Friday, September 30, 2016

Science, Logic, and Feminism

Joy Pullman, senior editor at The Federalist calls attention to a Ph.D candidate who concludes in her dissertation that science is hostile to women and minorities because it requires them to think logically and to hold to the view that truth is objective. The doctoral candidate is a feminist, but I can't imagine anything more harmful to the cause of advancing opportunities for women and minorities than declaring that they lack the cognitive ability to think logically and do science. Yet that's evidently what she says.

Here's Pullman:
College science classes are hostile to women and minorities because they use the scientific method, which assumes people can find reliable truths about the natural world through careful and sustained experimentation, concludes a recent dissertation by a doctoral candidate at the University of North Dakota.

Laura Parson, a student in the university’s education department, reviewed eight science class syllabi at a “Midwest public university” and said she discovered in them a hidden hostility to women and minorities:
Initial exploration of the STEM syllabi in this study did not reveal overt references to gender, such as through the use of gendered pronouns. However, upon deeper review, language used in the syllabi reflects institutionalized STEM teaching practices and views about knowledge that are inherently discriminatory to women and minorities by promoting a view of knowledge as static and unchanging, a view of teaching that promotes the idea of a passive student, and by promoting a chilly climate that marginalizes women.
Even though the course syllabi contained no “gendered assumptions” about students or other overtly discriminatory implications, Parson writes, they display prejudice against women and minorities because they refuse to entertain the possibility that “scientific knowledge is subjective.”
I don't even know what it means to say that scientific knowledge is subjective. Does it mean that the acceleration of a falling object, for example, depends on how the experimenter feels about it?
Throughout her dissertation, Parson assumes and asserts that women and minorities are uniquely challenged by the idea that science can provide objective information about the natural world. This is an unfair assumption, she says, because the concept of objectivity is too hard for women and minorities to understand. “[N]otions of absolute truth and a single reality” are “masculine,” she says, referring to poststructuralist feminist theory.
Instead of promoting the idea that knowledge is constructed by the student and dynamic, subject to change as it would in a more feminist view of knowledge, the syllabi reinforce the larger male-dominant view of knowledge as one that students acquire and use [to] make the correct decision.
So, in other words, using logic and the scientific method are inherently “male” ways of knowing that women and minorities cannot employ. Rather than rejecting this insulting view of women and minorities’ intellectual and rational capacities, Parson uses it as a pretext to advocate that science classes abandon the scientific method itself (which rests on the assumption that truth is unchanging and knowable) and all other “male” forms of oppression, such as “weed-out courses, courses that grade on a curve, a competitive environment, reliance on lecture as a teaching method, an individualistic culture, and comprehensive exams.”
There's much more on Parson's views at the link. The more one reads the more suspicious one becomes that this woman is putting everyone on, but assuming she's serious I have a question. If a white male doctoral candidate had written this dissertation what are the chances that it would not have been rejected out of hand by his outraged committee as both blatantly sexist and racist? Nil.

So why is Laura Parson not held to the same standard? Or are we now to think that not only should women not be held to the same standard as men in the field of science, they shouldn't be held to the same standard in matters of gender and racial bias either?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Hillary's Awkward Relationship with the Facts

It's a shibboleth of the left that our criminal justice system is infected with systemic racism. Hillary Clinton herself reaffirmed this article of liberal faith during the debate Monday night, but is it true? Heather MacDonald, author of The War on Cops and a writer for City Journal argues that the evidence simply doesn't support the claim. Here's part of what she says:
Criminologists have tried for decades to prove that the over-representation of blacks in prison is due to criminal-justice racism. They have always come up short. They have been forced to the same conclusion as Michael Tonry in his book, Malign Neglect: “Racial differences in patterns of offending, not racial bias by police and other officials, are the principal reason that such greater proportions of blacks than whites are arrested, prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned,” Tonry wrote. In 1997, criminologists Robert Sampson and Janet Lauritsen reviewed the massive literature on charging and sentencing. They found overwhelming evidence establishing that “large racial differences in criminal offending,” not racism, explained why more blacks were in prison proportionately than whites and for longer terms.

