Wednesday, March 18, 2009

TAM 6 Review: Dr. Novella - Dualism and Creationism

I've been meaning to do some TAM 6 blogs basically since last summer, and just never got inspired. But last night I wasn't sleeping or I was dreaming about TAM 7 in July so I guess I'm inspired now. Being the good little nerd that I am I took some pretty good notes during the talks last year, so I flipped through them and thought I'd recap Dr. Steve Novella's talk.

Dr. Novella is a neurologist and has spent a lot of time on his blog dealing with dualism. Dualism is a philosophy of the mind, that asserts that some properties of consciousness are not due to physical phenomena. This is known as Cartesian Dualism. Naturalistic Dualism holds that it is the brain that causes conscientiousness, but we don't know how.

Neuroscience supports the position that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain.
  • there is no mind with no brain.
  • brain development correlates with mental development
  • if you damage the brain you damage the mind
  • different states of consciousness correlate with different brain states
  • able to provoke specific mental effects by stimulating the brain (MEG)
So far the material model of consciousness is working fairly well as a description of the mind. Dualism is basically a 'god of the gaps' type argument. It is invoked to explain uncertainties in scientific understanding of the brain and mind. The purpose of dualism like creationism is to provide ideological cover for a belief system not to advance human knowledge.


Herb said...

Ok, Tim, here's your chance to talk about Chalmers and p-zombies, etc.

Tim said...

Ha. Maybe next week. I have to study for a neuroscience exam right now. It would take some reading on my part to present anything coherent on the subject. Although I can say that dualism is not just used to provide ideological cover for religious wackos. Chalmers et al really do want to advance human knowledge.

Reverted said...

Jeff: new blog entry is up.

Iron Soul said...

I really don't know much about David Chalmers. Certainly not enough to opine on his intentions toward human knowledge. Dr. Novella's statement about dualism being ideological cover for a belief system was likely directed toward those like Michael Egnor who does I think fit that characterization.

Iron Soul said...

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't Chalmers reject Cartesian Dualism? He thinks that consciousness does not reduce to simply brain function, but is not caused by the supernatural.

Tim said...

You probably know as much as me about Chalmers' position. I would have to look him up to confirm or correct you with any confidence.

I don't think Descartes thought that the mind was caused by the supernatural any more than the body was. From what I recall, he thought of both as being similar to clocks, but of different substances that did not interact, because they could not interact. God synchronized and set both clocks going, but he isn't any more responsible for the workings of the mind than he is for the interactions of balls on a pool table. Then again, I do remember something about Descartes saying that the site of interaction was the pineal gland, but I'm also pretty sure that most philosophers don't read him as being very serious about that. Which could be because they are embarrassed for him or because of textual evidence. I don't know.

I feel free to opine on Chalmers intentions, despite ignorance about his exact position, because of the way I know that he interacts with other philosophers, willing to grant that other people make good points, that his view has difficulties, etc. And I'm pretty sure he is not religious.