Sunday, August 7, 2022

They're Calling It a Huge Memory Research Fraud, But Is It Only the Tip of the Iceberg?

If you do a Google search using the phrase "memory research fraud," you will now get many recent results from leading news sources, including results such as these:

The leading journal Science did a big six-month investigation resulting in a recent long article entitled "Blots on a Field?" We hear claims of doctored images and fake visuals. An interesting part of the story is where the journal Science reaches out to leading science journals that have allegedly published some fake research, such as Nature and the Journal of Neuroscience, getting a lot of "no comments" from such journals. 

We read this in one news article:

"Dr Bik has now identified 14 other studies...that also appear suspicious. Despite this, in the majority of cases, no action has been taken against the journals that published them. The University of Minnesota declined a request to comment by The Mail on Sunday...Richard Smith, a former editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal (BMJ), who has warned that research fraud is a ‘major threat to public health’, said that the case was ‘shocking but not surprising’.  He cites research that suggests up to one in five of the estimated two million medical studies published each year could contain invented or plagiarised results, details of patients who never existed and trials that did not actually take place. He adds the problem is ‘well known about’ in science circles, yet there is a reluctance within the establishment to accept the scale of the problem."

The same Dr. Bik is quoted as saying, "’I've flagged more than 6,000 studies as potentially fraudulent, but just one in six have been retracted by publishers." Later in the same article we read this:

"At present there are no drugs that can fight Alzheimer’s. The first company to invent one would no doubt have a billion-dollar blockbuster on its hands – and this, says Adrian Heilbut, has incentivised misconduct."

We can imagine part of the motivation here:
(1) Invest money in company XYZ.
(2) Do a "fair means or foul" paper suggesting that company XYZ's approach towards treating Alzheimer's is promising. 
(3) Watch your stock shares soar in value. 

The items discussed above are only "the tip of the iceberg." The problem in memory research is ten times worse than the mere problem of some researchers doing image doctoring to produce frauduent images. The problem that is ten times worse involves things like this:

(1) Scientific papers are routinely stating claims in their titles and abstracts that are not well-established by any observations reported in the papers.
(2) Such unfounded claims are being massively repeated in the uncritical "echo chamber" that is the mainstream press and body of web sites calling themselves "science news" sites. 
(3) Scientists doing experiments involving memory typically use study group sizes that are too small to produce any reliable result. The results are mainly false alarms of a type that can easily arise when too-small study group sizes are used. 
(4) Scientists doing experiments involving memory typically fail to do the sample size calculations that would alert them that the study group sizes they are using are way too small to produce a reliable result. 
(5) Scientists doing experiments involving memory are very often using defective experimental procedures that produce unreliable results, such as trying to measure fear in rodents by subjectively judging "freezing behavior" rather than using better procedures producing more reliable results, such as trying to measure fear in rodents by measuring heart rate (which reliably spikes very sharply when a rodent is afraid). 
(6) Scientists doing experiments involving memory routinely fail to follow a blinding protocol that would reduce the chance of them producing false-alarm results in which they merely "see what they want to see." 
(7)  Scientists doing experiments involving memory routinely fail to follow good practices by pre-registering an exact experimental method for collecting and analyzing data. Often their papers show strong signs of "keep torturing the data until it confesses," which can also be described as "keep slicing and dicing the data until you find something like you hoped to find." 

The diagram below illustrates some of what is going on. The "picking random cells" refers to memory experiments in which some learning occurs, and then scientists attempt to show neural changes resulting from learning after randomly picking some cells for analysis, ignoring the extreme improbability that randomly selected cells would have changed because of such learning. Because of constant remodeling and molecular turnover occurring theoughout the brain, randomly selected cells or synapses will be likely to show changes that were not produced by learning.  

bad science


The links at the top of this blog refer to a scandal involving misleading images in neuroscience papers. Something similar has gone on endless times in brain imaging studies on the neural correlates of consciousness. Again and again, such studies will show visuals that depict differences of only 1% or smaller between brain activity in different small regions of the brain. But such regions will be shown as red regions in brain images, with all of the other areas having a grayish “black and white” color. When you see such an image, you inevitably get the impression that the highlighted part of the brain has much higher activity than other regions. But such a conclusion is not what the data is showing.

So, for example, a study finding merely 1% higher brain activity in a region near the corpus callosum (under some activity that we may call Activity X) might release a very misleading image looking like the image below, in which the area of 1% greater activity is colored in red.

 
 
But such an image is lying with colors. If there is only a 1% greater activity in this region, an honest diagram would look like the one below. 

 
With this diagram, the same region shown in red in the first diagram is shown as only 1% darker. You can't actually tell by looking at the diagram which region has the 1% greater activity when Activity X occurs. But that's no problem. The diagram above leaves the reader with the correct story: none of the brain regions differ in activity by more than 1% when Activity X occurs. Contrast this with the first image, which creates the very misleading idea that one part of the brain is much more active than the others when Activity X occurs.

You might complain that with such a visual, you cannot tell which regions have the slightly greater activity. But there are various ways to highlight particular regions of a brain visual, such as circling, pointing arrows, outlining, and so forth. For example, the following shows a region of very slightly higher activity without misleading the viewer by creating the impression of much higher activity:
 
The misleading diagrams of brain imaging studies seem all the more appalling when you consider that the images in such studies are typically the only thing that laymen use to form an opinion about localization in the brain. The text of brain imaging studies is typically written in thick jargon that only a neuroscientist can understand. Frustrated by this very hard-to-understand jargon and unclear writing, every layman reading these studies forms his opinions based on the visuals. When such visuals deceive us by lying with colors (as they so often do), it is a scandal of visual misrepresentation as great as whatever is discussed in the links at the top of this post. 

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Why Plasticity and Neurogenesis Fail to Explain Minds That Work Well After Massive Brain Tissue Loss

The web site The Conversation (www.theconversation.com) has a "Science and Technology" tab where we often are given very bad explanations for things. A particularly witless example was a recent article entitled "What really drives anti-abortion beliefs? Research suggests it’s a matter of sexual strategies." We were then given one of the many very silly work products of evolutionary psychology, something with a long history of providing groundless speculative explanations given a little scientific flavoring by some sprinkling of Darwinist verbiage. The speculation given (centered around the groundless idea that "sexually restricted people benefit from increasing the costs of sex") has no basis in either observation, logic or evolutionary theory. 

Another "bad explanation" article on The Conversation site attempts to address why people are skeptical of some claims of scientists. We read no mention of things such as the replication crisis, that an apparent majority of findings in scientific papers fail attempts to experimentally replicate them. Instead we read this:

"How can scientists increase their credibility? ... To increase trustworthiness, they can convey that their work is motivated by selfless goals."

This claim is very funny. Scientists work for salaries. The more papers they publish, and the more such papers are read and cited, the higher is the chance that a scientist will move up some career path that may lead from being a mere "reader" or adjunct professor or assistant professor to being a better-paid full professor with tenure. The ultimate career goal of a scientist is to become a famous professor, who makes lots of money by writing books that are widely read.  The work of scientists is not mainly motivated by selfless goals.

