Ideas Have Consequences: Free Will vs. The Programmed Brain

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Ideas have consequences!

One such was recently shown through an experiment described in Scientific American.

[R]esearchers found that the amount a participant cheated correlated with the extent to which they rejected [the philosophical notion of] free will….

The correlation was positive: those who rejected free will tended to cheat more. The 22-page original research paper, written by Kathleen D. Vohs of the University of Minnesota and Jonathan W. Schooler of the University of British Columbia, opens with a provocative quote from Sartre:

We are always ready to take refuge in a belief in determinism if this freedom weighs upon us or if we need an excuse.

The paper goes on to note the increasing public attention being given to scientists who claim to have disproved the existence of free will. (See below for several relevant links.) These “scientific” conclusions are anything but scientific, however; and more often than, not the researchers who make these claims seem simply unaware of the philosophical discussion surrounding their topics. At any rate, Vohs and Schooler raise an important practical question:

What would happen if people came to believe that their behavior is the inexorable product of a causal chain set into motion without their own volition? Would people carry on, selves and behavior unperturbed, or might, as Sarte (above) suggests, the adoption of a deterministic worldview serves as an excuse for untoward behaviors[?]

We need not have comments pointing out that this does not affect whether free will exists or not. That was obviously not the point of this study (see the related links below for discussions on the reality of free will). The point is the idea’s consequences, not its proof or disproof.

A rich set of research preceding this study shows that those who believe they have the personal capability and responsibility to affect their lives’ outcomes generally have better outcomes than those who think it’s all based on inborn characteristics, fate, or other circumstances beyond their control. This study focused on moral behavior as an outcome measure. In the first of two experiments, a small one involving 30 subjects,

a strong negative relationship was found, r(30)=-.53, indicating that rejection of the idea that personal behavior is determined by one’s own will was associated with more instances of cheating.

(One of the variables here was stated opposite to the way Scientific American stated it: it was acceptance, rather than rejection, of free will. That’s why it’s reported here as a negative relationship, whereas Scientific American reported a positive relationship. Both mean the same thing in the end.)

A correlation in the .5 range is considered rather strong in psychological research, indicating an effect of significant size. If the results from these 30 subjects could be generalized to the rest of us—if the rest of us are like those 30—then belief in determinism could lead to serious negative effects on society. But this was only 30 subjects, a very small sample. The researchers ran a second experiment with 122 participants and stronger controls over possible confounding variables. The result:

In two experiments we found that weakening free will beliefs reliably increased cheating…. The present findings raise the genuine concern that widespread encouragement of a deterministic worldview may have the inadvertent consequence of encouraging cheating behavior.

Their final conclusion was:

If exposure to deterministic messages increases the likelihood of unethical actions, then identifying approaches for insulating the public against this danger becomes imperative. Ultimately, negating the unfavorable consequences of deterministic sentiments will require a deeper understanding of why a dismissal of free will leads to amoral behavior. Does the belief that forces outside the self determine one’s behavior drain the motivation to resist the temptation to cheat, thereby inducing a “why bother?” mentality (cf. Baumeister & Vohs, in press)? Much as thoughts of death and meaninglessness can induce existential angst that can lead to ignoble behaviors (e.g. Arndt et al. 1997; Heine et al., 2006), doubting one’s free will may undermine the sense of self as agent. Or, perhaps, denying free will simply provides the ultimate excuse to behave as one likes.

These are tendencies. They do not indicate that if you pair up a believer in free will with a believer in determinism, the believer in determinism will be a less honorable person than the other. It also doesn’t mean (please hear me well) that if you, the reader, believe in determinism, I’m calling you dishonest. I have no reason to believe that about you, and I’m not jumping to any conclusions.

Besides that, we haven’t landed this one yet anyway. Scientific American rightly points out that this study was limited to a very short time frame. Would the same participants cheat the same way a week or two later? We don’t know. Do people who believe in determinism generally cheat more, in the real world, than those who don’t? Well, once again we don’t know; but if they do, it’s at least not obvious that they do. The whole thing raises as many questions as it answers, as Scientific American concludes:

Many philosophers and scientists reject free will and, while there has been no systematic study of the matter, there’s currently little reason to think that the philosophers and scientists who reject free will are generally less morally upright than those who believe in it. But this raises yet another puzzling question about the belief in free will. People who explicitly deny free will often continue to hold themselves responsible for their actions and feel guilty for doing wrong. Have such people managed to accommodate the rest of their attitudes to their rejection of free will? Have they adjusted their notion of guilt and responsibility so that it really doesn’t depend on the existence of free will? Or is it that when they are in the thick of things, trying to decide what to do, trying to do the right thing, they just fall back into the belief that they do have free will after all?

We could spend a lot of time discussing those last three questions. Have at it!

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Update 9/6/08: I have turned off threaded comments, as explained here. This will unfortunately jumble up the sequence of the comments on this post, for which I offer my apologies.

102 Responses

  1. SteveK says:

    Ironically, the scientists talk about ethics, cheating, danger to society, morals, unfavorable consequences, etc as if there are such universally objective ideas. If the relativists are correct, just wait a few years and this study will be all sunshine and roses.

    I’m a bit off-topic so I won’t pursue this line any further.

  2. Greg Johnson says:

    Does a belief in determinism cause cheating or does cheating cause a belief in determinism? An allergy to beets or some other third factor might cause both belief in determinism and a tendency to cheat! Once those dastardly beets kicked off an attitude, the practice of cheating may sustain belief in determinism, or indeed, any belief which reduces my sense of guilt or shame. It is really, really hard, some would say impossible, to design an experiment in the social and psychological sciences that establishes causation.

  3. Tom Gilson says:

    Good question, Greg.

    It’s a unique kind of study, being experimental and not just correlational. The experimental design actually does seem to indicate a direction of causality: that belief in determinism causes an increase in cheating. It’s not an absolute indication, but if you read the paper you’ll see that they were able to manipulate subjects’ attitudes toward determinism and free will. That, plus random assignment of subjects to different experimental conditions, gives reasonable ground to believe it was the beliefs that caused the behaviors, and not vice-versa or some third variable.

  4. SteveK says:

    From the original research paper…

    The belief that one’s outcomes are determined by one’s own doing is strong and pervasive. In a massive survey of people in 36 countries, over 70% agreed with the statement that their fate is in their own hands (ISSP, 1998). Yet, the view from the scientific community is that genes, underlying personality dispositions, brain mechanisms, or features of the environment cause behavior.

    I’m wondering in what way the scientific community position is different. Specifically, what do the scientists mean by “underlying personality dispositions” and how is that different than “one’s own doing”? Would they say there is really no self, and if so what does the term ‘personality’ mean in the scientific context?

  5. Tom Gilson says:

    That’s actually a surprisingly difficult question…

  6. People who explicitly deny free will often continue to hold themselves responsible for their actions and feel guilty for doing wrong.

    . . .

    Have they adjusted their notion of guilt and responsibility so that it really doesn’t depend on the existence of free will?

    I suppose I am one of those “people”. So … yes, I have adjusted my “notion of guilt”. I rarely feel guilty. How about “responsibility”? Yes, I work at neither blaming or praising other people. I do feel “responsible” for my actions (without self-blame or praise) because I believe my genes and history made me the type of decision-machine I am right now.

    The key is that I am a learning system. Hence through introspection and reflection I can change my behavior in future similar situations. Therefore I am a fully determined being with a reasonably open future.

    And I am happy!

  7. SteveK says:

    Quentin,

    I rarely feel guilty.

    I’m sorry that you decided to block out and suppress such an important and valuable part of your conscious mind. I wouldn’t want you by my side when it counted most in life. I can see no upside to such a decision.

    I do feel “responsible” for my actions (without self-blame or praise) because I believe my genes and history made me the type of decision-machine I am right now.
    ….
    The key is that I am a learning system. Hence through introspection and reflection I can change my behavior in future similar situations.

    Who/what do you mean when you say “I”? In other words, who are you?

  8. SteveK:

    I rarely feel guilty.

    I’m sorry that you decided to block out and suppress such an important and valuable part of your conscious mind. I wouldn’t want you by my side when it counted most in life. I can see no upside to such a decision.

    Does it surprise you that there are people who do “count on me” each and everyday? (And why is one day or event more important than another?) There are people who consider me their friend; I assume that has the same meaning for me as for you: Among other things, someone “you can count on”. As for upside, you can imagine that too much guilt could cause a person to spiral into inactivity yes? I really do believe that you can “see possible upsides”. They may not be convincing for you sure, but I am sure you can imagine such things.

    In other words, who are you?

    I am my body and have self-identity and self-awareness. I feel pain and pleasure. I interact with the world outside myself. I am soccer fan. I am a reader. I am even a blog commenter.

  9. SteveK says:

    Quentin,

    Does it surprise you that there are people who do “count on me” each and everyday?

    I’m not surprised at all that you have friends that are caused/determined to trust you.

    I really do believe that you can “see possible upsides”. They may not be convincing for you sure, but I am sure you can imagine such things.

    You can neither take credit, nor blame for your mental state so it’s more accurate to say a person is caused to see an upside – or a downside.

