Objections to neuroplasticity support for Dualism

#1
I consider neuroplasticity research findings to be good evidence for mind-body dualism. After researching objections to my claim, a common objection I found is as follows:

This is the same argument put forward by dualist, Deepak Chopra. This, however, is not evidence for dualism. This is just an example of the brain interacting with itself. If it is the brain that is thinking, that brain activity can beget other brain activity – thinking can affect brain function. This is compatible with the conclusion that brain causes mind, and not an argument against it.
The statement is from neurologist Dr. Steven Novella.
Source: http://theness.com/neurologicablog/...r-pillars-are-still-shattered/#comment-182382

Dr. Novella's statement was made in response to someone who brought up neuroplasticity research.

Discussion:
Do you agree or disagree with Dr. Novella?
If you disagree with his claim, please explain why.
 
#3
Good catch because Deepok Chopra's is some type of mental monist. Trying to lump him in the way Dr. Novella did was an attempt to make mind-body dualist look bad. Another way I've found to counter his claims is to look for any speculations or flaws in his reasoning. He says neuroplasticity just shows that brain can affect brain, but he fails to specify that it's subjective stimuli (thoughts, meditation or focused awareness) that's 'changing' (not merely firing off neurons) brain structure. His simplistic explanation undercuts the implications of neuroplasticity research.
 
#4
I consider neuroplasticity research findings to be good evidence for mind-body dualism. After researching objections to my claim, a common objection I found is as follows:
This is just an example of the brain interacting with itself. If it is the brain that is thinking, that brain activity can beget other brain activity – thinking can affect brain function. This is compatible with the conclusion that brain causes mind, and not an argument against it.
The statement is from neurologist Dr. Steven Novella.
Source: http://theness.com/neurologicablog/...r-pillars-are-still-shattered/#comment-182382

Dr. Novella's statement was made in response to someone who brought up neuroplasticity research.

Discussion:
Do you agree or disagree with Dr. Novella?
If you disagree with his claim, please explain why.
OMG & Yikes --- Novella's statement is so tautological - it is just plain silly as a logical claim. "if the brain is thinking - then the brain is causing thinking"
 
#5
I don't believe self-directed neuroplasticity adds anything to the basic argument. If you believe that thoughts are literally patterns of brain activity, or at most epiphenomena caused by brain activity, all it means is that they can set off long-term physiological responses that show up on brain scans. While it's an interesting and useful phenomenon, it's not any more metaphysically important than patterns of brain activity setting off other patterns of brain activity. All you can do is beg the question and say that thoughts cannot possibly be identical to patterns of brain activity, which isn't going to convince anybody who's already committed to materialism. In their view, it's like capitalism - there is no alternative.
 
S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#6
I don't think neuroplasticity says anything either way, for or against materialism.

It is, however, completely compatible with materialism IMO - at least at the simple level of the argument noting the brain changing itself.
 
#7
I don't believe self-directed neuroplasticity adds anything to the basic argument. If you believe that thoughts are literally patterns of brain activity, or at most epiphenomena caused by brain activity, all it means is that they can set off long-term physiological responses that show up on brain scans. While it's an interesting and useful phenomenon, it's not any more metaphysically important than patterns of brain activity setting off other patterns of brain activity....
Do you at least agree that self-directed neuroplasticity validates a bidirectional causation/influence in that behavior/thought can influence brain structure just as brain structure influences behavior/thought? I think this is the first step in dismantling a strict physic-reductionist view of the brain.
 
#9
Is there any such thing as purely "self-directed" neuroplasticity? Can somebody give me an example?
I would think that Self-directed neuroplasticity should be correlated to 'cognitive behavioral therapy' because that's one of the ways that I can see that you can change your behavior which should then be reflected in your brain. It is self-directed in that the patient is active (conscious effort) in the process of their change towards THEIR goal rather than being passive. Doesn't Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz's studies serve as examples?

How about this one:
1. Psychotherapy Found to Produce Changes in Brain Functions Similar to Drugs
1. The study that #1 refers to is here
 
#10
I would think that Self-directed neuroplasticity should be correlated to 'cognitive behavioral therapy' because that's one of the ways that I can see that you can change your behavior which should then be reflected in your brain. It is self-directed in that the patient is active (conscious effort) in the process of their change towards THEIR goal rather than being passive. Doesn't Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz's studies serve as examples?

How about this one:
1. Psychotherapy Found to Produce Changes in Brain Functions Similar to Drugs
1. The study that #1 refers to is here
So, the "self-directed" bit is subsequent to some external input (therapy)?
 
