Whenever the discussion of a dualist vs materialist model of the mind comes up, one common point made to support the dualist position (that the mind is something other than or more than just the functioning of the brain) is that the brain may not be the origin of the mind, but rather is just the receiver. Often an explicit comparison is made to radios or televisions.
The brain as receiver hypothesis, however, is wholly inadequate to explain the relationship between the brain and the mind, as I will explain below.
As an example of the brain-receiver argument, David Eagleman writes in his book Incognito:
As an example, I’ll mention what I’ll call the “radio theory” of brains. Imagine that you are a Kalahari Bushman and that you stumble upon a transistor radio in the sand. You might pick it up, twiddle the knobs, and suddenly, to your surprise, hear voices streaming out of this strange little box. If you’re curious and scientifically minded, you might try to understand what is going on. You might pry off the back cover to discover a little nest of wires. Now let’s say you begin a careful, scientific study of what causes the voices. You notice that each time you pull out the green wire, the voices stop. When you put the wire back on its contact, the voices begin again. The same goes for the red wire. Yanking out the black wire causes the voices to get garbled, and removing the yellow wire reduces the volume to a whisper. You step carefully through all the combinations, and you come to a clear conclusion: the voices depend entirely on the integrity of the circuitry. Change the circuitry and you damage the voices.
He argues that the Bushman might falsely conclude that the wires in the radio produce the voices by some unknown mechanism, because he has no knowledge of electromagnetic radiation and radio technology.
This point also came up several times in the 600+ comments following my post on the Afterlife Debate. Commenter Luoge, for example, wrote:
“But the brain-as-mediator model has bot yet been ruled out. We can tamper with a TV set and modify its behaviour just as a neurosurgeon can do with a brain. We can shut down some, or all, of its functioning, and we can stimulate to show specific responses. And yet no neurologist is known to have thought that the TV studio was inside the TV set.”
There are two reasons to reject the brain-as-mediator model – it does not explain the intimate relationship between brain and mind, and (even if it could) it is entirely unnecessary.
To deal with the latter point first, I have used the example of the light-fairy. When I flip the light switch on my wall, the materialist model holds that I am closing a circuit, allowing electricity to flow through the wires in my wall to a specific appliance (such as a light fixture). That light fixture contains a light bulb which adds resistance to the circuit and uses the electrical energy to heat an element in order to produce light and heat.
One might hypothesize, however, that an invisible light fairy lives in my wall. When I flip the switch the fairy flies to the fixture where it draws energy from the electrical wires, and then creates light and heat that it causes to radiate from the bulb. The light bulb is not producing the light and heat, it is just a conduit for the light fairy’s light and heat.
There is no way you can prove that my light fairy does not exist. It is simply entirely unnecessary, and adds nothing to our understanding of reality. The physics of electrical circuits do a fine job of accounting for the behavior of the light switch and the light. There is no need to invoke light bulb dualism.
The same is true of the brain and the mind, the only difference being that both are a lot more complex.
More importantly, however, we have enough information to rule out the brain-as-receiver model unequivocally.
The examples often given of the radio or TV analogy are very telling. They refer to altering the quality of the reception, the volume, even changing the channel. But those are only the crudest analogies to the relationship between brain and mind.
A more accurate analogy would be this – can you alter the wiring of a TV in order to change the plot of a TV program? Can you change a sitcom into a drama? Can you change the dialogue of the characters? Can you stimulate one of the wires in the TV in order to make one of the on-screen characters twitch?
Well, that is what would be necessary in order for the analogy to hold.
By Tanya Lewis via LiveScience
SAN DIEGO — The human mind effortlessly constructs the feeling of inhabiting a body, and now scientists are figuring out how the brain produces that experience.
Recent studies have shown that the brain incorporates information from multiple senses and the first-person visual perspective to create a sense of body ownership. But it’s still unclear how the brain perceives the body’s location in space.
In the study, which has not yet been published in a scientific journal, participants lay inside an MRI scanner while wearing a head-mounted display that showed a first-person camera view of another person’s body lying in a corner of the scanner room, with their head either parallel to a wall or perpendicular to it. Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden repeatedly touched each participant with an object while simultaneously touching the body shown in the camera view. This gave participants the illusion that the body in the camera view belonged to them.
To heighten the illusion, the researchers used . . .
- How the Brain Creates Out-of-Body Experiences (livescience.com)
- ESO107 – Extra Sensory Perception (ESP), Dreams and Outer Body Experiences (OBE) (ancienteducation.wordpress.com)
- My out of body experience. (jakperk.wordpress.com)
- Out of body experiences or if they exist, why can’t we prove it? (areyouanempath.com)
In my last post, I wrote about how not having enough contextual data can outright boggle the mind. Today, we’re going to read about something else that similarly boggles the mind, albeit not really related to any linguistic phenomena. It’s an interesting little logical fallacy in the field of statistics known as cum hoc ergo propter hoc, or more commonly, ‘correlation does not prove causation’. Here, we define correlation as ‘when two things happen at the same time’, and causation as ‘when one thing causes the other’.
This logical fallacy is great at showing the glaring inaccuracies caused by lack of data on a specific subject, and how this lack can cause us to reach blindly for (often incorrect) conclusions in the proverbial fogginess of our mind. Additionally, the comedic factor here is amplified if you forego the law of parsimony (also known as Occam’s razor), which states that of all the possible solutions to a question or problem, the simplest one is most likely the truth.
Have you ever been in a recording booth or a really quiet place? If you’re in there for a long time your mind begins to create its own sounds. Essentially, you begin to hallucinate due to a lack of external stimuli. This is basically what goes on in the aforementioned logical fallacy: you end up compensating for a lack of data by drawing a perceived (and often inaccurate) connection between the sole items of data you have.
What does this have to do with a language blog? Essentially, it’s a great way of showing how a lack of the background information required for comprehension can yield wildly inaccurate knowledge. Dig this:
Did you know that children with bigger feet are statistically better at spelling? This is statistically true. Without additional contextual information, I could hypothesize that having larger foot-size means the children would perform better at sports and have better balance while carrying large and cumbersome schoolbags, making them less prone to falling over in bustling school hallways, making them less likely targets for bullies, leading to an inevitable increase in confidence, leading to better scholastic performance, and thereby, better spelling skills!
The truth is, it’s actually because children with larger feet are probably a lot older than children with smaller feet. Duh.
Did you know that you are more likely to get cancer if you always wear a seat-belt?
- The Curious Case of Correlation ≠ Causation (sensitivecontext.com)
- How to tell a Conspiracy Theorist from a Conspiracy Believer (illuminutti.com)
- The Logical Fallacies (thecontemplationhypothezation.wordpress.com)
- Logical Fallacies (gpissues.wordpress.com)
- Tools for argumentation: Hierarchies of argumentation; Logical Fallacies (lizditz.typepad.com)
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)