The 'brain as receiver': comments on Steven Novella's post

A radio receiver. Source: Wikipedia.
As my readers know, in Chapter 2 of Why Materialism Is Baloney I discuss the 'filter hypothesis' of mind-brain interaction. According to this hypothesis, 'no subjective experience is ever generated by the brain, but merely selected by it according to the perspective of the body ... This selection process is akin to a 'filtering out' of conscious experience: like a radio receiver selecting, from among the variety of stations present concurrently in the broadcast signal, that which one wants to listen to, all other stations being filtered out.' (p. 40) Clearly, the 'filter hypothesis' can be referred to as the 'receiver hypothesis,' since it compares the brain to a radio receiver. Due to several subtleties that escape the scope of this essay, I prefer the term 'filter,' but will acquiesce to the 'receiver' description here in the interest of brevity and simplicity.

This week, Michael Prescott referred extensively to my defence of the 'receiver hypothesis' in his latest blog post. As it turns out, not so long ago a reader had also posted on my Facebook page a link to an article neurologist Steven Novella recently wrote attempting to rebut the hypothesis. The 'synchronicities' seem to be suggesting that I write something about it, so I will attempt to de-construct Novella's position here. I encourage you to read this essay to the end, for there are nuances and turns in my position that you may not expect at first.

As my readers know, my use of the 'receiver hypothesis' is metaphorical. The hypothesis, if taken literally, entails dualism: consciousness as one kind of 'stuff' and the brain (that is, the 'receiver') as another, fundamentally different kind of 'stuff.' I do not subscribe to dualism: my position is what philosophers call 'monistic idealism,' as summarised in an earlier essay and short videosIn a nutshell, I think consciousness and the brain are of exactly the same kind of 'stuff', but I think the brain is in consciousness, not consciousness in the brain. More on this below. For now, I want to comment on Novella's article as if I were a proponent of the literal interpretation of the 'receiver' hypothesis. I want to do this to illustrate what I believe to be the clear weaknesses of Novella's argument. This is important because, as we so often see, materialists tend to argue arrogantly as though they had the rational and empirical high-ground. As Robert Perry brilliantly put in a comment to an earlier post in this blog, 'underneath every argument for materialism is the implicit or explicit statement that materialism occupies the privileged default position, so that it gets the benefit of all doubt.' This is what I want to counter in the first half of this essay. In the second half, I will confess that my own position is, in fact, not so far from Novella's own, but with a big twist...

Novella's argument

Novella summarises his two arguments against the 'receiver' hypothesis as follows:
"...it does not explain the intimate relationship between brain and mind, and (even if it could) it is entirely unnecessary"
He elaborates on the second point first:
"When I flip the light switch on my wall, the materialist model holds that I am closing a circuit, allowing electricity to flow through the wires in my wall to a specific appliance (such as a light fixture). That light fixture contains a light bulb which adds resistance to the circuit and uses the electrical energy to heat an element in order to produce light and heat.
One might hypothesize, however, that an invisible light fairy lives in my wall. When I flip the switch the fairy flies to the fixture where it draws energy from the electrical wires, and then creates light and heat that it causes to radiate from the bulb. The light bulb is not producing the light and heat, it is just a conduit for the light fairy’s light and heat.
There is no way you can prove that my light fairy does not exist. It is simply entirely unnecessary, and adds nothing to our understanding of reality. The physics of electrical circuits do a fine job of accounting for the behavior of the light switch and the light. There is no need to invoke light bulb dualism.
The same is true of the brain and the mind, the only difference being that both are a lot more complex."
This sounds compelling at first sight, doesn't it? Yet, it is a completely hollow and misleading metaphor: unlike the solid physics behind electrically-powered lighting, we do not have a causal model for how the brain generates consciousness. In fact, we don't even have coherent hypotheses. The whole power of Novella's metaphor resides precisely in the suggestion that we have for consciousness a causal model like we have for electric lighting. But that is false. You see, it is solely because of the existence of causal models for electric lighting that he can say that light-fairies are unnecessary. We simply cannot say the same about consciousness given the complete absence of any remotely equivalent model for how the brain generates mind. The cogency of Novella's fairies is purely rhetorical and, ultimately, hollow and misleading. It brushes over the elephant in the room: the hard problem of consciousness.

