Dembski, Decoherence and the brain

| 133 Comments | 2 TrackBacks

Over at Dembski’s blog you will find him commenting on neuroscience.

Dembski Wrote:

My good friend and colleague Jeffrey Schwartz (along with Mario Beauregard and Henry Stapp) has just published a paper in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society that challenges the materialism endemic to so much of contemporary neuroscience. By contrast, it argues for the irreducibility of mind (and therefore intelligence) to material mechanisms.

Unfortunately for Dembski, this is completely wrong. The paper, “Quantum physics in neuroscience and psychology: a neurophysical model of mind-brain interaction” Jeffrey M. Schwartz, Henry P. Stapp, Mario Beauregard, Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, 2005 argues for a quantum mechanical approach to the problem of mind-brain interaction. Quantum mechanics may seem really weird to the non-physicist, and involve things like “spooky action at a distance” but quantum mechanics is part of the material world in the sense that both scientists use it and Schwartz et al., are using the this paper [1].

Schwartz Wrote:

…brain is made up entirely of material particles and fields, and that all causal mechanisms relevant to neuroscience can therefore be formulated solely in terms of properties of these elements. (Emphasis added)

An electron is no less material in quantum mechanics for it being described as a probability distribution. What Schwartz et al. are arguing for is a non-mechanistic description (in the classical physics sense) of mind-brain interaction, not a non-materialist one (in Dembski’s sense). Furthermore, it is not “irreducible” in Dembski’s sense either.

Now, a few caveats. Firstly, I’m a neuropharmacologist, I grow pretend nerve cells in dishes and try to unravel the molecular basis of nerve function and survival. So I’m at the “reductionist” end of the neuroscience spectrum (and the Paleyists have a thing about reductionism) and my comments on psychology are those of an interested lay-person. On the other hand I’ve spent a lot of my professional career working on neuronal calcium channels in one way or another, so when I talk about ion channels, it’s in a professional capacity. Secondly, the mind-body problem is hard; really, really hard. And there have been no end of books by eminent philosophers and neuroscientists on it (see the end of this post for some suggested reading). We are far from understanding the biological basis of consciousness, and it is one of the top 25 questions in the journal Science’s 125th anniversary issue.

However, there is a general consensus that the “mind” [2] is intimately associated with the brain. Brain damage affects the mind. Stroke can affect personality, the ability to associate words with images. Brain tumours can induce extreme personality changes that are reversed when the tumour is removed. A wide variety of drugs, acting solely on brain structures, influence our minds. What is contentious is whether the “mind” is solely generated by the brain (either directly or emergently), or whether “mind” exists in some sense separately from the brain. Also, how can the “mind” influence the brain if it is a construct of the brain?

The latter seems to be the starting point of Schwartz et al. They observe that people can be trained to regulate their emotions or overcome phobias. “Change the mind and you change the brain” is the title of a paper from one of the authors. One of their claims seems to be that as “mental effort” is experiential and cannot be described exclusively in material terms, we cannot use “classical physical” explanations to describe how “mind” can change the brain. Thus they turn to quantum mechanics. This is not new; Roger Penrose articulated a quantum mechanical view of consciousness some time ago. However they have looked at a quantum mechanical description of brain action in more depth than Penrose did.

I have two issues with their approach. Firstly, there is no need for some new principle to describe what happens when people learn to overcome social phobias. The key is that it is learning. We have known for a long time that learning changes brain structure. Nerve firing rates are changed through use dependent changes in nerve chemistry, new connections between nerves are forged and existing ones re-enforced. New firing circuits are produced. This happens in all learning, from unconscious learning of motor skills to conscious learning of more complicated cognitive tasks. Directed attention of the sort used in the phobia paper is also seen in non-human primates as well: it is not only a human domain. Interestingly, there is a type of mental retardation associated with fragile X syndrome that involves “executive attention”, one of the processes Schwartz et al. talk about. A single gene disorder, it causes these people’s brains to be normal macroscopically, but with fewer nerve connections than normal. Learning has a basis in remodeling the brain.

Learning in stroke patients can produce new nerve pathways to replace the damaged ones and restore some degree of function. This doesn’t require quantum mechanics to explain, so why should learning which circumvents phobias be any different to learning that circumvents stroke damage? And it is learning. In the spider phobia paper, people are repeatedly exposed to spiders in an environment where they learn that spiders can’t harm them. The title of the paper should have been “Change the brain and you change the mind”.

