William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Stream: Scientists Claim Zapping Brains With Magnets Can Treat Belief In God

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Apologies to all. I thought this was going to run on Thursday, so I’m a day behind. If you’re one of the folks who asked about upcoming articles, these have been shifted to next week. Good news is that the Stream piece was featured on Drudge last night.

Today’s post is at the Stream: Scientists Claim Zapping Brains With Magnets Can Treat Belief In God.

Here’s the breathless headline: “Scientists claim they can change your belief on immigrants and God — with MAGNETS.

Wait. Attitudes toward God and immigrants? Are these a natural pair? The newspaper thought so. They tell of an experiment which “claims to be able to make Christians no longer believe in God and make Britons open their arms to migrants”. How’s it done? “Using a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation” researchers can “safely shut down certain groups of neurones” in the brain.

It seems to have worked. Volunteers were coaxed into having their brains zapped by giant magnets. And, lo! “Belief in God was reduced almost by a third, while participants became 28.5 per cent less bothered by immigration numbers.”

Whoa! 28.5%! That’s a lot! Yes, you didn’t know it, but botheredness about immigration can be quantified such that scientists can discern differences between 28.5% and 28.4%. Science is wonderful!

Oh, yes. Why. Why do such a study? Turns out the authors are interested in weeding out and treating those who are too religious for their taste. Yes.

JMJ, if you’re here. The other day you asked for examples of what happens when science ignores the reality of God. Here’s a juicy one. Some people believe (you’ll understand this when you read the article) because they were told to. And beyond that, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and deity; so that they are without excuse”. Also, all of these brain sciences fail at the point where they fail to realize that our intellects are not material—and so are not susceptible of being influenced by magnets, or anything else.

Another point: supposing the death ray rattles the little gray cells as advertised. It’s then not unexpected that answers to questions—any questions—might change. The analogy is being punched by George Foreman. In that case, I’d imagine somebody’s belief in God might increase.

Go there to read the rest.

Update The stuff I normally put in a review of papers like this I left out for the more general audience at the Stream. But here’s more details.

Sample size? 38. Details? “…to ensure that participants would respond aversively to a Latino immigrant’s criticisms of the USA, those who identified as ‘extremely liberal’ or as non-US citizens were excluded from participating, and four individuals who self-identified as ‘Hispanic/Latino’ after participating were dropped prior to analysis.”

Somebody asked about the “sham” control. It wasn’t, not really. “Participants in the TMS condition were stimulated at 80% of their active motor thresholds; those in the sham condition were stimulated at 10% of their active motor thresholds.” The aiming of the device was approximate, as I said. Who in the hell knows where the brain “center” for the joint espousal of God and immigrants is anyway?

There were more oddities in the answering of the questions. The priming on immigrants is silly. “Participants were next asked to read two essays (presented in counterbalanced order) that were ostensibly written by immigrants to the United States from Latin America” and feelings about the ostensible authors was pseudo-quantified. “‘I like the person who wrote this, (ii) ‘I think this person is intelligent’…” etc. This is what is being touted as feelings on immigration. Nonsense. The “religion” questions were very Christian-flavored, which is probably fine in this country. But the pseudo-quantification is nonsense.

The order in which the immigration essays were given provoked different responses, a 1-point increase and equal to the “effect” claimed from the magnets. The authors noticed this and said they “controlled” for it. But “control” does not mean “control” in statistics. It means “put in the model a certain way.” More confusion about what is causing what.

Wee p-values, of course, for only some modest effects. Then came the theory!

However, this study did not include problem-irrelevant modes of ideological endorsement, leaving open the possibility that, consistent with the RAM model, participants in the sham condition would have expressed more exaggerated ideological responses that were incidental to the problems of death or scathing criticism of one’s group values.

Given the prior evidence that downregulation of the pMFC decreases social conformity (Klucharev et al., 2011), the diminished expressions of group prejudice and religious belief observed here may stem from a mechanism sensitive to affirming consensus attitudes, insofar as out-group derogation and belief in God are considered normative (Navarrete et al., 2004).

You know, I’m coming more and more to the view that these theorizing sections are written by a computer algorithm.

80 Comments

  1. My belief in bogus studies just declined by an additional 82.67%.

  2. That post at the Stream now has 447 comments whereas a typical post there may get only a half-dozen comments. It’s a Drudge-a-lanche! Congratulations Matt.

  3. I’d like to know what would happen if they repeated the experiment with the magnets turned off and didn’t tell their subjects.

  4. Scientists in some fields have convinced themselves they can quantify the unquantifiable..believing you can quantify the unquantifiable…

    Wait! I’ve got this magnet here … zap … all done.

  5. Rich brings up a good point … was there a double-blind with real and fake magnets …

    Star Trek once again saves the day … here’s a rock and roll synopsis of ST TOS Dagger of the Mind

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXIBW30J1B8

  6. Dr. Briggs is carrying the torch that Ben Franklin Lit? Hello Dr. Meissner your magic wand is not science. Hokum is hokum in the 18th century the same as the 21st. The same then as now.

  7. Ye Olde Statistician

    October 16, 2015 at 9:04 am

    28.5% of what? Beware of % changes, sez I.

  8. Wouldn’t this then make magnets a medical device and under FDA control?

    Rich–excellent idea! Let’s get someone to repeat the study with fake magnets!

    John B(): The Star Trek clip violates the Geneva Convention. Even if there wasn’t a war to be a prisoner in. Looks like the future is ripe for all kinds of mind torture (so much for the Star Trek optimism?).