By contrast, consider a person such as myself. All of my blogs are free for anyone to read. I also have various books that you can access from my site www.markmahin.com or by using the link here. All of the books on those two pages can be read online for free. I have a Creative Commons license on all of my blogs, under which anyone can reproduce any of my posts for free, on any web site they have or any book they are publishing. I have never made a penny from my blogging or photographic activities, and a few occasional dollars I get from them is canceled out by my photographic expenses, which have been in excess of $2000. I take no contributions, and get no ad revenue. So when you read any of my posts, you can be sure that what I was writing or photographing was in no way motivated by money. 

Another "bad explanation" article on The Conversation website attempts to answer a different question. The article has this long title: "Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke is missing ‘quite a bit’ of her brain. How can people survive and thrive after brain injury?"  We read that the talented actress Emilia Clarke had surgery removing significant portions of her brain, which occurred before she filmed most of the years of work she did on that show. 

This is not at all the most dramatic example of people functioning well despite major loss of brain tissue. Other more dramatic examples include:

(1) Many cases of epilepsy patients who were suffering from seizures so bad that they had half of their brains surgically removed, in an operation called a hemispherectomy.

(2) Some split-brain patients who had their epilepsy treated by severing the fibers (called the corpus callosum) that connects the two hemispheres of the brain.

(3) Many patients who lost the great majority of their brain tissue through diseases such as hydrocephalus, which slowly converts brain tissue to watery fluid. 

Contrary to claims that the mind is produced by the brain and that memories are stored in the brain, such massive loss of brain tissue often produces little change in memory or mental capacity.  My post "Preservation of Mind and Memories After Removal of Half a Brain" (which you can read here) describes cases in which removing half of a brain had no major effect on either mind or memory.  For example,  here is a quote from the  American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 46, No. 3 (Jul., 1934), pages 500-503, regarding work by a physician named Dandy:

"Dandy has completely removed the right cerebral hemisphere from eight patients....Later examinations showed no observable mental changes. The patients were perfectly oriented in respect of time, place, and person; their memory was unimpaired for immediate and remote events; conversation was always coherent; ability to read, write, compute, and learn new material was unaltered. Current events were followed with normal interest. There were no personality changes apparent; the patients were emotionally stable, without fears, delusions, hallucinations, expansive ideas or obsessions, and with a good sense of humor; they joked frequently. They showed a natural interest in their condition and future. They cooperated intelligently at all times throughout post-operative care and subsequent testing of function."

A 1966 paper was entitled “Long-term changes in intellect and behavior after hemispherectomy.” The paper refers to operations in which half of a brain is removed, often to stop very bad brain seizures. This paper gives very detailed “before and after” IQ score data on 11 people who had half of their brains removed. Eight of the 11 people had the left half of their brain removed, and the other three had the right half of their brain removed. Every single one of the 11 people was able to get an improved IQ score on at least one of the tests taken after half of their brain was removed, a score better than a corresponding score they had got before half of their brain was removed.  Patient 1 (a P.G.) had an IQ of 128 before half of his brain was removed. After half of his brain was removed, he scored 142 on an IQ test. 

This result should not come as any surprise to anyone familiar with the research of the physician John Lorber. Lorber studied many human patients with hydrocephalus, in which healthy brain tissue is gradually replaced by a watery fluid. Lorber's research is described in this interesting scientific paper. A mathematics student with an IQ of 130 and a verbal IQ of 140 was found to have “virtually no brain.” His vision was apparently perfect except for a refraction error, even though he had no visual cortex (the part of the brain involved in sight perception). In the paper we are told that of about 16 patients Lorber classified as having extreme hydrocephalus (with 90% of the area inside the cranium replaced with spinal fluid), half of them had an IQ of 100 or more.

The article in The Conversation does not mention such cases. But using the example of Emilia Clarke (who performed skillfully as an actress after apparently losing quite a bit of her brain because of brain surgery), the neuroscientist author of the article (Professor Anthony Hannan) offers two explanations for why minds would perform well after massive loss of brain tissue: "neural plasticity"  and neurogenesis. 

Let's look at whether either of these explanations is a strong one.

Poor Explanation #1: Neural Plasticity

To explain the phrase "neural plasticity" I should first start by explaining the simpler term "synaptic plasticity." The term "synaptic plasticity" has long been used by those who claim that memories are stored in synapses. It has often been claimed that when a memory is created, some synapses kind of mold themselves to store the memory. Those advancing this claim would sometimes claim that synapses are molded by experience or sensory experience rather as some clay can be molded by an artist.  

There has never been any robust evidence to support such claims. Instead of having evidence for memory formation by synaptic plasticity, we merely have evidence for constant remodeling and physical turnover in synapses. All synapses can be very roughly compared to the wet sand at the edge of the seashore, which is constantly remodeled by the action of the tides. What often goes on in neuroscience studies is that after some animal learns something, a neuroscientist will look at some synapses, and see some evidence of change. The neuroscientist will often claim that the change resulted from the learning that occurred. The fallacy in such work is that all synapses in the brain are constantly changing, regardless of whether anything is learned. So the mere observation of a change in some synapses does nothing to show that such change occurred because of something that an organism learned. 

The constant remodeling of synapses occurs largely because of the short lifetimes of synapse proteins. Synapses are made of proteins that have average lifetimes of two weeks or less. Such short lifetimes make an extremely strong reason for disbelieving claims that memories are stored in synapses. Human memories often last 1000 times longer than the average lifetime of synapse proteins. But despite the lack of good evidence for claims that memories are stored in  synapses, neuroscientists love to use the vague term "synaptic plasticity." The type of evidence cited for synaptic plasticity is usually just evidence for synaptic instability all over the brain. 

The term "neural plasticity" is a term similar to the term "synaptic plasticity." Neural plasticity is some alleged ability of the brain to rewire itself.  Connections between brain cells are constantly being built and broken down, just as vines between trees are constantly being built and decaying in the dense regions of the Amazon rain forest. 

However, there is no evidence that brains can rebuild themselves the way the liver can. A page at the NIH describes that ability of the liver:

"The liver has a unique capacity among organs to regenerate itself after damage. A liver can regrow to a normal size even after up to 90% of it has been removed."

But the brain has no such ability to regenerate itself. If you take out a part of the brain, it remains lost. When half of the brain is removed in a hemispherectomy operation to stop very bad seizures, the brain does not regenerate the missing half.  When a quarter or an eighth of the brain is removed to get rid of a cancerous tumor, the brain does not grow back the missing part. 

Professor Hannan makes this misleading claim: "The key to understanding how brains can recover from trauma is that they are fantastically plastic – meaning our body’s supercomputer can reshape and remodel itself." The brain is not a computer, and the brain lacks seven characteristics of information-storage devices such as computers, as I point out in my post "Seven Things in Fast Retrieval Systems, None of Which Your Brain Has." There is no evidence that brains reshape themselves or remodel themselves in any way that can explain the preservation of mental abilities after loss of large parts of the brain.  Evidence typically given for neural plasticity or synaptic plasticity should really be described instead as evidence for mental resiliency, the ability of the mind to keep functioning well despite brain damage.

