Monday, July 13, 2009

Once again, brains and minds

Comment on “Disorderly genius: How chaos drives the brain” by David Robson:

The marvellous and fascinating work done by neurologists is marred by one basic fault: their refusal to realize that to study the brain is not to study the mind, which in turn arises from their failure to see that the mind is a reality in itself distinct from the objective stuff that is amenable to study by the empirical methods of science.

Scientists have no problem with working with the notion of our brain ‘operating on the edge of chaos’ or the notion of a state of ‘self-organized criticality’ as perfectly intelligible, but stall at the notion of a mind that has no being apart from the brain but that yet has a reality of its own and laws of its own.

We are supposed to find it not only believable, but in fact intelligible, that ‘the unpredictable world of chaos’ can produce a Mozart sonata, a Shakespeare sonnet, an Einsteinean equation. We are supposed to find that more acceptable than viewing the mind as creative.

“Researchers”, we are told, “built elaborate computational models to test the idea [of deterministic chaos], but unfortunately they did not behave like real brains.” Why? Not because they are not sufficiently elaborate or sufficiently refined, but because those fine computational models have no life in them, they may be perfect models of brains but not of minds.

Let me just forestall a possible misunderstanding: I am not speaking of a mind or soul separate from our body or brain but of the inner or subjective aspect of our being that is our proper, distinctive reality.

D. R. Khashaba

Monday, July 06, 2009

Philosophy and science, again!

Comment on “Philosophy as complementary science” by Hasok Chang:

The embarrassment of philosophers when faced with the successes of science rests on the mistaken assumption that philosophy is required to deliver the same commodity that science delivers. Socrates saw that this was wrong. That was the point of his renouncing the investigation of things en tois ergois and limiting himself to investigating things en tois logois. This is an insight that even Plato wavered in holding to and that almost all following philosophers overlooked to their detriment. Philosophy creates imaginative ideal worlds which infuse meaning and value into the phenomenal world but which can not and should not claim any objective validity. This shares no common ground with science. Kant partly saw this but was not as clear-sighted as Socrates.

Philosophy of science is a much needed discipline of thought, but it is distinct from philosophy proper. Its main function is to shake all extant foundations and lay down others, to be broken down in their turn. This is the Platonic dialectic that has to destroy its own hypotheses. Chang’s ‘complementary science’ may possibly be seen as a special development of this.

D. R. Khashaba

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


Comment on “God or Darwin”:

The figures are a sad revelation. Not only such unfortunate countries as my own, Egypt, live as if the last four centuries or so of human history have never been, but humanity at large has hardly been touched by the Enlightenment. But much of the fault lies with those who should know better. Three different questions are jumbled together. (1) The principle of evolution. (2) Darwin’s special theory of natural selection as the main mechanism of evolution in the biological sphere. These two are scientific questions where only empirical evidence is relevant. (3) The question whether naturalism adequately explains the reality of life and intelligence: not the question how life and intelligence came to be but what they are. This is a philosophical question in relation to which the methods of objective science lead nowhere. It is the confusion of these three questions that enables the creationists to make a show of supplying the explanation that evolutionists have foolishly undertaken to supply but cannot, by their objective methods, ever supply.

D. R. Khashaba