    Remember when only film-flam artists and gypsies did these kinds of things? Human beings are becoming more and more vulnerable to magical thinking disguised as science. Perhaps the most disturbing part is the true believers never think the magic can be used against them. Magic is very alluring so I suppose it’s not surprising that little thought is actually involved. Sheep to slaughter……

  9. Sheri: Star Trek optimism

    No, Star Trek never preached there were no problems but that any problems could be solved and resolved by the Federation (a.k.a. UN) and when necessary the benevolent dictatorship of Captain Kirk until he could hand the problem off to the UN…er…Federation

    People can always go wrong, but the system will always out
    That’s what systems are for and that’s what “Science” is all about
    Finding a “system” to believe in (without God)

  10. Perhaps the tests could be run on the good doctor to see if his belief in “science” is changed after the magnetizer is applied to HIS brain.

  11. In 1991 I was doing some experiments using a big industrial electromagnet. It was so big it had wheels so we could move it. I must have been exposed to the wrong polarity of magnetic field because it didn’t reduce any belief.

  12. John B(): Agreed that Star Trek did not see a world without problems–as was noted in one of the series (Voyager, I think) completely harmonious living makes for very dull prose. It also did see the Federation as the arbitrator of right and wrong, though not as draconian as the UN. However, it did envision humans as living in harmony at a level that would indicate there was a huge magnet orbiting the earth that properly arranged all of their thinking so there was no more war or greed, etc. There was no money in most of the series because everyone had what they wanted. There were probably magnets on all the Enterprises so the explorers would all think in harmony. In addition to the cool computer and phone options that we now have that are touch screens, phones that we can see each other on as we talk and 3D printers that work much like replicators, if this study had any scientific validity (which is does not), we could be on our way to complete harmony. It always amazed me that people believed humans “evolved” to the altruist levels seen in science fiction, when drugging or magnetizing or whatever, seemed the most likely explanation. Evolution is unlikely to ever get humans to that much harmony.

    Ray: There is nothing in the study addressing the permanence of the changes. For all we know, the effects wore off before lunch break.

  13. Sheri: “The Star Trek clip violates the Geneva Convention. Even if there wasn’t a war to be a prisoner in. Looks like the future is ripe for all kinds of mind torture (so much for the Star Trek optimism?).”

    John B(): “No, Star Trek never preached there were no problems but that any problems could be solved and resolved by the Federation (a.k.a. UN) and when necessary the benevolent dictatorship of Captain Kirk until he could hand the problem off to the UN…er…Federation”

    Apparently, the future that belongs to Star Trek is not all that rosy

    “These absurdities, however, can be easily forgiven. Less easily forgiven or forgotten are the more troubling messages about the nature of the future, the nature of society, and even the nature of reality. Star Trek typically reflects certain political, social, and metaphysical views, and on close examination they are not worthy of the kind of tribute that is often paid to Star Trek as representing an edifying vision of things.”

  14. I wonder how magnets affect the religious belief in Catastrophic Anthropological Global Warming.

  15. Gang of One
    Thanks for the link. I was VERY cognizant of the social, political and metaphysical views when I was young and thought there was something to them. Now that I’m older, I still enjoy ST despite those views (Sheri : disagree with … “though not as draconian as the UN” … being the arbiters, by necessity they WILL appear draconian to somebody).
    Very much loved the Fire Fly/Serenity series and its version of the UN (totally draconian as Sheri would have it).

  16. John B(), My pleasure! I, too, grew up a devoted fan of STTOS and after a while, STTNG. I also thought that this version of the future was just so much wishful thinking, pie-in-the-sky [pun intended]. But with STTNG, and its boringly PC galaxy and Federation twits, I began to lose interest.
    Agree that FireFly/Serenity was much more entertaining and suspension-of-disbelief inducing.

  17. I’ve worked in MRi, and know something of how magnets interact with physiology. Whatever the statistical analysis these goofs might purport to show, their science is medieval. Greater magnetic field strengths and gradients are achieved in clinical MRI than could possibly be achieved by these self-designated scientists, and there has been no history or indication of deconversion. There is a mechanism for time-varying magnetic fields to effect charge motion, but it is slight, even at the very high field strengths and gradients achieved in the most advanced MRI set-ups.

  18. Briggs

    October 16, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    Bob,

    Love to hear you expand on that last point, about fields.

  19. Briggs, I first read your comment “I’d love to hear you expound…”… OK, I can give some back of the envelope numbers, but I’ll have to back to 25 year old notes when I was writing about the safety of MRI magnetic gradients.

  20. Star trek, so advanced but a colored lady was still operating the space telephone (h/t. big bang theory)

  21. I recall Persinger experimenting with with the God helmet
    http://www.innerworlds.50megs.com/God_Helmet/mob.god_helmet.htm
    The God experience in the brain occurs in the amygdala, and is similar in nature of the “got-it” emotion. If the “got-it” emotion is fired in the brain without an external trigger, the person gets a mystic experience.

  22. Absolutely none of my comment here, of course, detracts one bit from Matt’s excellent demolition of the study in question. And thank you, Bob Kurland, for a little reality check on what these ‘scientists’ did.

    Also, even if we assume (per impossibile) that this ‘study’s’ findings are correct in every detail, couldn’t that just as easily be taken as a finding that people’s intellectual capacities were DIMINISHED, not enhanced, by the magic magnets?

    But Matt’s idle insertion here of a remark on the “non-materiality” of “the intellect,” to my mind marred an otherwise worthy piece.

    (People who aren’t interested in how Matt might be incorrect about “the intellect” are highly advised to stop reading here).

    That “the intellect” is not material, as Aristotle said in De Anima and in other places, is a claim that is… disputable. Though it is true that Plato, while in effect simply ignoring the Aristotelian Act-Potency analysis as irrelevant at best to true philosophy, also said that “the intellect” is not material.

