William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Are We Hard-Wired for Faith? Guest Post by Bob Kurland

Bob Kurland is a “retired, cranky, old physicist.” This article originally ran in modified form at Reflections of a Catholic Scientist.

“Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God”—St. John Damascene, as quoted in the Catechism, 2559.

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven…”—John Milton, Paradise Lost

“Interestingly, the average human brain weighs about 1.5 kilograms, has about 160 billion cells and about 100 billion neurons connecting the cells. The complexities of the brain are inconceivable. One can look at the brain and see the incredible complexities and the miracles of the Divine…or one can respond…that this has nothing to do with G-d. Some people will be inspired with belief in the Almighty; others will claim that somehow billions of cells and neurons working together can be created through random evolution.”—Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, Jewish World Review, 17 January, 2014

My favorite way to spend driving time is listening to audiobooks, the latest being The Spiritual Brain: Science and Religious Experience by Professor Andrew Newberg, Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, who has used SPECT imaging (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography) to show what brain regions (and thus, what brain functions) are activated or deactivated by such religious acts as prayer, meditation, contemplation.

The technique involves intravenous injection of a radioactive chemical that is metabolized by the brain during activity; the metabolic act/brain activity occurs almost immediately after injection, but enough residual radioactivity remains for it to be detected.

There are two relevant issues. The first: “Is mind purely material–is the brain simply a meat computer or something more/other?”. The second: “Given the relation between brain function and religious experience, how was this acquired—by adaptive evolution or bestowed by God?” If it were possible to build a self-aware android—Data of Star Trek—would that android naturally have a religious sense, or would it have to be endowed by his creator?

Brain regions

Certain regions of the brain are involved in various cognitive and emotional functions.1 Such regions are activated or deactivated (as appropriate) in different ways during prayer or contemplation of the Deity by those experienced in prayer and by atheists.

Newberg’s early study was on Franciscan Nuns who had decades of experience in contemplative prayer. During the act of prayer the “attention” and “language” regions of the brain were more activated than for a baseline study while the spatial orientation (sense of location) were deactivated, as shown in the figures below.

Franciscan Nun SPECT scan, from Prof. Newberg

In this figure, the brain image under “Baseline Scan” is taken during “normal” activity (no prayer or meditation). The image under “Prayer Scan” is the brain image corresponding to intense Centered Prayer. In the prayer image, the frontal lobe region (“attention”) is red, more activated than during the baseline. Similarly, the “language center” (lower left) is more activated (redder) during prayer than for the baseline.2

Franciscan Nun SPECT scan, from Prof. Newberg

This figure is also a SPECT scan image of one of the Franciscan nuns. Note the less intense spatial orientation area during prayer (yellow versus red). Prof. Newberg argues that the lower activity of the orientation area corresponds to a feeling of losing self, of oneness with the universe, a feeling often associated with deep meditation and contemplation. The same sort of changes are found for other adepts at meditation, for example, for Buddhist monks. On the other hand, an atheist contemplating God (or his/her notion of God) shows little change in brain activity, as the last figure shows.

Atheist contemplating God, from Prof. Newberg

One MRI study cited by Newberg (I can’t find the original reference) finds that those practicing prayer and contemplation have larger frontal lobes (concerned with attention and focusing activity) than do non-practitioners. But since this was not a study over time, one can’t know whether the prayer/contemplation activity is a consequence of the greater size or that the brain has increased in size after years of prayer.

Newberg also proposes that the practice of prayer/meditation will improve brain function, memory, and help alleviate various kinds of brain dysfunction. If religious experience modifies brain activity, and if one has a sudden conversion experience, how can that change brain activity if it is due only to some physical mechanism? Changes in the physiology of the brain take time, they’re not accomplished in an instant.

Let’s accept the proposition that changes in functional brain activity can be correlated with prayer, contemplation and other religious activity. What then? Is it the case that God changes the brains of the faithful? Or that the functional correlation of brain activity with religious activity is due to adaptive evolution?

The notion of adaptive evolution rests on a Darwinian mechanism for evolution–that prayer increases survival prospects and thus the transmission of a genetic predisposition to prayer is enhanced. Now both Pope John Paul II and I believe that evolution—the descent of species—is more than just a hypothesis. However, as far as the Darwinian model goes, some scientists and philosophers–faithful and non-believers–and I are skeptical; the Scottish verdict “Not Proven” applies.

A prehistoric savage chieftain is distraught over the death of a comrade and while watching the flames of a funeral pyre conceives of the spirit of his comrade going above, like the flames, and finds peace. I find it hard to credit that such a disposition to think of an afterlife is 1) genetically implanted and inheritable and 2) contributes to survival. Granted that general qualities—intelligence, the ability to form abstractions, imagination—may be due to genetic endowments and will therefore enhance survivability, but that does not imply particular aspects of those qualities are also due to particular genes. Indeed, the so called “God gene” proposal rests on minimal statistical evidence. As Carl Zimmer‘s criticism has it:

“Instead the book we have today would be better titled: A Gene That Accounts for Less Than One Percent of the Variance Found in Scores on Psychological Questionnaires Designed to Measure a Factor Called Self-Transcendence, Which Can Signify Everything from Belonging to the Green Party to Believing in ESP, According to One Unpublished, Unreplicated Study.”—Carl Zimmer, Scientific American Review of The God Gene

I think we can dispose of the argument that religious feelings have been engendered by adaptive evolution, or at least conclude that this proposition is not proven. The deeper and more difficult question is the nature and source of religious experience. If mind and consciousness are but emergent properties of a meat computer, the brain, then are religious feelings due only to fortuitous neural physiology, as philosophers such as Dennett, Churchland, Chalmers, would propose? Or do these thoughts and experiences come from another source, the Holy Spirit?

To address this question adequately requires a book at the very least: one would have to consider the nature of “Mind” and “Consciousness”, and that is a matter distinct from labeling the neuro-physiological factors at play during a religious experience.3 Quantum mechanics may have a role, as suggested in two of my previous articles, “Do quantum entities have free will..“and “Quantum Divine via God, the Berkeleyan Observer” and by several philosophers and physicists.4

An aspect of this problem that has not been explored fully by philosophers is the growth of self-awareness/consciousness and intelligence. We are born with only a rudimentary sense of self, and this progresses through infancy and early childhood in several stages to a more complete development, five stages according to Philippe Rochat. How does this development proceed? Is it genetically programmed?

I can only say that I don’t have enough knowledge to come to a conclusion. Although it seems evident from the arguments of Penrose and Searle that our brains are not meat computers, it is not clear how the mental and physical elements of consciousness are separable. I think that quantum mechanics plays a part in consciousness, but I don’t know how that can be specified. I have faith that the Holy Spirit inspires us, but I’m not sure how that is done, although evidence for this might be found from conversion experiences. Perhaps the most trenchant comment on consciousness and The Divine has been given by Rabbi Goldstein in the opening quote. That being said, I believe that consciousness, along with the deeper levels of quantum mechanics, is now and may continue to be a mystery.

——————————————————————————

1See the web presentation by Professor Elaine Hull, or books by Dr. Newberg, Why God Won’t Go Away, or How God Changes Your Brain.

2Metabolic activity of the brain is color coded–blue is least, red is most; the color coding is on a relative, not absolute scale. Changes in brain activity are more evident on a gray scale than with the color coding.

3The various views of Mind and Consciousness are explained nicely by John Searle in his book “The Mystery of Consciousness“. A later book by Searle, Freedom and Neurobiology proposes that quantum mechanics is a necessary basis for free will and thus enters into consciousness.

4In addition to Penrose’s books on quantum mechanics and consciousness, there are Quantum Enigma by Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner, The Mindful Universe by Henry Stapp, Mind,Brain & the Quantum by Michael Lockwood, Quantum Mechanics and Experience by David Albert, and The Conscious Mind by David Chalmers. The last three explore the relation of the Many Worlds/Many Minds interpretation of quantum mechanics to consciousness.

Bob Doyle’s website on information theory, consciousness and quantum mechanics is also interesting and informative.

100 Comments

  1. I think that this article adds to the binary natural/supernatural. That our brains are a meat computer or not doesn’t disprove a soul or consciousness. We are a sum of our parts – our bodies, at least in the Catholic tradition, are inherent to our identity. Our soul is not separate from our body, so trying to argue that there’s “something extra” in there somewhere ignores why we kicked gnosticism out in the first place.
    Personally, I like to think of it as from the sum of these parts comes our identity, and each of these parts has been created by God and he did it by evolution. He simply built us like we build computer programs – to start with basic programs and use them to make more complicated programs can get you to the point where there is a “ghost” in the machine. Each one of us can be that ghost.
    Of course, I don’t have a totally comprehensive theory, but I just don’t accept that we have to think there is something else to make us, us. We should marvel that consciousness as we experience can come from a meat computer and that our meat computers have an inherently greater designer than any computer we could come up with ourselves.

  2. It’s not clear at all if mental dispositions are necessarily survival traits. We seem to have more than a few traits which are survival neutral. Eye color is often used as an example. Is not being able to scratch your back a survival trait or is it just a natural outcome of the way we are built?

