Back Goldfinch looking backwards

Trying to get an explicit commitment to the basic position of the materialist (that mind/consciousness is entirely a function of brain process) so that I could yet again ask for some argument in its favor, I wrote this:

Or am I mistaken? Don't you think science has proven (scientifically) that mind/consciousness is entirely a product of brain activity?

Maybe you think I'm pretty dull not to see that, obviously, that is what you think. Just tell me.

And she responded this way:

Those two paragraphs  {the two just above quoted} are yours, and my response:  (And it seems to be in your script!) As I believe I said in one of our email exchanges, I accept the materialist theory that mind/consciousness is entirely a product of brain activity.  Like all scientific theories, it is being established experiment by experiment, so, no, I don't think it has been "proven" but I do think it is being shown more and more likely with each advance in neuroscience.  

It had indeed been in my script for quite some time. So this was in fact an excellent outcome from my point of view. It permits me now to observe that as far as I can see there is no such thing as a scientific theory that mind is entirely a product of brain activity. I’ll need to get back to her on that. Such a theory, explicitly stated and argued for by some scientist somewhere would constitute exactly what I am looking for and what I keep asking her for — an explicit argument for the materialist position.

What my friend refers to as a theory is what I (and all the actual scientists I have read in the paranormal field) call the unquestioned assumption of mainstream scientists. Unquestioned and usually unstated.

The friend also says, of course, that she thinks this putative theory is being advanced, “being shown more and more likely with each advance in neuroscience.” This idea again brings me to request some actual argument that would show how, for instance, the Quiroga experiment I am discussing back in endnote 3 might support the presumed theory. Absent her own arguments as to how, I am reduced to writing my own arguments (specifically those back in endnote 3 from whence we just came...) showing how Quiroga and Seung do not advance the theory that is not actually a theory but just an assumption etc etc.

From wide reading in the paranormal field these past five years or so, I know that my frustration with my friend’s thinking is typical. I provide her with a definite, explicit argument that mind exists apart from matter, but she does not, will not and presumably can not offer me an explicit argument for the reverse position. On the other hand, she is happy to attack my argument. I am endlessly on the defensive against attacks from a position I am not able to counter because she does/will/can not in fact structure an argument for it.

For some months now I have been trying to get my friend to see that we are like a regular householder and a Jehovah’s  Witness talking on a front porch some pleasant spring morning. (I am one who usually gives these folks a pleasant reception although I have long ago given up on presenting them with my own religious convictions, which are rather far along the Buddhist path.) At first I presented myself as the JW, but she showed me that the analogy didn’t work well that way, so I’m now giving her the JW status. However, I do recognize that I am the one with the uncommon and some folks think way-odd position.

Anyway, that analogy will figure in my response to her observations above, a response I am about to copy and paste in here, but I want first to point out that in my response I mention that I have for the first time discovered a bone fide argument for the materialist position on brain and mind. This is the Thomas Huxley “Hypothesis that Animals Are Automata” that I have just begun discussing on this page. Huxley’s very interesting thoughts were published in 1874, but they are both the best I have been able to find to date and just very darned good. It’s always a great pleasure to read the thinking of a first rate mind.

This is my response following her commitment above quoted:

Thinking through your interchange with me continues to be very beneficial to my understanding of our own differences and, as I suppose, to my understanding of how the Greater World of educated people thinks. ***

I note this because I don't want you to think your many good points are going unobserved over here ***

What I see in your answer above is confirmation that we really are the homedweller and the Watchtower visitor on the front porch. It's all about whether the Bible is the word of God for me, but my WT guy is way beyond talking about that (why bother, it's so obvious, let's get to salvation and eternal life). And I see that there is very little chance of either of us influencing the other's thinking.