Secondly, the way they describe the quantum mechanical processes in the brain is problematic. For nerve cells to fire, calcium must enter the nerve cell in response to a stimulus. They correctly state that the ion channels that let calcium into nerve cells are very narrow (0.086-0.158 nm). They claim this will result in a calcium ion to be laterally confined, so that its velocity must become large by the quantum uncertainty principle, a cloud of probability spreads out from the ion channel. The spreading of the ion wavepacket means that it may or may not interact with the calcium-binding proteins that will result in neurotransmitter release, which will mean that the nerve may or may not fire and so on until the brain is one mass of probability and requires a quantum process to collapse it.

There are a number of problems with this. Firstly, lots of excitable tissues have narrow calcium channels and multiple connections. Exactly the same process occurs in the heart, where clouds of ions spread out from a calcium channel until a large mass of cells are firing, the same goes with blood vessels. We need no appeal to quantum mechanics to understand the heart beat, so why is the brain in principle any different (the brain will have more quantum superimposed states, but the heart will have several billion as well). Schwartz et al. claim there is a minimum complexity where quantum effects will begin to dominate, but don’t provide an indication of what this minimum size is. We can have a stab at it by looking at the minimum brain size in a conscious organism. New Caledonian Crows are tool makers and users. When presented with a unique problem, they can create a new tool to help them solve it. By all definitions of the word consciousness, New Caledonian Crows are conscious entities like chimps and us.

Yet they have a brain the size of a walnut. So Schwartz et al.’s quantum processes must take place at these levels of cell number and connectivity. This means that the quantum mechanical processes do occur in the heart if Schwartz et al’s interpretation is right. They will also occur in the enteric nervous system, a thick layer of nerves that lie between two muscle layers in the gut. Highly branching and interconnected, the enteric nervous system has been termed a “second brain”. The quantum processes that underlie Schawrtz et al.’s model of mind-brain interaction must underlie enteric nervous system-gut interaction.

The other implication is that these processes are not confined to humans (pace the New Caledonian Crows above), and must apply to monkeys, marmosets and mollusks. So the quantum mechanical processes cannot be an “irreducible” barrier between humans and animals, as Dembski hopes. Furthermore, it is not “irreducible” in Dembski’s sense. In Schwartz et al.’s model, the conscious mind-brain interaction is an emergent property that occurs when the number of connections are high enough for quantum properties to dominate. Biologists are perfectly happy with emergent phenomena, and connectivity-related emergence has been suggested to explain brain phenomena before.

Finally there is the problem of quantum decoherence. Schwatz et al. largely dismiss it.

Schwartz Wrote:

The brain matter is warm and wet and is continually interacting intensely with its environment. It might be thought that the strong quantum decoherence effects associated with these conditions would wash out all quantum effects, beyond localized chemical processes that can be conceived to be imbedded in an essentially classic world. Strong decoherence effects are certainly present, but they are automatically taken into account in the von Neumann formulation employed here. ….

I think the decoherence effects are a lot stronger than they suspect. A calcium ion has to run the gauntlet of many, many molecules before it reaches a binding site, it repeatedly bounces off water molecules and protein molecules. If there is any meaningful quantum effects left by the time calcium binds to synaptogamin, I’d be very surprised. I’ve measured calcium transients in nerve cells (and so have many other people), the spread of the calcium in the nerve terminal is at the standard diffusion rate, so it looks like the quantum effects have been largely removed (allowing of course for the fact that we are observing these systems, which collapses their quantum properties). Also, Schwartz et al. talk of a single ion channel and a single calcium ion and a single calcium binding target. But in realty in a single nerve terminal, there are many ion channels that will be activated, letting in many calcium ions (typical nerve terminal concentrations of calcium during a nerve impulse is around 100 nM), which will bind to many binding sites. The statistical effects of these many interacting calcium ions should wipe out any quantum indeterminacy.

There are many aspects of this paper that don’t seem to hang together for me outside of the issues outlined above. However, I must emphasize again that I am a neuropharmacologist, not a physicist (I don’t even play one on TV). Even though I have forced my way to the end of both “The Emperors New Mind” and “Shadows of the Mind” my grasp of quantum mechanics remains very basic.

But the main issue is that, even if Schwartz et al. are completely correct, this is still a physical theory, and is still “materialist” in the sense that scientists use the word.

To summarise: 1) Schwartz et al.’s model is a materialistic model; it uses a quantum mechanical rather than a classical approach, but it is no less materialistic for that. 2) Schwartz et al.’s model applies to all large concentrations of interacting, excitable cells, not just conscious brains. Consciousness is not unique in this model. 3) Schwartz et al.’s model applies to conscious non-humans. It provides no distinguishing barrier between humans and non-humans. 4) Schwartz et al.’s model is not “irreducible” in Dembski’s sense, it is a version of emergence. 5) It is not clear if Schwartz et al’s model is really needed to explain the phenomena they need to explain.

