Monday, December 20, 2004

A Wonder of the World, Wondering

"74. Thought
How is our thought different from the information processing of a computer? The computer is not conscious or aware of itself doing its processing as we are when we think. Rule-governed activities, such as chess, can be formalized and simulated in a computer program. But remember that it’s we humans who do the programming and create and input the appropriate symbols. The computer has no clue about the meaning of the symbols it processes. All that it does is generate electrical pulses. It doesn’t know what it’s doing. There is, in fact, no “it” to know because it’s simply an as semblage of mechanical systems. There is no knowing going on within it; there’s simply a continuous flow of electrical pulses through its circuitry, assuming, of course, that it’s connected to a power source and appropri ately programmed by a user. Real thinking, on the other hand, involves our knowing what we’re thinking about, being aware that we’re thinking, recognizing that we’re arguing or reaching a conclusion and the like."
(The Wonder of the World: A Journey from
Modern Science to the Mind of God
by Roy Abraham Varghese :414)

There's a thought.

This is more important to remember than one might think. It's especially important when a person dies or is dying. I suspect that people have this creeping doubt that as the person's body dies, then they must no longer exist somehow. This is probably because people become so health and body centered. But I look on it like this, the body is a home that you get used to living in. You get used to thinking through your brain. If you do not think that much and then come across a difficult problem, you get a headache. That is why the term headache means the same thing as having a difficult problem.

Generally, you make your Self at home in your brain and body. American ascetics are few and far between these days, that is certain.

But when an amputee loses a hand they still feel like it is there. They are used to it being there. Also, when someone has a brain lesion, they were used to having their brain the other way. They cannot think through their brain as well as they used to anymore. Perhaps they never will be able to again if they are dying. However, some of them do recover. Perhaps they are moving their own neurons around. You can do drugs and so on to mess around with your brain. But it is not so different than anything that you get a good feeling from, like eating a good meal. There are some people who are burning their brains up, in a sense. The bad thing is that once you know how to get something and you recover out it, you know that by going back you will get that first time feeling again. Jesus mentions this, in a way. So it will be very difficult for any type of addiction. After it is broken, it is still there. And deep in your spirit, you know it. For that first time was a really good feeling. It's not like it was not. It was only the downers, the burning up of the brain that eventually brought you down. So, just this once to get that first time feeling again, and you'll fix it again later.....

It's hard, that's for sure. At any rate, scientists and doctors have a vested interest in saying that you are just your brain, "So here's a drug."

However, a few things to think about on how that is not so.

"Neuroscience, for instance, is nowhere near achieving its ambitions, and that despite its strident rhetoric. Hardcore neuroscientists refer dis paragingly to the ordinary psychology of beliefs, desires and emotions as “folk psychology The implication is that just as “folk medicine” had to give way to “real medicine,” so “folk psychology” will have to give way to a revamped psychology that is grounded in neuroscience. In place of talking cures that address our beliefs, desires and emotions, tomorrow’s healers of the soul will manipulate brain states directly and ignore such outdated categories as beliefs, desires and emotions.

At least so the story goes. Actual neuroscience research has yet to keep pace with its vaulting ambition. That should hardly surprise us. The neu rophysiology of our brains is incredibly plastic and has proven notoriously difficult to correlate with intentional states. For instance, Louis Pasteur, despite suffering a cerebral accident, continued to enjoy a flourishing scientific career. When his brain was examined after he died, it was discovered that half the brain had completely atrophied. How does one explain a flourishing intellectual life despite a severely damaged brain if mind and brain coincide?

Or consider a still more striking example. The December 12, 1980, issue of Science contained an article by Roger Lewin titled “Is Your Brain Really Necessary?” In the article Lewin reported a case study by John Lorber, a British neurologist and professor at Sheffield University:

There’s a young student at this university,” says Lorber, “who has an IQ of 126,
has gained a first-class honors degree in mathematics, and is socially
completely normal. And yet the boy has virtually no brain.” The student’s
physician at the university noticed that the youth had a slightly larger than
normal head, and so referred him to Lorber, simply out of interest. “When we did a brain scan on him,” Lorber recalls, “we saw that instead of the normal
4.5-centimeter thickness of brain tissue between the ventricles and the cortical surface, there was just a thin layer of mantle measuring a millimeter or so. His cranium is filled mainly with cerebrospinal fluid.

[This has been disputed here. The irony is, they say it is "striking" too, just like Dembski does. But then they get a little mixed up by dissecting it, becoming lost in the details. I still think it is "striking." Apparently, everyone can agree on that.]

Against such anomalies, for cognitive neuroscientists to claim that brain determines mind hardly inspires confidence. Yet as Thomas Kuhn has taught us, a science that is progressing fast and furiously is not about to be derailed by a few anomalies. Neuroscience is a case in point. For all the obstacles it faces in trying to reduce intelligent agency to natural causes, neuroscience persists in the Promethean determination to show that mind does ultimately reduce to neurophysiology. Absent a prior commitment to naturalism, this determination wifi seem misguided. On the other hand, given a prior commitment to naturalism, this determination is readily understandable."
(Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology
By William Dembski :215-216)

There is the example of the Frenchman and others. I wonder how a neuroscientist would say it is possible for the brain to set itself, against itself? But for the mind to set itself against the body makes sense to me. All the stories of people "holding on" just so they can see a loved one and then dying also make sense to me. But they would not make sense if the mind did not have some control of the body. I am not saying that people can make up their mind to levitate and then do it. There is also the recent case of an Eastern mystic trying to meditate himself to death, he failed. I suppose his mind was not as strong as he thought. Not to mention the fact that that was a dumb lack of thought to try to think.

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