    Looking for causes seems a survival trait. Likewise I think our tendency toward anthropomorphism is too. The conviction of the supernatural might simply flow from these.

  3. The rabbi doesn’t understand evolution. Mutations may well be random, but which mutations survive are selected by the environment. Therefore evolution is not random but is determined by the environment.

  4. vuurklip,

    “Constrained” might be a better word than “determined”.

    Cute dog, BTW.

  5. vuurklip… can you prove that evolution is determined by the environment? I haven’t seen any such convincing proof in the literature.

  6. Nick, I agree with the Catholic dogma that body and soul are one. On the other hand, the materialist supposition that our consciousness is due to a meat computer has been, I believe, disproved by Searles and Penrose.

  7. I think that concluding how consciousness works or doesn’t is overstating current brain science.

    I think the second fact that consciousness arising from the materials of the brain would follow right in line with Catholic thought. It is very interesting to me that the early Church vehemently denied a seperate “soul” to the body. Talking about those two concepts is inherently philosophical and not neccessarily material. I think a materialist can be right and a Catholic can be right is all I’m saying.

  8. @Bob Kurland on 2 April 2014 at 9:41:
    It is called “Natural Selection”

  9. @DAV on 2 April 2014 at 8:54:
    Agreed, on both counts!

  10. @vurklip…”natural selection” is the Darwinian model for evolution, the descent of species. A number of scientists–believers and non-believers: Gould, Kaufmann, among others–have serious doubts about the validity of this model (even though we believe in evolution, the descent of species. I stand by my opinion: “not proven” for adaptive evolution.

  11. Bob Kurland,
    Why do you say that Gould had serious doubts about natural selection? Nothing that I have read by Gould, and I have read a lot by him, would lead to such a conclusion. See for example:

    http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_selection.html

  12. Bob Kurland on 2 April 2014 at 10:58:

    Hold on! You are entitled to your own opinions but not to your “own” facts – to paraphrase Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
    Scotian re Gould (on 2 April 2014 at 11:38 am said:) is correct.

  13. what I was trying to say, was that Gould did not believe in gradualism, rather through “puntuated equilibrium”….i.e. that evolution proceeded through small variations enhancing survivability. You’re correct, he did not discredit Darwin. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saltation_(biology)
    Here’s a quote that’s relevant:
    However, Goldschmidt proposed that mutations occasionally yield individuals within populations that deviate radically from the norm and referred to such individuals as “hopeful monsters”. If the novel phenotypes of hopeful monsters arise under the right environmental circumstances, they may become fixed, and the population will found a new species. While this idea was discounted during the Modern synthesis, aspects of the hopeful monster hypothesis have been substantiated in recent years. For example, it is clear that dramatic changes in phenotype can occur from few mutations of key developmental genes and phenotypic differences among species often map to relatively few genetic factors. These findings are motivating renewed interest in the study of hopeful monsters and the perspectives they can provide about the evolution of development. In contrast to mutants that are created in the lab, hopeful monsters have been shaped by natural selection and are therefore more likely to reveal mechanisms of adaptive evolution.”
    OK…so he ok’s adaptive evolution…scratch Gould. I still don’t believe in adaptive evolution and a genetic predisposition to faith. And I am still skeptical of the CONVENTIONAL Darwinian model, survival of the fittest by small, gradual changes. NOT PROVEN!!!

  14. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 2, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    OTOH, the atheist philosopher Jerry Fodor rejects natural selection as being inherently teleological. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n20/jerry-fodor/why-pigs-dont-have-wings

    Go figure.

  15. (Studying if this predisposition originates in particular brain features is known as “neurotheology” — how did the author of the essay fail to note this?)

    As Michael Crichton observed:

    “I studied anthropology in college, and one of the things I learned was that certain human social structures always reappear. They can’t be eliminated from society. One of those structures is religion. Today it is said we live in a secular society in which many people—the best people, the most enlightened people—do not believe in any religion. But I think that you cannot eliminate religion from the psyche of mankind. If you suppress it in one form, it merely re-emerges in another form. You can not believe in God, but you still have to believe in something that gives meaning to your life, and shapes your sense of the world. Such a belief is religious.”
    FROM: e.g. http://www.sullivan-county.com/immigration/e2.html

    So-called atheists DO have “religions” but not in the theological sense — even cursory review of global warming alarmism [for example] reveals patterns entirely consistent with those found in most if not all “religions” including: overt & pointless emphasis on believing the core tenets as a core value; conforming behaviors that are intrinsically self-punitive/self-sacrificing; an apocalyptic vision of the future; etc., etc. Even the jargon applied by global warming alarmists is verbatim from 70s evangelicals (“believers” vs. “deniers” etc….). E.G. see: “Global Warming as Mass Neurosis” (“sick souled religion”) FROM: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB121486841811817591?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB121486841811817591.html

    Ponder as one might about if religion is a biologically/brain-based human feature, one thing is certain–in all human societies invent for themselves some form of religion (by contemporary standards, all can agree that the vast majority of such inventions have been false…which is how we know they were inventions/fabrications). That kind of recurring prominence — is strongly indicative that something about the human animal predisposes itself to fabricate for itself some kind of religion.

  16. Ken, I’ve come across the neologism “neurotheology” by Newberg and others, and didn’t think it merited repetition.

  17. I’ve been waiting for a comment as good as that of D.S. Thorne (much better insights than I had):

    “Many thanks for this post – I myself am all for brain imaging. I must add, though, that it can only have real value when viewed in conjunction with other disciplines.

    For one, nothing within the images themselves can help us determine what a “normal” image ought to look like: should mundane brain activity be the norm, or should contemplative activity be the norm? Here as elsewhere we must resist the tendency to confuse statistical and moral norms.

    Another issue: all conscious activity, for all I gather, involves neural activity, but conscious activity is arguably stratified in ways that might not be easily detected in neural images. I’m thinking of Aristotle’s distinction between the sensory activity that we have in common with other animals and intellectual activity that man alone has. Blurring these two was a foundational error of Descartes, and one that we will perpetuate if we hyper-focus on brain images.

    Third: If Buddhists and Catholics in meditation exhibit similar brain activity, then clearly some supplementary information is needed, because the conceptual foundations of each religion are unreconcilable with each other. The risk here is of (a) viewing the contemplative “state” as optimal and (b) turning the underlying religious apparatus into a human algorithm for attaining that state. This would turn religion into a strictly subjective matter, which, certainly in the case of Catholicism, would stand at direct odds with the substance of that religion.

    Clearly, we are onto some strange territory here, even as Searle, Nagel and Colin McGinn would argue (over and against the die-hard physicalists) – and these figures don’t even begin to factor in the possibility of infused grace and the like.”

    ~DS Thorne, kindlefrenzy.weebly.com

  18. I wish we could edit comments…I’m sloppy…what I meant to say was not that Gould believed
    “that evolution proceeded through small variations enhancing survivability”
    but rather through “monsters”…punctuated equilibrium, and this differs from Darwin’s survival of the fittest, enhanced survivability through small variations.
    the quote should read
    “that evolution proceeded not through small variations but through punctuated equilibrium”.
    In any event, Gould was a Darwinian and I stand corrected. Stuart Kauffman (of self-organization theory) was a believer in evolution, but not in the Darwinian model of small variations enhancing survivability.

  19. I would like to see a comparison of spect scans of brain activity in quiet concentrated focus (untimed math activity). For example, studies of increased blood flow during more advanced mathematical activities appear to correlate with the Franciscan Nun images. (I say appear since I am not an expert in this arena).

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3152634/figure/F2/

    Also saw a late night documentary on some researchers who stimulate certain parts of the brain to initiate feelings of a presence in the room or feelings of connectedness to the larger universe. They were insinuating that persons who are more prone to this brain activity, like the book, are more prone to feeling connected to a greater universe. Sorry, do not have a link.

    My interpretation is different. Persons with active brain centers in certain things are more capable of achieving in those activities. Persons practiced in quiet focused meditation (or math) are better at meditating than I am, not more connected to a god.

  20. Great comment Ken. With that in mind (pun intended) the assumption is that certain brain blood flow is connected directly to particular thoughts in this case religion…and it is not. That’s why, in support of previous poster, no difference between Buddhist meditation or Catholic…or convening with the trees in my yard.

    What does get more blood flow are activities, of which one is religious focus, right?

    Crichton would then write a book about the future of this. Mobile scanners located abundantly in public and, when a particular thought is made, (neuron activation for outlawed porn thought or something equally absurd) and the thought police grab you. You actually may have been thinking about the need to wash the car.

