• Argument against the soul – Stephen Cave

    Here is a decent essay from author and philosopher Stephen Cave, twinned with his book Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization (Crown, 2012).

    His bio is reproduced below.

    What Science Really Says About the Soul

    BY STEPHEN CAVE

    Nathalie was hemorrhaging badly. She felt weak, cold, and the pain in her abdomen was excruciating. A nurse ran out to fetch the doctor, but by the time they arrived she knew she was slipping away. The doctor was shouting instructions when quite suddenly the pain stopped. She felt free—and found herself floating above the drama, looking down at the bustle of activity around her now still body.

    “We’ve lost her,” she heard the doctor say, but Nathalie was already moving on and upwards, into a tunnel of light. She first felt a pang of anxiety at leaving her husband and children, but it was soon overwhelmed by a feeling of profound peace; a feeling that it would all be okay. At the end of the tunnel, a figure of pure radiance was waiting with arms wide open.

    Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization (book cover)

    This, or something like it, is how millions imagine what it will be like to die. In 2009, over 70 percent of Americans said they believe that they, like Nathalie, have a soul that will survive the end of their body.1 That figure may well now be higher after the phenomenal success of two recent books describing vivid near death experiences: one from an innocent—the four year old Todd Burpo—the other from the opposite: a Harvard scientist and former skeptic, neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander.2Both argue that when their brains stopped working, their souls floated off to experience a better place.

    This is an attractive view and a great consolation to those who have lost loved ones or who are contemplating their own mortality. Many also believe this view to be beyond the realm of science, to concern a different dimension into which no microscope can peer. Dr. Alexander, for example, said in an interview with the New York Times, “Our spirit is not dependent on the brain or body; it is eternal, and no one has one sentence worth of hard evidence that it isn’t.”3

    But he is wrong. The evidence of science, when brought together with an ancient argument, provides a very powerful case against the existence of a soul that can carry forward your essence once your body fails. The case runs like this: with modern brain-imaging technology, we can now see how specific, localized brain injuries damage or even destroy aspects of a person’s mental life. These are the sorts of dysfunctions that Oliver Sacks brought to the world in his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat.4 The man of the title story was a lucid, intelligent music teacher, who had lost the ability to recognize faces and other familiar objects due to damage to his visual cortex.

    Since then, countless examples of such dysfunction have been documented—to the point that every part of the mind can now be seen to fail when some part of the brain fails. The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has studied many such cases.5 He records a stroke victim, for example, who had lost any capacity for emotion; patients who lost all creativity following brain surgery; and others who lost the ability to make decisions. One man with a brain tumor lost what we might call his moral character, becoming irresponsible and disregarding of social norms. I saw something similar in my own father, who also had a brain tumor: it caused profound changes in his personality and capacities before it eventually killed him.

    The crux of the challenge then is this: those who believe they have a soul that survives bodily death typically believe that this soul will enable them, like Nathalie in the story above, to see, think, feel, love, reason and do many other things fitting for a happy afterlife. But if we each have a soul that enables us to see, think and feel after the total destruction of the body, why, in the cases of dysfunction documented by neuroscientists, do these souls not enable us to see, think and feel when only a small portion of the brain is destroyed?

    To make the argument clear, we can take the example of sight. If either your eyes or the optic nerves in your brain are sufficiently badly damaged, you will go blind. This tells us very clearly that the faculty of sight is dependent upon functioning eyes and optic nerves.

    Yet curiously, when many people imagine their soul leaving their body, they imagine being able to see—like Nathalie, looking down on her own corpse surrounded by frantic doctors.6 They believe, therefore, that their soul can see. But if the soul can see when the entire brain and body have stopped working, why, in the case of people with damaged optic nerves, can’t it see when only part of the brain and body have stopped working? In other words, if blind people have a soul that can see, why are they blind?

    So eminent a theologian as Saint Thomas Aquinas, writing 750 years ago, believed this question had no satisfactory answer.7 Without its body—without eyes, ears and nose—he thought the soul would be deprived of all senses, waiting blindly for the resurrection of the flesh to make it whole again. Aquinas concluded that the body-less soul would have only those powers that (in his view) were not dependent upon bodily organs: faculties such as reason and understanding.

