Egnor lashes out at Dunford and hits himself in the face

Ah Egnor. The chief purveyor of foot-in-mouth disease at Evolution News and Views takes on Dunford’s recent post on the intellectual dishonesty of the intelligent design creationist movement and shows exactly why Dunford has a point.

Intelligent design is a cheesy attempt to smear a patina of scientific legitimacy on creationist ideas. Dunford quite reasonably points out that at least the creationists are honest about their objectives, while the ID cranks play a game of hiding their creationist dogma behind psuedoscientific nonsense. Egnor takes offense, and suggests that Dunford is alleging a conspiracy and dishonesty of his own by suggesting the IDers hide their religious views.

Now, as someone who rejects conspiracy theories as a matter of course, I feel like I bear some responsibility for Egnor’s tactics here. I think it’s time I address this argument that ID is injecting religion into science is just a baseless conspiracy theory.
Continue reading “Egnor lashes out at Dunford and hits himself in the face”

Chimps have souls!

Take that Egnor!

Altruism — helping another with no expectation of personal reward — was once thought to be a uniquely human trait, The Times of London reported. However, in recent experiments, chimpanzees repeatedly helped humans who appeared to be struggling to reach a stick within the animal’s enclosure.

The chimps, which were interacting with humans who had not given them food, spontaneously helped the humans by reaching across and helping them get the stick.

The experiments were carried out among 36 chimpanzees at a sanctuary for the animals in Uganda.

Anthropologists cite altruism as a key to developing civilized and complex societies. Although altruism has been observed in many species, this recent experiment is special because it shows ability for one species to be altruistic with another species, the Times said.

Also see Synapostasy’s coverage of Egnor’s latest goalpost move. In the meantime I’ll await Egnor’s proof that chimps don’t have a soul that is receiving signals from Deepak Chopra’s mind-field.

A confluence of idiocy

You know how dumb Egnor sounds with his mind outside the brain cell-phone silliness? He sounds as dumb as Deepak Chopra writing more brain-dead new agey nonsense for the Huffington Post.

To gain credibility, the mind outside the brain must also be mirrored inside the brain. If your brain didn’t register what the mind is doing, there would be no way to detect the mind. Like a TV program being broadcast in the air, a receiver picks up the signal and makes it visible. The brain is a receiver for the mind field. The field itself is invisible, but as mirrored in our brains, it comes to life as images, sensations, and an infinite array of experiences.

The brain is like a cell phone receiving signals from above. Wait no! It’s like a TV!

This is how pathetic the proponents of intelligent design are, and for that matter, the crystal-clutching hippies that fall for Chopra woo. Without even meaning to, their arguments reflect each other, because they’re both based on magical thinking.

So far, the phenomenon of mirror neurons hasn’t been isolated to single neurons in the human brain. Due to the complexity of the laboratory work, it hasn’t traveled very far into the general public. This means that mirror neurons will be held captive for the time being by the belief system of neurology, which is overwhelmingly materialistic. That is, the brain being a solid object comes first while mind, if it exists at all, comes second. Yet I would argue that most of the things we most cherish about the mind, including empathy, language, and learning, depend on mind coming first, and the mirror neuron serves its purposes.

Maybe the brain really is like a TV set. Sadly, Deepak Chopra and Michael Egnor are both stuck on the same stupid channel.

The Egnor Analogy

Michael Egnor is to “argument from analogy” as a fish is to __________.

A. Fire
B. Victorian Literature
C. Mathematics
D. Water

Imagine scientists living on an isolated island who have developed sophisticated science and culture, with one exception: they deny that telecommunication is possible. For assorted reasons, they deny that the human voice can be transmitted through space, except as vibrations in air. We’ll call this civilization the ‘Verizon Deniers.’

One day, they find a cell phone (it dropped from a plane or something). They turn it on, and they hear things. They hear hissing, cracking, and what sounds like voices!

The Verizon deniers are amazed! So it’s off to the lab, and soon the Verizon denier scientists have the answer. They show that all kinds of things — chemicals, mechanical impacts, electrical interference — can change or ablate the voices. They find that certain sounds the voices make are consistently associated with patterns of activation in the cell phone circuits. They found that some aspects of the voices — tone, amplitude, etc. — are localized within the cell phone. They conclude that the voices are simply an emergent property of the cell phone circuits!

However, one of the scientists, a Verizon accepter, isn’t so sure. He says:

“What if the cell phone is necessary for all of the noises, but only sufficient for some? What if some of the noises in the phone are actual voices of living people, and are merely transmitted through the phone, but not caused by it?”

The Verizon deniers say: “How can you prove it?”

So the Verizon accepter goes to work. He studies the properties of all of the noises the phone made. Some of the noises, like the hiss or the cracks, he can explain as an emergent property of the phone — just oscillations from the circuitry transmitted through the speaker to the air.

But the voices are different. The sound of the voices certainly has some properties like those of the circuit — frequency, amplitude, power, etc — but there’s more to them. They have meaning. These ‘voice’ noises express anger, love, purpose, judgment — all properties that are not inherent to electrical components.

Too simple? I propose that any credible theory of the mind must at least provide a basis for discerning that a voice from a cell phone is generated by a person, not the phone. It’s a kind of inverse Turing test — it tests the theory, not the machine. As I see it, none of the materialistic theories of the mind would provide a clear basis for identifying the voice in a cell phone as a person and not as an emergent property of the phone. If a theory can’t get a cell phone right, I don’t trust it with the mind.

When are these guys going to learn you can’t undo real science with a bunch of poorly argued analogies that aren’t even apt?

And am I imagining things or is he suggesting our expressed thoughts, words and emotions are coming from the ether? The brain is just like a cell phone receiver for the soul? This guy’s a neurosurgeon, surely he knows about things like aphasia?

I guess aphasia resulting from stroke or injury is just damage to our cell phone-like “circuitry” in our brain that’s receiving signals from the soul. It’s either that or he’s seen “Being John Malkovitch” too many times.

Paging Dr. Chopra, you’re needed in the neuro ward.

This guy is a brain surgeon?

The latest gem from Egnor:

Clearly the brain, as a material substance, causes movement of the body, which is also a material substance. The links are nerves and muscles. But there is no material link between our ideas and our brains, because ideas aren’t material.

I’m not a neuroscientist, but that’s strikes me as the dumbest thing I’ve heard yet. No material link between our ideas and our brains? So I guess when we take a hallucinogen like LSD it works by magic? How could it be that thinking
is separate from “material” as he puts it, when we can ingest material substances that alter our thinking? How is it that damage to specific areas of the brain can inhibit different kinds of thought? Immaterial things like remorse, impulsivity, memory, language can all be affected by “material” brain-damage and “material” drugs. How does the non-materialist explain this? Is it magic?

This goes beyond Egnor’s usual ignorance of science, this is more like Deepak Chopra kind of woo – this idea that our brains are in contact with the divine and that’s where our thoughts and ideas come from. But it’s just magical thinking, there is no evidence of some divine hand in our thoughts, quite the opposite. The evidence is that ideas do have an organic origin, or how else does one explain how damage to the system or specific drugs that interact with it, affects our thinking in predictable and repeatable ways?

And let’s think about what this “non-materialist” view does for the study of neuroscience. Oh wait, nothing. Because if the brain is an incomprehensible magic black box, why study neuroscience? Why try to decode, dissect and discover how neural processes and diseases work if you believe it’s just magic?

** It’s also ironic that this paper – Probabilistic reasoning by neurons – just popped up on Nature AOP and I couldn’t help thinking that maybe Egnor didn’t do a thorough literature review before posting this nonsense.