Off my last post, I sent an e-mail to Dr. Michael Egnor. I wanted to get a response, and quite frankly, no one reads this blog, so if I didn’t tell him about it, no one else would’ve. But he responded. I have to say, it’s a classy move. If you’ve read my post, you should read his response.
Your question is essentially this: can a mind exist independently of matter. There’s massive evidence that it can. Near-death experiences are very common, and there’s polling evidence (Gallup) that upwards of 20 million Americans have had such an experience, of one sort or another. Many of these experiences are undoubtedly not real (some are the effects of anoxic brain chemistry, resuscitation drugs, etc), but about a third are estimated to corroborated, which means that the person had thoughts and perceptions during heart death/EEG silence that can be independently confirmed, such as knowledge of details of the resuscitation, etc. I have not had a patient have such an experience, but I have two colleagues who have, and its quite convincing.
NDE’s are still anecdotal in a sense, because they are not conducted in a prospective blinded trial, etc. Yet most of what we assume is true in medicine has not been studied rigorously in prospective randomized blinded trials, and I consider the NDE evidence pretty good that the mind can exist separate from the body. Denial of the reality of corroborated experiences of tens of millions of people requires a solid scientific reason, not merely an ideological commitment to materialism.
There’s another aspect to your question that’s important. If mind depends wholly on matter, then people who do have handicaps such as blindness, deafness, sensory loss should have some ‘diminishment’ of mind. Of course they don’t . If mind entirely causes matter, then less matter ought to mean less mind, in a crude sense. Yet ‘mind’ seems to be unitary and not quantifiable, at least in the sense of subjective ontology.
The mind and the brain are obviously highly correlated in everyday life, and changes in each often cause changes in the other. Yet the ontological reduction of the mind to the brain is philosophically and empirically tenuous, and I think indefensible.
NB: Despite your juvenile “full of crap” comment in your blog post, I answered you. I suggest you keep your public statements professional. It doesn’t reflect well on you or on your ideology. I didn’t notice your name on your blog. You should include your name, and you should blog in such a way that you’re not embarrassed to be associated with what you’ve written.
I have to say that the “full of crap” comment wasn’t appropriate. This is my response:
Thank you very much for your response. I want to make one thing clear; I do use my own name in my blog. My first name is listed on every post, and my full name and some other information about me is listed on the “About” page.
Actually, the real question I have is, how can you say that subjective experience is not linked to biological causes when it obviously is? The redness of red, the loudness of loud, etc., can all be explained by physiological processes in the eye, the ear, etc. The fact that we can subjectively say “redder than this” or “louder than that” merely means that we have a brain that can differentiate between more/less intense stimuli. The fact than you can’t explain scent to someone with no sense of smell only further supports the heavy reliance on biological processes.
You are right about NDEs: we do not have anything close to a randomized clinical trial, and to set something like that up would be a bit unethical (and if that’s not the understatement of the year, I don’t know what is! I could see the IRB meeting now: “Yeah, I want to kill people while they’re under an fMRI, then bring them back to life to test NDEs.”) However, I find one of your statements a bit disturbing. You stated: “Denial of the reality of corroborated experiences of tens of millions of people requires a solid scientific reason, not merely an ideological commitment to materialism.” But we have so much experience that experiences are not always remembered as they happened. Elizabeth Loftus’ “Lost in the Mall” experiments helped to show us that. People can misremember things, and because we have not had any real test, we must either a) disregard the anecdotal evidence, or b) try to devise some way of testing NDEs within the current framework.
Let me give an example: When I was younger, we played a really stupid game that involved crouching, breathing heavy, then standing up and holding our breath while someone pushed on our chest to make us pass out. When I passed out, I had a vision that I was at the ocean on a cloudy day. Now, no one would be so short-sighted as to say that I telepathically traveled to the beach, then returned to my body. However, people swear that they have had spontaneous out-of-body experiences, and some of them even claim that they can verify these OBEs. Yet until we can develop some kind of empirical test, there is no way to know.
Now, to the second issue: Of course people who are blind, deaf, etc. have a diminishment of mind. Someone who is born blind cannot see, and cannot fully visualize objects outside of simple shapes because they have no idea about color, brightness, etc. People who have pieces of their brain removed show an inability to perform behaviors, and most of these are so severe that even neuroplasticity cannot reclaim the behavior. For instance, you cannot regain sight if your occipital lobe is removed. You cannot regain full abilities of speech if you remove either Wernicke’s Area or Brocca’s Area. And the story of Phineas Gage shows us what happens to personality when a brain injury occurs. We also see behavioral impairment when the corpus callosum is cut. So unless your definition of “mind” is more restrictive than mine, and if it is, by all means, please share, Ithink we can see that changes in the brain create changes in the mind.
To some of your other comments, you are right, the “full of crap” comment was uncalled for, and I apologize. I have to say I didn’t expect you to respond, and I’m thankful that you did. It was a stand-up move on your part. Many people would have dismissed my lack of experience.
Let me say one other thing, and this does not in any way excuse my lack of respect. You and others in the intelligent design movement have been known to show disrespect to scientists by disparaging their work. You refer to evolution as “Darwinism,” despite the fact that Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection is merely the most widely-accepted theory of evolution. By using “Darwinist” and “Darwinism,” you attempt to link Natural Selection with other –isms in the world, such as Taoism, Marxism, Maoism, and Leninism. You try to play Natural Selection like it is a religious belief or a political agenda, and your organization deliberately withheld facts and told half-truths in a major documentary in order to align fascism with Natural Selection.
Essentially, your argument is that we should replace one indefensible theory with another indefensible theory. I don’t happen to find materialist explanations all that unconvincing. But let me say this; the minute you can provide evidence for the contrary, I will turn coat. It’s that simple.
Thank you very much for your response. I hope we can continue this.
Hopefully Dr. Egnor will respond again.