    But now we can see that these faculties are just as dependent upon a bodily organ—the brain—as sight is upon the eyes. Unlike in Aquinas’s day, we can now keep many people with brain damage alive and use neuroimaging to observe the correlations between that damage and their behavior. And what we observe is that the destruction of certain parts of the brain can destroy those cognitive faculties once thought to belong to the soul. So if he had had the evidence of neuroscience in front of him, we can only imagine that Aquinas himself would have concluded that these faculties also stop when the brain stops.

    In fact, evidence now shows that everything the soul is supposed to be able to do—think, remember, love—fails when some relevant part of the brain fails. Even consciousness itself—otherwise there would be no general anesthetics. A syringe full of chemicals is sufficient to extinguish all awareness. For anyone who believes something like the Nathalie story—that consciousness can survive bodily death—this is an embarrassing fact. If the soul can sustain our consciousness after death, when the brain has shut down permanently, why can it not do so when the brain has shut down temporarily?

    Mapping the Mind (book cover)

    Some defenders of the soul have, of course, attempted to answer this question. They argue, for example, that the soul needs a functioning body in this world, but not in the next. One view is that the soul is like a broadcaster and the body like a receiver—something akin to a television station and a TV set. (Though as our body is also the source of our sensory input, we have to imagine the TV set also has a camera on top feeding images to the distant station.)

    We know that if we damage our TV set, we get a distorted picture. And if we break the set, we get no picture at all. The naive observer would believe the program was therefore gone. But we know that it is really still being transmitted; that the real broadcaster is actually elsewhere. Similarly, the soul could still be sending its signal even though the body is no longer able to receive it.

    This response sounds seductive, but helps little. First, it does not really address the main argument at all: Most believers expect their soul to be able to carry forward their mental life with or without the body; this is like saying that the TV signal sometimes needs a TV set to transform it into the picture, but once the set is kaput, can make the picture all by itself. But if it can make the picture all by itself, why does it sometimes act through an unreliable set?

    Second, changes to our bodies impact on our minds in ways not at all analogous to how damage to a TV set changes its output, even if we take into account damage to the camera too. The TV analogy claims there is something that remains untouched by such damage, some independent broadcaster preserving the real program even if it is distorted by bad reception. But this is precisely what the evidence of neuroscience undermines. Whereas damage to the TV set or camera might make the signal distorted or fuzzy, damage to our brains much more profoundly alters our minds. As we noted above, such damage can even change our moral views, emotional attachments, and the way we reason.

    Which suggests we are nothing like a television; but much more like, for example, a music box: the music is not coming from elsewhere, but from the workings within the box itself. When the box is damaged, the music is impaired; and if the box is entirely destroyed, then the music stops for good.

    There is much about consciousness that we still do not understand. We are only beginning to decipher its mysteries, and may never fully succeed. But all the evidence we have suggests that the wonders of the mind—even near-death and out of body experiences—are the effect of neurons firing. Contrary to the beliefs of the vast majority of people on Earth, from Hindus to New Age spiritualists, consciousness depends upon the brain and shares its fate to the end. END

    References
    1. What People Do and Do Not Believe In, The Harris Poll, December 15, 2009
    2. Burpo, T and Vincent, L. 2010. Heaven is For Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back. Thomas Nelson Publishers; Alexander, Eben. 2012. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. Simon & Schuster.
    3. Kaufman, L. 2012. “Readers Join Doctor’s Journey to the Afterworld’s Gates.”The New York Times, November 25, page C1.
    4. Sacks, Oliver. 1985. The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. New York: Simon & Schuster.
    5. Damasio, Antonio. 1994. Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York: Putnam Publishing.
    6. Descriptions of heaven also involve being able to see, from Dante to Heaven is For Real, cited above.
    7. Aquinas’s views on the soul can be found in his Summa Theologica and elsewhere. Particularly relevant to the question of the soul’s limited faculties are Part 1, question 77, article 8 (“Whether all the powers remain in the soul when separated from the body?”) and supplement to the Third Part, question 70, article 1 (“Whether the sensitive powers remain in the separated soul?”), in which he writes: “Now it is evident that certain operations, whereof the soul’s powers are the principles, do not belong to the soul properly speaking but to the soul as united to the body, because they are not performed except through the medium of the body—such as to see, to hear, and so forth. Hence it follows that such like powers belong to the united soul and body as their subject, but to the soul as their quickening principle, just as the form is the principle of the properties of a composite being. Some operations, however, are performed by the soul without a bodily organ—for instance to understand, to consider, to will: wherefore, since these actions are proper to the soul, the powers that are the principles thereof belong to the soul not only as their principle but also as their subject. Therefore, since so long as the proper subject remains its proper passions must also remain, and when it is corrupted they also must be corrupted, it follows that these powers which use no bodily organ for their actions must needs remain in the separated body, while those which use a bodily organ must needs be corrupted when the body is corrupted: and such are all the powers belonging to the sensitive and the vegetative soul.”