    No, I can’t imagine anything. What is an imagination, exactly? My genes and history cause my physical processing unit to think this way.

  10. Tom Gilson says:

    Quentin, I think I’m going to jump in here and decode what SteveK is doing. You may not need this information, but without it, what Steve is doing could seem rather rude.

    I’ll go back to some of the first things you said, above.

    I have adjusted my “notion of guilt”. I rarely feel guilty. How about “responsibility”? Yes, I work at neither blaming or praising other people. I do feel “responsible” for my actions (without self-blame or praise) because I believe my genes and history made me the type of decision-machine I am right now.

    Your language implies the existence of an agent self, that is, a person who has the ability to bring about effects within himself and in the world. You “have adjusted,” “work” “believe,” etc.

    The language is of a self who can make decisions and affect things, including the self. The ability to decide seems quite clearly contrary to determinism. There is no decision-making in determinism, there is only what happens according to law or chance. The self itself is problematic in deterministic theories. What holds together all those firings of neurons in various parts of the brain? What is the unifying factor? What is it about it that makes today’s self the same self, in very real ways, as the self you were when you were six years old? Why do I feel that I, myself am making decisions and taking action, instead of it being all those neurons and chemicals in my head? Answers to these questions are far from obvious.

    Thus in denying free will it seems you must rely on it. I think this is what Steve is getting at with his questions…

  11. SteveK says:

    Tom,
    Any rudeness percieved in my comment is caused by….well, you know the answer.

  12. Tom Gilson says:

    I didn’t actually say you were being rude, or even that your neurons were, for that fact….

  13. SteveK says:

    Tom,
    This post relates closely to the Plantigna critique of Naturalism….if genes and history cause certain brain states and certain behavior, why should I think that the content of my brain states correspond to reality? Answer: because genes and history made it so. So much for science and truth being truly anything special.

  14. SteveK says:

    Tom,

    What holds together all those firings of neurons in various parts of the brain? What is the unifying factor?

    I’ve always wondered how Naturalism explains one physical brain state’s abiltity to communicate it’s informational content to another physical brain state without this unifying factor.

    How can one brain state know that another brain state is about ‘Socrates’, and more important perhaps, how can one brain state know that the truth-value of another brain state doesn’t correspond to reality?

  15. Tom said:

    The language is of a self who can make decisions and affect things, including the self. The ability to decide seems quite clearly contrary to determinism.

    I guess first it seems to me that “language” is whatever we have decided it to be. So I guess I am not convinced by an argument that is: Your language betrays a notion of free will/agency. I simply take terms like “decide”, “believe” etc to be able to make sense in a deterministic frame.

    There is no decision-making in determinism, there is only what happens according to law or chance.

    I guess we will just have to agree to disagree. I happen to write computer programs. I and other programmers I know are happy to say that under such-and-such a condition (variables, if/then, loops, etc) the program decided to do X.
    We all know that kids games are getting “smarter” (actually we really should not use that term right?). They are written to “adapt” (but how can they “adapt” when their program is fully coded and finite? Again, are we using terminology badly?) and continually challenge kids as they themselves improve. At root I suppose I consider myself pretty much the same just much more complex AND with the ability to generate my own programming out of basic heuristics “hard-coded” in my brain and I have previously learned. I really do not want to argue the “computational” metaphor (mostly cause I do not want to get bogged down in the metaphor itself…) but I think it is a good and easy way to see that determinism does not mean “decisions” (redefined in this way) can exist. Everything you want in the traditional “free-will/agency” debate can be had.

    (Complete aside:

    What is it about it that makes today’s self the same self, in very real ways, as the self you were when you were six years old?

    What makes the game of Monopoly(r)(tm)(c) etc the “same” each time you play it? Not sure why the reply is not applicable here…)

  16. SteveK asks:

    I’ve always wondered how Naturalism explains one physical brain state’s abiltity to communicate it’s informational content to another physical brain state without this unifying factor.

    It seems to me that this question can be formulated to be a scientific question. And Science is pretty good at getting to answers so I assume this is not really an argument for or against anything except to say: ‘If this could be answered for me, I would have one less reason to believe in contra-causal free-will and such.’ Yes?

  17. Paul says:

    The ability to decide seems quite clearly contrary to determinism.

    Except for animals, unless you’re granting free will to them?

  18. SteveK says:

    Quentin

    And Science is pretty good at getting to answers so I assume this is not really an argument for or against anything except to say: ‘If this could be answered for me, I would have one less reason to believe in contra-causal free-will and such.’ Yes?

    Not quite. I agree that science is pretty good at getting answers, however the answer here will have to come from outside of science – and that answer might give me every reason to believe in free-will. Science can contribute to answering, but it can’t answer the question by itself.

    Science can only deal with empirical effects and causes. It cannot know the language or informational content of brain states so it lacks the ability to know if one brain state is communicating with another. Maybe there is information in the brain activity, maybe there is none. Once again, the Chinese room argument comes to mind. To know what a language means, you have to know both its lexicon and it’s syntax, and you also have to know its semantics. You can’t get that by looking inside the physical brain.

  19. Or denying that they “decide”. Which I think is pretty much what Western religions have done historically: They have tended (very much) to position animals as automata. Only humans have “free-will” therefore only humans can “decide”. You argument resonates only because the audience is modern. (IMHO)

  20. Again, I think this is “scientific” enough to be answerable someday. I certainly would not bet otherwise.

  21. Tom Gilson says:

    I would.

    Science may be able someday to track the chemical and electrical events in the brain. It won’t likely ever be able to track thoughts and decisions. Not unless it is somehow demonstrable that thoughts and decisions are identical to the chemical and electrical events; but that is very problematical.

  22. Tom said:

    Science may be able someday to track the chemical and electrical events in the brain. It won’t likely ever be able to track thoughts and decisions. Not unless it is somehow demonstrable that thoughts and decisions are identical to the chemical and electrical events; but that is very problematical.

    But what if science does end up showing “that thoughts and decisions are identical to the chemical and electrical events”? And in fact is that not what many neuro-people are doing right now? What if in the future the synaptic firings for say eating an orange were recorded then played back for the person and the person said: Wow!! I totally feel like I am eating an orange! Not enough?
    Anyway, I am not terribly creative so my hypotheticals are probably bad but I would pretty much not limit humanity’s possible achievements in say 1000yrs — assuming we make it that far.

  23. Tom Gilson says:

    We need to get into some important definitions here. I don’t think science can make that determination, because I don’t think the issues are all empirical.

    But I’m on my way out the door now. There are others who can pick up that thought and run with it…

  24. SteveK says:

    Q,
    I think the question of human free will has been answered by every individual for centuries, and the answer is, yes, humans have free will. Science is trying to answer the question, but it can’t for the reasons I already outlined.

    When sleep studies are done, the only way to know the information content of the brain states (dreams) is to wake up the patient and ASK them what they were dreaming about. Over time, they may get better at matching brain states with information content. One day they may be able to accurately read minds by ONLY looking at brain states…..but remember they ONLY came to know this by asking the patient, which doesn’t require a degree in science.

  25. SteveK says:

    Q:

    But what if science does end up showing “that thoughts and decisions are identical to the chemical and electrical events”? And in fact is that not what many neuro-people are doing right now?

    Science can’t determine what something IS by looking at it’s parts or its causal relationship. This is what I meant when I said earlier that science ALONE can’t answer these kind of questions. It can contribute, that’s for sure.

    Knowing what causes thoughts doesn’t answer the question, what is a thought? Similarly, knowing what causes sound doesn’t answer the question, what is a symphony?

  26. Paul says:

    Case studies of people whose personalities distinctly change forever as a result of materialistic events (trauma to the brain, chemical changes in the brain, brain surgery, etc.) indicate (I’m choosing my words carefully) that thoughts, feelings, and beliefs (I did not include qualia in that list) are purely materialistic.

  27. SteveK says:

    Paul,
    You comment indicates (I’m choosing my words carefully) that you don’t understand the limits of empirical science. 😉 You can’t empirically test or falsify a theory that says “this group of materials and events is a thought, feeling or belief”. You *can* test the theory that says X causes thought, feeling or belief.

  28. Thanks SteveK for continually indulging me! I hope I am not annoying or frustrating you/anyone.

    SteveK says: “Science can’t determine what something IS by looking at it’s parts or its causal relationship.” But *why*? Why is not an apple the atoms it is composed of and the chemical reactions it induces on our pallet and in our brain? Why is not a thought just our neurons firing in a particular pattern within a particular brain? What more *must* there be?
    My guess is that we all agree that my idea of an apple’s taste is particular to me. This would be completely explained by a naturalistic frame. We agree that there is no Platonic ‘apple taste’ right? So why is it not that an apple’s taste for me and my thoughts and feelings and conception of that taste be exactly the state of matter in my brain? (Geez, I hope that paragraph is somewhat intelligible. Sorry if not.)

  29. SteveK says:

    Quentin:

    Why is not an apple the atoms it is composed of and the chemical reactions it induces on our pallet and in our brain? Why is not a thought just our neurons firing in a particular pattern within a particular brain? What more *must* there be?

