These below are my comments to Sebastian Dieguez
reply to Jime Sayaka (blog subversive thinking). The original link for Sebastian's
reply is this
Ok, I decided to make my brief comments in the whole of Dieguez reply to ST (run by Jime Sayaka). My comments in blue (note that I have removed the hyperlinks from the original text)
Subversive Thinking responded (some time ago) to my comments on his critique of my review (of which some words here) of Irreducible Mind. I will in turn answer to it, quite at length, but first I want to thank ST for his time and say sorry if I even minimally hurt or shocked him in any way. Personnally, I don't mind about irony and sarcasm at all in a discussion, I'm more annoyed by sanctimony, self-righteousness, whining and boring people altogether. But more on this later. Ok, so now to the lion's pit. I write in black, Subversive Thinking's comments are indented and red (warning, this is the reverse from the previous post, sorry for the inconsistency but that was just easier), external quotes are in green.
I explained in my review and in my first comments that IM's argument amounts to a "soul of the gaps" (i.e. the "transmission" hypothesis of mind-brain relationships).
Note, Sebastian, that the logic from the authors here is that a soul fits in the gaps, but many other alternative “theories” do not fit in it. That is why this is not precise to label this approach from them as a soul of the gaps. When we talk of soul of the gaps or God of the gaps we are referring to something different. We are saying this: “Hey, this does not have an explanation, so God may be the cause.” Borrowing an example from this very discussion but using it according to my logic: “Spontaneous cancer remission has no cause that I know of, therefore it was God that miraculously cured my friend from his cancer!” Note that in this situation there is no pattern that leads you to prefer God over alternative theories. You are making this choice based on faith. But imagine this other (hypothetical) scenario: “Gosh, these innumerable and fantastic advanced physic’s equations are coming out of nowhere on the screen of my computer; they are hundreds of years advanced from what we know. It must be coming from some god-like intelligence out there!” (remember the movie “Contact”, after the book by Carl Sagan?). In this example we have a pattern that helps us in trying to create a “theory” to explain the phenomenon. IM is closer to this last example (though the authors’ conclusions and theory may be wrong).
ST insists that this particular “theory” is a logical "conclusion" from the available data, and not an "assumption" at all.
Sorry, I ended up adding to the “lots of repetitions” and “more of the same”… :-)
This is like saying that Intelligent Design is a logical conclusion from the available data.
And actually it is…! You can take it from me. I am a biologist who has thought it over lengthily, and who has read a lot from the contending parties on this matter. But this has to be further elaborated (and expect nothing more than strict mainstream evolutionary thinking from me on this matter).
Sorry, but no, dualism in any of its forms (and “transmission” is certainly a brand of dualism)
I am not really trying to dwell on that PhD student stuff. But anyway, I like to share viewpoints regarding proper attitude and remarks and not proper attitude/remarks. Do not see that, please, so much as preaching, but rather as an exchange of viewpoints. You said above, “any of its forms.” Some people say, and I agree, that scientists (at least while they are trying to behave as scientists) should avoid words that convey totality. There is a nice phrase that says “Always and never are two words you should always remember never to say.” Alongside this, I have heard more than once (and I agree) that “true scientists speak in probabilities” (instead from in yes and no).
does simply not follow from what one finds in IM. A “transmission” theory of mind-brain relationships simply needlessly multiplies the number of entities necessary to make sense of the data.
You see, monism, dualism, and pluralism are concepts that keep coming and going throughout the history of human thought. IMHO, these concepts are not to be despised. Instead, we should look at them with respect, care and wisdom. They all have kernels of truth in them (IMO). And especially neuroscientists should be quite welcoming towards the idea of multiplication of entities. Have you, Sebastian, ever entered consciously into your dreams and tried to talk to the dream people from your very own mind? Well, I have (and also many other people have too). And what we find in us is truly amazing, and far from “unitary” (monistic).
Consider an example: either people or aliens are responsible for a particular crop-circle, it does not help at all to put forward the possibility that aliens are remotely controlling enslaved human beings to make crop circles from outer space.
Why are you doing away with aliens, to begin with? If you show that child prodigies are explainable through present-day neurological knowledge, then this specific phenomenon ceases to require an alternative explanation (be it dualistic, demonical, etc). That is the point. That is what I meant when I replied to Jime at the link below:
I said: “At a preliminary reflection, I think only survival seems necessarily to outstrip the potential powers of the body.” What I meant was that I actually saw very little “irreducibility” in what the authors presented. Even psi (say, telepathy) may exist and yet be reduced to ordinary well-known neurology.
At any rate, as long as “transmission” remains such a poorly elaborated alternative to materialism, then one is allowed to adopt any other indeterminate guesswork about how the universe works (divine intervention, an alien trickster, magic wand-like super ESP, and so forth). All of this is utterly unwarranted if one is serious about making scientific progress.
of IM follow Myers in his strategy of building a "bundle" of converging
evidence, assuming like him that there is a continuum of normal, unusual
and psychical phenomena that suggests a stratified view of the human mind,
each layer sort of producing its own phenomena depending on the more of
less "permeability" of hidden forces, or something. But this is entirely
no obvious reason why stigmata, the placebo effect, genius, NDEs and mystical
experiences should all point to the same conclusion, even if there
were anything genuinely paranormal about them (which is precisely the
question at stake).
Yes, there is an obvious reason. They are all... Mind! The question is: are they paranormal? I do not know. Chances are they are not. But chance may be illusory and misleading.
Anyway, I’m not here to re-review this book. So let’s take ST’s comments one by one. After making much of my alleged confusion between “assumption” and “conclusion”, he writes:
Dieguez fails to discern between knowing the existence of a fact and knowing the explanation for a fact. This conflating is astonishing in a PhD. student.
I mean when I say sanctimonious and boring? This “PhD” thing will come
up several times in the discussion, so let me say right away to ST that
I like discussion and dialogue (vigorous or not), but I don’t take lessons
from complete strangers about the moral and scientific standards a PhD
student should hold. If ST doesn’t have a PhD, then I suggest he tries
to obtain one so that he can put his particular standards to good use. If
he already has one or is doing one, then good for him, he must be proud
and very serious about it.