  21. Empiresentry, I’ve looked at the link you’ve cited. It uses fmri (functional mri). As a subject for mri and a retired mri physicist, I put minimal credence in some of these conclusions. First, if one is of more than average girth (myself included), the claustrophobic feeling induced by the narrow tube and the very loud banging due to the intense pulsed field gradients required for fmri are quite distracting (see: “fMRI Scanner Noise Interaction with Affective Neural Processes”, Skouras et al.). There are differences between meditation, prayer, talking in tongues and other types of focused activity, as well as differences between individuals engaged in these activities, as Newberg has shown, but one can’t in a short post detail all these. If you want to learn more, read Newberg’s books. My point is that even if one has localized a functional area of the brain engaged in such activity, that does not explain where faith or belief comes from. It does not show that a predisposition to religious belief or to non-belief may be genetically endowed. I had thought I had this opinion clear in my final comments.

  22. Empiresentry (@ 2:13 pm)

    See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJ-IfVHJH58 — start at about the 10:00 min point. The whole thing is actually interesting, if you’re into this sort of thing.

    There Leonard Mlodinow presents some of his book, “Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior,”

    …relative to your comment, “…the assumption is that certain brain blood flow is connected directly to particular thoughts in this case religion…and it is not” is quite probably wrong.

    According to Mlodinow a computer “trained” to read a person’s fMRI brain scan while they were looking at a photo did surprisingly well in guessing what photo a person was looking at (based solely on the fMRI data), out of six million photos in a database. By “surprisingly well” the computer didn’t predict any photo exactly, however, the similarities between the actual & guess are very surprising (e.g. a mottled snake vs. a mottled worm, a lake vs. a similarly shaped lake, etc.).

    From about 15:20 to 30:00 (in the youtube video) is demonstrated how one’s brain/mind constructs perceptions of reality — and often how those perceptions are blatantly wrong to the extent that even when one knows that something is not really there, one still cannot not perceive reality as it really is! This is illustrated with a nonexistent “backward message” (a Satanic one at that!!) in Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”

    There’s proof positive that while “seeing [and hearing] is believing” it really ought not be that way.

  23. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 2, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    Also saw a late night documentary on some researchers who stimulate certain parts of the brain to initiate feelings of…

    If you want an apple you can pick one up; but if someone shoves an apple into your hand, it doesn’t mean you wanted it.

  24. From one tired, cranky, old physicist to another,
    I have some problems with the scans shown as comparing the first two we see a few inconsistencies. The frontal lobe and language enhancement seen during prayer in the first do not show up in the second and is even reversed for language. Also the orientation depression effect highlighted in the second is not seen in the first. Doesn’t this lack of reproducibility destroy the credibility of the study?

  25. Scotian, I wondered about that also. I’m not an expert in SPECT, but I believe they can select levels approximately (not as well as in MRI). So it’s different levels–cross-sections–being examined, I believe. If you look at the ventricles (the very dark areas–brain fluid), they’re different in the different scans also, which confirms my notion that it’s different levels.

  26. Bob,
    This may be the solution, although the frontal lobes are the frontal lobes in all slices for the top views shown. I would need to see the details on the spacial resolution and the reasons for cognitive assignment. It’s the reviewer in me. I also wonder on the variation from person to person.

  27. Ken,

    Not a bad video but the focus is almost always on Mlodinow. Many times when he points to the screen to illustrate a point, the video doesn’t move with him. Instead we get to watch him pointing but don’t see what he is pointing toward. So it’s not the best of choices.

    If I’m not mistaken, the image selection detector was trained for a specific individuals and didn’t do well when presented with an individual not used in during training. All in all, though, it is amazing it was successful at all.

    More importantly, I think, was the discussion of the focusing of awareness. I would seem a lot of what we call “conscious behavior” and “conscious decision making” is “conscious” only after the fact. I don’t think we )as in, the “conscious we”) are as much in control as we believe.

  28. On the other hand, the materialist supposition that our consciousness is due to a meat computer has been, I believe, disproved by Searles and Penrose.

    I really wonder about that unless you meant they showed the materialists aren’t making the supposition. Their “proof” doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on the materialists who must obviously be off on a fool’s errand looking for ways that consciousness can be founded on brain activity.

  29. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 2, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    Their “proof” doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on the materialists who must obviously be off on a fool’s errand looking for ways that consciousness can be founded on brain activity.

    Pehaps they should be looking for ways that brain activity can be founded on consciousness.

  30. Perhaps they should be looking for ways that brain activity can be founded on consciousness.

    Maybe so but so far it has been looking like the other way around. Did you see the lecture Ken linked?

  31. Just because two people are “praying” it doesn’t mean they are doing exactly the same thing neuro-biochemically. For instance, Tiger Woods and I both play golf but…

  32. Finishing the sentence: (following from: Just because two people are “praying”

    For instance, Tiger Woods and I both play golf but… one of you doesn’t have a prayer?

  33. DAV, what Searles has presumably shown (and his demonstration satisfies me) by the Chinese room analog is that there is no self-awareness, no sense of meaning when a computer performs translation (as an example). What Penrose has shown, turning to Goedel’s and Turing’s theorems, is that algorithmic procedures can not produce intelligence: a computer can not discover the mathematical truths that the human mind can.

  34. Scotian, from my physicist’s experience with MRI, the levels look sufficiently different (and I admit I’m not that familiar with precise functional designations for brain anatomy) that there shouldn’t be a problem. And there does seem to be a lot more variation with SPECT than even with MRI…look at the pictures of the atheist. I accept Newberg’s contention that there is a localization of brain activity in prayer, contemplation, etc. that is associated with general brain functions. What I don’t accept is that determining such localization tells us everything we need to know about what prayer, contemplation, etc. is, i.e. what consciousness or, you should excuse the expression, the soul is.

  35. Bob,

    Searle’s argument in no way answers whether not understanding the translation is an inherent limitation in any future computer — or more precisely, algorithm set. Not sure why “self-awareness” should play a role except for perhaps self-referential sentences.

    It boils down to what is meant by “understanding”. If the definition is “only what humans do” then computers never can by definition and appears to beg the question.

    Penrose’s argument is a bit more interesting but it boils down (a simplification to be sure!) to nearly the same argument Searle used, namely, the computer is just shuffling symbols and doesn’t understand them.

  36. RE: “If I’m not mistaken, the image selection detector was trained for a specific individuals and didn’t do well when presented with an individual not used in during training.” @ DAV 2 April, 8:14 pm:

    THERE’s been, apparently, a lot of “fMRI vs. image viewed” research over the years; below are some links from a 2008 study with specific subjects with b&w photo recognition and a 2011 study where the computer was able to reproduce somewhat accurately, based on fMRI scans, a movie a person was watching! I had to include the 2008 link–from “The Pink Tentacle” website…the ominous implications with “brain scan”…too good to pass up…

    In 2008: http://pinktentacle.com/2008/12/scientists-extract-images-directly-from-brain/

    In 2011 (with video): http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2011/09/22/brain-movies/
    In 2011: http://www.livescience.com/16190-movies-reconstructed-brain-activity.html
    In 2011: http://www.technologyreview.com/news/425520/brain-imaging-reveals-what-youre-watching/

    There are two main caveats to the study. The researchers used fMRI data from only one area of the visual system—the V1 area, also known as the primary visual cortex. And the models were customized to each subject. Trying to design a model that would work for everyone would have been too difficult, says Gallant, although he suspects a more generalized model could be developed in the future.

  37. Natural selection, specifically environmentally determined evolution, has been shown empirically. Philosophically some people refute it because on a population scale there are many variables at play and it can be difficult to strip down to a single cause and effect, or they simple think the word evolution is blasphemy. It is however very easy to test.

    Take a human influenza virus culture, clonally identical genetically. Passage it in a non selective media and reisolate it. If you then do a mass sequence, the consensus will show to be the same as the original, but if you pull each virus partial out individually and sequence it, greater than 50% of them will have some sort of random mutation. Passage the original many more times and you will get the same result.

    Now take the same virus stock and passage it in eggs(change of environment). Again greater than 50% of them will have some sort of random mutation. But passage it over and over in eggs, 5-10 times, and 4 specific mutations will become dominant in the virus population…. Mutations which allow the virus to better attach and replicate inside an avian host instead of mammals. In the original host these utations would never have established because it would have been a loss of fitness, but given a new environment the mutations provide a gain of fitness and within 5 generations become dominant.

    Now take the original virus stock and passage it in a sub therapeutic dose of Amantadine (change in environment). After 2 or 3 passages the majority of the viruses will contain a mutation in the M2-ion channel which prevents Amantidine from binding to the virus.

    This is fundamentally how ALL evolution occurs. Random mutations occur continuously and those which provide a selective advantage increase in allelic representation within the population.

  38. john on 3 April 2014 at 3:04 pm said:
    Sadly these facts will not change the opinions of those with their own set of “facts” …

  39. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 3, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    Perhaps they should be looking for ways that brain activity can be founded on consciousness.

    Maybe so but so far it has been looking like the other way around. Did you see the lecture Ken linked?

    As far as I could tell the fellow was talking about the human interior sense known as the common sense, which integrates the inchoate cascade of photons, sound waves, molecules, etc. that impact on our exterior senses and forms a phantasm or ymago that unifies them. He also mentioned what he called “unconscious acts” similar to those described by Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas a while back. But it seemed to me that he begged the question. He did not demonstrate that consciousness arose from the brain. He simply assumed it by using such phrases as “the brain does this…” or “the brain does that…” This is a bit like saying “the hands played the sonata.”

