In his first book, On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Wrong, neurologist Robert Burton showed that our certainty that we are right has nothing to do with how right we are. He explained how brain mechanisms can make us feel even more confident about false beliefs than about true ones. Now, in a new book, A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves, he investigates the larger question of how a brain creates a mind. There is no alternative to the scientific method for studying the physical world, but Burton thinks there are essential limitations to science’s ability to investigate conundrums like consciousness and free will. Brain scientists fall into error because:
…our brains possess involuntary mechanisms that make unbiased thought impossible yet create the illusion that we are rational creatures capable of fully understanding the mind created by these same mechanisms.
He has a bone to pick with neuroscientists. They are discovering fascinating information, but their interpretations often go beyond what the data can really tell us. They often draw questionable conclusions from imaging studies that could have other explanations.
There is a lot going on in our brains that we’re not aware of. Subconscious brain mechanisms are like a gigantic committee. Everything from your DNA to your past experiences to your political leanings to your emotions is given a vote, and only the result is passed on to your conscious awareness. If all the raw input to the committee were accessible to consciousness, it would be too much information and would hopelessly impair our ability to act. For the mind to function, mental sensations have to override contradictory evidence to create certainty and motivation.
The brain tries to make our experiences meaningful by tricks like re-ordering the temporal sequence of events. When the batter swings, he thinks he is seeing the ball and then reacting; but he initiates his swing before he could possibly be consciously aware of the ball’s trajectory.
Our minds are not truly individual and independent.
- A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind (sciencebasedmedicine.org)
- Energy Medicine – Noise-Based Pseudoscience (illuminutti.com)
- A closer look at vitamin injections (illuminutti.com)
- Will Humans Ever Understand Consciousness? Scientists and Philosophers Debate (livescience.com)
- You Are Not Your Brain (wikkorg.wordpress.com)
- The mind is caused by the brain. What is epiphenomenalism? (clearphilosophy.wordpress.com)
- Will We Ever Understand Consciousness? (zen-haven.com)
- The Mind vs. Brain Debate (What is Consciousness?) (philosophers-stone.co.uk)
- Think brain scans can reveal our innermost thoughts? Think again (guardian.co.uk)
- Science-Based Medicine Ebooks, Volumes 7-12 Now Available (randi.org)