[1] It needs to be noted that there are several different interpretations of Quantum Mechanics. The most familiar will be the “many worlds” interpretation. Another common one is a Bayesian statistical approach. The interpretation used in this paper is Stapp’s own, and is not very widespread.

Further reading: The Skeptic’s Dictionary entry on Mind Blackmore, Susan. Consciousness: An Introduction (Oxford University Press 2003). Dennett, Daniel Clement. Consciousness explained illustrated by Paul Weiner (Boston : Little, Brown and Co., 1991). Penrose Roger, The Emperor’s New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds and the Laws of Physics, (Oxford Paperbacks. 1997)

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to the Panda’s Thumb crew for help discussion, particularly Erik for helping me with some Quantum Mechanical concepts.

2 TrackBacks

Dembski is correct. from Dualistic Dissension on July 17, 2005 12:32 PM

Here is the full abstract (emphases mine): [quote]Neuropsychological research on the neural basis of behavior generally posits that brain mechanisms will ultimately suffice to explain all psychologically described phenomena. [b]This assumptio... Read More

Reply From Dr. Stapp from Dualistic Dissension on July 21, 2005 6:08 PM

"You [Qualiatative] are correct...One needs also descriptions of human knowledge, and of intentional action whose causal origins are not specified by the aspects of the theory (or nature) that are described in this local (res extensa) language" Read More

133 Comments

My understanding of QM probably doesn’t even qualify as ‘basic.’ But this seems a pretty devastating criticism to me:

The statistical effects of these many interacting calcium ions should wipe out any quantum indeterminacy.

I could understand that QM might pertain if nerves fired on the basis of single ions, but as you point out, that’s hardly the case. Can someone who understands QM explain why this criticism doesn’t invalidate Schwartz’s hypotheses? And if not, how did this get past the reviewers?

Very helpful and interesting post. I’ve often thought the ID creationists should actually read the articles they discuss. Even the Abstract is clearly talking about natural phenomenon and not the “irreducibility of mind (and therefore intelligence) to material mechanisms.” As you pointed out, quantum phenomenon are material mechanisms. And non-local quantum mechanisms are as material as local mechanisms.

On another point, I suspect that your criticisms of the article are well founded.

Syntax Error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 3, column 73, byte 434 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.12.3/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187

My education in QM ended with the QM/relativity course in the EE curriculum, but I’d add one more thing to the above evaluation:  Experiments which test quantum behavior of particles (like the two-slit experiment) change their outcomes when the state of the system is collapsed by e.g. measuring which slit the particle passed through.  If the behavior of the neuron is not changed when the spread of calcium ions is measured vs. not measured, it is not exhibiting QM behavior.

Syntax Error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 7, column 16, byte 344 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.12.3/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187

But continuous energy can. If matter and energy are universal and interchangeable, thus the same elementary essence, then all matter and energy ARE connected. At least in theory.

qetzal Wrote:

I could understand that QM might pertain if nerves fired on the basis of single ions, but as you point out, that’s hardly the case. Can someone who understands QM explain why this criticism doesn’t invalidate Schwartz’s hypotheses? And if not, how did this get past the reviewers?

I won’t comment on the QM issue. But if this is a QM mistake, I think I know how it got past the reviewers. Could the reviewers have been all biologists?

Even if they were all biologists that doesn’t absolve them of their responsibility as scientists and reviewers to recognise that they needed a QM competent physicist to advise as well. Is this sort of thing (ie philosophy to judge by the name) habitually done on the cheap without the ability/money/time to drag in extra people with relevant competence?

Also, how can the “mind” influence the brain if it is a construct of the brain?

This is like asking how a process running on a computer can influence the computer if it is a construct of the computer. Or how the digestion can influence the stomach if it’s a construct of the stomach. The simplest answer is that all processes, including the mind and digestion, are timewise dynamic feedback systems or rather, we interpret a series of state changes in a physical object, such as a brain, computer, or stomach as such a system. Any apparent metaphysical problem in re the brain and the mind is illusory.

Cognitive scientists have long considered Henry Stapp to be a conceptually confused physicist trying to address problems in another field (the same goes, of course, for Roger Penrose and his coterie). See, for instance,

http://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/~axs/misc/[…]and-mind.txt (Aaron Sloman is Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science at The University of Birmingham, and Pat Hayes was co-discoverer with John McCarthy of “the frame problem”, a critical problem in AI)

Actually, I think Daniel Dennett recently opined that only species with a grasp of language sufficient to refer to the self have a self-symbol and are truly conscious. So he’d disagree with your statement about the crows, I guess.