    By way of transition to my argument, Siger of Brabant and many other medieval scholars took “the intellect” to in effect mean the “intellective power,” a term which is (perhaps falsely) more graspable to modern ears.

    Obviously, if we focus on a term like “intellective power” MINUS the philosophical contexts that the medievalists used it within, then we begin to open ourselves to strictly materialist interpretations of “intellective power”. “Intellective power” then becomes much more like the “attractive power” of Aristotelian physics, when that was separated from its Act-Potency philosophical context.

    Aristotle stated in On the Heavens (I.vi) that of two bodies the one with twice the mass will fall from the same height in one-half the time. It turned out that simply ignoring the original Act-Potency context of “attractive power, — dismissing that entire context as irrelevant at best — was a necessary philosophical “move” to arrive at a provably deeper understanding of the Heavens.

    Similarly, when we (falsely, according to Aristotelians) separate “intellective power” from its Act-Potency philosophical context, then “intellective power” really means an observable BEHAVIOR, whose understanding is not necessarily needful of any non-material context. We are closer to the 18th century French physiologist Pierre Cabanis’s assertion that “the brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile.”

    Notably, Aristotle took great pains not merely to distinguish between sense perception and “thought,” but also to make this a CATEGORICAL distinction. Both Man and beast have sense perceptions. But only Man “thinks”; animals do not.

    But it is precisely this bright-line distinction between sense perception and “thinking” that cognitive science, for instance, does not find. Consider the exquisitely complex, ineradicable, critical, and fundamental interplay between the eye and brain that is visual perception.

    An Aristotelian might reply that this example is irrelevant, no matter the extent to which active, complex brain activity is critical to the most simple act of perception, since the brain, being material, cannot “think”. The materialist scientist is merely trapped within his false assumptions, “finding” in the observations what he has already presumed a priori.

    Yet this is the precise claim that can be made against Aristotelians regarding the nature of “the intellect.” No matter how many careful observations diminish the supposed bright line between sense perception and “thinking,” no matter how many tools chimps make and use or how many insanely clever plans crows devise to find food, Aristotelians will continue to insist that “the intellect” is non-material.

    Because they’re right and you’re wrong: abstractions are clearly non-material, thinking about thought is non-material, “green” is non-material, and so forth. Yes, we Aristotelians used to regularly deploy examples from sense perception and the behavior of animals to buttress our point, they respond, but that’s not probative one way or the other.

    In other words, it couldn’t possibly be that the Aristotelian “intellective power” is just like the Aristotelian “attractive power” — something that in the end impedes our understanding rather than enhances it.

    Yes, a material “intellect” at the very least places massive stress on the Aristotelian concept of the soul, and perhaps also by extension on the Aristotelian/Thomistic Deus Unus. But since I have argued elsewhere that this philosophical Deus Unus is the actual One True God, the Most Holy Trinity, only by several sustained acts of prestidigitation, then any weakening of this Deus Unus is actually restorative and beneficial for the faithful.

    A) Nobody needs to say that “the intellect” is non-material to demolish the study under question. B) That “the intellect” is non-material is… disputable.

  23. The subjects also peed their pants and forgot their names for a half hour after the test, but at least they were less bothered by immigrants.

  24. Matt, to respond to your request–sort of.
    These are the relevant equations: ampere-Biot force Law (I think I remember the name correctly) F = q B x V (cross-product of magnetic field,B and velocity,v)
    Velocity is so small for ions in neural tissue that this force, F, can be neglected.
    Ok… and if I remember the appropriate Maxwell equations correctly
    curl E = – (?) partial derivative of B with respect to time t. Curl E would give an induced voltage. If numbers are plugged in, this is also negligible (but my numbers are up in the attic, and I’m too lazy to get there)
    There’s a fourth Maxwell equation that’s relevant, that the field gradient (curl of B) gives rise to induced current and time-changing electric field. I’m sure this is on the web somewhere, but again, I’m too lazy to look it up.
    The point is whatever the numbers I could plug in, others smarter than I have already done so. Neither GE nor Siemens is going to sell an apparatus that’s a gold-mine for law suits. The field gradients and time-dependent shifts in MRI are going to be, I’d suggest, at least an order of magnitude greater than those these “scientists” were able to have in their “hand-held?” apparati.

    I’m reminded of the environmental bogy of some 25 or 30 years ago, ELF, the dangers of living near power lines and sleeping under electric blankets due to the 60 cycle alternating fields. Another physicist and I calculated the field strengths and resulting induced voltages from a 400 watt, 120 v 60 cycle wire at 1 foot and found it less than walking through the earth’s magnetic field for 10 yards at a normal pace. We submitted this to the Sierra Club magazine (in response to their article about ELF); of course it wasn’t printed.

  25. Huh. I did my own little breakdown of this study yesterday for some friends via e-mail. Nicely done. I included a few additional points, which I’ll reproduce below:

    Abstract summarized: we shot a magnet gun at the front part of the brain and a fake magnetic gun and saw that people in the real magnetic gun group believed less in God and more in immigrants.

    I can tell from the abstract and intro that the authors didn’t have any particular result in mind when they began the study…

    “Moralistic ideologies involving group chauvinism and religion are arguably
    the most socially impactful—and, at times, the most perniciously divisive”

    The above statement has been given the Science® ™ stamp of approval.

    “Here, we experimentally demonstrate that a region of the brain previously shown to enable problem-solving with respect to low-level conflicts, such as switching motor behavior to achieve a reward, plays a central role in investment in ideological beliefs”

    It’s all in how you frame the results. Consider another way the authors could have described the conclusion: shutting down the part of the brain responsible for problem-solving and higher level reasoning decreases belief in God

    There are several pages of neurobabble in the lit review before we get to anything interesting.