Much of what Professor Hannan says to back up his claims are unproven and easy-to-discredit claims about brains storing memories. He provides no evidence at all that the brain generates very many more synapses or neurons to make up for synapses or neurons that were lost. About the best that he can do is to make this claim (which he does not support with specifics):

"With brain injury, the changes can be bigger; you get certain rewiring around the injury. These synapses can rearrange themselves to work around the damaged part."

Poor Explanation #2: Neurogenesis

The second thing  Professor Hannan attempts to do to explain well-functioning minds after massive brain damage is to appeal to what he calls neurogenesis: the ability of a brain to make new brain cells. He says this:

"But there’s another form of plasticity called neurogenesis. This involves little pockets in the brain where new neurons continue to be born throughout life. And there’s evidence that after brain injury these neural stem cells can be stimulated and migrate to the area of injury and make new neurons."

Unfortunately, the evidence for adult neurogenesis is very weak. Attempts to observe neurogenesis produce conflicting results. Many neuroscientists believe that human adults do not generate new brain cells in significant numbers. Even those who argue for neurogenesis claim numbers of new neurons through neurogenesis so low that they cannot appreciably explain the persistence of human mental abilities despite massive loss of brain tissue. 

A 2019 paper says this about adult neurogenesis (the formation of new neurons):

"Here we examine the evidence for adult human neurogenesis and note important limitations of the methodologies used to study it. A balanced review of the literature and evaluation of the data indicate that adult neurogenesis in human brain is improbable. In fact, in several high quality recent studies in adult human brain, unlike in adult brains of other species, neurogenesis was not detectable."

Below we see a recent paper with a title of "Mounting evidence suggests human adult neurogenesis is unlikely."

adult neurogenesis

Even those who believe in adult neurogenesis claim that it produces a relatively small amount of neurons: only about one or two thousand per day. That is smaller than the number of brain cells that die each day. We don't know exactly how many brain cells die each day, but it has been estimated that adults lose roughly 10,000 brain cells per day. So neurogenesis is worthless for explaining minds that work well after massive brain tissue loss. Any gain produced by neurogenesis does not even make up for all the neurons being lost due to regular aging. 

In the poll here of 90+ neuroscientists, neuroscientists were asked whether they agreed with a series of statements. One of the statements was, "Damaged portions of the human brain regenerate and get well again." 88% of the neuroscientists disagreed with that statement. The story line of a self-healing brain that Hannon is insinuating does not match the opinions of the vast majority of neuroscientists. Also 56% of the neuroscientists agreed with the statement, "The human brain stops growing at the end of adolescence," just as if they did not believe in substantial adult neurogenesis. 

Nothing that Hannan mentions has any value in explaining the preservation of old memories and old learning despite massive loss of brain tissue. If you still remember something you should have forgot after losing half your brain, that cannot be explained through any explanation such as growing new synapses or new neurons. Such new synapses or new neurons would not have the information allegedly stored in the old synapses and neurons that had been surgically removed. 

So neuroscientists such as Hannan have no credible explanation to offer as to why human minds should continue to perform so well after massive loss of brain tissue. There is only one credible way to explain this paradox: by postulating that the brain does not produce the mind, and that the brain is not the storage place of memories.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

"Brain Chemical Imbalance" Theory Is Fading Out as an Explanation for Mental Illness

An interesting exercise is to try the following Google query:

What causes mental illness?

Let us look at the extremely diverse results that come up on the first  page of search results that appear when we do such a Google query. Strangely, the first result is an article that does not make any attempt at all to suggest any explanation for a cause of mental illness. The second search result is a page from a small organization that states this:

"Most psychiatric survivors reject the term 'mental illness' altogether, as it supports what is considered the 'medical model' of mental health. The medical model is based on the idea that there is a physiological impairment creating a neurochemical imbalance in a person’s brain, resulting in a mental illness. Despite this popular perspective, it is based on flawed science."

The third result is a page that does not make any attempt at all to suggest any explanation for a cause of mental illness. The fourth result is a page that attempts to explain mental illness by first mentioning genetics. The page suggest that there might one day be some kind of genetic or epigenetic way of reducing suicide.  The page suggests that "macrophages" and "inflammation" somehow contribute to mental illness. 

The fifth search result is a page from a leading medical clinic, the Mayo Clinic. In a section entitled "Causes," the page lists three causes for mental illness:  "Inherited traits," "Environmental exposures before birth," and "Brain chemistry." What the page suggests under "brain chemistry" is basically the same idea that is rejected by the second search result (on this page). 

(I may note that after years in which the medical community kept telling us that mental illness is caused by imbalances of brain chemicals, we now have many authorities who are denying such claims. Such authorities sometimes claim that the medical establishment never taught that mental illness is caused by imbalances of brain chemicals. But the doctrine of mental illness being caused by brain chemical imbalances still is taught very widely by many medical authorities, and evidence of the massive teaching of the doctrine by the medical and neuroscience establishment can effortlessly be found very abundantly by searching for the past statements of such authorities.) 

The sixth search result is a page entitled "What causes mental illness?" The answers suggested (from first to last) are genetics, environment, childhood trauma, stressful events, negative thoughts, unhealthy habits, drugs and alchohol, and brain chemistry. The page tells us this: "Mental illness involves an imbalance of natural chemicals in your brain and your body."  This is the "chemical imbalance" theory of mental illness that numerous authorities are now saying is not true, and which some authorities are claiming was never taught. It very obviously was taught and continues to be taught by leading authorities. 

The seventh search result is a page from the widely read WebMD site. The page suggests the "chemical imbalance" theory of mental illness, along with a widely spread "bad wiring" theory. The page also suggests causes of genetics, infections, brain defects or injury, and substance abuse.  The page also mentions "stressor" events such as death or divorce, changing jobs, feelings of inadequacy and a dysfunctional family life.  The page kind of goes "all over the map" in trying to explain the causes of mental illness. 

The eighth search result is a 2012 page on the site of the American Psychological Association, one entitled "The Roots of Mental Illness." At first the page starts out by pitching purely biological causes of mental illness. We read this:

"Eric Kandel, MD, a Nobel Prize laureate and professor of brain science at Columbia University, believes it's all about biology. 'All mental processes are brain processes, and therefore all disorders of mental functioning are biological diseases,' he says. 'The brain is the organ of the mind. Where else could [mental illness] be if not in the brain?' "

We certainly do not know that all or even most mental processes are brain processes, and there are very strong reasons (discussed on this blog) for rejecting claims that all or most mental processes are brain processes, a claim which is dogma, not fact. As for the "where else" reasoning of Kandel, it is a type of rhetorical question sophistry that can sound convincing only because of the lack of imagination in the person hearing it.  The same type of fallacious reasoning was long used about DNA. People would say that DNA must contain some blueprint for making a human, arguing, "Where else could such a blueprint be?" The fact is no such blueprint has ever been discovered in DNA, which contains only low-level chemical information, not high-level structural information.  We can reasonably answer Kandel's question like this: mental illness (along with most other mental phenomena such as memory) could be in some non-material reality of a human (such as a soul) that is something different from the brain. 