Novella goes on, elucidating his first point now:
"The examples often given of the radio or TV analogy are very telling. They refer to altering the quality of the reception, the volume, even changing the channel. But those are only the crudest analogies to the relationship between brain and mind.
A more accurate analogy would be this – can you alter the wiring of a TV in order to change the plot of a TV program? Can you change a sitcom into a drama? Can you change the dialogue of the characters? Can you stimulate one of the wires in the TV in order to make one of the on-screen characters twitch?
 Well, that is what would be necessary in order for the analogy to hold."
The idea, of course, is to suggest that we can 'change the plot' of our conscious experiences by fooling around with brain wiring; that we can change our life from 'a sitcom into a drama' by messing around with the brain; that we can 'change the dialogue' of the people around us by hacking our heads. Well, can we? Here is what he says next:
"As we have learned more and more about brain function, we have identified many modules and circuits in the brain that participate in specific functions. ...
Disruption of one circuit, for example, can make someone feel as if their loved-ones are imposters, because they do not evoke the usual emotions they should feel.
Disruption of another circuit can make a person feel as if they are not in control of a part of their body – so-called alien hand syndrome.
A stroke that leaves the ownership module intact but unconnected to the paralyzed limb can rarely result in a supernumerary phantom limb – the subjective experience of having an extra limb that you can feel and controlled (but that does not exist).
Seizures are also a profound area of evidence for the mind as brain theory. Synchronous electrical activity in particular parts of the brain can make people twitch and convulse, but also experience smells, sounds, images, feelings, a sense of unreality, a sense of being connected to the universe, an inability to speak, the experience of a particular piece of music, a sense of deja vu, or pretty much anything you can imagine. The subjective experience depends on the part of the brain where the seizure occurs."
Well? What about changing the plot of our lives by manipulating the brain? What about changing our lives from sitcom to drama? What about inserting dialogues into our conscious experience by hacking the brain? Where is the evidence for all that? Clearly, Novella is using a misleading rhetorical device here. He appeals to a strong and valid intuition at first by making an implicit promise. Then, very subtly, he 'forgets' entirely to deliver on that promise. The trick is that readers may not be critical enough to notice it when they read on. They may stay with the conclusion evoked by the original promise, failing to see that it wasn't fulfilled in the end.

What the evidence does show is that brain hacking (for lack of a better expression) can cause incoherent or limited hallucinations (which Novella refers to when he talks about the brain-induced experience of 'smells, sounds, images, feelings.'). These are a far cry from induced 'plot changes' from 'sitcom to drama.' Moreover, the 'receiver' analogy can easily deal with incoherent or limited hallucinations as well, as anyone who ever messed around with the tuning knob of a radio will know. Other observations Novella refers to can also be accommodated by the 'receiver' analogy. For instance, someone's inability to feel connected to loved ones can be interpreted as the 'filtering out' (or 'tuning out') of the experience of love, which is not a mere detail of our conscious lives but a major 'channel.' One can think of it as limiting the range of the tuning knob along a certain dimension, so one can no longer tune into the 'heart channel.' (Here I anticipate that Novella, if he replies to this, will pick on this very specific statement and create a straw-man... just watch.)

His next misleading point:
"If, on the other hand, the receiver model were correct then it would be reasonable to predict that as we investigate the relationship between brain function and mental function in greater and greater detail, the physical model would break down. We would run into anomalies we could not explain, and it would seem as if the brain does not have the physical complexity to account for the observed mental complexity. None of this is what we find, however."
Very smoothly, he is passing for a fact the claim that we don't find those anomalies. One can only conclude this by ignoring all the evidence that contradicts materialism. There are plenty of anomalies. I refer to Chapter 2 of my book Why Materialism Is Baloney for a list.