Well, the good thing is that I do not have a PhD and most certainly I am not going to have one. So I can be spared this dispute... :-)
case, what he’s doing here is transparent: he simply says that everything
that is described in IM are facts, but because not all of them have
an explanation, then I simply prefer to ignore them. That’s must be because
I’m stubborn, ignorant, and fearful of change. Well, I don’t buy this rhetoric
and I dislike it. So let me repeat: the paranormal aspects described in
IM (veridical perceptions during NDEs, mediumship, apparitions, ESP in
general, etc.), are not facts, have not been established as facts, and
do not seem to be in any progress of being accepted as facts anytime soon.
what needs to be explained, is what is going on with the persons who report
such things, the scientists who claim to have observed them and the persons
who believe them. This might be ultimately misguided, but it is a reasonable
and parsimonious approach (and even the only one who can actually help
establish the paranormal as real).
I fear I am (together with Jime) being directed to a mental institution... :-). I must deserve it!
Then he goes on to provide examples of things that exist but that have no explanation:
-Consciousness is known (by introspection), but nobody has presented any adequate model to explain how on earth matter produces it. That is, we don't have an explanation for consciousness.
-Spontaneous remission of cancer is a known (and infrequent) clinical fact. But no one knows the explanation for such fact (and there is not oncological theory that predicts it, because cancer is considered a progressive fatal disease if left untreated).
-The placebo effect is a well known fact in medicine, but no adequate explanation for it exists. In fact, given that the placebo effect is, by definition, caused by the belief of patients (and therefore, by their subjectivity) some materialists have tried to dismiss it.
Well, I humbly kind of disagree from the "examples" above.
First, I agree with consciousness, even though this has to be more elaborated.
But spontaneous remission of cancer and placebo effect are most likely
pretty much explainable through conventional science. In both cases, the
action of the so called neuro-immune-endocrine system is most likely
go on and on actually. Nothing in the universe is completely explained.
not how science works. But let’s take these examples in turn. I think that
consciousness does exist, but only insofar as intelligence, jealousy or
patriotism also exist. These are bad examples of what one would consider
a “fact”. First, you have to go through the trouble of defining consciousness,
otherwise you might as well claim that the soul exists through introspection.
But more importantly, this definition will inevitably color your assessment
of the neuroscientific data. Some views of consciousness simply beg the
question by stating right off that it will never be explained by science.
interested in such an approach. I was at the latest Association for the
Scientific Study of Consciousness in Berlin (13th ASSC), and
believe me, people are working hard on this topic and making progress on
many fronts. Now, the scientific study of consciousness is very recent in
the history of science, and there is still a long way to go.
so, it is encouraging to compare the results and progress of cognitive
neuroscience in this area to that of psychical research and parapsychology,
which have been at it for more than a century. You only have to learn a
little bit about what happens in the brain during binocular rivalry, backward
masking, synaesthesia, blindsight, hallucinations and so forth. We do
know a lot. The phenomena I just listed have been unambiguously established
and are beginning to be explained. Can you say with a straight face that
ESP and survival have been established in the same way?
You have to study the alleged evidence (for ESP or for psi) very deeply. However, I agree that the simple (and straightforward) answer to this question above is "No." Yet, Psi in Ganzfeld...
Then there is the example of spontaneous remission of cancer. Think of the differences with the previous example. This is something altogether different: what counts as “spontaneous”, what counts as “remission” and what type of “cancer” exactly? How big is the pool of such events to allow for systematic research? What type of explanations has been previously advanced? Etc. I’m not going to do the homework now, this is not my field, but I’m unimpressed by the comparison of this example to, say, the reality of distant healing through prayer (as unashamedly discussed in IM).
Then there’s the placebo effect, which is also discussed in IM, as if somehow this interesting phenomenon should lead one to believe in dualism or survival. The topic has been a hot one in medical science for the last 15 years or so. There are tons of research and reviews on the topic. There are many issues of definition, methodology, interpretation etc., but it is certainly false to say that “materialists” dismiss it. Otherwise, why should literally every study conducted by materialist medical scientists include a “placebo” group?
you go, three very bad examples to distract one from the only problem
we are dealing with: please establish ESP, veridical perceptions during
OBEs-NDEs and communications from the deceased as facts, and then
look for an explanation.
I do have
a problem with the arrogance of IM in dismissing the successes and constant
progress of cognitive science
proposing a clear and testable alternative.
is not my main concern. My main concern is that any such alternative theory
is not warranted,
the paranormal as not been established
real world behaves exactly as if there was no paranormal in the
I am reminded
here of a 70’s picture showing Uri Geller covered by electrodes and measuring
machines at SRI, as if the explanation of fraud and chutzpah was to be
found in his physiology.
And you know what that was? It got published in Nature, in one of the bravest and most honest moments in the history of science (read the editor's opening letter about it).
The example of the placebo effect is immediately followed by this gem: (oops, that is another gem... )
That "the mind can affect the body's biochemistry" is what we'd expected IF dualism is true.
disagree more. Why does ST think that dualism is overwhelmingly rejected
by scientists? He surely must realize that the main problem with dualism
is precisely the lack of explanation for how "the mind can affect the body's
biochemistry". By definition, this problem does not exist for materialism:
it is simply a thing we must study carefully. You see, if the “mind” really
is nothing but brain processes, then its effect on the body’s chemistry
is not such a big problem after all. But then, I’m only being a rude PhD
student, what do I know.
IMHO, both views are possible. Dualism and monism could work quite fine.
So, Dieguez's argument, if applied consistently, would be useful to refute and dismiss much of the data accepted by mainstream science. His argument that an explanation is needed would serve to dismiss spontaneous remission of cancer or consciousness. His argument that the data is controversial would serve to refute consciousness too (since there is controversy about if consciousness exists at all, as argued by some eliminative materialists and even by Dieguez who consider it an illusion of the brain)
This is nonsense. I’m not the one suggesting that one should look for a miraculous and revolutionary non-materialist approach to consciousness, spontaneous remission of cancer or the placebo effect. Persons like ST and the authors of IM are. Because these are gaps in our full understanding of the material world, they jump to the conclusion of the “soul of the gaps” (so one is left with a choice to make: either “promissory materialism” or “the soul of the gaps”: take your bets).
