While Thomas is getting his kicks off at the SfN meeting in Atlanta I am toiling away at a number of long overdue papers here in the increasingly cold Denmark. I have several longer blog posts planned, but no time to write them. So, here’s three things to read in the meantime at other venues on the net.
First, John Searle reviews a new book on consciousness by Nicholas Humphrey, Seeing Red, in The New York Review of Books. I have always enjoyed Humphrey’s work, but his new theory on consciousness sounds plain weird (at least as retold by Searle; I haven’t read Humphrey’s book). In Searle’s words:
His [i.e., Humphrey’s] account of sensation and perception contains the following striking claims: perception and sensation are totally independent; all consciousness is sensation; perception is never conscious; and all sensation is really action. The arguments for these claims are complicated and I will not try to summarize all of them; but what follows gives the flavor of his reasoning.
He writes, “I think the weight of evidence really does suggest that sensation and perception, although they are triggered by the same event, are essentially independent takes on this event, occurring not in series but in parallel, and only interacting, if they ever do, much further down the line.” And later he says that a visual sensation “can be put to several uses…, but the one thing it is not used for is as the raw material for the perception of the world. Perception has its own quite separate channel….” He tells us that we have the illusion that sensation and perception are linked because they occur at the same time.
Furthermore, sensations are really actions. We should more properly describe seeing red as “redding.” He draws the analogy between having a red sensation, on the one hand, and waving your hand or shouting, on the other; according to him all three are actions. He says: “Thus, when S has the red sensation, his impression is simply that ‘I’m redding, now, in this part of my visual field of my eyes.'”
According to Searle, Humphrey is lead to this rather speculative distinction between perception and sensation because he believes that the connundrum of consciousness will only be solved if we manage to put “mind” and “brain” on the same ontological footing. In contast, Searle argues that we should be satisfied with a neuroscientific explanation explaining the neural causes of consciousness. Very sensible, I would say.
Well, yes. I think there’s something very evil about faith, where faith means believing in something in the absence of evidence, and actually taking pride in believing in something in the absence of evidence. And the reason that’s dangerous is that it justifies essentially anything. If you’re taught in your holy book or by your priest that blasphemers should die or apostates should die — anybody who once believed in the religion and no longer does needs to be killed — that clearly is evil. And people don’t have to justify it because it’s their faith. They don’t have to say, “Well, here’s a very good reason for this.” All they need to say is, “That’s what my faith says.” And we’re all expected to back off and respect that. Whether or not we’re actually faithful ourselves, we’ve been brought up to respect faith and to regard it as something that should not be challenged. And that can have extremely evil consequences. The consequences it’s had historically — the Crusades, the Inquisition, right up to the present time where you have suicide bombers and people flying planes into skyscrapers in New York — all in the name of faith.
The interview contains lots of other statements that will infuriate people “of faith”.
Finally, the good people over at Panda’s Thumb do us all a great service by taking apart Jonathan Wells’ new intelligent design manifesto, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Chapter by chapter they go through the book’s many scientific shortcomings. The result is not pretty:
Jonathan Wells is one of the most notorious activists of the political ad campaign known as “intelligent design”. He is most well known for his attacks on modern biology, specifically his 2000 book, Icons of Evolution, which was panned by the scientific community for its fraudulent presentation of modern biology.
Does Jonathan Wells, aiming once again at the popular market, restore his scientific and academic reputation with his latest book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, or is it just old trash in a new bag? To find out, you will need to read our multi-part review, which begins tomorrow.
One thing is for sure, Jonathan Wells is too modest. His recently published, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, is not only politically incorrect but incorrect in most other ways as well: scientifically, logically, historically, legally, academically, and morally.
Together, these three texts should last you an afternoon or two. I hope to be back later this week with some musings on the neuroscience of religious cognition. Stay tuned!