Why neuroscientist Solms is not a materialist: information theory
Arjuna, the host of Theology unleashed aired with South African neuropsychologist Mark Solms and Stonybrook neurosurgeon Michael Egnor on Mind vs. Brain (October 22, 2021) begins this part by offering a Hindu (Hare Krishna) perspective on the whole issue of mind vs. matterâ¦ and he finds considerable common ground with the other two non-materialists! The real implications of quantum mechanics and information theory for refuting materialism are only beginning to be understood.
Summary to date: In the first part, Solms, author of The hidden spring (2021), began by asserting in his opening statement that âthe source of consciousness in the brain is actually in the brainstem,â and not in the cerebral cortex, as is almost universally assumed. Dr Egnor then replied that his clinical experience supported the idea that the brain is not the mind.
Next, Solms pointed out the reality that arguing that the brain is not the mind can be a career-limiting movement in neuroscience – even if clinical experience supports the point of view. Egnor and Solms agreed that the further a neuroscientist moves away from real patients, the easier it is to embrace the idea that “the mind is exactly what the brain does” (naturalism). Solms, who also trained as a psychoanalyst, went on to describe how he understands consciousness – the ability to feel things, for example, the blush of red (qualia) The discussion then turned to the miraculous nature of Spinoza’s life and God, with Solms saying he believed in Spinoza’s God, as did Albert Einstein. Egnor then explained why Christians see God as a person: The most remarkable thing about us is our personality.
This game starts at 01:24:30. A partial transcript and notes, plus summaries and links to date follow.
Arjuna: We talked about what consciousness is. Maybe we can talk about what question is. There’s this idea that, âOh, that’s just matter. The material explains this.
In Krishna Consciousness we are talking about God having unthinkable powers. Materialist scientists attribute an inconceivable power to matter. They think matter has all these magical powers, as if it can produce consciousnessâ¦ It’s like that answers the question and there are no more questions to ask. [01:25:00]
Marc Solms: I have to be careful not to exceed my credentials. I am not a physicist. But even as a non-physicist, I can say it’s amazing that this view is so prevalent. This ties in with what Michael was saying earlier about scientists having very bad metaphysics and not even realizing that they are starting with metaphysical assumptions of any kind, let alone compelling assumptions. [01:26:00]
Even I know that it’s been a really long time in physics that the idea that matter is a fundamental concept has been transcended. I mean, Einstein’s famous equation, E equals MC squared, shows that matter is derived. It is a state of energy.
This naive idea that the fundamental element is matter – 100 years ago we realized in physics that this was not true. I think the next really big development, beyond relativity and the basic knowledge of quantum physics that Michael was referring to, was Shannon’s view on information. [01:27:00]
Information, in neuroscience, is a crucial concept, and it is very difficult to think of quantum physics and the great unresolved questions that arise from it without the concept of information – which I hasten to bring to your attention. in fact, is out of the question. I am not a materialist for exactly this reason. [01:27:30]
I don’t believe that the mind can be reduced to matter. Matter is an appearance. If you want to make connections between mind and body and see them both as appearances, then you cannot be a materialist. We always have to remember, as I keep saying, that these are concepts. They are abstractions. These are deductions. These are words that we use to try to articulate these deep things. I think that, among these tools, the concept of information, in the sense that Shannon introduced it to physics in 1948, has not yet started toâ¦ The implications, the importance, the value of this concept have not yet started. not started to fully reveal itself. [01:28:30]
To note: Who was Claude Shannon (1916-2001)? âThe American mathematician and computer scientist who conceived and laid the foundations of information theory. His theories laid the foundation for the electronic communications networks that now roam the earth … “Shannon was the person who saw the binary number as the fundamental building block of all communication,” said Dr. Robert G. Gallager, professor of electrical engineer who worked with Dr Shannon at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. âThis was really his discovery, and from there the whole communications revolution was born. “- IEEE Information Theory Society The binary number is a mathematical concept, not a material thing.
