Thursday, July 24, 2014

God and Neuroscience (part two)

In a much earlier post, I stated that when it comes to arguing against the fact that the mind is a product of the brain, there is basically only one rebuttal that proponents of dualism use.1 The argument is that even though there appears to be a perfect causal relationship between mind and brain, it’s simply a correlation, and nothing more. The reality of the situation, dualists argue, is that the mind is related to the brain like a radio wave is related to a radio. When you twiddle with knobs on a radio, it changes what you hear, and if you were to damage the radio, what you would hear would be distorted—but none of this has any effect on the radio wave itself. Or to use another analogy, say you are driving a car, and your axel breaks, causing the car to swerve all over the road. Just because the car can’t drive properly, we shouldn’t then conclude that there is something wrong with the driver. Likewise, if you damage the brain, you aren’t damaging the mind, just the ability for the brain to properly carry out the desires of the mind.
These analogies are very clever, and sound superficially plausible. But what does it imply when you use those analogies to explain the mind/brain relationship? Obviously, it means that even though the brain is changed, the mind is totally fine. According to dualism, a change to the physical brain will change the external output that the mind creates, but the mind itself is completely intact. How anyone can seriously argue for this boggles my mind (which also shouldn't happen, since my mind shouldn't be able to be affected by anything).
Most of us have been under the influence of some sort of substance that changes our mental experience. For example, most of us have been drunk, been under general anesthesia, or something similar. Now, when you are drunk, the alcohol is having a physical effect on your physical brain. As a result, your mental experience is changed. It’s not that your body just won’t respond to how your mind wants it to—it’s not that your mind is completely clear, but the alcohol is preventing you from getting the words out. No, the physical changes to your brain have a direct and profound effect on your mind—something that is metaphysically impossible if dualism is true.2 If dualism were true, we would expect any sort of mind altering substance3 to create a “locked in” sort of effect where the patient is completely conscious and lucid, but cannot get their body to do what their mind wants.
Now, if you haven’t ever been drunk, taken drugs, been under local anesthesia, etc, watch this video of a girl who has just woken up from getting her wisdom teeth removed. Is this girl behaving in a way that you would expect if her mind was perfectly unaltered? Do you really think that her thoughts are just as clear as always, but her brain is preventing her from speaking coherently? Of course not.
Another neat example is from people who suffer from Capgras Delusion. These unlucky folks have suffered brain damage in a way that the “wires” that connect the part of the brain that processes emotion to the part of the brain that processes vision have been cut. When the patient sees something that normally would elicit an emotional response (such as a loved one), the emotions don’t show up. The brain doesn’t know what to do with this bizarre experience, and comes to the conclusion that the loved one is an imposter! “That looks like my wife, sounds like my wife, but it is NOT my wife.” It’s truly fascinating.
Now, are we to actually believe that the person is thinking “THAT IS MY WIFE!!!!!” but when they try to say the words, some part of their brain is preventing them from saying it, writing it, etc? It would be like on Liar Liar when Jim Carrey is trying to say that a blue pen is actually red, but is physically incapable of it, even though he can think it. Absurdity.
Now, all this talk on the mind and brain can get complicated, and some people might just tend to think “I don’t even care. It’s all really complex, and I don’t understand the arguments well enough to know what to think about it.” Fair enough. So let me present the exact same argument dualists use, but with using something other than the mind/brain. This way, you just see just how silly the dualist position is.
Instead of the mind/brain, let’s say the argument was in regards to muscles. Let’s propose that there are two aspects to your muscle: the physical (called the muscle) and the immaterial (called the musoul). Now, whenever you use a muscle, you actually are using the musoul, via the muscle. Just like the brain supposedly works via the immaterial mind/soul, the muscle works via the musoul. It’s not the muscle that gives you strength to lift heavy things, it’s the musoul. Now, you might say “That’s absurd. The more you work out, the bigger your muscle gets, and the stronger you become. Or, if you were to get in an accident, and you lost a bunch of muscle, you would lose strength in that part of your body.”
But au contraire! Like the neuroscientists and philosophers who insist that the mind is a result of the brain, you are just presuming materialism—assuming that there is no immaterial aspect to muscles. In reality, all these facts are completely consistent with the idea of a musoul, and you are just mistaking correlation for causation.
You see, the more you work out your muscle, the bigger it gets. However, it’s just like if you had a bigger antenna for your radio you would get a stronger signal. So the bigger your muscle is, the more you are able to receive strength from the musoul. And when the muscle is destroyed or damaged in an accident, it’s just like damaging or destroying the antennae on a radio. You are no longer able to access the musoul, and therefore, you have no strength.
Of course, this muscle/musoul argument is absurd. The probable response to my argument would be “yeah, but mind and consciousness require some sort of non-physical explanation. The nature of mind is much different than the nature of strength.” However, that completely begs the question. Yes, the nature of consciousness is mysterious and unknown… but the little insight we do have strongly suggests it’s the result of a physical brain.
So, if you are sympathetic to dualist views, you have to not only account for the arguments I already laid out, but also account for why you aren’t a dualist in regards to muscles and strength. If immaterial entities that are as complex as the mind exist, isn’t it likely that immaterial entities could also exist that do simple things, like give muscles their strength?

1. There are a few other arguments that dualists use, but they are astonishingly incompatible with any sort of modern understanding of neuroscience. Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop some people from using them.
2. It’s also metaphysically impossible for an immaterial mind to have any effect on a physical brain, and this has been a HUGE problem for dualists for the last 400 years. To quote John Searle, “No dualist has ever been able to give an account of how a brain can affect a mind, or how a mind can affect a brain. Dualism, for most philosophers today, is not a real option.” 
3. We would also call these things brain altering substances, not MIND altering—but this is a very immaterial point (heh).