    Some additional thoughts here: http://sulcus.berkeley.edu/wjf/CR%20FreemanAquinas.pdf

    We also know of people who engaged in normal life with virtually no brain:
    http://www.rifters.com/real/articles/Science_No-Brain.pdf

    Or who, lacking the necessary parts of the brain for some activity, recruited other parts of the brain as replacements:
    http://www.aolnews.com/2011/02/12/chase-britton-boy-without-a-cerebellum-baffles-doctors/?icid=maing|main5|dl2|sec3_lnk1|43681
    (which is why a particular region of the brain lighting up may or may not mean a particular thought has been thunk. And it may differ from person to person or even from time to time in the same person.)

    Similarly, although a dead salmon has been known to light up the MRI, a dead body has a brain, at least for a while, but is not widely regarded as conscious. IOW, the brain may be necessary, but it is not sufficient. The brain must be “in motion,” and that means something else is moving it.

  40. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 3, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    The brain must be “in motion,” and that means something else is moving it.

    To amplify: Mlodinow discusses the image of the hot babe with King Kong in the background and the fact that the King is often overlooked. He explains this by appealing to the intentions of the viewer. But this is already an appeal to consciousness and so cannot be part of a demonstration of consciousness.

    (I’ll also note that everything said had to do with sensory perceptions, which all animals possess, and not to abstraction and conception.)

  41. Among the many different kinds of prayer the imagined conversation model is relatively common, and so surely it is should not be surprising that prayer sometimes activates both the language centre and the frontal lobes.

    It also seems obvious that our evolutionary history includes pressure towards planning of future actions – including social interactions with individuals who may not be present while we are making those plans. Put that together with the fact that persistently seeking conscious agency behind a phenomenon like rustling leaves when there really is none is less costly than failing to do so when there really is an agent, and it does seem plausible that the basic patterns of pre-religious behaviour might well in some sense be “hard-wired” (though of course not by anything so simplistic as a single “gene”).

  42. To amplify: Mlodinow discusses the image of the hot babe with King Kong in the background and the fact that the King is often overlooked. He explains this by appealing to the intentions of the viewer.

    No. He said the appealing image is driving where the focus is. He implies that (males at least) have little choice. When you saw the photo, where was the first place you lingered?

    I’ll also note that everything said had to do with sensory perceptions, which all animals possess, and not to abstraction and conception.

    Well, for one, sensory perceptions are easier to test, When dealing with abstract ideas like God or even emotions you not only have to take the subjects word but you can’t be sure you and the subject mean the same things. It’s a basic problem with these prayer fMRIs that make them less than ideal.

    What about the backward Led Zeppelin? Can you control how you interpret what you hear? Can you listen to it and not hear the words? If not, why?

    When an object is rapidly approaching your eyes you instinctively blink even when standing behind a transparent shield you know the object can’t penetrate. You have little control over this. This not only involves interpretation but response as well.

    Is interpretation separate from conception? Is it separate from abstraction?

    Also not mentioned is how you track a flying object you are trying to catch and one not necessarily coming toward you and also one not necessarily following a ballistic path. Turns out everybody does it the same way. No thought required apparently but it does mean moving a certain way. What causes this to happen?

    I think the evidence so far supports the notion that the subconscious may have more control than some would wish.

  43. he brain must be “in motion,” and that means something else is moving it.

    I wonder then if consciousness is possible after death.

    Or who, lacking the necessary parts of the brain for some activity, recruited other parts of the brain as replacements

    I have an area on my jaw where the nerve has been cut however over time I have regained feeling there. The nerve is still cut. Who recruited the necessary changes to do that? I’m pretty sure I didn’t do it consciously.

  44. Sorry. The first quote in the last post was supposed to be:

    IOW, the brain may be necessary, but it is not sufficient.

    Does this imply awareness (consciousness) will not be possible in an afterlife?

  45. Turns out everybody does it the same way.

    I should also point out that, when asked, people has widely varying accounts of how they accomplish this.

  46. Dav, I don’t agree with your contention that “It boils down to what is meant by “understanding”. If the definition is “only what humans do” then computers never can by definition and appears to beg the question.” I think this is the heart of the issue, and is the question.

  47. John and vuurklip, I’m familiar with the virus experiments and with examples quoted in Kenneth Miller’s book, “Finding Darwin’s God”. I do believe, I do believe in evolution! I accept the linkages in genetic material and protein structure that show similarities from genus to genus. I don’t believe in Intelligent Design as a scientific theory. However you, and most others don’t distinguish between the facts of evolution–the descent of species–and the Darwinian model for evolution: that small variations enhancing survivability can yield drastic changes in phenotype. Greater minds than mine (and not theists) have disagreed with that model. And Gould, although he might have called himself a Darwinian, is not really in the “Punctuated Equilibrium” theory. If you can give me a reference that shows a stochastic model that corresponds to that Darwinian model I might be converted. By the way, the most interesting suggestion I’ve come across for such drastic changes is that put forward in Greg Bear’s Darwin’s Children.

  48. Alan Cooper,
    “It also seems obvious that our evolutionary history includes pressure towards planning of future actions – including social interactions with individuals who may not be present while we are making those plans. Put that together with the fact that persistently seeking conscious agency behind a phenomenon like rustling leaves when there really is none is less costly than failing to do so when there really is an agent, and it does seem plausible that the basic patterns of pre-religious behaviour might well in some sense be “hard-wired” (though of course not by anything so simplistic as a single “gene”).”
    All that’s well and good–but you’re speaking of general intelligence and not religious faith. There’s a fine old science-fiction novel, “A Case of Conscience”, by James Blish, in which an alien race is encountered that has no religious faith whatsoever, but acts totally rationally. That seems to me to be a much more likely case of “adaptive evolution” than being genetically endowed for faith.

  49. John and vuurklip, let me amplify my remark: if you can cite a mathematical, stochastic model that will show how cephalods, molluscs, verterbrates, …all the phyla originated via a Darwinian model in which only SMALL variations enhancing survivability occur, I will be converted. I’m a physicist, and I don’t find arguments without mathematical theories to back them up satisfying.

  50. Ken (and others) with respect to fMRI finding. I have serious reservations; the reports you cite are in the popular literature, and you know what science journalists do to original research findings. That being said, fMRI may show perceptual correlations well, but that is quite different , as the Old Statistician pointed out, from showing how abstract thinking and reflection is carried out. Again I point out to the study referred to in my previous comment about how field gradient noise is distracting. Moreover, there is an intrinsic problem in getting quantifiable results from MRI–there is intrinsic variation in scans, there can be only a few subjects (cost factors, $2k /scan) and, in my experience, radiologists use statistical analysis as a steam roller to crush a peanut. You’ve read Briggs’ comments on the non-utility of p-values. He should have read some of the MRI papers I had to referee.

  51. To those who comment on different types of prayer–“let me make this par3, G-d”. Newberg chose for his first experiment Franciscan nuns who had 15 years of experience or more in centered prayer. He comments on differences between different types of prayer and contemplation amongst various sorts of adepts. In his books he also talks about how the practice of meditation changes brain scans,as one item to support his claim that “God Changes your Brain”. Read his books if you want to get a more complete story.

  52. Bob,

    I don’t agree with your contention that “It boils down to what is meant by “understanding” … I think this is the heart of the issue, and is the question.

    Surely it does. Both Searle and Penrose claim the computer is not understanding what it is doing. Searle mostly as “so far” and Penrose attempted to show “never”. Both seem to rely on the assumption the computer can only shuffle symbols and not understand them so their arguments with respect to the proposition that a computer could understand amount to circular reasoning.

    It hinges on what is meant by “understanding”. Neither Penrose or Searle attempted to do define it. The functional definition, which is the heart of the Turing Test, is a good candidate: if walks and quacks like a duck then for practical purposes it is a duck. It’s not much different than trying to establish if a human understands something.

    Both Searle and Penrose want to peek under the hood and proclaim: Aha! It’s merely a computer! Machine understanding can never be demonstrated to anyone holding a definition of understanding which precludes a machine. They already know it can’t and don’t want to be confused by any facts.

  53. Bob Kurland on 4 April 2014 at 5:48:
    You underestimate the changes that can be wrought by small changes over many millions of years.

  54. vuurklip, I get your point, and I’m willing to admit the possibility of small changes effecting changes such as differences between phyla, but I would like to see a mathematical model that would yield phylogenetic differences from a succession of small mutations, and with discontinuities between phyla. If you look at modeling for stochastic processes, you don’t get huge total changes from small incremental changes. Most stochastic processes achieve after a sufficiently long time, an equilibrium. Prigogine has used a logistic model to explain Darwinian “survival of the fittest”, but his theory does not explain the discontinuity between phyla. Stuart Kauffmann has also discussed failures in the Darwinian model as a reason for trying other theories, but unfortunately I don’t have the reference. In any event, I dp believe in evolution, but as far as I’m concerned the mechanism (quantitative) by which drastic phylogenetic differences are achieved is a mystery. If you can give me a reference that would dispel my unbelief (i.e. a mathematical theory justifying the Darwinian model) I would be most grateful.

