Sunday, April 06, 2008

Behind and Beyond the Brain

Here are a few pictures from the Bial Foundation conference, Behind and Beyond the Brain, which took place during the last few days of March in Porto, Portugal. This picture is during a panel discussion held after the second day's main session, on the theme of emotions and psi. From the left it's me, Roger Nelson, Dick Bierman, Daryl Bem and Stefan Schmidt.






Here I am on the final panel discussion at the end of the conference, with moderator Fernando Lopes da Silva, Ralph Adolphs and Paul Ekman.








One thing that struck me during this conference, which was about two-thirds on the cognitive and social neurosciences and one-third on psi, was how similar the practice of today's neurosciences are to what I used to do when I was an electrical engineer (EE): reverse engineer black boxes. As an EE I would figure out how electronic devices worked by tracing circuits, injecting signals, studying the operation of components both in and out of the circuit, and in general see how changes in the circuit affected the behavior of the black box. This is what the neurosciences are doing with animal and human brains, and much of the internal circuitry is slowly and surely being worked out. The undeniable explanatory power of this approach is seductive, and much of it is probably correct.


However, the seduction also tends to blind us to annoying anomalies that don't fit a mechanistic, physicalist model (like psi, NDEs, evidence suggestive of reincarnation, etc.). That said, I am not a fan of so-called non-materialistic, non-physical, or dualistic models of psi. My guess is that as today's concept of "physical" continues to evolve (which includes our understanding of basic ideas like space, time, matter and energy), we will find the neurosciences and psi converging towards a model of consciousness which is partially localized (brain-based) and partially nonlocalized (an inherent property of the fabric of reality, as in panpsychism).

Another thought I had while listening to the neuroscience talks was that most neuroscientists assume that classical physical explanations are sufficient to account for brain-based behavior and experience. Deeper explanations of physical processes, such as quantum models, are not viewed as being either necessary or relevant. The problem with this assumption is that classical descriptions are not simply approximations of the microworld, which is where most of the action occurs in the brain, such descriptions are fundamentally wrong.

If an EE was tasked with understanding an unknown, complex electrical circuit, but only knew about classical principles, he or she would probably figure out some simple aspects of the circuit, but the details would remain exceedingly mysterious. By comparison, I suspect that what might be called "classical neuroscience" will continue to make some progress in understanding relatively simple aspects of the brain, but many details (and especially the anomalies) are likely to remain mysterious.

27 comments:

Pramod said...

The methods of analysis employed in neurosciences can be called NEWTONIAN in nature, they simply ignore the quantum theories that can be used as an instrument for analysis. I understand that something like the Orch OR (“Orchestrated Objective Reduction”) model is better suited to lead us to reality

Tor said...

Looks like an interesting conference.

Was anyone talking about Stapp's approach to the mind/consciousness/brain relationship?

Seeing that Dick Bierman participated I began thinking of this article:

A COMPUTATIONAL EXPECTATION BIAS AS REVEALED BY
SIMULATIONS OF PRESENTIMENT EXPERIMENTS,
Jan Dalkvista, Joakim Westerlunda & Dick J. Bierman


Since I haven't read that many post 2002 presentiment articles (I don't have access to the relevant journals), I was wondering if the statistical bias mentioned in this article has been dealt with in recent presentiment experiments?

Fifi said...

If I look close, I can tell you got a bit of a tan!

But anyway, on to the serious stuff (I'm not exactly the brightest bulb in the box, so if I sound like an idiot, please be kind)...

I remember reading somewhere that studies were done to see where memories were stored in the brain, and I remember reading that they had done tons of tests, but they haven't found it. Some had theorized that memories were not located in the brain, but somewhere outside? *dumb, glazed over expression*
Were any more theories, or any other discussions thrown around during this conference concerning that?

Dean Radin said...

if the statistical bias mentioned in this article has been dealt with in recent presentiment experiments

Yes. That paper discusses a theoretical bias that might occur under certain conditions when dichotomous stimuli are used (i.e., only calm or emotional targets). While the simulations show a potential bias (based on many assumptions), analysis of actual presentiment data conducted in studies run both before and after that paper do not show any bias. So the potential criticism does not hold up.

In addition, in my more recent presentiment experiments I've been using all pictures (selected uniformly at random with replacement) from the International Affective Picture System, which provides a very broad range of emotionality. The final analysis is based on a subset of the 5% most emotional vs. 5% most calm pictures pooled across subjects. That strategy overcomes the theoretical objection, and the results are still significant.

