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In reponse to a blog entry at Triablogue

Brain and mind

Thanks Triablogue for taking note at your blog of something I wrote concerning evolution and/or the brain-mind question. See also the list of resources and links I have compiled. (By the way I donʼt think youʼre being fair to Danny, you called him my “parakeet?”)

I have been discussing brain-mind matters with the Christian philosopher Vic Reppert for years, even before his book was published and before he began his blog. See Vicʼs blog, named after his book, “C. S. Lewisʼ Dangerous Idea”. I am a fan of Vicʼs expertise and composure, including his acknowledgment of arguments contrary to his philosophical and theological opinions. There is agnosticism mingled with his Christian faith—a healthy proportion—so far as I can tell. But that comes from his willingness to remain informed by all sides and to remain aware of unanswered questions and uncertain variables.

One might take note especially of some comments made by Vic concerning intellectual performances by freethinkers Drange (arguing against a proponent of Bahnsenʼs views) and Parsons in debates with Christian philosophers. Apparently Vic and even the younger Christian philosopher, Jason, have been impressed by some points freethinkers Drange and Parsons have raised.

Vic also admits that there are a variety of views held even by Christian philosophers regarding the brain-mind question, including pro-physicalist views. See also the Christian debate book published in May 2005, In Search Of The Soul: Four Views Of The Mind-body Problem, published by Inter-Varsity (the same Christian press that published Vicʼs book, C. S. Lewisʼs Dangerous Idea, two years previously) there are some “physicalistic” views represented. See also this book published Jan. 2006 Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies? (Current Issues in Theology) And Whatever Happened to the Soul? Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature And Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-Dualism Debate

My own comments can be found at Vicʼs blog and in a few articles at my website.

Iʼd sooner give science at least a couple more centuries of patient investigation of the brain-mind before coming out with premature proofs or disproofs. I also suspect that brain-minds do not come together all at once, but that just as the brain develops, a mind also take time and a wealth of experiences to develop and incorporates more sensory input and data each second than any of us are consciously aware of, and that even at the moments of creation of memories of the untold numbers of things we each experience, we are probably unconscious of all the initial connections between each memory that happen at their creation inside our brain-minds, and all the thoughts we later take for granted and the connections they have with reality are likewise taken for granted as something automatic, but in fact it all took a lifetime to build up.

There is also the question of “commonsense” responses to the brain-mind question, and of “commsense” itself, as elucidated in an article in The Philosopherʼs Magazine by David Papineau, Professor of Philosophy of Science at Kingʼs College, London and author of The Roots of Reason and Thinking about Consciousness (Oxford University Press). Papineauʼs article is titled, “The Tyranny of Commonsense,” and in it he says, “Everyday thinking embodies a rich structure of assumptions about the mind, and it is by no means clear that all these assumptions are sound. In particular, there are many recent scientific findings that cast substantial doubt on our intuitive view of the mind. For a start, take Benjamin Libetʼs work on the genesis of actions. Libetʼs experiments indicate that, at least when it comes to basic bodily movements, our conscious choices occur a full third of a second after neural activity in the brain begins to prompt the behaviour. This certainly casts doubt on our intuitive conviction that our actions are instigated by our conscious choices. Again, the work of David Milner and Melvyn Goodale on the separation of the dorsal and ventral streams in visual processing (the “where” and “what” streams) suggests that our basic bodily movements arenʼt guided by our conscious visual awareness but by some more basic mechanism. And then there are the many experiments on “change blindness.” These show that we often fail to see large visible changes occurring right in front of us, and so question the intuitive compelling idea that we are aware of pretty much everything within our field of vision. However, when philosophers come across this kind of work, they donʼt view it as an exciting challenge to the everyday view of the mind. Rather, their first reaction is to distrust the interpretation of the scientific experiments. In their view, there is no way that our everyday view of the mind can be threatened by scientific findings. Our intuitive conception of the mind is sacrosanct, so there must be something wrong with scientific arguments that cast doubt on it.”

See also the book, The Illusion of Conscious Will, which has generated plenty of controversy. (Perform an exact match in google)

Speaking of my own view, I happen to agree that there is something to the view that the brain-mind involves a form of “emergence” since surprising phenomena do occur if and when certain things are aligned in certain ways, as the Christian brain physiologist (also a founder of the journal, Experimental Brain Science) D. M. MacKay pointed out in his book The Clockwork Image (Intervarsity Press), in which he argued that an immaterial soul might not be true, but instead recreation by God into another matrix after death). “Emergence” was also championed by a non-Christian philosopher of brain science, Roger Sperry. Studying “emergence” scientifically will take quite some time. Thereʼs much left to explore and consider.

Andrew M. Bailey, a young philosopher at the Christian college of BIOLA lists some reasons he too is attracted to physicalism (of an emergent yet non-reductive sort), adding in his blog that “substance dualism remains a (miniscule) minority position among philosophers of mind, despite the traction that more modest forms of dualism have recently found. Substance dualists like J.P. Moreland (and the rest of the Biola crew) [not to forget Platinga] do not yet have reason for triumphal celebrations.” See also here and here.

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