Category Archives: Speculation

No proof whatsoever.

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.”

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.

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.

Nautil.us: Here’s How We’ll Know an AI Is Conscious

Here’s How We’ll Know an AI Is Conscious

“Our conscious experiences are composed of qualia, the subjective aspects of sensation—the redness of red, the sweetness of sweet. The qualia that compose conscious experiences are irreducible, incapable of being mapped onto anything else. If I were born blind, no one, no matter how articulate, would ever be able to give me a sense of the color blood and roses share.”

“The 21st century is in dire need of a Turing test for consciousness. AI is learning how to drive cars, diagnose lung cancer, and write its own computer programs. Intelligent conversation may be only a decade or two away, and future super-AI will not live in a vacuum. It will have access to the Internet and all the writings of Chalmers and other philosophers who have asked questions about qualia and consciousness. But if tech companies beta-test AI on a local intranet, isolated from such information, they could conduct a Turing-test style interview to detect whether questions about qualia make sense to the AI.”

The Meaning

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Meaning in its narrow definition is crucial to our communications. In normal use words and sentences are primarily used for their meaning. Although in art we might use language for its sound, in normal writing or conversation we use it it to communicate a thought, an intent, an observation, or a request.

Language is shared. A key component of learning the language is not just about the sound of the words or the grammar ruling its assembly, but what its shared meaning is both in the word’s denotation as well as it connotation. It is based on the assumption that there is a shared reality and a shared set of internalized models of that reality.

But this is not really what I want to write about.

I want to talk about the word meaning with another connotation such as the “meaning of life, the universe, and everything.”

This kind of question is interesting and probably uniquely human. It is a meta level inquiry that moves the question of meaning to something that has this at its core and purpose – language – and applies it to a process or thing that as far as language is concerned has no other relevancy beyond its existence.

Life and the universe simply are as is everything.

As humans we see purpose and, by abstraction, meaning in our creations. The purpose of a hammer is to fasten a nail. Nailing is what makes a hammer’s existence meaningful.

But we also translate the same process to stuff that is simply there and cannot be easily explained – life, the universe, a sudden illness, or death.

We wonder, what’s the point? But there is no point.

It’s one of the reasons we invented religions. It’s a subject of philosophy.

But in the end this kind of meaning is only meaningful to each of us personally. There can never be any proof for the “meaning of life, the universe, and everything.”

Dude, you broke the future – a talk by Charlie Stross

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Charlie Stross gave a talk at the 34th Chaos Communication Congress in Leipzig, December 2017. It puts our current history into a larger context. It includes a fresh view of AI as it has been with us for centuries in the form of corporations!

A real eye opener worth reading! Dude, you broke the future!

You can also watch the talk on youtube.

Anthropocene

We are in the Anthropocene

There is a growing voice among scientists that would like to label the current epoch as the Anthropocene distinctly following the Holocene.

The Anthropocene is defined to begin when human activities started to have a significant global impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems. Our growth is accompanied by an exploding reduction in biodiversity. We large scale destruction of habitats followed by species extinction only paralleled by the major past extinction events like the Permian extinction.

We see the dramatic changes an extinction of wild life species on land, but the catastrophic impact of over fishing in the oceans tends to go unnoticed. First you might see a reduction in the size of the fish being caught, then you stop finding particular species altogether. If you take a look at peak catches over the last decades, you can see a dramatic reduction averaging 58% – and this was from 1964 to 1992 (I could not find more recent data.) We know that the impact of the last 25 years has been even more dramatic leading to complete collapse of certain species. This is solely due to unrestrained fishing not just catching the fish we want to eat, but also destroying numerous other species of “junk fish.” And BTW, many junk fish have been promoted to primary catch to replace species now gone.

Our techniques of industrialized over fishing and brutal drag net techniques not only decimate species, but also completely destroy supporting habitats. We unbalance ecological chains further destroying local ecosytems.

But this happens under the water surface, so the vast emptiness we are creating goes unnoticed.

Now we add to this the dramatic impact of climate change, which some of still debate fumbling at the edge.

If you look at the previous extinction events, you will likely note that it always ended in the destruction of the apex species, usually in the early phases. We pride ourselves as being the apex species. Good luck to us!

Earlier today I ran across a link on one of my favorite sites. Justin Hickey write about a fascinating book Open Letters Monthly In What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins Jonathan Balcombe writes about the research of the conscious existence of our vertebrate cousins in the water. Justing Hinkley provides a thoughtful review, which I could not do justice here paraphrasing. Just read it.

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I was left with my ever increasing wonder about this world we inhabit.

I firmly believe that not only our model of human consciousness is “not even wrong,” but we seem incapable of appreciating the mental existence of all the beings that share our world. There is a tremendous agree of shared awareness and emotion – the experience that drives action. And the ability to suffer is universal.

We pride ourselves the apex of creation. But we are not only blind to the suffering of our fellow humans, but we are completely insensitive to the suffering we cause in our farms, in our forrests, in our oceans.

How will our epoch be remembered? I can only think that future species able to express it will call the Anthropocene blessedly short in duration and dominated by a species that was given much promise, the ability for sensitivity and greatness, but turned out to be a brutal aberration of butchers.

I am not proud.

The Spaces In Between…

“Music is the space between the notes.” – Claude Debussy

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The most interesting discoveries often come from the “spaces in between.” Our minds create a lot off illusionary models that do not really reflect reality. What we see is reflected light – energy moving in space. When we touch matter, we do not get close to the nuclei. Matter is mainly – space. Solidity is an illusion only experienced in our scale and time.

And it is in between that the most interesting characteristics are born. Nuclear shells really determine the bonding characteristics of atoms, how they will combine with other atoms to form molecules. These are building blocks of the world – not the most basic building blocks, we probably still do not quite know those despite super colliders. As Feynman said, “There is a lot of room a the bottom.”

Systems become more interesting as they become more complex. Molecules building more complex structures all the way to life. And life forming symbiotic nets and structures, then social structures, eco systems, planets.

People are interesting and can be very creative, but they are not independent from their environment and social context, the influence of family, friends, teachers, mentors, their current culture. It is these multi faceted, changing relationships and influences that shape us and our work.

The space in between…