Dean Radin said...

If I look close, I can tell you got a bit of a tan!

If you click on the pictures you can see them in larger format. I don't think I have a tan, so maybe it was just the flashbulb.

studies were done to see where memories were stored in the brain, and I remember reading that they had done tons of tests, but they haven't found it.

An interesting question, but no, this issue didn't arise at the conference.

Fifi said...

I was trying to make a funny, but sometimes it doesn't translate well through text.

Thanks for answering my question though. =0]

Eric said...

"That said, I am not a fan of so-called non-materialistic, non-physical, or dualistic models of psi."

I'm not either. I have no idea what people are talking about when they rail against "materialism." It seems like their beef is more with "reductionism." The concept of the "material" is just as vague and ill-defined as the concept of the "non-material."

Jime said...

Eric,

Materialism is a ontological doctrine that postule that only exists the "matter" and its propieties. As consequence:

a)The mind is a exclusive product of the material/physical brain.

b)There is not afterlife (because life is a emergent property of material/physical systems; ergo, if the body dies, mind dissapears)

NDE's and other afterlife evidence shows (if that evidence is correct) that materialism (as defined avobe) is false.

c)There is not GOD (because the "being" or the essence is matter; and God isn't material by definition)

By this reason, materialism entails atheism (but not all atheists are materialist)

d)There is not inmaterial entities or phenomena (e.g miracles, paranormal phenomena, ghosts, etc.)If materialist is confronted with some of these phenomena, he'll always say they didn't happen or were a delusion (because accept
them would be accept that materialism is false).

e)The mind can't affect (as an independent identity) the physical world (so, telekinesis is impossible for materialists).

f)Only positivistic method is science, because science only can research physical/material world (e.g mensurable, replicable natural phenomena), not inmaterial things (that don't exist!)

g)Reason is based upon science and materialistic views only. Any other beliefs aren't rational (that is, are irrational). This is the reason why most pseudo-skeptics and materialists suffer of "scientism"

What is material? The matter or "the material" is the group of concrete and physical things. (e.g. electrons, molecules, atoms, etc.) All things have, as building blocks, material/physical particles or objects.

I think the quantum physics show a world different of classical materialism. But it doesn't refute it, because sub-atomic particles are considered material things by materialist philosophers.

The above are the reasons why professional pseudo-skeptics oppose with so much hostility parapsychology research (because some of these phenomena refute materialism), religion, spirituality and GOD (all these is considered "superstition" or irrtaionality").

Materialist pseudo-skeptics are fighting by their beliefs and materialist worldview. It's a ideological crusade.

For a criticism of materialism, see:
http://www.mises.org/th/chapter6.asp

Also, Julio Siqueira has some interesting thoughts on it:
http://paginas.terra.com.br/educacao/criticandokardec/materialism_is_dead.htm

John said...

I don't like the distinction between "material" and "non-material." For all we know, the things we think of non-material (psi, spirits, etc) might indeed be material things (minds existing in a quantum field would still possibly be a material thing). The big thing is reductionism.

Eric said...

Jime,

I'm well aware of the philosophical discussion surrounding "materialism," but just because it may prove impossible to reduce "mind" to simple mechanics doesn't mean that it is some "spiritual" or "immaterial" phenomenon. It may be that the current category of the "material" within the biological sciences is too narrow and may have to be broadened.


"What is material? The matter or "the material" is the group of concrete and physical things. (e.g. electrons, molecules, atoms, etc.) All things have, as building blocks, material/physical particles or objects."

In current physics, the basic unit is the quantum field, not the particles. It illustrates my point that the categories of "material" and "immaterial" are slippery and incoherent.

Jime said...

Eric,

"but just because it may prove impossible to reduce "mind" to simple mechanics doesn't mean that it is some "spiritual" or "immaterial" phenomenon"

It's true. But materialism don't say that. It says that mind is produced by the brain (as a physical/material organ).

If you prove that mind survives death, materialism (as ontological doctrine or set of doctrines) would be false.

"In current physics, the basic unit is the quantum field, not the particles. It illustrates my point that the categories of "material" and "immaterial" are slippery and incoherent."

Quantum field is a theory, not a basic unity for study. And that theory study and explain particles activity:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_field_theory

However, I agree with you. I think the material/spiritual debate is a little bit misleading: maybe, the universe is composed of some substance that explain "spiritual" and "material" phenomena.

Eric said...