Next on the 2012 "Roots of Mental Illness" page of the American Psychological Society, we read this: "That viewpoint is quickly gaining supporters, thanks in part to Thomas R. Insel, MD, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, who has championed a biological perspective during his tenure at the agency."  But a mental health expert claimed in a recent interview that Insel's "13 years in charge of the nation’s mental health research produced such uniformly dismal results."  The expert stated this, quoting Insel:

"When Insel stepped down as director of NIMH in 2015 he gave an interview about his accomplishments, after spending by his estimate $20 billion. 'I spent 13 years at NIMH really pushing on the neuroscience and genetics of mental disorders, and when I look back on that … I don’t think we moved the needle in reducing suicide, reducing hospitalizations, improving recovery for the tens of millions of people who have mental illness.' ”

Indeed, in its second part the 2012 "Roots of Mental Illness" page of the American Psychological Society shifts gears, giving us this quote:

"That complexity is one reason that experts such as Jerome Wakefield, PhD, DSW, a professor of social work and psychiatry at New York University, believe that too much emphasis is being placed on the biology of mental illness at this point in our understanding of the brain. Decades of effort to understand the biology of mental disorders have uncovered clues, but those clues haven't translated to improvements in diagnosis or treatment, he believes. 'We've thrown tens of billions of dollars into trying to identify biomarkers and biological substrates for mental disorders,' Wakefield says. 'The fact is we've gotten very little out of all of that.' "

The ninth search result gives another "all over the map" smorgasbord of reasons for mental illness. In a similar vein, the tenth search result is a page of the Center for Disease Control. Under a heading of "What Causes Mental Illness?" we read the following:

"There is no single cause for mental illness. A number of factors can contribute to risk for mental illness, such as

  • Early adverse life experiences, such as trauma or a history of abuse (for example, child abuse, sexual assault, witnessing violence, etc.)
  • Experiences related to other ongoing (chronic) medical conditions, such as cancer or diabetes
  • Biological factors or chemical imbalances in the brain
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Having feelings of loneliness or isolation"

The eleventh search result is a page that offers an extremely wide range of things that can affect mental health:

"
  • childhood abuse, trauma, or neglect
  • social isolation or loneliness
  • experiencing discrimination and stigma, including racism
  • social disadvantage, poverty or debt
  • bereavement (losing someone close to you)
  • severe or long-term stress
  • having a long-term physical health condition
  • unemployment or losing your job
  • homelessness or poor housing
  • being a long-term carer for someone
  • drug and alcohol misuse
  • domestic violence, bullying or other abuse as an adult
  • significant trauma as an adult, such as military combat, being involved in a serious incident in which you feared for your life, or being the victim of a violent crime
  • physical causes – for example, a head injury or a neurological condition such as epilepsy can have an impact on your behaviour and mood. (It's important to rule out potential physical causes before seeking further treatment for a mental health problem)."
The page rejects the "brain chemistry imbalance" so often advanced around the turn of the century, stating the following:

"The human brain is extremely complicated. Some research suggests that mental health problems may be linked to a variation in certain brain chemicals (such as serotonin and dopamine), but no one really understands how or why. Arguments that someone's brain chemistry is the cause of mental health problems are very weak. But even though there's no strong evidence to say that any mental health problems are caused by a chemical imbalance in our brains, you might find some people still use brain chemistry to explain them."

The 12th search result also suggests a wide range of causes for mental illness. The 13th search result is a World Health Organization page that does not attempt to describe the causes of mental illness. The 14th search result is a National Institute of Mental Health page that also does not attempt to describe the causes of mental illness.

From these results it seems we can draw three conclusions:
(1) The claim that mental illness is caused by brain chemical imbalances is a claim that is still being pushed here and there by various authorities.
(2) Such a claim is now disputed by many other authorities on mental illness, who say that there is no robust evidence for such a claim that mental illness is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain.
(3) The most common answer given regarding the cause of mental illness is a multi-factor answer that mentions a wide variety of possible causes, many of which include things other than brain states.

There was never any good evidence for the theory that mental illnesses are caused by brain chemical imbalances. The theory was popular largely because it was pushed by pharmaceutical companies. Neuroscientists often sounded supportive of the theory partially because many of them are financially entangled with  pharmaceutical companies.

A recent article on the Psychology Today web site is an illuminating expose of how doctors, professors and pharmaceutical companies long pushed an unwarranted theory that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance, an imbalance of the chemical serotonin. The article tells us that the theory was so widely spread by authorities that more than 80% of the public believed it, according to polls. We read this:

"A major new review of the research—the first of its kind exhaustively reviewing the evidence, published today in the journal Molecular Psychiatry—reaches a strikingly similar conclusion. In 'The Serotonin Theory of Depression: A Systematic Umbrella Review of the Evidence,' University College London Psychiatry Professor Joanna Moncrieff and a team of five other top European researchers found 'there is no evidence of a connection between reduced serotonin levels or activity and depression.' ...The researchers also looked at studies where serotonin levels had been 'artificially lowered in hundreds of people' (by depriving their diets of the necessary amino acid that makes serotonin) and found that 'lowering serotonin in this way did not produce depression in hundreds of healthy volunteers,' according to a 2007 meta-analysis and several recent studies. Numerous other reviews on re-examination were found to provide weak, inconsistent, or nonexistent evidence of a connection between serotonin and depression."

It was the same thing going on in regard to the serotonin theory of depression and the theory that the brain is the source of the human mind and the storage place of memories:
  • In both cases a community of experts became a belief community with the goal of propagating some dubious explanation.
  • In both cases an overconfident community of experts "jumped the gun" by claiming to understand things beyond its understanding. 
  • In both cases the community of experts developed speech customs that were not based on sound scientific evidence, and were contrary to many observations.
  • In both cases the story line being told served the vested interests of the experts, by helping to make them look like great lords of explanation who understood deep mysteries of the mind. 
Just as our professors and psychiatrists misled us for so long with unfounded theories of mental illness being caused by chemical imbalances, professors and psychiatrists and neuroscientists have misled us for so long by advancing unfounded claims that human minds comes from brains and that brains are the storage place of memories. The social construction of the serotonin theory of depression is a sociology story very similar to the sociology story of the social construction of claims that brains make minds and store memories. To understand how and why such folklore began to be told, use a rule of "follow the money" and ask this again and again: "Who was it benefited by the telling of such stories, and in what ways did they benefit?" And also ask again and again: "In what ways did the tellers of such stories break the rules of proper scientific inquiry, in a way that led to their own benefit?"

chemical imbalance theory

When the oppressed are sad largely because they have been oppressed, it is very convenient to tell such people that they are sad because of some problem in their brain that can be fixed if they buy pills, rather than because of all of the things that society has done to oppress them. Part of this oppression comes from academia itself, but explaining how that works would require a separate post.

And speaking of errors about brains, today's Health page on Google News has a link to an article entitled "Two decades of Alzheimer's research may be based on deliberate fraud that has cost millions of lives."

