Is your mind the puppeteer that is controlling your body?

Is your mind the puppeteer that is controlling your body? What is it that causes you to act?

At Stewart Goetz quotes the neuroscientist Wilder Penfield,

"'When I have caused a conscious patient to move his hand by applying an electrode to the motor cortex of one hemisphere, I have often asked him about it. Invariably his response was: ‘I didn’t do that. You did.’"

“There is no place in the cerebral cortex where electrical stimulation will cause a patient . . . to decide”. This is consistent with my point that choices are undetermined events with a teleological explanation. In light of his work as a neuroscientist, Penfield concludes the following: “For my own part, after years of striving to explain the mind on the basis of brain-action alone, I have come to the conclusion that it is simpler (and far easier and logical) if one adopts the hypothesis that our being does consist of two fundamental elements.”'

I disagree wtih Goetz and Penfield. I think the intellectually responsible position to take is to continue to conduct research. We can't reproduce the act of deciding by applying an electrode to the motor cortex of one hemisphere. Maybe because that is not where decisions are made. I think the evidence we have gathered so far about how the brain works is at best inconclusive. We are only beginning to learn how the brain works.

Our current brain imaging technology is still relatively rudimentary.

The Human Connectome Project is still working on mapping all of the connections in a human brain. Even when it is complete it will only tell us about the geometric structure of the brain at a very detailed level. The connectome will be a static map. To understand the brain completely will require a way to observe the connectome in action, to trace all of the neurotransmitters and nerve pulses in real time. We still have a long way to go.

Here is a progress report:


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God and Mind/Body Dualism | Reasonable Faith
God and Mind/Body Dualism | Reasonable Faith


100 thoughts on “Is your mind the puppeteer that is controlling your body?

  1. It seems that you have the following options:1) The evidence seems to point toward Mind/Body Dualism, but we haven't proven it conclusively, so we should continue to conduct research.2) The evidence seems to point away from Mind/Body Dualism, but we haven't proven it conclusively, so we should continue to conduct research.3) The evidence seems to be equally for and against Mind/Body dualism, so we should continue to conduct research.4) We don't know everything there is to know about how the brain works, so we'll ignore where the evidence seems to lead until we do.

  2. It also seems that your preferred option is always #4. Do we really need to understand the brain completely before we can follow the evidence wherever it leads, even tentatively?

  3. Evidence can be evaluated, examined, studied, analyzed, and followed to its logical conclusion. If you're asking if it can be determined that X evidence gives proposition Y an 80% chance of being true, I doubt it.

  4. I suppose if you read four studies and two of them supported one conclusion and two supported the opposite, you could say that the evidence is 50% in support of each side. But I doubt that assigning numeric values would work in very many cases. If you watched the OJ trial, you may have come away completely convinced that OJ was guilty, but good luck assigning a numeric value to the evidence!

  5. It would be tough to do with mind/body dualism. Does each study carry the same weight? Do you include philosophers and neuroscience researchers? What about artificial intelligence researchers?

  6. I think that good arguments can be made for the existence of free will and reasoning, both of which seem to make mind/body dualism more likely than not.On the other hand, I think arguments for determinism are self-defeating, therefore weakening the arguments against mind/body dualism.So, I would choose Option 1. Which one would you choose?

  7. I was wrong. In his paper, David Chalmers attempts to give a naturalistic explanation of consciousness. He says, "I argue that if we move to a new kind of nonreductive explanation, a naturalistic account of consciousness can be given. I put forward my own candidate for such an account: a nonreductive theory based on principles of structural coherence and organizational invariance and a double-aspect view of information."Can you recommend any reading which concludes that there is no naturalistic explanation of consciousness?

  8. Well, unless there is a viable third alternative, an argument against monism is an argument for dualism. But at the very least, such an argument would seem to strengthen arguments for the immaterial mind.I've heard a number of podcasts with doctors and neuroscientists arguing for a non-material explanation for the mind. Some of them featured Jeffrey Schwartz from UCLA who has done quite a bit of work on neuroplasticity of the mind while studying patients with OCD.Here's an article by William Dembski about Schwartz.

  9. In Dembski's article he says, "Thus, without any intervention directly affecting their brains, OCD patients were able to reorganize their brains by intentionally modifying their thoughts and behaviors."Is he saying that the non-material mind made changes to the physical brain?

  10. By recognizing that the brain changes are the result of intentional behavior on the part of the subject? In these tests the subject is initiating the thoughts that result in the changes, rather than being the passive recipient of them.

  11. I thought maybe you were going to say that if I hadn't walked by the flower stand then the thought would have been initiated by something else, but since I walked by a flower stand then the thought, "I should put some flowers on my dining room table," was generated by my brain.Edit:  But how would I know what you were going to do?

  12. It seems my thoughts are all reactions to previous thoughts, reactions to feelings or reactions to external stimuli. When I read your comment all kinds of thoughts popped in my head. I can only type what pops in my head. Some things I repeat to myself to hear how they sound. Then a different wording will come to mind. If I like the new wording better I type that. If I like original wording I type that. Sometimes I only feel anger and I don't type anything right away. All the thoughts seem to appear in the same way as when I suddenly recall an old friend.