#11
So, the "self-directed" bit is subsequent to some external input (therapy)?
Not necessarily. Self-directed would just refer to playing an active role whether it be external or internal (e.g. subjective or mental) stimuli. CBT involves changing the way you think so there is a mental process involved. Another example would be using meditation, which would be solely internal stimuli to produce changes in brain structure. Harvard neuroscientist Dr. Sara Lazar has done studies showing that this happens.

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#12
I don't think neuroplasticity says anything either way, for or against materialism.

It is, however, completely compatible with materialism IMO - at least at the simple level of the argument noting the brain changing itself.
If we think of trivial neuroplasticity - such as the observation that taxi drivers' brains change in response to all the street layouts they learn:

https://wellcome.ac.uk/press-release/changes-london-taxi-drivers-brains-driven-acquiring-‘-knowledge-study-shows

I guess that might be explained rather in the way that if you use a muscle a lot, it grows bigger.

However, it seems to me that extreme neuroplasticity is more interesting - for example, a small number of children have one half of their brain removed for medical reasons, and yet grow up normally. Likewise, we are told neuroplasticity helps stroke patients to recover by re-routing processing to undamaged parts of the brain. Even those with split brains, live normally!

There are also the hydrocephalus cases where people live normal lives with vastly reduced and distorted brain tissue.

I think these really do suggest that something above and beyond the brain itself guides the changes necessary - otherwise where is the blueprint as to what goes where? Take a simple (maybe naive) example - if a stroke paralyses someone's leg, and then the brain re-wires itself using some other part of the brain, what tells the new part how it should work, what it should connect to, and what to do with whatever that bit of brain did before - the bit that used to do the work, and might 'know' the answer is now destroyed!

If we saw a computer do that, we would say that the software had reconfigured itself - either by using different memory modules (and filling them with the necessary code, from the disk), or by running the same calculation on three or more processors, and discarding the one that didn't agree any more.

Well, the first option only works because computers work with software that is independent of the hardware - it isn't the way the brain is supposed to work at all. Furthermore, nobody as far as I know, is postulating that the brain runs multiple copies of 'calculations' to compare outputs.

I think perhaps the idea of brain software, while it doesn't make sense literally, is closer to the mark if we imagine a non-physical equivalent of software (basically an external consciousness) that controls and uses the brain.

David
 
#13
I think these really do suggest that something above and beyond the brain itself guides the changes necessary - otherwise where is the blueprint as to what goes where? Take a simple (maybe naive) example - if a stroke paralyses someone's leg, and then the brain re-wires itself using some other part of the brain, what tells the new part how it should work, what it should connect to, and what to do with whatever that bit of brain did before - the bit that used to do the work, and might 'know' the answer is now destroyed!
The mind / brain is a learning system that's capable of bottom-up self-organisation. Even materialists can agree that this much separates it from computers (though computers can be equipped with relatively dumb learning software). That may sound like a question-begging handwave, but it's a property that's been studied and duplicated by computers. I doubt our biological neurons are dumber than the most realistic computer models. This should be no more threatening to immaterialists than radios and computers both containing transistors.

It should go without saying that many stroke patients fail to recover some functions, even though there is probably enough 'stuff' there to support a bright and functional individual. As there is no top-down architect, a given patch of brain tissue can easily get stuck in a situation where it reaches the limit of how much it can change, or can't change without breaking something else. There's also the 'holographic' properties of the brain, where it seems like information survives the loss of brain tissue, though I'm not sure whether that supports or contradicts substance dualism.

I would be wary of attributing any properties to the mind that aren't either blatantly mental properties or absolutely needed for mind-matter interaction. It's like the people who think substance dualism means you have a second brain made from ectoplasm. The mind is not an invisible architect that sits over the brain and draws up new blueprints for when it gets damaged. It's literally the mind that you're experiencing right now.
 
#14
I think these really do suggest that something above and beyond the brain itself guides the changes necessary - otherwise where is the blueprint as to what goes where? Take a simple (maybe naive) example - if a stroke paralyses someone's leg, and then the brain re-wires itself using some other part of the brain, what tells the new part how it should work, what it should connect to, and what to do with whatever that bit of brain did before - the bit that used to do the work, and might 'know' the answer is now destroyed!
David
I think these are the right questions. If the functionality that relates new information - to old patterns - is commonly called understanding, how does the understanding (as a functional object) make linkage and create probable pathways for behavior?

Your last sentence addresses the fact that there are no "traces" as originally conjectured. The information objects to "remember what a leg is for" - are there! Just not embedded in flesh.
 
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#15
OMG & Yikes --- Novella's statement is so tautological - it is just plain silly as a logical claim. "if the brain is thinking - then the brain is causing thinking"
Good point. If neurons were identical to thought, as Dr. Novella is claiming, then logically whatever is true of neurons would be true of 'thought'. This is precisely what "identical" would mean. But clearly not all that is true of neurons is true for thought or mind, therefore the two are not identical. I don't even see how it can be maintained that one causes the other in light of self-directed neuroplasticity studies. These studies clearly point to interactionism (bidirectional causation/influence), and interactionism implies some form of dualism.
 