  55. Bob, Yes, it might be true that a purely rational assessment of the expected consequences of likely causes of rustling leaves might be biased towards Type I “errors” (ie if there’s even a small chance that it’s a lion get the hell out of there!), but since the rational process appears to be relatively slow there may be some advantage to having a quicker pre-rational process that just “assumes” the presence of an agent. My point was not that any specific faith be built-in but that there may be tendencies which form the building blocks which sometimes come together as faith. One that I missed in my previous comment was the element of faith as trust (even in the absence of any obvious good reason), and this too is something for which there is a possible evolutionary driver. Although it can be costly for the individual, irrational trust in the group leader’s commitment to one’s own welfare may lead to greater survival of kin.

  56. vuurklip…one more point: you assert that small changes over millions of years can achieve drastic, discontinuous changes between phyla, but you’ve given no references to mathematical justifications for this assertion.

  57. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 4, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    He said the appealing image is driving where the focus is.

    What makes the image appealing? What does he mean “focus”? There is nothing in the photons that privilege these photons over those photons.

    When you saw the photo, where was the first place you lingered?

    I immediately started looking for the hidden image, since he had more or less telegraphed his intent. But typically in such tricks, the first thing one sees is whatever is front and center in the framing. In the famous video of the students passing a basketball back and forth, the class is asked to count the number of times the basketball changes hands. In media res, a fellow in a gorilla suit walks to center stage, faces the camera, beats his chest, and then sashays off-stage. About 80% of viewers fail to see the “gorilla.” We used to use this as an object lesson for system auditors, that one can focus too closely on some things and miss something else. This was the case once with some nuclear auditors who were checking documents so closely for errors that they failed to notice that not all documents had been produced. If Mlodinow has re-discovered absent-mindedness or “inattentive blindness,” I don’t see a stop-the-presses moment.

    Well, for one, sensory perceptions are easier to test,

    And it’s easier to find the car keys if you only look under the street lamp.

    When dealing with abstract ideas like God…

    Why “God”? The concept of “dog” is also an abstraction. So is “three” or “greater than”. So is “all men are mortal.”

    When an object is rapidly approaching your eyes you instinctively blink even when standing behind a transparent shield you know the object can’t penetrate.

    Stop the presses, again. As you can see in the linked schematic, there is a direct line from perception to motion corresponding with the autonomous nervous system. In addition to such “knee-jerk” reactions, we also hear of those like athletes who develop “muscle memory” for particular tasks.
    http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/WAW0010.GIF

  58. Bob Kurland on 4 April 2014 at 11:58:
    I’m not sure that every natural process can be described by a mathematical formula. For example: Geological processes of plate tectonics, mountain building, erosion, etc. which have significantly altered the Earth’s crust over millenia are unlikely to be described by any mathematical formula.
    For a reference regarding the the common ancestor of all (known) life forms on Earth, see “The Ancestors Tale” by Richard Dawkins.
    Btw. Gould’s “Punctuated Equilibrium” is not a generally accepted theory.

  59. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 4, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    I have an area on my jaw where the nerve has been cut however over time I have regained feeling there. The nerve is still cut. Who recruited the necessary changes to do that? I’m pretty sure I didn’t do it consciously.

    Why do you suppose it would be?

    the Turing Test, is a good candidate: if walks and quacks like a duck then for practical purposes it is a duck.

    The Turing Fallacy assumes that if the output of a model matches the reference data, then the structure of the model matches the structure of reality. But it is well-known that any finite set of data can be matched by more than one model. You can operate a flight simulator of a 777 from JFK to LAX, but when you get out of the simulator you are not going to be in LA.

    + + +
    The point made by Searle was that no amount of syntax could ever add up to semantics. A set of lines like like “H” does not inherently mean anything, let alone the sound “en”. Meaning must come from outside the syntax. And what is true of lines is true of sound waves: the sound *gift* does not inherently mean “poison.” The same goes for positions of switches in a network or patterns of neurons in a brain. There is nothing in this arrangement of switches as opposed to that which carries a particular meaning.

    Gödel

  60. Why “God”? The concept of “dog” is also an abstraction.

    Sorry. Meant to say doG. Please excuse my exdyslia.

    And it’s easier to find the car keys if you only look under the street lamp.

    Got to start somewhere. Why pick the hardest part first?

    What makes the image appealing?

    It’s one of those if-you-have-ask things.

    As you can see in the linked schematic, there is a direct line from perception to motion corresponding with the autonomous nervous system.

    Which explains next to nothing. The perception part still requires cognitive processing to interpret the image; compute the trajectory; and recognize the threat. Furthermore that processing doesn’t require conscious thought nor can it be controlled. If you approached it as if writing a program — or at least not gloss over the details — you might appreciate the complexity in those links.

    we also hear of those like athletes who develop “muscle memory” for particular tasks.

    Not the same thing. “muscle memory” is more like a canned routine. No cognition required except perhaps to initiate.

    I immediately started looking for the hidden image, since he had more or less telegraphed his intent.

    Which was intentional (no pun intended, darn did it again) to show the power. I’m still willing to bet where you looked first and it wasn’t in the center.

    If Mlodinow has re-discovered absent-mindedness or “inattentive blindness,” I don’t see a stop-the-presses moment.

    None of it was stop the presses. More of a compressed (and incomplete) compilation.

  61. Why do you suppose it would be?

    You lost me. You had a question “Or who, lacking the necessary parts of the brain for some activity, recruited other parts of the brain as replacements” regarding someone with a brain defect. My intention was (through illustration) to say no one — it fixed itself.

    The Turing Fallacy

    What do you do to determine if a person understands something you have been saying or teaching? I bet you engage in a version of the Turing Test, er, Fallacy.

    You can operate a flight simulator of a 777 from JFK to LAX, but when you get out of the simulator you are not going to be in LA.

    The point behind the Turing Test is whether you can tell the difference. It succeeds if you can’t. And if you can’t determine then whether you are dealing with a person or a simulation of one is largely irrelevant.

    The point made by Searle was that no amount of syntax could ever add up to semantics.

    Yes. That’s why I said he was treating the computer as just a symbol shuffler. Inherent in his argument is that the computer could not understand what it was doing. Penrose started off with a system performing mechanical operations — again without understanding. If he proved anything at all, he showed this was an approach bound for failure.

    There is nothing in this arrangement of switches as opposed to that which carries a particular meaning.

    Not too sure about that one. Remember the discussion about eye blinks? At some point something formulates the message “blink NOW” (and, no, it ain’t the conscious mind).

  62. Bob, the issue of demonstrating whether (or not) a simple basic model of local interactions between individuals can lead to complex structure of the overall population with distinct species etc is a bit like that of deriving phase transitions and understanding phase boundaries in statistical mechanics. Prigogine, whom you mention, has done important work in both areas but his failure to predict “the discontinuity between phyla” strikes me as rather similar to the inability of simple mean field models in statistical mechanics to get at the case of coexisting phases. In both cases the task is far from complete but there are at least some indications that it may be possible (see http://www.math.ubc.ca/~db5d/SummerSchool09/courses.html for some discussion of recent efforts in both areas).

    For my own part I am inclined to take the evident spatial structures that arise in complex mechanical systems as indications that something similar *might* be happening in the biological case as well (where the “space” involved is not just geometric but also involves “position” or niche in the ecological space – which itself is a function of the overall mix of populations so there is a serious “feedback” issue to address).

  63. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 4, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    “And it’s easier to find the car keys if you only look under the street lamp.”

    Got to start somewhere. Why pick the hardest part first?

    It would make more sense to look first in those places where the keys were most likely lost rather in those places where it is easier for the looker. Basic problem-solving.
    + + +
    “in the linked schematic, there is a direct line from perception to motion corresponding with the autonomous nervous system.”

    Which explains next to nothing. The perception part still requires cognitive processing to interpret the image… that processing doesn’t require conscious thought nor can it be controlled.

    Depending on what you mean by “conscious thought.” Don’t forget most animals are capable of this sort of thing, but also most animals are conscious, too. But, for example, I once walked home from the dry cleaners in a state of unconsciousness. I was thinking about a statistical issue, and all the walking and toting (of clothing) up to pulling the keys out of my pocket was done without self-consciousness; but how can I say they were done without consciousness as such?

    Of course, we could say that (self-)conscious thought is no more necessary for the common sense than for the external senses. That’s no big deal. Most of life is on auto-pilot, after all; and a rational animal is still an animal.

    But still, an individual human being is a union of body and soul. The “I” is the whole man, not some spook inside the body.

    If you approached it as if writing a program — or at least not gloss over the details — you might appreciate the complexity in those links.

    Okay. The links are complex. So what? No one said they weren’t.

    “muscle memory” is more like a canned routine. No cognition required except perhaps to initiate.

    It’s an example of a learned pattern that can then be executed without conscious thought — much like the eye blink you mentioned.