In conclusion, I think the power of Novella's arguments depends on misleading rhetorical devices. I won't even claim that he is purposefully misleading; on the contrary: I actually think that he honestly believes what he wrote. Once you become too invested in a certain paradigm of thought (as any militant materialist is), you also become unable to step back and evaluate the arguments objectively. You drink your own poison and then go on to sell it as elixir; very sincerely.

Where I agree with Novella

All this said, I actually think Novella does suggest some good points, buried in his misleading rhetoric. Here is a part I like:
"A dedicated dualist might still argue that each specific mental function requires its own specific receiver. Brain circuits are receiving specific signals. If you stimulate the circuit it acts as if it is receiving the signal. Eventually, this argument leads to a brain that has all the circuitry necessary to produce everything we can observe about mental function – it leads to the light fairy argument, where the light fairy is simply not necessary."
Indeed, beyond a certain level of granularity, if we can keep on deactivating or stimulating more and more specific cognitive capacities by brain manipulation alone, the 'receiver' analogy breaks down. The 'receiver' model entails that brain activity correlates with experience at the finest levels of granularity, but not that brain hardware has the same level of correlation. Of course, the question is: have we passed that level?

My own position

As my readers know, I think materialism's postulate of a whole universe beyond the only carrier of reality we can ever know – that is, conscious experience itself – is inflationary and unnecessary. Materialism simply isn't skeptical enough, entertaining unreasonable metaphysical abstractions as it does. My claim is that only subjective experience exists. As such, the brain is in consciousness, not consciousness in the brain. Anything beyond consciousness is, by definition, beyond knowledge and concreteness, since both knowledge and concreteness are (qualities of) experience.

How do we then explain the fine-grained correlations between brain activity and subjective experience? Because the brain is the visible image of a localisation of the flow of consciousness, like a whirlpool is the visible image of a localisation of the flow of water. For exactly the same reason that a whirlpool doesn’t generate water, the brain doesn’t generate consciousness. Yet, obviously, the image of a process correlates very well with the inner-workings of the process. Flames, as the 'outside view' of the microscopic process we call combustion, correlate very well with the 'inside,' microscopic view of combustion. Yet, flames don't cause combustion; they are simply the way combustion looks from the outside. In exactly the same way, brain activity doesn't cause subjective experience; it is simply the way subjective experience looks from the outside. The simplicity of this interpretation is so self-evident that I find it baffling that materialists don't see it.

Fine, but how do we then explain why physical intervention with the brain can so dramatically interfere with cognition and motor control? For the same reason that a thought can interfere with an emotion. Is there any problem with that? Of course not. After all, a thought is merely a process in consciousness that interferes with another process in consciousness – namely, an emotion. Under monistic idealism, all physical objects, actions, phenomena, and processes are images of processes in consciousness; what else could they be? As such, there is absolutely no problem in the fact that physical intervention in the brain – a process in consciousness – interferes with cognition – another process in consciousness. Seeing a problem here implicitly assumes dualism.

Notice that Novella appeals frequently to parsimony: dualism is unnecessary, because we can explain things without postulating a 'soul' or 'spirit.' I agree with him. But what I find striking is his – and most materialists' – inability to see how their own position makes unnecessary postulates: namely, a whole darned universe outside experience and, as such, beyond knowledge. Parsimony is necessary, and that is precisely why materialism cannot be considered the best explanation for the mind-body problem.

I am aware that what I say above isn't, by any stretch of the imagination, complete enough to tackle all possible objections. That's why I wrote a 250-page book to make my case in a more complete manner. In addition, I have addressed the most common objections to my position in the video below. Please have a look at least at this video before posting your objections in the comments section below.


