Countering the Argument with Thorsten

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What Came Before

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« on: April 19, 2013, 11:46:18 am »
Quote from: Madness
Again, I can't say that I advocate all Thorsten's commentary, even that of the TSA.

But Thorsten sure made a good case for even his disagreeable points. And it just might inspire some dialogue.

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Countering the Argument

The Argument in short


Quite a lot of the contents of 'Neuropath' revolve around the Argument, story internally made in discussions between Neil and Thomas. Simply put, the Argument states that the human brain is a deterministic biological machine processing input from its environment and generating output from this input based on deterministic processes. As a result, notions such as 'selfhood', 'free will', 'decision making' or 'meaning' and ultimately 'consciousness' are illusions. While the mind thinks it executes a plan to realize some future goal, according to the Argument, the underlying reality is that the past state is just computed forward, the seeming future goal towards the mind proceeds is simply an illusion, in reality it is the past that determines what will happen, not the future vision.

In the novel, the Argument is illustrated by fictional neuroscientist Neil demonstrating that artificially stimulating and inhibiting several functions of the brain generates the experiences of desire, will, love, personality, spiritual experience and self which can be switched on and off externally, apparently demonstrating the claim that the mind is a mere machine.

Assume for the following that neuroscience can actually do all this what is described in 'Neuropath' (contemporary neuroscience actually can't, and based on the way genetics has not delivered on initial promises but discovered that things are actually much more complicated, my guess is neuroscience will likewise discover that things are far more complicated) - is the implication really that the Argument is true?

At least in the way it is made in 'Neuropath' and the way I have seen it presented by neuroscientists, I don't think it is. In the book, it actually appears very compelling, but it's just a trick. It's really full of substantial gaps which are (quite cleverly) glossed over in the text, and in the end it's down to belief, nothing more. The gaps roughly fall into three groups. With increasing severity one finds: Hidden assumptions in the logic of the Argument, a reliance in reductionism and an application of logic and rational thought in situations where it is known to fail. But before we go into the details, let's investigate some of the notions like of free will or decisionmaking without any input from neuroscience.

The notion of free will

Let us assume for the following a situation where two alternatives A and B are given and a person has a free choice between A and B, but cannot choose both A and B, and likewise must choose either A or B. This excludes situations where the person does not care about any of the alternatives - if A is 'you get 10 dollars' and B is 'you get 10 dollars' then this is not a choice, you might as well throw a dice. Likewise, if either A or B has very negative consequences, like A 'you get 10 dollars' and B 'you get life imprisonment', the choice is hardly free (I refrain from a detailed analysis of how to define negative consequences here, I don't think it's central to the discussion).

The notion of free will states that before the choice you think you could choose A or B. After the choice, you think you could have chosen the other alternative. Thus, how would one prove or disprove the notion?

Let us begin with the classical analysis. The simple answer is - you can't. There is no experiment that could establish before if both choices exist - because both of them are in the future, and consequently neither of them exists yet. But you can't do it after the choice either as long as you require a consistent past, because if you have chosen A you have in fact not chosen B and are left with the impression that you could have, but no prove. But if you have chosen B, you are in the very same situation left to ponder if you could have gone for A. The need to have a consistent past always creates the impression that the outcome, whatever it was, was inevitable and determined, because there is only one past.

(By the way, the same is true with many references to property X of the mind being the result of an evolutional adaption to the environment. You can point at everything and claim 'It is here, this proves that it must be the result of natural selection and evolution, otherwise it would not be here.' However, evolution doesn't quite work like this.)

Why do I talk about the need for a consistent past? Because there is the quantum analysis of the problem. And this states that you do in fact choose both alternatives, with the state vectors A' (having chosen A) and B' (having chosen B) are both part of your state after the decision, with a weight somehow determined by your personality. We don't experience any of this, and I have no clue why this is so, but since the point for me here is to counter the Argument, not to prove what is real, I don't have to explain it. Anyway, in the quantum analysis, there is no consistent past in terms of events as we usually know it, the requirement seems to be one of perception only.

Back to the classical problem: We could think about simply getting the subject back to the alternative and offer a new choice to see if the person now goes for the other alternative. But that doesn't work, because the situation is not the same - the subject has now a memory of the previous choice, so we still don't know if the other alternative could have chosen.

So, let's do a gedankenexperiment. I present you the store and reset chamber in which we can store a snapshot of the world in time and recover it with a button. We test someone in this chamber, he makes a choice, we note the choice and restore the moment before the choice and let him choose again, and thanks to the amasing chamber, it is really the same situation.

What outcome would we interpret as the action of free will? If a person, being in the same situation multiple times, chooses the same alternative every time, we'd conclude that he is determined by circumstances. If however he chooses different alternatives in the same situation, we'd conclude that the choice is random. There is no outcome that could convince us that free will is acting.

What this gedankenexperiment does is to illustrate that the notion of free will has nothing to do with proving the factual existence of alternatives or with determinism vs. randomness. It has to to with factoring imagined futures resulting from A and B into the decisionmaking process. Unlike my cat, I don't always respond directly to seeing food with running towards it and eating. Instead, even when I'm hungry I can project a future in which I will have a lavish dinner and should not spoil my appetite before, which influences my decision-making process (the Argument would still state that this is an illusion, I'll counter that later). So this is why I claim to have free will, but not the cat, because I can imagine virtual alternative futures and let them influence my decisions.

But of course I am determined by my will. That is exactly how we use the word - a strong willed person is one who is determined to do something, who is very predictable in his decision-making and sticks to his ideals instead of changing plans randomly. Freedom is not having 20 alternatives open to me (out of which I still can select only one), freedom is the lack of constraints which would prevent me from doing the one thing I want to do. I can't will in any other way than I am.

Who makes the decisions?


There is the argument that neuroscience can detect a decision by brain scanning before it becomes conscious, so consciousness doesn't make the decisions.

I am not surprised - how could it? Consciousness is a state, an experience, a self-observation, a self-reflection - not an active agency. So the decisions are made outside consciousness and become conscious afterwards - if you watch yourself carefully, you can observe this. I had situations in which I knew a decision was made, it just had to wait a week until it drifted into consciousness. It's the problem of finding what my will actually is (which is at times difficult). The mistake is to think any of this implies that it's not I who makes the decisions - of course it is! The oracle in Delphi already had γνῶθι σεαυτόν 'know thyself' inscribed on the entrance. This would be quite pointless if 'self' would be identical identical to 'conscious self'.

