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Materialism Totters — Neural Network Theory to the Rescue?

David Klinghoffer

neural networks

A debate! Neuroscientist Michael Egnor answers another objection to the arguments he makes in Science Uprising for an immaterial mind. This one comes from the website Peaceful Science. There, a self-described “anti-creationist psychiatrist” and “militant atheist,” Faizal Ali, dialogues with an “agnostic atheist” and a “secular avian phylogeneticist.”

Ali assures his fellow commenters that “neural network theory” is just the thing to explain away all the experimental evidence cited by Dr. Egnor. Ali thinks it’s “rubbish” to say the mind and the brain are not the same and he quotes Wikipedia to prove it. 

Egnor writes at Mind Matters:

Materialists such as Dr. Ali commonly invoke neural networks to explain the results of neuroscience that contradict materialism. They argue that, while individual neurons or parts of the brain cannot necessarily account for the mind, the relationship between large numbers of neurons and different parts of the brain in a neural network can provide a complete accounting for the mind in a materialistic fashion.

That’s nonsense. Neural networks cannot rescue materialism. [Wilder] Penfield and thousands of epilepsy neurosurgeons who have followed in his footsteps have stimulated every imaginable region of the brain yet they have never stimulated abstract thought nor have they observed an intellectual seizure. Abstract thought cannot be evoked from the material brain by stimulation.

If abstract thought were wholly the result of “neural networks,” at least occasionally stimulation of brain tissue would activate one of these “abstract thought networks.” It never does.

From Dr. Ali, it looks like another case of Materialism-of-the-Gaps reasoning. Read the rest at Mind Matters, Can Buzzwords About ‘Neural Networks’ Save Materialist Neuroscience?” See also Egnor’s previous answer to another critic: “Science Points to an Immaterial Mind.” And watch Episode 2 of Science Uprising, which is kicking up all this fuss, here: 

Photo: Michael Egnor, Stony Brook University, in a scene from Science Uprising, Episode 2, “Mind: The Inescapable I.”