And I want to say something about the use ST makes of the notion of “controversy” here. Consciousness research is controversial in the same sense that there is controversy in any field of science (evolution, physics, animal behaviour, sociology…). That type of controversy is good and scientists just love it, it allows them to compete against each other and therefore accelerate progress. The mistake comes perhaps from also calling such things as parapsychology and creationism “controversial”. This is too weak a word. These things should better be qualified as “esoteric”, “stupid”, “nonexistent” or “false”. This should go without saying, but then believers are convinced that research on ESP and research on consciousness somehow stand on the same ground. This obviously leads to many misunderstandings, so here I brought two simple examples : (i) Uri Geller claims (or claimed) to bend spoons with the power of his mind alone, (ii) there exist some accounts of levitation. So, should we try to confirm scientifically these observations, or right away bring our measurement devices to try to explain how such feats are done? If you don’t do the job to the satisfaction of all parties, if then you nevertheless claim that these “observations” disprove “materialism”, and if eventually you argue that there must be a better explanation but then merely say something vague about the soul or whatever, then you have effectively established yourself as a crackpot. The examples and comments of ST are irrelevant here. Before you try to explain something, there has to be a something.
In the following sentence, ST thinks he caught me in a blatant demonstration of bias.
Thus, Dieguez doesn't reject paranormal phenomena due to a lack of explanation or a lack of a theory for it, but because it's inconsistent with materialism. And this point was explicitly conceded by Dieguez in this comment in Michael Prescott's blog: "Materialism has not been destroyed by the cross-correspondences or by NDEs, because materialism is simply unaffected by the multiplication of GHOST STORIES" (Note how Dieguez conflates paranormal evidence with ghosts, conflating a genus with its species. An amazing and inexcusable intellectual, logical and conceptual confusion for a Ph.D student!. In fact, such a deficient comment suffices to avoid further debate with Dieguez but, seeing as this an interesting topic, I'll continue with my reply)
sentence in green again, it is not a "concession" of any kind, that’s
simply a truism. I don't know what is controversial here: materialism,
taken as the ongoing activity of scientists in the world, physicists, biochemists,
neuroscientists and so forth, works just fine and is unaffected
by reports of NDEs and trances of automatists. Or else just try asking
any living scientist ("mainstream scientist", if you want, not Radin, Schwartz
or Sheldrake) if she ever tried to reconcile her findings with the existing
data on Mrs Piper’s mediumship, for instance, or if she merely felt there
was any need to do so in the first place. I realize this is a disturbing
observation for someone who really believe in the paranormal, but it is
uncontroversial that science works just fine without taking psychical science
and parapsychology seriously. Day after day, week after week. It is not
only that parapsychology and psychical research have not and do not hurt
« mainstream » science in any way, but more generally that given the current
state of knowledge, the progress made has been so enormous and thrilling
that it simply would be stupid to turn everything upside-down merely on the
basis of dubious "evidence" (i.e. GHOST STORIES).
I live my life as if there is no quantum mechanics, and also so most of sciences (they all, for all practical purposes, disregard quantum mechanics - despite often using tools developed through our knowledge of quantum mechanics, like advanced computers, lasers, etc). No wonder ghost stories are left aside, regardless of their reality. (I myself leave them aside too!).
like Prescott, ST is shocked by my use of the term GHOST STORIES (which
I write in all caps, yes). ST chastises me for confounding "paranormal
evidence" with "ghosts". This is "conflating a genus with its species"
he says, and (again) this is inexcusable behavior for a PhD student. Maybe
ST is totally unable to read between the lines, or he is utterly impervious
to any sense of humor, but the relevant thing here is not my alleged sloppiness
in basic logic. The question remains: does ST actually believe
in ghosts? If ST believes in apparitions, hauntings, mediumship, and poltergeists,
then yes, he believes in GHOST STORIES. I personally don’t, but go figure,
I’m just a misbehaving PhD student.
It just dawned on me that we do not have a picture
of the misbehaving PhD student. So, let me provide it:
Ok. Now that we know who he is, let's proceed.
He follows by quoting how I characterize the transmission hypothesis as an argument from ignorance, and he writes this:
False. An argument from ignorance consists in concluding X in the absence of the evidence for or against X.
ST doesn’t know what an argument from ignorance and/or from incredulity is. One can find different definitions of these fallacies, but what he says is not one of them. The version I was talking about is the most widespread one, I think, and it only demands that you replace “in the absence of” by “because of the absence, or perceived absence of” in ST’s definition above. But I don’t want to be too blunt here, after all ST, as far as I know, might not even be a PhD student.
What follows, sadly, is more of the same:
But the authors [of IM] are not concluding from the absence of evidence, but from the POSITIVE evidence in favor of X (e.g. paranormal evidence). If you dispute the evidence for X, then there is a debate; but controversial evidence is not the same that the total absence of evidence.
Dieguez conflates controversy about the evidence for X, with the absence of evidence for X. Another logical and conceptual mistake.
to follow the teachings of creationists. He takes advantage of the ambiguous
notion of “controversy” (see above). We could go on for hours, but none
of the claims of parapsychology has been established. None. On the other
hand, fraud, misobservation, misreporting, wishful-thinking and methodological
sloppiness do exist, and happen to be fairly well represented throughout
the history of psychical research and parapsychology (how come? One wonders).
all the same since Myers (at least): pick up GHOST STORIES and tons of very
sloppy and bad research, mixed it up with interesting but irrelevant medical
wonders that are not ostensibly paranormal at all, and claim that you have
made a big bundle with all of this.
of the bundle is weak, but the bundle itself is strong.
Well, I don’t find this argument persuasive. In fact, I find it hilarious. (I know, laughter and mockery are not appropriate behaviours for a PhD student). I have a better metaphor for the sum of paranormal “evidence”: it’s not a bundle, but a house of cards. Only the cards are a wild assortment coming from very different decks, and for the moment they are merely scattered around the floor.