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Evolution Does Not Explain DNA, DNA Does Not Explain Bodies, and Bodies Do Not Explain Minds

 Here (in a simple sketch) is a view of biological origins that has been repeatedly taught or suggested by biologists (although quite a few biologists have disputed some parts of it):

(1) "Evolution (a random, unguided process) has produced the DNA of each species, which consists mainly of units called genes."  

(2) "Each gene in DNA specifies how to make a particular type of protein molecule in an organism." 

(3) "An organism's DNA thereby explains why each organism has the body that it has." 

(4) "Part of an organism's body (its brain) is the cause of any mind that the organism may have, and the storage place of the organism's memories." 

The doctrine above can be condensed into a single sentence. The doctrine above is the teaching that evolution explains DNA, DNA explains bodies, and bodies explain minds. There are very strong reasons for rejecting each part of this doctrine. 

Evolution Does Not Explain DNA

First, let us look at reasons why it is not credible to maintain that evolution can explain DNA.  The first reason is that evolutionary theory has no credible explanation for the origin of the DNA molecule itself and the biological infrastructure needed within a cell for a DNA molecule to be useful. This is the unsolved problem of the origin of life.  Currently there is no evolutionary explanation for the origin of life, nor is there any credible natural explanation for the origin of DNA.  Scientists have been struggling with this problem for many decades, and have made extremely little progress towards resolving it.  The claimed progress that has been reported is basically all illusory progress (such as the matter discussed here). 

Even the simplest self-reproducing cell represents a state of organization that we would never expect to arise by chance processes given a billion trillion planets on which random chemical reactions could occur.  A recent report from scientists long attempting to estimate the simplest possible microbe is a report estimating that such a microbe would have 473 genes with 531,000 base pairs. This is information that all has to be exactly or almost exactly right for a cell to function properly and reproduce.  The amount of fine-tuned functional information involved is roughly the same as the amount of fine-tuned functional information in a well-written 300-page instruction manual.  Just as we would never expect a well-written 300-page instruction manual to arise by chance processes (even given a billion trillion planets for such accidental processes to occur), we would never expect all the required information in a self-reproducing cell to appear by chance. 

We can't get around this difficulty by imagining a gradual evolutionary origin of the first life, because Darwinian evolution requires life of some kind (and biological reproduction) as a prerequisite before evolution can occur.  The shortfall in evolutionary theory in regard to explaining life's beginning is shown by the fact that there are two main types of cells: prokaryotic cells (the simpler type) and the vastly more complex type of cells called eukaryotic cells; and nowadays biologists typically do not explain the origin of either one of these types of cells by evoking Darwinian evolution. To try to explain prokaryotic cells, biologists appeal to some fantastically lucky chance combination of molecules. To try to explain eukaryotic cells, biologists these days are appealing to some other fantastically lucky chance "endosymbiosis" event by which cells suddenly became vastly more complex by gobbling up less complex cells. Given that nowadays biologists are not trying to explain the origin of either of the two main types of cells by Darwinian evolution,  it certainly is not true that the origin of the DNA molecule is explained by evolution. 

Let me explain in the next several paragraphs another huge reason why evolution does not explain DNA. Each DNA molecule consists mainly of genes that specify which amino acids make up a particular protein molecule.  Each gene largely specifies how to make one particular complex invention: a particular type of protein molecule. In the DNA of humans, for example, there are roughly 20,000 genes, each largely specifying how to make one of the 20,000+ types of protein molecules in the human body. 

Protein molecules are sensitive, fragile things that do not function in half-forms or quarter forms.  Just as a human body cannot live if you saw a man off at his navel, a protein molecule will not function in half-form. And just as there are many ways to kill a human by sawing off a quarter of less of his body, there are many ways to make a typical protein molecule nonfunctional by removing only a small fraction of the molecule. A biology textbook tells us, "Proteins are so precisely built that the change of even a few atoms in one amino acid can sometimes disrupt the structure of the whole molecule so severely that all function is lost." And we read on a science site, "Folded proteins are actually fragile structures, which can easily denature, or unfold." Another science site tells us, "Proteins are fragile molecules that are remarkably sensitive to changes in structure." 

For example, the paper here estimates that making a random change in a single amino acid of a protein (most of which have hundreds of amino acids) will have a 34% chance of leading to a protein's "functional inactivation." Figure 1 of the paper here suggests something similar, by indicating that after about 10 random mutations (a change in only 10 of its hundreds of amino acids), the fitness of a protein molecule will drop to zero. Further evidence for such claims can be found in this paper, which discusses very many ways in which a random mutation in a gene for a protein molecule can destroy or damage the function or stability of the protein.  An "active site" of an enzyme protein is a region of the protein molecule (about 10% to 20% of the volume of the molecule) which binds and undergoes a chemical reaction with some other molecule.  The paper states, "If a mutation occurs in an active site, then it should be considered lethal since such substitution will affect critical components of the biological reaction, which, in turn, will alter the normal protein function." The paper follows that sentence with a mention of quite a few other ways in which random mutations can break protein molecules, making them nonfunctional. For example, we read that "an amino acid substitution at a critical folding position can prevent the forming of the folding nucleus, which makes the remainder of the structure rapidly condense," which is a description of how a single amino acid change (less than a 1% change in the amino acids in a protein molecule) can cause a protein molecule to no longer have the 3D shape needed for its function. As a biology textbook tells us, "Proteins are fragile, are often only on the brink of stability."

gene to polypeptide gene

The median number of amino acids in a protein molecule is about 375.  A gene is a set of hundreds of DNA nucleotide base pairs specifying or symbolizing hundreds of amino acids arranged in just the right way to match the amino acid arrangement in  a functional protein molecule. There are twenty amino acids used by living things, just as there are 26 letters in the English alphabet. The probability of 375 random amino acids corresponding to a functional protein molecule is roughly comparable to the probability of 375 random characters being a functional English paragraph: a probability that is essentially zero.  The table below shows some of the combinatorial mathematics involved. There are many human protein molecules that have more than 700 amino acids. 

mathematics of protein evolution

In general, with a few possible exceptions, there are no credible evolutionary accounts for the origin of the genes that are the most important parts of DNA. Because a protein molecule corresponding to a gene is not functional if only half of the protein molecule exists, there is no credible story to be told of the gradual origin of a gene because of some gradually improving protein molecule.  Neither a gene nor its corresponding protein molecule will be functional until the great majority of its structure is in place. 