    This is an often discussed topic – Paul can attest to that. I won’t go into detail but briefly…the idea of an apple is in your mind and that universal idea represents the physical arrangement of matter before you. Now, take a small piece of matter away, or perhaps add some matter to it or rearrange it in some way.

    Q: What IS the pile of matter before you now? Is it still an apple or is it something else?

    Can you use science to help answer these questions? Yes and no. Yes science can help, but no it can’t answer it fully and completely because the mental idea we call ‘apple’ cannot be found in the raw empirical data. Likewise with thoughts because, like apples, thoughts are mental constructs .

  30. Charlie says:

    Hi Paul,
    1) Are you in agreement with Quentin’s thesis then?

    2) Placebo/nocebo effect indicates (and I am quite carefree with my words) that the mind is not purely materialistic.

  31. SteveK says:

    Thanks SteveK for continually indulging me! I hope I am not annoying or frustrating you/anyone.

    You certainly aren’t annoying me! Looks like my response got published below.

  32. This thread seems to overlap with SteveK’s and mine so I am gonna jump in here with a thought experiment: Ray Kurzweil is a futurist who believes (in the book: The Age of Spiritual Machines) that even within our lifetimes we will likely have the technology to upload ourselves into computers running neural network simulations. Assume this is true. Assume it happens to you. Assume you still “feel” like you.
    What would that suggestion? Just wonder’n…

  33. But Charlie, the naturalistic argument is that thoughts are completely embodied in the physical brain which can/does have deterministic causality on other matter. Eg. your “thought” (as a material/physical process) can cause the placebo effect.

  34. Charlie says:

    But Quentin,
    If your thought determined the condition of your material brain, what determined your thought?

  35. Your material brain! (Right?)

    Thoughts == Material Brain Processes (MBPs)

    One MBP causes another MBP or one thought causes another thought.

    In my silly world simple! GRIN!

  36. SteveK: “This is an often discussed topic”

    Can you provide some links/references that I can read and then we can return to the discussion? (I fear I am wearing out my welcome with so many comments…)

  37. Charlie says:

    Interesting series of causes in your silly world.
    What starts it? What material effect determines the material state of the brain such that a “thought” exists (which is just a material state, right?) which in turn causes a physical reaction in the brain which in turn causes healing?

    Paul, do get in on this before all the fun is spoiled.

  38. Charlie says:

    Hi Quentin,
    If you don’t mind checking out previous posts and comments, here’s a discussion we had on material brains which went into placebos a little.
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/C228303755/E20070615122655/index.html

  39. SteveK says:

    Charlie,
    I had a good chuckle reliving this one. “Cut off fourth leg, frog goes deaf.”

  40. Charlie:
    Whew! I read pretty closely most of that. I would like to read it again.
    I would say though I understood little. A lot seemed to revolve around arguing about the analogy(ies). Did you have anything in particular that you might want commented on?
    One thing I could riff on is the comment that “ideas” or “information” are non-physical. Not sure I agree that they are non-physical, but I might further say that they are not real! Except outside their MBP. Right now right in front of me I have a book open. On it are printed words. I do not mind calling those words in sentences and paragraphs “ideas” or “information” but that is because I do not want to be (too) pedantic. I actually do not believe the book is anything more than a collection of atoms. It is only “informational” when read by a brain. The book “itself” is not an “idea” IMHO.

  41. SteveK says:

    Quentin,

    I actually do not believe the book is anything more than a collection of atoms.

    A collection of atoms is a collection of atoms. A book is a book. What makes one collection of atoms a book and another collection something else?

    The book “itself” is not an “idea” IMHO.

    Agreed. The physical object is not the same thing as the mental construct. Nowhere do we claim this, however you *are* claiming this when you say the brain state and physical events themselves are *identical* (meaning, the same thing) to the thought. The physical brain is not the same thing as the sense data, is not the same thing as the thought – but all are real.

  42. Paul says:

    Charlie, thanks for the invite.

    My question for you is, could you outline briefly how you think animals function in terms of thoughts and beliefs, and free will and determinism?

    It seems like we would have to reject *any* sort of thought for an animal in order to insist that materialism is wrong for humans. That is, if animals have thoughts and they don’t have souls or free will, then humans could, hypothetically, too.

    Otherwise, you’d have to claim that animals are pure autonomons (sp?), meat machines. But that is contradicted by mounds of research, albeit resting on the idea that there is no reason except an a priori one (which might be relevant for a faithful Christian) to assume that animals don’t think when they behave like we do when we think (for instance, chimps sometimes scratch their heads like we do when presented with a problem and before they solve it).

  43. Paul says:

    Oops, I missed the editing deadline. It should read

    That is, if animals have thoughts and they don’t have souls or free will, then humans could, hypothetically, have thoughts materialistically, too.

  44. Charlie says:

    Hi Paul,
    Thanks for responding.
    I’d love to chat it up about animals and their abilities to decide and express will, but let’s go quid pro quo as you often like to do, shall we? Otherwise this might get too convoluted and complex, right?
    Can you first answer my question?

    1) You said that the fact that physical brain damage impairs cognition and that this is evidence for the materialistic theory of the mind.
    2) I said that non-physical causes, like placebos, are evidence for the non-materialistic theory of mind.
    3) Quentin said:

    But Charlie, the naturalistic argument is that thoughts are completely embodied in the physical brain which can/does have deterministic causality on other matter

    4) And I asked if you agreed with his thesis.

    You know I don’t, but let’s continue with Quentin’s arguments.

    He has since added:

    Not sure I agree that they are non-physical, but I might further say that they are not real! Except outside their MBP

    I take this to mean that thoughts are equal and identical to their brainstates.
    Again, I argued against this many times, including in the ink I provided, and I’m not sure I need to right now.
    I’m merely asking if, as I’m sure it does, this also represents your thinking?

  45. Charlie says:

    Hi Steve,
    My Dad told me that joke when I was a little kid and I always remembered it.
    Little did I know…

  46. SteveK writes:

    What makes one collection of atoms a book and another collection something else?

    I guess the same way/reason we called one pattern of atoms a rock and one a tree. We have given names to arrangements of atoms.

    Nowhere do we claim this, however you *are* claiming this when you say the brain state and physical events themselves are *identical* (meaning, the same thing) to the thought.

    Ooh! I hope you have found an issue with my thinking! I did not mean to somehow equate the book with the “idea”. Here is how I see it: Book is a thing, interpreted by the brain which is identical with thought. But book != thought. Am I confused?

  47. SteveK says:

    Quentin,

    I did not mean to somehow equate the book with the “idea”.

    You didn’t say that in your comment. You got it right when you said, “The book itself is not an idea”.

    Here is how I see it: Book is a thing, interpreted by the brain which is identical with thought. But book != thought. Am I confused?

    Partially correct. If the thought of a book is not a physical book, why then do you say the thought of a brain state *is* a physical brain state?

  48. Paul says:

    1) You said that the fact that physical brain damage impairs cognition and that this is evidence for the materialistic theory of the mind.

    I said it changes personality, actually, although I agree that brain damage can impair cognition.

    2) I said that non-physical causes, like placebos, are evidence for the non-materialistic theory of mind.

    Assuming that a placebo is non-physical, yes. But if placebo is considered a brain-state, then no.

    3) Quentin said:
    But Charlie, the naturalistic argument is that thoughts are completely embodied in the physical brain which can/does have deterministic causality on other matter
    4) And I asked if you agreed with his thesis.

    I think I do.

    I take this to mean that thoughts are equal and identical to their brainstates.

    I don’t think a thought is identical to its brain-state to the extent, as Q and SteveK have been discussing, that the idea of a book is not the same as the book. I’m not sure there aren’t implications of “equal and identical” that I’m missing and that I might agree with. Can you refine that idea, flesh it out a bit more?

    I would be interested in alternating between this sub-thread and the questions I posed to you in my animal sub-thread. Your turn.

  49. Charlie says:

    Hi Paul,

    I said it changes personality, actually, although I agree that brain damage can impair cognition.

    Great. Thanks for the clarification.

    Assuming that a placebo is non-physical, yes. But if placebo is considered a brain-state, then no.

    This is odd. Why would placebo be considered a brain state – only to beg the question that all causes are material?
    A placebo can be a sugar pill which has no curative abilities but by which a patient is cured. It can be a saline solution as well. It can even be the false claim that a gas or a magnetic field is being experienced.
    Saitht eh wiki:

    Placebo is a substance or procedure a patient accepts as medicine or therapy, but which has no specific therapeutic activity. Any therapeutic effect is thought to be based on the power of suggestion.

    At any rate …

    3) Quentin said:
    But Charlie, the naturalistic argument is that thoughts are completely embodied in the physical brain which can/does have deterministic causality on other matter
    4) And I asked if you agreed with his thesis.

    I think I do.

    You think so, good. Except, of course, here…

    I take this to mean that thoughts are equal and identical to their brainstates.

    I don’t think a thought is identical to its brain-state to the extent, as Q and SteveK have been discussing, that the idea of a book is not the same as the book. …Can you refine that idea, flesh it out a bit more?

    I think I might be able to. You agreed that thoughts are completely embedded in the physical brain, correct? So they are nothing other than what the brain is doing, correct?
    You and Quentin both agree on this? A thought is only the condition of the brain at a given time?

