Sep 10, 2012

D'Souza's "radio" mind/brain metaphor

I was recently watching a team debate between Michael Shermer and Sean Caroll against Dinesh D'Souza and Ian Hutchinson and at one point, D'Souza grilled Shermer about his argument that the brain creates the mind by basically using an analogy of a "radio" (actually he used an iPod which is not as good of an analogy, so I just made it better for him). D'Souza stated that the "mind" would be equivalent to the radio waves that exist outside of the radio, and the "brain" would be the radio itself. Let's call it the "mind radio" model, with "mind waves" being interpreted by the "mind radio" (i.e. brain).

Shermer wasn't actually able to refute this (granted, the format made it very difficult for him because of the quick-fire questioning). Here is the actual refutation.
The brain itself is not functioning like a simple radio, in important ways. That is, if you have a radio wave that drives a radio, there is a one-to-one correspondence between the radio wave, and the radio sound. This is fundamentally different from the way our brain works. To see why this is, consider how changes in the brain reflect changes in the mind. Very obvious cases include brain injuries and chemical changes. Under the "mind radio" hypothesis, these cases cease to make sense. The only way this "mind radio" hypothesis functions in these damaged cases is if there is some "mind wave" out there in "mind-space" that is interpreted by the "mind radio." When the "mind radio" is damaged, then D'Souza could in fact claim that the "mind wave" is still unaffected, but that the "mind-radio" is just incorrectly translating it.

It may sound like this is a slick way to reconcile the "mind radio" model with brain injuries. But in reality, we've now reached the fundamental nonsense. This is actually saying that there is some ideal "mind wave" out there somewhere, which is different from our actual mind.  It reaches the point of contradiction because the premise is that the mind is independent of the brain, and this simply states that the mind is something wholly DIFFERENT from the brain. This is an important distinction and let me explain why.

Let's take an extreme case of the split-brain patient that VS Ramachandran describes here.  If there really were some "mind waves" that correspond to the actual consciousness of an individual, which half of the split brain does the "mind wave" actually attach to? Is the person "really" an atheist, or "really" a theist? Is the "mind wave" actually able to pick whether it is an atheist or a theist in this "mind wave space" without it manifesting in reality? Would D'Souza's benevolent deity then judge the poor soul based on the "mind wave's decision" to decide whether or not s/he should spend eternity in a burning lake of fire? Or is this person both in heaven AND in eternal torture? Maybe a timeshare?

As in other cases that are seemingly unfalsifiable (for instance, the "accounting of souls" from Sam Harris), simply thinking about these corner cases show that the only solution that actually makes any sense whatsoever is that the mind is a manifestation of the brain.

As per usual, we have a case on our hands where the scientific explanation is the best one available. Sorry Dinesh. Maybe you can try your hand at this in your next movie. Better luck next time.

1 comment:

Shripathi Kamath said...

Seriously, the only reason they use metaphors is that they have nothing that is real.