I was interested in what argument or arguments the author (the astrophysicist Adam Frank) would present against materialism. But the only argument Frank gave was one of the weakest arguments anyone could use against materialist claims about the mind. It was an argument that can be summarized like this: “We can't be sure that minds are produced by matter (or that minds are just some aspect of matter), because we're not really sure what matter is.”
Frank discusses at some length the fact that while nineteenth century scientists regarded atoms as being solid little balls of matter, we now know that atoms are made of smaller particles such as electrons, protons and neutrons; and a particle such as an electron has a kind of “fuzzy” nature , so we can't be sure exactly what it is. This is partially because of quantum mechanics, the modern theory of subatomic reality. There are different interpretations of quantum mechanics that disagree with each other, so we cannot be sure of the exact nature of matter on the lowest level. Frank states this: “We know that matter remains mysterious just as mind remains mysterious, and we don’t know what the connections between those mysteries should be."
This is one of the weakest arguments I can imagine against the materialist claim that brains make minds or that minds are just an aspect of brains. The argument does nothing to provide evidence against such a claim, but merely raises a kind of weak question mark suggesting that maybe such a claim isn't certain.
The weakness of Frank's argument can be shown by the fact that what he mentions can be used (with equally weak force) in a way exactly opposite to the way he has used it. For example, a materialist could argue like this:
“Now, it may seem impossible to believe that matter could produce minds if matter consists of hard solid atoms that are like little billiard balls. But quantum mechanics clouds the waters. For example, we don't really know what an electron is. Since we don't really have understanding at the lowest level of what matter is, who is to say that it could not be producing mind?”
If Frank had actually wanted to argue against the claim that minds are merely the product of brains, or an aspect of brains, there are many arguments that he could have used far stronger than the “weak tea” argument he has used. Such arguments are presented in my blog site www.headtruth.blogspot.com. Below are some of these arguments, but not all of them:
- As shown in the many examples given here, here, here, here and here, contrary to the predictions of materialism, human minds can operate very well despite tremendous damage to the brain, caused by injury, disease or surgery. For example, removing half of a person's brain in the operation known as hemispherectomy produces little change in memory or cognitive abilities. There have been quite a few cases of people (such as Lorber's patients) who were able to think and speak very well despite having lost more than 60% of their brain due to disease. Such cases argue powerfully that the human mind is not actually a product of the brain or an aspect of the brain.
- Although it is claimed that memories are stored in the brain (specifically in synapses), there is no place in the brain that is a plausible storage site for human memories that can last for 50 years or longer. The proteins that make up both synapses and dendritic spines are quite short-lived, being subject to very high molecular turnover which gives them an average lifetime of only a few weeks. Both synapses and dendritic spines are a “shifting sands” substrate absolutely unsuitable for storing memories that last reliably for decades.
- It is claimed that memories are stored in brains, but humans are able to instantly recall accurately very obscure items of knowledge and memories learned or experienced decades ago; and the brain seems to have none of the characteristics that would allow such a thing. The recall of an obscure memory from a brain would require some ability to access the exact location in the brain where such a memory was stored (such as the neurons near neuron# 8,124,412,242). But given the lack of any neuron coordinate system or any neuron position notation system or anything like an indexing system or addressing system in the brain, it would seem impossible for a brain to perform anything like such an instantaneous lookup of stored information from some exact spot in the brain.
- If humans were storing their memories in brains, there would have to be a fantastically complex translation system (almost infinitely more complicated than the ASCII code or the genetic code) by which mental concepts, words and images are translated into neural states. But no trace of any such system has ever been found, no one has given a credible detailed theory of how it could work, and if it existed it would be a “miracle of design” that would be naturally inexplicable.
- Contrary to claims that minds are merely an aspect of brains or a product of brains, we know from near-death experiences that human minds can continue to operate even after hearts have stopped and brains have shut down. As discussed here, such experiences often include observations of hospital details or medical details that should have been impossible if a mere hallucination was the cause of the experience.
- If human brains actually stored conceptual and experiential memories, the human brain would have to have both a write mechanism by which exact information can be precisely written, and a read mechanism by which exact information can be precisely read. The brain seems to have neither of these things. There is nothing in the brain similar to the “read-write” heads found in computers.
- We understand how physical things can produce physical effects (such as an asteroid producing a crater), and how mental things can produce mental effects (such as how a belief can give rise to another belief or an emotion). But no one has the slightest idea how a physical thing could ever produce a mental effect. As discussed here, no one has any understanding of how a brain or neurons in a brain could produce anything like a thought or an idea.