#16
The mind / brain is a learning system that's capable of bottom-up self-organisation. Even materialists can agree that this much separates it from computers (though computers can be equipped with relatively dumb learning software). That may sound like a question-begging handwave, but it's a property that's been studied and duplicated by computers. I doubt our biological neurons are dumber than the most realistic computer models. This should be no more threatening to immaterialists than radios and computers both containing transistors.
In comparing computers with brains, one question that comes to mind is why are we 'aware' and even 'self-aware'? If I look at a computer, it's clear to me that it's not necessary for there to be awareness for it to perform.

Secondly, I'm not sure if you're taking solely a functionalist approach to consciousness because I often find that functionalists don't factor in the qualitative aspects. Do you agree that consciousness or mind involves more than just functional properties since it also involves mental states, propositional beliefs, mental visualization, 'qualia', etc.? If you disagree, then please give a definition of consciousness that factors in these subjective aspects.

Thirdly, if I wanted to find out all the information that a computer is "thinking", I could achieve that goal, right? Why can't we do that for humans beyond the level of electrochemical responses?

I would be wary of attributing any properties to the mind that aren't either blatantly mental properties or absolutely needed for mind-matter interaction. It's like the people who think substance dualism means you have a second brain made from ectoplasm. The mind is not an invisible architect that sits over the brain and draws up new blueprints for when it gets damaged. It's literally the mind that you're experiencing right now.
I make no assumptions as to what the mind is made of, but I also don't draw any conclusions that it is necessarily confined to our nervous system. If NDEs and OBEs are genuine phenomena, which I thought most people on the site believed, then logically it is not necessarily confined to the brain. So with materialistic science, we are left with not knowing the origin of the Universe, the origin of life on this planet, and the origin of consciousness.
 
#17
...I'm not sure if you're taking solely a functionalist approach to consciousness because I often find that functionalists don't factor in the qualitative aspects. Do you agree that consciousness or mind involves more than just functional properties since it also involves mental states, propositional beliefs, mental visualization, 'qualia', etc.? If you disagree, then please give a definition of consciousness that factors in these subjective aspects.
I'm an anti-functionalist, if anything. I'm willing to accept something like what David Chalmers thinks about Strong AI, but I still find it pretty silly that a theory where an elaborate system of pipes or clockwork can be conscious is the 'default stance' in many circles. I am just pointing out that neuroplasticity can be explained purely in terms of functional properties, and that it has been duplicated in computer models to some extent.

While I don't 'believe' or 'disbelieve' in any metaphysical framework on a visceral level, for now I think monistic idealism has the most explanatory power of all the mind-body theories I've heard of.
I make no assumptions as to what the mind is made of, but I also don't draw any conclusions that it is necessarily confined to our nervous system. If NDEs and OBEs are genuine phenomena, which I thought most people on the site believed, then logically it is not necessarily confined to the brain. So with materialistic science, we are left with not knowing the origin of the Universe, the origin of life on this planet, and the origin of consciousness.
There is no contradiction with what I said. We can add NDEs and OBEs to what we know about the mind's contents. I'm rejecting a very specific view of what the non-local mind is about. If the non-local mind is capable of 'rewiring' or 'reprogramming' the brain, either there's a part of the non-local mind responsible for drawing up the 'blueprints' to fix a damaged brain, or else the 'blueprints' emerge through mind-matter interaction. The first option is absurd. It would imply there's a hidden part of a stroke patient's mind going, "Hm, maybe if I connected these synapses I could get that leg working again..." The second option doesn't explain anything more than matter-matter interactions could.

Edit: To be clear, if you bring up the point that thoughts cannot possibly be identical to brain states again, I agree with you. But that is not going to convince anyone who isn't already convinced, which is why I say neuroplasticity adds nothing to the argument.
 