    Stephen Cave is a writer, philosopher and critic. He has a Ph.D. in metaphysics from the University of Cambridge and, before dedicating himself to writing, worked as a British diplomat and policy advisor. Stephen has since written on many philosophical, ethical and scientific subjects, from human nature to robot warriors. He writes regularly for the Financial Times, and has also written for the New York TimesGuardianWiredand others. His book, Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization (Crown, 2012) was a New Scientist best book of the year. He lives in Berlin.

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    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

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    • it is interesting to note in this regard that the biblical texts also have gone through an evolution. In earlier versions the soul does not exists, but it is stated that “man when he dies is like the beast in the field” no soul, no afterlife.

      It seems that this was not very enticing to the tribal masses to convince them to stick with their Yahweh, so the concept of an indestructible soul was developed with a reward in the also then postulated afterlife.

      I always wonder – what kind of energy would be necessary to brake the barrier that divides our universe from an “afterlife”. Since no such realm could be found in any experiments with any power, the energy to overcome the barrier must be immense – more than a complete conversion of a given body into energy could produce….

      • My sister used to get sleep paralysis badly and I have had it twice. Scary stuff.

        FYI, check this:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zpYn3aha7E – completely what you are talking about!

        Some interesting points, Peter. Thanks!

        • Daydreamer1

          I have had three bouts of sleep paralysis. The first, when I was about 20, scared the hell out of me as it felt like some creature I could not see was sat on my chest, but at the same time pinning my whole body. The second was not as bad, but still scary. By the third I was thoroughly engrossed within the skeptical community and well aware of the arguments. Humour helped me through it; I spent the experience laughing in my mind – since my body was unable to – and enjoying the quite rare moment for all the experience it was worth. I will do the exact same if I ever have another.

          (Actually that reminds me of a comment I made about protecting yourself from Demons. ‘It really appears that the best defense is to not believe in them. They seem to hate that and leave you well alone’; I would go one further now though and threaten them with scientific examination – they really hate that and run as fast as they can.)

      • Ian Wardell

        Kraut I would speculate that NDEs and alien abductions might have a common origin. However not as something which the brain wholly spontaneously creates, but as an interpretation of some encounter with another reality.

        In what way does the brain deceive?

        • Thomas Taylor

          “In what way does the brain deceive?” I am fairly adapt at
          perception issues, would you like for me to list the ways the brain deceives? I
          warn you now, it will be a very long post.

          • Ian Wardell

            Jeez, you are everywhere! Anyway a piece of meat can’t deceive as only conscious beings can deceive.

            • Thomas Taylor

              If people attended to all the information presented to them, they would quickly become overwhelmed. The eye alone contains roughly 125,000,000 rod cells and 6,400,000 cone cells (Osterberg, G. 1935) displaying an approximate 210 x 135° visual field with “pixels” averaging 0.000048 inches requiring about 1.5 trillion “pixel” fragments transmitted as high as 500 frames per second (Cater K.2004). If this information is converted to computer memory with a “pixel” equaling one bit, information size would equate to 87.3115 gigabits of information every second. This is only visual information; adding in auditory, tactic, and olfactory information would increase that number exponentially. Much of this information has to be filtered before conciseness is applied to the “picture.” Depending on how this information is filtered it is the hardware deceiving not “conciseness.”

              P.S. You are on the same website our last conversation was on… I don’t see why common sense shocks you so often.

            • Ian Wardell

              Vision, sound, smell, taste are not constituted by information.

            • Thomas Taylor

              “not constituted by information.” You think they are constituted by magic fairies? Did the mystical smell fairy bring the scent of an apple pie to your nose?

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    • John Grove

      Getting into this book now.

