It’s Time for Me to Unshatter My “Three Pillars of Neuroscience Denial”…

Michael Egnor

36407546sm.jpg Dr. Novella, the dogmatic neurologist from Yale who can’t fathom why his materialist ideology isn’t accepted as truth by all, concludes his latest mind-brain problem post (after calling me intellectually dishonest, a creationist, etc.) with this rhetorical flourish:

Dr. Egnor’s three pillars of neuroscience denial – dualism of the gaps; denying the inferences from brain-mind correlation; and confusing the question of how the brain causes mind with the question of does the brain cause mind – have all been shattered.

My ‘”three pillars of neuroscience denial have been shattered”?
Well, it’s time for me to unshatter them.

Shattered Pillar # 1: My “dualism of the gaps.”
Dr. Novella’s invocation of “…of the gaps” is a canard. Of course, it’s intended to evoke “God of the gaps,” but Dr. Novella misses the real issue. The mind-brain problem is essentially a gap: an “Explanatory Gap,” in philosopher Joseph Levine’s words. We don’t have an explanation for the mental in terms of the physical. We have no explanation for how subjective mental experience arises from objective material existence. Nothing in physical brain science intrinsically invokes subjective consciousness. We can describe brain anatomy and physiology just fine with objective third-person science. There is no point at which an electrochemical description of hippocampal neurons invokes subjective experience. There is a gap, a chasm really, between neuroscience and consciousness.
Dr. Novella proposes materialism to fill the “gap.” I propose dualism to fill the “gap.” Dr. Novella and I share the gap in common; my views are no more or less “dualism of the gaps” than his views are “materialism of the gaps.” It’s our gap, and we each propose a different way to fill it.
I’m trying to explain the gap in the mind-brain problem, and dualism seems to me to be the most satisfactory framework. One has the sense that Dr. Novella isn’t really trying to explain the gap, which is the subjective aspect of mental states. He’s trying to explain it away.
Shattered Pillar # 2: “denying the inferences from brain-mind correlation”.
I don’t deny the inferences from brain-mind correlation. Unlike Dr. Novella, I draw inferences that are supported by data, and I avoid pronouncements that my ideology is proven and the battle is over. Both dualism and materialist monism hold that the brain and mind correlate. The issue at hand is causation, not correlation.
The issue of causation is subtle, and evidence can be interpreted in several ways. Dualist neuroscientist Jeffrey Schwartz has pointed out that there is abundant neurophysiological evidence that mental states can alter brain states, which is consistent with dualism. Benjamin Libet, 20th century’s leading neuroscientist in the study of the relationship between the mind and the brain, held a view of the mind-brain relationship that is best described as property dualism. In the Journal of Consciousness Studies, Libet wrote:

If it is proposed that subjective experience and the phenomenal self are constructed illusions, then we should ask “Who is observing this illusion?” … [We] must not accept the panicking fear, of most philosophers and probably cognitive scientists, that any theory must exorcise any implied “ghost of agency”. Theories that avoid any “ghost” have not successfully or convincingly explained the unity of conscious experience and the experience of conscious control of voluntary acts. Postulating a subjective “ghost” need not be incompatible with the laws of nature, as Schroedinger pointed out…The conscious mental field (CMF), that I have postulated to account for the unity of experience and an active role for conscious intention to act, could be viewed as a sort of “ghost”. However, it is supposed to emerge from suitable natural activities of cerebral neurons, but with *de novo* properties not evident in the physical neural elements from which it derived. Some people may wish to call this dualism, but let us not be frightened off by name calling. The CMF does not represent the dualism of Descartes, who described the mind as a separable substance. My CMF proposal is of course very speculative. But I do not know of any existing evidence that contradicts the proposal, and, furthermore, it is amenable to a direct experimental test of its validity

Benjamin Libet — the leading neuroscientist in the study of the mind-brain relationship — explicitly rejected strict materialism, and invoked a “ghost of agency” — property dualism — to explain subjective experience.
Shattered Pillar # 3: “confusing the question of how the brain causes mind with the question of does the brain cause mind”
Dr. Novella elides the central problem with strict materialism in the mind-brain problem. The first question isn’t “how the brain causes the mind” or “does the brain cause the mind.” The primary question is this:

can the brain cause the mind?

In order to subject a theory to empirical test, it must first be logically coherent. Materialism fails as logic. What does it mean to say, “The brain causes subjective experience”? There is nothing about the physical scientific description of the brain that invokes subjectivity. The salient qualities of the mind — free will, restricted access and incorrigibility, qualia, intentionality, persistence of self over time, and unity of consciousness — are not properties of matter. Subjectivity is imputed by materialists to neural function, without coherent explanation or logical law-like dependence. The materialist assertion that the brain is the entire cause of the mind is merely an act of faith appended to the science.
Dr. Novella’s debate isn’t with “neuroscience denialists”; it’s with the leading neuroscientists of the 20th century — among them Sherrington, Penfield, Eccles, and Libet — all of whom were dualists. I agree with these fellow neuroscientists that an adequate understanding of the mind-brain relationship requires dualism.
So what about my “three shattered pillars of neuroscience denial”? On the mind-brain problem, modern neuroscience is quite consistent with a dualist view, and materialism hasn’t even achieved logical coherence.
I deny materialism, not neuroscience.