"Quantum field is a theory, not a basic unity for study. And that theory study and explain particles activity"

I'm not sure what you mean here. The fields are now considered to be the primary reality. Particles are viewed as mere epiphenomena of the fields.

Ronnie said...

My opinion is that there are certainly correlations between the mind and the brain, but I do not believe they are the same.

Dave Smith said...

eric said,

** just because it may prove impossible to reduce "mind" to simple mechanics doesn't mean that it is some "spiritual" or "immaterial" phenomenon. **

I disagree. I think that if we find it is impossible, philosophically, to reduce experience to mechanics then experience is by definition immaterial.

** In current physics, the basic unit is the quantum field, not the particles. It illustrates my point that the categories of "material" and "immaterial" are slippery and incoherent. **

It could well be true that categories of 'material' and 'immaterial' are slippery, but what isn't in philosophy!

My definition of 'material' is anything that we have knowledge of by virue of relations. For example, an electron. Anything that we have direct knowlegde of with no relations, i.e. experience, is 'immaterial'. For example, redness. Immaterial is the fundamental reality whereas the 'material' world 'emerges' from relations between aspects of immaterial reality. So material existence is dependent on experience rather than the other way round.

Eric said...

"It could well be true that categories of 'material' and 'immaterial' are slippery, but what isn't in philosophy!

My definition of 'material' is anything that we have knowledge of by virue of relations."

That was my point. I think reductionism (or mechanism) is a better term.

"Immaterial is the fundamental reality whereas the 'material' world 'emerges' from relations between aspects of immaterial reality. So material existence is dependent on experience rather than the other way round."

How can an immaterial reality have aspects? You inevitably fall into an antinomy when you attempt to discuss these things.

David Bailey said...

** just because it may prove impossible to reduce "mind" to simple mechanics doesn't mean that it is some "spiritual" or "immaterial" phenomenon. **

What you call it doesn't matter - call it "mental stuff" if you prefer. The problem seems to be that a deterministic Schroedinger equation combined with a random selection process, just doesn't seem to leave any room for mind, spirit, free will. You can resolve this by trying to whittle down the meaning of the above terms, or you need something radically new.

Whatever new element you postulate, can't look much like physics, otherwise you just end up with a new set of equations (adding a term to the Hamiltonian, as they say) and the same old problem

Jime said...

On the debate about materialism, maybe some of Dr.Angus Menuge's concepts be of your interest. See the following document titled "Does neuroscience leave room for God?":

http://www.uncommondescent.com/docs/Does%20Neuroscience%20Leave%20Room%20for%20God--as%20presented.pdf

As a critical remark, I'd say that the debate about materialism should be separated from God existence/inexistence debate.

However, some of Dr.Menuge's ideas and quotes are interesting.

David Bailey said...

Jime said:

"As a critical remark, I'd say that the debate about materialism should be separated from God existence/inexistence debate."

I agree 100% with that - equating God with anti-materialism is just sloppy thinking.

I think the idea of God really is a relic of our primate way of thinking - we also run our organisations and our countries as hierarchies with someone at the top, and look what a stupid mess that creates!

There really does not seem to be any good evidence of a benevolent God, or even a just God, except perhaps some evidence that healing prayer works, and I suspect that operates through the intense focus of the people doing the praying.

Jime said...

Another good critique of materialism (in its reductionistic version of physicalism) can be read in this article of philosopher Peter Williams:

http://www.arn.org/docs/williams/pw_whynaturalistsshouldmind.htm

Zetetic_chick said...

Hi Dean,

Sorry if it's a little bit off-topic. In the integralworld.net website (the website about Ken Wilber's theories), a guy named Falk wrote an article titled "The Salmon of Beliefs. Commnents on the status of psi research":

http://www.integralworld.net/falk4.html

His "references" are the typical skeptical ones (mostly, from the skeptic dictionary).He labels Rhine as a fraud and offer other common skeptica misconceptions.

I thought you'd like to read that "article".

By the way, Falk is the current "skeptical voice" against Ken Wilber's teachings and doctrines (there are also other critics there, not related to the skeptic movement)

Book Surgeon said...

I read Falk's piece (of what I won't say) and I can say that your time would be better spent sorting washers from your toolbox. Here's a summary:

a. All scientists who do psi research are fools.

b. All people who disagree with Falk are fools.

c. The Skeptic's Dictionary is a reliable, unbiased source of information.

d. Steven Pinker is a deity, presumably because he's opposed to the existence of psi.