You might now ask: why do I like the 'receiver' or 'filter' metaphor at all, if I am not a dualist? Because it has much intuitive explanatory power, is closer to reality than materialism, and because it is indeed a proper metaphor for my position: if the brain is a kind of 'whirlpool' of mind, a whirlpool does 'filter out' of itself the water molecules that do not fall within its vortex. A process of mental localisation is, in a way, a process of mental 'tuning.' Dualism may ultimately be wrong, but it surely is a more apt metaphor for the true nature of reality than materialism.

Copyright © 2014 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.

Comments

  1. Bernardo, as an idealist, do you have any truck with the ideas of Thomas Campbell whose book “My Big Toe” postulates consciousness as primary, and digital, and our world as a virtual reality, one of many VRs created by a subset of consciousness which he calls “The Big Computer” (TBC)? He talks of “data streams” which we can tune into by practice and intent (via OOBEs) –so agrees with your idea of filters.

    He states the primary purpose of consciousness is not fun or curiosity, but a desire to evolve towards a lower entropy state (i.e. less noise, higher quality), which is felt or experienced as “becoming love”. He advocates meditation, dropping ego, caring about others rather than ourselves and courageously facing up to our fears.

    The Physical Matter Realities (many of which he says he has explored ‘Out of Body’) are intended to advance this process by giving feedback to our souls (which he calls Individuated Units of Consciousness – IUOCs- residing in Non Physical Matter Realities -NPMRs); he says we humans are effectively acting as game avatars. Does his computer metaphor seem reasonable to you?

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    1. Hi Barbara. I haven't read Tom's books, so I am not really in a position to comment accurately. That said, the metaphor of a virtual reality seems very evocative and largely appropriate. I do think it is largely compatible with my own views. The danger I see is that it is conducive to being taken literally, which would, of course, raise the following non-sensical question: In which reality is the computer that simulates our virtual reality? And then you get infinite regress. Personally, I prefer metaphors that cannot be mistaken for anything but metaphors: when I say that the body-brain system is a whirlpool of the stream of mind, nobody could take that literally. It avoids the infinite regress in the sense that it stops at consciousness as the sole, irreducible ontological primitive.

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    2. In tom's TOE the larger consciousness system (LCS) creates the virtual reality for itself (us). It also sets the "rules" like time, energy, mass, light speed, and so on. Tom avoids infinite regression because the LCS isn't bound by the rules it sets like time and space. Here's a great discussion of physicist tom campbell and bologist bruce lipton about this and much more.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjDQzCq6FdM

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    3. I discovered Tom Campbell long before Bernardo, and his TOE really resonated with me. Now, having discovered Bernardo, I am even more convinced that a world view with consciousness as the ontological primitive is the path forward. The question is - how do we start to PROVE this with rigorous science and experimentation?

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  2. Hi Bernardo, So great to see a great young mind at work. I too would recommend reading tom campbell's book My Big Toe. great ideas about virtual reality but not so sure about God evolving as love.
    I heard your brilliant 2012 interview on Skeptiko. You ended w two questions. What accounts for continuity of experience in idealism and why are we here? The reason there is continuity of experience in idealism is because there is fundamentally one consciousness. Like in your dreams. You think there are separate objects in your dream including yourself but really there is only one subject. You the dreamer. Its the same with continuity of experience in idealism. The answer to the second question is more difficult. Do we have a purpose? Most people believe we are here to learn something but if it is true we are part of one larger subject experiencing itself there is nothing to learn. Do you as the "person" in your dream learn anything? You may feel like you do but as the actual dreamer of the dream you already know everything that occurs in your dream. Literally. Therefore, what is your purpose as a character in your dream? To learn something? Not really. Its to experience your character in your dream. So it probably is here. Our fundamental "purpose" is to have experiences. In fact we are the dreamer experiencing itself as objects in its dream.

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    1. Hi John,
      Thanks for the kind words. And I do attempt to tackle both questions in Why Materialism Is Baloney, pretty explicitly, extensively, and head-on.
      Cheers, B.