  13. I do think of a red flower briefly but I can then think of other things and eventually forget about the… What was I talking about?In any case, this all seems to be happening inside my cranium. One process doesn't seem any more or less physical than another.

  14. How do I know I chose freely and didn't just respond to your question?  I wasn't thinking of flowers until I read your question.  Does the sunflower choose to point toward the sun?  I think this sort of exercise in inconclusive.

  15. So my question forced you to think of a flower against your will? Could you have refused to follow my suggestion? If I suggest that you think of a red flower, but you think of a green flower instead, how is your choice a result of my suggestion?Does this exercise have to be conclusive for it to be rationally believed?

  16. Why did I think of a flower rather than an elephant?  You're request to think of a flower was not the direct cause of my thinking of a flower.  A lot of things had to be in place to cause me to think of a flower.  Part of unraveling the cause of my thoughts is understanding consciousness and cognition.I'm not aware of a universally accepted standard for belief.   Is it true that I chose freely to think of a red flower?

  17. You could have thought of an elephant if you had chosen to do so. In fact, think of one right now. OK, stop thinking about one. OK, start again. With all these things in place, I can control your thinking. And there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Do you believe that?Is a "universally accepted standard" necessary for something to be true? Do you believe it's true that you exist? Some Hindus would dispute that.

  18. Of course I don't believe that you have control of my thinking.  In any complex system it's difficult to see the connection between the inputs and the outputs.  Do butterflies cause hurricanes?  Just because you con't can't see every link in the causal chain doesn't mean there is a supernatural cause.What is sufficient for belief in one person is not sufficient to cause another person to believe.  Is there no difference between belief and truth?Will we continue to ask each other questions?  lol

  19. Apparently you do believe that I have control of your thinking, at least to some extent. It was my suggestion that caused you to think of a red flower, right?You said, "As soon as I read the words yellow flower, I was thinking of a yellow flower.  I don't recall making a choice." That sounds like my words caused your brain to act, at least in part.Apparently, butterflies do play some small role in causing hurricanes.There is a difference between belief and truth. Unless, the universe has ended 😉

  20. Can anyone read the word for a noun without thinking of that thing? Maybe you can when you don't know what the word means or if you've trained yourself to always think elephant when someone says, flower. Suppose I could read flower without thinking of a flower. Is this evidence for the existence of an immaterial mind?

  21. If I ask you to think of one color and instead you think of another color, that would seem to be in conflict with your statement that As soon as I read the words yellow flower, I was thinking of a yellow flower.  I don't recall making a choice. I'm not sure if that constitutes evidence for an immaterial mind, but I think it casts doubt on the concept of materialism.

  22. At the very least, your belief in materialism is not nearly as justified as you believe it is. On the contrary, there are good reasons to doubt it.But, as we've discussed before, if materialism is true, you have no reason to believe that any of your beliefs are actually true. So, the entire concept of materialism is self-contradictory.

  23. My goal is to believe only those things which I'm justified in believing. I hope I am not overconfident. Just because I attack immaterialism doesn't mean I think the case for naturalism is a closed case. That's why I prefer to ask questions rather than to make proclamations. Do I believe materialism is self-contradictory? This idea is based on Alvin Plantinga's argument, An Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. I have a transcript of a lecture he gave on this topic that I haven't read yet. I need to read this before I can discuss it intelligently. I also need to become intelligent before I can discuss it intelligently.

  24. "My goal is to believe only those things which I'm justified in believing"I want to believe this about you, but you've given me plenty of reasons to doubt it."Just because I attack immaterialism doesn't mean I think the case for naturalism is a closed case."But you do believe it anyway."I also need to become intelligent before I can discuss it intelligently."Don't we all!

  25. You think I believe in naturalism yet you have also said everyone believes in God whether they are willing to admit it or not.If naturalism is not true then I don't want to believe it.

  26. I've said that everyone knows that there is a God but some are not willing to admit it. I stand by that statement.People hold contradictory beliefs all the time. I'm sure I do. It's when we examine them and realize that they are contradictory that one or both beliefs must give way (or we simply continue to deny one of them to avoid the contradiction).I believe it was Stephen Meyer who said, "The heart cannot exult in what the mind rejects." I agree with this completely!If God exists, do you want to believe in Him?

  27. I don't think so.  Why wouldn't I want to believe in something that exists?  But I can't remember if I've been asked about the existence of God in this way before.  I think I have said that I doubt that God exists.

  28. //"Why wouldn't I want to believe in something that exists?"//I imagine that there are a lot of things that we would rather not believe in even if they do exist.I'm probably thinking about comments you've made about the Bible. You've said you don't want it to be true.

  29. Ah, yes.  In 2004 I said, "I don't wan't to believe the Bible." suppose I have changed my position.  I don't know if knowing the truth would make me any happier, but my feeling right now is that I would like to know which parts of the Bible are true.  If the Bible is true then I would like to believe it.  Of course, if James 2:19 is true then it's not good enough to just believe in God."Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?"I think I would rather know the truth than live in denial.

