why I feel it’s more likely than not that the brain, rather than a spiritual “substance,” is the source of consciousness. I didn’t expect you to buy my reasoning, but was hoping you could get a feel for what makes me tick the way I do, so to speak. Certainly I realize that the heart is necessary but not sufficient for pumping blood, just as I realize that the prefrontal cortex is necessary but not sufficient for assessing the future consequences of one’s actions. In either case, there is a whole array of infrastructure that makes it possible for these organs to function as they do. Yet, in a way I can’t articulate formally, we have a sense that the heart is somehow primarily responsible for pumping blood (even though it needs arteries, fuel, and a signal from the brain to make it happen), and we have a sense that the engine of a car is what makes the car move forward (even though it needs a transmission, wheels, fuel, etc.), and that the prefrontal cortex is primarily responsible for assessing the consequences of one’s actions (even though it requires communication with other parts of the brain and cannot act independently). Again, I don’t expect you to take this as a formal argument, but as a mere clue to why I gravitate toward my provisional assumption about the purpose of this part of the brain.

        And to take my informal musing a little farther, when I contemplate the nature of whatever spiritual substance is behind mind-body dualism, I wonder why a physical brain would even be necessary under such a paradigm. If there are spiritual substances that undergird consciousness, morality, agency, etc., then it seems these substances must be quite remarkable, perhaps supernatural. But if they have these fantastic powers, and if a supernatural being brought them into existence to function as they do, and if this being is all-powerful and all-knowing, then presumably this being could have accomplished all the functions of the brain without a physical brain. As it is, we have a phenomenally complex brain that just doesn’t seem necessary–indeed, gratuitous–if we were to grant the existence of a spiritual real. I suppose the designer could have had his reasons for doing it the way he did, but it just doesn’t seem likely (from my admittedly limited vantage point).

        And finally, I’m sure you’re aware of the age-old philosophical problem with mind-body dualism that led thinkers like Berkely to posit that the physical world does not exist, since he could not conceive of any sort of bridge between a non-physical substance (mind) and a physical substance (brain). How does something that doesn’t exist in spacetime influence matter in spacetime? What leverage does it have if there’s nothing this-worldly to make the lever out of? If materialism is true, however unintuitive it may seem to us, then this problem evaporates.

        Believe it or not, I’m intrigued by the ganzfeld experiments and plan to read up some more on them. I do also look forward to following whatever developments might be forthcoming in artificial intelligence, especially the Blue Brain Project.

        Thanks for some good food for thought.

        • Ken,

          Technically, I’m still giving you the last word, but you introduced a new argument to this discussion to which I would like to briefly respond.

          For the record, I’m willing to say that the brain produces consciousness in the sense that a television set produces images on a screen or perhaps even in the sense that an oil refinery produces its products. I think the crux of your intuition can be satisfied at this level.

          “How does something that doesn’t exist in spacetime influence matter in spacetime? What leverage does it have if there’s nothing this-worldly to make the lever out of? If materialism is true, however unintuitive it may seem to us, then this problem evaporates.”

          Obviously, their interactions would have to be mediated by principles currently unknown to us. In that sense our lack of understanding about the relationship between consciousness and the brain would be considered similar to that of the ancients with respect to the relationship between water and earth, which is to say that water and earth are two separate substances whose interactions were mediated by principles of chemistry that were not known by the ancients.

          “then presumably this being could have accomplished all the functions of the brain without a physical brain”

          Not necessarily, it may not be possible to produce consciousness using physical principles alone. In particular, does it really seem as if the principles of gravity, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, and the strong nuclear force are sufficient to produce consciousness? Not to me at least.

          “Believe it or not, I’m intrigued by the ganzfeld experiments and plan to read up some more on them.”

          Glad to see it! Chris Carter’s book “Science and Psychic Phenomena” does an excellent job covering the ganzfeld debate.

          “Thanks for some good food for thought.”

          That’s why I’m here. 🙂

        • Whoops, I completely misread the following comment of yours: “then presumably this being could have accomplished all the functions of the brain without a physical brain.” Sorry about that.

          “As it is, we have a phenomenally complex brain that just doesn’t seem necessary–indeed, gratuitous–if we were to grant the existence of a spiritual real.”

          I would agree that the complexity of the brain may not be necessary to experience consciousness proper, but perhaps it is necessary to transmit/filter consciousness so as to experience it in an embodied space-time context. That would be my best guess.

