Terri Schiavo, Persistent Vegetative State, and Materialist Neuroscience

Yale neurologist Dr. Steven Novella and I have been involved in a vigorous discussion (example here) of the mind-brain problem in science and philosophy. There are real-world implications of our understanding of the mind, and nowhere are these implications more important than in the medical management of people with severe brain damage. Dr. Novella recently posted a commentary on the Terri Schiavo case. Dr. Novella’s post was prompted by a study just published in the journal Neurology that analyzes the media coverage of the affair and offers suggestions as to how experts and journalists can convey the truth of such complex cases to the public more effectively. These are laudable goals. The crux of the matter, of course, is this: Read More ›

Darwinism and “Mass Men”

Joseph Bottum at First Things has an excellent essay on José Ortega y Gasset, the early 20th Century Spanish writer. In Ortega’s masterwork, The Revolt of the Masses, Ortega describes a new sociological phenomenon: the “mass man.” Bottum explains: Ortega’s accomplishment…was to identify a new sociological species: mass man. As The Revolt of the Masses explains, the mass man is not just an ordinary man, and he is not associated with any particular class. He is, rather, a product of European historical development, a kind of human being born for the first time in the nineteenth century…The description Ortega gives is not particularly enjoyable. The mass man lives without any discipline, and–as Ortega remembers from Goethe–“to live as one pleases Read More ›

Myers’ Old Ideas

P.Z. Myers takes me to task for this irony that I recently pointed out : the data he cited to argue that Christian faith and prayer were irrelevant to advances in cancer care actually came from a children’s hospital– St. Jude’s Hospital– that was founded explicitly on Christian faith. In fact, St. Jude’s Hospital was founded explicitly on a prayer. Myers sneers at my observation, and he extols science and mocks the culture of faith from which modern science and medicine arose:

Cancer Research, Prayer, and St. Jude

P.Z. Myers recently posted at Pharyngula a plea for more funding for cancer research. His sister-in-law (mother of three kids) died tragically from melanoma several years ago, and Myers asked Pharyngula readers to support cancer research more vigorously. It’s a sentiment with which we all agree. Yet Myers used this tragedy to denigrate religious faith. Noting his subsequent conversation with a pediatric oncologist in which he learned about the progress that has been made in the treatment of childhood cancer, Myers claimed: How does she [the oncologist] do that [successfully treat some children’s cancers]? With science. She sent me a whole stack of references on the amazing progress that has been made over the last several decades, thanks to clinical Read More ›

The Hard and Easy Problems in the Mind-Brain Question

In the debate between dualists and materialists over the relationship between the mind and the brain, materialists often invoke neuroscience to buttress their assertion that the brain causes the mind entirely, without need for an immaterial mind or soul. Indeed neuroscience has demonstrated many examples of correlation between physical brain processes and mind states. Do examples of correlation between brain states and mind states genuinely provide evidence for the materialist claim that mind states are merely brain states? The wild claims of neuroscientists, such as the astonishing claim by atheist Yale neurologist Steven Novella that “the materialist hypothesis– that the brain causes consciousness — has made a number of predictions, and every single prediction has been validated,” suggest that some Read More ›