Mike Flynn has an absolutely fascinating piece…

on the problem facing materialists who insist on saying the mind *is* the brain:

In The Instrumentality of the Brain, we noted a boy born without a cerebellum — the part of the brain that controls motor skills, balance and emotions — and who “has the MRI of a vegetable”; yet who has learned to walk and interact. He is also missing his pons, the part of the brain stem that controls basic functions, such as sleeping and breathing. And yet he breathes and sleeps just fine.

Other cases are known, such as the French civil servant, whose brain was virtually absent, reduced to a thin layer around the skull, a condition known as Dandy-Walker syndrome. Pause here for jokes about civil servants. Or Frenchmen. But he functioned more or less normally in society despite having water where his brain should have been.

The British neurologist John Lorber reported on the case of a slightly hydrocephalic math student with an IQ of 126, who also was almost lacking in brains (cf. Is the brain really necessary).

The current sexy thing among the cognoscenti is the use of fMRI to “prove” that there is no free will, a topic which, for some reason seems to obsess the likes of Jerry Coyne. Or at least the brain atoms collectively known as Jerry Coyne. It seems that at least some of these folks believe that by attacking free will, they are attacking religion; but they are actually attacking humanism.

Read the whole thing. Amazing stuff.

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  • Joseph H. M. Ortiz

    Sometimes when waking up during or after your first night at a motel, you’ve sometimes been surprised for a second that you’re not in your bed at home, right? I have. But have you ever been surprised when waking, that you’re yourself? Or that you exist at all? I’ve never been. I suggest that this is a common-sense proof that a human being, once having achieved self-awareness early in life, never ever, even for a moment, even in sleep or in a coma, entirely loses that awareness, even if it’s sometimes only implicit.

    • DTMcCameron

      Disappointed, but never surprised.

      • Joseph H. M. Ortiz

        LOL! But if disappointed, also hopeful.

    • ds

      Top Secret (1984) has a good take on this.:


    • SouthCoast

      “But have you ever been surprised when waking, that you’re yourself?” Well, yes, but only once, and that was when I was coming out from under the anesthesia after a minor operation. I regained consciousness, and wasn’t sure if I was “me”, or maybe someone else thinking they were “me”. I finally decided that, whatever the case may have been, I was, at the moment, utterly comfortable, and, if I waited long enough, someone would eventually come along to tell me who I was. I regained my sense of self before that had to happen, and was wheeled abruptly out of the recovery room after I began finding the knobs and levers on a nearby panel irresistably fascinating.

  • Tammy

    Using an MRI to prove there is no such thing as free will is just silly and an embarassingly non-scientific way to reverse engineer an excuse to not be accountable for one’s actions and refusing to acknowledge a Creator.

    Stories like this should humble us to remember that we are looking at a very complex world with no tool other than the goo in our head and we dont even know how it works. God functions on level higher than our goo will ever understand here, hence the need to TRUST Him.

    We also need to stay vigilent for society to coin terrible terms like “persistent vegetative state”…(nothing makes a human a vegetable, ever). Similarly, many ethicists have tried to revise the word person to have a very narrow meaning and we must fight this. http://lifeandloss.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/i-know-a-person-when-i-see-one/

    For the faithful, I suggest we begin using phrases like “impaired person” (or some other inclusive and respectful term a wordsmith metter than me can develop) in place of the terribly discounting phrases the scientists and ethicists try to shove on us to describe our brethren.

  • The problem for free will is that both determinism and randomness refute it, and there’s no third option.

    “It seems that at least some of these folks believe that by attacking free will, they are attacking religion; but they are actually attacking humanism.” Theologically, an attack on free will is an attack on original sin, and the just desert of eternal damnation. It is also an affirmation of God’s supreme omnipotence.

    • ivan_the_mad

      The problem with determinism is that it’s an unproven hypothesis. Beg the question much?

    • Mark Shea

      The problem with determinists is that they refute themselves by constantly trying to *persuade* people to freely embrace their bullshit ideology.

      • An excellent refutation, Mark. Condemned by their own argument, as it were.

        Pax et bonum,
        Keith Töpfer

      • Joseph H. M. Ortiz

        However, determinists, non realizing the sloppiness of their arguments, see some of those arguments not as merely persuasive, but as intellectually necessitating for determinism as a full moon on a clear night (though they’d probably concede that citing President Obama and other famous persons as they do as an authority for their position, is not conclusive).

        • Mark Shea

          I think what you are saying boils down to “Determinists are stupid and do not know how to think.”

    • Joseph H. M. Ortiz

      Determinism is indeed “an affirmation of God’s supreme omnipotence” for those who conceive that omnipotence in an anthropomorphic and bodily way as an irresistible push or pull or force, despite their (no doubt sincere) touting of “divine transcendence”. But let us remember that “omnipotence” means here that God CAN do anything doable, and maybe therefore that God can move someone irresistibly, but not necessarily that He always DOES so. Who is to say that in His beneficent wisdom He sometimes moves a human with an impulse to good that a human can — by a free non-act — render fruitless? So that if the human does NOT render it fruitless, but instead lets it fructify into a good act, is praiseworthy? In short, “omnipotence” is not “omnificience”.

      • Joseph H. M. Ortiz

        My last question above should read: Who is to say but what in His beneficent wisdom He sometimes moves a human with an impulse to good that a human can — by a free non-act — render fruitless? So that if the human does NOT render it fruitless, but instead lets it fructify into a good act, that human is praiseworthy?

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Yet physics began to give up on that sort of crude determinism a hundred years ago. Some folks haven’t gotten the memo.
      + + +
      Ironically, one finds determinists on other boards switching over to randomists at the drop of a hat, once the subject swings to causation.

  • Ted Seeber

    This is the reason why I’m pro-life on PVS cases like Terry Schaivo. The human brain is far more adaptable than we think.

  • MarylandBill

    The union of the Body and the Soul should be the heart of our discussions of the body. The ability of the body to maintain life on its own without direct intervention (i.e., artificial respiration or heart, etc.) can and should be taken as evidence that the soul is still present. Therefore, it would be wrong to deprive the body of food, water and other needs.

    The brain and the mind might be intimately linked, but I think it is wrong to conclude that the brain is the mind. Imagine if we knew nothing about radio communications and then saw an remote controlled vehicle. We might take the the vehicle apart.. and find that if we removed or damaged the radio that the vehicle no longer appeared to function. We could rightly conclude that the radio was essential to the proper functioning of the vehicle, but we would be wrong to conclude that it also was the source of the will that caused the vehicle to move.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      The brain and the mind might be intimately linked

      As are the fingers and the piano-playing; and for the same reason.

      The footprint and the journey are also intimately linked, but no one supposes that the footprints cause the journey. Yet some folks immediately conclude that an organ (the brain) controls the organism (the being-as-whole).

  • I’ve been very confused lately about this brain/mind thing. Can anyone point me in the direction of a good explanation of the Catholic Church’s position on brain mind? Thanks.

  • Liam

    These stories further convince me that Transhumanism is a trendy cargo cult.