25 February 2009

Mind/Brain and the idiocy of NPR

This is one of the worst NPR articles I've ever had the misfortune of listening to (and then reading again because I was so worked up). NPR "Science" article or listen to it here.
I was going to write out my thoughts but they are much too long. I'll just say two quick things:

First off, the mind/body problem is nonsense. There is no mind body problem, though for some reason most philosophers will tell you there is one. Most scientist will tell you there isn't and then proceed to give a nonsense answer about how there are only bodies. Newton killed the idea of the actual existence of physical bodies and no one has altered that empirical concept since: "a purely materialistic or mechanistic physics, impossible", he says. Not that I think you should just take his word for it; what he meant is that there's no proof a physical objects in light of action at a distance (what we now call the Theory of Fields and what he called Forces). This is again said by John Locke as "[god] annexed effects to motion which we can in no way conceive motion able to produce." (I'm almost positive that Locke didn't believe in God.) All this remains the case, there is no evidence for the existence of bodies -that is, of anything physical being ontologically substantive-. The Buddha and especially Nagarjuna's interpretation of the theory of emptiness, did the same much before either Newton or John Locke, but that is incidental.

For some reason one of the surgeons interviewed thinks this might amount to proof of God's Intelligent Design. What hogwash. This is just the argument from ignorance: basically it is an argument of this type (or so it was given in this NPR piece), if Evolution is correct then it should be able to explain complex systems. Evolution cannot explain complex systems, therefore Intelligent Design is true.
You see how the fact that Evolution is said, erroneously, not to be able to account for complex systems is in no way connected to the theory of Intelligent Design! That is, disproving one theory does not in itself provide support for any other theory. The logical form is If A then B, not B, therefore C. You can see that this mode of thought is fallacious.
(Image from SEED.COM)
"There is nothing about neurons that scientifically would lead you to infer consciousness from them. They're masses of gelatinous carbon and hydrogen and nitrogen and oxygen, just like other kinds of flesh. And why would flesh have first-person experience? So, even logically, it doesn't hang together."

Nonsense, there are plenty about neurons that would lead you to infer consciousness: this is as much nonsense as saying I wouldn't get tired if I walked up a hill because the hill doesn't have any substantive ontological status. But of course, that isn't even what the man is arguing... he is arguing that there is something special about PEOPLE that makes us different from all other things: that is a claim not born out by any facts. Understanding that bodies are not truly existing does not lead to the conclusion that what we call a body and what we call a mind are separable -they're not. They are dependently arising phenomenon; not real in themselves which arise only together: they are dependent, as in any subject/object relationship. That is again to say that just because bodies don't exist doesn't mean or imply anything about Intelligent Design or Evolution. And if these antievolutionists want to know something about how complex systems come about, they might look into Systems Biology or Complexity Theory.