By the way, this whole usage of mine of the term GHOST STORIES is not purely idiosyncratic (except for the caps). It was acknowledged by Trevor Hamilton in his biography of Fred Myers. It took me a while to find out where I had read that precious quote, but here it is, from p.194 of Immortal Longings [this follows from a remark about the fact that some persons, including Emily Kelly, were surprised upon first reading Human Personality to find out that there was little discussion of survival per se in there, and much about all kinds of abnormal psychology]:
in fact, decided that he would have to address wider issues [than merely
survival], including the mind-body problem and human abnormal psychology,
as well as the results of research into mediums, if he was to develop a
satisfactory and persuasive theoretical framework to which others might
give, at least, provisional assent or interest. Otherwise, his and the
Society’s work would be treated as just a better written and better evidenced
set of Ghost Stories than those of the past” (my emphasis,
please note the use of capitals in Ghost Stories by Hamilton).
Indeed, that was perhaps bound to happen, even with the presence of psychological mysteries in the book (and these stories are actually not better written, and perhaps not even better evidenced, than those one can find, for example, in the recently reissued Oxford Book of Ghost Stories edited by Cox and Gilbert, OUP 2008).
ST then writes:
Since Dieguez is so "evidence-based", I challenge him to provide evidence for his claim that "the authors never tire of saying that everybody is wrong except them". I await this evidence.
But IM is entirely written in this vein. That’s the main point of the book, to challenge “current mainstream neuroscience”. Now, cognitive neuroscience is a huge enterprise, with thousands of scientists around the world working hard and publishing tons of papers in dozens of specialized journals. If all these persons simply don’t take into account the insights of Bergson, James, Myers and Kelly et al. about mind-brain relationships, then IM is effectively saying all along that everybody is wrong except them (plus a few others, of course, one should not forget about Mario Beauregard and the deluded Denyse O’Leary, which ST obligingly interviewed for his blog). Let me also reprint here the quote that ST himself has conveniently taken from IM in his previous post about my review:
“The authors of this book are united in the conviction that they [“the views of the vast majority of contemporary scientists”] are not correct—that in fundamental respects they are at best incomplete, and at certain critical points demonstrably false, empirically. These are strong statements, but our book will systematically elaborate and defend them".
these are strong statements, which basically translate as: “thousands
of scientists are wrong, we can prove it and therefore we are on
the right tracks and they’re not.” Is this an “uncharitable” reading, or
a “strawman fallacy”? Did I meet ST’s “challenge” here? I think so, but
perhaps that was a little bit too easy.
These techniques have yielded a torrent of new information about the brain. Scientists and philosophers confronting the mind-body problem even as recently as a century ago knew only in a relatively global and undifferentiated fashion that the brain is the organ of mind. Today we know a great deal more, although our knowledge undoubtedly remains in many respects extremely primitive relative to the brain's unimaginable complexity. We know a lot about the structure and operation of neurons and even lower-level constituents. We also know a lot about the structural organization of the brain, its wiring diagram, and thanks mainly to the new imaging technologies we have begun to learn a fair amount about its functional organization, the manner in which complex patterns of neural activity are mobilized and coordinated across spatially separated regions of the brain in conjunction with ongoing experience and behavior.
The empirical connection between mind and brain seems to most observers to be growing ever tighter and more detailed as our scientific understanding of the brain advances. In light of the successes already in hand, it may not seem unreasonable to assume as a working hypothesis that this process can continue indefinitely without encountering any insuperable obstacles, and that properties of minds will ultimately be fully explained by those of brains. For most contemporary scientists, however, this useful working hypothesis has become something more like an established fact, or even an unquestionable axiom. At the concluding ceremonies of the 1990s "Decade of the Brain," for example, Antonio Damasio (1999) encapsulated the prevailing view:
In an effort that continues to gain momentum, virtually all the functions studied in traditional psychology—perception, learning and memory, language, emotion, decision-making, creativity—are being understood in terms of their brain underpinnings. The mysteries behind many of these functions are being solved, one by one, and it is now apparent that even consciousness, the towering problem in the field, is likely to be elucidated before too long (1).
That an enormous amount of methodological and substantive progress has been made by scientific psychology in its first century can hardly be denied, and I do not mean to deny it. But what sort of root conception of human mind and personality has so far emerged from all this effort? There are many rapidly shifting cross-currents and variations of detail amid the welter of current views, but to the extent that any provisional consensus has been achieved by contemporary mainstream scientists, psychologists and neuroscientists in particular, it is decidedly hostile to traditional and commonsense notions and runs instead along roughly the following lines: We human beings are nothing but extremely complicated biological machines. Everything we are and do is in principle causally explainable from the bottom up in terms of our biology, chemistry, and physics—ultimately, that is, in terms of local contact interactions among bits of matter moving in strict accordance with mechanical laws under the influence of fields of force.(2). Some of what we know, and the substrate of our general capacities to learn additional things, are built-in genetically as complex resultants of biological evolution. Everything else comes to us directly or indirectly by way of our sensory systems, through energetic exchanges with the environment of types already largely understood. Mind and consciousness are entirely generated by—or perhaps in some mysterious way identical with—neurophysiological events and processes in the brain. Mental causation, volition, and the "self" do not really exist; they are mere illusions, by-products of the grinding of our neural machinery. And of course because one's mind and personality are entirely products of the bodily machinery, they will necessarily be extinguished, totally and finally, by the demise and dissolution of that body.
Views of this sort unquestionably hold sway over the vast majority of contemporary scientists, and by now they have also percolated widely through the public at large.(3). They appear to be supported by mountains of evidence. But are they correct?
The authors of this book are united in the conviction that they are not correct—that in fundamental respects they are at best incomplete, and at certain critical points demonstrably false, empirically. These are strong statements, but our book will systematically elaborate and defend them. Our doubts regarding current psychological orthodoxy, I hasten to add, are at least in part shared by others. There seems to be a growing unease in many quarters, a sense that the narrowly physicalist contemporary approach to the analysis of mind has deflected psychology as a whole from what should be its most central concerns, and furthermore that mainstream computationalist/physicalist theories themselves are encountering fundamental limitations and have nearly exhausted their explanatory resources. The recent resurgence of scientific and philosophic interest in consciousness and altered states of consciousness, and in the deep problems which these topics inherently involve, is just one prominent symptom, among many others, of these trends.