Michel Egnor: The concept of information fits very well with what has been pointed out by a number of philosophers of science, primarily science philosopher Bruce Gordon Heâ¦ points out that when you look at the quantum world, matter does not exist. Nothing in the quantum world is matter … [01:29:30]
I think the way we got it wrong was with Descartes and his notion of everything in nature as a machine stretched out in space, except the mind, the human mind, which is that sort of thing. “ghost”.
To note: The French mathematician RenÃ© Descartes was famous for this point of view. But it returned to haunt us all, so to speak, when Gilbert Ryle (1900-1976) ridiculed the “ghost in the machine”, helping to establish the materialistic dogma that the mind is just what the brain does. The concept became the title of a book by famous Arthur Koestler, unpacking this point of view.
Marc Solms: When you read Shannon’s articleâ¦ Again, like I said, I always find it very helpful to go back and actually read what my ancestors wrote. The title of his  paper is a mathematical theory of communication not of information but of communication …
Well let me get right to the point. What we forget is that information does not exist without there being a question to which the information is an answer. And maybe it comes down to what you were saying earlier about personality and some of the other deep issues we were touching on. Then the problem becomes more important: where does the question come from?
Next: Reclaiming the non-materialistic dimension of science (hint: Stephen Hawking was a good writer but not a very good philosopher)
The debate to date
Here is the first part of the debate / discussion, where neuropsychologist Mark Solms shares his point of view: Consciousness: Is it in the cerebral cortex – or the brainstem? In a recent discussion / debate with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, neuropsychologist Mark Solms offers an unconventional, but evidence-based perspective, favoring the brainstem. The evidence shows, says Mark Solms, author of The hidden source, that the brainstem, not the cerebral cortex, is the source of consciousness.
And Michael Egnor replies:
1.2. Neurosurgeon and Neuropsychologist Agree: Brain Is Not Mind Michael Egnor tells Mark Solms: Neuroscience hasn’t helped him understand people; on the contrary, he had to understand people and minds to make sense of neuroscience. Egnor saw patients who didn’t have most of their frontal lobes who were fully aware, “actually, pretty nice and bright people.”
1.3. So Solms admits what everyone knows but few say: Neuroscientist: The mind is not just the brain? It’s a career that limits! Neuropsychologist Mark Solms and neurosurgeon Michael Egnor agreed that clinical experience supports a non-materialistic view, but not the establishment. Mark Solms: âScience is kind ofâ¦ incredibly rigidâ¦ it’s like a mafia. You have to follow the rules of the Don, otherwise you got it.
In the second part, they offer definitions of consciousness:
2.1 Materialistic neuroscientists generally do not see real patients. Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and neuropsychologist Mark Solms find common ground: the mind can be “just what the brain does” in an academic article. But not in life. Egnor tries to define consciousness: following Franz Brentano, he says: “A conscious state is an intentional state”. Then it will be Solms’ turn.
2.2 A neuropsychologist tries to define consciousness. Frustrated by reprimands for discussing major issues in neuroscience, Mark Solms also decided to take training as a psychoanalyst. As a neuropsychologist, he views consciousness, in part, as the ability to feel things, what philosophers call “qualia” – the blush of red.
3.1 Einstein believed in the God of Spinoza. Who is this God? Neuropsychologist Mark Solms admits that life is “miraculous” and sees Spinoza’s God, anchored in nature, as the ultimate explanation. In a discussion with Solms, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor argues that it makes more sense to see God as a person than as a personification of nature.
3.2 Egnor and Solms: What does it mean to say that God is a Person? Mark Solms and Michael Egnor discuss and largely agree on what we can rationally know about God, using the tools of reason. Egnor argues that while the most remarkable thing about us is our personality (I Am), it makes sense to think of God as a Person (I AM).
You can also read: Your mind against your brain: ten things to know