To say, as Clinton did last night, that blacks are more likely to be incarcerated for doing the same thing as whites ignores the relevance of a defendant’s criminal history in determining his sentence, among other crucial sentencing factors. Just last week, an analysis of Delaware’s prison population presented to the Delaware Access to Justice Commission’s Committee on Fairness in the Criminal Justice System revealed that when juvenile and adult criminal records are taken into account, along with arrest charges and age, racial disparities in sentencing decisions are negligible to nonexistent.
Ms Clinton also sought to exploit the myth that "stop and frisk" is a racist police tactic, but MacDonald is having none of it:
Clinton claimed that “stop-and-frisk was found to be unconstitutional.” [But] No federal judge would have the power to declare pedestrian stops unconstitutional, because the Supreme Court put its constitutional imprimatur on the practice in 1965. Stop-and-frisk remains a lawful and essential police tactic. Criminologist David Weisburd examined the practice in New York City and found that it reduced crime in shooting hot spots. Federal district court judge Shira Scheindlin did rule that the New York Police Department’s practice of stops was racially biased, but her ruling applied only to the New York Police Department. That ruling was wholly unjustified and would likely have been reversed on appeal had newly elected New York City mayor Bill de Blasio not dropped the appeal.
But why did the judge rule that police stops were "racially biased" in the first place?
Judge Scheindlin used a population benchmark for measuring the lawfulness of police actions: if police stops didn’t match population ratios, they were unconstitutional, in Scheindlin’s view. Such a methodology ignores the massive disparities in criminal offending in New York City. Blacks commit over three-quarters of all shootings, though they are 23 percent of the city’s population. Add Hispanic shootings to black shootings and you account for 98 percent of all shootings in New York City.

Whites are 34 percent of the city’s population, [but] they commit less than 2 percent of all shootings. Such disparities in gun violence mean that virtually every time the police are called out on a gun run — meaning that someone has been shot — they are called to minority neighborhoods on behalf of minority victims, and, if any witness or victim is cooperating with the police, being given a description of a minority suspect. The reality of crime, not phantom police racism, determines the incidence of police activity, including pedestrian stops.
What Ms Clinton doesn't know, or doesn't want voters to know, is that "stop and frisk" is a blessing to minority residents of our urban neighborhoods:
Clinton claimed that stop-and-frisk was “ineffective” and “did not do what it needed to do.” [Yet] Felony crime dropped 85 percent from the early 1990s to the mid-2010s in New York City; more than 10,000 minority males were spared the violent death that they would have experienced had homicides remained at their early 1990s levels. Stop-and-frisk was a crucial part of that crime drop, the longest and steepest on record; it’s hard to imagine anything more effective than New York’s proactive policing revolution. Stop-and-frisk deterred criminals from carrying guns. Equally importantly, it intervened in a range of other criminal behaviors. If an officer saw someone casing a store on a boulevard plagued with burglaries, or saw someone walking quickly behind an elderly lady in a neighborhood plagued with robberies, he would stop that person and ask a few questions. That stop may not have resulted in an arrest, but it could have averted the commission of a crime.

Homicides and shootings in New York City rose 20 percent in the first half of 2015, thanks to the Scheindlin-induced drop in pedestrian stops. Then-police commissioner William Bratton responded with a massive deployment of overtime manpower to high-crime corners; officers used “command presence”—i.e., their mere presence on the street—to deter criminal behavior. This roll-out of manpower resources quelled the shooting spike and New York City ended 2015 with a 6 percent homicide increase. Other departments do not have the personnel available to them to make up for a drop in proactive policing.
Perhaps for the sake of the people living in these high crime neighborhoods the left should admit that our political correctness fetish is exacting a high cost in the maiming and killing of young blacks and Hispanics and let the police get the guns from those who are carrying them illegally, even if that means sometimes frisking innocent people. It can be demeaning to be frisked when one is completely innocent, but I should think that the innocent residents of New York and other cities would be willing to suffer a little indignity if it saves the life of just one black kid. Wouldn't you?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Most Horrifying Threat

Perhaps the most dangerous threat facing our nation from abroad is not the annihilation of our cities in a nuclear holocaust or the threat of chemical or biological warfare. Rather, the most terrifying danger we face is easily the threat of EMP visited upon us by the Iranians or the North Koreans.