Even former leaders of the "cognitive revolution" such as Jerome Bruner, Noam Chomsky, George Miller, and Ulric Neisser have publicly voiced disappointment in its results. Chomsky in particular has railed repeatedly and at length against premature and misguided attempts to "reduce" the mind to currently understood neurophysiology. Chomsky (1993), for example, pointed out that empirical regularities known to 19th-century chemistry could not be explained by the physics of the day, but did not simply disappear on that account; rather, physics eventually had to expand in order to accommodate the facts of chemistry. Similarly, he argued, we should not settle for specious "reduction" of an inadequate psychology to present-day neurophysiology, but should instead seek "unification" of an independently justified level of psychological description and theory with an adequately complete and clear conception of the relevant physical properties of the body and brain—but only if and when we get such a conception. For in Chomsky's view, shared by many modern physicists, advances in physics from Newton's discovery of universal gravitation to 20th-century developments in quantum mechanics and relativity theory have undermined the classical and commonsense conceptions of matter to such an extent that reducibility of mind to matter is anything but straightforward, and hardly a foregone conclusion.
Several contemporary state-of-the-art surveys in psychology—for example, Koch and Leary (1985), Solso (1997), and Solso and Massaro (1995)—provide considerable further evidence of dissatisfaction with the theoretical state of things in psychology and of a widely felt need to regain the breadth of vision of its founders, such as William James. Solso and Massaro (1995) remark in their summing-up that "central to the science of the mind in the twenty-first century will be the question of how the mind is related to the body" (p. 306) and that "the self remains a riddle" (p. 311). David Leary's (1990) essay on the evolution of James's thinking about the self begins by documenting the remarkable degree to which the Principles had already anticipated most of the substance of subsequent psychological investigations of the self. He then goes on, however, to emphasize that later developments in James's own thought—developments completely unknown to the vast majority of contemporary psychologists—contain the seeds of an enlarged and deepened conception of the self that can potentially secure its location where James himself firmly believed it belongs, at the very center of an empirically adequate scientific psychology. From still another direction, Henri Ellenberger (1970) ends his landmark work on the discovery of the unconscious with a plea for reunification of the experimental and clinical wings of psychology: "We might then hope to reach a higher synthesis and devise a conceptual framework that would do justice to the rigorous demands of experimental psychology and to the psychic realities experienced by the explorers of the unconscious" (p. 897).
1- This quotation and others in this book that do not list a page number were taken from sources published on the internet without specific pagination.
2- Newton's law of universal gravitation, insofar as it implies instantaneous action at a distance, appears to conflict with this characterization of physical causation, and indeed this feature greatly troubled Newton himself. The idea that matter could influence other matter without mutual contact was to him "so great an Absurdity that I believe no Man who has in philosophical matters a competent Faculty of thinking, can ever fall into it" (Newton, 1687/1964, p. 634). Newton himself presumed that this difficulty could eventually be removed—as indeed it was, more than two centuries later, with the appearance of Einstein's theory of relativity.
3- Just as this introduction was being drafted, a lengthy cover story on "mind/ body medicine" appeared in the September 27, 2004, edition of Newsweek. This article exemplifies throughout the attitudes I have just described, and it culminates in a full-page editorial by psychologist Steven Pinker, author of How the Mind Works (1997), decrying what he terms "the disconnect between our common sense and our best science." Pinker further advises Newsweek's massive readership that contrary to their everyday beliefs "modern neuroscience has shown that there is no user [of the brain]. "The soul' is, in fact, the information-processing activity of the brain. New imaging techniques have tied every thought and emotion to neural activity." These statements grossly exaggerate what neuroscience has actually accomplished, as this book will demonstrate.
Let’s move one. What follows is ST trying to explain how I misunderstand the “transmission” hypothesis:
The transmissive theory of mind-brain connection accepts a reciprocal interaction between brain states and mental states. Normal perception is functionally dependent on the brain, and this is consistent both with materialism and the transmission hypothesis, because both of them accept brain causation on mental states. But the transmission theory, additionally, offers room to understand phenomena that materialism cannot explain (like the phenomena explained in the IM).
that’s a helpful summary of what I was saying all along. Except that,
unlike ST, I find this whole thing ridiculous. Without the “phenomena
that materialism cannot explain”, which is again the very issue at stake
here, the “transmission” hypothesis is just a useless and maximalist (non-parsimonious)
way to interpret data (a bit like theistic evolution, or aliens commanding
humans to make crop-circles, or the more classic demon in the engine, if
you want). Moreover, it is misguiding to claim that the transmission hypothesis
accommodates without problems the findings from neuroscience. This is often
claimed in IM, but it is wrong. This is why I asked ST to explain basic
phenomena in terms of “transmission”, like binocular rivalry or synaesthesia,
and I could add data on split-brain patients, on semantic dementia, hormonal
modulation of affects and behaviour, and so forth. There is no simple way
for the “transmission” hypothesis to explain these things without turning
to ad hoc or fanciful explanations.
The result is that ST and the authors of IM need the paranormal to be true if the “transmission” theory is to be taken seriously at all. That’s a first step, but even then, they are at a complete loss (as was Myers) to describe it succinctly and to derive any experiment that could test it. But of course, the evidence is so scarce, embarrassing and unconvincing, as compared to the evidence for “materialism”, that believers prefer to assume that it is amply sufficient and that scientists and skeptics simply are unfamiliar with the relevant literature or prefer to look away. Of course, they could simply do better research, find clear evidence, and publish it in a scientific journal. But they prefer to think that scientists are a nasty and dogmatic bunch (thousands of scientists around the world!), as well as, of course, ignorant and/or fearful. This is not so far from a conspiracy theory, and the scary thing is that I’m not so sure they would take offense with such a comparison (after all, Donald Ray Griffin was well into psychical stuff before he turned to his 9/11 whacko “theories”).
In fact, the existence of such anomalous phenomena is so annoying for materialists, that Dieguez has to use rhetoric and ridicule as an argument (what an example of rationality!). Regarding Dieguez's use of rhetoric and ridicule, he conceded in Michael Prescott's blog: "The “abridged version on my pseudoscience shelf” was a rhetorical device to ridicule the import of Myers, and to anger precisely those that see so much in him" Is that a rational argument? Is that kind of discourse worthy of a Ph.D student? Is the use of a "rhetorical device to ridicule..." a proper methodology of a serious and rational reviewer? I leave the readers to decide that.