  10. Jim

    Hello Ken

    I like your blog. I love to read your and other readers’ opinions on the questions that torment me too. So far on this one, you and RT, have had a good debate, I enjoyed it. And so far I am leaning to your side. Just a thought from me to RT on one of his arguments, quote:
    “the evidence that comes from people having conscious experiences filled with rich audio-visual and emotional content while their cortex is shutdown as part of a near-death experience”
    How do you know that the “cortex is shutdown”? Is that scientifically proven fact, or it is an assumption, that since the medical equipment does not register brain(and particularly “cortex”) activity, that means such activity is not present? Is brain science that advanced to claim such thing? I don’t think so. But I don’t claim I am an expert either. In other words, there is a lot that we do not know about our brain, to claim that we understand what exactly is going on in there?

    • Jim,

      “Is that scientifically proven fact, or it is an assumption, that since the medical equipment does not register brain(and particularly ‘cortex’) activity, that means such activity is not present?”

      Yes, if our medical equipment doesn’t measure any electrochemical activity in the brain (cortex or otherwise) then it means that there is no electrochemical activity in the brain in much the same that if our medical equipment doesn’t measure any heart beats then it means that the heart is not beating. Regardless, people have had near-death experiences under such extreme conditions in various cases that we know that their cortex was shutdown at the time of their experience even without directly measuring the electrochemical activity in their cortex (e.g. one woman had an NDE after the blood was drained from her head, another person had an NDE long after his cortex was shutdown by acute meningitis, many people have had NDEs long after their hearts had stopped beating, etc.).

      • Jim

        RT,
        Thank you for your answer. Sorry for my delayed reply.
        Nevertheless, my humble opinion is that our science is not advanced enough to guarantee us an answer to this question. In other words, your examples are not enough to convince me that the NDE was not a product of some part of the brain which was still “running”. I am not a scientist or medical doctor, but as far as I know, brain death is irreversible. Considering that all these people came back to life, we may safely assume that their brains were not dead, yet. I don’t know if the term you use “shutdown” is 100% “legal” regarding the state of the brain. We may believe, based on the known circumstances or on the measuring devices’ data, that the brain was “shutdown”, but there is no way to know that for sure. Please, correct me if I am wrong! The human brain is way too complex, to assume that we know all about it. Your analogy with the hearth is just inadmissible here.
        I enjoy reading your posts and will be grateful to hear back from you on this matter.
        Can you refer me to an online edition of the book you quoting about the NDE? So far I have read some similar books written by believers, and I am not impressed. If this was a really significant phenomenon, that had no way to be explained away by the atheists, I believe that the scientists would come with such a statement. The fact that they don’t feel the need to do that, tells me that they don’t regard it as such. I may be wrong, I don’t claim I know the opinion of all the scientists.
        All the best
        Jim Ryan

        • Jim

          Just want to add that the state known as “clinical death” refers exactly to the stopped heart beating, not to “brain death”, as far as I know. And I believe that by “shutdown” you don’t mean “brain death”, right?
          Also you mention the NDE happened “long after their hearts had stopped beating”. Exactly how long would that be? I am going to do some research on that.

  11. Dean Gilliland

    Conciousness is the last refuge of the soul. I think.

    • Where else would you expect to find the soul? Even when the ancients wrote about the soul they were thinking about their own consciousness.

      • Dean Gilliland

        Thank you for the question. Perhaps you can help me sharpen my Thank Thank you for your reply. Perhaps you can help sharpen my thinking.

        A number of years ago I was walking along some nameless street in Manhattan when I was suddenly overcome with the powerful feeling that my physical self was connected to my spiritual self and that, furthermore, both of these selves were connected to the clouds that were building in the evening sky and that beyond the clouds was a whole, incomprehensible universe to which I was also joined. Yikes! An experiential cliche! However, I have never been able to forget this experience.

        But a feeling is not a philosophy so some of the things I walked away with were:
        1. There is no disruption between the natural and supernatural. Everything there is is natural and has a commmon history.
        2. There is no disruption between mind and matter. They are manifestations of the the same phenomenon which is my brain, an organ.
        3. There is no disruption between the physical self and the spiritual self. I am a physical being and share a common history with all life on this planet.
        4. There is no soul. Death is final, for me at least.

        So back to my quip about the soul and consciousness. I think many
        still feel the Mind is not the same as the Body. For Mind read Thought, Consciousness, Soul. For Body read corruption, animal nature, mortality. I think the notion of a soul can hide behind the notion of an incorruptible consciousness. If mind is not matter then souls can exist.

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  17. Patty

    There is a spiritual world out there and just because science hasn’t figured it out yet, doesn’t mean they won’t or should. There’s science against NDE. However, scientists can’t explain shared NDE or group NDE. I find it ironic that atheists don’t believe in a god, but use science in the exact same way as a fundamentalist Christian does regarding the bible. If science doesn’t say it’s so, then your claims are untrue. Sorry. The science is the ultimate authority. Why? Because science says so. Talk about hypocrisy!

    http://worldnewsdailyreport.com/german-scientists-prove-there-is-life-after-death/

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