What, you may ask, is EMP? An article by James H. Hyde in The Federalist explains. The whole article is worth reading but here's the salient excerpt:
EMP stands for “electromagnetic pulse,” and it is truly devastating to anything and everything that has a microchip in it or is part of the crumbling, antiquated, and hopelessly snarled convergence of wires we call our electric grid.

An EMP-based weapon would do a good deal of damage. But if the last two DPRK (Democratic Peoples Republic of North Korea) tests involved thermonuclear devices, they could become Super-EMPs. When those are put aboard a satellite and detonated 300 miles above the center of the U.S., just one of them would...[throw] our urban and suburban populaces into abject panic and chaos.

As I write this, the DPRK has two satellites flying above us on a south to north trajectory....While no data stream has been detected coming from either “earth-based satellite” (according to the DPRK), it is not known whether nuclear devices are aboard those satellites or whether they are “test vehicles.”

Kim Jung Un's request for a satellite in higher orbit is particularly troubling: it means he could pack an EMP or Super-EMP device on it and put it into orbit over the U.S. Unless we take swift measures to “harden” our electric grid and military assets—and soon—America could become an endangered society. An EMP or Super-EMP detonated at an altitude of between 25 and 300 miles (the higher the better) would be cataclysmic.

The detonation itself would not harm us physically. The kinetic energy (radiation) would dissipate harmlessly in space. The increased gamma rays, however, would race toward earth in three waves, milliseconds apart. Electrons in air molecules in our atmosphere would be knocked out by gamma rays in massive numbers that then rush earthward. Once they came in contact with the ground, they would take out transformers in substations. Hyper-electrical pulses would snake along our electric lines, destroying transmission and distribution technologies as they go.

The immediate effects would be withering: planes in flight would start falling from the skies. Chemical plants that control hazardous materials would no longer be controlled, imperiling all who live nearby as their computerized technology fails. Most cars built after 1974 would lose power. Trains, especially those operating on electrified tracks, would come to a halt. Tens of thousands would be stuck in elevators nationwide....City populations living in skyscraper apartment buildings would no longer get water pumped to them. Bottled water would disappear from supermarket shelves on the first day. Most supermarkets are stocked for only three days worth of consumable inventory, especially meats and fresh vegetables.

Perhaps most vulnerable in the transmission and distribution system are huge transformers that are extremely hard to replace, and (as with so many other industries) no longer manufactured here. They now come from Germany and South Korea. These transformers are complex power regulators that take a year to build and cost $10 million. They must be shipped here and off-loaded to special trucks that can accommodate them. Each one can weigh over 400 tons. A standard 18-wheeler won’t do the job. Their tires would burst.

Plus, gasoline would become extremely scarce. Oil refineries would cease to function, so finding enough gas to power these huge trucks would be nigh impossible. We have some backup transformers here, but nowhere near enough to replace all of the damaged ones hit by an EMP. Estimates are that it would be at least a decade before we could replace enough transformers to get at least some electricity flowing.
But the devastation would not end there. In fact that would be the least of it:
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “There are 60 commercially operating nuclear power plants with 100 nuclear reactors in 30 states in the United States. Of these plants, 36 have two or more reactors.” Nuclear power plants are as dependent on power from the grid as any other energy-consuming entities. The Nuclear Regulatory Agency mandates that a one-week supply of diesel fuel be sustained at each nuclear plant to fuel the backup generators. But it’s useless if there are any computer chips running those generators. The only other possibility is to use battery backups for as long as possible. When those fail, even reactors taken offline need to be bathed constantly in cold water. Without generators or batteries to pump that water, there’s no way to cool the reactors or the spent-fuel-rod pools. Once the water boils off, it’s Fukushima times 100.