The point of all this is that neuroscience doesn't offer anything which people haven't worked out long ago. Before one claims that it contradicts our notions of something, it's a good idea to investigate what the notion actually is. After this excurse, back to the Argument.

Hidden assumptions in the Argument

In order to expose some weaknesses in the argument, let us consider the scene in which Neil induces a spiritual experience, the perception of the presence of god, in his victim. A reborn Christian later in the book is deeply disturbed by the fact that such experience can be induced artificially, and it seems to show that there is no god and no soul.

But let's replace the experience with something harmless - assume Neill had induced the perception of an apple. I am prepared to guess that no one would conclude from the fact that you can artificially induce the perception of an apple in a person that there are no apples.

So, if you have the prior notion that apples are real, you interpret the experiment to reveal something about the nature of the perception of reality, not about reality. But if you have the prior notion that god is not real, you are tempted to interpret the experiment to reveal something about the nature of reality.

But where would the prior notion that apples are real come from, if not from prior perception of apples? But if you accept that prior perception of apples argues for their independent reality, you have to find something other than the experiment to argue against an independent reality of god or a soul if you are arguing with a person who has experienced prior perception of god. The experiment does not tell.

To give a similar example - I may observe that a person cannot walk in spite of telling me he wants to. If this person's legs are broken, no one would say that his mind is damaged, but that the means by which the mind causes motion are damaged. If the person has a spinal injury, again I haven't ever heard the claim that the mind is damaged, but that the means by which the mind causes motion are damaged. But if the brain is damaged, neurologists suddenly insist that now it must be the mind itself, and not the means by which the mind expresses itself, that is damaged. But that is of course stating a belief, not a fact.

An analogy with the hardware/software of a computer shows the potential flaw here: If my computer has a buggy memory chip, it will do funny things. There is no point in trying to attribute the problem to the software, I can reinstall the OS, I can change from Windows to Linux (which I'd recommend anyway) - nothing on the software side is broken. So when I manipulate the hardware, I will manipulate the output of the computer, but I cannot conclude that this does anything to the software. Or who really believes that trashing his laptop will kill Windows? Software is information, a structure, changing a particular realization of the software doesn't change the software. So, what if brain manipulation is just changing the hardware - of course the mind cannot run properly on damaged hardware, that's just what you see - doesn't mean the mind would be gone. I don't know if the analogy is true, but the argument simply assumes that it is not, and that's again down to belief.

Reductionism

Science is often confused with reductionism, which in essence states 'find the parts and explain the properties of the whole as properties of its parts'. Thus, explain why humans eat: Easy reductionist problem, because the human body consists of cells, cell biochemistry needs nutrients, therefore we have to eat so that the cell biochemistry runs.

Reductionism works in cases where a few causes on the smaller scale can be identified as a reason for a phenomenon at larger scale. We can deal with logic in situations where three facts imply something. It's rather different for situations in which a million facts imply something, but not individually, only taken together.

Consider a painting, the Mona Lisa for example. Find its parts - small grains of pigment on canvas. In what sense would they 'explain' the painting? The Mona Lisa arises as a larger scale structure within these pigment grains, it can't be seen from the perspective of the parts. The Argument explains everything that cannot be explained by reductionism as illusion - consciousness is not real, because it is not in the underlying function of the neurons, therefore it is an illusion. I guess it would say that the Mona Lisa is an illusion, and in a sense it is.

Well, but why stop at the neuron level (except that neuroscientists are familiar with it)? Let's go further down the scale, into the elementary particle structure. Down at this scale are only fluctuating quantum fields, quarks, gluons, electrons, photons and other fields. They 'exist' for minimal periods of time, one cannot even point to the fields which make up a proton or an atom, because they have no identity, one cannot point to a field and say 'this is vacuum background and this is proton'. There is no way to explain how these fields imply the existence of a neuron from their basic properties. So by the above argument, the neuron itself is an illusion. In reality, there is no neural machinery doing anything - there are just quantum fields extremizing the action described by their Lagrangean function.

But presumably, the elementary particles when seen from a yet smaller scale are also an illusion.

So, consciousness is no more or less real as a neuron. It is simply a phenomenon at a different scale, which is poorly understood when viewed from the wrong scale. It's reductionism which does a bad job here.

The same trap opens up in claiming that 'in reality' there are no future goals towards things develop, only past condition from which everything follows. That's simply wrong. The underlying quantum states stretch through 4-dim spacetime. They have a structure which is given by the equations of motion, which states that if you know them on any 3-hypersurface, you can compute them in the whole of 4-dim spacetime.

The way this is usually done is to specify them in the 3-dim space of 'now' and to compute them into the future. But one can specify the evolution endpoint and compute backwards, it makes no difference. One can even compute sidewards - specify the world on a 2-dim sheet throughout the whole universe at all times, and compute how the rest of 3-dim space looks like. It. Does. Not. Matter. There is a 4-dim state with a certain structure. Viewing it as causally following from the past is no more correct as viewing it as developing towards a future endpoint, it is just another way of organizing our lack of intuition for 4-dim structures.

The precious time along which things are supposed to develop is also not an independent coordinate but a dynamical entity - it can wiggle, bend, fold upon itself, terminate or interchange role with space. There is nothing 'in which' time wiggles - only the 4-dim structure. Time itself is no more real than consciousness.

Applicability of logic

Perhaps the most serious point that can be brought forward against the Argument is that it is self-defeating. I was always under the impression when people are confronted with a logical chain of reasoning which ended in proving that 'I think, therefore I am' is wrong, they would realize that something is not right in the way logic has been applied. Turns out I was wrong.

So, the Argument is based on science, scientific method in turn is based on rational thought and application of logic. As 'Neuropath' mentions, one way to counter the Argument is to argue that science is not applicable, and Bakker goes into some length arguing that this doesn't work.

Well, it does, because arguing the success of science over religion by thermonuclear explosion vs. burning bush and science being the only system which produces unpleasant truths is misleading. Logic is an excellent tool if you apply it to some outside phenomenon, but it fails miserably when folded back onto itself.