- We know from our experience with computers the type of things that an information storage and retrieval system uses and requires. The human brain seems to have nothing like any of these things.
- As discussed here, humans can form new memories instantly, at a speed much faster than would be possible if we were using our brains to store such memories. It is typically claimed that memories are stored by “synapse strengthening” and protein synthesis, but such things do not work fast enough to explain the formation of memories that can occur instantly.
- As discussed here, human brains do not show signs of working harder during thinking or memory recall, contrary to what we would expect if such effects were being produced by brains.
- Contrary to the idea that human memories are stored in synapses, the density of synapses sharply decreases between childhood and early adulthood. We see no neural effect matching the growth of learned memories in human.
- There are many humans with either exceptional memory abilities (such as those with hyperthymesia who can recall every day of their adulthood) or exceptional thinking abilities (such as savants with incredible calculation abilities). But such cases do not involve larger brains, very often involve completely ordinary brains, and quite often involve damaged brains, quite to the contrary of what we would expect from the “brains make minds” assumption.
- The very strong laboratory evidence for psi (most notably extrasensory perception) shows that humans have abilities that cannot be explained by neural activity, and that must involve some higher consciousness reality beyond the brain.
- Results from the animal kingdom are inconsistent with claim that minds are made from brains and memories stored in brains. For example, animals such as crows with very small brains (and no cerebral cortex) perform astonishingly well on mental tests; elephants with brains four times larger than ours are not nearly as smart as us; and flatworms that have been taught things and then decapitated can still remember what they learned, after regrowing a head.
- Well-documented evidence for apparitions provides evidence that the human mind is not merely the result of brain activity. Such evidence includes (1) more than 100 cases of people who saw an apparition of someone they did not know had died, only to very soon learn that the corresponding person had died (as discussed here, here, here and here); (2) many additional cases of apparitions seen by multiple observers, contrary to the explanation of hallucination (discussed here and here); (3) many other cases of death-bed apparitions as discussed here and documented by researchers such as Haraldsson and Osis.
- Contrary to claims that the brain is the source of human thinking and memory recall, a full analysis of the signal delaying factors in the human brain (such as synaptic delays and synaptic fatigue) shows that signals in the brain cannot be traveling fast enough to explain human thinking and human memory recall which can occur instantaneously.
- The human brain experiences extremely severe levels of signal noise, so much signal noise that we should not believe that it is the brain that is producing human memory recall that can occur massively and flawlessly for people such as Hamlet actors and Wagnerian tenors.
These things all indicate that our minds and memory (or paranormal phenomena) must be the result of some spiritual or immaterial aspect of man or some soul aspect of man, in direct contradiction to the position of materialism that such a thing does not exist.
Postscript: Discussing hemispherectomy operations in which half of a brain is removed to stop seizures, the paper here states, "Others, (Ogden, 1988; Riva & Gazzaniga, 1986; Vargha-Khadem et al., 1997a; Verity, 1982) have reported excellent, even normal linguistic abilities after hemispherectomy of either side" of the brain. An interesting scientific paper is entitled, "When only the right hemisphere is left: Studies in language and communication." The study gives us an in-depth analysis of a subject named BL who as a child had half of his brain removed (the left half) in a hemispherectomy operation to reduce seizures. The paper tells us that BL has "above normal intelligence" and that he graduated from college with a bachelor's degree in business and sociology. In a battery of tests of memory and language, the subject showed normal results, with only slight, subtle defecits. He scored above-average on a few memory-related tests, such as the Boston Naming Test and the Famous Names and Faces test. We are told, "Regarding speech, language, and communicative function, BL's performance appears grossly normal in pronunciation, grammar, semantics, and usage."
A study such as this helps to debunk dogmas such as the dogma that the brain is the source of our minds. You can read about many similar cases by following the links above. Referring to patients who had half of their brains removed in hemispherectomy operations, the paper states, "The numerous observations on cognitively intact persons hemispherectomized in childhood bring to mind the report of Lorber (1983) on hydrocephalic adults, whose brains are constituted of only a thin layer of cerebral tissue, and yet who enjoy normal or superior motor and cognitive abilities." Talking about the small effect of hemispherectomy operations in which half of a brain is removed, a doctor states, "When you take out half of their brain in one sitting it’s as if they weren’t touched." When will our neuroscientists start putting two and two together to reach the conclusion that is taught by such observational facts?