Category Archives: Philosophy

Thinking of the nature of the world and thought itself.

Neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield: There is more to Consciousness than the Brain

It is very clear to me that the materialist world view as an absolute is limited. It works very well in our areas of focus, but leaves vast areas of existence and experiences unexplained – including consciousness.

The following article struck me as something I previously had not considered and is very strong evidence for a dualist or purely idealist view. I have been especially fascinated by the idealist world view as explored in a very rigorous & scientific fashion by Bernardo Kastrup.

As described In Mind Matters News, “in a podcast discussion with Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor talks about how many famous neuroscientist became dualists—that is, they concluded that there is something about human beings that goes beyond matter—based on observations they made during their work. Among them was Wilder Penfield (1891–1976) who offered three reasons for his change of mind”.

Michael Egnor: Wilder Penfield was a neurosurgeon at the University of Montreal in Canada, who was really the pioneer in surgery for epilepsy. He worked back in the mid-twentieth century for several decades and he did surgery on probably upwards of about a thousand patients who had intractable epilepsy. They had seizures that couldn’t be controlled. He did brain surgery to remove the area of the brain that was causing the seizure to cure their seizures. And he did a lot of that surgery on patients who were awake during the surgery.”

Listen to the podcast on the page.

A partial transcript is here:

08:25 | Penfield’s first line of reasoning for dualism

Michael Egnor: He started his career as a materialist. He thought the whole mind came from the brain and he was just going to study it. And at the end of his career, thirty years later, he was a passionate dualist. He said that there is a part of the mind that is not from the brain. He had several lines of reasoning that convinced him of that.

One line of reasoning was that, in mapping people’s brains—and again he mapped upwards of a thousand people this way—he would hundreds of individual stimulations of the surface of the brain to see what happened. And people would have all sorts of things happened. They would have their arm move or they would feel a tingling or they would see a flash of light. Or sometimes they’d have a memory or they would have an impediment. Sometimes they couldn’t speak for a minute or two after a certain spot was touched.

Wilder Penfield
But Penfield (left, in 1958) noted that, in probably hundreds of thousands of different individual stimulations, he never once stimulated the power of reason. He never stimulated the intellect. He never stimulated a person to do calculus or to think of an abstract concept like justice or mercy.

All the stimulations were concrete things: Move your arm or feel a tingling or even a concrete memory, like you remember your grandmother’s face or something. But there was never any abstract thought stimulated.

And Penfield said hey, if the brain is the source of abstract thought, once in a while, putting an electrical current on some part of the cortex, I ought to get an abstract thought. He never, ever did. So he said that the obvious explanation for that is that abstract thought doesn’t come from the brain.

09:56 | Penfield’s second line of reasoning

Michael Egnor: The other line of reasoning that he had, which is kind of related to this, is that, since he was a pioneer in the treatment of epilepsy, not only did he study the surgical manifestations of epilepsy but he also studied the presentation of seizures that people would have in their everyday life. So he studied hundreds of thousands of seizures that people had and he never found any seizure that had intellectual content. Seizures never involved abstract reasoning.

When people have seizures, sometimes they have a generalized seizure. Sometimes they just fall on the ground and go unconscious. Or sometimes they’ll have what’s called a focal seizure where they’ll have a twitching of a finger or a twitching of a limb or they’ll have tingling feeling, the same kind of things that he got when he stimulated the surface of the brain. But nobody ever had a calculus seizure. Nobody ever have a seizure where they couldn’t stop doing arithmetic. Or couldn’t stop doing logic.

And he said, why is that? If arithmetic and logic and all that abstract thought come from the brain, every once in a while you ought to get a seizure that makes it happen. So he asked rhetorically, why are there no intellectual seizures? His answer was, because the intellect doesn’t come from the brain.

11:14 | Penfield’s third line of reasoning

His third line of reasoning was the following: He would ask people to move their arm during the surgery. So he’d be playing around with their brain. And he’d say. “Whenever you want to, move your right arm.” The person would move their arm.

And, once in a while, he’d stimulate the part of the brain that made the arm move. And they moved their arm also when he did that. And then he would ask them, “I want you to tell me when I’m making your arm move and when you’re moving your arm without me making you do it. Tell me if you can tell the difference.” And the patients could always tell the difference.

The patients always knew that when he stimulated their arm, it was him doing it, not them. And when they stimulated their arm, they were doing it, not him. So Penfield said, he couldn’t stimulate the will. He could never trick the patients into thinking it was them doing it. He said, the patients always retained a correct sense of agency. They always know if they did it or if he did it.

So he said the will was not something he could stimulate, meaning it was not material.