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#18
The mind / brain is a learning system that's capable of bottom-up self-organisation. Even materialists can agree that this much separates it from computers (though computers can be equipped with relatively dumb learning software). That may sound like a question-begging handwave, but it's a property that's been studied and duplicated by computers. I doubt our biological neurons are dumber than the most realistic computer models. This should be no more threatening to immaterialists than radios and computers both containing transistors.
With all the hype that abounds nowadays, it is very hard to determine easily just what has and has not been achieved with computer models of neurons. Indeed, when you look at seemingly intelligent behaviour of single celled organisms, I don't think it is remotely clear if those neuron models are adequate.
http://www.basic.northwestern.edu/g-buehler/FRAME.HTM
It should go without saying that many stroke patients fail to recover some functions, even though there is probably enough 'stuff' there to support a bright and functional individual. As there is no top-down architect, a given patch of brain tissue can easily get stuck in a situation where it reaches the limit of how much it can change, or can't change without breaking something else.
I think the devil is in the details. Imagine a patch of neurons that control part of the leg. Then imagine them zapped, and a new region taking over. Just re-mapping the neurons to and from the leg would be tricky enough. You also have to map the signals from higher centres that deal in particular patterns of behaviour. I think there is a lot of hand waiving here - give a process a clever name, and people are inclined to think the problem is more or less solved!
I would be wary of attributing any properties to the mind that aren't either blatantly mental properties or absolutely needed for mind-matter interaction. It's like the people who think substance dualism means you have a second brain made from ectoplasm. The mind is not an invisible architect that sits over the brain and draws up new blueprints for when it gets damaged. It's literally the mind that you're experiencing right now.
Well minds seem to go all the way down - perhaps even to single celled organisms. I tend to think that there really is a big difference between all living (probably excluding viruses) and non-living matter. The former is, I suspect, somehow in touch with some mental stuff, and I suspect without that link the matter would just decay. From that point of view, there may wel be portions of mind that deal in brain architecture (and indeed other body parts) -they are just not the parts of mind we are normally in touch with.

David
 
#19
In comparing computers with brains, one question that comes to mind is why are we 'aware' and even 'self-aware'? If I look at a computer, it's clear to me that it's not necessary for there to be awareness for it to perform.

Secondly, I'm not sure if you're taking solely a functionalist approach to consciousness because I often find that functionalists don't factor in the qualitative aspects. Do you agree that consciousness or mind involves more than just functional properties since it also involves mental states, propositional beliefs, mental visualization, 'qualia', etc.? If you disagree, then please give a definition of consciousness that factors in these subjective aspects.

Thirdly, if I wanted to find out all the information that a computer is "thinking", I could achieve that goal, right? Why can't we do that for humans beyond the level of electrochemical responses?
This is known as the "Hard Problem" - why does anything experience anything at all. It obviously applies to computers, but I think the argument extends to all purely physical systems because a physical system could in principle be replaced by a computer simulation of the physical system.

Of course, I don't think a mind is analogous to a computer program, but the analogy is useful when exploring the limitations of physical systems - like the brain is supposed to be!

To be absolutely clear, I think there is a distinct mental realm and consciousness lives there, but interacts with brains. I think Dualism is a useful model of reality, but it may ultimately yield to Idealism. However, Idealism doesn't seem to be a useful scientific theory at the present time.

David
 
#20
I am just pointing out that neuroplasticity can be explained purely in terms of functional properties, and that it has been duplicated in computer models to some extent.
Can you provide any controlled and replicated (hopefully scientifically-based) studies that demonstrates self-directed plasticity, let alone plasticity, in computer hardware.

Can you explain why we can know what a computer is thinking about, but yet we can't do the same for humans?

There is no contradiction with what I said. We can add NDEs and OBEs to what we know about the mind's contents. I'm rejecting a very specific view of what the non-local mind is about. If the non-local mind is capable of 'rewiring' or 'reprogramming' the brain, either there's a part of the non-local mind responsible for drawing up the 'blueprints' to fix a damaged brain, or else the 'blueprints' emerge through mind-matter interaction. The first option is absurd. It would imply there's a hidden part of a stroke patient's mind going, "Hm, maybe if I connected these synapses I could get that leg working again..." The second option doesn't explain anything more than matter-matter interactions could.
For the first option, I don't think you need consciousness for the body to operate which was my point about computers not needing awareness to function. The phenomena of NDEs, OBEs, sleep walking, or and other functions shows that your body can function without voluntary control/consciousness, via the autonomic nervous system. So in other words, for your first option, there is no need to give consciousness that role and therefore it's not a good argument in my view. ON the flip side, according to NDErs and OBErs, you also don't need the brain or body to see, hear, and travel.

As for your second scenario about emergence implying matter-matter interaction, I disagree to a degree. I'd want you to specify what is the "matter" in your statement. If we say that mind is more than just the brain, as emergence would imply, then you can't say brain-brain interaction. The 'mind' and 'brain' aren't identical. Interestingly, G. H. Lewes, who coined the word "emergence" did so in part to explain components that give rise to new entities, like neurons giving rise to mental properties. David Chalmers considers 'consciousness' to be an example of a 'strong emergent' property (read here pgs 3-4). So now if you say mind-brain interaction, which goes with emergence and interactionism, then you have some form dualism.

At any rate, empirical evidence will hopefully save us from all of these interpretations and neuroplasticity studies in my view shows that NON-brain matter, i.e. the mind (which has not been found to have any physical properties yet we all experience mental visualization), is able to influence brain matter.
 
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