    I would be interested in alternating between this sub-thread and the questions I posed to you in my animal sub-thread. Your turn.

    I’d be interested in pursuing this idea to its completion without convoluting the thread tot eh point that it is too complex for you, but, okay, if you wish …
    I happen to belief that animals have thoughts and some measure of free will and can make actual decisions. I believe I have observed animals int he process of decision-making. I can only infer this, of course, as with humans other than myself.
    I follow Genesis in according animals souls (nephesh chayee) and Aristotle in according them forms. This does not make them human, however, and does not give them a moral free will, which we have as image-bearers.

    Good enough?

  50. Paul says:

    Charlie, I was making an assumption about why you asked about placebos. Of course, a placebo can be a sugar pill, etc., but it necessarily (to my understanding) does its work through the mind/brain. The active ingredient, to confuse an analogy, is the mind/brain.

    You agreed that thoughts are completely embedded in the physical brain, correct? So they are nothing other than what the brain is doing, correct?

    Yes, that clarifies things greatly. I would agree with that.

    Thanks for the response on the animals, that was clear and makes sense. One clarification: so animals, too, would have a non-material aspect to their existence, which would correspond with their free will, soul, etc., is that correct?

  51. Charlie says:

    HI Paul,

    Charlie, I was making an assumption about why you asked about placebos. Of course, a placebo can be a sugar pill, etc., but it necessarily (to my understanding) does its work through the mind/brain. The active ingredient, to confuse an analogy, is the mind/brain.

    Exactly, it is thought and/or belief which causes the physical changes resulting in health (or illness, in the case of the nocebo). Correct?
    And your position is that this thought is physical as well since all causes are material.
    What causes the brainstate which is that thought when we know it os not the material of the placebo doing the work?

  52. SteveK asks:

    If the thought of a book is not a physical book, why then do you say the thought of a brain state *is* a physical brain state?

    I am not sure I am going to answer to your satisfaction: Because “thought” is the term for brain states. Particular thoughts like: ‘Yummy green apple’ are particular brain states.
    Said perhaps another way: Particular arrangements of atoms we call “rocks”. Particular arrangements of neural patterns we call “thoughts”. That is it; nothing more.
    (Aside: Does this make me a “materialist”?)

  53. Charlie asks:

    What starts it? What material effect determines the material state of the brain such that a “thought” exists (which is just a material state, right?) which in turn causes a physical reaction in the brain which in turn causes healing?

    Ignoring the placebo stuff, what “starts” “thoughts” are external stimuli and other internal “thoughts”. But they are completely materially caused. A bad analogy follows: It is like asking what “starts” the wind? I sure as heck can not answer, but I am confident it is completely materially caused. I see no issues with our brain/minds/thoughts being the same.
    (Hopefully that is clear and consistent — if wrong! wink!)

  54. Before I jump in, does anyone have a study or info as to comparisons of real meds vs. placebos vs. nothing? I assume the ordering of effectiveness goes: 1st the Dr tells you there is nothing to do it is just a simple infection so go home and get rest and fluids. 2nd the Dr gives you a placebo which she asserts will help speed the healing. 3rd the Dr give you a real med which itself attacks the infection or amps up the body’s immune system or some such “real” thing. What I am curious about is if the study/ies have done physical exams, blood work, etc of the placebo group vs. the nothing group. What if the placebo group’s immune system was reved up? What might explain that? Perhaps the thought that the body was getting a useful med caused other thoughts in the brain which caused an increase in immune response? Just thinking out loud… and hahaha! looks like I jumped in anyway!

  55. Charlie says:

    Hi Quentin,
    It goes more like this:
    You enter a clinical trial and are told you are getting a drug but you aren’t getting that drug.
    Often as high as 30% of people react as they expect they would if they were on the drug, yet they are not.
    A drug has to perform at least 5% better than placebo to be considered effective at all.

    Or you undergo an experiment where you are given a drug to combat anxious reactions and then one to increase them.
    The next day you undergo the exact same sequence, receiving the shots and experiencing the feelings, but it turns out you were on saline injections instead of drugs.

    Or you take sugar pills for depression and come out of depression, thanking the doctors for the wonder drug.

    Perhaps the thought that the body was getting a useful med caused other thoughts in the brain which caused an increase in immune response? Just thinking out loud… and hahaha! looks like I jumped in anyway

    Increased immune response, increased dopamine, altered neurological activity, yes, all physically measurable responses.
    And they are triggered by what?
    Thoughts. In your vernacular, brain states.
    So I ask yet again, what caused the brain states? They are determined by something, are they not? It would be too fantastic a coincidence that the brainstate arises uncaused, at random, just when the placebo was administered.

    “A doctor who fails to produce a placebo effect on his patients should become a pathologist.”
    J.N. Blau

  56. Charlie asks:

    So I ask yet again, what caused the brain states?

    I might have a better answer up above at: Quentin Crain replied on August 21st, 2008 10:44 pm.
    So the short version: External stimuli and other internal brain states/thoughts cause other brain states/thoughts. Nothing any more fancy.

  57. Charlie says:

    Paul and Quentin,
    First, let me affirm what you have both said.
    Thoughts are brainstates, nothing more and nothing less.
    These thoughts seem , by your arguments, to be generated entirely in the brain – your thought life, then, can be totally independent and detached from the real world. It is merely one brainstate determining the next determining the next.
    As we have seen from the placebo effect the thoughts can be beneficial and yet false. They need not be determined by any outside influence and when they are they can represent that reality inaccurately.
    You are forced into these explanations by your commitment to naturalism.
    Therefore, as per our discussion on Plantinga, your belief in naturalism has (once again, in Paul’s case) demonstrated that belief in naturalism makes belief in naturalism irrational.
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2008/08/alvin-plantinga-on-evolution-vs-naturalism/

  58. Charlie says:

    Hi Quentin,
    No, I don’t think that answer does very much. As you’ll see above.

  59. Paul says:

    Surely we can imagine some animal with a brain who acts in response to some stimuli without thought, and surely that stimuli can be outside of the animal, or within its own brain, because, at the brain level, it’s all just neurons firing anyway.

  60. Charlie says:

    Hi Paul,
    Surely we can.
    That’s not what we’re talking about here.
    We are not talking about an animal reacting without a thought but a person reacting to a thought.
    If you are defending just neurons firing anyway, brainstates erupting to cause other brainstates then you are talking about brians operating independently of the external – back to the vat. More evidence that believing in naturalism demands a belief in irrationalism.
    If you are defending the external stimuli that gives rise to the brainstate then you have to show how sugar, which has no curative propery, somehow causes a brainstate, when coupled with a thought, that does have a curative property. And there we have that thought again. So where did the thought, “I am getting medicine” or “I will get well” come from?
    I will say that it came not from something material, not from the physical interaction of atoms, but from the immaterial, the transfer of information. This all comes down to the power of intention and will.
    But you don’t buy that.
    So let’s just just allow that some physical environmental property was the cause of the belief. This just reinforces what we discussed on the last thread and adds to the warrant that Plantinga was right. The environment and the mind need not interact in any reliable or corresponding manner for thoughts to be adaptively beneficial.
    So once again, your defence of naturalism undermines your belief in naturalism as demonstrated on a previous thread.

  61. Excellent! I think we are near the end of this thread since for you Plantinga’s argument is definitive, the last words on things, and irrefutable. I actually started reading on this so I will spend some time trying to understand the argument and come back. If you know of a good explanation of it — I would prefer a nice summary or simpler less complete explanation initially — that would be helpful to me at least.
    Here are some specifics on your reply though:

    These thoughts seem , by your arguments, to be generated entirely in the brain – your thought life, then, can be totally independent and detached from the real world.

    (Italic added by me.) No. I never use absolutes. grin! What happened to the “external” part of my answer? Brain states/thoughts come from both internal and external. I guess I am saying (an absolute) that no one who has never experienced a “rock” can have the thought “rock”.

    As we have seen from the placebo effect the thoughts can be beneficial and yet false. They need not be determined by any outside influence and when they are they can represent that reality inaccurately.

    From my reading so far I get that this is supposed to be scary but right now I have no idea why.

  62. Charlie says:

    I see the reply option has disappeared, so my reply to Quentin will not be threaded.

    Excellent! I think we are near the end of this thread since for you Plantinga’s argument is definitive, the last words on things, and irrefutable.

    That’s a surprisingly dismissive response.
    If you read that thread you will find nobody merely took Plantinga as authoritative and the last word on his own – we defended and explained his position several times.
    You ought to be able to find your simpler reduction of his argument in that thread several times over.
    We have also discussed several times and defended the closely related Argument from Reason as laid out by Lewis and defended by Reppert.

    What happened to the “external” part of my answer? Brain states/thoughts come from both internal and external. I guess I am saying (an absolute) that no one who has never experienced a “rock” can have the thought “rock”.

    The external part was already dealt with as per sugar pills. There are two options, one, that an external stimuli causes the thought. You have not tried to show how sugar or saline or atoms cause thoughts.
    You have offered the idea that a thought can arise in a brain and cause another thought. You presented this thought as unbidden and uncaused, as the explanation in and of itself, of the following thought. You presented it as independent of the external world.
    I suppose there is a third option, whereby you combine the two, and I await that as well.

