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1 Bob Levin  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 4:49:57am

This is probably the most important question and investigation we can ask and pursue, scientifically. When science takes the direction of technological questions, the important questions revolve around the basic needs of the individual and society—food, water, shelter, protection.

However, this main scientific question cannot be solely answered by neuroscience, since the question has been asked throughout history and across cultures. And the answers, the thousands of answers, are certainly worth exploring.

My question is whether Damasio is summarizing the present state of neuroscience, or whether he is setting up a boundary, claiming the question is the property of neuroscience, or perhaps he is simply setting forth theories based on his investigations.

There is also another question, that perhaps his approach to consciousness is not only determined by his scientific education, but also, and perhaps more so, by the subtle influences that influence him simply by the fact that he is a product of the Western Intellect. That is, his cause and effect, his sense of order of logic, are greatly determined by his existence within the western intellectual tradition.

It would seem that an objective inquiry into consciousness would require a more objective perspective.

2 Jimmah  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 5:45:34am
However, this main scientific question cannot be solely answered by neuroscience, since the question has been asked throughout history and across cultures. And the answers, the thousands of answers, are certainly worth exploring.

My question is whether Damasio is summarizing the present state of neuroscience, or whether he is setting up a boundary, claiming the question is the property of neuroscience, or perhaps he is simply setting forth theories based on his investigations.

I don’t think that non-scientific cultures have made much progress in unravelling the mysteries of brain structure and function ;-)

Of course there a philosophical question that always seems to evade a fully explanatory account of consciousness, because the subjective aspect of consciousness always seems to be mapped to the physical apparatus rather than entailed by it. This is may be for systemic reasons - we may not be able to have such a fully satisfying account of what we ourselves are - or maybe such an account just doesn’t exist yet.

3 Bob Levin  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 6:01:52am

re: #2 Jimmah

I don’t think that non-scientific cultures have made much progress in unravelling the mysteries of brain structure and function ;-)

And I would argue that they have made the greatest strides in this area, that it is the West that is lagging behind in answering these questions. Of course, we would have to cover these findings one by one, and even answer the question of whether or not the West has exclusive rights to the claim of science.

Many of these cultures believe that brain structure and function are not relevant to the idea of self. Nor would they also make the arbitrary decision to examine pathology as illustrative case. Rather, they look to those who have perfected the art of being conscious—a concept that isn’t even defined in the Western scientific world.

Then again, the artistic community has always been aware of those possessing higher consciousness. In the west, this has been most evident in music. For instance:

4 Jimmah  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 6:43:24am
Many of these cultures believe that brain structure and function are not relevant to the idea of self.

Well that’s one of the reasons why they haven’t made any progress in this field then.

Nor would they also make the arbitrary decision to examine pathology as illustrative case. Rather, they look to those who have perfected the art of being conscious—a concept that isn’t even defined in the Western scientific world.

WTF? There’s nothing arbitrary about examining pathology as a means to investigating function - it’s an extremely powerful tool that has told us a vast amount about how our bodies work. And the brain is an organ of the body - this may come as a shock to some cultures, I know :)

5 Bob Levin  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 11:36:17am

re: #4 Jimmah

Well that’s one of the reasons why they haven’t made any progress in this field then.

Well, you’re just reasserting that this is true and I’d like to put that up for examination.

WTF? There’s nothing arbitrary about examining pathology as a means to investigating function - it’s an extremely powerful tool that has told us a vast amount about how our bodies work.

Okay, then what are the scientific reasons for choosing to study pathology rather than study the people whose consciousness is more highly developed than the vast majority? I haven’t seen those latter studies, just studies relating to pathology. I would think the reasons have more to do with the fact that pathological people are more often captive than those with greater to masterful skill. To me, these types of reasons are more arbitrary—that they are available, or when it comes to choice of measurement, it’s because the MRI has been invented, not because it’s the optimal tool.

And the brain is an organ of the body - this may come as a shock to some cultures, I know

Then it will also come as a shock for you to know that in Chinese medicine, the brain does not play a significant part in consciousness, it is referred to as a ‘curious organ’, not as the axis of our internal universe, as in Western Medicine.