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  3. Regarding the brain as a limiting reciever of consciousness this is a good analogy. This is clear during OOBEs. Thats why damage to the brain can limit the freedom of consciousness. It also why some drugs can increase the freedom of consciousness while suppressing brain activity. Either way consciousness itself is unaffected but its freedom of expression is. Damage to the brain does not damage consciousness it restricts its freedom of expression through the brain. Dr bruce lipton explains this "receptor of self" theory on YT better than I.

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  4. The vintage radio receiver is tuned to 666 kHz. Number of the beast!

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    1. You have better eyes than I do... :) I don't make anything of this particular symbolism, but I also don't want to give any reason for people with particular sensitivities to get distracted away from the content of the essay. Therefore, I replaced the picture.

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    2. Yes, but 666 may be a clue on whose consciousness the brain is in...

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  5. I really liked your responses to Novella's argument. I especially liked your response to the invisible light fairy. It's great how a little rigorous logic can undo something that initially seems ironclad.

    His point that the "light fairy" of consciousness is unnecessary to explain the relationship between mind and brain is pretty gutsy. OK, so we (this is a materialist speaking) can't explain the emergence of consciousness from insentient matter. We can't explain the existence of consciousness. We can't explain the various forms of psi. We can't explain free will (even though we literally cannot stop acting like we ourselves have it). We can't explain how consciousness can persist when the heart has stopped (as in certain near-death experiences). We can't explain all manner of phenomena in which brain reduction leads to mind expansion (a la Kastrup). And the list could go on. But, of course, it is entirely UNNECESSARY (as well as rather primitive and intellectually quaint) to posit some reality called "mind" that exists independently of the brain.

    I think the materialist can say "entirely unnecessary" (as Novella does) for the same reason that skeptics regarding psi can say "there is no evidence for psi." I think what they mean is this: Given what we know theoretically about the nature of reality, psi is basically impossible. Therefore, we must require the experimental evidence for it to get over a bar so high that it's basically impossible to get over. Given that the experimental evidence hasn't, in our eyes, gotten over that bar, it's clear that there is no good evidence for psi. And that means there IS no evidence for psi, because by "evidence" we mean "good evidence." In this way, we make experimental results of billions or quintillions to one simply vanish into thin air.

    The basic argument, then, seems to be this: The strength of the materialist worldview means that the odds are astronomically against any phenomena that don't fit that worldview, allowing us to explain those phenomena away to the point where they actually disappear from the board. For all practical purposes, they don't exist. AND their lack of existence is a primary reason that the materialist worldview is so strong--there are no anomalous phenomena that contradict it! So the strength of the worldview is the reason we can explain away problematic phenomena, and the absence of problematic phenomena is the reason the worldview is so strong. And hardly anyone seems to see the brazen circularity of this.

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    1. Ha! Yes! Beautifully put! I think this is exactly what happens.

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  6. Calling "all of reality" (what the materialist calls: material reality) "consciousness" does not make any point, If "all of reality" would be some undivided whole, so without making the distinction between ourselves (our mind, our experience of reality) and the outside reality, we could not even start to talk about it. You would be in the same state as a baby who was just born, not making a distinction between "inner reality" and that what exists outside, independend of one own's mind.

    Further (as stated before somewhere else):
    1- What would consciousness be conscious of when there is no matter?
    2- Without space as real existent, everything would happen "right here" and to you
    3- Without time all experience would happen "right now"

    So how can a mind even have experience without a real existent world, real spacetime and real matter.

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    1. You misunderstand the simple point I am making and project all kinds of things onto it that aren't part of it. It's understandable because we are all so immersed in unexamined materialist assumptions. Now, try to take a step back and bear with me for a moment. You clearly are open to something new, otherwise you wouldn't have spent so much time making several comments in this blog.

      What is unquestionable is that there is conscious experience. That such experience is _caused_ by a world outside mind is an inference, not a self-evident fact. After all, we are all entirely locked into our own inner life.