    “Building upon these findings, we hypothesize that when problems involve conflicting ideological values, or insoluble dilemmas such as the inevitability of death, pMFC mechanisms may invoke relevant belief systems.”

    dACC: uh-oh. death is imminent and cannot be avoided
    pMFC: activate religious belief.

    it helps if you imagine little people in your brain like in those Calvin & Hobbes strips where Calvin is sleeping or daydreaming

    “To test the causal role of the pMFC in adherence to group and religious ideologies, we applied TMS or sham stimulation followed by a 10-minute filler task to ensure that downregulation of the pMFC took effect. We then primed all participants with thoughts of death using a brief writing task, followed by a self-report affect schedule to assess potential effects of TMS on conscious emotion. Next, participants were asked to read essays (one critical of the United States, one complimentary) ostensibly written by immigrants to the U.S., then evaluate the authors’ personalities and attitudes, a dependent measure frequently used to assess ethnocentrism”

    Already I see a potential source of bias. Perhaps the participants less likely to believe in God are more likely to be politically liberal and hence have a positive stance perception of the immigrant essay. No need to suggest a causal link between the two beliefs and the medial prefrontal cortex.

    The political link between those two beliefs is a contingent accident of history, thanks in part to the rise of the “Religious Right” during the 60s/70s

    The religious beliefs they tested were positive (I believe in Heaven/God) and negative (I believe in Hell/demons)

    “Undergraduates were recruited for a study,”

    At UCLA, I think. This is study is WEIRD. Also, how did they find undergraduates at UCLA who believe in demons?

    “The final sample consisted of 38 participants”

    Pretty decent for a neuro-imaging study. Or, neuro stimulation. Or whatever. Still, 38 undergraduates is 38 undergraduates.

    “In a marginal trend, overall avowed religious belief (including both positive and negative beliefs) was reduced in the TMS condition (M = 2.95, SD = 1.85) relative to the sham condition (M = 4.26, SD = 2.32), F(1, 36) = 3.74, p = .061, ?2 p = .09, 95% CI [-.06, 2.70].”

    They didn’t even get the much-coveted wee P-value >0.05 for combined religious belief, only for “positive” religious belief. Shucks. And there was no statistically significant difference for “negative religious beliefs”, which means shooting a magnetic gun at the brain did not change whether or not UCLA undergrads believed in demons.

    My biggest problem with this study?

    They didn’t compare before/after transcranial magnetic stimulation, only between groups (real TMS vs. sham TMS). 38 kiddos split into two groups of 19… I don’t care how well you randomize, you’re going to get bias and chance results. So we’re left not knowing if shooting a magnetic gun at the brain *reduces* anything.

    So, in short, the results were marginal and by their own standards not significant, the study did not compare beliefs before and after stimulation, the subjects were WEIRD and the authors gave us a lot of brain-talk that amounted to very little.

    The real finding, to my mind, is that at least one undergraduate student at UCLA believes in demons.

  26. “For all we know, the effects wore off before lunch break.”

    I’d wager, the effects wore off once the white-shirt left the room.

  27. This is just silly. Just like believing that a therapy can cure homosexuality.

  28. Belief in Communism or Islam seems to be a cure for Homosexuality

  29. Sylvain,
    Evidently a good looking woman can cure homosexuality as it did for John Maynard Keynes. No therapy needed.

  30. Magnets — The Devils Tool!

    No wonder my faithless refrigerator forgets about the leftovers hidden in the back.

  31. Ray,

    You mistake bisexuality with homosexuality.

  32. So, in short, the magnets made them dumber, probably lowering their IQ. Best not to fool around with brain-altering activities. Oh, too late, huh?

  33. Sylvain,
    How do you know that John Maynard Keynes was bisexual? He was famously homosexual.

  34. Curio

    “The real finding, to my mind, is that at least one undergraduate student at UCLA believes in demons.”

    Don’t comment here much because the discussion is usually well above my pay grade, but d*mn, you had me laughing on that one.

  35. There are now 987 Drudge comments over at the Stream. The consensus is that the article should be headlined: “Study Shows Brain Damage Causes Liberalism”.

  36. Here is a link for Sylvain. I saw this before but couldn’t remember where so it required some time to find.
    http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/the-bloomsbury-ballerina

  37. Ray,

    It just means that Keynes was bisexual or that they lived a scam marriage

  38. Sylvan,
    You didn’t answer the question. How do you know Keynes was bisexual or the marriage was a sham?

  39. Ray,

    Bisexual can be attracted to both sex, which evidently was the case of Keynes. True homosexual have no attraction to female however hot they are. For female homosexual of course is no attraction for male.

  40. I’m here, Briggs, and I can assure you I am not now nor have ever been a proponent of using magnets to erase people’s religiosity, aside from perhaps some fun philosophizing on the mysteries of magnetism and on from there, etc.

    I get why susceptibility is about the only thing silly experiments like this prove and if anything everyone involved should be roundly and widely ridiculed for doing so. So say Biggus Dickus. 😉

    JMJ

  41. Phil R – Same and thanks!

    However breaking down studies as bad as these is above no one’s pay grade.

    Like I said, it happened to be a coincidence that Briggs and I took apart the same paper. I’ve been trying to do something like this semi-regularly, as an exercise. #SCIENCE

  42. Ray: John Maynard Keyes was absolutely bisexual. If he was homosexual and then went straight, Sylvain would be wrong. Sylvain is never wrong. Therefore, Keyes was bisexual. (Reference Sylvain’s response to your link. Remember, Sylvain is never wrong.)

    Just a question: Were the students paid for this research? (My niece would make up answers to school surveys for free. Imagine what payment would do.)