Logic is not absolute, it relies on a choice of axioms which state what a valid deduction is and what not. Mathematics doesn't define the axioms, you can have many logical systems with self-consistent axiom systems. What is usually used in science is a particular choice of axioms. For example, we usually use transitivity: If A implies B, and B implies C, then A implies C. If Socrates is Athenian, and Athenians are Greeks, then Socrates is Greek. Sounds perfectly reasonable, but we can do logic without it, we just use it because we believe in its applicability. Same with connecting true statements - if A is true, and B is true, then this implies tha (A and B) is also true. If 'Socrates is an Athenian' is true and 'Socrates is a philosopher' is also true, then 'Socrates is an Athenian philosopher' must also be true. Sounds also very reasonable.

However, let's see what happens as soon as we introduce self-referencing statements: 'This sentence has five words' is true, 'This sentence begins with 'T'' is also true, but 'This sentence has five words and begins with 'T'' is obviously not true. The axioms don't survive self-referencing statements. There is a general theorem by Goedel which states that for any formal system (such as logic) there are statements which truth or falsehood cannot be decided within the system, although some of them can be obviously decided outside the system. The core of the proof uses self-referencing.

Now, the Argument is a prime example of self-referencing, although this is never stated. If one could prove that reason, self, intuition or consciousness are just meaningless concepts created by neural machinery, then the same could be shown for logic, which is, after all only yet another function of the conscious brain. But if you could prove that logic does not work, well, there would be no Argument. Thus, if the Argument is true, it cannot be made. If it cannot be made, it's down to belief and intuition.

Funnily enough, intuition can cope with self-references far better than logic. We are able to simply see through the paradox pattern, maybe because consciousness is in its very nature a self-referencing process. So, the Argument applies logic in a situation where we know logic fails and where we know intuition to be the better tool.

What does that mean?

I don't know of course, but my interpretation is that neuroscience or Neuropath or Neil don't in any way bring us closer to how 'reality is'. Granted, they show us an alternative picture of reality, based on a different set of assumptions and beliefs than usually done, but there is no compelling reason for this to be 'true'.

Thomas would of course argue that I try to argue away an unpleasant truth. But I'd argue that the fact that a claim is unpleasant doesn't make it true, the fact that a claim is pleasant doesn't make it false, and that science is just one way to organize reality (being a scientist, I have to be careful with these statements, I know how I mean it, but it is easily misunderstood and misused...), known to be problematic in the very situation he wants it to be applicable. So if people are prone to delude themselves, what makes neuroscientists think they are the exception?

'I think, therefore I am' seems a far more useful starting point for investigating consciousness - it has the advantage that it is at least not self-defeating.

What Came Before

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« Reply #1 on: April 19, 2013, 11:46:26 am »
Quote from: Madness
Even in rereading Thorsten's ignorance of psychological research is jarring. Writes a decent essay though.

Thorsten

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« Reply #2 on: May 14, 2013, 06:24:55 am »
You may perhaps, upon closer inspection, find me not quite as ignorant of psychological research as you think. But certainly I am not a psychologist, just someone who is very interested in the nature of mind and consciousness and tries to read up from different corners and to think things through - so if you find a genuine lack of understanding, I would ask you to educate me here.

I do feel you might have missed my main point though - I think the mind is not one of the problems where science can be safely applied to (cf. the section on applicability of logic), and hence I'm not sure how even perfect knowledge of the state of art of psychological research would change my position. I do not dispute that psychologists who make certain experiments get certain results, but I doubt the common interpretations attached to these.

To give a simple example (which I borrow from an exchange I had  with Axel Honneth, a German philosopher):

Assume you are in severe pain. Assume you are taken to a hospital, and your brain is scanned with the most sophisticated brain scanner. The neuroscientists then look at the results and conclude that the pain center in your brain isn't active, so you must be mistaken about feeling pain and ask you to go home. Do you

a) insist that you really feel pain and that something is wrong with the scanner, and no amount of additional scanning or scientific testimony would convince you that you're mistaken about being in pain
b) go home, concluding that your pain isn't really there because science must be right

If you select a), you might be willing to acknowledge the point that there is at least something unscientific to the mind.

What Came Before

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« Reply #3 on: May 14, 2013, 06:07:00 pm »
I do feel you might have missed my main point though - I think the mind is not one of the problems where science can be safely applied to (cf. the section on applicability of logic), and hence I'm not sure how even perfect knowledge of the state of art of psychological research would change my position. I do not dispute that psychologists who make certain experiments get certain results, but I doubt the common interpretations attached to these.

I'm not privy to which academic discipline(s) you practice but your post seems philosophical, especially in that your assertions don't encounter real-life examples (I actually think Reductionism had a better chance of countering the argument, in this post).

Must note, I do not have a perfect knowledge, nor anywhere close - I simply spend an inordinate amount of time listening to and reading the works of brilliant thinkers in the field. Also, psychological statistics are descriptive action, akin to your comparison of paradox, various in/different representations of 4-dim structural data (hope I understood that enough to use it in an analogy), or Neil simply presenting an in/different manifestation of substructural consistencies. There are always outliers (always omitted, elsewise, the math wouldn't work) so all statistical statements account for the most average consistency... there are usually specific examples in any case study, which showcase either extreme of validation or falsification.

To give a simple example (which I borrow from an exchange I had  with Axel Honneth, a German philosopher):

Assume you are in severe pain. Assume you are taken to a hospital, and your brain is scanned with the most sophisticated brain scanner. The neuroscientists then look at the results and conclude that the pain center in your brain isn't active, so you must be mistaken about feeling pain and ask you to go home. Do you

a) insist that you really feel pain and that something is wrong with the scanner, and no amount of additional scanning or scientific testimony would convince you that you're mistaken about being in pain
b) go home, concluding that your pain isn't really there because science must be right

If you select a), you might be willing to acknowledge the point that there is at least something unscientific to the mind.

This is actually a stellar place to begin and it will immediately highlight our connotational dispositions for the in/different manifestation of various cognitive schema.

You've treated this like a logic problem - my first thoughts are a couple of strange examples from neurological studies.