      The next question is: if experience is not caused by a world outside mind, then where does it arise from? (that's a re-wording of your question 1) It arises from the unfolding of mind itself, in the same way that matter and the laws of physics supposedly arise from the unfolding of nature itself. Matter is an expression of what nature is; similarly, experience is the unfolding of what mind is. Subjective experience is simply the expression of mind itself, like sound is the expression of a guitar string when it vibrates. We don't need to infer an instrument outside the guitar string to explain the sound. The sound is simply the behaviour of the guitar string, which embodies the fundamental qualities of the string itself. The idealist position adds no complexity to the question of where experience arises from. It simply avoids the extra assumption that, whatever complexity is involved, it exists in a fundamentally unknowable realm outside mind.

      Your question 2 is incoherent and begs the point. To say that without space everything would happen right here is a tautology: it's correct _by definition_ and says absolutely nothing. It's like saying that without light everything would be dark. The same applies to your question 3: it's a tautology. Idealism does not imply the dissolution of space or time. It just states that space and time are in mind, as qualities of experience.

      Your final question reflects a prejudice. You are assuming that mind, in and of itself, can only be an empty, blank slate, without properties or potentialities. This a gratuitous assumption. Mind can have intrinsic qualities just like objective space-time supposedly does. Indeed, materialism attributes intrinsic qualities and potentialities to nature, which unfold according to certain patterns and regularities and form the universe we know. Idealism is merely saying that those qualities, patterns and regularities are intrinsic to mind itself, not something outside mind; that mind isn't an empty, blank slate, but has inner dynamics. Again, this implies no more complexity than materialism; on the contrary: it's much more parsimonious.

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  7. Hi Bernardo - great interesting stuff as usual. I was going to write a comment directly to your post, but I'd like to respond indirectly to Rob Heus first.

    This is completely about "means" (or what the Buddhist call "Skillful means" - I don't fundamentally disagree with anything you say - but I wonder if some tweaking of metaphors might help.

    I know you say you like the whirlpool metaphor because it can't be mistaken for the literal "thing." However, it didn't help Rob. It may be because of innate prejudices, but I wonder if it is because the distance between the whirlpool and our everyday experience is so vast that it's hard (for some) to connect them.

    Let me offer, once again (sorry if this gets repeated too much) my lucid dream analogy. I also say, at the outset, and many times later, I'm not saying we're IN a lucid dream now. In fact, I go farther and say, if you want to believe in materialism that's fine. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, so before you're going to make up an entire reality which is in principle unknowable (as Krishna Prem pointed out in that Gita appendix) and which is utterly unlike our experience (our experience being filled with awareness, with sensory qualities, emotions and thoughts, whereas the world the materialists posit is dead, stupid and unconscious), you're going to have to convince me it's worth my while to spend more than a few minutes considering the possibility of such an incoherent absurdity.

    So, Rob, if you imagine that we are in a shared, conscious (or lucid) dream - that is, a world of images "known" or embraced by perceiving (or awareness, or consciousness or whatever you want to call it) - all the qualities of the material world would naturally be present too - order, precise correlations between the "image" we call "the brain" and the thoughts, feelings, memories, etc associated with that image.

    Rob, does this help at all?

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  8. (comment #2, continued from above) Now, Bernardo, to my big question. The only real "beef' i have with your whole response to Novella. My biggest problem is with the phrase "solid physics behind electrically-powered lighting,"

    I think if you give a materialist an inch, he'll take a thousand yards. My approach - and it may not be yours - is not to allow even one iota of credibility to the materialist.

    So what is wrong with that phrase? Of course, if we were being good scientists and careful philosophers, we wouldn't take that phrase and assume it means that "good solid physics" means that electricity can be explained completely from a materialist view.

    But unfortunately, I'm sure Novella and every one of his fellow debunkers takes it that way, and the vast majority of the well educated public who hasn't give this much thought probably unwittingly takes it that way as well.