    I’m still willing to bet where you looked first and it wasn’t in the center.

    Well, it was the ladder in the background; but the image was too poor and presented for too short a time to make much out.

  64. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 4, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    You had a question “Or who, lacking the necessary parts of the brain for some activity, recruited other parts of the brain as replacements” regarding someone with a brain defect. My intention was (through illustration) to say no one — it fixed itself.

    Who was “it”? Or do you suppose that the body is not part of the self?

    What do you do to determine if a person understands something you have been saying or teaching?

    I would ask for them to tell me back but in their own words. But that has nothing to do with the clear fact that more than one model may account for the same finite data. After all, to all sense experience, the earth did not seem in motion. That does not mean it isn’t.

    I bet you engage in a version of the Turing Test, er, Fallacy.

    No. I proceed by introspection, recognizing intellect and will in myself and then granting it a priori to those who appear to be of the same kind.

    The point behind the Turing Test is whether you can tell the difference. It succeeds if you can’t. And if you can’t determine then whether you are dealing with a person or a simulation of one is largely irrelevant.

    Unless you are dealing with a simulation. Then you are acting insane by conversing with someone who isn’t there.

    + + +
    “…no amount of syntax could ever add up to semantics.”

    That’s why I said he was treating the computer as just a symbol shuffler.

    Which it is. But Searle went further. Nothing is a computer unless human beings designate it as such. There is a ceramic mug sitting to my left which is a computer. It is running the dedicated program “Sit there and hold liquid.”

    his argument is that the computer could not understand what it was doing.

    His argument was that syntax did not accumulate into semantics. If you wish to subvert his argument, provide a counter-example.

    Penrose started off with a system performing mechanical operations — again without understanding.

    Actually, it was Lucas, not Penrose. And before him, Gödel.
    http://users.ox.ac.uk/~jrlucas/Godel/mmg.html
    + + +
    “There is nothing in this arrangement of switches as opposed to that which carries a particular meaning.”

    Not too sure about that one. Remember the discussion about eye blinks? At some point something formulates the message “blink NOW” (and, no, it ain’t the conscious mind).

    a) The “something” may differ from one eye-blink to another, and from one person’s blink to another person’s. Which particular arrangement of synapses are you thinking of?
    b) You are using “message” equivocably. One may as well say that people sometimes “communicate” by viruses and bacteria, because we can catch diseases from one another. One may as well say one domino formulates the message “fall NOW”. But it’s not a “message” unless a human being applies the concept to it. Otherwise, it is simply a falling domino.
    c) I don’t know what is so startling that many bodily actions are simply reactions to appropriate stimuli. A human being is a rational animal. That means he is an animal, with a stimulus-reaction soul. But running underneath that is the vegetative soul with growth, development, homeostasis, etc. (None of which require “conscious” thought.) And running beneath that is the inanimate form, by which the body responds to gravity, e/m, etc. And no conscious thought is required to fall off a cliff. Really, as you yourself have said, it’s very complex.

  65. It would make more sense to look first in those places where the keys were most likely lost rather in those places where it is easier for the looker. Basic problem-solving.

    You’re looking at this the wrong way. It’s more like translating hieroglyphics. You’ve got to start where you can begin the mapping.

    Depending on what you mean by “conscious thought.”

    Thoughts you are aware of — at least before the action. In the case of eye blinks if you become aware of them at all it’s after they’ve occurred. Some people claim consciousness is the only place where thinking occurs. I do not. I tend to see all cognitive processing as thinking.

    Okay. The links are complex. So what? No one said they weren’t.

    I got the distinct impression you were dismissing things because of those links. Reckon I was mistaken. As for “So what?” a lot of what goes on with the eye blinking reaction involves processes associated with thinking. I consider it as such.

    muscle memory” … It’s an example of a learned pattern that can then be executed without conscious thought — much like the eye blink you mentioned.

    No it’s not. It’s free running and needs no inputs. The eye blink process requires cognition of which only the blink itself could be considered “muscle memory”.

  66. Me: What do you do to determine if a person understands something you have been saying or teaching?..
    You: I would ask for them to tell me back but in their own words.
    Me: I bet you engage in a version of the Turing Test, er, Fallacy.
    You: No. I proceed by introspection, recognizing intellect and will in myself and then granting it a priori to those who appear to be of the same kind.

    Your first answer is how a Turing Test would proceed. The second one sounds like guessing.

    Unless you are dealing with a simulation. Then you are acting insane by conversing with someone who isn’t there.

    But if you can’t tell, how would you know?

    a) The “something” may differ from one eye-blink to another, and from one person’s blink to another person’s. Which particular arrangement of synapses are you thinking of?

    None in particular. Why is this so important? That it varies from person to person is irrelevant just as the position of wires in a radio is largely irrelevant to its operation.

    b) You are using “message” equivocably.

    Not at all. The message contains the implication of immediate threat with the need to act now. It contains information. I am talking about information transfer.

    c) I don’t know what is so startling that many bodily actions are simply reactions to appropriate stimuli.

    Because the stimuli I have been talking about require immense computation to perceive. It’s not a simple binary like a thermostat or light switch.

  67. hmmm.. I wonder how I did that

  68. Seems I typed an ‘a’ instead of an ‘i’ at the ‘a)’ part.

  69. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 4, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    [“conscious thoughts” are] thoughts you are aware of — at least before the action.

    It’s more complex than that. Conscious thoughts are thoughts you have while you are not unconscious; i.e., asleep or in a coma. But I can see where you are coming from. I’m just surprised you think this is something new rather than hundreds or even thousands of years old. Recall that Aquinas, for example, distinguished between “human acts” and the “acts of a man.”

    Some people claim consciousness is the only place where thinking occurs. I do not. I tend to see all cognitive processing as thinking.

    Always easier if you self-define terms. But you are closer to A/T thinking than to the Moderns in this. A creature is conscious is it is aware of the world around it. The awareness may be rudimentary, as in a cockroach, but a cockroach is certainly aware of such things as light, edges, food odors, etc. and will move toward or away from them as its basic estimative powers enable it.

    In this basic sense, all thinking is conscious. It is simply not all self-conscious. A few thoughts by Chastek
    http://thomism.wordpress.com/2008/12/06/the-danger-of-the-term-consciousness/
    http://thomism.wordpress.com/2009/09/09/stages-of-consciousness/
    http://thomism.wordpress.com/2010/03/02/note-on-consciousness/
    who also reminds us that “consciousness” was a term coined by Locke in an effort to replace the word “substance.”
    +++

    I got the distinct impression you were dismissing things because of those links. Reckon I was mistaken.

    No, it was only to point out that autonomous reactions are well-known for a long time, not that the mechanisms for such reactions are simple.

    a lot of what goes on with the eye blinking reaction involves processes associated with thinking. I consider it as such.

    What about the way the knee jerks when tapped with a mallet? Is that also “thinking”?

    The eye blink process requires cognition

    Actually, our eyes blink pretty much all the time. But now it is unclear how the various terms you’ve deployed apply: cognition, thinking, consciousness, etc. The eye blink you claim to be examples of some but not the others? What is involved in ‘cognition’, as opposed to ‘thinking’? Of course, one must be aware of the approaching object in order for the eye-blink reflex to occur, just as (on a higher level) the gymnast must be aware of the placement of the bar or the horse or the rings in order to execute his routine. If this is what you mean by cognition (and re-cognition), that’s very much in line with classical thinking. The cockroach re-cognizes the dark and instinctively seeks it.

  70. @YOS, A sleepwalker responds to the environment with as much apparent awareness as a cockroach (and for that matter so might an automated vacuum cleaner within a very few years from now). So if we agree that a sleepwalker is not conscious then I don’t think it is necessarily out of line for someone to define “conscious” as including “self-conscious”.

    In fact this possibility gives me a tiny bit of sympathy for those taken in by Searle’s stupid “Chinese Room” argument, as I can see how one who thinks of “understanding” as meaning “self-conscious understanding” might agree that the room doesn’t really “understand”. (Though this doesn’t alter the stupidity of the presumption that the room’s “understanding” is in some way dependent on that of its operator – which was Searle’s original position.)

  71. I’m just surprised you think this is something new rather than hundreds or even thousands of years old.

    Never gave much thought to whether it is new or old. Don’t see how it matters. When I took an introductory course in cognitive psychology I was dismayed to discover the focus was on who, when and where instead of the what.

    What about the way the knee jerks when tapped with a mallet? Is that also “thinking”?

    Don’t think of it as such. It seems a response to pressure.

    But now it is unclear how the various terms you’ve deployed apply: cognition, thinking, consciousness, etc.

    For the most part, “thinking” and “cognition” are nearly synonymous to me. I tend to use them interchangeably to mean mental processing. Probably shouldn’t.

    I tend to use “aware” and “conscious” as synonyms for highest level activity and use “recognition” as a binary signal almost always as an end result of sensory processing. In general, though they could apply as you used them. They are fuzzy and tend to slide into each other.

