Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Reply to an OB post

My comment is too long for Overcoming Bias, so I am posting it here instead. The subject is apropos for this blog. You can read Eliezer's post for more context.

Eliezer: Any one of those Third Alternatives stretches credulity less than a soul - that is (a) an imperishable dualistic stuff floating alongside the brain which (b) malfunctions exactly as the brain is neurologically damaged and yet (c) survives the brain's entire death.

If I yank capacitors from my radio, randomly reconnect wires or otherwise damage the device, I might find the sound becoming distorted, the station changing, or the entire radio becoming silent. That does not mean, of course, that the music is somehow stored inside the radio.

I am not sure that the religious concept of "soul" brings anything of value to the discussion. A better concept is "survival of consciousness". And dualism is not required, neutral monism or idealism will do just fine. Given the failure of neuroscience and computational theories of mind to supply any decent explanation for subjectivity as well as the vast amount of evidence, including many scientific studies showing a non-material aspect to consciousness, I think avoiding a premature raising of the "mission accomplished" banner for reductionism would be wise.

Unless someone has investigated this topic thoroughly, reading the best material from each side, they are quite simply "excuse[ing] a fixed previous belief from criticism". Since I know the good folk at OB would prefer to avoid that at all costs, here's some homework. Start with Chapter 3. I think by the time you finish that chapter, your faith in reductionism will be sorely challenged. Neurobiologist David Presti of UC Berkeley had this to say about Irreducible Mind:

This is an extraordinary book. Despite the awesome achievements of 20th-century neuroscience in increasing our knowledge about the workings of the human brain, little progress has been made in the scientific understanding of mental phenomena. This book infuses new hope into the issue of scientific approaches to the study of these phenomena. In the arena of neuroscience of mind, it is the most exciting reading to have crossed my path in years.

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