To come to the ghost in the machine problem, if I felt that every new Jennifer Aniston experiment was probative in re mind being entirely a product of brain activity, as you do — allowance being made for the occasionally faulty or irrelevant neuroscientific experiment — then I would not spend very much of my time at all bothering to read the many ghost stories out there. And I would easily find alternative possible explanations for them or doubt the bona fides of their sources. (Been there, done that. Including the one about how real scientists don't use statistics.) There must be thousands of such experiments, including many that date back into the nineteenth century (when people already knew that certain areas of the brain were associated with certain mental activities and functions.) —

During the second half of the nineteenth century substantial progress was made on the study of the impact of brain damage on mental functions, such as language, memory, reasoning, and perception. This dealt a blow to the idea of dualism. The prevailing view among scientists was that the causes of mental activities and behaviors were found solely within the brain—and it seemed to have been proven in the laboratory: human consciousness no longer belonged to an inexplicable realm. In 1874, the English biologist Thomas Huxley published an article suggesting that human beings are conscious biological machines.9

 (Beauregard, Mario (2012-04-24). Brain Wars: The Scientific Battle Over the Existence of the Mind and the Proof That Will Change the Way We Live Our Lives (Kindle Locations 168-173). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.)

The footnote is interesting in itself. I hadn't known of this — Huxley, “On the Hypothesis That Animals Are Automata, and Its History,” Fortnightly Review 16 (1874): 555–80.

But I don't feel that way. For me, these thousands of experiments are not probative at all. There's no "being shown more and more likely with each advance in neuroscience" at all. For me. For me, not for you. Interestingly, I realize that that explains why I have no interest in challenging the experimental design of the experiments or questioning the competence or credentialed status or vested interest of the experimenters. (This is not true of my approach to the vaccination studies used by the CDC on the other hand.)

If we are to arrive at any kind of mutual understanding, we'll need to find out why we are different in this regard. Failing a mutual understanding, we can at least understand how natural it is, given our different views of the probative value of those experiments, that we look at other evidence (as: NDE, OBE, psi experiments, alien encounters, spoon bending, previous life stories, the Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser experiment etc.)  and come away with such different inclinations of belief. And we can also understand, that just as with the Watchtower-nonbeliever encounter, where there is really very little good purpose in WT's stringing together dozens of Bible verses in an effort to persuade the nonbeliever to oppose gay marriage, so with us there is very little good purpose served by our arguing over NDE's or the legitimacy of even publishing a study on ESP in "a leading scientific journal" (see this NYT article from last year). (You've likely already read it, of course.)

It’s craziness, pure craziness. I can’t believe a major journal is allowing this work in,” Ray Hyman, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University Oregon and longtime critic of ESP research, said. “I think it’s just an embarrassment for the entire field.”

I'll close with a brief foray into the realm of proving the negative. I have long regretted that you do not offer me any actual argument for your positive position that the Astonishing Hypothesis is true, for this leaves me in the position of knocking at straw men of my own creation — I must invent arguments to counter, and attribute them to you. So don't come back at me with a complaint that I'm not properly representing your thought!

Woops! Changed my mind on that one. I found the Huxley article on the internet as a pdf. Went looking for it because of the respect it is given in this Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Epiphenomenalism, a pro-materialist entry, and because it is cited by Beauregard. I thought I might give you the main arguments that Huxley made. And I do actually believe you would find them persuasive and relevant to our discussion. I certainly find them relevant. He actually makes the argument, uses the words, shows how the conclusions are to be drawn from scientific fact. (Link) HOWEVER, his is a first-rate mind, and the article is 20 interesting pages long, dealing first with Descartes, giving him credit for the whole basic argument and at the same time pointing out what a keen and important biologist he was. Also, an unadvertised bonus is the lengthy presentation of a particularly weird mental aberration in a 19th century French soldier.

But, to return to my message — it will take me several more hours of notes and writing (spread over a number of days) to be able both to present Huxley's thinking in some more perspicuous form and to clarify my own thinking about his reasoning. The good thing is that there is an argument there, and it appears to be the definitive one. You might think you'd find that in, for example, Francis Crick's The Astonishing Hypothesis, but you don't — you can find a quick and clear summary of that book in this review from an apparently sympathetic Australian writer in the journal of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness.

That is, I want her to tell me how she knows the Bible is the Word of God — science has shown with experimental evidence that mind is entirely a product of brain activity.