There's an example from, I believe, V.S. Ramachandran's work (though these studies might also be paraphrased in David Eagleman's Incognito): in accomplishing clinical testing during his studies, Ramachandran was required to poke a patient in the neck with a sharp needle. Years before the advent of certain imaging techniques, hypotheses were made that somehow this woman's brain had degenerated in a most astonishing way - whenever this woman should (according to the average commonly valued conceptions) feel pain, she laughed uncontrollably, instead. She also reported a direct correlation between the intensity of the intended pain and her perception/experience of ticklishness or humour.

Another would be the work done with the masochist Bob Flanagan (most commonly known for piercing his erect penis with nails, which induced pleasure). There are many arguments interpreting that, again, his experience of pain had fundamentally shifted to a physical induction of pleasure by the plastic changes in cortical matter based on his experiences.

Thirdly, I might return to any of the various body dysmorphic disorders, where some kind of failure (mind or brain) results in a severe, explicit disconnect from commonly perceptible reality. These range from anorexia to phantom limbs, with alien-hand syndromes and false claims in perception (agnosias) thrown inbetween.

While these might support your Reductionism metaphor, I don't think it helps the Applicability of Logic.

I'm sure I require more interaction to enable us any further, as these were the confounds that came to mind and I'm sure they'll move you to further clarify a position for or against.

Also, aside - I'm ecstatic that you've found your way here. Welcome (back) to the Second Apocalypse. I thoroughly enjoyed your posts on Three-Seas - I'm sorry I've been so busy as I ported those posts to the last rendition of this forum and they enjoyed some fledgling discussion in your absence (much more so than this thread, to my disappointment) - I will endeavour to port those, in particular, here, as soon as possible.

Cheers, Thorsten.
« Last Edit: May 14, 2013, 06:10:34 pm by Madness »

Thorsten

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« Reply #4 on: May 15, 2013, 07:02:13 am »
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I'm not privy to which academic discipline(s) you practice but your post seems philosophical, especially in that your assertions don't encounter real-life examples (I actually think Reductionism had a better chance of countering the argument, in this post).

I am a theoretical physicist by profession, working mostly in applied quantum field theory (Quantum Chromodynamics mostly).

The applicability of logic is a very deep one. How do you decide on something being true? Where do the logical deduction rules come from? Why do we think a principle like Occam's razor ('If there are several competing explanations, take the one requiring the least amount of assumptions.') is good for establishing truth?

You can't say 'Well, I just know it's true' - history tells that in the past people used very different criteria based on the same 'I just know - it's obvious'.

You can't argue 'Science must be true, because so many brilliant people are doing it and society spends so much money for it.' - in the past, brilliant people studied theology and society invested money to build churches.

If you start up-front from the position that science must be true, then you're no better than someone starting from the position that scripture must be true. Scientific principles aren't really self-justifying or self-evident - they are justified from somewhere, and I think this somewhere is experience.

Occam's razor is in my view a good principle because in my experience it turns out to be true most of the time. The whole set of scientific principles applied to physics is justified, because it actually works out for me - I can calculate a phenomenon, and my experience tells me that I successfully predicted what I will experience.

(As a side note, modern physics is all about what you experience and not at all about what things really *are* - all Quantum Field Theory is concerned with are 'observables', and it is very clear that we don't have a clue what nature is, only how it behaves when we look at it).

If you follow the chain that sometimes we discard experiences because of science, but science is ultimately justified by experience only, things start getting very very murky. I do not think one can automatically assume that the same deduction principles continue to hold - they have to be justified anew if applied to the mind. Especially because the mind is self-referencing, but several principles are known to break when applied to self-referencing systems. If psychologists would test the foundations of their own field with the same level of rigor they apply to, say, religious experiences, they'd be in for a bad surprise.

Or, to be slightly mean: Imagine one of the experimental papers supposedly disproving the notion of free will is sent to a journal. The referee recommends not to publish the paper. I am prepared to bet a lot of money that the researchers do not think 'Well, the referee has no free will, he is determined by circumstances to come to this decision to decline publication, so there's nothing we can do.' I am very sure what they will no is to make an appeal to the free decision-making ability of the referee to change this decision based on new arguments. Because science requires the ability to decide between a true proposition and a false one. If we could not make that decision because we'd be compelled by circumstance to believe something, science wouldn't work conceptually. So that's why researchers disproving free will don't act in any way as if their research would actually be true.

I've written a longer text about 'belief in evidence' in a discussion of Dawkins' The God Delusion in case you're interested - it's the second part.

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You've treated this like a logic problem - my first thoughts are a couple of strange examples from neurological studies.(...)While these might support your Reductionism metaphor, I don't think it helps the Applicability of Logic.

I know these cases do exist, but what can we really deduce from them?

I have no doubt that there is a deep connection between mind and body at some level. A very simple example is the experience that when I drink alcohol, my mental experience changes.

Yet, on the next day, my mind reverts back to how it was.

But then there seems to be something as mind-internal experience -  I might have a crucial insight, or come to a major decision in my life. And on the next day, my mind does not revert back but remains changed from that point on.

So could this not suggest a hardware/software model in which in the first case I temporarily change the hardware, and as a result the software runs differently, but reverts back to its normal operation once the hardware operates normally, whereas the second case represents a change in the software which isn't easily revertable?

I would assume that if someone over night severs the neural connections to my leg and attaches the same nerve bundles to my arms, then my intention to move my leg will lead to some motion of my arms. In a similar way, I would assume that wrong wiring of senses can lead to all sorts of weird perceptions - like pleasure where pain would be expected. Such rewirings would be, unlike in the case of alcohol, more permanent hardware damage, with little change of the software to resume normal operation.

Yet, in many cases the mind seems to be able to work around damage. I vaguely remember an experiment in which people were asked to wear mirror glasses which showed the world upside-down, and while this was initially very confusing, their mind learned to undo the effect, and after a few days they saw the world normally again - and then inverted once they took the glasses off, until again after a few days the perception adjusted to normal.

The point seems to be that being able to prove that changes to the body/brain change the mental experience isn't the same thing as proving that there is no software equivalent and that the hardware is all there is to the problem.