Aside from Dennett’s views (which I generally share), the claim that “By all definitions of the word consciousness, New Caledonian Crows are conscious entities like chimps and us.” is trivially and transparently false, simply by glancing at a dictionary. For instance,

http://dictionary.reference.com/sea[…]?q=conscious

a. Having an awareness of one’s environment and one’s own existence, sensations, and thoughts

Tool use most certainly does not establish “an awareness of … one’s existence, sensations, and thoughts”.

ts wrote:

“This is like asking how a process running on a computer can influence the computer if it is a construct of the computer. Or how the digestion can influence the stomach if it’s a construct of the stomach. The simplest answer is that all processes, including the mind and digestion, are timewise dynamic feedback systems or rather, we interpret a series of state changes in a physical object, such as a brain, computer, or stomach as such a system. Any apparent metaphysical problem in re the brain and the mind is illusory.”

Indeed. Also, I was thinking of self-modifying code as a software example of a process changing itself.

“Also, I was thinking of self-modifying code as a software example of a process changing itself.”

From a physical point of view, there’s nothing interesting about “self-modifying code”. The distinction between code and data is strictly abstract, a matter of our conceptualization. In the computer, there’s a bunch of silicon going through state transitions. The computer is constantly changing, and to the degree that we conceptualize the computer as an agent, it is constantly changing itself.

See Red State Rabble’s post for friday 15 July, comment # 1. The paper follows standard QM up to a point then uses the second author’s (Stapp’s) QM.

The paper is argumentative. It presents no data and no experiments, and ends by saying that none are planned. They argue that neither classical physics nor QM as usually understood can fully explain consciousness, therefore their QM is required. They quote at length from William James on psychology and argue that they have a QM justification of James’ ideas.

I wonder how you can state so categorically that crows (New Caledonian or otherwise) are lacking in awareness of their environment, existence, sensations or thought? I’d guess that the first three are non-controversial, but the last seems difficult to prove either way.

I wonder how you can state so categorically that crows (New Caledonian or otherwise) are lacking in awareness of their environment, existence, sensations or thought?

If you are addressing me, I have to wonder how you can so radically misrepresent what I wrote. I did not make any claim at all about what crows lack or don’t lack. Good grief.

Also, the claim that crows are aware of their existence most certainly is controversial, to say the least. As is the claim that they are aware of their sensations, unless you’re confusing *having* sensations with being aware of them.

In this discussion about materialistic/mathematical explanations of intelligence, don’t forget Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach, which, paraphrased, says that intelligence consciousness like our own may only arise in irrational (logically inconsistent) beings.

This would circumvent Penrose’s criticism that Turing machines cannot possess intelligence and avoid brain function dependence on QM. It’s been years since I read The Emperor’s New Mind—can anyone recall what Penrose had to say about Hofstadter’s arguments?

Also, there’s a wonderful new edition of Nagel and Newman’s Gödel’s Proof with a forward by Hofstadter. This is where I learned about incompleteness—there is no better introduction to the details of this subject.

Hofstadter also has amusing little “fugue” discussion on evolution and teleology:

Crab: [Ant] colonies survive because their caste distribution has meaning, and that meaning is a holistic aspect, invisible on lower levels. You lose explanatory power unless you take that higher level into account.

Anteater: I see your side; but I believe you see things too narrowly.

Crab: How so?

Anteater: Ant colonies have been subjected to the rigors of evolution for billions of years. A few mechanisms were selected for, and most were selected against. The end result was a set of mechanisms which make ant colonies work as we have been describing. If you could watch the whole process in a movie—running a billion or so times faster than life, of course—the emergence of various mechanisms would be seen as natural responses to external pressure, just as bubbles in boiling water are natural responses to an external heat source. I don’t suppose you see “meaning” and “purpose” in the bubbles in boiling water—or do you?

Crab: No, but—

Anteater: Now that’s MY point. No matter how big a bubble is, it owes its existence to processes on the molecular level, and you can forget about any “higher-level laws”. The same goes for ant colonies and their teams. By looking at things from the vast perspective of evolution, you can drain the whole colony of meaning and purpose. They become superfluous notions.

Achilles: Why, then, Dr. Anteater, did you tell me that you talked with Ant Hillary [Hofstadter’s collective name for the ant colony]? It now seems that you deny that she can talk or think at all.

Anteater: I am not being inconsistent, Achilles. You see, I have as much difficulty as anyone else in seeing things on such a grandiose time scale, so I find it much easier to change points of view. When I do so, forgetting about evolution and seeing things in the here and now, the vocabulary of teleology comes back: the MEANING of caste distribution and the PURPOSEFULNESS of signals. This not only happens when I think of ant colonies, but also when I think about my own brain and other brains. However, with some effort I can always remember the other point of view if necessary, and drain all these systems of meaning, too.