      • Let me know how you get on. I am doing a Tippling Philosopher’s meeting on Thursday night about the soul and life after death. Pity – would liked to have read this!

    • Apersonwithasoul

      Couldn’t a soul be merely thought of as the quality of life in a body, whether that body be a plant, animal or human body. Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas call it “the first act of a body, capable of life.” Now when we say that it is the life of a body, it must be this “life” which drives the body to do things in order to preserve that life, using the instrument of the brain.

    • Clifford Greenblatt

      There is a peer reviewed paper that defends the concept of the personal soul. The title of the paper is “David Chalmers’ Principle of Organizational Invariance and the Personal Soul.” For the moment, it is the featured Modern Library paper on the infidels.org website. The permanent link to the article is http://infidels.org/library/modern/clifford_greenblatt/personal-soul.html

      • Thanks. Is it any good, though?

        • Clifford Greenblatt

          Being a peer reviewed paper defending the concept of the personal soul and being published as such on a major atheist website, the paper had to pass significant critical scrutiny. The editor found the paper to be a useful addition to the Secular Web Modern Library as it presents a succinct and understandable summary of David Chalmers’ views. The paper also exposes a fallacy in Chalmers’ dancing qualia argument.

          The debate about the personal soul is complicated by a diversity of definitions as to what it is. All the arguments against the personal soul that I have seen attack a straw man concept and do not hold up against concept presented in the paper.

          • Ian Wardell

            Yes skeptics merely content themselves with attacking straw man conceptions of the soul/self.

            • Thomas Taylor

              Are you seriously trying to complain about other people attacking straw men as their only form of discourse? Do we need to link your blog here too?

            • Ian Wardell

              I have never in my life attacked a straw man so far as I am able to recollect. Materialists accuse me of attacking straw man — they used to do that all the time on the James Randi discussion board — however the problem was that these people were philosophically unsophisticated and didn’t understand the implications of their own position.

            • Thomas Taylor

              From http://ian-wardell.blogspot.co.uk/

              “The apparent solidity of objects is — scientists allege — merely the repulsive force between the electrons in the tips of our fingers and the electrons near the surface of the “touched” object.” This is not a reference to all scientist, straw man.

              “Science is purely in the business of describing the connections between our various perceptual experiences.” This is not a reference to all science, straw man.

              “according to George Berkeley, the apple I see and the apple
              I touch are not literally caused by a mind-independent apple out there causing both.” Nice and useful reference but as Berkeley is long dead I am sure he has no clue what apple you see or touch, straw man.

              “The materialists (and Buddhists) claim this is an illusion.”
              Did you ask all of them?

              “But the materialist and Buddhist are claiming much more than this. They claim that even from one second to the next there is no actual enduring self. To see this we need to understand the distinction between alterational change and existential change.”

              “But — so the materialist will argue — the exact same position pertains in our everyday second by second existence.”

              That was only part of the first page, I would prefer not to go through the entire thing again or to cite the “teleportation example.” I could also point to the comments sections and to the other post where you were repeatedly called out for using straw man arguments. http://www.skepticink.com/gps/2013/04/13/therapist-or-mediu/#comment-1366936024 for anyone that wants to look for themselves.

              I also assume that your comments about everyone being wrong but you is just a reflection of your pitiful existence that relies on belittling others to artificially inflate your narcissistic ego.

            • Ian Wardell

              1. Why does one have a sense of resistance on touching an object then?

              2. I stand by what I say here. Science puts forth models, but ultimately they are all hypotheses, even the notion of a reality existing out there independent of consciousness.

              3. I’m simply saying what Berkeley believed. The fact he’s now dead is an irrelevance.

              4. Some materialists believe in a self, but those materialists don’t understand the consequences of their own metaphysic. I’ll agree I don’t know what all Buddhists believe. Not sure if “straw man” would be the correct terminology though!

              Everyone being wrong? What are you blathering on about? Nobody actually addressed my arguments in that link. So not wrong as such, merely irrelevant.

            • Thomas Taylor

              “1. Why does one have a sense of resistance on touching an object then?” I am not all scientist, to gather this information you need to question all scientist alive, dead, and yet to be born.