Quote
Also, aside - I'm ecstatic that you've found your way here

Thanks - I appreciate that. I am reading the White-Luck Warrior at the moment, so I wanted to read up on the details of my Metaphysics (and partially languages) - so then I started looking again for where the discussions are.

What Came Before

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« Reply #5 on: May 16, 2013, 05:40:18 pm »
The applicability of logic is a very deep one. How do you decide on something being true? Where do the logical deduction rules come from? Why do we think a principle like Occam's razor ('If there are several competing explanations, take the one requiring the least amount of assumptions.') is good for establishing truth?

Well, we humans seem to use a combination of statistic descriptions (math) and logic (linguistic justifications) with varying degrees of validity to convey holistic packets of information - Truth seems to satisfy making the most sense out of a(ll) given occurrence of phenomena. Data and concise, valid communication are ideal as is the heuristic strategy (Occam's razor) of positing and falsifying fewer, rather than more assumptions to support your actual hypothesis. We're talking averages across averages, right?

Occam's razor is in my view a good principle because in my experience it turns out to be true most of the time. The whole set of scientific principles applied to physics is justified, because it actually works out for me - I can calculate a phenomenon, and my experience tells me that I successfully predicted what I will experience.

(As a side note, modern physics is all about what you experience and not at all about what things really *are* - all Quantum Field Theory is concerned with are 'observables', and it is very clear that we don't have a clue what nature is, only how it behaves when we look at it).

+1. Perhaps, you've some underlying disdain for psychological research? I know it's a prevalent feeling among the sciences.

Or, to be slightly mean: Imagine one of the experimental papers supposedly disproving the notion of free will is sent to a journal. The referee recommends not to publish the paper. I am prepared to bet a lot of money that the researchers do not think 'Well, the referee has no free will, he is determined by circumstances to come to this decision to decline publication, so there's nothing we can do.' I am very sure what they will no is to make an appeal to the free decision-making ability of the referee to change this decision based on new arguments. Because science requires the ability to decide between a true proposition and a false one. If we could not make that decision because we'd be compelled by circumstance to believe something, science wouldn't work conceptually. So that's why researchers disproving free will don't act in any way as if their research would actually be true.

Again, I think you and I have a the opportunity to really hash some of BBH's finer points. I think you've done yourself an initial disservice due to the fact of stopping at Bakker's positions. Perhaps, we can discover better justifications than simply casting "science!"

The above examples (this and the one from your last post) seem to presuppose that scientists (or people) are changed in some profound manner by neurally representing linguistic statements in the first place.

As a segue, I'd like to add that learning to practice a certain set of scientific or academic ritual's doesn't seem to change our brains in the drastic forms we were freestyling (2-dim representation of 4-dim structure, Neil's experience of the cognitive and behaviorial expression of Neil-It).

Now these strike me to think of learning (but my mind is usually there, regardless).

There are certain instances of theorized pervasive and immediate learning. Things happen and people can absorb new behaviors or cognitive expressions in truly impressive time periods. We, also, fall into something of a quagmire regarding social interpretation and how as academics, we work to adopt and embody a complex and particular mode(s) to express information. Yet the public (or the world of Neuropath) is irrevocably changed by the influence of Neil's (NSA Neuroscientists) research.

This also makes me think of the Graduates (Neuropaths) and how they exist among a sea of different neural expressions of the same matter (Neil-It, Psychopaths, Autistics, and us... Normies?) but I really am beginning to find I'm not sure where you stand on some specific matters (at bottom).

I've written a longer text about 'belief in evidence' in a discussion of Dawkins' The God Delusion in case you're interested - it's the second part.

Will absolutely read it at some point.

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You've treated this like a logic problem - my first thoughts are a couple of strange examples from neurological studies.(...)While these might support your Reductionism metaphor, I don't think it helps the Applicability of Logic.

1. I know these cases do exist, but what can we really deduce from them?

I have no doubt that there is a deep connection between mind and body at some level. A very simple example is the experience that when I drink alcohol, my mental experience changes.

2. Yet, on the next day, my mind reverts back to how it was.

3. But then there seems to be something as mind-internal experience -  I might have a crucial insight, or come to a major decision in my life. And on the next day, my mind does not revert back but remains changed from that point on.

So could this not suggest a hardware/software model in which in the first case I temporarily change the hardware, and as a result the software runs differently, but reverts back to its normal operation once the hardware operates normally, whereas the second case represents a change in the software which isn't easily revertable?

I would assume that if someone over night severs the neural connections to my leg and attaches the same nerve bundles to my arms, then my intention to move my leg will lead to some motion of my arms. In a similar way, I would assume that wrong wiring of senses can lead to all sorts of weird perceptions - like pleasure where pain would be expected. Such rewirings would be, unlike in the case of alcohol, more permanent hardware damage, with little change of the software to resume normal operation.

4. Yet, in many cases the mind seems to be able to work around damage. I vaguely remember an experiment in which people were asked to wear mirror glasses which showed the world upside-down, and while this was initially very confusing, their mind learned to undo the effect, and after a few days they saw the world normally again - and then inverted once they took the glasses off, until again after a few days the perception adjusted to normal.

The point seems to be that being able to prove that changes to the body/brain change the mental experience isn't the same thing as proving that there is no software equivalent and that the hardware is all there is to the problem.

I might have picked out specific parts but I shall bold the striking moments instead.

1. It's a good question and one I had to return to. They certainly ply my imagination with endless scenarios. Specifically, what does it mean towards Blind Brain Hypothesis? Well, Neil-It's argument seemed to be that there was a most advantageous cortical representations. There is a fantastic quote from LTG, which captures it succinctly. But more importantly, that what we experience doesn't have to even remotely correspond to modes of thought now... Who knows how someone meaningfully partaking in changes in cognitive experience would rationalize there new experiences or if they would at all (which is why Buddhism and Nihilism seem to make so many appearences at TPB.

2. For whatever reasons, it seems the brain prefers neural homeostasis to instances of inbalance. Even in the arbitrarily destructive studies where the neural junctions for eyesight were destroyed and the auditory neural tracts rewired to the visual cortex, the visual cortex developed the same, physical cortical representation or architecture as it would normally in the auditory cortex. Neuroscientists have pursued discoveries like this towards two primary hypotheses: that the brain can universally represent information for which it has a sensory appendage and that it does so by being plastic (capable of dynamically changing, recycling existing cortical structures, or even growing in number and connections (through density and pruning). Regardless, neuronal homeostatis...?