Finally, another tangent: I don’t think that we should be allowed to raise the examples of ant evolution, as Hofstadter does, without mentioning the fascinating genetics of eusocial insects, and the 75% relatedness of the workers. If you’re not already familiar with how this works, you owe it to yourself to learn it. Drones are haploid and developed from unfertilized eggs; females are developed from fertilized eggs. If the eusocial queen only mated with a single drone, then the worker sisters share 75% of their genes with each other—50% for the father’s identical contribution and 25% from the mother’s. Compare this 50+25=75% relatedness with the ordinary 25+25=50% relatedness for diploid-diploid siblings. This is aside from Hofstadter’s point, but at least the members of “Ant Hillary” approach more closely the relatedness of individual brain cells (100%) than do siblings in a diploid-diploid society.

As is the claim that they are aware of their sensations, unless you’re confusing *having* sensations with being aware of them.

A semantic issue. We can see, for example, that a dog is in pain. Surely the dog is aware that it’s in pain: it limps or howls, etc. So the question is, is the dog aware that it is aware that it’s in pain? To what degree is the dog capable of introspection about its pain? The crows show an awareness and understanding of their surroundings, and take advantage of it in clever ways. But any organism that responds to stimulus can be said to demonstrate an awareness of sensation. What we’re really asking is whether these organisms reflect on this awareness, or develop a sense of self, an “I am” model. How abstract does this model need to be, before we say the organism is conscious? The dictionary definition doesn’t help much.

In Comment #38327

ts Wrote:

http://dictionary.reference.com/sea[…]?q=conscious

a. Having an awareness of one’s environment and one’s own existence, sensations, and thoughts

Tool use most certainly does not establish “an awareness of … one’s existence, sensations, and thoughts”.

Tool use may not but invention of novel tools does. Think of what is involved in making a tool that you have never seen before to solve a novel proble. It involves conceptalization, forward planning and execution of a mental model. If that is not consciousness, then what is?

Tool use may not but invention of novel tools does.

So you claim, but even if it’s true, it’s not true by definition.

Think of what is involved in making a tool that you have never seen before to solve a novel proble.

I’m not a crow, so what is involved for *me* isn’t relevant – other than in how such anthropomorphism can mislead But the dictionary definition referred to awareness of one’s own existence, and you said that crows are conscious but *all* dictionary definitions; that claim is simply wrong. Crows may have a mental model of themselves, but that doesn’t follow from tool use, tool invention, forward planning, or execution of a mental model.

It involves conceptalization, forward planning and execution of a mental model. If that is not consciousness, then what is?

Since I gave a dictionary definition, I don’t understand why you’re still asking. The fact is that many cognitive scientists and philosophers would dispute or at least question that crows are conscious, even given novel tool creation, so the claim that it’s true by all dictionary definitions is extremely tendentious.

Flint Wrote:

The dictionary definition doesn’t help much.

Indeed.

It’s also useful remember that Julian Jaynes argued, in “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”, that humans weren’t conscious as recently as 3000 years ago. Even if you consider this absurd, clearly Jaynes offered a definition of consciousness by which crows aren’t conscious. To claim that they are by any definition indicates a lack of familiarity with a large body of work and large schools of thinkers concerning consciousness.

In Comment #38306

Matt McIrvin Wrote:

Actually, I think Daniel Dennett recently opined that only species with a grasp of language sufficient to refer to the self have a self-symbol and are truly conscious. So he’d disagree with your statement about the crows, I guess.

That doesn’t sound right to me. Do you have a reference to the article? That would mean only humans are conscious, and many ethologists working with non-human primates would vocally disagree with that. In non-language using (or non-verbal langaue using, chimps and gorillas can be taught sign langauge, but don’t use it in the wild) primates, there are various tests you can use for self-conciousness (eg recognition of yourself in a mirror, recognising photos etc. etc.) that Chimps and Gorillas all pass.

New Caledonian Crows have a number of behaviours that suggest that they are not only aware, but self aware as well (eg practicing deception).

It wasn’t an article, more an expression of his gut feelings in edge.org’s World Question Center roundup: “What do you believe even though you cannot prove it?”

Several other people they talked to expressed vehement disagreement with Dennett.

BTW, there are computer programs that produce novel mathematical proofs, and programs that, operating in virtual worlds, figure out how to solve physical problems such as stacking blocks. These programs do forward planning, invent tools, and execute constructed models (I don’t use the word “mental” here to avoid begging the question). It is at least arguable that such programs (properly, computers running these programs) aren’t conscious. Heck, many philosophers would and do argue that even computers with complete self models would not be conscious; John Searle is a notable example of such a philosopher. I’m not saying that I agree with Searle (I emphatically don’t) or any of the others I’ve mentioned, I’m simply arguing that the claim that it’s definitionally uncontroversial that tool inventing crows are conscious is argumentum ad ignorantiam.

