Saturday, February 9, 2008

Nothing Buttery

The debate between materialistic monists and substance dualists regarding the nature of the mind/brain relationship continues apace. Materialism is the view that all there is to us is matter. There is no mind. Mind is to the brain, for the materialist, what digestion is to the stomach. It's just a word we use to describe the function of the brain. Substance dualism, on the other hand, holds that there is, as part of us, a mental substance that is not reducible to matter or brain and which corresponds to what we call mind.

With this in mind (forgive me) Michael Engor addresses the surprising claim made by Yale neurologist Steven Novella that materialism has been proven true by research:

Consider this: if the mind arises entirely from the brain, materialism predicts that there must be a specific material cause for each mental state. That is, a specific mental state must be a specific brain state, nothing more or less. For example, if I am thinking "the White House is in Washington, D.C.", there must be a specific arrangement of molecules and neurons and action potentials in my brain that are the thought itself. In the materialistic paradigm, please understand, matter doesn't just correlate with the thought; matter is the thought.

Materialism is the proposition that all things are material, including thoughts. Every time I think "the White House is in Washington D.C.", there must exist in my brain that exact configuration of matter: 2,433 neurons with x concentration of acetylcholine located in 87,456 dendrites arrayed in a discrete geometrical pattern with action potentials precisely defined. That exact configuration is the thought. If I had a different configuration of matter - any difference - I would have a different thought. If each mental state is a brain state, then this reduction must hold for every thought. This is a straightforward prediction of materialism.

We have a vast knowledge of neuroscience. Yet what is the scientific evidence supporting this most fundamental prediction of materialism - that every thought is reducible at the molecular level to a discrete and unique brain state? There isn't a shred of evidence that any discrete mental state - any specific thought - can be reduced at the molecular level to a unique material brain state. Not a shred.

The notion that the mind is nothing but chemical reactions in the brain may have been plausible a century ago, but in light of modern knowledge of the brain and consciousness that type of simple reductionism, what is sometimes called "nothing buttery", seems quaint. Read Engor's full response to Novella at the link.


Two Cheers for Stigma

An alarming news story in the Canadian Star points out that there has been a stunning increase in the number of young girls convicted of violent and vicious crimes:

According to a Statistics Canada report last Thursday, the number of females age 12 and up accused of violent crime climbed between 1986 and 2005.

One statistic in particular is worrying. Among girls, says Female Offenders in Canada, the rate at which they're charged for "serious violent crime" has more than doubled, to 132 teens per 100,000 in 2005 from 60 in 1986. Meanwhile, the rate among adult women climbed to 46 from 25 per 100,000.

For young women, that's an alarming leap - and it's been reflected in some shocking news.

From the brutal swarming, beating and drowning death of B.C.'s Reena Virk in 1997 to last fall's torture by Nova Scotia girls of another teen, girls have been accused of bullying, burning and battering.

In Toronto, one girl, aged 16 - but 15 at the time of the incident - was denied bail last week in connection with the New Year's Day slaying of 14-year-old Stefanie Rengel. The motive, according to the judge, was "senseless jealousy."

While Statistics Canada offers no explanation for any of this increase, Silja J.A. Talvi, author of the recently published Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System, writes, "Girls and women enter the criminal justice system with far higher rates of drug abuse, sexual violence, childhood abuse, mental illness, and experiences with homelessness."

As criminologists and others who study female offenders say, violent girls are often the product of violent homes, and subject to much more stress - from sexual abuse, in particular - than boys.

You can read the rest of this disturbing report at the link.

Sadly, this article confirms the crucial role dysfunctional families, especially emotionally or physically estranged fathers, play in producing aberrant offspring. The one commonality between male and female inmates in our prisons is that their fathers in almost every case were either physically or emotionally absent from their lives or physically or emotionally abusive. Kids need good fathers, and a culture in which parents feel free to split up to pursue their own "happiness", or never marry in the first place, is spawning alarming numbers of wretched children.

Perhaps it's time to restore the social stigma that once attached to unwed motherhood and any divorce that wasn't a last resort. There's a danger, of course, in being too censorious, and we certainly don't want to be the kind of cold, merciless society Hawthorne depicts in The Scarlet Letter. On the other hand, the danger to our children posed by the breakdown of traditional views of marriage and family is too serious and too deadly to allow us to continue to treat marriage as though it were just one of many legitimate ways to raise children.

Parents who aren't willing to commit themselves to each other and to their children should not have them, and, if they do, they deserve the opprobrium of a society that cannot afford the personal tragedy and costs these irresponsible, selfish individuals are inflicting upon everyone else.


Archbishop of Appeasement

Should one laugh at the utter looniness of the Archbishop's suggestion or weep over evidence that in Britain the spirit of Neville Chamberlain lives on:

Dr. Rowan Williams told Radio 4's World at One that the UK has to "face up to the fact" that some of its citizens do not relate to the British legal system. Dr. Williams argues that adopting parts of Islamic Sharia law would help maintain social cohesion.

For example, Muslims could choose to have marital disputes or financial matters dealt with in a Sharia court. He says Muslims should not have to choose between "the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty".

The good prelate appears to be excellent raw material for dhimmitude, having mastered the fine art of obsequious self-abasement. What he advocates, capitulating to Muslim pressure and intimidation, is that Muslims be permitted to live under one set of laws and everyone else be required to live under another. This seems an odd way to achieve integration, assimilation and national cohesion.

Moreover, once Islamic courts were legitimized in Britain how long does the reverend bishop think it would be before Muslims were demanding that they be judged in all matters under their law rather than British law? What grounds would the Archbishop have for denying them this privilege? And what if other religious groups demanded exemption from British law? On what grounds would he deny their demands, if he even would?

So far from establishing one set of laws for one group of citizens and another for a different group European governments should be informing their Muslim citizens that if they wish to live under Sharia law they are free to emigrate to an Islamic country but that as long as they live in Europe they'll live under the same laws as everyone else.