If you read the article, you will see terms and concepts not yet discovered in the West, but no less scientific.

It may be that we might have to define some of the most basic terms, such as ‘scientific’. Or possibly discuss the different cultural methods of proof, since there are indeed many methods of proof.

6 kreyagg  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 11:47:08am

Bob Levin starting to sound like Deepak Chopra.

And really, if you get ill, would you choose traditional Chinese medicine or would you choose science based western medicine? And why are on earth would you make a different choice for matter concerning the brain/mind?

7 Jimmah  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 12:21:14pm

re: #6 kreyagg

Bob Levin starting to sound like Deepak Chopra.

And really, if you get ill, would you choose traditional Chinese medicine or would you choose science based western medicine? And why are on earth would you make a different choice for matter concerning the brain/mind?

Deepak Chopra is exactly who I was thinking of too. Idolising professional nonsense generators like Chopra and their ilk is a very Western trait, I find;)

8 Jimmah  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 12:40:55pm

re: #5 Bob Levin

Okay, then what are the scientific reasons for choosing to study pathology rather than study the people whose consciousness is more highly developed than the vast majority? I haven’t seen those latter studies, just studies relating to pathology.

That’s odd because if you are interested in this, there is a wealth of material out there. You could start with V.S. Ramachandran, whose work on phantom limb and other neurological disorders and anomalies has made significant advances in our understanding of how the brain functions. Think about the studies into blindsight, prosopagnosia among others.

Then it will also come as a shock for you to know that in Chinese medicine, the brain does not play a significant part in consciousness, it is referred to as a ‘curious organ’, not as the axis of our internal universe, as in Western Medicine.

Chinese medicine also recommends powdered tiger penis as an aphrodisiac so actually it’s not really that surprising to find that they have no significant role for the brain in their ‘medicine’.

As far as I know, Chinese people who suffer brain injuries have their consciousness affected as much as anyone else.

9 Bob Levin  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 1:10:03pm

re: #6 kreyagg

As a matter of fact, I’ve been going to both acupuncture and an allopathic doctor for over 26 years. There are certain symptoms which baffle the western doctor that the acupuncturist treats very effectively, and there are certain procedures that only western hospitals can deal with. There is no need for conflict, no need to discredit one over the other.

However, not all knowledge in the history of mankind has come from the European tradition.

When talking about consciousness, the same holds true. There is no reason to assume that all valuable knowledge has come out of the European tradition.

10 Bob Levin  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 1:11:49pm

re: #7 Jimmah

I’m not a fan of Chopra, but all he is doing is talking about Ayurvedic medicine, another science from another culture. Again, there is no reason to dismiss this 4000 year culture out of hand.

11 Bob Levin  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 1:36:52pm

re: #8 Jimmah

Chinese medicine also recommends powdered tiger penis as an aphrodisiac so actually it’s not really that surprising to find that they have no significant role for the brain in their ‘medicine’.

As far as I know, Chinese people who suffer brain injuries have their consciousness affected as much as anyone else.

This doesn’t sound just a little bit racist at worst, and culturally elitist at best? I really don’t know how that entry became number three in the Google search, regarding animal penises, but the reality is that there are a some staple herbs, much like a major scale, in Chinese medicine (penises are not among these), and they are very effective—if the healthcare consumer knows how to make informed choices.

As far as I know, Chinese people who suffer brain injuries have their consciousness affected as much as anyone else.

Yes, the Chinese people fall and injure themselves just like everyone else. For that matter, so do the Indians. (There is the story of BKS Iyengar’s recovery from a terrible motorcycle accident, using Yoga as his primary therapy. I don’t think anyone can argue with the results.)

Ancient Chinese scientists/philosophers essentially provided the technological tools that led to the European Industrial Revolution. Again, the question is whether you are being scientific or parochial.

So, if someone living within modern Chinese culture suffers a brain injury, either western medicine or TCM can be used, and both can be effective even though the practitioners are using two completely different paradigms of human anatomy and physiology.

Yet, when speaking about consciousness, of the two models, the Chinese long ago have opened the question and made the most progress on the road to understanding transcendent consciousness, not to mention having a greater understanding of sense of self. But again, this question can be examined.