The diagram below illustrates the point.  A gene has a median number of nucleotide base-pair parts equal to about 375 (since 375 is the median number of amino acids in a protein molecule). But a gene will not be functional unless the great majority of these parts are in place in the correct arrangement.  Such a minimal functionality requirement corresponds to the green line in the diagram below.  To imagine a new gene arriving, we must imagine the lucky appearance of 250 or more parts arranged in just the right way to produce a functional effect.  This would be a miracle of luck we would not expect to have happen by chance even once in the history of our planet, a miracle of luck very comparable in its improbability to typing monkeys producing a well-written useful functional paragraph of  250 characters or more. 

arrival of complex biological innovation

Were such a miracle of luck required just once, the difficulty would not be so bad. But for us to believe random mutations produced the human genome, we must imagine many thousands of such miracles of luck.  We cannot say we have an explanation for something when so many thousands of appeals are being made to miracles of luck. Clearly Darwinian evolution does not explain the information in our DNA. A few months ago a scientific paper by several scientists confessed, "Biological systems have evolved to amazingly complex states, yet we do not understand in general how evolution operates to generate increasing genetic and functional complexity."

So how did humans get in their DNA about 20,000 functional genes enabling humans to have 20,000+ different types of functional proteins, each serving a different purpose in the human body? Darwinian evolution does not credibly explain that. The issue is one that Darwin never understood, for in his time there was no understanding of the complexity of protein molecules, or the number of different types of protein molecules in the human body. Darwin thought that there are maybe twenty complex inventions in the human body, and he counted things like eyes and arms and legs as some of those. He had no idea that the number of complex inventions in the human body was a thousand times greater, since each different type of protein molecule is its own complex invention.  

Evoking the not-literally-accurate term "natural selection" does not get you out of such difficulties. The term is not-literally-accurate because no real selection is involved (selection being a word meaning choice by a conscious agent). Because natural selection only acts on innovations that have already appeared, the concept of natural selection does not explain most biological innovations. A famous biologist (Hugo de Vries) told us the truth about the limited power of natural selection when he stated this:

"Natural selection is a sieve. It creates nothing, as is so often assumed; it only sifts." 

As a quick-and-dirty analogy, you can think of natural selection as a mere sieve or filter that preserves lucky results. But perhaps a better analogy is if we think of natural selection as being like a computer printer.  Darwinists believe that a novel gene originates when some incredibly lucky random change occurs in a single organism, and that natural selection causes such a new gene to slowly spread across the gene pool of a species during multiple generations (because the gene produces  a survival benefit or reproduction benefit, causing an organism that has it to be more likely to spread its genes).  According to such a description, natural selection is acting like a computer printer that can make unlimited copies of some page or pages.  But it is a gigantic mistake to think that we can explain the origin of the gene by appealing to natural selection. At best natural selection is like a computer printer, and computer printers don't author things.

natural selection problem

Within the context of explaining the origin of novel genes and novel  proteins, there is actually every reason to believe that the idea of natural selection is a very misleading one (beyond the mere fact that no real selection is occurring because agent is choosing). Why is that? Natural selection is basically the idea that nature preserves some great miracle of biological luck when it occurs. But let us imagine that random mutations were to produce a novel innovation by accidentally making a new type of functional protein molecule. With 99.999% likelihood such a thing would not be preserved in a gene pool for many generations, for the simple reason that it would only be one element when many other miracles of protein innovation or phenotypic innovation would be needed to actually produce a survival benefit or a reproduction benefit.  This is because the requirements for improvements in survival or reproduction are usually incredibly complicated, typically involving a requirement for quite a few coordinated and very complicated changes in different places. Such requirements are vastly underestimated by Darwinism enthusiasts who fail to study the gigantically diverse and complex requirements for successful biological improvements, which often involve multiple very complex "chicken or the egg" cross-dependencies. Just as inventing a CPU chip in 17th century France would not have got you anywhere (because countless other not-yet-invented things would also be needed for a computer), in general some accidental miracle of luck producing a functional new type of protein molecule would almost certainly be futile, because many other simultaneous (or nearly simultaneous) miracles of luck would be needed to produce a benefit in survival or reproduction.   

interlocking biological requirements

DNA is mainly a set of genes, each of which specifies the amino acid sequence of a particular type of protein. In this paper a Harvard scientist confessed, "A wide variety of protein structures exist in nature, however the evolutionary origins of this panoply of proteins remain unknown." That's right: evolution does not explain DNA. 

DNA Does Not Explain Bodies

Not long after DNA was discovered about the middle of the twentieth century, scientists and science writers began spreading a false idea about DNA: the idea that DNA contains a specification for building an organism.  There are various ways in which this false idea is stated, all equally false:

  • Many described DNA or the genome as a blueprint for an organism.
  • Many said DNA or the genome is a recipe for making an organism.
  • Many said DNA or the genome is a program for building an organism, making an analogy to a computer program.
  • Many claimed that DNA or genomes specify the anatomy of an organism. 
  • Many claimed that genotypes (the DNA in organisms) specify phenotypes (the observable characteristics of an organism).
  • Many claimed that genotypes (the DNA in organisms) "map"  phenotypes (the observable characteristics of an organism) or "map to" phenotypes.
  • Many claimed that DNA contains "all the instructions needed to make an organism."
  • Many claimed that there is a "genetic architecture" for an organism's body or some fraction of that body. 
  • Using a little equation,  many claimed that a "genotype plus the environment equals the phenotype," a formulation as false  as the preceding statements, since we know of nothing in the environment that would cause phenotypes to arise from genotypes that do not specify such phenotypes. 
There was never any justification for making any such claims. The only coding system that has ever been discovered in DNA is a system allowing only low-level chemical information to be specified.  That coding system (shown below) is known as the genetic code, and it is merely a system whereby certain combinations of nucleotide base pairs in DNA stand for amino acids.  So a section of DNA can specify the amino acids that make up a protein molecule. But no one has ever discovered any coding system by which DNA could specify anything larger than a protein molecule. 


No one ever discovered any coding system in DNA by which parts of DNA can specify high-level anatomy such as the arrangement of parts in an organ, or a skeletal structure, or an overall body appearance.  No one has even discovered any coding system in DNA by which either the structure or the bodily position of cells can be specified.  The human body has at least 200 types of cells, and the structure of none of these cell types is specified by DNA. DNA does not even specify the structure of organelles that are the building blocks of cells.

If you ponder the simple fact that blueprints don't build things, you can start to get an idea of how nonsensical is the claim that a human arises because a DNA blueprint is read.  Blueprints have no power of construction.  When buildings are built with the help of blueprints, it is because intelligent agents read the blueprints to get an idea of what type of construction work to do, and because intelligent agents then follow such instructions. But there is nothing in the human body below the neck with the power to understand and carry out instructions for building a body if they happened to exist in DNA. 

Consider what goes on when you read a web page at a complicated site such as www.facebook.com or www.buzzfeed.com.  What occurs is a very complicated interaction between two things: (1) a web page that is rather like a blueprint for how the page should look and act, and (2) an extremely complicated piece of software called a web browser, which is rather like a construction crew that reads the web page's blueprint (typically written in HTML), and then constructs very quickly a well-performing web page.  If the web browser did not exist, you would never be able to get a well-performing web page.  The construction of an internally dynamic  three-dimensional human body would be a feat trillions of times more complicated than the mere display of a two-dimensional web page.  Just as it is never enough to have just a web page without a web browser,  having some DNA blueprint for building a body would never be enough to build a body.  You would also need to have some "body blueprint reader" that would be some system almost infinitely more complicated than a web browser, in order for a body to get built.  