    The eye blink involves not only recognizing the presence of an object but also recognizing that its trajectory will end close to the eyes. I’ve been referring the defensive blink. The pretty-much-all-the-time blinking serves another purpose,

  72. Alan Cooper, your suggestion that discontinuities between phyla might be explained by theories similar to those explaining phase transitions is interesting, but until such theories are extant, I remain skeptical (maybe chaos theories with bifurcations?)
    With respect to your comment about sleep-walking and self-consciousness, you may be aware of the term in philosophy of the mind, “zombie”, as applied to an entity with intelligence but no self-awareness (see works by Colin McGinn). This is the hard problem, I believe, and until a theory of mind/consciousness can explain introspection about introspection it will remain a mystery.
    By the way no one, alas, has commented on the paucity of results on the development of self-awareness in children–did anyone go to the link on Phillippe Rochat’s work? Anyone have any ideas on this? We’re born without self-awareness, and it develops–how? Supposedly, and I can’t cite a reference, 40% of the brains neurons are destroyed by the age of 4… What is the genetic mechanism for THAT?

  73. vuurklip, I guess I’m a prejudiced old stick-in-the-mud. Along with Fr. Stanley Jaki (see “The Limits of a Limitless Science”) I class science as a combination of theory–mathematical– that can be used to predict and to verify (or falsify). If, as in most of the ill-termed social sciences, theories are used that can’t be mathematically verified or falsified, I would not consider the discipline as a true science. Moreover, I’m not sure geology is without mathematics. It wasn’t at Caltech when I was an undergraduate there long ago, and if you Google “mathematical geology” a whole bunch of journals, books, etc. come up. Browsing through Caltech’s current course offerings in geology I came across the following: “the contributions that heat-flow, gravity, paleomagnetic, and earthquake mechanism data have made to our understanding of plate tectonics, the driving mechanism of plate tectonics, and the energy sources of mantle convection and the geodynamo. Instructor: Clayton, Gurnis.” as a partial description of a course description for “Introduction to Geophysics”.

  74. Bob Kurland on 4 April 2014 at 8:19:
    I’m afraid we may be talking past each other and getting away from my original objection – which is the bishop’s saying that evolution is a random procedure. Mutations however are probably largely random and those mutations which confer the most advantage in a given environment are those that will survive.
    About mathematics and geophysics; It is true that many fundamental processes such as heat transfer, fluid dynamics, radio active decay, etc. can me mathematically modelled, taken together however, there is (still) no way that the appearance of the Earth can be modelled or predicted in the longer term.
    Some evolutionary processes are amenable to mathematical and/or statistical analysis, e.g. inheritance, kinship, population dynamics, DNA sequencing, but again taken together, prediction becomes an intractable problem.

  75. [Me:] Penrose started off with a system performing mechanical operations — again without understanding.
    [You:] Actually, it was Lucas, not Penrose. And before him, Gödel.

    It’s entirely irrelevant that Penrose was not the first. I mentioned Penrose because Bob K. brought him up. He did however start with a system performing mechanical operations.

    Somewhat unrelated is Solomon Feferman’s critique of Penrose’s Shadows of the Mind:

    In the first part of SM he argues anew and at great length against computational models of the mind and more specifically against any account of mathematical thought in computational terms. Then in the second part, he argues that there must be a scientific account of consciousness but that will require a (still to be found) non-computational extension or modification of present-day quantum physics.

    … even though I am personally convinced of the extreme implausibility of a computational model of the mind, Penrose’s Gödelian argument does nothing for me personally to bolster that point of view,

    Gödel’s First Incompleteness Theorem (paraphrased a bit): within a fixed formal system F, G(F) = “This sentence cannot be proved in F.”

    The Gödel argument is a mathematical restatement of the oldest argument against reductionism : “A computer could say it perceives G(F), but it’d just be shuffling symbols around! When I say I perceive G(F), I really mean it!”

    Which of course one must ask on response: “How do you know the computer doesn’t?”

    So, do humans see the truth in G(F) or are they just seeing the consistency (or lack of it)? Without going into too much detail, Penrose assigns the capability to assume the consistency of an underlying system. If we grant this capability to a computer then it, too, could “prove” G(F).

    And even if it can’t, can all humans? Why must the machine be infallible? Turing summed it up rather dryly: “If we want a machine to be intelligent, it can’t also be infallible. There are theorems that say almost exactly that.”

    [Searle’s] argument was that syntax did not accumulate into semantics. If you wish to subvert his argument, provide a counter-example.

    Perhaps then a better summary: His argument is not about whether a machine can have understanding, but about whether it can be shown to have understanding. Seems to me this applies to people as well.

  76. Dav,you said
    “Perhaps then a better summary: His argument is not about whether a machine can have understanding, but about whether it can be shown to have understanding. Seems to me this applies to people as well.”
    Ah, a solipsistic argument! Well, we know we understand, and we assume that we are people, so we assume that others like us understand, i.e. have self-awareness. Or is the world peopled by zombies (zombies in the philosophy of the mind sense)?

  77. Bob,

    The assumption may be reasonable but it is not proof. Also, the assumption does not automatically imply others unlike us cannot.

  78. vuurklip–I agree (and have agreed) that microevolution on the Darwinian model occurs. I also agree that small changes successively applied over a sufficiently long period can result in major changes in phenotype. What I don’t understand and would like to have explained to me is why, given that Darwinian model, there isn’t a continuity of species rather discontinuity between phyla.
    Until it is explained (by mathematical arguments) I will remain skeptical of the Darwinian model, insofar as it depends on small variations enhancing survivability. And, I repeat, I am not an advocate of Intelligent Design–it may be interesting theology but it isn’t science.

  79. Bob, I think some of the models discussed by Don Dawson (in the lectures that I linked to earlier) do involve collapse of diversity around a few parentage lines. I suspect though that to get the full extent of the speciation we actually see it might be necessary to build into the model an environment in which various specific ecological niches favour different (and often conflicting) features – much as happened to Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos (where eg a short strong beak for crushing nuts and a long thin one for poking out bugs might both be favoured while the intermediate unspecialized beak lost out in both contexts). Although a mathematical model might be useful for testing our understanding (eg by predicting testable relationships between various time and distance scales) I am surprised that your intuition leans towards continuous variation when the world is do full of situations where different kinds of specialization would appear to be favoured.

  80. But, Alan, short and long beaks are one thing–that’s easy to explain; but mollusca vs arthopods vs mammals…???? where’s the combination lobster/octupus?

  81. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 5, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    Searle’s stupid “Chinese Room” argument… the stupidity of the presumption that the room’s “understanding” is in some way dependent on that of its operator – which was Searle’s original position.

    Except it was not. In fact, his conclusion was that the operator did not have any understanding of Chinese, even though he manipulates the symbol cards to produce coherent conversations in Chinese. Imagining oneself to “be” the computer was simply a device to perceive directly the lack of semantic content in syntactical manipulation.
    Developed further here: http://users.ecs.soton.ac.uk/harnad/Papers/Py104/searle.comp.html

    One can assert that Searle’s argument is wrong by pointing out an error in logic, or that it is personally unconvincing, or simply that you have not grasped it. But where do you get “stupid”?

    His argument is not about whether a machine can have understanding, but about whether it can be shown to have understanding.

    No. It’s an argument about whether syntactical manipulation of signs can ever add up to semantic meaning. If machines operate by manipulating signs, then of course they can have no “understanding” because there is no meaning to understand. உனக்கு புரிந்ததா?

  82. Bob Kurland on 5 April 2014 at 11:40:
    The apparent discontinuity between phyla is no more then an artefact of the incomplete fossil record and a lack of appreciation of the macro changes wrought by micro evolution in deep time.
    I once again refer to Dawkins’s “The Ancestor’s Tale” where he demonstrates the “convergence” of species into genus, family, order, class, phylum, kingdom, etc. back to a single ancestor for all known life forms.

  83. vuurklip…don’t agree…and Dawkins’ diatribes against the faithful contaminates anything he has to say. I don’t respect him as a writer or a scientist. And I’ve read one of his diatribes against the faithful.

  84. vuurklip—if that’s your best authority, then I’m satisfied in my skepticism.

  85. Bob Kurland on 5 April 2014 at 11:40:
    Also:
    In Dawkins’s “The Ancestor’s Tale” you will find some mathematics although as a popular science text not much. Nonetheless, the Tale is underpinned by statistical analysis of DNA.

  86. Bob Kurland on 5 April 2014 at 3:27:
    OK – disregard Dawkins – although you are doing yourself a great disservice.
    But have a look at this:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_descent

  87. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 5, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    The apparent discontinuity between phyla is no more then an artefact of the incomplete fossil record and a lack of appreciation of the macro changes wrought by micro evolution in deep time.

    That is simply a bald assertion: “You lack appreciation” does not explain how a gradualist process produces arthropods and nematodes, but no “arthrotodes” or “nemapods.” That is, why there are in the present day no intermediates between the great phyla. The theory predicts a continuum: not that there will be intermediates, but that the fossil record will be stuffed to the gills with intermediates. (Not talking intermediates between successor species. That lack is bad enough. But intermediates between “adjacent” species. (One solution would be that a) mutations are not random and b) evolutions are not always gradual and incremental.)