3. There are plenty of studies/on-going research towards the cognitive phenomenon of insight and subsequent rapid changes in cortical representation. There are also, as a I mentioned, studies towards specific neurotransmitters, developmental periods, etc, in which rapid change in brain structure happens and is retain (often in cases, showcasing top-down development - though, I read Jorge in my mind as I'm sure he'd argue that this evidence still favors something in the brain doing something in the brain).

4. Three or so weeks of disorientation and puking and then, apparently like a snap of fingers, the world is (not-righted) right. And perception happens as ordinarily experienced, then take them off and three weeks again - it's funny as I'm not sure if anyone has pursued this further that suggests that recursive neural structures are bypassing the normal retinal flip. Classic studies. I've wanted to do it a number of times myself but have never had the time :(. You can likewise do smaller experiential plays of threshold like wearing a blackout blindfold past ninety minutes towards increase auditory sensation (during imaging there is a corresponding sudden activate in the visual cortex).

Thanks - I appreciate that. I am reading the White-Luck Warrior at the moment, so I wanted to read up on the details of my Metaphysics (and partially languages) - so then I started looking again for where the discussions are.

Cheers. I have to run, though I'll quick read this over.

However, continued from the middle - you don't think there is evidence to suggest that our experiences as "I," as cognitive agents, isn't illusory insomuch as colours, perceptions, would not exist as they do without corresponding evidence of physiological changes (we're attracted to the redness of an apple because it has been beneficial towards our survival)?

If examples like this hold weight, then our interpretations (leading to behaviors) surrounding these objects and manifestations of percepts, where the environment matters to us, for sustenance, we experience it?

If we cognitively use the same heuristics and biases to interpret our brains as our environment, then not only are we always playing catchup neurally, needing more to represent before, we're also only seeing (experiencing, cogitating, conscious of) only those extremes in threshold that "I" or "We" are capable of. On that note, there are documented averages in sensory and perceptive thresholds where a distinct average emerges between what we hear, see, feel, taste, or smell, and what activation the brain shows in response to things that "I" don't notice.

Lol. Well, I am and well and truly late.

Hope that's food for thought, Thorsten. Again, I'm not even sure I disagree with your initial argumentation - I simply thought of many of these things by extension that weren't satisfactorily referenced for my liking.

Apologies for the spelling errors and general moments of failure throughout my writing. Can't stay for a reread.

Callan S.

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« Reply #6 on: May 17, 2013, 12:46:45 am »
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While the mind thinks it executes a plan to realize some future goal, according to the Argument, the underlying reality is that the past state is just computed forward, the seeming future goal towards the mind proceeds is simply an illusion, in reality it is the past that determines what will happen, not the future vision.
I'm not sure I understand this understanding of 'the argument'?

If I think the ball is under the third cup and my goal is to lift it up, that the ball is under another cup (or no cup at all) is just how reality plays out - the 'future vision' isn't all that relevant. It's merely a guess.


What Came Before

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« Reply #7 on: May 17, 2013, 05:12:26 am »
Some glaring face-palms.

But specifically, 2. That study of questionable surgery was performed on ferrets (the auditory cortex responds incrementally across the cortical matter to pitch and volume, which occurred spontaneously in the visual cortex post-op).

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« Reply #8 on: May 17, 2013, 06:53:28 am »
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Well, we humans seem to use a combination of statistic descriptions (math) and logic (linguistic justifications) with varying degrees of validity to convey holistic packets of information - Truth seems to satisfy making the most sense out of a(ll) given occurrence of phenomena. Data and concise, valid communication are ideal as is the heuristic strategy (Occam's razor) of positing and falsifying fewer, rather than more assumptions to support your actual hypothesis. We're talking averages across averages, right?

Well, the catch is making most sense - how do you define that? 

Within a formal system (science), making sense is defined in terms of deviation from the data, given a hypothesis - so within the formal system I can decide what makes sense and what doesn't.  However, that doesn't tell if the system makes sense.

Adopt a different formal system - comparison to scripture. Then the definition of 'making sense' becomes 'is sufficiently close to something that's described in the scripture'.

If you're thinking within science, looking into scripture for answers makes no sense. If you are thinking within scripture, doing a statistical analysis makes no sense.

What you need to argue is that science is the best among all possible formal systems to be applied to some particular problem (the mind in this case). Because clearly there are problems to which science doesn't apply. Is the Mona Lisa great art? is not a question you could address with a measurement or statistical analysis.

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Perhaps, you've some underlying disdain for psychological research?

Perhaps... I want to be careful, there is lots of research, and I don't want to make blanket statements. But I guess most of the time when some result is popular and often cited by writers and I look into it, I just think it misses the point. Some examples:

1) Pattern recognition

The usual story goes that the human mind has a strong tendency to see patterns in randomness (this can be connected to the evolutionary cost of running from what is not a tiger, as compared with not running from what is a tiger). An often-cited setup involves a researcher generating strings of random numbers on the computer and asking the probands to see if they could find a pattern - the vast majority could. The interpretation given is that humans are obviously quite good in spotting a pattern where there is none.

Except the probands were factually correct.

First, computers don't generate random numbers, they generate pseudorandom numbers, and given enough of these, a vast intellect could unravel the algorithm and predict the next number in the sequence. So people were quite correct in assuming the existence of a pattern as it was really there.

Second, mathematically for any finite sequence it is impossible to determine if it is truly random or not. Most people would complete 2,4,6,8,10,... with 12 assuming the rule is 'add 2', but the rule may be 'next number has to be larger' in which case 11 would be valid, the rule may be 'must be even' in which case 2 would be valid, the rule may be 'count by adding 2 to 10, then go negative' in which case -2 would be the next answer,... there's nothing logical in preferring one rule over the other, it's just down to habit, we like counting.

So mathematically the probands were doing something very reasonable - they were trying to find the rule for a sequence which could well have a rule. What the experiment actually shows is that the mind tries to spot a pattern where there could be a pattern if prompted to do so by the question (if the question would have been 'are these good random numbers' the answer would possibly have been different...).

