Ken Miller, Christian author and professor of biology at Brown University, recently visited the Scientific American offices to talk about his new book The Human Instinct - How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness and Free Will.
_. He is interviewed by Steve Mirsky, who has been writing a column for SA “since a typical tectonic plate was about 36 inches from its current location.” (This I love!)
Very cool interview! Although I think he is being a little bit too optimistic about neuroscience solving the hard problem of consciousness. I would like to know in more detail what exactly makes him have that expectation.
If any thing I get the impression that neuroscience has shown the irrelevance of “consciousness” in decision making. If a person is aware of his choice after the definitive neural impulse is triggered/exhibited, how do you walk that result back to the “good ol days” ?
But decision making is still inside the “easy” problems of consciousness. That specific problem of decision making is still not closed, but even if it is eventually closed, which I believe is possible, it still will not even scratch the hard problem.
I believe gbrooks is probably refering to the Libet experiment, is that what Miller talks about in his book? I’m curious now, I’ve heard that Miller claimed to be a materialist when it comes to science, so I would expect him to disagree with substance dualism.
It depends on what you define by consciousness. If we’re talking about qualia, even Richard Dawkins admits it is a really difficult task to explain it by materialistic means (although he ultimately believes that to be the case), Thomas Nagel and David Chalmers are also hardcore atheists and based a good deal of their carriers on arguing that some aspects of consciousness (the “hard” ones as Chalmers call it) cannot be reduced to physicality.
I don’t have the book… but if I have a page number, there are ways to “pry” a view of the page out of Google Books… sometimes easily … sometimes not.
There are two considerations I made regarding consciousness. One is that Consciousness is neurological, but not the cause - - rather, the result:
The other is that Consciousness operates in another spatial dimension and is channeled into this realm via neurological machinery. There is a famous case where a man had virtually no frontal lobe (and maybe not much of anything else, it’s a little foggy in my memory), and yet his IQ and functioning were considered to be normal and within the bounds of average.
If the mind is spending most of its time functioning somewhere else, then that would be possible. And if the channel had a lot of Fully Functioning brain machinery (as with most people), this organic machine may not be the source of the mind, but a great “intermediator” of the mind.
I read the book last weekend. It is very interesting. No, Miller is not a substance dualist, but he very much opposes the folks who think we are “nothing but” machines (the Libet experiments and their apostles are rightly criticized for claiming more than they actually show). The other group of people Miller opposes are those who think evolution somehow devalues humans. The chief targets here are Marilynne Robinson, Raymond Tallis, Thomas Nagel, and even our own Francis Collins. Miller claims that each of these thinks you need something besides evolution to explain how wonderful we really are.
Rather than the doctor’s theory of plasticity, my theory is that the plasticity is for “channeling” the mind that has always been elsewhere - - but significantly intermediated by the cortex if there is one to do it!