We have no evidence that DNA contains any instructions for building cells or anatomy, and we also have no evidence for the existence of any such thing as a "body blueprint reader" in the human body, capable of reading, understanding and executing incredibly complicated instructions for building a human body. When you consider the amount of organization in a human body, you may start to realize the gigantic absurdity of thinking that a human specification can be found in some molecular merely listing low-level chemical information. 

The organization of large organisms is extremely hierarchical.  Subatomic particles are organized into atoms, which are organized into amino acids, which are organized into protein molecules, which are organized into protein complexes, which are organized into organelles, which are organized into cells, which are organized into tissues, which are organized into organs, which are organized into organ systems, which are organized into organisms. 

Cells are so complex they have been compared to factories or cities. The diagrams you see of cells are enormously misleading, making them look a thousand times simpler than they are.  A cell diagram will show maybe 20 or 30 organelles in a cell, but the actual number is typically more than 1000.  A cell diagram will typically depict a cell as having only a few mitochondria, but cells typically have many thousands of mitochondria, as many as a million. A cell diagram will typically depict a cell as having only a few lysosomes, but cells typically have hundreds of lysosomes. A cell diagram will typically depict one or a few stacks of a Golgi apparatus, each with only a few cisternae, but a cell will typically have between 10 and 20 stacks, each having as many as 60 cisternae.  There are about 200 different types of cells in the human body. 

Internally organisms are enormously dynamic, both because of constant motion inside the body, and also because of a constant activity inside the body involving cellular changes. Just one example of this enormously dynamic activity is the fact that protein molecules in the brain are replaced at a rate of about 3% per day. A large organism is like some building that is constantly being rebuilt, with some fraction of it being torn down every day, and some other fraction of it being replaced every day.  The analogy comparing a cell to a factory gives us some idea of the gigantically dynamic nature of organisms.

When we consider this complexity, you may realize that the very idea of a blueprint for building a body is an absurdity. To have a visual specification for building a human body, you would need something more like a thousand-page textbook filled with color diagrams and tons of fine print.  Even if such a specification existed in the human body, it wouldn't explain morphogenesis: because the specification would be so complex it would require some super-genius to understand it all and build things according to such a specification. 

So how does a full-sized human body manage to arise from the tiny barely visible simplicity of a speck-sized egg existing just after human conception? This is a miracle of origination a thousand miles over the heads of today's scientists. 

Because the lie that DNA is a blueprint or program or recipe for building bodies has so often been told, I will need to cite again a list I have compiled of distinguished scientists and other PhDs or MDs who have told us such an idea is untrue. Below is the list:
  • On page 26 of the recent book The Developing Genome, Professor David S. Moore states, "The common belief that there are things inside of us that constitute a set of instructions for building bodies and minds -- things that are analogous to 'blueprints' or 'recipes' -- is undoubtedly false."
  • Biologist Rupert Sheldrake says this "DNA only codes for the materials from which the body is constructed: the enzymes, the structural proteins, and so forth," and "There is no evidence that it also codes for the plan, the form, the morphology of the body."
  • Describing conclusions of biologist Brian Goodwin, the New York Times says, "While genes may help produce the proteins that make the skeleton or the glue, they do not determine the shape and form of an embryo or an organism." 
  • Professor Massimo Pigliucci (mainstream author of numerous scientific papers on evolution) has stated  that "old-fashioned metaphors like genetic blueprint and genetic programme are not only woefully inadequate but positively misleading."
  • Neuroscientist Romain Brette states, "The genome does not encode much except for amino acids."
  • In a 2016 scientific paper, three scientists state the following: "It is now clear that the genome does not directly program the organism; the computer program metaphor has misled us...The genome does not function as a master plan or computer program for controlling the organism; the genome is the organism's servant, not its master.
  • In the book Mind in Life by Evan Thompson (published by the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press) we read the following on page 180: "The plain truth is that DNA is not a program for building organisms, as several authors have shown in detail (Keller 2000, Lewontin 1993, Moss 2003)."
  • Developmental biologist C/H. Waddington stated, "The DNA is not a program or sequentially accessed control over the behavior of the cell."
  •  Scientists Walker and Davies state this in a scientific paper: "DNA is not a blueprint for an organism; no information is actively processed by DNA alone...DNA is a passive repository for transcription of stored data into RNA, some (but by no means all) of which goes on to be translated into proteins."
  • Geneticist Adam Rutherford states that "DNA is not a blueprint." 
  • "The genome is not a blueprint," says Kevin Mitchell, a geneticist and neuroscientist at Trinity College Dublin, noting "it doesn't encode some specific outcome."
  • "DNA cannot be seen as the 'blueprint' for life," says Antony Jose, associate professor of cell biology and molecular genetics at the University of Maryland, who says, "It is at best an overlapping and potentially scrambled list of ingredients that is used differently by different cells at different times."  
  • Sergio Pistoi (a science writer with a PhD in molecular biology) tells us, "DNA is not a blueprint," and tells us, "We do not inherit specific instructions on how to build a cell or an organ." 
  • Michael Levin (director of a large biology research lab) states that "genomes are not a blueprint for anatomy," and after referring to a "deep puzzle" of how biological forms arise, he gives this example: "Scientists really don’t know what determines the intricate shape and structure of the flatworm’s head."
  • Ian Stevenson M.D. stated "Genes alone - which provide instructions for the production of amino acids and proteins -- cannot explain how the proteins produced by their instructions come to have the shape they develop and, ultimately, determine the form of the organisms where they are," and noted that "biologists who have drawn attention to this important gap in our knowledge of form have not been a grouping of mediocrities (Denton, 1986; Goldschmidt, 1952; B. C. Goodwin, 1985, 1988, 1989, 1994; Gottlieb, 1992; Grasse, 1973; E. S. Russell...Sheldrake, 1981; Tauber and Sarkar, 1992; Thompson, 1917/1942)."
  • Biologist B.C. Goodwin stated this in 1989: "Since genes make molecules, genetics...does not tell us how the molecules are organized into the dynamic, organized process that is the living organism."
  • An article in the journal Nature states this: "The manner in which bodies and tissues take form remains 'one of the most important, and still poorly understood, questions of our time', says developmental biologist Amy Shyer, who studies morphogenesis at the Rockefeller University in New York City."
  • Timothy Saunders, a developmental biologist at the National University of Singapore. says, "Fundamentally, we have a poor understanding of how any internal organ forms.”
  • On the web site of the well-known biologist Denis Noble, we read that "the whole idea that genes contain the recipe or the program of life is absurd, according to Noble," and that we should understand DNA "not so much as a recipe or a program, but rather as a database that is used by the tissues and organs in order to make the proteins which they need."
  • paper by Stuart A. Newman (a professor of cell biology and anatomy) discussing at length the work of scientists trying to evoke "self-organization" as an explanation for morphogenesis states that "public lectures by principals of the field contain confidently asserted, but similarly oversimplified or misleading treatments," and says that "these analogies...give the false impression that there has been more progress in understanding embryonic development than there truly has been." Referring to scientists moving from one bunk explanation of morphogenesis to another bunk explanation, the paper concludes by stating, "It would be unfortunate if we find ourselves having emerged from a period of misconceived genetic program metaphors only to land in a brave new world captivated by equally misguided ones about self-organization."
  • Referring to claims there is a program for building organisms in DNA, biochemist F. M. Harold stated "reflection on the findings with morphologically aberrant mutants suggests that the metaphor of a genetic program is misleading." Referring to  self-organization (a vague phrase sometimes used to try to explain morphogenesis), he says, "self-organization remains nearly as mysterious as it was a century ago, a subject in search of a paradigm." 
Very clearly, when we were told so often that DNA is a specification for making an organism, we were told a falsehood. DNA does not explain bodies. Your body did not originate because a DNA plan for making you was read from your body or from your mother's body.  