    But let's cut materialism at the root. Virtually every "explanation" in the entire field of physics (as with all physical sciences, including astronomy, chemistry, etc) depends entirely on "patterns' known as laws of nature. But not only does materialism have no explanation for these patterns, these patterns are an utter absurdity in a dead, stupid, unconscious universe.

    you (I don't mean you Bernardo, I mean the materialists) mean we start with nothing, and then boom, and then a split second later, there's patterns? And you materialists call this an explanation, and everything you say is "solid physics" depends on this non-explanation? And then, you go on and have absolutely no problem with the fact that somehow, mysteriously, miraculously, inexplicably, in an entirely dead, stupid, unconscious world, these patterns CONTINUE! And not just for a few milliseconds, but for billions and billions and billions and billion and billions of years!!! All of this is a pure miracle, extraordinary.

    And I won't even mention the emergence of life, sentience, consciousness, self awareness, thoughts, memories, qualia, psi, NDEs, etc.

    Just patterns - absolutely impossible to imagine how they could emerge, and then persist for billions of years, in a dead, unconscious, stupid universe…. where? In what space? Is this a space or set of mass or energy we could ever directly contact? So not only is it utterly inexplicable that patterns could arise out of nothing in a completely dumb, stupid mindless universe, but we are asked to believe in such a marvelous thing without ever having any proof of it.

    Coming back to your essay, now, you might save all this verbiage by saying, "WTIHIN THE MATERIALISTIC FRAMEWORK, it is widely believed that we have a comprehensive, sufficient view in physics of what electricity is and how it works.

    But we don't have a clue as to what it is, and we have only the most superficial view of its processes, based on patterns which have somehow inexplicably emerged from nothing and which even more inexplicably continue and continue and continue, for millions and billions of years, and even now, it is utterly magic that in a dumb, mindless, unconscious universe, these patterns could continue for even an instant rather than the whole thing falling apart the instant after the big bang.

    Well, just a suggestion. Bring out the consequences of the materialist view and let Novella and the others hang themselves with their own rope.

    But here's the real dilemma. This is not about logic, but it's not just about emotional prejudice. It's about a particular way of thinking - Franklin Merrell Wolff referred to it, near the middle of the 20th century, as the 'critical faculty" which has been way overdeveloped since the middle ages at the expense of insight.

    Because you and most of the people here have developed some measure of insight, and the emptiness and absurdity of materialism is so obvious to us, it just seems that if you present a perfectly logical picture, people like Novella would get it.

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    1. Hi Don,
      I sympathize with a lot of what you say. When I acknowledge the physics of electricity, what I am actually saying is this: we know that physical reality, as the image of the collective unconscious, unfolds according to certain patterns and regularities. In particular, a modality of activity of the collective unconscious is called electricity. I thus acknowledge that empirical science has been very successful in modeling the patterns and regularities of the behavior of electricity, which we captured in Maxwell's laws. This model allows us to understand the phenomenology of electricity and predict its behavior well. This is what I mean when I say that there is solid physics behind electricity. I am not giving any iota to materialism.
      On the question of the emergence of patterns in nature, I must say that I think you are not giving materialism enough credit here. They are delusional, but not that delusional. :-) I commented on this in another reply to you, but here is the essence: materialism says that, in the beginning, there was 'chaos' in in the arrangements of matter and energy int he universe. But materialism also acknowledges the _laws of physics_. The laws of physics are an irreducible ontological primitive according to materialism. It is those laws that bring order and pattern into matter and energy. Specifically, random quantum fluctuations in the originally uniform distribution of matter in the universe got amplified by the law of gravity, forming clumps that eventually led to stars, galaxies, planets, moons, you and me. So the idea is that LAW + CHAOS = PATTERN. You are missing the LAW part. Indeed, there are computer programs called Cellular Automata (google it) that encode a few simple rules (laws) and apply them to initially chaotic configurations of pixels. Very quickly beautiful patterns emerge.
      Cheers, B.