What a waste of space. If you read the guy's other work, it's all snark and nastiness and re-posting things like comments on Ken Wilber from the Salon.com community. He's just another pseudoskeptic debunker who's driven into a blind rage by even the suggestion that someone, anyone, might take the ideas behind nonlocality, duality, or consciousness as something other than epiphenomenal seriously.

Oh, and we're all morons for being interested in psi. Especially you, Dean. Shame on you. Apparently, in the circular reasoning of the blind skeptic, any scientist, no matter how respected, who gives any credence to psi is automatically a crackpot whose views cannot be taken seriously. Therefore, all that remains is a residue of Ray Hyman. What a wonderful blueprint for an echo chamber. What a load of rubbish.

Off to my toolbox.

Dean Radin said...

Those commments on integralworld.net are so falking wrong that it's best to follow Book Surgeon's recommendations. Some commentaries are simply not worth responding to.

In the meantime, while there will always be those who froth and drip with cynicism, I've been doing some study on practical applications of psi, and I've found 8 psi-relevant patents and patent pendings, most issued since 2000.

I had predicted many years ago that at the turn of the millennium we would begin to see a trickle of patents, and by 2020 the trickle would start turning into a flood. By 2050 we will see new psi-based technologies aplenty, and at that point Clarke's famous phrase about advanced technology and magic will begin to manifest in earnest.

Book Surgeon said...

Very exciting, Dean. I think psi-based technologies and even consumer products would go a long way to taking the subject into the mainstream.

I did a little back-checking into our friend Mr. Falk, by the way (always the investigative journalist, I am). He's a college dropout and former standup comedian ne'er do well who apparently had a bad experience at a spiritual retreat and now stalks Ken Wilber and debunks all spiritual gurus as being frauds, embezzlers and/or pedophiles.

Such scientific qualifications. Boggles the mind. Come to think of it, I would love to see an audit of the number of legitimate doctoral-level degrees among the major published proponents of psi research and theory versus the major published critics, i.e., James Randi and so on. I'll bet it's not even close. Not that a Ph.D or M.D. is a guarantee of sound, logical thinking or rational research, but it offers a much higher probability of reliability than, say, being a magician.

Zetetic_chick said...

Falk is a extreme and typical pseudo-skeptic, and I doubt that people in integralworld take him seriously. He's capitalizing in the division and strong debate between Wilber's followers and critics, to promote the pseudo-skeptical agenda of scientism and materialist atheism.

Some critics of Wilber (like Jeff Meyeroff) are serious people who deserves close attention. For example, Meyeroff is a trained philosopher who wrote a critical book on Wilber titled "Bald ambition". I read that book, and I think some criticism make sense, but other don't. But it's useful to that debate.

Meyeroff is interesed in the connection between our psychology and the philosophical position that people holds. (If Meyeroff's thesis are correct, it would be interesting to examine the psychology supporting of pseudo-skepticism because many of them seems to have the same type of jerk's personality). As a example, see his philosophical thesis about beliefs and reason:

http://www.philosophos.com/philosophy_article_96.html

I think the rational debate on Wilber's ideas is neccesary and fruitful. But people like Falk are intellectual jerks, who opportunistically use the controversy on Wilber to promote pseudo-skepticism.

I hope the integralworld people don't be fooled by him about psi research.

David Bailey said...

I would love to hear more about those Ψ-patents. Do they look remotely practical? One problem nowadays is that Ψ has a hard time beating things like cell phones!

I think making a real technology out of Ψ would make all the difference. I mean, the reason that most people believe QM works, is not because they have followed the maths or the experiments, but simply because their gadgets work, and they are told that their operation ultimately depends on Ψ!

Dean, I wonder if you have any thoughts about creating a Ψ technology - maybe out of presentiment.

Dean Radin said...

Of the various issued patents, one involves an application of presentiment -- for use in an training intuition system -- which I think is a viable idea. Most of the others, including the pending patents, are protecting ideas, but I don't they're quite ready for prime time. In general these applications are not designed to replace existing technologies, but rather to offer solutions to problems that existing methods either cannot do at all, or not do efficiently. I'll post a more comprehensive note on this topic when I have the time.

Zetetic_chick said...

Dean,

In the integralworld website, a psychologist wrote an extensive (and very good reply) to Falk's pseudoskeptical article:

http://www.integralworld.net/salmon2.html

It's a very good summary of psi research and it's well documented. The author uses good references like your books and Chris Carter's recent book.

It's a good exposing of the fallacies of most pseudoskeptical objections to psi.