Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Austin Cline on Mind vs. Brain

While I often enjoy writing about the absurdity of a non-physical and eternal consciousness or soul, I enjoy reading other people's thoughts on the matter even more. One person who's thoughts on the matter I particularly respect and enjoy is Austin Cline of Atheism.about.com. Austin recently visited the mind vs. brain topic, and provided a perfect application of his own sharp analysis to the confused and jumbled thoughts of others:

Where the real "action" will be in the coming years is with the debate over mind-brain dualism. Are our minds and consciousness products of our physical brains, or are they products of some immaterial force traditionally associated with or identified as a supernatural "soul"? Although the science is not yet as unequivocal as with biological evolution, the fact remains that all evidence points to our minds being purly physical and material; no reliable evidence points to any immaterial souls. As with evolution, though, this doesn't stop religous ideologues.

Niiiiiiiice! Austin just declared afterlife assassination to be the next great frontier in the atheism war. This, of course, flatters me greatly. I've discovered myself to be a bit of a trendsetter at times; I took up the atheist cause a few years before the big names started clogging the New York Times bestseller list with atheistic tomes. I took up the anarchist cause a year or two back, and it seems poised for a popularity explosion as well. Let's hope that Austin proves to be correct, and that the next big frontier is the afterlife, and not God himself. Then again, in this way I will be a trailblazer with my beloved Kill The Afterlife blog.

All right, enough stroking my own ego. I do apologize. Now I don't want to give Austin’s entire article away; you'll have to go read it for yourselves. But I will reveal that Austin provides some JP Moreland quotes, dissects them with the sharpest scalpel in the drawer, and performs a long overdue surgical removal of the vestigial organ that is belief in a separate and eternal soul. I will quote just one more piece of Austin's essay, in which he challenges JP Moreland's assumption that God is the single most important component of a person's worldview:

I don't know JP Moreland, but I'm willing to accept that the question of the existence of his god is the "single most important component" of his "deep belief-structure."

For some reason, though, Moreland isn't willing to accord the same respect and consideration to atheists by allowing that perhaps the existence of his god just isn't important to us — or at least it wouldn't if people like Moreland wouldn't keep bugging others about it. Atheism isn't "the single most important component" of my beliefs and doesn't inform anything I do except insofar as it means that I don't consult any self-proclaimed representatives of alleged gods who want to tell me what their god thinks I should be doing.


Anonymous said...

You're just as strident and irritating as the worst fundamentalist Christian.

Aaron Kinney said...

Humble Agnostic,

It is not stridency that is irritating. It is not the propensity for one to speak ones mind that is irritating.

It is the content of the message that is irritating.

Oh, and one other irritating thing is when pussy ass agnostics like yourself bitch and moan about people excercizing their right to free speech.

Go take your commie ass to some other country where people arent allowed to speak their minds, and THEN tell me how irritated your are.

You are the true asshole! You want everyone to just shut the hell up, while I, on the other hand, will defend your right to speak no matter how much I disagree with your message.

Why the fuck is your handle have the word "humble" in it? Theres nothing humble about your crimespeak style persecution tendencies.

James Pyrich said...


I've never seen (but I've never searched for) a refutation of Daniel Dennett's "Consciousness Explained," a tome which explores the question of the Cartesian homonculus, also known as the mind/brain duality. It's been a little while since I read it (and a number of years since its publication in 1992), but I do recall him drawing a conclusion of "highly unlikely" at worst. Not only are thought patterns shown to have an entirely physical basis, there is not single "spot" in the brain which can be considered "where the soul lives." I am my brain in its entirety.

This information also blows to smithereens that horrid 10% usage myth.

In any case, I think of "mind" as shorthand for the inner conceptual thought world that human beings have access to... but it is all, quite literally, inside of our heads.



Aaron Kinney said...

Thank you James!

Min/Brain duality is a very interesting topic to me, but I wasnt familiar with Dennett's work on the topic (although I am familiar with him in general).

I will have to look up his work on it. Thanks for the tip :)

Anonymous said...

Has anybody here heard of Jeffrey Swartz's "Mind and Brain"? I have a review of it at Amazon. He is a psychiatrist who specializes in OCD. He is skeptical of materialism and believes that materialism can't explain free will. He defends his position through quantum mechanics. I believe he is a good psychiatrist, but I can't agree with his dualism.

wade419 said...

the mind/brain issue is a very interesting topic for me, too. I was recently reading through TIME magazine's approach to the subject. They had a special issue in January 2007 called "The Brain: A User's Guide". It includes a number of articles incorporating at least a few viewpoints, and seems to give a decent take on the topic. If you don't have access to the magazine, you can find all of the articles online - the cover for the issue can be found here:


I found it very interesting, I'd suggest checking it out.

Think I'll join the discussion on your next posting, though, instead of making a new one here.

Aaron Kinney said...


Thanx for the link!

Regarding joining the discussion, you can see a big debate between me and Groundfighter76 in this post.

GF76 eventually dismissed me and declared me to be both too "confident" in my position and ignorant of the mind/brain question. Personally, I feel that he was big on assertions but short on evidence, and that he was the overconfident one.

But Id like your take on it, Wade419. I think that you do a good job at approaching things honestly and critically, even if you and I come to totally different conclusions. :)

wade419 said...

thanks Aaron - I value your opinion a lot, and very much appreciate your vote of confidence. Even if it doesn't always come across, I learn a lot from the way that *you* approach things. :)

I will definitely join the discussion in earnest asap - but right now I only have time to follow it. Girlfriend is visiting, and add in a part time job that hits basically 40 hours a week and time just doesn't seem to materialize...

Anonymous said...

I've read some of your other comments on this blog and 'Humble Agnostic' is correct - you are as irritating and dogmatic as the worst Christian fundamentalist. Calling people 'f*&^ing retards' for simply disagreeing with your point of view is the height of arrogance and stupidity. You obviously have a lot of growing up to do.

Aaron Kinney said...

Re: Anonymous,

I've read some of your other comments on this blog and 'Humble Agnostic' is correct - you are as irritating and dogmatic as the worst Christian fundamentalist.

Oh, and would you call yourself humble?

I assume that you are criticizing the aggressiveness of my approach? Listen friend, I dont criticize "Christian fundamentalists" for their tenacity, I criticize them for the content of their beliefs. I fully support the freedom for anyone to promote and defend their beliefs as vigorously as they want to, even if I disagree with their actual positions.

Incidentally, did you notice the civil, productive, and respectful conversation that I had with Wade419 in this very comment section?

And arent you criticizing me in a rather stern and assertive manner as well? Should I criticize you for your approach in return?

Calling people 'f*&^ing retards' for simply disagreeing with your point of view is the height of arrogance and stupidity.

Im not calling Michael Egnor a fucking retard because he disagrees with me. Im calling him a fucking retard because his article was rather short on substance and rather grand on claims, because he didnt really address anything that PZ Myers said, and because the rejection of his work and claims by his fellow scientists effectively supports my "retarded" accusation.

Of course, I dont mean "retarded" literally. Im just using it as a more offensive form of "stupid."

You obviously have a lot of growing up to do.

At least I'm grown up enough to not have imaginary friends.