              “2. I stand by what I say here. Science puts forth models,
              but ultimately they are all hypotheses, even the notion of a reality existing out there independent of consciousness.”
              Much of science does not concern itself with connections. One false
              example would disprove your entire postulate. I know a guy that studies quarks, you can’t perceive them in any way and he could care less how they are connected to anything. He simply studies them as they are. You build a false field and assign it to all scientist past present and future and this is not verifiable. Even your current hypotheses statement does not apply to all science, do you truly deny the existence of gravity?

              “3. I’m simply saying what Berkeley believed. The fact he’s
              now dead is an irrelevance.” You build a false “straw” man. I could care less about his relevance in that situation. I care that you stated you never use straw man arguments and clearly you do.

              “4. Some materialists believe in a self, but those
              materialists don’t understand the consequences of their own metaphysic. I’ll agree I don’t know what all Buddhists believe. Not sure if “straw man” would be the correct terminology though!” You build a false field “materialist and Buddhist” and assign beliefs and statements to them.

              “Everyone being wrong? What are you blathering on about?
              Nobody actually addressed my arguments in that link. So not wrong as such, merely irrelevant.” A few quotes to show you as your memory seems weak. “ Materialists accuse me of attacking straw man — they used to do that all the time on the James Randi discussion board — however the problem was that these people were philosophically unsophisticated and didn’t understand the implications of their own position.”

              And “(1) I have presented the essence of my proof on various discussion boards. Not one person appears to understand it!
              Possibly this might have something to do with the fact that the discussion boards I participate in are predominantly peopled by philosophical materialists. Or it could just be the case that my argument is hopelessly flawed! However, I don’t think it is :-)”

              As far as the other post, if they want to quote themselves the people from there and aware of this post, others can read and look if they want as you do not have the ability to change other peoples post.

            • Ian Wardell

              Read to the end of “2”. {sighs} This is just a waste of time. You really have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.

              Stop replying to my posts. They are all utterly irrelevant to anything I have said.

              Is there a block option on this site??

            • Thomas Taylor

              Here is a link to what a straw man is as you don’t seem to grasp it http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man

            • Jeremy Corney

              For an argument to be accused of failing a “straw man” test, I think it would have to be grossly misrepresenting the straw man’s case. The first example seems a fair summation of the view that the solidity of the material world is a result of electrical force. Therefore it cannot be a straw man argument.
              Neither are the other examples obviously straw man arguments. Possibly simplifications, or generalizations, but that is a quite different issue.

            • Thomas Taylor

              “The first example seems a fair summation of the view that the solidity of the material world is a result of electrical force.” Except for the issue that all scientist do not allege that. Here is an entire 52 page forum of scientific minds arguing about that http://www.sciforums.com/showthread.php?135792-The-illusion-of-material-solidity That is the issue with all inclusive statements, if you find one example of the statement being wrong than the statement is false. In science nothing is ever 100% so all inclusive statements are meaningless and arguments attempting to create a unified scientific being have to rely on straw men.

              The second argument is also all inclusive, “Science is purely in the business of describing the connections between our various perceptual experiences.” Most naturalistic sciences are attempting to describe how they are, not how they connect to anything. There are vast areas of science that could care less about “our various perceptual experiences” when was the last time you perceived a gravity wave from 10b light years away? The main areas of science that deal with what he was referring to are engineers and applied sciences not all science.

              As for the Berkley reference, unless you are a 18th century Irish philosopher you cannot know how they would respond to situations presented, at best you can use direct quotes from them (and this
              does not look like 18 century Irish writing) or refer to how you would assume they would respond, this statement would require Berkley to transcend death to see the exact situation and respond to it (ouija board maybe?) the way to correct this would be to say “according to my interpretation of Berkley.” See how that resolves the issue of resurrecting the dead? If you would like to learn more about this issue I recommend reading Wittgenstein’s works.

              The 4th statement is once again all inclusive this is a trend that continues through the rest of them. Normally people will use these all inclusive statements to simplify things but when you are attempting to use rhetoric to fight against the entirety of a group it becomes important to accurately represent the group.

            • Jeremy Corney

              No, Thomas. Those are not all scientific minds. There is no other force on the scale of “solidity”, say the hammer, or chair, that some of them refer to, that has any scientific relevance. There are only 4 forces known to science (strong, weak, electromagnetic and gravitational). So I think you are arguing for the sake of arguing, not to achieve consensus. That is a pointless exercise, so goodbye.