    JMJ: You’re making all kinds of sense here. Congrats.

  43. This is a follow-up to my comment above, regarding the ‘obvious’ non-materiality of “the intellect.” Matt did after all open the door. He didn’t make his analysis dependent on the non-materiality of “the intellect”, but he sort of allowed that he could if he tried. I think that would have been a mistake.

    After writing my previous comment, it occurred to me that I could readily do more than merely note the diminishment of a ‘bright line’ between human sense perception and human intellection, since, for example even in simple visual perception, the eye and the brain work so closely together.

    For I think that optical illusions — just simple optical illusions — are a severe problem for an Aristotelian Act-Potency explanation of sense perception. The Aristotelian schema, I submit, is unproductive for a deeper understanding of even of sense perception.

    Lest anyone forget, the Newtonian-Galilean ‘New Physics’ arose, not by standing on the shoulders of the existing Aristotelian Act-Potency understanding of motion, and not really even by refuting it, but in effect by simply ignoring it.

    People in ancient times were of course aware of optical illusions. Aristotle himself had heard about one, the so-called Waterfall Illusion.

    And Aristotle did try to deal with the fact that our visual perceptual system does — well, lie to us — all of us, universally, under situations we call optical illusions. You can sort of, kind of, fit a particular optical illusion into the Aristotelian schema, so that there’s a semi-satisfactory explanation for Powers that in some situations aren’t quite getting Actualized the way we might otherwise expect.

    But neither Aristotle nor any of his later adherents, even up to the present day, developed a systematic explanation for WHY our visual perceptual system would lie to us universally in certain specific situations, and yet also be pretty universally reliable in others.

    The explanations for specific optical illusions were all ad hoc — treated as irritants, or edge cases, for an explanatory system that was fundamentally sound.

    It goes something like this. Our eyes are Built for Seeing. Some eyes have imperfectly actualized that Power of ‘Seeing’, and have weakened or non-existent sight. But in the case of universal optical illusions that happen to everyone with normal vision, it would appear that our eyes are in effect Built for ‘Not-Seeing.’ This demands an explanation. In the (edge) case of an optical illusion, some other Act (material thing) is universally preventing the Power of ‘Seeing’ from being actualized in any of our physical eyes.

    And here we notice that Plato does not have the same problem with optical illusions. The Act-Potency schema is completely foreign — more, it is anathema — to Plato and to his adherents. For Plato, there is no ‘Power’ of ‘Seeing.’

    One might argue that for a Platonist, the existence of universal optical illusions are a near refutation of an Act-Potency schema, and a near proof of the Platonic profession of the fundamental unreliability of ALL sense perception, which, even with the assistance of dialectic, at best can provide us only with likely accounts of a reality that we encounter only as passing shadows in a cave.

    (There is NOTHING fundamentally and particularly Catholic about the Aristotelian philosophical schema. Plato, not Aristotle, was much more revered and discussed by the Fathers of the Church, preaching and writing c. AD 100-600. May we note in passing that the Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes the neo-Platonist St. Augustine far more often than the neo-Aristotelian St. Thomas Aquinas?)

    A modern account of the optical illusion that Aristotle had heard about begins by noting that apparently, he only heard about it, because his account gets the direction of the motion of the illusion backwards. Also thus his explanation for the illusion isn’t correct, because he has the illusion wrong in the first place.

    But as I noted above, Aristotle’s main difficulty here (to which Plato is completely immune), is providing a systematic account of why optical illusions exist in some situations and not in others.

    In the Waterfall Illusion, you continuously watch water flowing down from a waterfall for a few minutes, then look at the grass on the ground. The grass briefly looks like it’s moving ‘uphill’. (Aristotle had heard — apparently without checking — that the grass looks like it’s moving downhill).

    Watching something like water continuously fall down, fatigues cells that respond to downwards motion. In effect, to the visual perceptual system, ‘down’ starts to look like the new baseline — down, down, ho hum, down, down, down… But with ‘down’ as a baseline, then ‘steady’ (the stable grass on the ground) briefly looks like ‘upwards’ until you re-orient.

    The modern account of this optical illusion does not need to posit a ‘Power’ of ‘Seeing’. To reiterate, this is not necessarily an ‘anti-philosophical’ move: Plato doesn’t need to do this, either.

    Put neutrally, the modern account does not try to refute, but simply ignores, the Aristotelian Act-Potency schema in which we MUST have a ‘Power’ of ‘Seeing’.

    Put less neutrally, in the modern account, our eyes are not Built for ‘Seeing.’ So we don’t need to find a ‘something’ that prevents our eyes from ‘Seeing’ when we encounter an optical illusion. Our visual perceptual system amounts to a bunch of semi-coordinated Good Tricks that provide us with a mostly good-enough representation — ‘Good Enough’ meaning that it gets us through the average day in one piece.

    In effect, the modern systematic account is that our visual perceptual system isn’t really all that ‘systematic’, so we should expect some optical illusions and other trade-offs.

    By contrast, an Aristotelian Act-Potency schema has to Special Case every single optical illusion to preserve an account of our visual perceptual system as Built for ‘Seeing’. We know that Aristotelians can readily do this to their satisfaction, since Aristotle himself Special Cased an optical illusion that actually works the opposite of what he’d heard about it.

    And we note that Platonists don’t have to Special Case even a single thing about optical illusions, so it’s not precisely ‘anti-philosophical’ to simply ignore the Act-Potency schema here.

  44. Ray, Sheri: if you read the link to the end, you would see that it states Keynes never lost his attraction towards young men, he just chose not to act on it, and to remain faithful to his wife (at least as far as is known). That doesn’t sound like he went hetero, but was bi.