12 kreyagg  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 2:12:25pm

re: #9 Bob Levin

As a matter of fact, I’ve been going to both acupuncture and an allopathic doctor for over 26 years. There are certain symptoms which baffle the western doctor that the acupuncturist treats very effectively…

There are studies that show that placebos can be effective, even sometimes when the patient is aware that they are receiving sham treatment. I have yet to see a proponent of acupuncture produce a double blind study that shows that it performs any better than a similar placebo.

There are effective treatments derived from traditional medicine, and once they are subjected to rational scrutiny and shown to be effective they can drop the prefix “traditional” and simply be called medicine.

13 researchok  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 2:28:40pm

The bottom line?

We have barely begun to understand the mysteries of the brain.

Anyone who believes answers are readily available is sorely mistaken.

14 Bob Levin  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 2:59:14pm

re: #12 kreyagg

There are studies that show that placebos can be effective, even sometimes when the patient is aware that they are receiving sham treatment. I have yet to see a proponent of acupuncture produce a double blind study that shows that it performs any better than a similar placebo.

Oh please. Like Chico Marx said (I paraphrase) who am I going to believe, you or my own eyes?

You don’t think that many prescription medications have gone through double-blind studies, only later to be called placebos? How about the medical treatments that were considered standard in the 1960s, that today would be considered malpractice?

You want a test, here’s a test. Go to acupuncture. Pick an illness or symptom that is bothersome, and then go to acupuncture for a while, years. Then tell me whether or not you believe, or know, that Chi exists. There are plenty of findings supporting acupuncture, only they now call it ‘deep brain, tissue, whatever stimulation’. If you’d like, I’ll post each one that I come across. The real difference between the deep electrical stimulation and acupuncture is that the Chinese know a route from the surface into the deeper areas. That’s it.

Not only that, regarding the present studies, you don’t think bias enters into these studies? Here’s a story. I watched a show, Scientific American Frontiers or something, hosted by Alan Alda. They were showing us a study trying to isolate acupuncture from a placebo. To shorten this, the ‘real’ treatment was along the Heart Meridian. Then, according to the scientist, they picked a meridian that they felt was completely unrelated to the heart, far far away from the heart. And so they chose to place needles along the Small Intestine Meridian. Now, if you tell this story to people who know anything about acupuncture, this is hilarious. An unbelievable show of Western arrogance and incompetence.

To do a proper study, double-blind or not, the scientist has to do their homework. And right now, they don’t seem want to do that homework. Don’t lose sight of the ball here. We are not talking about needles, we are talking about Chi, the existence of Chi. That’s the question, and you can’t discover that with a double-blind study.

15 Bob Levin  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 3:09:17pm

And if there is such a thing as Chi, how does this impact consciousness, the sense of self, pathology, and transcendence? That would be another line of investigation.

The problem, the techniques needed for such an investigation may not be amenable to a lab.

Can truth be found outside of a laboratory?

These are the questions.

16 kreyagg  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 3:09:46pm

re: #14 Bob Levin

Where on the electromagnetic spectrum does “Chi” fall? What is the name of the instrument that measures “Chi”? And has your “Chi” ever measured over 9,000?

Subjective experience is amongst the least trustworthy ways of gathering useful data.

17 Bob Levin  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 3:16:01pm

re: #16 kreyagg

This wouldn’t be the first time in the history of science where the tools needed to measure something didn’t exist when the theory was first introduced. Like this. Or this.

18 Jimmah  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 3:16:52pm

re: #11 Bob Levin

This doesn’t sound just a little bit racist at worst, and culturally elitist at best? I really don’t know how that entry became number three in the Google search, regarding animal penises, but the reality is that there are a some staple herbs, much like a major scale, in Chinese medicine (penises are not among these), and they are very effective—if the healthcare consumer knows how to make informed choices.

I have every respect for Chinese contributions to our understanding, including those of Chinese neuroscientists who are doing real science. I find it hard to have respect for a ‘medicine’ that sees no role for the brain in the question of consciousness, even if it is presented as ‘Chinese medicine’.

Obviously, herbs can be valuable sources of genuinely effective medicines, modern medical science makes them more effective by thoroughly investigating their effects and through rigorous testing and development.

