At last: a thoughtful atheist

#5
Thanks for the link. I've got some thoughts on his presentation. But before I get into that I'm just curious, what makes Prof. Raymond Tallis an atheist?
I honestly don't know. Maybe he's an agnostic who rejects the Abrahamic God. But then so am I; guess he wouldn't agree with me that some other kind of ultimate being is a possibility. That's fine by me: if all atheists were like this, dialogue would be possible.
 
#6
I honestly don't know. Maybe he's an agnostic who rejects the Abrahamic God. But then so am I; guess he wouldn't agree with me that some other kind of ultimate being is a possibility. That's fine by me: if all atheists were like this, dialogue would be possible.
OK. I'm not sure myself. I'm also not sure if your thread title implies you believe atheists are inherently stupid just for being atheists, or that Tallis is different because mainstream "popular" atheists have a bad reputation and he's bucking that trend.

Anyways, I find one of the major premises of Tallis's argument a bit faulty. He states:
Neuromania is based on the assumption that human consciousness is identical with neural activity in the brain.
Now I understand perfectly what he's saying here, and he gives a followup example of an overzealous article about the brain and love. But the statement is so over simplistic it's somewhat self defeating. I don't think any competent neuroscientist actually believes that consciousness is identical to neural activity, but rather that the correlation between neural activity and consciousness is the key. This is undeniable, whether consciousness is separate from the brain or not. So if neuroscience is framed as an exploration of correlation, a big part of his argument is undermined because there is valuable knowledge to be gained there. I don't know why anyone would disagree with that.

Is he suggesting that we could go too far under a false set of assumptions, and that neuroscience could move in the wrong direction? He seems to be, and I wouldn't necessarily disagree with that. Does he make a good case that this is what is actually, currently happening? I am not so certain.
 
#7
OK. I'm not sure myself. I'm also not sure if your thread title implies you believe atheists are inherently stupid just for being atheists, or that Tallis is different because mainstream "popular" atheists have a bad reputation and he's bucking that trend
Well, I didn't use the word "stupid". I implied that many atheists aren't as thoughtful as he is.
Now I understand perfectly what he's saying here, and he gives a followup example of an overzealous article about the brain and love. But the statement is so over simplistic it's somewhat self defeating. I don't think any competent neuroscientist actually believes that consciousness is identical to neural activity, but rather that the correlation between neural activity and consciousness is the key. This is undeniable, whether consciousness is separate from the brain or not. So if neuroscience is framed as an exploration of correlation, a big part of his argument is undermined because there is valuable knowledge to be gained there. I don't know why anyone would disagree with that.
Does he frame neuroscience as exclusively an exploration of correlation? Does he say that nothing useful comes from exploration of that correlation?
Is he suggesting that we could go too far under a false set of assumptions, and that neuroscience could move in the wrong direction? He seems to be, and I wouldn't necessarily disagree with that. Does he make a good case that this is what is actually, currently happening? I am not so certain.
I'm not really sure what your beef is. Tallis appears to me to be a thoughtful atheist, and you haven't disabused me of that opinion. I'd still like to third my own second and suggest Alex have him on the show if that's at all possible.
 
#8
Well, I didn't use the word "stupid". I implied that many atheists aren't as thoughtful as he is.
Yeah, sorry. Didn't mean to come off as flippant there. Sometimes I feel the term atheist gets a bad rap, but I know what you're saying. I like his whole disposition.

Does he frame neuroscience as exclusively an exploration of correlation? Does he say that nothing useful comes from exploration of that correlation?
Not sure what you mean. He seems to think that neuroscience operates under the assumption that consciousness is identical to neural correlates, and I don't think that's correct. That seems to be his entire starting point for "neuromania", and he fans out from there.

I'm not really sure what your beef is. Tallis appears to me to be a thoughtful atheist, and you haven't disabused me of that opinion. I'd still like to third my own second and suggest Alex have him on the show if that's at all possible.
I think he would be a great guest. I would also like to hear Alex hammer him a bit for being an atheist, for whatever reason he is one and however we define atheism here on the forum. :)
 
#9
Not sure what you mean. He seems to think that neuroscience operates under the assumption that consciousness is identical to neural correlates, and I don't think that's correct. That seems to be his entire starting point for "neuromania", and he fans out from there.
I was only pointing out that you seemed to be saying those were his main, perhaps only points. I think he's a lot more nuanced than that.
 
#10
I was only pointing out that you seemed to be saying those were his main, perhaps only points. I think he's a lot more nuanced than that.
Well, what are your thoughts on that perspective? Do you think that neuroscientists believe that neural activity is identical to the conscious experience itself?
 