Regardless of how it’s done, few would survive an EMP attack. If we were to be hit by a Super-EMP, only those who have amply prepared by having renewable water supplies and food stores will have a chance.All of those reactors will melt down with the spent-fuel rods. Hydrogen will build up in the tops of the reactors, as it did in Fukushima, and if ignited would cause the same explosions we saw in Japan. With the Jet Stream flowing from west to east, radioactivity would cover the nation.

Given barbarous regimes of North Korea and Iran, the fanaticism of their leaders, and their hatred for the United States, we should assume that if they ever achieve the capability to detonate a nuclear device over this country, they'll do it, even if it means their own national suicide. If such a horrific event ever does occur then most North Americans will die and those who survive will find themselves living under 19th century conditions.

Some critics think fears of an EMP attack are overblown, and perhaps they are, but no one really knows. Even so, why are our media and presidential candidates talking about how many bankruptcies Trump has filed and how many women will vote for Hillary? Why are they not talking about how they'll protect us from what is potentially the most serious threat facing this nation in its history? Why are we such an unserious people?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Assuming a Can Opener

Author Eric Metaxis recounts the old story of a chemist, a physicist, and an economist stranded on a desert island with nothing to eat but a can of soup:
Puzzling over how to open the can, the chemist says, “Let’s heat the can until it swells and bursts from the buildup of gases.” “No, no,” says the physicist, “let’s throw it off that cliff with just enough kinetic energy to split it open on the rocks below.” The economist, after thinking a moment says, “Assume a can opener.”
The humor of the story lies in the absurdity of the assumption. Of course, if there's a can opener then there's no problem getting the can opened, but what justifies the assumption that a can opener exists?

Metaxis compares this story with its convenient assumption of the existence of a can opener to the controversy surrounding the origin of life. He writes:
The way Darwinists approach the origin of life is a lot like that economist’s idea for opening the can. The Darwinian mechanism of mutation and natural selection explains everything about life, we’re told—except how it began. “Assume a self-replicating cell containing information in the form of genetic code,” Darwinists are forced to say. Well, fine. But where did that little miracle come from?

Dr. Stephen Meyer explains in his book “Signature in the Cell” why this may be Darwinism’s Achilles heel. In order to begin evolution by natural selection, you need a self-replicating unit. But the cell and its DNA blueprint are too complicated by far to have arisen through chance chemical reactions. The odds of even a single protein forming by accident are astronomical. So Meyer and other Intelligent Design theorists conclude that Someone must have designed and created the structures necessary for life.
Darwinian naturalists, however, simply assume a can opener. They assume, despite the complete and utter lack of empirical evidence, that something existed somewhere that somehow organized the first replicating cell.

When someone believes something despite the lack of supporting evidence we sometimes derisively call that blind faith. It's ironic that those who believe that the extraordinary complexity and functionality of life are evidence of an intelligent agent are accused of having "blind faith" by the same people who believe that nature waved a magic wand and fortuitously brought living things into being by accident from a chemical soup even though no evidence has ever been adduced that would support the claim that this is even possible.

Those who direct the pejorative of blind faith at those who posit an intelligent agent behind the origin of living things would do well to first examine a few of their own beliefs before they find themselves embarrassingly hoist with their own petard.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Cruz's Letter

A lot of people were stunned and disappointed when Senator Ted Cruz announced on Friday that he was going to vote for Donald Trump. During the primaries Trump insulted Cruz, his wife and his father and earned the enmity of the legions of Cruz supporters across the country. Unfortunately Trump won the nomination, but despite having pledged early on to support whomever the nominee turned out to be, Cruz has been understandably loath to do so publicly. Until now.

His decision has elicited a lot of comment from the #NeverTrump folks in the GOP. People have accused him of selling out his principles or of making a political calculation, but neither of these allegations is the most charitable interpretation of Cruz's decision.

