Evolution of Nervous Communication

Not a discussion between anxious people, but evolution of the nervous system.


Origin of Intelligence

Origin of the Brain

Quantum Gaseous Domains

I intended to post further on the reasons that I dismissed the Penrose-Hameroff everything-is-quantum model, Orch OR.

Heresiarch commented on the topic, and I have moved the comment here:

"As much as the academic establishment might try to resist the obvious, the indeterminacy of the quantum and the indeterminacy of organismic behavior fit hand-in-glove. Linking those two puzzle pieces together goes a long way toward resolving philosophy's difficulties in trying to reconcile mind and matter. And it's been a longstanding difficulty.

The Penrose-Hameroff model is a big step in the right direction."

I am simply posting an upgraded version of my response:

Admittedly, the academic establishment sometimes resists what later proves to be true, but it is fallacious to imply that Orch OR must, or even could, be correct because different correct hypotheses initially met resistance. Most neuroscientists and physicists think that such is not the case here, as the comments after Hameroff's talk suggest.

The Orch OR model illustrates the difficulty that arises when an expert in one field attempts to shift over to a completely different field that operates on an utterly different paradigm. When it comes to explaining consciousness, Penrose should stick to physics and Hameroff to "passing gas." (I'm not implying that he's flatulent, it's an old medical joke about anesthetists – now called anesthesiologists.)

Further, there is nothing obvious about linking quantum indeterminacy to organized "organismic behavior." To do so is to equivocate on the meaning of "indeterminate" – another fallacy of logic.

The element of neural behavior that could be misleadingly labelled "indeterminate" results from neural complexity and technical, experimental difficulties. This is utterly different than quantum indeterminacy, which reflects physicists' probabilistic characterization of quantum states.

Quantum states operate beneath the level of chemical interactions, which is why quantum chemistry is a legitimate area within the field of chemistry. This is helpful, for example in understanding neutrophilic substitution reactions or intermolecular interactions, even intramolecular interactions in large molecules such as proteins, but it is many orders of magnitude too fine-grained to explain consciousness. Biology operates on a substrate of chemical behavior, as does neurophysiology. Consciousness operates on a substrate of neurophysiology. The scale at which consciousness operates is many magnitudes greater than quantum physical behavior.

In a sense, attributing any biological phenomenon above the scale of quantum chemistry to quantum interactions is about as useful an explanation as goddidit. This may explain why heresiarch's brief comments included fallacies of logic.

Linking unrelated "puzzle pieces" together is never a step in the right direction.

Heresiarch provided a link in an attempt to promote his website. A quick blogsearch revealed that he appears to troll for this topic. I am dubious about anyone who hides their IP address, so I conclude that he may be directly connected with Hameroff, who is a prof at University of Arizona. I say this particularly because soon after the comment, someone in Mesa used google-reader to view this site. (I have not promoted this site and it gets very little traffic, largely I'm sure because there are happily much better neuroscience blogs out there – where do they find the time?) Do I sniff a sockpuppet?

Obviously, Hameroff has published extensively on-line to promote his pet theory. If a scientist has a valid theory that is likely to ultimately yield experimental verification, then that scientist has no need to self-promote across non-peer-reviewed websites and blogsites. This misuse of the Internet is employed by IDiocy-promoters such as Dembski.

Another parallel with ID creationism lies in the fact that the Orch OR theory has been out there for more than a decade without experimental verification.

Cognitive Science and its critics (ppt) (html), Orch OR fights back!, Common Misconceptions Regarding Quantum Mechanics

From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

As Arcanum puts it, "And now for something completely ridiculous, Stuart Hameroff." Hameroff's talk is noteworthy for the ridiculous concept, the speed at which he talks, and the reactions to his talk. Fortunately, Hameroff is followed by someone well worth viewing, V.S. Ramachandran.

The talks comprised session 4 of the Beyond Belief 2006 conference: "Science, Religion, Reason and Survival"

Our Brilliant Cousins

This is fascinating news – National Geographic has a video of experiments that demonstrate that 5 year old chimpanzees outperform adult humans on a measure of short term memory.

Here's a short version of the video. In the actual test, the numbers switched to white squares as soon as the first number was touched.

More National Geographic news videos.

Soul Pseudoexplanations

We're all familiar with optical illusions and the fact that our brain can be fooled in its attempts to make sense of the world.

Our brains construct a cross-correlated internal representation of external reality through experience. By cross-correlated I mean that if we see a wall within our reach, it is quite reasonable to expect that we could also touch the wall, hear it if we struck it, even smell it if we cared to get up close.

We are perceptually unaware, though, of the neural processes that are involved in constructing perception, let alone consciousness.

We are unaware of the mechanism that leads to release of adrenaline from the adrenal gland upon sensing of danger–though we are certainly aware of the physiological effect of circulating adrenaline.