            • Thomas Taylor

              Hmm Jeremy from the UK using the same basic form as Ian from the UK… ok here we go

              “Those are not all scientific minds.” Did you interview them? Do
              you know them personally? What qualifications do you have to say who is scientific and who is not? Looking you up on google shows that your status as an “Opinionated nobody” is indeed correct.

              “There is no other force on the scale of ‘solidity’” a little school may assist you in this http://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/newtlaws/Lesson-2/Types-of-Forces but if you wish to go even more basic to those 4 you still have a flaw in the argument as the electromagnetic force is carried by photons that have no individual charge or mass http://sciencepark.etacude.com/particle/forces2.php
              this means that in that “fundamental force” photons do not contain
              electrons to repulse objects you have to go up a level to get that into the 9 forces that you just discounted.

              “That is a pointless exercise, so goodbye.” This must be a UK thing…

            • Ian Wardell

              Feel free to specify what I’ve said anywhere on my blog which you think is an example of me attacking a straw man.

            • Over at GPS where you attacked what you thought naturalism necessarily entailed. Clayton took you to task.

        • Ian Wardell

          Read section 8 of the paper. When talking about “life after death” thoughtful people who advocate this possibility do not have the same conception of the self that materialists are obliged to espouse. Essentially Mr Cave is begging the question since he’s conflating ones psychological propensities with the self or soul.

        • Ian Wardell

          He’s bound to say yes since the guy who linked to it is also the author! :-)

          What he says at the beginning of section 12 is key:

          “There are no provisions in present-day physical science for the personal
          soul hypothesis. From a scientific perspective, it is difficult to see
          why conscious experience with some personally unique property would be
          in an intimate association with a particular physical system for many
          years. However, present-day science offers no explanation for the
          existence of conscious experience in the first place, regardless of
          whether or not the personal soul hypothesis is true”.

          So science leaves no room for a soul. Unfortunately it leaves no room for the existence of consciousness either!

          So skeptics in appealing to science that it leaves no room for a soul must also reject the existence of consciousness too. Otherwise they are not being consistent.

    • Ian Wardell

      Stephen Cave says:

      “Since then, countless examples of such dysfunction have been documented—to the point that every part of the mind can now be seen to fail when some part of the brain fails. The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has studied many such cases.5 He records a stroke victim, for example, who had lost any capacity for emotion; patients who lost all creativity following brain surgery; and others who lost the ability to make decisions”.

      And of course we also have “acquired savant syndrome”. A damaged brain somehow elicits extraordinary abilities and skills. How come Mr Cave fails to mention them? Could it be because it is awkward for the brain produces consciousness thesis? And what about terminal lucidity?

      • Very deep but very narrow memory is awkward for brain consciousness how, exactly? It has been replicated using TMS and is a function of damage to the anterior temporal lobe. I hardly see this as supporting your supernatural consciousness theory! Considering we are in the early stages of understanding autism, then fully getting to grips with savant syndrome can hardly be expected right now.

        Your entire approach is a god of the gaps argument from ignorance.

        • Ian Wardell

          Savants don’t just simply have prodigious memories. It’s a number of skills. This is inexplicable under the brain produces consciousness thesis since a damaged brain ought not to *improve* certain skills.

          I’m not advocating a supernatural thesis for consciousness. I have no idea what you mean by “supernatural”. How could the question of whether consciousness is “supernatural” depend upon whether it is produced by the brain?

          And besides, if “god” is supernatural, then necessarily we are too. One cannot label an infinite mind as supernatural but finite minds as not being supernatural. They are either both natural or both supernatural.

          • “This is inexplicable under the brain produces consciousness thesis since a damaged brain ought not to *improve* certain skills.”

            Er, WTF.? Is that seriously your assertion/conclusion/premise?

            No wonder you believe what you want. That is THE most unrigorous conclusion out there.

          • Thomas Taylor

            I have attempted to correct you on your use of “consciousness” before but you still fail to use correct terminology. As this article points out “consciousness” is missing many factors that you attribute to meaningful life. The phrase you are grasping for is cognition as it assumes the conclusion of sensory input and any applicable mental acrobatics but even this has issues tied to it. This is the issue with relying on 18th century philosophy for your entire world view, they don’t update any of the terminology for you so it becomes difficult to parrot it back and make sense.