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  9. Final comment (#3) But it's not that he's trying to be difficult or just that he's emotionally attached. he actually sees the world differently from you and the rest of us. Iain McGilchrist explains this in extraordinary depth in his epic "The Master and His Emissary", the result of 20 years of research in hemispheric differences, showing the two fundamental ways we have of paying attention to the world - the left hemisphere preferring a narrow, objective, detached mode, and the right preferring a holistic, immersed, experiential mode. The left deals with the known, with the measurable, with the predictable and the controllable, while the right deals with what is unknown, immeasurable, unpredictable, unique and uncontrollable.

    Can you guess which mode Novella feels comfortable with? If you're going to have a dialog with him, nothing will happen until he begins to wake up the right mode, and start to integrate it with the left, as you obviously have done.

    How is that done? I suspect through art more than through logical talk. Through music, video, painting, poetry, etc. Well, that's what we're trying to do, anyway:>))))

    Otherwise, after all that…. fantastic piece of writing!!

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    1. Cheers Don! Frankly, I don't know how I 'did it' regarding my right hemisphere... I used to be very left-brained too... I guess it was... well, 'grace' :-)

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  10. You know, I've read a lot of neuroscience-based arguments for materialism. And they all seem to be based on something like "we can trace mental states X, Y, and Z to physical states A, B, and C, therefore...materialism is true." But what I don't think a lot of them get is that even if they took this concept to its ultimate logical end, it still would do nothing to prove materialism.

    For example, imagine a hypothetical future where neuroscience has advanced so far that they can implant a complex network of nano-machines into someone's brain, then have a scientist with a remote control that can literally control that person physically and emotionally like a puppet via the nano-machines. For example, the scientist could make the subject walk, raise his hand, feel happy, feel sad, get angry...all by physically manipulating the subjects brain with said nano-machines. Even if this were reality...it STILL would do nothing to prove materialism to me.

    Why you ask? Because all of this really contributes no explanatory power to the problem of explaining consciousness as a physical phenomenon. All this does is demonstrate that the brain is the nervous center of the body and the body can be controlled physically by it and influened emotionally by it. But well...didn't we already know that?

    The problem with using neuroscience to prove materialism is that none of the "neural correlates of consciousness" actually do anything to explain what consciousness (or qualia) actually is. They just correlate certain things typically associated with consciousness, like emotions or awareness, to particular areas of the brain and then the materialist will assume that said areas of the brain actually cause consciousness. Most materialist explanations I've seen regarding this state that consciousness is a "process" resulting from the physical action of the brain.

    But the problem with this is that, in materialism, the "process" of consciousness must also be a completely physical thing. How can they possibly describe something like "what it is like to be happy" physically? The materialist may say "well we can physically describe that by looking at the neural correlate for 'happiness.'" But this is begging the question...they conclude that materialism is true because of the neural correlates of consciousness, and since materialism is true, the neural correlates of consciousness must be the actual physical mainfestation of qualia. Logical fallacy...

    Anyway, I've rambled on enough. Point is, I think materialists that use neuroscience to justify their position are missing the forest from the trees. Even if they map out a neural correlate for every single human experience, it still won't prove anything because physical phenomenon will still have no explanatory power over "mental" phenomenon. So the materialist using neuroscience winds up sounding like a dualist.

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    1. >> Even if they map out a neural correlate for every single human experience, it still won't prove anything because physical phenomenon will still have no explanatory power over "mental" phenomenon.<<

      Yes, I agree completely with everything you say. I see the correlations between brain states and subjective states as showing simply this: the brain is the _image_ of a process of localization in the stream of mind, just like a whirlpool is the image of a process of localization in the stream of water. The brain doesn't generate consciousness for the same reason that a whirlpool doesn't generate water. Yet, because the image of a process correlates tightly with the inner dynamics of the process – just like the color of flames correlates tightly with the microscopic details of the process of combustion – brain activity correlates with subjective experience.
      Cheers, B.

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  11. This position seems to explain very well an astounding fact, called the "incredible and unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics to explain nature".

    Nothing exists that is more abstract (aka a mental product, a pure product of tought) than mathematics.

    If all nature is mind, then we should expect this success as a completely natural , I daresay obvious, result.

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