Right… personally I’d regard the crows as conscious, but it’s actually a controversial assertion.

That doesn’t sound right to me. Do you have a reference to the article? That would mean only humans are conscious, and many ethologists working with non-human primates would vocally disagree with that.

But none of them are Daniel Dennett. You’re clearly unfamiliar with his work; see

http://instruct.westvalley.edu/lafa[…]_csness.html

recognition of yourself in a mirror, recognising photos etc. etc.) that Chimps and Gorillas all pass.

It’s true of chimps but not gorillas. And the claim that they “all” pass shows that you’re reaching, hard, because they haven’t all been tested.

New Caledonian Crows have a number of behaviours that suggest that they are not only aware, but self aware as well (eg practicing deception).

What is suggested by behavior and what is true by definition are very different things. That’s why we need science.

BTW, deception is common in the throughout the biological world, plant as well as animal. Deception doesn’t prove self-awareness; not even close. There’s a lot of anthropomoric projection here. I could sometimes swear that silverfish are as conscious as I am, as good they are at staying still at the right time and moving at the right time and always knowing exactly which way to run to evade me. But it’s illusory.

Matt McIrvin: You’re right about Dennett. He makes it quite clear in Consciousness Explained and elsewhere.

Jaime Headden: mass (the property) and energy are exchangable under some circumstances. Not matter (a stuff) and energy - that would be a confusion of categories.

Steven Thomas Smith: Hofstadter doesn’t quite say that we are intelligent because we are inconsistent. Rather, he (sort of) says we are capable of error, which makes us intelligent. Penrose’s answer is his conviction that mathematicians are sound, and that an inconsistent mathematical theory is worthless because of contradictions implying every proposition. (There are many, many things wrong with Penrose’s position, but that’s the view.)

ts: I don’t know of any neuroscientist who would take Jaynes seriously: after all, 3000 years ago humans had already spread into many areas of the world independent of each other - what could happen to all these isolated communities at once? Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that according to his view, yes, crows wouldn’t be conscious.

All: There is an article about the futility of quantum mechanics as applied to the brain by Patricia Churchland and Rick Grush. It applies to Penrose rather than Stapp, but the points are often the same. (“Gaps in Penrose’s Toilings”, available in On the Contrary)

“It’s true of chimps but not gorillas.”

I should amend that; it’s generally true of chimps, but not generally true of gorillas, although it is true of Koko. The claim that “Gorillas all pass” looks like just making stuff up on the fly to try to bolster a position. The same goes double for self-recognition in photographs, for which I’m not aware of any evidence, and which strikes me as quite implausible, given how mirror self-recognition tests are structured.

Are there *numbers* in this paper? I would have to reject it outright if there were no calculations of feasability, no matter how good their idea sounded. I presume their idea is that the ion channel acts as some kind of diffraction grating for the calcium ions? I doubt that there is much quantum mechanics at the length scales we’re talking about at *room temperature* and I’d need to see detailed calculations to prove that there would be.

By the way, Penrose’s mechanism for introducing quantum mechanics into brain function, as I understand it, has to do with some kind of localization transition in the electron states of microtubules that’s coupled to some protein conformational transition. I never understood what that had to do with brain function but, should such a thing occur to the electrons, it could be within the realm of quantum mechanics. If someone has a better idea of what Penrose’s proposal is, I’d like to hear about it because I’m not very familiar with it.

If consciousness does depend on language and language is something that is learned, then is consciousness something that is learned?

As language is something that can be taught, is consciousness something that can be taught?

steve wrote:

“How long until the Paul Nelsons, or the Del Ratzschs, ID(DD)ers with some modicum of integrity, jump ship?”

I don’t think Paul Nelson is a good example to hold up in this regard, at least if the following report of a conversation with him is correct:

http://groups-beta.google.com/group[…]92dd3ac11fc8

The relevant bit:

‘I asked Dr. Nelson: “when dinosaurs started tampering on earth, were they millions years ago..?” “You believe Young Earth ? -“Yes.” Nelson said to latter “question”. I said that I’d somehow comprehend in biology if God is filled into holes of our knowledge. (With left hand as axes I was chopping holes in my right hand). But I don’t get how PhD-guys believes young earth. Paul Nelson was very open-minded, honest. He admitted “I am young Earth Creationist”. He has to believe so due to basis of biblical belief, science tells old earth. His many (ID-)friends believe on old earth. There exist signs on young earth and some work for these (he means YEC-“scientists”) but it does not assure him. He admits permanent tension inside him. (He pointed his right hand to one direction) “I have belief on young earth” (then he pointed his left hand to another direction) “I know science tells other, old earth”. “This is tension I just have to live with”.’