            As far as your comments about savants, they sacrifice many abilities as compensation. This “extraordinary” ability would be expected from someone that has not need to dedicate large portions of their brain to things like speaking, social interaction, or vision. What they have to sacrifice may not always be the same but it seems to always be a significant part of normal lives.

            And terminal lucidity is even less explainable to you are subscribing to the “broadcast theory” of a soul. If we think of the body as a TV picking up a signal the TV does not get better right before it goes out.

            • Ian Wardell

              You can’t correct my use of the word consciousness since consciousness is immediately given. We all in the most immediately manner know what consciousness is.

              Cognition is one aspect of consciousness, what of it? What relevance has cognition to do with anything I have said??

              In fact most of your comment is a non-sequitur so I’ll ignore that part.

              Yes savants do sacrifice many abilities. This is to be expected if the brain is a “filter”, but not if brain is a producer.

              Yeah and the Universe doesn’t go pop when you prick it with a pin. Therefore comparing it to a balloon with painted spots on being blown up is a false analogy.

            • Thomas Taylor

              “You can’t correct my use of the word consciousness since consciousness is immediately given. We all in the most immediately manner what consciousness is.” Consciousness has been shown many times to not be immediately given, this assumption would require time travel to be accurate in pretty much any psychological experiment.

              “Cognition is one aspect of consciousness” Cognition is the combination of multiple unconscious actions into a describable form. By definition unconscious is prefix “un” meaning not and conscious. Looking at your blog I highly doubt English is a second language for you so I am confused as to how you are so confused on this stuff.

              “In fact most of your comment is a non-sequitur so I’ll ignore that part.” Yet you rely on time travel for your arguments.

              “This is to be expected if the brain is a “filter”, but not if brain is a
              producer.” Replace the video card in your computer with another processor and see what happens. Now replace the antenna in your radio with a compositor and observe the outcome.

              “Yeah and the Universe doesn’t go pop when you prick it with a pin. Therefore comparing it to a balloon with painted spots on being blown up is a false analogy.” Simply using the analogy given in the article, if you don’t want to believe it then any analogy can be called false. That said you have said nothing to add to your side of the debate so you post was largely a waste of time.

            • Ian Wardell

              Thomas Taylor I’m not going to respond to you any further unless you say something of any relevance. Thus far, both here and on the other blog, you have not.

              This is a *philosophical* issue that is being debated, *not* a psychological or scientific one. Our observations, in particular how a person is affected by various injuries to the brain, can inform the debate, but it doesn’t alter the fundamental point that you need to produce some actual philosophical arguments, not spout forth irrelevant stuff from psychology.

              I do not intend to waste any more of my life responding to anything which is irrelevant. This not only applies to you but also anyone else.

            • Thomas Taylor

              Do you have any clue why they offer Ph.D.’s in science? The Doctor
              of Philosophy degree is awarded because philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Science is a philosophy. All you said in that last post translates to is “I don’t want to talk to you because my philosophical alignment does not properly line up to yours.”

            • Do you not see that he has taken you to task on your claims? This is what you do when you get cornered, you refuse to further engage. You seek to define what you are attacking, which turns out to be straw man after straw man and then claim you never attack straw men!

              Take your bizarre claims on information as a starter.

      • On terminal lucidity, see Nahm, M., et al., Terminal lucidity: A review and a case collection. Arch. Gerontol. Geriatr. (2011), doi:10.1016/j.archger.2011.06.031 for some discussion on possible causes (most likely for different illnesses since the type of TL can be different for those different causes).

        • Ian Wardell

          It might be caused when the soul disengages with the body and hence it’s no longer subject to the damaged brain.

          • I love the fact that it is ok for you to use ‘mights’ and ‘coulds’, but for anyone else, this leads to the soul of the gaps thesis.

      • Ha! I’ve just realised that you are a mouthpiece for Eben Alexander, and we can see how well he did in the debate against Carroll and Novella… (not that debates determine truth)

        • Eben Alexander just ended up saying more and more ridiculous things….

    • Ian Wardell

      STEPHEN CAVE exclaims:

      “The crux of the challenge then is this: those who believe they have a soul that survives bodily death typically believe that this soul will enable them, like Nathalie in the story above, to see, think, feel, love, reason and do many other things fitting for a happy afterlife. But if we each have a soul that enables us to see, think and feel after the total destruction of the body, why, in the cases of dysfunction documented by neuroscientists, do these souls not enable us to see, think and feel when only a small portion of the brain is destroyed?”