  45. Andyd: Or Keynes was homosexual and chose no to act on it but rather to engage in heterosexual sex for the remainder of his life. There is no indication that he had any attraction to women prior to meeting his future wife, so bisexual doesn’t seem likely. One can make that claim to attempt to preserve the “homosexuality is not a choice” theme, but in this case, there’s no evidence presented that Keynes was ever interested in women before. Also, there are quite probably a lot of heterosexuals who have fantasized about homosexuality without actually acting upon the impulse. If fantasies count, then I would guess over 50% of people are bisexual. A large percentage may also be pedophiles, necrophiliacs, and into bestiality. But fantasies don’t count. Actions do and Keynes was “straight” after meeting his ballerina wife.

  46. Sheri,

    Your brain is such a vast chasm filled with ignorance that I’m surprised that there is enough space for the ability to type (or maybe you are very smart for a chimpanzee)

    If he wasn’t bisexual to begin with he would never have gone with a woman.

  47. Sheri,

    I’m sure he thought he was wrong once but he evidently was mistaken
    What can be said about the irony of “chasm filled with ignorance” being tossed around by the abyss itself that isn’t repetitious?

  48. Dav, Sheri,

    Amazingly enough 16 years old student to whom I show your comment can’t believe you graduated high school. It helps understand why the USA looks more like Iran and less like a developed countries.

  49. Your admiration is quite apparent, Sylvain. Shame that such awe leads to obvious writer’s block and babble when it comes to expressing it. Explains many, if not all, of your posts. Thanks for the effort, though. It’s appreciated.

    Point of interest: watch out about voicing your disdain of Iranians. Hate speech is illegal in Canada, you racist.

  50. Dav,

    After talking with me no one want to move to the USA.

    Is hate speech to say that Canada has a much better standard of living than the USA and Iran.

    The USA have the worst working condition of any developed countries. Your working conditions are comparable to those of China or third world countries. Heck Gingrich thought it a good idea to put children at work instead of educating them. Salaries are the lowest among developed countries for the majority of US workers. There are guaranteed vacation to employees, no paid leaves for new parents. Median income after taxes is lower in USA then Canada (even though we pay more taxes), and we don’t have to buy health insurance.

    Like the USA, Iran offer similar working conditions. Both countries have death penalty, no national healthcare. Religious right, in both countries consider woman as the property of man and inferior.

  51. Ye Olde Statistician

    October 17, 2015 at 9:43 pm

    If he wasn’t bisexual to begin with he would never have gone with a woman.

    So many folks who claim to follow reason fall into this sort of circular reasoning; and so many folks who would otherwise proclaim themselves materialists will cite mental states rather than behaviors.

  52. YOS,

    Briggs once told me that left handed were born that way, to the exception of people who have been amputated.

    I’m a true right handed and can’t do anything with my left hand other than support. My brother is mostly right handed but in hockey he shoots from the left, while golf and baseball he hits from right. He is much more able from his left hand. He is partly ambidextrous. This is true for a majority of people. There are about 20% who are mainly left handed but fewer who are solely left handed such as one of my student who even with pressure from teachers was never able to do anything right handed.

    Homosexuality/heterosexuality/bisexuality is the same thing as handedness. You are born left handed, just like you are born homosexual.

    Briggs never acknowledged that homosexual were born that way, ence his fears that science might find a gene that would prove him wrong. No gene are required. The DNA is not the sum of a person but the blueprint of its material part, which is the most insignificant part of a person.

  53. A few years ago, I went looking for large studies of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation and was unable to find any.

  54. Briggs

    October 18, 2015 at 10:26 am

    YOS, S,

    I’m right-handed. But my dad brought me up to bat left since he thought I’d be more marketable as a hitter for the Tigers. Alas, this never happened. But it does show environmental conditions can override natural tendencies.

  55. JMJ: Actually, unable to find a speaker is a good thing. It means at least some Republicans don’t follow group-think as do all the Democrats. While liberals find blind allegiance to be the best quality in human beings, true conservatives do not. They find allegiance to principle more important. Not to mention that a huge number of representatives are “faux” conservatives, RINOs. Conservatives notice things like that. It matters to them. They don’t just vote robotically like their liberal counterparts. I’m sure it’s incomprehensible to you that people actually think for themselves and that is a good thing, so I can understand your believing the lack of agreement in the House is undesirable. I assure you that most true conservatives are very happy MeCarthy was not just moved in as a clone to Boehner. Boehner would make an excellent liberal congressman if he had the guts to admit he’s really a liberal.

    Briggs: Agreed on the handedness. People who lose their preferred hand to an accident are capable of learning to use the other hand. There may be a natural tendency to use one hand, but it most certainly can be overcome. Also, people often find using the off hand is hard at first and see no reason to work into using both hands equally. Handedness was generally right-handed in the past because parents put spoons and so forth in the right hand of the child. It’s what became normal then to the child. Until some psychologists decided this violated some right of the child to use whatever hand they wanted or they would become serial killers or something like that, it was considered fine to teach a child to use the right hand.

  56. Briggs,

    It just shows that you are more like my brother than me and that you were not a true right handed like I am or like the lefties that were forced to write right handed but could not and were brought to leave school at a young age because they could not follow the others.

  57. Is belief in God an electrical phenomenon?
    Further -do they think that if we are all zapped with magnets God will cease to exist, on the grounds that he only exists if people believe in Him as so many believe?

    This sounds more like Dr Who than real science!

  58. Is belief in God an electrical phenomenon?

    Could be. Ever watch someone control a toy helicopter using only the output from an EEG cap? Something to see. I’ve never tried it myself but have seen it demonstrated. I’ve been told it’s done by thinking (and I guess visualizing) “RISE” and the helicopter goes up, etc. Takes practice apparently.