2) Happiness research

One often quoted study is that children do not increase the happiness in a family. What was done is that the researchers selected  samples of women with and without children in similar social positions, phoned them several times and interviewed them for their current happiness, estimated on a scale from 0 to 10. The claimed result was that children do not lead to any happier life.

I think this one gets hit by the applicability of logic, here the inference rule that if you have a proposition A and not-A, and you can show not-A to be true, A must be false.

I myself am capable of experiencing a mental state with contradicting emotions. I can, for instance, feel desperate, angry at myself and at the same time feel deep satisfaction with the way my life is going. Or I can be madly angry and my children about breaking something and love them at the same time. Describing my emotional state at any given time would require about 2 pages of written text using a symbolic language (I couldn't do it in English for lack of words, but I could for instance do it using astrological symbols - I think Jung was the first to realize how useful symbolic expressions are in the context).

If asked to report my surface emotion, this would be a hopelessly inadequate picture, and any inference drawn from that about my happiness would be completely wrong. Even on a day where the kids annoy me to the point of screaming, I am still aware that seeing them grow up is the source of deep satisfaction for me. So in this case, proving not-A doesn't imply the falseness of A. If that is so for me, why would it be different for others? I think the study simply doesn't ask in the right framework, and so it obtains a meaningless answer.

3) Evolutionary psychology

One celebrated result here is jealousy sexual vs. emotional infidelity - the results of questions posed to probands are that women feel more disturbed by the thought of their partner forming an emotional attachment to another woman instead of just having sex, whereas men feel the other way round. Supposedly this proves that evolution strikes and we see a stone-age hunter-gatherer setup at work - men are worried they'd have to care for offspring not carrying their genes, whereas women are concerned with losing a nutrition-providing partner.

Except... the raw data shows that variations between cultures in the jealousy response are much greater than the effects claimed which remain after averaging across all cultures. Except, we don't know at all how stone age humans felt about jealousy and raised children - they might have raised kids in a large group, not caring about whose offspring a particular child is. The stone-age setup proposed is not based on evidence, but imagined such that it accounts for the facts. Without solid data on how stone-age humans actually thought and behaved, I can justify anything.

4) Enlightnenment

If you do brain imaging of Buddhist monks during meditation, you can observe certain areas of their brain go active. The supposed implication of this is that they don't really experience enlightenment, it's just a function of this particular brain center.

Of course, if you would do brain imaging of  scientists reading and understanding a research paper, you would observe certain areas of their brains go active. If the above implication were correct, then they wouldn't really understand the paper, it could all be explained in terms of a particular brain center being active.

Correlation isn't causation - this is a fairly elementary reasoning error.

I could go on with this, but I think you may spot where my problems with research in psychology and brain science reside...
« Last Edit: May 17, 2013, 07:03:35 am by Thorsten »

Thorsten

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« Reply #9 on: May 17, 2013, 08:30:10 am »
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However, continued from the middle - you don't think there is evidence to suggest that our experiences as "I," as cognitive agents, isn't illusory insomuch as colours, perceptions, would not exist as they do without corresponding evidence of physiological changes (we're attracted to the redness of an apple because it has been beneficial towards our survival)?

It all depends on what you prefer to call 'real' or 'illusionary'.

I think normally the word 'illusion' is used to describe something which has a certain appearance, but you can verify that the appearance is not correct by remaining in a given framework by just changing perspective. For instance, mirror illusions don't require you to change to a description of the situation in terms of quantum theory - you can walk around the setup, and it becomes apparent that there is a mirror.

In contrast you (and Bakker) seem to be using the word 'illusion' here for something that is in a high-level effective theory (the mind as we ourselves would describe it, or psychology as used by Freud, Jung, Adler,...) but not in a low-level more fundamental theory (interactions among interconnected neurons).

This is, I think, a very important difference. Let me illustrate this with an example where it is well understood what happens.

A rock has mass. In a very high level effective theory (Newtonian mechanics) we can view it as a rigid body with a given mass and  use that to compute the trajectories of the rock when we throw it.

At a lower level, the rock is composed of molecules which have mass. Even more fundamentally, it is composed of protons and neutrons which have mass with electrons thrown in which have very little mass to comtribute. At the most fundamental level, the rock is described by the Standard Model of Particle Physics in terms of quarks, gluons, and photons. And in the bare Lagrangean of this theory, there is no mass.

So mass is a property of high level effective theories only, it is not a fundamental property of the world. The illusion of mass of a rock arises largely because there is a lot of field energy in the binding of quarks and gluons which makes an empty vacuum energetically disfavoured, and thus stuff plowing through the field energy contained in the vacuum effectively acquires mass.

Yet, this 'illusionary' mass is quite capable of killing you when the rock hits your head. Which goes a long way to illustrate that just because something is not a property of the fundamental theory, it can't be seen as meaningless or 'not real'.

The fact that a theory of the mind in terms of connected neurons doesn't have certain traits can not be used to argue that these traits would not be meaningful, or not real when seen on a different scale. There are dozends (if not more) counterexamples in physics where effective high level theories gain new properties or lose properties which the fundamental theory has.

The world behaves as if there would be mass when seen at a certain scale, this is what gives meaning to the concept. The world behaves as if there would be an 'I' when seen at a certain scale. and this is what gives meaning to the concept.

If you want to limit 'real' to 'what is contained in our most fundamental theory only', you declare pretty much everything as illusion, and you're left with a description of the world in terms of operators acting on Fock spaces having certain commutation and anticommutations - which manifestly isn't what is real, but just describes how the real world behaves. So in essence nothing is real then. Doesn't lead anywhere in particular to accept only the fundamental as real.

Crtha

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« Reply #10 on: May 17, 2013, 08:49:51 am »
Just love reading your posts Thorsten.

Would like to hear your post-WLW thoughts on Earwan metaphysics if you have the time/inclination.
Retracing his bloody footprints, the Wizard limped on.

Thorsten

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« Reply #11 on: May 17, 2013, 11:50:59 am »
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Would like to hear your post-WLW thoughts on Earwan metaphysics if you have the time/inclination.

