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Steven Novella has replied, on his blog, to my earlier post on an older opinion piece he had written. While I appreciate his having taken the time to reply, I am also somewhat surprised by the sheer amount of space he dedicates to ad homenen attacks on me, which dilutes his argument and the quality of the debate. While I agree that dancing on the edge of a personal attack does make a debate sharper and more interesting, Novella exaggerates on this to the point of making his position look desperate and weak, which was, in my view, unnecessary.
Be it as it may, I'll focus on content, addressing his comments systematically:
"I further think that he probably just read one blog post in the long chain of my posts about dualism and so did not make a sufficient effort to actually understand my position."
This is correct. So let me take the opportunity to be explicit: I only read the post that was forwarded to me, and my comments were based on that alone. If Novella’s position in other posts was more nuanced, I’ve missed that, since I do not know Novella's work. But if this is an error on my side, Novella has committed the exact same error already in the title of his reply: Had he read anything of my work besides the post he is replying to, he would have seen that I am precisely not a Dualist, but a monist (for instance, see this). Therefore, he also "did not make a sufficient effort to actually understand my position." This comes back in several points of his reply.
"Causes precede effects, so again if the brain causes mind then we would expect changes to brain states to precede their corresponding mental states, and in every case of which we are currently aware, they do."
In my article, I mentioned several models for the relationship between mind and brain under which the exact same phenomenology is expected: Changes to brain states leading to changes in subjective experience. My post was very clear about this, so I am surprised Novella seems to have difficulties on this point. To be explicit: If the brain merely modulates subjective experience (through filtering and/or localization, for instance), then one would expect precisely that disturbances in the brain would impact the modulation process and, thereby, alter subjective experience. I invite Dr. Novella to acquaint himself a little more with these other explanatory models of mind-brain interaction so we can continue with the debate in a more productive manner. As it stands now, his argument bears no relevance to the alternative models I brought up.
"That the brain causes mind is not a philosophical proof (something I never claimed), but a scientific inference."
It is only possible to infer, from a correlation between A and B, that A is the only cause of B when, for all observed cases, B occurs after A. If B occurs without A, even in a single confirmed case, then, at the very least, there are more than one causes for B and B does not ontologically depend exclusively on A. So if mind states do not always correlate with brain states, one can infer, under Occam's razor, that mind is not ontologically dependent on the brain; i.e. the brain does not cause the mind. To repeat a point I made in my original post: There is strong scientific evidence for mind states that indeed do not correlate to brain states. So if anything is to be scientifically inferred from current observations, I'd say it is that mind states are not caused, but merely modulated, by brain states.
"There are many examples where inhibiting the activity in one part of the brain enhances the activity in another part of the brain through disinhibition."
Again, Novella clearly did not take the time to read the links I provided in my original post. I elaborated extensively on this very issue of (dis)inhibition in several posts, including in my original exchange on this with Dr. Christof Koch. Please consider these:
"The psilocybin study is a perfect example of this. The drug is inhibiting the reality testing parts of the brain, causing a psychadelic [sic] experience that is disinhibited and intense. This is similar to really intense dreams." (my italics)
As I have pointed out in one of the links above, when you dream the areas of your brain that are generating the dream are clearly activated. For instance, if you dream that you are clenching your hand, the brain areas associated to hand motion show up in an fMRI with a clear increase in activation (see this). Yet, if Novella took the time to read the psilocybin study he is referring to, he will have read that the researchers "observed no increases in cerebral blood flow in any region." In other words, there was no increase in brain activity anywhere in the brain. So Novella's explanation fails before it even begins.
I have discussed the specific points Novella raises here ad nauseum before, so I won't elaborate more. I'm ready to continue the debate if Dr. Novella takes the time to read the three links above, and take the discussion from there.
"Kastrup seems to be completely unaware of the critical concept of disinhibition and therefore completely misinterprets the significance of the neuroscience research."
This is precious. Coming from someone who accused me of creating a strawman for not taking the time to acquaint myself with his work, this particular comment is quite ironic.
The rest of Novella's reply contains a lot of hand-waving but no new argument of relevance to the point in dispute. In conclusion, I believe that he did not at all counter any of the points I originally raised. I'm certainly willing to continue the debate if Dr. Novella addresses, with more substance, the contents of the articles I originally linked to as part of my original post, instead of ignoring them as he has done so far.
Copyright © 2012 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.