Back Goldfinch looking backwards

To start with, Carter gives the history of the idea that mind is entirely a product of matter. He brings it down to Corliss Lamont’s The Illusion of Immortality (1990). By doing this right away he makes clear to the ordinary reader that there in fact exists no simple and modern scientific demonstration that mind arises entirely out of brain functioning. This is something I entirely omit from my argument, and that helps me understand why a well-educated friend of mine, in critically responding to my efforts at proof here, wrote things like this:

I don't think examining my own experience of my mind/consciousness will result in more accurate perceptions than are gained by those making mind and consciousness the object of scientifically verifiable study.  If we can't take the testable findings of scientists as the best current knowledge in a field, then we are left with intuitions, gut feelings, beliefs based on partial understanding....

From this and other statements, it became clear to me that my friend thought that science had somehow proven by repeatable experiments that consciousness is entirely a product of brain functioning. It is an item of faith with her, and I think with many others in the world of the university educated.

I have noticed that neuroscientists themselves are perfectly clear that they only have experimental evidence that there exist many good correlations between certain brain activities and certain experiences of consciousness. But while knowing the evidence is as yet lacking, they are confident it is coming; they assume that in fact the mind and all its activities are entirely the product of physiological brain function. The only difference from my friend is that they know the scientifically replicable experiments do not (yet) exist that will show their assumptions to be true.

Another smart thing Carter does that I do not is also historical:

The idea that the brain functions as an intermediary between mind and body is an ancient one. We have seen how Hippocrates described the brain as “the messenger to consciousness” and as “the interpreter for consciousness.” But, like the materialist theory, this ancient argument also has its modern proponents - most notably Schiller, Bergson, and James.

Of course by providing the history, Carter also provides the much-needed alternative hypothesis to the brain-only “astonishing hypothesis” of Francis Crick and the rest of the world of neuroscience. For most moderns have been conditioned by their schooling and such of contemporary science reporting as they may see in, say, the New York Times, to think that mechanistic explanations are the only ones available. And while anything outside of that billiard-ball arena smacks of (horror of horrors) religion, still, there is a certain causal-looking linkage in the idea of moving from mind to brain to consciousness, and I think most readers can see that. From Carter’s paraphrase we see that Lamont at least felt obliged to consider and reject the hypothesis of brain as intermediary:

Lamont briefly considers the findings of psychical research, but contends that they do not alter the picture, because of the possibility of other interpretations, such as fraud and telepathy. However, Lamont’s portrayal of psychic research is extremely superficial, and contains several incorrect and misleading statements. For a trenchant critique of Lamont’s book, exposing a mass of inconsistencies and non-sequitur, see chapter XIII of A Critical Examination of the Belief in a Life after Death, by C. J. Ducasse.

By not alerting my readers to the existence of these two facts

  1. Science has no experimental proof that mind is solely a product of brain.
  2. There exists an hypothesis of intermediary function for the brain that also accommodates the brain-consciousness experiments of neuroscience.

I lose a strong tool of persuasion. For instance, thinking like nearly everyone else in the educated world that there is no alternative to the hypothesis of brain as sole creator of consciousness, the reader has every reason to look at my proof by “ghost” as irrelevant and unlikely. Even if some of the ghost stories are persuasive in themselves, the reader has no reason to link that fact with any weakness in his/her assumption that science has the whole brain-mind relationship wrapped up in a tidy little experimental package.

For a few pages of how neuroscientists actually write on this topic, the reader may turn to this pdf I prepared on some of the writings of Sebastian Seung (Connectome) and Francis Crick (The Astonishing Hypothesis).

See the first two pages of Carter’s essay for the very interesting history I mention. (Link.)

Lamont’s book was first published in 1935 and is now in its fifth edition. I have yet to examine its arguments critically myself, but I have discovered possibly an even more influential argument in favor of materialism and confining mind and consciousness to the epiphenomenal realm: Thomas Henry Huxley’s “On the Hypothesis that Animals are Automata, and its History” (1874). I do a lengthy and possibly thorough analysis of his argument beginning on this page.