  30. I think this is exactly the right position to take. (+Becky Morrison will be happy to hear there is something else we agree on :-)Of course, the first step in believing the truth is acknowledging that there is such a thing as truth. This is something else we agree on. Postmodernists believe that you have your truth and I have my truth and we can both be right, even if our "truths" contradict each other. This is irrational.I've probably told you about my friend who was raised a Catholic, went to a Mormon College, attended a Congregational church, and then a Charismatic/Pentecostal church. During his search, he made a comment I'll never forget. He said, "Bob, I just want the truth. If it's Buddhism, so be it. If it's Mormonism, so be it. I want to believe the truth whatever it is."I think this is exactly the right attitude to have. Jesus said that if you seek the truth, you'll find it. He also said that He is the truth. By the way, my friend ended up becoming a Christian.

  31. I think this quote from D.L. Moody is perfectly appropriate:My friends, let us look this question in the face. If there is anything at all in the religion of Christ, give everything for it. If there is nothing in it—if it is a myth, if our mothers who have prayed over us have been deceived, if the praying people of the last [2,000] years have been deluded—let us find it out. The quicker the better.If there is nothing in the religion of Christ, let us throw it over and eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. If there is no devil to deceive us, no hell to receive us, if Christianity is a sham, let us come out and say so.I hope to live to see the time when there will be only two classes in this world—Christians and [unbelievers]—those who take their stand bravely for Him and those who take their stand against Him. This idea of men standing still and saying, “Well, I don’t know, but I think there must be something in it,” is absurd. If there is anything in it, there is everything in it.  – D.L. Moody

  32. You know there are people who could ask you that same question. You are also very confident in some truths. For instance, you are confident that you are the one who asked me how I can be so confident. You are confident that "it" is really not "that simple". And you are confident in the truth of your own existence.Some Buddhists, Hindus, and solipsists, for example, might ask you, "How can you be so confident that you exist? Or how can you be so confident that 2+2=4? Or how can you be so confident that two contradictory things can't both be true? You can't prove these things." But you are confident that you have found the truth in these areas, aren't you?

  33. Now it sounds like you're saying you don't really know these thing to be true after all.EDIT: If you really can't help but be confident, you would never be rational to believe it. That sounds like a recipe for hyper-skepticism.

  34. You said, "If you really can't help but be confident, you would never be rational to believe it."This is only true if being rational requires being able to "help it". In a brief article on, John McCarthy proposes that it would be silly to program a robot to reason, "I'm a robot and a deterministic device. Therefore, I have no choice between B and C. What I will do is determined by my construction."[1] But it would be useful to program it to perform B under some conditions and C under other conditions.To be fair, in this article McCarthy doesn't apply these ideas to the problem of free will in humans. But I think it would not be too much of a stretch to do so. It might indeed be detrimental if people believe they have no free will, even if it were true. By the way, I believe you said once that babies do not have free will. Since you believe that adults have free will how is it they come by this property? Is free will something you can learn? Or is free will necessary in order to be able to learn?[1]

  35. //This is only true if being rational requires being able to "help it".//If 100% of your thinking is determined for you, then how could you possibly evaluate the accuracy of that thinking? The evaluation itself would also be determined, so the concept of "right thinking" becomes meaningless. Therefore, you would have no way of knowing if any of your beliefs are correct, including the belief that you "can't help but be confident."I read the summary of McCarthy's Ability, Practical Reason and Free Will and I'm honestly not sure what he's getting at.I don't remember exactly what I said about babies and free will. But it does seem that the ability to exercise free will can be restricted. For instance, people who are incarcerated have physical limits placed on their freedom. People who have brain injury have limits on their ability to think. And, no doubt, babies have limits as well.I don't think free will is something that is learned, but free will may not be necessary for certain types of learning. Computers can "learn" but they have no free will since they follow deterministic programming. For instance, with AI software, a computer's output will change depending on the prevalence of certain types of input. So, if the computer detects that Input A is followed by Input B 51% of the time, and is instructed to choose Output C whenever it receives Input B, it will give a slight preference to Output C in the presence of Input A, even if it never sees Input B. This is a type of learning, but it is still deterministic.

  36. It sounds to me like your belief in an immaterial mind could be expressed as follows. 1. A deterministic machine cannot evaluate the accuracy of its thinking. 2. I can determine the accuracy of my thinking. 3. Therefore I am not a deterministic machine. Does this represent how you think about mind/body dualism? Do you think these premises are self-evident, that its an opened and closed case?

  37. That does seem like a good description of my belief. Of course, a deterministic machine could be programmed to determine the accuracy of its thinking, but that leads to additional contradictions, since it would have to follow that new programming and therefore could never know if that programming were correct!I think we should continue to study, experiment, and test theories for and against mind/body dualism. I'm not sure if I would say the premises are self-evident, but I do see logical contradictions with determinism which, at the very least, make it illogical to believe in it.

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