PS neuroscientists and philosophers are not entirely uninterested in meditation and it’s effect on the brain/consciousness; take Sam Harris, for example, who is very interested ion what happens inside the brains of people who are practised in meditation, but has no interest in any attempt to validate the woo-woo’s.

19 Jimmah  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 3:23:24pm

re: #17 Bob Levin

This wouldn’t be the first time in the history of science where the tools needed to measure something didn’t exist when the theory was first introduced. Like this. Or this.

I think the idea of chi was “first introduced” rather a long time ago.

20 kreyagg  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 3:28:51pm

re: #19 Jimmah

I think the idea of chi was “first introduced” rather a long time ago.

And it’s always described as energy, an as yet undetected form of energy whose behavior is affected in some unknown way by metal or bamboo needles.

21 Bob Levin  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 3:28:57pm

re: #18 Jimmah

I have every respect for Chinese contributions to our understanding, including those of Chinese neuroscientists who are doing real science. I find it hard to have respect for a ‘medicine’ that sees no role for the brain in the question of consciousness, even if it is presented as ‘Chinese medicine’.

You have to read about it. It’s not unconnected from Asian Philosophy. These folks are not idiots. It’s a different perspective, and you might find it interesting.

take Sam Harris, for example, who is very interested ion what happens inside the brains of people who are practised in meditation, but has no interest in any attempt to validate the woo-woo’s.

Well the ‘woo-woos’ really don’t care if Sam Harris validates them or not. I’m not being flip. Sometimes the only way to prove the existence of water is to jump into a pool. And you don’t need someone jumping into a big empty cement pond for a control group.

22 Bob Levin  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 3:29:54pm

re: #19 Jimmah

I think the idea of chi was “first introduced” rather a long time ago.

Exactly my point. To me, it’s proven.

23 Bob Levin  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 3:33:06pm

re: #20 kreyagg

And it’s always described as energy, an as yet undetected form of energy whose behavior is affected in some unknown way by metal or bamboo needles.

Unknown to you. I have plenty of data.

And if the concept of unknown is scientifically bothersome for you, you might stay away from Quantum Physics.

24 Jimmah  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 3:35:50pm

re: #20 kreyagg

And it’s always described as energy, an as yet undetected form of energy whose behavior is affected in some unknown way by metal or bamboo needles.

Yep it’s the same basic idea as ‘elan vital’ - ‘vital energy’ as it appeared in Western culture. Long debunked.

25 Jimmah  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 3:36:16pm

re: #22 Bob Levin

Exactly my point. To me, it’s proven.

See above.

26 Bob Levin  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 3:37:17pm

re: #25 Jimmah

See above.

See above.

27 Jimmah  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 3:39:06pm

re: #23 Bob Levin

Unknown to you. I have plenty of data.

And if the concept of unknown is scientifically bothersome for you, you might stay away from Quantum Physics.

Aah the Elixir of Quantum Mechanics. Guaranteed to improve any argument!/

Night folks :)

28 Bob Levin  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 3:44:58pm

re: #27 Jimmah

You know the legal trick, if you don’t have the facts, argue the law, and if you don’t have the law, argue the facts.

If you don’t have history, facts, or logic, then resort to sarcasm. The European sciences must be defended at all costs.

Yeah, discussion is over.

29 Bob Levin  Mon, Jan 2, 2012 4:01:17pm

The facts are that Elan Vital wasn’t so much debunked as abandoned. Here’s the story.

Now, the missing ingredient in what you’ve read is some sense data (a la Bertrand Russell) that can confirm or deny this force. Because such data did not exist (although a simple trip to China could have confirmed this), the idea was logically refuted, and abandoned. But this half story is not different than the other stories cited above, of Wegener and Semmelweis. New, or very old theories in this case, are rarely (closer to never) initially accepted by scientists. And this history has been told in what has become a standard textbook in all Philosophy/History of Science classes, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

However, if we get back to the original question of consciousness, there will be no progress towards answers if we say that the only data that counts is what can be read from an MRI.

Once again, can truth be found outside of the laboratory? Can it be found outside of Western culture?


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