So he had three lines of evidence: His inability to stimulate intellectual thought, the inability of seizures to cause intellectual thought, and his inability to stimulate the will. … So he concluded that the intellect and the will are not from the brain. Which is precisely what Aristotle said.”

Do Octopuses Have Souls? (On the Nature of Animal Consciousness) | 3 Quarks Daily

Do Octopuses Have Souls? (On the Nature of Animal Consciousness) | 3 Quarks Daily

“Co-evolution implies the necessity of co-existence. And we must move beyond treating everything in the world (including our own selves) as resources for efficient utilization.”

‘Slaughterhouse-Five,’ 50 years later: What Kurt Vonnegut taught one soldier about war – The Washington Post

‘Slaughterhouse-Five,’ 50 years later: What Kurt Vonnegut taught one soldier about war – The Washington Post

“So it goes.”

I have reread Slaughterhouse Five multiple times. I also liked the movie. A young Valerie Perrine will be forever imbedded in my mind as Montana Wildhack looking at me from a tub. She made Billy Pilgrim forget his PTSD and created a respite throughout his time travels escaping a senseless hell. She brought peace.

I used to think there were some “just wars” like WW II. I am starting to believe there are NO just wars. I suspect Hitler’s rise could have been prevented by a much better foreign policy following WW I. His expansion could have been curtailed by a smarter, more unified diplomacy and the prevention of interference by multinationals, who worked on both sides to profit. The holocaust was preventable both by a different policy, the lack of constraints within Germany, and a more open policy towards accepting refugees in the US.

Slaughterhouse Five was published right around the time I was drafted for the Vietnam War. My lottery number was 39. There was no hope. I was called for my medical – “report to a bus pickup location with two days change of clothing at 6:00am.” A day before the life-changing event  I had a sudden medical issue and had to be rescheduled. The ensuing bureaucratic delays were enough to still be at home a couple of months later when Nixon cancelled the draft. A major lucky break! I was totally unsuited for military duty and likely would have gotten myself killed. If not, I would have been a classic PTSD basket case before that term became wide spread.

Life is strange. So it goes.

Om Shanti Om.

The Case For Panpsychism | Issue 121 | Philosophy Now

The Case For Panpsychism | Issue 121 | Philosophy Now

Dr. Philip Goff summarizes the hypothesis of Panpsychism.

“According to early 21st century Western common sense, the mental doesn’t take up very much of the universe. Most folk assume that it exists only in the biological realm, specifically, in creatures with brains and nervous systems. Panpsychists deny this bit of common sense, believing that mentality is a fundamental and ubiquitous feature of the universe. Mind is everywhere (which is what ‘panpsychism’ translates as).”

“There have been panpsychists in Western philosophy since at least the pre-Socratics of the 7th century BC, and the view achieved a certain dominance in the 19th century. Panpsychism fared less well in the 20th century, being almost universally dismissed by Western philosophers as absurd, if it was ever thought about at all.”

“However, this dismissal was arguably part and parcel of the anti-metaphysics scientism of the period: the attempt to show that any questions which cannot be answered by scientific investigation are either trivial or meaningless. This project failed, and metaphysics is back in a big way in academic philosophy. At the same time, there is a growing dissatisfaction with the physicalist approaches to consciousness which dominated the late 20th century, and a sense that a radically new approach is called for. In this climate panpsychism is increasingly being taken up as a serious option, both for explaining consciousness and for providing a satisfactory account of the natural world.”

Read more at Phliosphy Now.

More by Dr. Goff is on his blog.

The Integrated Information Theory of Consciousness | Issue 121 | Philosophy Now

The Integrated Information Theory of Consciousness | Issue 121 | Philosophy Now

This is an interesting article by Hedda Hassel Mørch on The Integrated Information Theory of Consciousness asking what is IIT all about?

“According to IIT, consciousness is linked to integrated information, which can be represented by a precise mathematical quantity called Φ (‘phi’). The human brain (or the part of it that supports our consciousness) has very high Φ, and is therefore highly conscious: it has highly complex and meaningful experiences. Systems with a low Φ, the theory goes, have a small amount of consciousness – they only have very simple and rudimentary experiences. Systems with zero Φ are not conscious at all.”

Her essay is based on definitions by neuroscientist Giulio Tononi, the originator of the Integrated Information Theory of consciousness, or IIT for short. IIT is now one of the leading theories of consciousness in neuroscience.