In other words, his YEC beliefs based on a particular reading of the Bible trumps the scientific evidence.

Fair disclosure: this is a moderately long post. So, FWIW, if you’re looking for the concise one-liners, scroll on!

Pace, ts, but I’m not convinced that Helen Keller, with her extremely limited sensorium, is the best model for what an “ordinary” infant’s consciousness may (or may not) be like, though I agree the reference to her experience–representing perhaps one pole of the possibilities–was a fair and interesting one.

I don’t have a definition of consciousness to offer, and I recognize that an anecdote (particularly a personal one) does not a scientific datum make, but I’ll offer one anyway. (And not feel too bad about it, since an “anecdote” is essentially what HK’s self-report was.)

I have several distinct pre-language memories from babyhood. I have certainly revisited and probably remodeled and refined these memories over the years (and I also remember that I used to have many MORE of them, but those sectors of the hard disk have gradually been rewritten.)

The earlier they are, the less like the integrated memories of a “personality” they are–simple images which certainly had to be “contemplated” later (post-language aquisition) to figure out what the heck they (most likely) were memories OF–for example, the five fingers of my own hand silhouetted against a light background or a memory of a friendly hairy thing posting himself between myself and a drop off the edge of a porch (an old dog named Regen that I have no “conscious” memories of and a porch attached to a house I lived in during my first year, which I never saw again till decades later, after extensive remodelling and repainting).

Sometime during my second year (that is, between twelve and twenty-four months), when I could stand and say a few words (momma, dada, dat [that]), I remember holding extensive discussions with my crib-bound baby sister, in our own private babble language. Perhaps more remarkably (if you are suspending your disbelief so far), my sister (then perhaps only six to nine months old) later claimed to “remember” her end of these “conversations.”

I also remember various scenes from the farmhouse we lived in at that time in the Central Valley of California (a different location than the house-with-porch above). In these slightly later memories, I have “contemporary” knowledge of the identity of actors in the scenes (all family members, grandparents and the like). I could still sketch the rough layout and appearance of that house and yard (to which I have never returned since my second birthday), its direction from the small town the gp’s lived in, etc. This is all unlike the earlier house, where I only retain the one glimpse of a portion of the front porch.

Even these later infant-memories are largely unverifiable, and conceivably confabulated later, if you wish to be skeptical.

Somehow, many years later during a visit with my dad, the subject of how early in childhood we could remember came up, with my father strongly doubting that I “really” remembered anything prior to three years of age.

I described to him a recollected sequence where he and I went to a farm outbuilding, he put me on his lap on the seat of a green tractor, and we used the tractor to view slumped-in ditches of some sort, all for reasons utterly mysterious to me at the time (I was just enjoying hanging with my pops).

My dad happened to have a Sunset magazine publication about earthquakes handy (unbeknownst to me) and he flipped it open to the discussion of the Tehachapi earthquake of July 1952, a strong temblor which he remembered well. (He still doesn’t independently remember the sequence I have described, but he does remember having to survey the irrigation ditches for earthquake damage.)

Blocked irrigation ditches were a common problem in the farmlands of the Central Valley, with numerous causes. While I had probably discussed this memory with others before, I had never attempted to “verify” it with anyone in a position to do so or to “research” it–I was just hoping my dad might remember this particular episode in which he had starred, without knowing in advance that it might tie in to any kind of “dateable” event.

I was born in April 1951, so this “verified” memory (once only one of many from the same timeframe) is from my sixteenth month.

I won’t claim “consciousness” for the early, Helen Keller-like isolated images. But, at least at one time–when I retained more of them–the more-highly-detailed and contextual memories from my second year formed part of that relatively “continuous” stream of memories that I think most of us associate with our personal history and sense of self.

I also learned to read fairly early, by age four or so. Neither the early memories or the early reading led to my becoming the next Einstein, as is all too obvious, but I’ve always been fascinated by the “wolf” children, by stories of private childhood “languages” (the Bronte sisters, for example), and the like.

Dene, I had a hard time reading that stuff you posted, but it seems to confirm the basis of my statements–Paul Nelson, unlike some IDers, has a measure of honesty. When i wondered if he and/or del Ratzsch would jump ship, I was thinking they’d do so after seeing their colleagues lie one too many times. Not that they’d be convinced by the evidence. The fact is that many IDers try to stay afloat by lying. Nelson and others with any integrity may someday separate themselves from these liars.

If this view is correct, and the important physiological differences are those that make such an immersion possible, then the comparison won’t be very informative at all.