    As we have seen from the placebo effect the thoughts can be beneficial and yet false. They need not be determined by any outside influence and when they are they can represent that reality inaccurately.

    From my reading so far I get that this is supposed to be scary but right now I have no idea why.

    I don’t know if it is supposed to be scary but it is supposed to be illuminating.
    As per Plantinga, it demonstrates that belief in naturalism leads to the inability to trust your beliefs – including the belief in naturalism.

  63. Charlie said:

    You ought to be able to find your simpler reduction of his argument in that thread several times over.

    I will certainly re-read the thread. In fact I am going to need to!

    We have also discussed several times and defended the closely related Argument from Reason as laid out by Lewis and defended by Reppert.

    Is that in the thread also? If not, do you have links?

    The external part was already dealt with as per sugar pills. There are two options, one, that an external stimuli causes the thought. You have not tried to show how sugar or saline or atoms cause thoughts.

    I am not sure what is required to “show” the causal chain. And further I am sure I can not beyond a bunch of unscientific stuff like: Sugar atoms cause a reaction on your tongue which causes nerves to fire to the brain which cause a rather large cascade of neural activity of which the thought “sweet” is one.

    You presented this thought as unbidden and uncaused, as the explanation in and of itself, of the following thought. You presented it as independent of the external world.

    A thought might be caused by another thought but I did not mean to suggest that any thought is uncaused. Sorry about that and especially since I am the determinist in this discussion! wink! And since I consider thoughts material it is impossible for me to think of them as “independent of the external world”. I am sorry I gave that impression.

    Finally,

    That’s a surprisingly dismissive response.

    Yeah. Sorry about that. I should not have said it. But, I do feel it. I did get that feeling on that thread. I was expecting that at the end of your summary of our position you would drop Plantinga. It felt like the discussion was then meant to be drawing to an end …

  64. Crap! Forgot to add:

    As per Plantinga, it demonstrates that belief in naturalism leads to the inability to trust your beliefs – including the belief in naturalism.

    I am sure there is more than this. But, assuming he is completely correct, I am happy to not “trust my belief” in naturalism and determinism or even rocks! I believe it to be true but I allow that it might be wrong and is likely wrong in some significant ways. This is why I am unclear why this is scary or illuminating: I already work to not be dogmatic in my beliefs. (But I am pretty sure that this is not really you or his point.)

  65. Charlie says:

    I can’t find where we discussed it on this blog.
    Here’s Stephen Jones discussing the Argument from Reason.
    http://creationevolutiondesign.blogspot.com/2006/09/cs-lewis-argument-from-reason.html
    He sources Victor Reppert who wrote a nice book on the subject and has countless threads about it.
    I’d check the first three or four here (starting at the bottom of the page)
    http://dangerousidea2.blogspot.com/2006_12_01_archive.html

    Here’s a Lewis quote from that Jones blog:

    A theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but which made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid, would be utterly out of court. For that theory would itself have been reached by thinking, and if thinking is not valid that theory would, of course, be itself demolished. It would have destroyed its own credentials. It would be an argument which proved that no argument was sound-a proof that there are no such things as proofs-which is nonsense. Thus a strict materialism refutes itself for the reason given long ago by Professor Haldane: `If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true … and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.'”

    On the Plantinga thread here is one of my attempts to describe the argument – with reference to both internal and external causes of beliefs.
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2008/08/alvin-plantinga-on-evolution-vs-naturalism/#comment-8314

    And further I am sure I can not beyond a bunch of unscientific stuff like: Sugar atoms cause a reaction on your tongue which causes nerves to fire to the brain which cause a rather large cascade of neural activity of which the thought “sweet” is one.

    Exactly my point. Sugar molecules on the tongue do not lead to a neural cascade that results in the belief “I am being healed”.
    Many of us eat sugar every day and do not come upon this belief.
    And in the case of the placebo you don’t even get to taste the sugar. Your only sensation is that of swallowing – hardly efficacious in curing depression, for instance.

    A thought might be caused by another thought but I did not mean to suggest that any thought is uncaused. Sorry about that and especially since I am the determinist in this discussion! wink! And since I consider thoughts material it is impossible for me to think of them as “independent of the external world”. I am sorry I gave that impression.

    Then it is pointless and unintentionally obfuscatory to leave me, when I ask “what caused the thought”, with the answer “another thought”.
    In your system I have to presume you are now acknowledging that the thought, though preceded by a thought, preceded by a thought, has to be ultimately materially caused by an environmental stimulus. That takes us back to sugar pills and no reason to expect that, just coincidentally, the ingestion of sugar somehow caused a cascade leading to a cure just when it could be measured as a placebo effect.
    What actually caused the brainstate that effected the cure is a thought that the pill will be efficacious. So, once again, whence that thought?

    Yeah. Sorry about that. I should not have said it.

    Thank you.

    But, I do feel it.

    Or not.

    I did get that feeling on that thread. I was expecting that at the end of your summary of our position you would drop Plantinga.

    But rather than “dropping” Plantinga I was building, with your words (and Paul’s) and stated positions, a defense of his argument and demonstrating just how is case plays out.
    It is not a coincidence that one thread bleeds into another – they often do around here.
    That which was denied in that thread was demonstrated in this; false beliefs are/can be adaptive, there is no necessary correlation between reality and belief, beliefs/thoughts are identical to brainstates and brainstates, which cause behaviour (adaptive or not), are not reliant upon the content of any associated thought – and need not even be associated with a thought.

  66. Charlie says:

    The above is built, of course, upon your discussion with Steve, in which you have stated quite forcefully that thoughts are nothing more or less than physical brainstates.
    It should go without saying but I will repeat that this is not my position whatsoever.

  67. Paul says:

    Charlie, I don’t see the problem you’re having with figuring out how a thought can be caused under materialism, especially when thoughts are reducible to a brain state under materialism anyway.

    So, someone says something; those words are reducible to sound waves, which cause neurons to fire after processing in the inner ear, and those neurons cause other neurons to fire, and the constellation of those other neurons firing is what we call a thought (other neurons may cause a different set of neurons to fire that we would not call a thought, like, for instance, moving a muscle involuntarily).

    In the case of a placebo, maybe it’s neurons firing that change the level of a hormone, which has a theraputic effect.

  68. Paul says:

    If you are defending just neurons firing anyway, brainstates erupting to cause other brainstates then you are talking about brians operating independently of the external – back to the vat.

    As Quentin has said, neurons can fire either through input from other neurons or from external stimuli.

    One other thought on the placebo question: how placebos work is not well understood, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that materialism fails. That would be a “non-materialism of the gaps” argument (I think I formulated that correctly).

  69. Charlie says:

    Hi Paul,

    So, someone says something; those words are reducible to sound waves, which cause neurons to fire after processing in the inner ear, and those neurons cause other neurons to fire, and the constellation of those other neurons firing is what we call a thought (other neurons may cause a different set of neurons to fire that we would not call a thought, like, for instance, moving a muscle involuntarily).

    I’m having no trouble whatsoever figuring out how there is a material component to speech, transmission, brainstates, etc.
    I am trying to get you guys to see something or at least to admit it …. even if only to yourselves.

    So someone says something…
    That’s exactly what I am talking about and asking.
    So vibrations in the air medium cause the thought?
    Of course they don’t.

    Words are reducible to soundwaves…..
    Are they really. How about when they are written? Are they then reducible to ink? And if they were imagined, they’re reducible to a pattern of neuroactivity.
    Of course not.
    That is materialism at its finest and most absurd.
    Words are not letters, they are not squiggles, they are not waves, … they are information.
    That information can be carried on a variety of media, but it is the information content and its transfer that matters – and more than that, the focused intent of the receiver of that information.

    In your system you just prove again and again why thoughts are irrelevant – its not information, its not thought content that matters – its waves. Its ink.
    Somehow, someway, just by some coincidence, airwaves this one time cause thought (t) when airwaves over the last ten years never did. And, just coincidentally, it could have been ink on paper that caused thought (t). Somehow completely different physical events , received by completely different organs, passed down different pathways, processed in different parts of the physical brain, by different neurons, somehow those set off a chain reaction and resulted in the same mechanistic production of neurons x,y,and z to fire and enter brainstate (t). And for some reason, this brainstate (t) is expected to correlate equally to both physical stimuli, the light reflecting off the ink, and the molecules rubbing together in the atmosphere.

    Paul, I don’t see the problem you’re having with figuring out that if a thought can be caused under materialism, especially when thoughts are reducible to a brain state under materialism anyway … then that thought is irrelevant to the whole procedure and how that destroys any reason to accept beliefs as true, or even potentially true.

    ===
    How the placebo works is … it doesn’t. The brain works, and this as a result of intention of thought.
    If this is non-materialism of the gaps, then your evidence of ablation causing impairment is materialism of the gaps. See how gaps arguments work? We don’t understand how the immaterial mind is affected by the material destruction of the brain, but you can’t insert your materialism in there just because we are ignorant of the immaterial cause at this time. We’ll learn more – just give us time, science is young yet.

