Big brain evolution: mind/brain philosophy (Evolution)

by David Turell @, Sunday, October 14, 2018, 18:07 (743 days ago) @ David Turell

Dr. Egnor again:

"Seth asks: “How does consciousness happen?”. He answers: “…somehow, within each of our brains, the combined activity of many billions of neurons—each one a tiny biological machine—is generating our conscious experience…”

"There are three fallacies in this one sentence. In my earlier post, I pointed out the fallacy of Seth’s assumption that rational thought is a material power of the brain, which it is not. In this post, I’ll discuss Seth’s mereological fallacy, a fundamental fallacy which is endemic in neuroscience.

"The mereological fallacy is the confusion of the part for the whole. It is the nonsensical attribution of abilities to the part that can only be abilities of the whole. It is the mereological fallacy to say that my mouth speaks. Actually, I speak, using my mouth. It is the mereological fallacy to say that my feet walk. Actually, I walk, using my feet.

"This fallacy is employed incessantly in neuroscience. Neuroscientists commonly claim that the brain or a part of the brain understands, or imagines, or sees, or wills. For example, we are told, variously, that “the amygdala simultaneously comforts and aggravates”; elsewhere, it “attaches emotional significance to events and memories” while the “hippocampus, meanwhile, reminds us which courses of action are congruent with our mood” and the “ prefrontal cortex calms the amygdala, helping us regulate our emotions” A large crowd, it would seem, and each has a different agenda…

"But of course, the brain and its parts do none of those things. The brain understands nothing, imagines nothing, sees nothing (it’s dark in the skull and the brain has no eyes anyway!). It wills nothing. We understand, we imagine, we see, and we will, using our brains.


"Despite denials, many if not most neuroscientists do actually believe that the brain or parts of it have human powers, or at least that human powers—powers of the whole human being—are located in some fashion in brain centers or “modules.” It is undeniably true that the normal exercise of some powers by human beings—memory or vision or movement, etc.—is dependent on function in certain regions of the brain. That is, activity in certain brain regions may be necessary, and even at times sufficient, for the exercise of certain human abilities. My speech area in my left frontal lobe must be working properly in order for me to be able to speak normally. But that does not mean that my left frontal lobe “speaks” or that my speech is “located” in that part of my brain. I speak and my speech is an act rather than a location.

"Surely, the materialist would continue, such talk of brains doing “people” things is, even so, a harmless metaphor. But it’s not harmless if most neuroscientists believe the mereological fallacy, to at least some extent, and incorporate it into their research. For example, one of the hotter topics in neuroscience is ‘the binding problem’. Here is an abstract from Neurobiology of Attention:


"While the scientific study of the interconnections between brain regions is good and useful science, the dilemma of “what account[s] for perception of a unified world” is a false dilemma created entirely by the mereological fallacy. Perceptions are not occurring in scattered brain regions, so explaining “unification” is unnecessary. Our brain “modules” (or whatever jargon is currently fashionable) perceive nothing because perception is something only whole persons do.


"In neuroscience, entire research avenues are devoted to gibberish because neuroscientists accept the mereological fallacy and base their scientific investigations on logical nonsense. Studying regions of the brain to understand the binding problem is like studying Lincoln’s mouth to understand the Gettysburg address. Studying Lincoln’s mouth may have some scientific value (to a dentist), but it is a waste of time if you want to study his speech, which is given by him, not by his mouth."

Comment: More of a dualistic view from a pediatric neurosurgeon. He feels the mind is an immaterial whole which resides in the brain and uses it.

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