I was reading the blog of a so-called “skeptic” today on the subject of consciousness. He obviously commands attention in this field, being an MD and having quite a bit of experience in neuroscience.
(Read the article here)
After about 20 minutes of taking what he was saying in, the look on my face most assuredly could be described as “sour”. How dare this man call himself a skeptic? If anything, he is selectively skeptical, touting the oft-overused phrase “science has established” as some kind of end-all for the discussion. Unfortunately, he is severely wrong.
The thesis of the article in question is as follows:
Dualists, those who believe that consciousness and the mind are something more than the material biological functioning of the brain, are, in my estimation, neuroscience deniers. They deny the current model of biological neuroscience in order to manufacture a gap, and then try to slip their dualism – their “ghost in the machine” – into that gap.
Is that really what happens? What gap did they manufacture to earn the unwieldy title of “neuroscience deniers”? Of course, they don’t deny that there is a such thing as neuroscience, but maybe they think that particular neuroscientists are confused about something. Nah, I don’ think that’s what they mean either. the explanatory gap is not something that was instigated by creationists, or IDers, or dualists- the explanatory gap is simply a fact of modern science and philosophy. Let’s take a look at the facts, shall we?
We know that we are conscious.
We know physical facts about the brain.
We don’t know which physical facts about the brain produce consciousness.
Do you see a gap there? Is it somehow contrived by religion peddlers?
Let’s continue to the heart of this:
Returning to consciousness and the brain – all the evidence we have suggests that the mind is a product of the brain. There is no mind without the brain (despite the unsubstantiated claims of paranormalists). If the brain is not biologically active, there is no consciousness. If the brain is damaged, the mind is altered. As brain function changes through drugs, lack of sleep, fever, or some metabolic derangement – so changes the mind. No reliable observation or experiment has been able to separate the mind as a phenomenon from the brain.
Every single one of those “facts” (note the non-skeptical tune of his post) is consistent with different varieties of dualism, from the soft- Chalmer’s property dualism- to the hard- William Hasker’s emergent dualism. And whether he believes it or not, there have been a host of arguments that argue for the non-identity of the mind and brain.
Dualists have therefore adopted the strategy of creationists by requiring that neuroscientists explain, in detail, exactly how the brain creates the subjective experience of mind. There are preliminary answers to this question. The mind is an emergent property of the brain and cannot be reduced to any single component of brain function. This is, admittedly, just a partial answer – merely describing the type of phenomenon we are dealing with, and not really explaining it.
Simply put, he does not understand the dualist’s position. The dualist usually begins with an assumption- the mind exists. Now, this mind displays properties that are unlike physical entities- rationality, volition, awareness. Furthermore, science has not found a neural correlate for consciousness, and it is very possible that they never will. And it is the dualists that are being unskeptical? The following is one trashy piece of thinking:
Likewise, the materialist paradigm of mind and consciousness – the notion that the brain is the cause of mind – has been and continues to be a very successful model. One manifestation of this is that neuroscience, as a discipline, has grown and progressed. As new tools come online our ability to explore the brain, and to explain the phenomenon of mind, has increased. The dualist paradigm, by contrast, has not produced anything tangible or reliable. It is still chasing its tail and pointing at the current gaps in neuroscience, without looking at the big picture.
Oh dear. For one, the so-called “materialist paradigm” is the exact same for the dualisms I mentioned. For them, it makes absolutely perfect sense that functions of the mind can be identified with the brain. It is things like experience itself that poses the big problem for physicalism. He simply makes philosophical blunders galore by equating the success of the physical study of the brain and physicalism. This does not appear to be a singular thing, either. I did a bit of digging through some of this guy’s stuff, and he does not touch on the “hard problem of consciousness” at all. I dare you to run a search on qualia on his blog. A big fat zero will stare at you in the face and hopefully lead you to the conclusion, as it did I, that some people are just not familiar with the range of topics they think they are qualified to speak on.