Unless it’s the comparison that verifies the view.

How would a comparison between humans raised immersed in culture and non-humans raised not immersed in culture verify the view that consciousness was a consequence of the immersion? There are too many variables.

As language is something that can be taught, is consciousness something that can be taught?

I think Dennett would find some truth in that idea, but you have to have the requisite physiological structures in place, and we don’t know what species, other than humans, do. The work with chimps and gorillas shows that they have some, but not all, and it’s hard to judge since the work is generally done by people who are way too close to their subjects, and the sentiment that Dennett refers to necessarily comes into play. I think much more work with animals is warranted.

Pace, ts, but I’m not convinced that Helen Keller, with her extremely limited sensorium, is the best model for what an “ordinary” infant’s consciousness may (or may not) be like

Good point.

And not feel too bad about it, since an “anecdote” is essentially what HK’s self-report was.

But note that HK’s anecdote *also* referred to pre-language memories. Having such memories doesn’t go to the question of consciousness; as I noted, “Her brain existed, it functioned, it perceived, and those perceptions resulted in memories which she is now able to articulate, but …”.

I have certainly revisited and probably remodeled and refined these memories over the years

Indeed. Dennett has written at length about “Orwellian” rewriting of memories. Memories of internal experience are not reliable indicators of the nature of the experience. Dennett offers a scientific approach to experience, heterophenomenology, in which we take people’s claims as evidence, not as privileged, inerrant, epistemological access to those experiences. And you’ve certainly provided a lot of very interesting heterophenomenological evidence. :-)

Actually, since a “real” real number requires infinite precision they cannot be dealt with on a (U)TM either since they deal with finite precision values.

A TM has an infinite tape, therefore it can calculate results to infinite precision – but not in finite time, of course; not even quantum computers can do that. I’m not sure what you mean by “they deal with finite precision values”; consider that, e.g. sqrt(2) can be expressed in a finite number of symbols and even FSMs can operate on polynomials with no loss of precision.

At the risk of being slightly off topic, how is it that the first reply in this thread was posted the day before the parent note was posted?

Henry

At the risk of being slightly off topic, how is it that the first reply in this thread was posted the day before the parent note was posted?

Faster Than Light News Service?

Syntax Error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 3, column 16, byte 201 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.12.3/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187

Syntax Error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 3, column 5, byte 228 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.12.3/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187

steve wrote:

“Dene, I had a hard time reading that stuff you posted, but it seems to confirm the basis of my statements–Paul Nelson, unlike some IDers, has a measure of honesty. When i wondered if he and/or del Ratzsch would jump ship, I was thinking they’d do so after seeing their colleagues lie one too many times. Not that they’d be convinced by the evidence. The fact is that many IDers try to stay afloat by lying. Nelson and others with any integrity may someday separate themselves from these liars.”

If Nelson can’t even be honest with himself (his religious YEC belief despite the evidence he knows about) then I don’t see why he’s going to worry about fellow DIers telling liars. Really, if this guy had the integrity you talk about then he’d have left the DI already.

“he’d have left the DI already”

It may not apply in this case but it occurred to me that the DI and other creationist organisations may not be the sort of place you really can leave. Since they have no qualms about telling lies, misquoting people and trying to spin their beliefs or trick them into agreeing with relatively neutral things which they then spin in their publicity into something quite different; I would have thought they would just go on citing someone as a prominent DI scientist even if they did “leave” (or weren’t a scientist anyway!) and issued statements repudiating the DI’s position.

SEF:

A good point. Creationists at lectures continue to sell the Paluxy Footprint stuff, Coso Artifact literature and other long-discredited materials. Not even AiG’s “Don’t say this anymore” list has had any effect. They say they’re only selling existing literature and won’t repeat these claims, but the new literature (unsurprisingly) continues to make them.

This has important connections with Leonard’s PhD defense at OSU as well. Once OSU has been tricked into granting a PhD for fallacious religious doctrine, that “official academic ratification” will live forever, and nothing OSU ever says about it again will be noticed.

So I suspect the DI’s list of “members” includes anyone who can be effectively quote mined. They don’t actually SAY these people aren’t associated with the DI, but they imply this association: “The DI is composed of scientists who find Darwinism seriously questionable, such as Stephen Jay Gould, who wrote…” Uh, wait, didn’t they just say Gould was part of the DI? Well, not quite, exactly, specifically, they only compared a quote-minded statement of Gould’s with the position of DI scientists. He’s not a *member*, see, he just *agrees* with the members…doesn’t he?

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Ian Musgrave published on July 17, 2005 7:56 PM.

Kennewick Man Hearing was the previous entry in this blog.

Quote of the Day - 17 July 2005 is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.361

Site Meter