    Consider three great animal phyla: Nematodes (roundworms), Arthropods (bugs), and Vertebrates (beasts).
    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-daF00NlAemA/UquULSB1nNI/AAAAAAAAAgU/_ZGrGerDpQ4/s320/Two+phylum+trees.jpg

    Roundworms moult.
    Beasts have a coelum (body cavity).
    Bugs both moult and have a coelum.

    It is not logically possible for both moulting and the coelum to have evolved only once. One must be a case of convergent evolution. One school of thought holds that the coelum evolved once in the ancestor of the bugs and beasts, while the roundworms off to the side invented moulting. Then the bugs split off from the beasts and re-invented molting independently. A second school of thought holds that moulting evolved once, in a common ancestor of bugs and roundworms while off to the side, the beasts developed a coelum. Then later the bugs independently developed a coelum. There is deep disagreement on which two phyla share the common ancestor, let alone how long ago it lived.

    Reconstructed trees fare no better when “genetic distance” is used instead of gross features. More than one “tree of descent” is always possible.
    + + +
    I once again refer to Dawkins’s “The Ancestor’s Tale” where he demonstrates the “convergence” of species into genus, family, order, class, phylum, kingdom, etc. back to a single ancestor for all known life forms.

    The triumph of zealotry over the accumulation of facts.

  88. Ye Olde Statisician on 5 April 2014 at 3:55:
    “The triumph of zealotry over the accumulation of facts.”

    When the insults start, the civil debate ends.

  89. Ye Olde Statisician on 5 April 2014 at 3:55:
    “…does not explain how a gradualist process produces arthropods and nematodes…”
    Sorry, but I cannot make head or tails of this comment of which I show the excerpt above.

    Either I’m too dumb or you should stick to statistics.

    I can guess what you would conclude …

  90. YOS: Searle’s conclusion was *not* that the operator doesn’t understand Chinese. That was one of his assumptions. His *original* position (later modified in response to criticism) was to conclude that “Strong AI” is impossible *because* the operator didn’t understand Chinese. In other words he was treating the (missing) understanding of the operator as a necessary condition for that of the room-as-a-whole (which seems to me equivalent to saying that the understanding of the room depends on that of the operator).

  91. Ye Olde Statisician

    April 5, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    “The triumph of zealotry over the accumulation of facts.”

    When the insults start, the civil debate ends.

    If Dawkins claimed to have “demonstrate[d] the ‘convergence’ of species into genus, family, order, class, phylum, kingdom, etc. back to a single ancestor for all known life forms” then he was running well ahead of the current state of the art. There is no current consensus for example on the relative descent of Nematodes, Arthropods, and Vertebrates — as noted above, either on gross anatomy (moulting, coelum) or on genetic code. Depending on which segment of the genome is examined, different phyla are “closer” (or have a “more recent common ancestor.”) So there is presently no “convergence” of these three phyla into a common ancestor.

    It is often said that the emergence of life from the clay was such a likely thing that it was bound to happen “given the conditions of early earth.” It is typically now said to have originated around submarine vents. But these vents are not distributed evenly around the ocean bottom, so it is at least conceivable that life emerged independently at several different vents scattered about the world, each the ancestor of a phylum — or at least of certain phyla. Perhaps there were many, and a lot went extinct in pre- and early-Cambrian times. Some pretty weird critters from back then, said to fit no existing phylum. In any case, there is a no-common-ancestor scenario.

    “…does not explain how a gradualist process produces arthropods and nematodes…”
    Sorry, but I cannot make head or tails of this comment of which I show the excerpt above.

    Gradualism implies not only an infinitely fine gradation from generation to generation, but also a gradation perpendicular to time: that is many species only trivially different from one another so that as one proceeds incrementally from parent to offspring, one may also proceed incrementally from nematode to arthropod, with all sorts of intermediates in between, which I whimsically designated nemapods and arthrotodes.

    I can guess what you would conclude …

    Doubtful. I conclude that evolution proceeds through multiple processes, not simply Darwinian gradualist means. Look at local motion (i.e., from location A to location B), which may be caused not only by gravity, but also by electromagnetism and (on a different scale) by radiation and “nuclearation.” We already know that the acquired immunity to drugs of various bacteria does not proceed by Darwinian natural selection, but by horizontal transfer of genetic material.

  92. Hey YOS, thanks for taking up the cudgel.. your arguments are much better than I have put, but they’re essentially congruent, or if not congruent, similar.

  93. Bob, re “where’s the combination lobster/octupus?” Why on earth would you expect such a thing? What I would expect is that among the early multicelled microorganisms it may have been advantageous to have some sort of solid protection. At some point one developed the capacity for building a shell out of carbonate which helped to support and protect a soft flexible body, and at some other point another developed a progressively tougher and eventually articulated outer skin of chitin. Both strategies were successful (though initially not so successful as to wipe out everything else) and adapted into a number of different environments. Unless they were capable of cross-breeding why would you ever expect to see a mix of those characteristics?

  94. Alan, let’s suppose an intermediate form…why not then a tentacled creature (octopus), with an exoskeleton for protection, or alternatively an exoskeleton creature that grew tentacles–why not? I’m still not convinced by arguments showing discontinuities between phyla follow naturally from a truly Darwinian model.

  95. But Bob, the Darwinian model isn’t just a random mix of characteristics at each new generation. The new must come from the old by some plausible sequence of mutations each of which is separately useful (or at least not harmful). Flexible arms and tentacles seem to me a quite natural development from the tissue of a simpler mollusc but much less so from something covered in chitin. (The nautilus of course has both a hard cover and tentacles, but as expected the shell is made of calcium carbonate rather than something completely different like chitin, and the starfish has a tough skin of a different sort but substantially less mobility than a cephalopod – which may explain why cephalopods didn’t “choose” to develop arthropodic exoskeletons.) In a sense it seems to me that discontinuity between phyla is a naturally expected consequence of continuity in time, so the lack of a tentacled lobster seems to me more like evidence *for* gradualism than would its occurrence.

  96. ok Alan..let’s consider gradualism and phyla discontinuity… I admit my positing a tentacled lobster might be extreme, but if all variations are allowed, why not? certainly the tentacles would confer an advantage as would the hard exo-skeleton…why isn’t there a nautilus with a chitin exoskeleton… and then there’s the question of intermediates…why just 8 arms–why aren’t there cephalopods with 4, 6 or 10? The Darwinian model does not make sense to me intuitively. I agree, it might be possible, but it certainly isn’t proven (in a scientific, rather than logical sense). If you can suggest an experiment/measurement that would falsify the Darwinian model…but of course there isn’t any. The lack of intermediates and the phyla discontinuities can always be explained away.
    By the way, I’ve looked at the course description you linked to… nice course and some of the math is way beyond me… but I’m not sure how relevant it might be.

  97. The Darwinian model does not say that “all variations are allowed”. On the contrary, what it says is that the only variations we are likely to see are ones which arise by a sequence of non-harmful single site mutations from something that already exists. The number of arms on a cephalopod may have been constrained initially by some aspect of the body’s structural development – or maybe it just occurred by chance, but once you have an eight armed animal, producing a descendant with nine requires not just reprogramming the body’s growth but also the neurological support which has been evolving in parallel with the body to optimize for control of eight. The gradualist Darwinian model would certainly be falsified by the observation of any successful organism which was dramatically different from its immediate ancestors. So if you fish me up a tentacled lobster with the skin of a mollusc on its tentacles and that of an arthropod on its back *then* I will have good reason to start to *doubt* that the theory is correct.

  98. ok Alan, if “the only variations we are likely to see are ones which arise by a sequence of non-harmful single site mutations from something that already exists.” thenp please outline for me what such a sequence might be, and where the survival advantages would lie, proceeding from no arms to eight, or from two to eight, etc… If I remember the sequence in Fantasia of fish going onto land…there were fins that went to flippers that went to legs…that I can appreciate and understand (and the reverse, legs going to flippers), though I’m not sure where the survival advantages would be in the initial or early intermediate stages.

  99. Some kind of tissue extension around the mouth is probably useful for entangling possible prey. Among the multitude of nautilidae with widely varying numbers of rudimentary appendages around their mouths, perhaps it is just by chance that one with eight was the one that underwent the first mutation in the direction of a substantial possible improvement – perhaps just an improvement in the suckers, or slightly stronger arms, or perhaps somewhat better neurological control. In the unlikely event that one with ten or seven arms later underwent the same initial mutation it would fail to “beat” those with eight who by then would have gradually increased the extent of that advantage beyond what could be achieved in a single mutation. This is just one way in which the number eight might have become “locked in”. Although it may be that small mutations could change the number of rudimentary appendages of the early nautilidae, any subsequent change in the number of the more complicated and well controlled arms of what eventually became the cephalopods would be a jump of exactly the kind that gradualism considers unlikely.

  100. Alan, interesting hypothesis, but alas, I still remain skeptical…I think at this point we might better agree to disagree.

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