Well, I can’t see why mockery and rationality are not compatible. However, reading his comments, I certainly do now accept that being boring and gullible are fully compatible. But I’ll also leave the readers to decide that. Furthermore, it is worth reminding that we are talking about parapsychology and Fred Myers here (and not about Mozart): mockery is de rigueur.
The bottom line is that Dieguez has not presented any factual and rational argument against the authors of ID. Lacking scientific arguments, he instead resorts to the rhetoric, ridicule and other irrational fallacies.
be the “bottom line”, because it wasn’t my point to present factual or
scientific arguments against the authors of IM (notice ST’s very interesting
typo here, he writes ID instead of IM). They wish someone would
start nit-picking stuff among their myriad pages, but what I did was more
appropriate, I think: I simply laid out what the book is.
So I have reviewed the overall message and direction of the book in the restricted amount of space I was given, and I gave my opinion about it. The goal was not to debunk the contents of the book, but rather what it’s trying to do.
Now ST unearthed a comment I left on Prescott’s blog (itself referring to another sentence I left on my own blog as a comment), to illustrate my smugness and dishonesty:
Another example of Dieguez's "rational and scientific argumentation" is this comment in Michael's blog: "As for the stance I hold regarding "debates" with believers of all kind, it is true: I prefer a good laugh rather than a serious and useless fight."
If Dieguez is logically consistent, he would have to laugh at believers in materialism too (since his position includes "believers of all kind"). But the logical question is: is laughing a logical and rational argument? Dieguez is so sure that his position is right that he can't deal with other people opinions in rational terms; instead, he prefers to use ridicule, ad hominem and other fallacies.
God this is so boring. Do I really have to explain this quote of mine? Well, I’ll give it a shot. I’m sure ST, and many other believers, must have realized at some point that this type of debate as been going on and on for decades, and that a simple discussion around one particular book will not settle it at everyone’s satisfaction. So, why not lighten up a little bit and enjoy our differences in a frank and relaxed debate? We know our respective positions, right? We both think that the other is wrong, right? So let’s laugh a little bit at the whole situation. And yeah, I laugh at “materialists” too, on a daily basis as a matter of fact. I read scientific papers and I very often exclaim things such as “there you go, we’re one step closer to solving the riddles of the universe”. My snark is not unilateral, but then one has to know me to be aware of this. I accept critiques along the lines of “belief in promissory materialism” and so forth. The point is that it doesn’t matter whether or not I’m “sure that my position is right”, what matters is that I find no evidence in IM that my position is wrong.
One last word about the use of ridicule: ST is the one who believes in GHOST STORIES, not me. We nasty children love to mock such beliefs. One would think he should be used to it by now.
ST takes issue with stuff I wrote about the authors of IM taking the success
of parapsychology for granted. They have an appendix listing books and
reviews on parapsychology (even reincarnation!), and whenever they make
a wild claim about telepathy and such, they refer the reader to it. ST
What is the problem with reincarnation? It makes perfect sense from the biological point of view. (I need to elaborate this further).
Their point of citing the literature is to back up their assertions (therefore, not arguing from ignorance!). But Dieguez, uncharitably (and intentionally?) misrepresents the argument as suggesting we have to accept the literature at face value. Another example of Dieguez's uncharitable reading and straw man fallacy.
No, this is not a strawman fallacy at all. The appendix on parapsychology is not there to “back up” arguments at all, it was explicitly put there because the authors do not wish to discuss parapsychology (or “psi”) in the book, and so they merely say that they endorse this literature (although they say it is “still controversial” and “imperfect” and that they don’t endorse equally everything in it). This, in my book, is basically saying that one should take paranormal superpowers at face value if IM is to make any sense. Otherwise, psi and the appendix would not be needed for their argument.
ST then jumps into another wagon and starts explaining why, if the evidence for the paranormal is so strong, scientists do not accept it and do not even care about it. I granted ST that if this could help him feel better about himself, he could just go ahead and blame the nasty and ignorant academia. Here’s his response:
Actually materialism, naturalism, atheism and the fear of the "supernatural" is responsible.
Yeah, that’s what I thought. So it is a conspiracy (presumably, these same factors are also to blame for the absence of creationism and astrology in the classroom, therefore I’m soon expecting a documentary featuring IM’s authors called Banished!).
up this claim, which I granted anyway because I have no interest in this
particular brand of paranoia and self-aggrandizement so common in crackpots,
he quotes a “materialist philosopher”. This would be Thomas Nagel, grand
guru of mysterianism, which is enough said as far as I’m concerned (remember,
“What it is like to be a bat?”, that’s clearly the favorite paper of “materialists”).
Two more philosophers are then quoted, as ST loves arguments from authority
(I’m just hoping he didn’t extract the quotes from The Spiritual Brain—which
is essentially made of such quotes—, that would be most embarrassing).
But more generally, the idea that skeptics and scientists are “afraid” of
the paranormal is preposterous. Read my lips: “I AM NOT AFRAID OF THE PARANORMAL”.
It doesn’t hold. Moreover, I’m not claiming around that believers in the paranormal are afraid of materialism. That’s because I don’t have to, I’m content with the observation that they have nothing to back up their wild claims.
But of course, once one goes there, then everything is permitted and you can simply say that your opponent is irrational for emotional reasons and draw this nail further and further:
you won't see such self-critical and honest concessions of the flaws of materialism in a "Ph.D student" like Dieguez (whose best argument in favor of materialism is that it hasn't been undermined by ghost stories!)