    It’s not clear however if the effects of a magnetic field have much of an influence on the inner workings of the brain. People undergoing MRI’s don’t seem to change personalities or come out believing things they didn’t believe before the MRI. So, go figure.

  59. DAV: I thought of MRIs also. Except for the occasional psychic who claims to have “lost their powers” after an MRI, people don’t seem to change beliefs after an MRI, or even multiple MRIs.
    God could be what we call an electrical phenomenon. Who knows? Maybe we’re all electrical phenomenon and just perceive ourselves as being something different. Reality is such a fluid concept (at least to some persons).

    M E: I think researchers are hoping that if there is a way to zap people into believing there is no God, (1) That pesky concept of morality and an afterlife can be removed from the human race and (2) magnets might be good for zapping things like personal initiative and other such concepts. A slave race happy being slaves because they know no other way would be a big boon to the researchers and those who envision themselves as god and kings.

  60. Ye Olde Statistician

    October 19, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    It just shows that you are more like my brother than me and that you were not a true right handed

    A: X cannot be changed to Y.
    B: But M was X and now is Y.
    A: That proves that M was not True X.

    Does the term “non-falsifiable” ring any bells?

  61. Ye Olde Statistician

    October 19, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    I’ve been told it’s done by thinking (and I guess visualizing) “RISE” and the helicopter goes up, etc. Takes practice apparently.

    In the 1960s it was running electric model trains. It’s not anything so particular as thinking “rise.” You could think “chocolate” and still train yourself to activate the electrical circuit. The only thing you really need is an electrical current.

    It’s not clear however if the effects of a magnetic field have much of an influence on the inner workings of the brain. People undergoing MRI’s…

    We live in a pretty fierce magnetic environment; that of the Earth. Beside this, something like an MRI is like peeing in the ocean.

  62. We live in a pretty fierce magnetic environment; that of the Earth. Beside this, something like an MRI is like peeing in the ocean.

    The magnetic field of the Earth is something like 0.5 Gauss while an MRI has 3-7 Tesla magnets = 30,000 – 70,000 Gauss. Pretty strong pee.

  63. You could think “chocolate” and still train yourself to activate the electrical circuit.

    Maybe. The point is that thoughts have specific, measurable and dependable patterns.

  64. DAV, your comment is in order, but perhaps a little strong. As a former MRI physicist (I’ve been away for 20 years), I think 7 T is somewhat high. I’d put the clinical limit as 4.3 T (and that’s rare) with a more common range from 0.7 to 1.5 and up to 3T for advanced stations.

  65. Ye Olde Statistician

    October 19, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    The point is that thoughts have specific, measurable and dependable patterns.

    Actually, one detects different patterns when the same thought is thought again. There is no one-one correspondence between the thought and the pattern. It might be more accurate to say that all thoughts result in neural activity rather than that neural activity results in thoughts.

    But then we must distinguish between imaginative thought and intellective thought.

  66. Actually, one detects different patterns when the same thought is thought again.

    How do you know this? And if true, you wouldn’t be able to control anything including your limbs.

    It might be more accurate to say that all thoughts result in neural activity rather than that neural activity results in thoughts.

    Read what I said more carefully. I never said they did. Thoughts control the patterns but another possibility is that the neural patterns are the thoughts.
    But then we must distinguish between imaginative thought and intellective thought.

    Just as we need to classify and enumerate alien encounters and maybe even less useful

    Bob,

    Perhaps so but the point was that the field in an MRI is 5 orders of magnitude larger than the Earth’s field making it far more than a drop in the bucket in comparison.

    .

  67. DAV, as I said, I agree with your notion that the earth’s magnetic field is much less than that from even an wide-gap MRI…as you say, orders of magnitude less.
    By the way, in a comment way up the ladder here, I did mention that MRI fields and gradients and dB/dt’s (which are as important) are much higher than can encountered otherwise.

  68. Bob,

    Yeah I saw that but for whatever reason neglected to give you credit. Sorry.

  69. DAV, not worried about credit, but I think the physical point to be emphasized is that it’s not the magnetic field strength per se that is physiologically relevant, but the field gradient and field time derivatives that act to induce electrical currents in an ionic medium.

  70. Bob,

    point taken.

  71. Ye Olde Statistician

    October 19, 2015 at 7:06 pm

    “Actually, one detects different patterns when the same thought is thought again.”

    How do you know this? And if true, you wouldn’t be able to control anything including your limbs.

    IIRC it was addressed here:
    Jonathan D. Cohen. “The Vulcanization of the Human Brain”
    https://webapps.pni.princeton.edu/ncc/PDFs/Neural%20Economics/Cohen%20%28JEP%2005%29.pdf
    or here:
    Walter J. Freeman. “Nonlinear Brain Dynamics and Intention According to Aquinas”
    http://sulcus.berkeley.edu/wjf/CR%20FreemanAquinas.pdf

    Even trying to hold the same thought over time finds neural patterns shifting about.

    Controlling your limbs is a motor function, not an intellective one.

  72. People often learn to use other parts of their brain when they have suffered a head injury. This is especially true in children. Brain cells do not seem to limited to just one particular thought or function. Plus, each situation is unique. Maybe the same action in the same room under the same circumstances follow the same pathway one might be using the same pathways each time.

  73. <Actually, one detects different patterns when the same thought is thought again.
    Controlling your limbs is a motor function, not an intellective one

    The old no-true-thought argument. Sorry, but something consistent must be formed on that mishmash of patterns or else you seem to be making the claim your limbs magically figure out what motions you intended given all of those different patterns. Or are you claiming you can’t cause limb motion that stems from “intellective” thought?