“The argument starts from a list of five axioms – claims about consciousness that Tononi holds to be self-evidently true upon reflection on one’s own consciousness. His first axiom holds that consciousness exists ‘for itself’, independently of external observers: it exists entirely for its own subject. The second axiom claims that consciousness is structured: it contains a variety of qualities at once; a mix of colors, sounds, emotions, thoughts, and so on (one might object that there are experiences of complete darkness that contain no qualities – but such an experience would still contain structure such as the left and right side of the empty visual field). The third axiom claims that consciousness is informative: like a painting, each experience specifies a ‘scene’ which is different from other possible ‘scenes’. The fourth axiom holds that consciousness is integrated: the qualities within consciousness are unified under a single point of view, or we might say, by belonging to one and the same ‘canvas’. Finally, the fifth axiom claims that consciousness is exclusive: the ‘canvas’ has an exact border, and any individual quality, such as a color or emotion, is either part of that canvas or not, never in between. Tononi holds that these axioms can be translated into a set of postulates that specify the physical counterparts of the properties they describe. These postulates are then given a mathematical interpretation, yielding the full version of IIT.”

Read it on Philosophy Now. Fascinating! 

 

Is the Hard Problem of Consciousness Connected to the Hard Problem in Physics? | Nautil.us

Is the Hard Problem of Consciousness Connected to the Hard Problem in Physics?

A great overview of an idealist hypothesis by Hedda Hassel Mørch. Consciousness and deep understanding of physics face the same challenges.

Here are excerpts. Read the article on Nautil.us.

“Where does consciousness—in this most general sense—come from? Modern science has given us good reason to believe that our consciousness is rooted in the physics and chemistry of the brain, as opposed to anything immaterial or transcendental. In order to get a conscious system, all we need is physical matter. Put it together in the right way, as in the brain, and consciousness will appear. But how and why can consciousness result merely from putting together non-conscious matter in certain complex ways?”

“[…] the deep nature of consciousness appears to lie beyond scientific reach. We take it for granted, however, that physics can in principle tell us everything there is to know about the nature of physical matter. Physics tells us that matter is made of particles and fields, which have properties such as mass, charge, and spin. Physics may not yet have discovered all the fundamental properties of matter, but it is getting closer.”

“Yet there is reason to believe that there must be more to matter than what physics tells us. Broadly speaking, physics tells us what fundamental particles do or how they relate to other things, but nothing about how they are in themselves, independently of other things.”

“This suggests that consciousness—of some primitive and rudimentary form—is the hardware that the software described by physics runs on. The physical world can be conceived of as a structure of conscious experiences. “

“This view, that consciousness constitutes the intrinsic aspect of physical reality, goes by many different names, but one of the most descriptive is “dual-aspect monism.” Monism contrasts with dualism, the view that consciousness and matter are fundamentally different substances or kinds of stuff. Dualism is widely regarded as scientifically implausible, because science shows no evidence of any non-physical forces that influence the brain.”

“The possibility that consciousness is the real concrete stuff of reality, the fundamental hardware that implements the software of our physical theories, is a radical idea. It completely inverts our ordinary picture of reality in a way that can be difficult to fully grasp. But it may solve two of the hardest problems in science and philosophy at once?

For another take on radical idealism you might also want to read Bernardo Kastrup’s rigorous papers and books on the subject here.

Thoughts on EURYDICE inspired by City Lights

EURYDICE – City Lights: Innovative, intimate theater in San Jose

“The myth has been told and retold for centuries. Grief-stricken Orpheus travels to the underworld, where he learns he can rescue his wife, Eurydice—if he doesn’t look back on the way up. Now, we see the story through Eurydice’s eyes. City Lights’ innovative new production combines Sarah Ruhl’s strikingly fresh script with the beauty of American Sign Language, reflecting the characters’ efforts to communicate across worlds. A lush and moving tale about life, love and the enduring strength of memory.”

A unique production pairs actors as both mirrors of their voice (spoken and ASL) and their feelings and inner life reflecting the perspectives of the living and dead. The spoken actors interact with their ASL counters exposing their inner dialog, they also cross the boundary between characters. Layered on this is the unspoken language of Hades ruled by “An Interesting Man.” The Chorus of silent stones reflect he subtle sound scene of the environment. It highlights the metaphysical nature of both myth and existence. The doubled cast truly feel as one.

It truly is both a subtle and breathtaking interpretation of Sarah Ruhl‘s play as directed by Lisa Mallette. We know Sarah Ruhl from other plays like the The Melancholy Play, Orlando, and The Room with a View or Vibrator Play.

Web CityLights Eurydice LeahCohen LaurenRhodes 

Euridice! What struck me at the heart? It is the feeling, the memory of the ecstasy of love imbued with the confusion that are all part of youth. And obviously there is the fear of loss, mortality striking at any time, and returning in a moment of weakness. The yearning and redemption of true faithfulness and trust – a path of salvation both between lovers, and father and daughter. And yet it all has to find its end in forgetting, losing your voice, oblivion, and peace – death.

Our journey is but short and predetermined, but glorious if lived with passion and mindfulness.

The play left me rejoicing in (a few) tears.

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