      It seems to me that this evidence can be countered by proposing the brain acts as a kind of “filter”. I have already explored this possibility elsewhere:

      http://ian-wardell.blogspot.co.uk/2009/03/is-after-death-conceivable.html

    • Jeremy Corney

      All this article appears to be saying is that the faculties of consciousness are dependent on a functioning brain, and if the brain is damaged function is not replaced by “the soul”, therefore the soul cannot have independent function, therefore the soul does not exist.
      Forget the various straw men erected about what a soul might entail.
      We have no idea what may, or may not, survive death. If there is something, we don’t know how it would connect to the physical brain/body.
      The indications that there may be a soul, particularly NDEs, suggest that an unusual state, possibly flatlining, is necessary for the phenomena. If that is real, then it is not surprising that “soul” functionality cannot replace brain functionality in ordinary waking life.
      As usual, there is no apparent common ground between the sceptics and the non-sceptics. It seems you are all wasting your breath, pretending certainty where there is none.

      • Thomas Taylor

        The straw man issues was referenced to prior post and the conversation between Ian and I. To view the entire conversation you will have to follow the links in the comments. Sadly, the only real reason I believe he brought the conversation here is because the author posted in the other thread. 90% of the comments here are not aimed at this article and this is a good argument on a currently unresolvable question.

    • Andrew Gordon

      I enjoyed this read, but I do not believe you provided a sound argument. Rather left more questions than answers.

      I do not understand, exactly, how you answered the question of “is there a soul?” You rely upon answering a metaphysical question in regards to how we can observe it through the physical.

      Suppose we take the Aquinas teaching, that the human person is a “body, soul composite”. The two powers of the souls, which also separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom, is intellect and will. For the sake of the argument, I’ll agree with you about how we can observe through the physical the faculties of intellect. But you have failed to explain how we can observe the power of “will”. Could you explain?

      • artevalso

        Who assigned his/her own “perceptions account” in this world? Why “me it’s just me and you are just you” ?This misterious atmosphere is often misleading. We are not able to accept that everything happened accidentally; we don’t realize that our Universe is most likely only one of those which exist and/or existed. We are so glued to our thoughts, we do not understand that only for a matter of “favourable” coincidence we are typing on this keyboard and we are not among the flies or the mosquitoes in a swarm. But, with no doubt, even a mosquito has got its own perceptions of the world. Less structured than mine, for sure. So I’m lucky I’m not a mosquito, or not, I do not know, I’ve never been a mosquito or a cat or a cow or a bird. I don’t know, and asking to myself why I’m not the dog of the family at the second floor is futile.

        • Andrew Gordon

          I don’t understand what you’re trying to say.

          Are you saying our universe was created by chance? If so, by what “chance” did it happen? Are not all things that happen by “chance” have a cause that brought it out?

          • artevalso

            I’m convinced that I could equally be an amoeba or an elephant, in this universe or in another one. I believe that our universe is a kind of complex puzzle which started and grew up following some physical rules related to particles/energy interactions. There are other places in the universe where other life expressions have their own feelings about the sorrounding reality in which they live, they ask theirselves why they are there and interact with their own environments. The biological matter I’m made of is just what allows me to see, hear, feel and so on. I cannot remember what I was soon after the formation of my zygote. I’m sure that, in the case something went wrong before my birth, I wouldn’t be anywhere, I would not be at all, I would not be another “thinking thing”. Just think about an asteroid hit our Earth 64 mln years ago. What would happen if it had hit 63 or 66 mln years ago instead? Who knows. Because of the huge number of the places where life in the universe can develop, we are here. We are nothing special, except for our own unique time window, a gift of favourable statistics.

            • Andrew Gordon

              Curious, how can you speak of yourself relating to matter, when all you are is matter? It seems as though you are separating yourself from your material components. Unless I misunderstand

            • artevalso

              I’m conscious of the matter I’m made of just at the degree offered by my species features and capabilities. A Vibrio cholerae does not read or write comments on Disqus, it does not need to see the face of the host or to talk to him or wondering about the real distance between the Milky Way and NGC224.