I'm currently halfway through - I plan to write up anything interesting. Btw. - I wonder if anyone has a copy of my analysis note on languages in the first trilogy - I can't seem to find it on my new computer.

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« Reply #12 on: May 17, 2013, 05:02:02 pm »
Well, the catch is making most sense - how do you define that?

Lol, I'm not sure the linguistic statement of encapsulation is going to make the most sense of making most sense enough for either of us.

We're primarily invoking language games, which I'd like to avoid as much as possible but you tend to hit on those meriting distinction.

What happens in cases of understanding or, even, imagination? Neural accounts seem to deal with embodied cognition, embodied simulation, or some account of neurons.

For my personal coin, I've subscribed to the thought that unless we're a completely necessary component for the existence of the Multiverse, then Objective-Truth, the state of affairs as they truly are (Reductionism to it's holistic conclusions...) exists outside of a human account in sound. I mean, we more or less exist happily based on how much we maintain our habitable environment, our niche. I'm not necessarily advocating naturalist truth but living, and accounts of it, in more accord with the actual state of the Multiverse seems to have its dividends.

I'm sure this hasn't satisfactorily (another homage to making most sense) done us any good. Perhaps, you'd hazard a try?

For whatever reason, understanding seems to satisfy our curiousity? I might also suggest the idea of cognitive dissonance (I realize you've already mentioned this in allusion further along, forgive me) and its resolution is almost an epitome of making sense.

Within a formal system (science), making sense is defined in terms of deviation from the data, given a hypothesis - so within the formal system I can decide what makes sense and what doesn't.  However, that doesn't tell if the system makes sense.

Adopt a different formal system - comparison to scripture.

What about language? In the Sapir-Wharf hypothesis (which was primarily asserted by a student of Wharf's), it's suggested that we can't account for the existence of phenomenon for which we do not experience or interact with linguistically (describing) in some way. There is another European aristocrat that posited much the same a hundred years earlier (can't for remember the name and I'd rather respond to your post, rather than walk ten feet to my bookshelf ;)).

Nonetheless, controversial and seems directly related to formal systems. How about the ways in which language warp our very perception of our environments (seeing more colours or feeling more or less emotions in relation to words in your language, cognition of time and space, or an example Wilshire brought up in chat the other day - which I will find as I'm starting to remember - about language and orientation, to which I'm still trying to figure out the neural riddle)?

Is the Mona Lisa great art? is not a question you could address with a measurement or statistical analysis.

I think you could get some interesting data in some pursuits here.

I could go on with this, but I think you may spot where my problems with research in psychology and brain science reside...

I'm not entirely sure. Again, it seems beyond the ken of the psychological or neuroscientific disciplines to practice their results; even someone like myself, fighting all the uphill battle's of being engaged with servicing the bureaucratic civilization of the Western Empire, is limited in their time (which it takes to effectively change neural architecture through practice).

People are fallible? Regardless, your disdain for many of these results seems to come down to inapplicable discussion on the part of the authors (which I find is a huge factor in how published scientists are perceived as quality researchers or not - bias at work, neh?).

It all depends on what you prefer to call 'real' or 'illusionary'.

...

In contrast you (and Bakker) seem to be using the word 'illusion' here for something that is in a high-level effective theory (the mind as we ourselves would describe it, or psychology as used by Freud, Jung, Adler,...) but not in a low-level more fundamental theory (interactions among interconnected neurons).

This is, I think, a very important difference.

I know this is a problem of presentation. For my part, and I'm near-perfect positive on Bakker's assertion, we're both doing readers a disservice by not explaining connotations. Illusory correlation is almost the quintessential human problem, if we are to be understood in terms of pattern-recognizing machines - we see correlation where there is in fact none.

This might actually serve as a crux for our conversation as it is precisely this, illusory of conscious sufficiency, that seem centered in Bakker's position concerning Blind Brain (I'm not sure where I've fallen in terms of the Argument here). There is no reasonable position that how we've decided the mind/brain relationship works, philosophically, in the humanities, will hold weight in the future, at all.

On the academic front, it's almost an inevitability. But as individuals - what I'm seeing certainly is a modicum of existential activity around me, what I feel may or may not relate to the sensation of air moving across my skin, or the table beneath my arms. Also, literally, the brain offers a taste of Neil's horror at all times, when what we experience seems to be a heuristic representation of our first experiences or a collection of average experiences, rather than actual experience as it's happening now: energetically, as a system, it seems to suggest that our brains conserve energy by imprinting and recycling experiences, such that, people surprise us when they do something outside our ken, we think they are acting differently, when it's simply outside our collection of experiences.

I've always found the German word Umwelt helpful. Basically, we perceive only what we can perceived. Which leaves for the unperceived...

The world behaves as if there would be mass when seen at a certain scale, this is what gives meaning to the concept. The world behaves as if there would be an 'I' when seen at a certain scale. and this is what gives meaning to the concept.

If you want to limit 'real' to 'what is contained in our most fundamental theory only', you declare pretty much everything as illusion, and you're left with a description of the world in terms of operators acting on Fock spaces having certain commutation and anticommutations - which manifestly isn't what is real, but just describes how the real world behaves. So in essence nothing is real then. Doesn't lead anywhere in particular to accept only the fundamental as real.

I certainly gather what you mean but I feel we've missed each other here. If the above doesn't offer some coherence, I'm not sure how to respond.

The onus is certainly not on either of us to imply that there exist conscious entities. I mean, I certainly feel, at this moment, that I am responsible for some of my actions but I am also aware "I am" simply a hole in the world... I am that portal between the trillions of connections within and the billions of connections without. I'm just here to ride along, figuring out what that means with as many humans as I can for as long as I can...
« Last Edit: May 17, 2013, 05:08:50 pm by Madness »

What Came Before

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« Reply #13 on: May 17, 2013, 05:13:56 pm »
Had the time to reread today. Cheers, Thorsten.

Also, Zombie Three-Seas is well and undead. aengelas pulled a Necromancer and raised our canon.

I think the post you are talking about is Incariol, what does it mean? but you can also see all your posts: Thorsten.

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« Reply #14 on: May 17, 2013, 08:53:39 pm »
Third paragraph should read "or some account of [mirror] neurons"... I'm sure I missed others.