Read again that last sentence in parentheses. Take a good look at current science and its astonishing successes, its continuous progress in numerous fields, and ask yourself why it works so well despite the existence of GHOST STORIES. I know I’m repeating myself here, but the overall resistance of science to the supernatural is indeed a perfectly valid argument for materialism. Again, you can imagine how the world and life should look like if all of IM were true. Instead, what we find over and over again, is that isolated and bizarre “paranormal” events are always just ambiguous or controversial enough so that they turn out to be entirely irrelevant for a sound understanding of reality (but still allows the believer’s will-to-believe to keep rolling).
quotes from Hyman’s assessment of the SAIC experiments, which is clearly
off topic here (but then ST likes dropping names very much). I don’t care
about this particularly embarrassing phase of parapsychological research
at SRI, which has utterly failed to provide evidence of anything paranormal,
again. I’m annoyed, however, but not surprised, by the tendency to cherry-pick
a few appeasing sentences by Hyman in an otherwise wholly negative assessment
of a project that was aimed at training super-heroes. What ST fails to
notice, interestingly, is that Remote Viewing, which was the topic of the
SAIC project, is not addressed at all in IM. Why?
Probably because you would complain that it was too tedious...
Thankfully, what follows is funnier. Remember that ST confronted me with a video where Michael Shermer, a skeptic, found evidence supportive of Vedic astrology in a non-scientific televised show. ST is of course unable to perceive the ridicule of this whole situation, but I enjoy it a lot. So I said: yeah sure, go for it, Vedic astrology is for realz because Shermer, like, proved it, you know. And I added for good measure that I found unforgivable that Vedic astrology is not mentioned in IM at all (by the way, how does the “transmission” theory accommodate with astrology? We might never know). But here’s how ST reads all of this:
This is an amazing concession. According to Dieguez, Michael Shermer found evidence for vedic astrology! And he concedes that "So yeah, it totally seems that thanks to the science of Vedic Astrology, one can approximate some individual's personal features merely by knowing his or her date and place of birth" (My God, I'll be referring to this "skeptical" concession all the time in this blog! By the way, note that Dieguez doesn't admit any consequences for materialism and mainstream science by his concession of positive evidence for Vedic Astrology. This will give you an idea of the logical coherence of Dieguez)
Yes, write it down, Sebastian Dieguez accepts the evidence for Vedic astrology, as he is entirely devoted to whatever Michael Shermer says or does, and believes that 10 minutes long TV shows are better than real scientific reports. So you can quote me all you want on this: VEDIC ASTROLOGY IS TRUE (although I don’t even know what it is). I now demand that “mainstream” neuroscientists, as well as the authors of IM, stop immediately their misguided ramblings, and devote themselves to this venerable science. Which raises the question: does ST actually believe in Vedic astrology? And does he think that Shermer is to be trusted when he finds evidence for crackpot notions, but not when he debunks anything else?
I enjoy this so much that I will go one step further. ST asks:
My question for Dieguez is: Do you consider the evidence (gotten by skeptic Shermer) stronger than the evidence for psi (e.g. as explicitly conceded by Ray Hyman)?
Yes, I’m happy to concede this. Again, I am now a full convert in Vedic astrology, all the rest is utter nonsense. Tomorrow, I will talk with my thesis advisor and present him with Shermer’s video. If he doesn’t allow me to switch my topic on the spot to Vedic astrology, I will resign immediately and move to India. So there.
What follows is more whining about my attitude and about the sin of “debunking”. This is only more literal reading from ST, who gets very serious with skeptics but all mellow with certified nutcases like Denyse O’Leary. There’s nevertheless something funny coming, after ST quotes some of my ramblings about the paranormal and how I characterize it as GHOST STORIES:
Ghost stories again...? Man, it's impossible to argue with a person who cannot discern any difference between telepathy, psychokinesis, NDEs, stigmata and even mediumship from "ghosts".
Because of course, it’s much easier to discuss with someone who actually believes in ghosts, as well as GHOST STORIES. Anyway, something more interesting comes after this, where ST dismisses my argument that IM relies in many places on the explanatory gap and the naïve folk psychology of free will. He says that this is irrelevant:
The question is whether materialism can account for free will or not, and if its implications are morally acceptable or not.
This misses the point badly. My concern is not about morality, but about the naïve conception that volition and consciousness somehow pre-exist to brain processes. The extended quote from Keith Augustine is interesting but totally irrelevant in the present context. But it gets even more confused:
It is irrelevant whether most people believe in objective moral values or not; the point is that materialism and naturalism cannot account for them.
cannot account for free will and morality? Ok, so please feel free to
never attempt to do any science on these topics. You would not be helpful.
Then, inevitably, because I said that free will and consciousness are “illusions”, ST is more than happy to explain to me how I defeated myself with such an assertion (like I never heard that argument before):
That comment is self-refuting. If consciousness and thinking is an illusion, then your arguments (which are based on ideas in your consciousness) are illusions too. And we can't predicate the values of "truth" or "falsity" to illusions, because our own conceptual adjudication of such epistemic and logical values would be an illusion too. You can't defend your data on rational grounds, if previously you concede that your own mind is an illusion. You're using an illusion (your consciousness) to justify another illusion (the scientific data obtained by the illusory consciousness of scientists).
Very well done. The problem is that my illusions actually seem to match the real world and help me navigate in it and make sense of it in an honest and humble way (i.e., I don’t think that the purpose of the universe is all about me). And I can also make predictions that work out. On the other hand, ST seems to imply that naïve realism is actually a viable option and that he is not prey to the constructive, anticipatory, pattern seeking and interpretative processes in his brain. Good for him, that will certainly help him understand how the mind really works.
now briefly to NDEs, a favorite topic of mine. That’s about the only direct
reference to the contents of IM that I actually made in my review: I dismissed
the argument that NDEs are “paradoxical” in the sense that they provide
evidence of “enhanced cognition” during a time where the brain is not supposed
to be able to support such mental processes. I simply replied to this along
these lines: if dysfunctional brain activity cannot account for the type
of experiences lived during a NDE, why should no brain activity at all
be a better explanation?
Here’s what ST responds:
Because if there is no "brain activity at all", how the hell are you going to have mental experience? If the mind is a product of brain functioning (like materialists like Dieguez think), then the mind ceases to exist when the brain ceases to function. It's a purely logical point, and it is amazing that Dieguez can't see it. If you don't have any brain functioning, how do you explain the mental experience had during that period?
sure how to put this without sounding too harsh. Let’s try this: ST simply
missed the point.
of IM, and also Parnia and Fenwick, do not claim (unlike many other believers)
that NDEs occur while the brain is entirely shut down (or “flatlining”).