If people supported Cruz because they believe he's that rare breed, a principled politician, why not give him the benefit of the doubt that his endorsement was dictated by principle? Why not think that the man was going to swallow his pride, set aside the personal insults, and do what he believed was best for the country?

Other critics have argued that, setting principle aside, this was a terrible political mistake, but it's not clear to me how this might be. Cruz is already the next most popular politician in Texas after the Governor, and few people will remember his endorsement of Trump or hold it against him in 2020 should he run again for president. Moreover, the Trump crowd will be much more likely to support him four years from now because of his endorsement of their man this year.

If Hillary wins in November, Cruz will be in a good position to run against her as a candidate that Trumpers and conservatives both can support. If Trump wins in November he'll be 74 in 2020 and probably not eager to put himself through the wringer again. Cruz would be in a good position, having gained the good graces of Trump's minions, to compete with Mike Pence for Trump's mantle.

But I want to give Cruz the benefit of the doubt and say that he did it, not as a result of some crass political calculation, but for the reasons he actually stated. Here's an excerpt from the letter he sent out:
I’ve made this decision for two reasons. First, last year, I promised to support the Republican nominee. And I intend to keep my word.

Second, even though I have had areas of significant disagreement with our nominee, by any measure Hillary Clinton is wholly unacceptable — that’s why I have always been #NeverHillary.

Six key policy differences inform my decision. First, and most important, the Supreme Court. For anyone concerned about the Bill of Rights — free speech, religious liberty, the Second Amendment — the Court hangs in the balance. I have spent my professional career fighting before the Court to defend the Constitution. We are only one justice away from losing our most basic rights, and the next president will appoint as many as four new justices. We know, without a doubt, that every Clinton appointee would be a left-wing ideologue. Trump, in contrast, has promised to appoint justices “in the mold of Scalia.”

For some time, I have been seeking greater specificity on this issue, and today the Trump campaign provided that, releasing a very strong list of potential Supreme Court nominees — including Sen. Mike Lee, who would make an extraordinary justice — and making an explicit commitment to nominate only from that list. This commitment matters, and it provides a serious reason for voters to choose to support Trump.

Second, Obamacare. The failed healthcare law is hurting millions of Americans. If Republicans hold Congress, leadership has committed to passing legislation repealing Obamacare. Clinton, we know beyond a shadow of doubt, would veto that legislation. Trump has said he would sign it.

Third, energy. Clinton would continue the Obama administration’s war on coal and relentless efforts to crush the oil and gas industry. Trump has said he will reduce regulations and allow the blossoming American energy renaissance to create millions of new high-paying jobs.

Fourth, immigration. Clinton would continue and even expand President Obama’s lawless executive amnesty. Trump has promised that he would revoke those illegal executive orders.

Fifth, national security. Clinton would continue the Obama administration’s willful blindness to radical Islamic terrorism. She would continue importing Middle Eastern refugees whom the FBI cannot vet to make sure they are not terrorists. Trump has promised to stop the deluge of unvetted refugees.

Sixth, Internet freedom. Clinton supports Obama’s plan to hand over control of the Internet to an international community of stakeholders, including Russia, China, and Iran. Just this week, Trump came out strongly against that plan, and in support of free speech online.

These are six vital issues where the candidates’ positions present a clear choice for the American people.

If Clinton wins, we know — with 100% certainty — that she would deliver on her left-wing promises, with devastating results for our country.

My conscience tells me I must do whatever I can to stop that.

We also have seen, over the past few weeks and months, a Trump campaign focusing more and more on freedom — including emphasizing school choice and the power of economic growth to lift African-Americans and Hispanics to prosperity.

Finally, after eight years of a lawless Obama administration, targeting and persecuting those disfavored by the administration, fidelity to the rule of law has never been more important.

The Supreme Court will be critical in preserving the rule of law. And, if the next administration fails to honor the Constitution and Bill of Rights, then I hope that Republicans and Democrats will stand united in protecting our fundamental liberties.