  70. Charlie says:

    Placebo effect is not merely strange, it just makes no sense under materialism.
    http://space.newscientist.com/article/mg18524911.600-13-things-that-do-not-make-sense.html

  71. Charlie says:

    Hi Paul,
    I missed this …

    In the case of a placebo, maybe it’s neurons firing that change the level of a hormone, which has a theraputic effect.

    Of course this happens. As I said to Quentin, the immune system can respond as well, heart rate can change, blood pressure, etc. This is all caused by neurons firing.
    But saline doesn’t make neurons fire like this. Sugar doesn’t either. Magnetic resonators which are not turned on can’t do and neither can electrical patches with no electricity passing through them.
    What does cause this measurable and observable brain activity is the mind – a thought.
    What caused that thought?
    Oh, well, …. airwaves.

  72. SteveK says:

    Paul,

    In the case of a placebo, maybe it’s neurons firing that change the level of a hormone, which has a theraputic effect.

    In a statistically significant way?? Isn’t it strange that this theraputic effect occurs at specific times as a direct result of unintended, random causes? It’s like an RNG producing the number 10 in a statistically significant way every day at noon. If that happened you’d question the randomness of the RNG and replace it (casino’s do this). This belief in the power of chance is difficult to fathom.

    Isn’t it more reasonable to think chance is no longer chance when it becomes statistically significant?

  73. SteveK says:

    I’ve posted about 4 comments that won’t show up. Hope they don’t suddenly show. Will try again below.

  74. SteveK says:

    Paul,

    In the case of a placebo, maybe it’s neurons firing that change the level of a hormone, which has a theraputic effect.

    In a statistically significant way?? Isn’t it strange that this theraputic effect occurs at specific times as a direct result of unintended, random causes? It’s like an RNG producing the number 10 in a statistically significant way every day at noon. If that happened you’d question the randomness of the RNG and replace it (casino’s do this). This belief in the power of chance is difficult to fathom.

    Isn’t it more reasonable to think chance is no longer chance when it becomes statistically more than chance?

    .

  75. Paul says:

    Paul, I don’t see the problem you’re having with figuring out that if a thought can be caused under materialism, especially when thoughts are reducible to a brain state under materialism anyway … then that thought is irrelevant to the whole procedure and how that destroys any reason to accept beliefs as true, or even potentially true.

    Charlie, you’re reifying information when there is no need to.

    Information in this context is merely a pattern in material things. So we see faces in clouds because our brains are excellent pattern-recognizers, and faces are an important thing evolutionarily for us to recognize.

    You’re trying to make information more than it needs to be, and, if it were more than it needs to be, then materialism would have problems. But a materialistic view or definition of information works fine within materialism and it’s sufficient for us. The same thing happens with “truth,” too. I’ve said in the past that truth doesn’t have to be turned into “Truth,” something has has a lot of metaphysical requirements, it merely has to be what work, which is generally what corresponds with what we see in the world. That’s all it needs to be, and a similar conservatism works for information, too.

    The one thing I’ve always said, though, is that qualia aren’t explained under materialism. I hope that problem with materialism shows you that I’m not completely biased toward materialism.

  76. Man! I am pretty bad at this! Charlie says:

    In your system I have to presume you are now acknowledging that the thought, though preceded by a thought, preceded by a thought, has to be ultimately materially caused by an environmental stimulus. … What actually caused the brainstate that effected the cure is a thought that the pill will be efficacious. So, once again, whence that thought?

    Thoughts/brain states are ALL environmental because they are all part of the environment. The thought/brain state that you are taking a substance that can help you caused other thoughts/brain states some of which cause other material matter arrangements such as simulating the immune system or whatever.
    I am obvious missing something massive. But I see little conceptual difference between believing in thoughts as material things with cause and effect like other material things. What is a cloud? Where do they come from? Big clouds come from small clouds. Small clouds come from smaller clouds. The smallest clouds are individual water evaporation right? Where does that water come from? Rivers oceans lakes. Where does that water come from? Water as ice in mountains or clouds. Ack! Circular (and fatally so)? Can we call a lake a cloud? Sure. What is the wind? Is a strong wind a bunch of smaller winds together? Is the smallest movement of an air molecule wind? What causes it to move? It seems to me we can have the same discussion about thoughts/brain states as clouds and wind yet generally we have no problem with cause and effect w/r/t to clouds and wind. Again, I must be missing something massive.

  77. SteveK says:

    Paul,

    In the case of a placebo, maybe it’s neurons firing that change the level of a hormone, which has a theraputic effect.

    In a statistically significant way?? Isn’t it strange that this theraputic effect occurs at specific times as a direct result of unintended, random causes? It’s like an RNG producing the number 10 in a statistically significant way every day at noon. If that happened you’d question the randomness of the RNG and replace it. This belief in the power and regularity of chance is difficult to fathom.

    Isn’t it more reasonable to think chance is no longer chance when it becomes statistically more than chance?

    (Tried to post this about 10 times with the word ‘c-a-s-i-n-o’ in the text. Delete these from the spam filter, Tom)

  78. Lots to possibly comment on but Charlie asks:

    Paul, I don’t see the problem you’re having with figuring out that if a thought can be caused under materialism, especially when thoughts are reducible to a brain state under materialism anyway … then that thought is irrelevant to the whole procedure and how that destroys any reason to accept beliefs as true, or even potentially true.

    Yes, I definitely am not figuring this out. Do you mind cutting and pasting a couple of paragraphs where you have explained this? Is the paragraph of yours directly above this quote an example? Also, this is what Plantinga purports to show right?

  79. The way I see the placebo work is that (starting at a particular point cause I need to start somewhere): The doctor has the brain pattern that a placebo is an appropriate remedy in this particular case. Given our current medical technology though you have to be given physically medicine so the Dr. gives sugar pills. The patient now is given both the sensation of taking physical medicine and the thought (via airwaves) that they should now get better. This together begets other brain states that effect other bodily states detailed by Charlie.
    How about this for fun? Assuming we have seen Star Trek we know that Drs in that made-up universe heal people by waving technically around the patient usually around the site of injury/interest. Presumably everyone in that society is taught that those machine give off some sort of radiation or “healing rays” or whatever that do things like knit bone, kill bacteria, etc. Now, the placebo affect can easily still be accomplished in this made-up world. The Dr. could simply set their machine to give off no radiation or “healing rays” or whatever. I assume we all believe it to be plausible within this universe. The waving of technology takes the place of being given a substances but at work here is mostly the brain state that something was given to help.
    And a question: Is the believe in the placebo affect a false belief?

  80. Charlie says:

    Hi Paul,
    “Reify” is a very trendy word. What do you mean by it here? Why is there no need to describe information as I have? Does materialism suddenly explain the whole shebang and the only thing that makes sense of the question, immaterial propositional content, is suddenly unnecessary? How so?

    Information in this context is merely a pattern in material things. So we see faces in clouds because our brains are excellent pattern-recognizers, and faces are an important thing evolutionarily for us to recognize.

    Not so, not in the least. Information is not just patterns, information is meaning, “aboutness”, communication. These are not properties of matter.
    In our placebo examples sugar patterns do not cause the brain state which enables the cure, belief does.

    But a materialistic view or definition of information works fine within materialism and it’s sufficient for us.

    That’s a clever assertion.
    If it works so well for us then you can explain the placebo effect and the reason my girlfriend cries when she takes a certain phone call and not another. Just binary digits causing atoms to move, right?

    The one thing I’ve always said, though, is that qualia aren’t explained under materialism. I hope that problem with materialism shows you that I’m not completely biased toward materialism.

    Not to me. It just shows me you have one more little niche carved out where non-materialism of the gaps is unnecessary because one day we’ll have an explanation. But let’s see about that. How do you define qualia, and why is it unexplained by materialism? Why does this un-explanation not apply exactly as well in exactly the same manner to “thought” or “belief”? WHy have you saved them some place in the gao argument?

    So you’ve told me that a lot of things are unnecessary for explanation here. But since you have no explanation without them I’d like to see how you can possibly defend that.

  81. Charlie says:

    Hi Quentin,

    The thought/brain state that you are taking a substance that can help you caused other thoughts/brain states some of which cause other material matter arrangements such as simulating the immune system or whatever.

    What caused the thought/brainstate “this can help me”?
    What caused this little cloud? Why can you never answer this?

    Paul, I don’t see the problem you’re having with figuring out that if a thought can be caused under materialism, especially when thoughts are reducible to a brain state under materialism anyway … then that thought is irrelevant to the whole procedure and how that destroys any reason to accept beliefs as true, or even potentially true.

    Yes, I definitely am not figuring this out. Do you mind cutting and pasting a couple of paragraphs where you have explained this? Is the paragraph of yours directly above this quote an example? Also, this is what Plantinga purports to show right?

    Neaurons fire or they don’t fire, or they fire more or less, or the uptake of chemicals is increased or decreased. These states do not have content. These states can cause behaviour by causing other neurons to act, thereby releasing chemicals, flexing muscles, etc.
    Everyone’s with me so far.
    But this is as far as Paul and Quentin need to go, because this is all there is for them.

