08 June 2007

Michael Egnor needs no brain

Michael Egnor of the Disco Institute wrote:

I have argued that the mind is not completely caused by the brain. By that, I mean that there are properties of the mind, such as ideas, that are not caused by brain matter alone. Brain matter cannot be the complete cause for ideas because matter and ideas share no properties. Cause and effect can’t be ‘linked’ between substances that have no properties in common. I pointed out that the materialist view that matter alone causes ideas is substantially the same as the view that ideas alone move matter, which is the pseudoscience of ‘telekinesis’.

Wrong. Put aside for a second the idea that the mind is something tangible, but non-material (neither matter nor energy). With his telekinesis example, Egnor wants to say, "Mind cannot affect matter (rocks), so matter (brain) cannot affect mind." Notice, though, that the kind of matter changes; rocks are very different from the brain.

To make this an accurate comparison, it should read like this: "Mind cannot affect matter (rocks), so matter (rocks) cannot affect mind." That is, if mental events cannot alter the physical world without using the body as a go-between, then the physical world cannot alter mental events without using the body (i.e. the senses) as a go-between. At best, Egnor's allusion to the absence of telekinesis can be used to argue against clairvoyance. We can't move things without pushing them, and so we shouldn't expect to see things without looking at them. Surprise, surprise, the telekinesis reference doesn't get us anywhere with respect to real cognitive psychology. Egnor's argument hinges on a non sequitir.

I could spend all night tearing Egnor to bits, but I don't want to, especially since it's already been done. Go read someone more articulate instead.

Parting thought: I would just like to take this opportunity to remind our readers that Michael Egnor is supposedly a neurosurgeon.

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