#11
Well, what are your thoughts on that perspective? Do you think that neuroscientists believe that neural activity is identical to the conscious experience itself?
I believe that most of them think the correlation signifies that neural activity generates consciousness in some as-yet unexplained materialistic way, whether or not we eventually uncover the mechanism. That's not quite the same as their being identical, I'd agree. What I find significant about Tallis is his ontological agnosticism and his capacity for genuine wonder. Lots of atheists claim to have a sense of wonder, and I accept that because I think it's a human trait regardless of one's preferred metaphysics, but I think Tallis is only a hairsbreadth away from acknowledging he's a spiritual being. The man's a polymath according to wiki: a medical man, a philosopher, a novelist and poet.
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

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Member
#12
Now I understand perfectly what he's saying here, and he gives a followup example of an overzealous article about the brain and love. But the statement is so over simplistic it's somewhat self defeating. I don't think any competent neuroscientist actually believes that consciousness is identical to neural activity, but rather that the correlation between neural activity and consciousness is the key. This is undeniable, whether consciousness is separate from the brain or not. So if neuroscience is framed as an exploration of correlation, a big part of his argument is undermined because there is valuable knowledge to be gained there. I don't know why anyone would disagree with that.
He may be making the common mistake of attributing philosophical opinions to scientists who mainly stick with science. On the other hand, if a scientist believes mind = brain processes, then consciousness is identical to neural activity.

It is, of course, somewhat poisoning the well to call it "neuromania," which has the same sort of irrelevant connotations as "Darwinitis," both of which he has in the title of his book. He often acts like a creationist, even though I don't believe he is.

~~ Paul
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#13
I believe that most of them think the correlation signifies that neural activity generates consciousness in some as-yet unexplained materialistic way, whether or not we eventually uncover the mechanism. That's not quite the same as their being identical, I'd agree.
Can you explain the subtle differences? Without some kind of magical strong emergence, I don't see how neural activity can "generate" consciousness without being identical to it.

~~ Paul
 
#14
He may be making the common mistake of attributing philosophical opinions to scientists who mainly stick with science.
That's the impression I'm getting. That said....

On the other hand, if a scientist believes mind = brain processes, then consciousness is identical to neural activity.
I don't see how they could be identical in any case. It's kind of like saying light itself is identical to the burning filament in a bulb. Of course the two are inextricably linked.
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#15
I don't see how they could be identical in any case. It's kind of like saying light itself is identical to the burning filament in a bulb. Of course the two are inextricably linked.
But light is a thing, whereas the mind (or consciousness) is not really a thing. At least we can't identify it as an independent thing so far. So it's more like this:

producing light is identical to burning a filament

which is true. I agree this is a tricky business. Here is the SEP entry on mind/brain identity theory:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mind-identity/

~~ Paul
 
#16
But light is a thing, whereas the mind (or consciousness) is not really a thing. At least we can't identify it as an independent thing so far.
Right. So how can it be identical to something that we do know is a thing?

So it's more like this:
producing light is identical to burning a filament
That makes sense. But then "producing consciousness is identical to neural activity" doesn't get us much farther along.

I agree this is a tricky business. Here is the SEP entry on mind/brain identity theory:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mind-identity/
Thanks, this is good reading. I really don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to any of this, so overviews of this kind are helpful to me.
 
#17
Can you explain the subtle differences? Without some kind of magical strong emergence, I don't see how neural activity can "generate" consciousness without being identical to it.

~~ Paul
Bees generate honey without being identical to honey. Maybe they think the activity of neurons is analogous, albeit that the product is less tangible. Maybe they think the pattern of relationships between neurons is what generates consciousness. They'd probably all agree that neurons are involved in some way, but that's different from saying they're identical to consciousness, any more than gravity is identical to mass.
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

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Member
#18
Right. So how can it be identical to something that we do know is a thing?
I said it is identical to brain processes. Consciousness is brain processes.

That makes sense. But then "producing consciousness is identical to neural activity" doesn't get us much farther along.
Oh, I agree we have far to go.

Thanks, this is good reading. I really don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to any of this, so overviews of this kind are helpful to me.
I certainly don't claim to have it down, either. The difference between "consciousness is brain processes" and "brain processes generate consciousness" is diabolical.

~~ Paul
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#19
Bees generate honey without being identical to honey. Maybe they think the activity of neurons is analogous, albeit that the product is less tangible. Maybe they think the pattern of relationships between neurons is what generates consciousness. They'd probably all agree that neurons are involved in some way, but that's different from saying they're identical to consciousness, any more than gravity is identical to mass.
Again, neural processes are identical to consciousness. Bees and honey are both things, not processes.

Certain beehive activities are identical to making honey.

But I'm no expert in this wordplay.

~~ Paul
 
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