    But wait, there are also “thoughts” associated here. We are not just machines chugging along, reacting to stimuli, we are conscious. We have beliefs about those stimuli, and we have beliefs about our actions.
    Those beliefs, to Paul and Quentin, are exactly and nothing more than the brainstates as described above.
    But those brainstates have already accomplished the work necessary. Therefore, these “belief” brainstates are either 1) the exact same thing as the ones already described, in some mysterious way merely interpreted by, I presume, other brainstates, as thoughts or 2) these thought brainstates are created by the brainstates described above as part of the chain reaction.
    In neither case is the content of the thought relevant to the firing of the neurons in the chain reaction to release hormones or to flex muscles – that is already accomplished by the chemico-physico process. The thought content, according to this materialistic view, can be anything, or nothing. Neuron A fires causing Neuron B to fire, causing Chemical C to release, causing Muscle D to flex, etc.
    Oh wait, says the materialist, maybe the thought affected that procedure somewhere. Okay, says I, let’s insert Thought T in there. But Thought T is just a brainstate, anotehr sequence of determined firings of neurons. What the conscious mind is somehow determined to think of Thought T is irrelevant and merely a side-effect of the sequence. It “thinking” can never be separated, in any number of attempts, from the fact that Neuron A caused Neuron B to fire.
    Once again – thought content is irrelevant, it need not correlate to true events, it’s not even obvious that it could have the property of true/false, or even “aboutness”. Therefore, there is no reason to accept that our thoughts and beliefs have any relation tot he outside world, or even any bearing on our actions.

    Except that we know they do. We know our thoughts cause the placebo effect and we know that our thoughts determine our actions to at least some degree some of the time.

  82. SteveK says:

    Does materialism suddenly explain the whole shebang and the only thing that makes sense of the question, immaterial propositional content, is suddenly unnecessary? How so?

    The naturalistic view, which is the scientific view, requires that matter have these (currently) non-scientific, non-traditional properties. If the current, best explanation is that brain matter can have the property of ‘information’ or ‘truth’ or ‘intent’ or ‘aboutness’ then it makes sense to publish this in the scientific media and teach it as current theory in the classrooms. Maybe this is happening and I just don’t know it. The first scientist to discover how to measure these properties gets my vote for a Nobel.

  83. Charlie says:

    Hi Quentin,

    The doctor has the brain pattern that a placebo is an appropriate remedy in this particular case.

    A brain pattern that is what?
    How can a pattern be “that” anything?

    The patient now is given both the sensation of taking physical medicine and the thought (via airwaves) that they should now get better.

    Airwaves are not thoughts. What is the “thought” here. You’ve mentioned airwaves to try to give this some materialistic grounding, but you’ve ignored the distinction between airwaves and thoughts.

    This together begets other brain states that effect other bodily states detailed by Charlie.

    This fine now. Away goes a cascade of brainstates to do what they do.
    But they never got started in your materialistic account because a brain pattern can not be “that a placebo…” and an airwave can not be a thought.

    And a question: Is the believe in the placebo affect a false belief?

    No, but peopel are not cured because they believe in the placebo effect. They believe that they have received medicine r treatment that has curative properties of its own. This is a false belief. The belief itself is the cure and, once again, need not correlate accurately to any environmental reality and therefore correlation is not necessary for selection and therefore ….well you know by now.

  84. Charlie asks:

    What caused the thought/brainstate “this can help me”?

    I think this reply answers that: Quentin Crain replied on August 22nd, 2008 3:53 pm

    What caused this little cloud? Why can you never answer this?

    I am not sure what you are asking me. This question could be difficult to answer if we want to be exact. Do we consider a single water molecule that evaporated from the ocean a “cloud”? I am ok with that. I am even ok with calling lakes “clouds” or clouds “lakes”. But I am not sure if any of that is what you are looking for. It seem like here we are debating terminology.
    Also, thanks a ton for those explanatory paragraphs! I have read it twice and totally do not get or understand the argument and how the conclusion follows. I will keep re-reading until I think I do.

  85. Charlie says:

    Wow, sorry about that ridiculous typing in all of my comments above.

    A few more add-ons for Quentin’s latest.
    You said that the patient received the “thought” via airwaves. And Paul has told me that I need not “reify” information.
    But let’s see about that.
    What if the patient received the thought via written instructions? Or had them implanted by Rekall? or what if he just generated the belief himself?
    How can all these completely different material preconditions result in the exact same result? Why would this coincide with the (irrelevant) fact that the “information” never changed? What are the odds?
    Obviously it is content and proposition that has the causal influence here, and not material.

    If it truly were the placebo doing the work, or the airwaves, or the ink on paper, then a person could be told “this will help” and be cured even if he actually heard “pink elephants rendezvous on the moors”. Strangely, he doesn’t report that this is what he thought. His thoughts, somehow, coincide with the intent of the doctor and the experiment. In the world of adaptive selection, it is his thinking that has affected the cure, and none of the material causes.

  86. SteveK says:

    Charlie is correct, here. If the content of the brain state (thought) is *identical* to the brain state in *every conceivable way* then one or the other is unnecessary as a means to explain causation. The content of the brain state has no bearing on what happens next, and Naturalism shoots itself in the foot (or the head) by explaining away rationality as a means to any end.

  87. Charlie says:

    I think this reply answers that: Quentin Crain replied on August 22nd, 2008 3:53 pm

    Please quote or link, these replies are threaded all over high heaven.
    I’m sure it didn’t answer the question, since I went ahead and asked the question anyway and was inspired by reading just that post to ask my question.

    I am not sure what you are asking me. This question could be difficult to answer if we want to be exact. Do we consider a single water molecule that evaporated from the ocean a “cloud”? I am ok with that. I am even ok with calling lakes “clouds” or clouds “lakes”. But I am not sure if any of that is what you are looking for. It seem like here we are debating terminology.

    I was using your little metaphor, I wasn’t asking about the water cycle.
    I’ll put those two sentences back together so you can see what I meant:

    What caused the thought/brainstate “this can help me”?
    What caused this little cloud? Why can you never answer this?

    What caused the initial thought. This is the same question I’ve asked from the beginning, on both these threads, and which cannot be answered by you or Paul or materialism.

  88. SteveK says:

    Charlie,

    What caused the initial thought. This is the same question I’ve asked from the beginning, on both these threads, and which cannot be answered by you or Paul or materialism.

    They have answered it, but as I said here, and echoing your comments, their answer renders the content of the brain state (the thought) powerless to accomplish anything.

  89. Paul says:

    “Reify” is a very trendy word. What do you mean by it here?

    Making more of something than what it needs to be.

    Why is there no need to describe information as I have? Does materialism suddenly explain the whole shebang and the only thing that makes sense of the question, immaterial propositional content, is suddenly unnecessary? How so?

    I guess that is our disagreement, just re-stated.

    Not so, not in the least. Information is not just patterns, information is meaning, “aboutness”, communication. These are not properties of matter.

    I’m loathe to equate information and meaning, they are distinct. But that just shifts what you claim can’t be accommodated by materialism further down the road, from information to meaning. Now you’re making meaning into Meaning.

    If it works so well for us then you can explain the placebo effect

    A defense of materialism cannot require knowledge of the specifics of every single materialistic effect, which would eventually amount to knowledge of the entire material universe. It only has to be possible in principle, and I laid out the principle to you: the doctor says “here’s a pill,” those airwaves start some neurons going, which changes some hormones, etc.

    and the reason my girlfriend cries when she takes a certain phone call and not another

    More airwaves (specific ones) and neurons.

    Just binary digits causing atoms to move, right?

    Your understanding of materialism doesn’t completely conceal your distaste for it.

    How do you define qualia

    The standard way.

    and why is it unexplained by materialism?

    I can’t see where the “feeling” part of the qualia is in materialism.

    Why does this un-explanation not apply exactly as well in exactly the same manner to “thought” or “belief”?

    Because a feeling “feels (a certain way),” but a thought doesn’t “think” (?) a certain way, it just is. Said in a better way, there is an essential subjective element to qualia that is not required for thoughts.

    Edited: Checking out the Wikipedia page on “qualia” confirms the distinction that should be made between qualia and thoughts for materialism. Charlie, check it out if you can, or I’ll summarize if you ask me.

  90. SteveK says:

    Paul,

    the doctor says “here’s a pill,” those airwaves start some neurons going, which changes some hormones, etc.

    It’s no problem for you that vastly different airwaves (voices, languages, accents) or vastly different wavelenghts (ink on paper) are capable of producing the same result time and time again? A seemly countless number of physical causes can produce the same outcome. What kind of law of physics is this? This is a theory so steeped in non-science and non-evidence as to nearly be blindly religious.

  91. SteveK says:

    seemingly not seemly

    Another strange property of this ‘law’ is that a seemingly countless number of physical causes can render the first cause ‘obsolete’ and uncaused. Such is the case when the doctor says “take this pill now” and your wife says “do it later”

  92. Charlie says:

    Hi Paul,

    Making more of something than what it needs to be.

    Thanks. I didn’t do that.