Similarly, even though we are aware of emotions, we are unaware of emotional mechanisms. We recall information or events without awareness of the neural basis for memory formation. We are unaware of actin-myosin sliding although aware of muscle contraction–or of cellular secretion of hormones, or of mitosis. The examples of disconnection between cellular mechanisms and perception of those mechanisms are as numerous as our cellular activites. The apprehension problem lies partly because of matters of scale–we have evolved to be aware only of the large scale effects of cellular actions and it could not be otherwise.

Out of this divorce between mechanism and experience came mind-body dualism and the conceptualization of a motivating 'soul' beneath physiological mechanisms. Dualism is the 'common sense' idea that some kind of supernatural mechanism is intimately connect to and drives the physical. Dualism is a soul-of-the-perceptual-gap pseudoexplanation.

By extension, out of mind-body dualism came the equally ridiculous notion that some kind of transcendental 'intelligence' can operate in the universe independent of a neural substrate. Regardless of what overly argument-driven philosophers might believe, the evidence indicates that intelligence is an evolved, neural-based phenomenon. Period. End of story. Or, it should be.

(By argument-driven, I refer to the phenomenon of looking only at whether or not the construction of an argument follows the rules of logic, and whether or not the premises conform to Newtonian-level intuition.)

"The philosopher Isaiah Berlin once said that the trouble with academics and commentators is that they care more about whether ideas are interesting than whether they are true." Michael Ignatieff

I think that Berlin's comment also applies to some philosophers and definitely to theologians and apologists.

The potential for mistaken conceptualizations based on 'common sense' or intuitive reasoning ultimately led from philosophy, which sought to answer questions purely by 'thinking' about them, to experimental science that acknowledged, and compensated for, the limitation of pure rationalism. Science evolved philosophically to discard, by expert consensus, old outmoded metaphysical explanations for the physical. Philosophy, divorced as it can be from empirical testing of premises, has not necessarily discarded unsupported theories.

Theists, who must ignore the lack of evidence or counterevidence, have monopolized on this deficiency in philosophy. They call it theology or apologetics. Some of these arguments appear quite logical, but there is an inherent problem with arguments constructed purely on definition or analogy. Any philosophy that seeks to explain the physical, regardless of whether it defines itself as supernatural or ineffable, must cede the field to scientific explanations, where available, because only science can test, confirm, or falsify the physical.

Stephen Jay Gould was, I believe, quite incorrect about his appeasement position termed "non-overlapping magisteria".

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Captive Conversions

Further to a conversation about Jeffrey Dahmer's so-called conversion as revealed in an interview with Stone Phillips:

"The jail cell conversion from “sinner” to true believer may be one of the best examples of a “second chance” in modern life, yet the process receives far more attention from the popular media than from social science research. In this article, we explore prisoner conversions from the perspective of narrative psychology. Drawing on 75 original, life story interviews with prisoner “converts,” we argue that the conversion narrative “works” as a shame management and coping strategy in the following ways. The narrative creates a new social identity to replace the label of prisoner or criminal, imbues the experience of imprisonment with purpose and meaning, empowers the largely powerless prisoner by turning him into an agent of God, provides the prisoner with a language and framework for forgiveness, and allows a sense of control over an unknown future."¬ Maruna, S., Wilson, L. & Curran, K. (2006). Why God is often found behind bars: Prison Conversion and the Crisis of Self-Narrative. Research in Human Development, 3, 161 - 184. (pdf)
These authors say that:

"Being imprisoned can cause individuals to see the fragility of the web of meaning they previously took for granted. This realization can lead to reflection on issues of existence, life, and death, which are usually bracketed from everyday consideration."

Cohen and Tayler observe:

"One’s identity, one’s personality system, one’s coherent thinking about himself depend upon a relatively familiar, continuous, and predictable stream of events. In the Kafkaesque world of the booking room, the jail cell, the interrogation room, and the visiting room, the boundaries of the self collapse." ¬ Cohen, S., & Taylor, L. (1972). Psychological survival: The experience of long-term imprisonment. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin. (p. 39)

Most serial killers come from severely abusive childhoods, typically suffering physical/sexual/emotional abuse in the home or extended family. Dissociative identity disorder arises only through severe, early, prolonged traumas commencing in early childhood—usually physical or sexual abuse. Whereas females with DID tend to be self-abusive, and many seek therapy, males with DID are more likely to be violent, to commit crimes, and to be incarcerated.

A very high percentage of survivors of childhood abuse were raised and abused in highly religious families. A significant percentage report that when, as children, they told their mothers that they were being abused, their mothers merely prayed over them or instructed them to pray. Some alter personalities who are devoutly religious, whether or not the host (chief) personality is religious. The religion-of-choice may not be the religion in which the child was raised. Thus, one alter personality may carry all of the religious 'hopes' for the personality system.

Some of the reported conversions during incarceration may result from more prolonged emergence of religious identities or an identity-consensus adoption of religious 'hope' bargaining.

dissociative identity disorder, jail, conversion, religion,