Our country is in crisis. Hillary Clinton is manifestly unfit to be president, and her policies would harm millions of Americans. And Donald Trump is the only thing standing in her way.
He could've also mentioned the corruption at the Department of Justice and the IRS which would doubtless continue under a Democratic administration, but the reasons he lists seem adequate to justify his decision. Why not take the man at his word?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Is Free Will an Illusion? (Pt. II)

Yesterday we took a look at philosopher Stephen Cave's essay on free will which appeared in The Atlantic last June. Cave quoted several neuroscientists who believe that our sense that we freely make the choices we do is in truth an illusion and that our choices are actually the product solely of chemical reactions occurring in the brain which are themselves the product of our genetic endowments or the environmental influences that have acted upon us throughout our lives. This view is called determinism.

Here are a few more excerpts, with my commentary, from Cave's article:
Determinism, to one degree or another, is gaining popular currency. The skeptics are in ascendance. This development raises uncomfortable—and increasingly nontheoretical—questions: If moral responsibility depends on faith in our own agency, then as belief in determinism spreads, will we become morally irresponsible? And if we increasingly see belief in free will as a delusion, what will happen to all those institutions that are based on it?

Believing that free will is an illusion has been shown to make people less creative, more likely to conform, less willing to learn from their mistakes, and less grateful toward one another. In every regard, it seems, when we embrace determinism, we indulge our dark side.
And little wonder. If determinism is true there really can be no moral obligation, nor any real moral right or wrong. Morality is based on the notion that we are free to choose between options. If no such freedom exists then neither does morality. It's merely an illusion, as Cave's words suggest.
Saul Smilansky, a philosophy professor at the University of Haifa, in Israel, has wrestled with this dilemma throughout his career and come to a painful conclusion: “We cannot afford for people to internalize the truth” about free will. Smilansky is convinced that free will does not exist in the traditional sense—and that it would be very bad if most people realized this.

Smilansky advocates a view he calls illusionism—the belief that free will is indeed an illusion, but one that society must defend. The idea of determinism, and the facts supporting it, must be kept confined within the ivory tower. Only the initiated, behind those walls, should dare to, as he put it to me, “look the dark truth in the face.” Smilansky says he realizes that there is something drastic, even terrible, about this idea—but if the choice is between the true and the good, then for the sake of society, the true must go.
In other words, Smilansky can't live with the implications of his materialist worldview. It forces an untenable conflict between what's true and what's good, but any worldview that is unlivable is also unviable. Instead of saying that truth must go maybe he should be saying that his materialism must go. It's stunning that someone would cling so tenaciously to his worldview that he'd be willing to deliberately sacrifice the truth rather than give it up.
[N]euroscientist and writer Sam Harris, his 2012 book, Free Will, set out to bring down the fantasy of conscious choice. Like Smilansky, he believes that there is no such thing as free will. But Harris thinks we are better off without the whole notion of it.

According to Harris, we should acknowledge that even the worst criminals—murderous psychopaths, for example—are in a sense unlucky. “They didn’t pick their genes. They didn’t pick their parents. They didn’t make their brains, yet their brains are the source of their intentions and actions.” In a deep sense, their crimes are not their fault. Recognizing this, we can dispassionately consider how to manage offenders in order to rehabilitate them, protect society, and reduce future offending. Harris thinks that, in time, “it might be possible to cure something like psychopathy,” but only if we accept that the brain, and not some airy-fairy free will, is the source of the deviancy.

Accepting this would also free us from hatred. Holding people responsible for their actions might sound like a keystone of civilized life, but we pay a high price for it: Blaming people makes us angry and vengeful, and that clouds our judgment.
Harris' view is actually better than Smilansky's since Harris at least says that we should embrace the truth, at least as he understands it, and acknowledge that there's no free will nor any entailments of free will such as moral responsibility. This would perhaps free us from being "angry and vengeful," but at what cost? A world in which no one was seen as guilty (or praiseworthy), where no one was seen as morally responsible for anything they did, would quickly devolve into chaos. Moreover, who gets to define what "deviancy" is? One man's deviancy is another man's passion, and if determinism is true why should any deviancy be suppressed or "rehabilitated"?