    Why is there no need to describe information as I have? Does materialism suddenly explain the whole shebang and the only thing that makes sense of the question, immaterial propositional content, is suddenly unnecessary? How so?

    I guess that is our disagreement, just re-stated.

    But it isn’t, not quite. Given materialism the placebo effect, for example, is the number one unexplained thing on New Scientist’s list.
    How can you tell me that we don’t need to address information content or that I am making too much of it when without it there is no explanation? How could you possibly know what is or is not needed for the explanation when, in your view, we don’t have the explanation?

    A defense of materialism cannot require knowledge of the specifics of every single materialistic effect, which would eventually amount to knowledge of the entire material universe. It only has to be possible in principle, and I laid out the principle to you: the doctor says “here’s a pill,” those airwaves start some neurons going, which changes some hormones, etc.

    No, you’ve laid out nothing.
    “Here’s the pill” is not airwaves, its information. I’ve said this many times now – he could have written “here’s the pill” or typed it, or you could have imagined it, or used any other mode of transference. Somehow, with the material changing, and the information staying the same, the result is the same. If A + B = C, and A + D = C, what does that tell you about A with relation to C? What does it tell you about B and D? The constan factor is the immaterial, not the material.

    “and the reason my girlfriend cries when she takes a certain phone call and not another”
    More airwaves (specific ones) and neurons.

    Specific airwaves. What’s so specific about them? Just the right amplitude? Harmonics just right? Specific airwaves with the same content, somehow, as a specific telegram (with just the right ink to paper ratio), or email, or face to face meeting.
    With no reference whatsoever to information or proposition you are avoiding the one thing that can specify one of these from another of its genus and yet be held in common with each of the others.

    “Just binary digits causing atoms to move, right?”
    Your understanding of materialism doesn’t completely conceal your distaste for it.

    Your vague use of language doesn’t conceal your ad hominem

    “How do you define qualia”
    The standard way.

    Thanks. There is no standard way.
    This the wiki:
    “There are many definitions of qualia, which have changed over time.”.

    I can’t see where the “feeling” part of the qualia is in materialism.

    Feelings are brainstates, are they not? Surely, if thoughts and beliefs are there is no reason feelings aren’t.

    Said in a better way, there is an essential subjective element to qualia that is not required for thoughts.

    I think they are equally subjective. Qualia are not merely feelings, they are knowledge experiences. They must be distinguished from the properties of an object – in the same way that a “thought” is, in your scenario, not a property of the specific airwave, but is directly intuited from it. It is a given, and yet subjective. No two people can have the same thought in the same way. No physical description of a brainstate or airwave or ink on paper can convey the actual knowledge of having the thought.

    “John Searle has rejected the notion that the problem of qualia is different from the problem of consciousness itself, arguing that consciousness and qualia are one and the same phenomenon.”

    Other than that I’m going to leave this issue with you as I don’t think it’s that important to this conversation

  93. Charlie says:

    Hi Steve,
    Good comments.
    Brevity, I know, I know ….

  94. SteveK says:

    Also interesting is that oftentimes these external causes (sound or text) produce no effect until the brain state has the property of ‘comprehension’ – whatever that is. A brain state with the property ‘non-comprehension’ results in some other behavioral effect no matter how persistent the external cause. So what causes the state of comprehension to finally form? It’s not the airwaves or the ink blots on the paper, we know that by experience. The airwaves and ink blots are unneccessary as we can shown that we, as babies, can think and comprehend a command without a voice (get up!) and cause a behavioral response.

    So now we have ruled out both thought and external causes as being necessary to cause a significant portion of human behavior. All we need are brain states. Plantinga and Lewis are right.

  95. Charlie says:

    That’s another good point, SteveK, about the external cause having no effect.
    You can note this yourself when listening or reading and you find that, although the source never changes, its impact on you can vary minute by minute. This is the power of attention, or focus.
    In experiment we see that our brains enter an anticipatory phase, a readiness potential, when we are preparing to experience a stimuli. By our willful attention we are already creating measurable effects in our brains (this can go a long way to answering the questions raised by Libet-style experiments).
    External stimuli received prior to or absent this potential will not have the same effect as those experienced during it. It also covers some of the fascination with mirror neurons.

    When it comes to determining what the brain will process, the mind (through the mechanism of selective attention) is at least as strong as the novelty or relevance of the stimulus itself. In fact, Attention can even work its magic in the total absence of sensory stimuli. If an experimenter teaches a monkey to pay attention to a certain quadrant of a video screen then single-cell recordings find that neurons responsible for that area will fire 30-40 percent more often than otherwise, even when there is no there there – even, that is, when the quadrant is empty. So here again we have the mental act of paying attention acting on the activity of the brain circuits, in this case turning them up before the appearance of a stimulus. fmRIs fins that activity spikes in human brains, too, when volunteers wait expectantly for an object to appear in a portion of a video monitor. Even before an image appears, attention has already stacked the neuronal deck, activating the visual cortex and, even more strongly, the frontal and parietal lobes – the regions of the brain where attention seems to originate. As a result, when the stimulus finally shows up it evokes an even greater response in the visual cortex than if attention had not primed the brain. This, says Robert Desimone (who happens to be Leslie Ungerleider’s husband) , “is the most interesting finding. In attention without a visual stimulus, you get activation in the same cells that would respond to that stimulus, as if the cells are primed. You also get activation in the prefrontal cortex and parietal lobes. That seems like strong evidence [he chose his words carefully 🙂 ] that these lobes exert top-down control on what the sensory system processes.” To summarize, then, selective attention – reflecting willful activation of one circuit over another – can nudge the brain into processing one signal and not another.

    Jeffrey M. Schwartz, The Mind And The Brain, page 330, 331

    But then the study turned up what has become a key finding in the science of attention. Active, focused attention to a specific attribute, such as color, the y discovered, ramps up the activity of brain regions that process color. In other words, the parts of the brain that process color in an automatic, “hard-wired” way are significantly and specifically activated by the willful act of focusing on color. Activity in brain regions that passively process motion are amplified when volunteers focus attention on motion; areas that passively process shape get ramped up when volunteers focus on shape. Brain activity in a circuit that is physiologically dedicated to a particular task is markedly amplified by the mental act of focusing attention on the feature that the circuit is hard-wired to process.

    333

    The following year another team of neuroscientists confirmed that attention exerts real, physical effects.

    The researchers found that, in the subjects paying attention to the vibrations, activation in the somatosensory cortex region representing the fingertips increased 13 percent compared to activation in subjects receiving identical stimulation but not paying attention. 333
    … We can go further: not only do mental states matter tot he physical activity of the brain, but they contribute to the final perception even more powerfully than the stimulus itself. 337

    Let em repeat: when stimuli identical to those that induce plastic changes in an attending brain are instead delivered to a nonattending brain, there is no induction of cortical plasticity. Attention, in other words, must be paid. 338

    The role of attention throws into stark relief the power of mind over brain, for it is a mental state (attention) that has the ability to direct neuroplasticity. 339

  96. Charlie says:

    This is more appropriate on the Plantinga thread, but since this thread has become a bit of a surrogate for it I’ll add it here.
    This is Moreland’s formulation of two arguments from reason. The second one, by it’s dependence on teleology and final causes bears much in common with our discussion here. Reasons as causes are not accounted for under naturalism, in a way similar to our concern about beliefs/thoughs as causes. In fact, reasons as causes actually rely upon beliefs/thoughts so the argument lends quite a deal of weight to the Plantinga version.
    The conclusion is certainly the same – N&E is self-defeating.
    http://www.scriptoriumdaily.com/2008/08/04/naturalism-human-persons-and-rationality-admitting-the-problem/

  97. Paul says:

    Comment deleted by Paul.

  98. I totally do not understand that point. I think this is where I am failing…
    When you say:

    If the content of the brain state (thought) is *identical* to the brain state in *every conceivable way* then one or the other is unnecessary as a means to explain causation.

    Since the brain state == thought neither is unnecessary because there are not two things.

  99. SteveK says:

    One *or* the other is unnecessary because there are not two things. If A=B in every conceivable way, there is only one thing. With A=B, there is the possibility that two identical things exist, but then you’ve done away with the ‘every conceivable way’ requirement.

  100. SteveK says:

    Charlie,

    Reasons as causes are not accounted for under naturalism, in a way similar to our concern about beliefs/thoughs as causes. In fact, reasons as causes actually rely upon beliefs/thoughts so the argument lends quite a deal of weight to the Plantinga version.
    The conclusion is certainly the same – N&E is self-defeating.

    I’m certain that many have sorted out the details of the causal chain but my understanding is it goes something like awareness=>comprehension=>(something)=>reasons=>(something)=>behavior

    Tests have shown, and we know from experience, that we can interrupt most of these causal chains *at will*. This is no random feat. I can will myself to become unaware of external causes or I can will myself to not comprehend something or I can will myself to reason incorrectly. All of these effect my behavior and thus my evolutionary future.

    The cause of the will has no definitive link to any external source. We can test this, and have tested this, under countless physical conditions and the will shows up again and again – just as predicted. If the will is a caused physical brain state, it looks as if no definitive thing outside the brain is causing it to appear – and it’s appearance can become as non-random as a clock.

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