    As for these claims that different pattern result from supposedly same thoughts: how producing the same thought ensured and how was it verified the same thought was actually produced? Asking people to answer questionnaires results in different answers. We would ask the same question in different parts of the form and get different answers. Wouldn’t surprise me the same thing happens(ed?) during these pattern tests. So, again, how to you know different patterns result from the same thoughts?

    Thanks for the link to Freeman. Haven’t had such good entertainment since I saw this

  74. Part of the problem here is assuming facts not in evidence. We have no way of knowing, as DAV points out, what the patterns mean. We observe what we interpret as a pattern associated with a motion and label it as “causing” the motion. It may simply be that the motion caused the particular areas to light up and the pattern is not all there is to the motion. We can’t “read” brainwaves, this is not Star Trek. The different parts of the pattern may be associated with other stimuli in the room or other thoughts the person is having at the moment. No one knows what thoughts are dominant and whether we are looking at thought patterns at all. We just are not as smart as science thinks we are when it comes to the mysteries of the mind.

    (Sorry, progressives, but mind control is a long way down the road. Stick to drugging people.)

  75. Ye Olde Statistician

    October 20, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    The old no-true-thought argument
    A: “All fish breathe through gills rather than lungs.”
    B: “But whales are fish, and they breathe through their lungs.”
    A: “Whales may look and seem like fish, but they aren’t truly fish because they breathe through their lungs.”
    B: Ah, the old no-true-fish fallacy.
    +++
    you seem to be making the claim your limbs magically figure out what motions you intended given all of those different patterns.

    If you were to drive from New York to Los Angeles, which road pattern would you use? Is it so strange that the path between intention and action might not be absolute?

    Then, too, we have “muscle memory,” by which we execute physical motions with no conscious thought whatsoever. I once walked several block from the dry cleaners to my house with no conscious thought — I was thinking about a problem in statistical analysis — and I came too at my back door because I had missed the keyhole.

    Or are you claiming you can’t cause limb motion that stems from “intellective” thought?

    Intellective thought might abstract world peace from reflection on conditions in the world, but it is hard to see which muscle groups are flexed in consequence. Or do you not believe in the intellect as well as the will? In which case, where do you get “intentions” from?
    http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/WAW0010.GIF

    As for these claims that different pattern result from supposedly same thoughts: how producing the same thought ensured and how was it verified the same thought was actually produced?

    That is the flaw in all these neurological studies, isn’t it? Generally, the researcher assumes that when he asks the student to think about a pink elephant, or to report the precise moment he “makes a decision,” the student does so. But what if he does not?

    Thanks for the link to Freeman. Haven’t had such good entertainment since I saw [Abbot and Costello]

    Strange how world renowned biologist and neuroscientist suddenly becomes a comedian when DAV fails to understand what he has written.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Jackson_Freeman_III

  76. I once walked several block from the dry cleaners to my house with no conscious thought — I was thinking about a problem in statistical analysis — and I came too at my back door because I had missed the keyhole.

    So, how did your legs know where you wanted to go when the thought of “I want to go home from here” has no fixed pattern? Do you find yourself arriving at home when you really wanted to go elsewhere? Not very much? How does that happen when thoughts have no fixed patterns? Oh, wait! That doesn’t count. You only meant “intellective” thought has no fixed patterns. Non-intellective thoughts must not be true thoughts vis-à-vis your statement.

    D: As for these claims that different pattern result from supposedly same thoughts: how producing the same thought ensured and how was it verified the same thought was actually produced?
    Y:That is the flaw in all these neurological studies, isn’t it?

    Yes it is and I note you still haven’t explained how you know different patterns arise from the same thought. However, you did cite Freeman — apparently as an authority — in lieu of an answer but I saw no controls and attempts at verifying the same thought was present at the time the patterns were taken . You also appear to be agreeing there were none. Costello, at least, checked his answer three ways (albeit after insistence). I see no evidence Freeman checked what was in that link even once.

  77. YOS,

    You wrote:

    “It just shows that you are more like my brother than me and that you were not a true right handed

    A: X cannot be changed to Y.
    B: But M was X and now is Y.
    A: That proves that M was not True X.

    Does the term “non-falsifiable” ring any bells”

    You still don’t get it. You see handedness has absolute while it is variable from person to person. It can be expressed like this:

    0 = lefty
    50 = ambidextrous
    100= righty

    0——————–50——————–100

    On such a scale I would be close to 100 since my left hand only hold things.

    My brother could around 75 since his right hand is dominant but is left hand much more apt to do things than mine. This explains why when he played hockey he played left handed, but was right handed at baseball and golf.

    Training can make your weak hand more apt but it will never come close to your preferred hand unless you are ambidextrous.

    Preferred sexually can be express the same way, which explains how gays can marry women and have children until they become confident enough to express their through feelings.

  78. Ye Olde Statistician

    October 21, 2015 at 12:08 am

    So, how did your legs know where you wanted to go when the thought of “I want to go home from here” has no fixed pattern?

    You are assuming that which should be proven. Are you unfamiliar with muscle memory? Athletes and test pilots rely upon it extensively. Why are you so insistent that there be a single sequence of synapses for any particular act? The brain is huge and there may well be more ways to get from here to there than one.

  79. Ye Olde Statistician

    October 21, 2015 at 12:11 am

    Preferred sexually can be express the same way [on a variable scale], which explains how gays can marry women

    But then how can you say they were gay to begin with? It still sounds like “No true Scotsman.”

  80. YOS,

    “But then how can you say they were gay to begin with? It still sounds like ”

    Briggs said that he his right handed but hit from the left at baseball (which might have had a lot to do for why he didn’t go far with). Would you call him a lefty because of it.

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