It seems that they have carefully read the data, they even have finally
opened Sabom’s book and actually read the Pam Reynolds account, and they
came to the conclusion that there is no such evidence at all.
they try to be more cautious and say that during cardiac arrest NDEs, the
brain endures such pressure that it must not be able to form clear concepts,
memories, etc. This simply begs the question, of course, for no one knows
when an NDE occurs exactly (except when some external stimuli is
incorporated in the hallucinated scene, always when the brain is working),
and no one knows what happens in the brain during an NDE anyway. Moreover,
as the authors of IM make clear in their book, we don’t even know for sure
what type of brain state we should deem able or unable to support mental
processes in the first place. So my point was: if they grant that the best
one can say about NDEs from a paranormal perspective is that they occur during
states of brain impairment that are not compatible with consciousness and
memory formation, then why should no brain activity at all be de facto
a better explanation?
accept that in some cardiac arrest patients, the brain impairment, or the
brain recovery allowed by CPR, is such that it precisely produces very vivid
vestibular and visual hallucinations? After all, we already know that
brain disorders produce NDE-like experiences, don’t we?
Ok, here I skip some further misconceptions and circular reasoning from ST, in order to stay in the NDE domain. Here’s what I wrote in my response to his previous post: “If NDEs are a peek in the afterworld, I don’t see why only a tiny minority of cardiac arrest survivors report them, and I don’t see either why so many who report them were actually not near-death at all.” And here is his response:
Because those who report them have been detached from their bodies, and such separation occurs only occasionally, not constantly in each person. This is why most people don't experience a NDEs (and this is what we would expect if the IM arguments are true).
I don’t even know where that comes from. It would be good if ST could explain how it is not circular to claim that those who had an NDE where separated from their bodies, while those who had no NDE were not. Also, one wonders why this process should occur only “occasionally”, and on what grounds, if NDEs really are what believers think they are. Moreover, I can’t see why this vindicates the “IM arguments” in any way. But maybe ST, like me right now, is getting a little bit tired.
proceeds to some question begging about how “psi” exists in everybody
and not only in “psychics”, is therefore all over the place, and comes
in different intensities because it’s just like any other human skill.
How does he know all that? He doesn’t say, but refers me to a book by
Dean Radin, the man who explains on his blog that skeptics are to blame
for witch burnings.
Of course, he says that none of this is begging the question, but “an inference from the data”. I don’t want to aggravate my case as a failed PhD student, so I will refrain to take this particular point further (suffices it to say that no, psi is not all over the place, deal with it).
So, let’s now turn to the final points. I really want to know what scientists like me should do if everything in IM turns out to be true. So I asked: should I become a parapsychologist? If not, what should scientists do? Here ST wants to sound reassuring (after all, we scientists are paralyzed by fear, so we need a little patting on the back from time to time):
They should develop models of mind-brain connection that are consistent with all the data. Actually, the IM book tries to give some ideas (e.g. regarding the transmission theory) to account for the data. It doesn't mean that the transmission theory is correct, or the only alternative; the point is to think of alternative models to understand the mind-body connection, in a way to account for all the known phenomena (including the "anomalous" one, which cannot be accounted for by materialism, and have to be dismissed by the use of ridicule, rhetorical devices and speculations about ghosts stories)
Good. I can give some recommendations too: show us good evidence that we need an “alternative model” at all (not rogue phenomena or “bundle” of useless sticks, just good data please), then work out a clear theory, make predictions, make new experiments, publish them, and so forth. Also, dig in the neuroscientific literature and explain why an “alternative model” would make more sense of the data. When you’re done, publish another book in yet another century, with an enclosed CD of Irreducible Mind in it. If I’m still around, I’ll be glad to review it.
the end. ST thinks that I’m now so tired and devastated by his arguments
that I can’t see through his pathetic attempt at shifting the burden of
proof. I merely explained that the “transmission” theory, by the own account
of IM’s authors, is not clear at all and demands further theorizing. That’s
where they introduce my favorite lines of the book, when after some 800
they say that the theory that will lead to a new psychology for the 21st century is not yet available, but will be the subject of another book as soon as it is worked out. So I’m not the one who has to explain why the theory is empty here. There simply is no theory, just a vague reference to the Victorian musings of bearded men that had no TV and sought amusement in séances, plus the familiar quantum obfuscation. But then ST is deaf to all my noise, and merely observes:
My point is that a rational review should specify the objections to the theory being addressed. Asserting that the concept is empty, or that the authors make many false claims is not an argument, if you don't back up your assertions with evidence.
One has only to read the following sentence to see how he rejects my characterization of IM as a “soul of the gaps argument”:
The transmission theory is not the "soul of the gap argument". It's an hypothesis that tries to account for phenomena that materialism cannot explain.
ST obviously spent too much time with Denyse O’Leary: he now talks like ID creationists (can it be a coincidence, or even a “meaningful coincidence”, that the term “irreducible” is used in the same way by Kelly et al. and by creationist Michael Behe?).
So let’s turn to the conclusion:
In my view, Dieguez has not understood the IM book. His failure of understanding is a result of his prejudices, conceptual confusions (e.g. telepathy = ghost stories), ignorance of the flaws of materialism, logical inconsistences, and emotional attachment to his worldwiew.
In any case, maybe this exchange will help Dieguez to reflect and reconsider some of his positions (even though I doubt it will happen).
ST is mistaken here. I learned a lot thanks to him. I am now a proud believer in Vedic astrology, has he forgotten?
next installment, I will turn to more interesting comments by another critic
of mine, Julio Siqueira. Expect more of the same and a lot of repetitions.
Well, if at least Sebastian can help me to find the missing 100 pages from my copy of Irreducible Mind , I will be forever indebted to him!
Or, instead, he just may keep doing his good science work (with Blanke's team) that he is already doing (and, obviously and unfortunately, I am *not* referring to his critique of Irreducible Mind...), and he will keep receiving my admiration and support for truly embracing the only possible action a true scientist can take after reading Irreducible Mind, that is: to follow the data where it leads, even if it leads to disproving the afterlife altogether.