These men are aware that there's a genuine conflict between free will, moral responsibility and materialism, but their solution is to hold tenaciously to materialism and have done with truth, free will, and/or moral responsibility. This is a bit like the obese man whose weight has caused his blood pressure to elevate and who chooses to address the problem by refusing to have his blood pressure taken. Maybe what the obese man should do instead is shed the weight, and maybe what the materialist should do is shed his materialism.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Is Free Will an Illusion? (Pt. I)

One of the most intractable of all philosophical questions over the centuries has been the question of whether we really have the freedom to make genuine choices or whether our choices are the product simply of environmental or genetic factors over which we ultimately have no control. In other words, do we have free will or are we determined - programmed by physics and chemistry - to choose the way we do?

A friend passed along a recent and very interesting article in The Atlantic by philosopher Stephen Cave who explores the question and, perhaps unintentionally, illustrates how one's worldview influences the philosophical positions one takes.

Here are just a few excerpts from Cave's essay:
In recent decades, research on the inner workings of the brain has helped to resolve the nature-nurture debate—and has dealt a further blow to the idea of free will. Brain scanners have enabled us to peer inside a living person’s skull, revealing intricate networks of neurons and allowing scientists to reach broad agreement that these networks are shaped by both genes and environment. But there is also agreement in the scientific community that the firing of neurons determines not just some or most but all of our thoughts, hopes, memories, and dreams.

We know that changes to brain chemistry can alter behavior—otherwise neither alcohol nor antipsychotics would have their desired effects. The same holds true for brain structure: Cases of ordinary adults becoming murderers or pedophiles after developing a brain tumor demonstrate how dependent we are on the physical properties of our gray stuff.
Throughout his article Cave simply assumes materialism is true. Of course, if it is true then obviously only the material brain can be responsible for our mental activity. But why think materialism is true? Cave never tells us but rather just seems to assume everyone, or at least all intelligent people, accepts it. If, though, it's not true and we do have immaterial minds then it could be that brains and minds work in tandem like the television set and the electromagnetic signals that the set receives and converts into an image. Fiddling with the set will disturb the image, but that doesn't mean that the set is all there is to the production of the image. Cave continues:
Many scientists say that the American physiologist Benjamin Libet demonstrated in the 1980s that we have no free will. It was already known that electrical activity builds up in a person’s brain before she, for example, moves her hand; Libet showed that this buildup occurs before the person consciously makes a decision to move. The conscious experience of deciding to act, which we usually associate with free will, appears to be an add-on, a post hoc reconstruction of events that occurs after the brain has already set the act in motion.
This is not quite correct, however. What Libet (who himself believed we have free will) showed was that even though electrical activity in the brain precedes our awareness of the need to make a decision, we still have the ability to overrule the decision that the brain has selected for us. (See here)
The challenge posed by neuroscience is more radical: It describes the brain as a physical system like any other, and suggests that we no more will it to operate in a particular way than we will our heart to beat. The contemporary scientific image of human behavior is one of neurons firing, causing other neurons to fire, causing our thoughts and deeds, in an unbroken chain that stretches back to our birth and beyond. In principle, we are therefore completely predictable. If we could understand any individual’s brain architecture and chemistry well enough, we could, in theory, predict that individual’s response to any given stimulus with 100 percent accuracy.
This is the contemporary scientific image because many neuroscientists embrace metaphysical materialism. In other words, it's their metaphysics that causes them to embrace this picture, not their science. If one has concluded that everything that exists is comprised of matter and energy then whatever explanation for our cognitive processes one invents will ultimately be based on nothing more than atoms and energy.

The really critical question, then, is whether there are good reasons to accept materialism, but, since materialism is, in fact, a metaphysical preference, that's not a question science can answer. More on Cave's article tomorrow.