The magnificent hierarchical organization of the human body can be compared to a castle (although the human body is actually far more impressive an example of organization).  The claim that organization so immense arose from an accumulation of accidental DNA mutations is an example of what I call "crumbs into castles" thinking. 

unrealistic explanation

Bodies Do Not Explain Minds

People love one-word explanations, because they are so convenient to evoke.  When asked to explain some very complex reality, nothing can top the convenience of being able to merely use a one-word term and pretend that you have an explanation, rather than going to the trouble of speaking or writing something like a very long nuanced paragraph  including realistic talk about aspects of the problem beyond your understanding. Besides fallaciously appealing to one-word explanations such as "evolution," and "DNA," the most common example of a dubious one-word explanation in scientific academia is when biologists try to explain minds by merely offering "bodies" or "brains" as an explanation. 

Nothing in your body or your brain explains the most basic facts such as consciousness or self-hood or understanding.  Romain Brette is a neuroscientist actively engaged in neuroscience research. He states in a post on his blog, "I have no idea why neural activity should produce any conscious experience at all." Neither does any other neuroscientist.   

Scientists have not made any progress in giving a credible explanation as to how a brain could generate any such thing as an abstract idea. An idea is a mental thing. We have some idea of how mental things can produce other mental things (such as how one idea can lead to another idea). We also understand how physical things can produce other physical things. But no one really has any idea at all how a physical thing could possibly produce a purely mental thing. 

Let us imagine an organism with a single neuron in its skull. We can think of no reason why such an organism would be capable of producing a thought.  If we then imagine an organism with 100 billion neurons in its skull, all unconnected,  then we can still think of no reason why thoughts should start coming from such a set of neurons.  Why would 100 billion neurons be able to think when a single neuron was not able to think? No one can say. If we imagine not just 100 billion neurons but 100 billion inter-connected neurons, there is still no reason why thought should be expected to flow out of such an arrangement of matter. If someone says that with such an  arrangement we would expect thoughts to pour forth, it is only because he has been told all of his life that thought comes from a brain that is billions of neurons connected with each other.  Similarly, if the person has been told all his life that thought is a product of liver secretions, then such a person would laugh very hard at the idea that thoughts can be produced by some arrangements of neurons, but he would tell you that we should expect thoughts to come from any organs that secreted fluids like the human liver does. 

Humans have no experience with any machine capable of producing thoughts, so humans cannot say that such and such a mechanical arrangement of matter should be expected to produce thoughts.  But humans do have experience in designing and building machines (computers) that are capable of storing information for years and also capable of instantly retrieving information.  From such work humans have got some ideas about the kind of characteristics a system has to have to be capable of permanently storing large amounts of information, and capable of instantly retrieving information.  Such things include: 

  • some encoding system by which information can be transformed into the form in which it is stored;
  • some writing capability by which information can be written at some particular spot;
  • some capability by which information is permanently preserved  once it has been written;
  • various capabilities (such as a reading component and indexing and a coordinate system or position notation system) which allow a specific piece of information to be instantly found and read;
  • a decoding system by which information that had been stored in encoded form could be decoded so that it could be used.
The problem is that no sign of any such thing can be found in the human brain. No one knows of any capability by which a brain could translate human learned knowledge or episodic memories into brain states or neural states. No one knows of any capability by which a brain could write such information once it had been encoded.  No  one knows of any capability by which a brain could store learned information for decades.   No one knows of any capability by which a brain could read information that had been stored in it, and translate such encoded information into thoughts.  The brain has nothing like a position notation system, a coordinate system, an indexing system, a reading unit or a writing unit. Computers store information using a spinning disk, and what is called a read/write head, which can move to access various positions on such a disk. Nothing like that exists in the brain. There is no mobile unit in the brain that moves around to read or write from a particular spot, like the blinking cursor in a word processing unit.  When scanned during mental activities, brains never look like they are reading information from one particular spot, and never look like they are writing information to one particular spot. 

The fact is that our neuroscientists have done nothing to explain the wonder of human memory.  We know of nothing in a brain that is a credible candidate mechanism to explain human memory storage.  We know of nothing in a brain that is a credible candidate mechanism to explain instant memory retrieval.  The phrases that neuroscientists mutter when asked to explain human memory do not qualify as explanations.  Such neuroscientists mutter vague phrases such as "synapse strengthening," hoping that we overlook the fact that information is never written by some mere act of strengthening. 

With their left hands our neuroscientists have discovered facts that contradict the claims that neuroscientists write with their right hands.  Among these facts are the following:
  • The fact that the average lifetime of the proteins that make up synapses is only a few weeks or less, 1000 times shorter than the maximum length of time that humans can reliably remember things (sixty years or more). 
  • The fact that synapses are structurally entangled with or dependent upon units called dendritic spines we can observe with powerful microscopes, and that such dendritic spines have a half-life of roughly 120 days, and that there is no evidence any dendritic spines last for more than a few years (with dendritic spines in the hippocampus having particularly short average lifetimes of days rather than months). 
  • The fact that within the brain there are many types of serious noise all over the place, the kind of thing which should prevent any reliable memory recall if memories were stored in brains.
  • The fact that the great majority of synapses are chemical synapses subject to the very severe cumulative slowing factor of synaptic gaps, which should prevent anyone from being able to instantly recall any learned factual information.
  • The fact that while humans such as Hamlet actors and Wagnerian tenors can flawlessly recall very large bodies of learned information,  each transmission across a chemical synapse occurs with less than 50% reliability, which should prevent any accurate recall of large bodies of information from synaptic storage locations. According to the paper here, "In the cortex, individual synapses seem to be extremely unreliable: the probability of transmitter release in response to a single action potential can be as low as 0.1 or lower."
  • The fact that the brain is completely lacking in any kind of indexing system, coordinate system or position notation system, which should prevent any instant recall of learned information, preventing a brain from being able to instantly find the exact spot or spot where memory information was neurally stored. 
  • The fact that the protein synthesis postulated by neuroscientists as a key factor in memory formation is something that requires minutes of time,  a length of time far greater than the instantaneous memory formation that humans routinely display.  
Besides failing to explain the ordinary facts of human mental performance, bodies and brains fail to explain extraordinary human mental experiences and extraordinary human mental performance, which are commonly described using the word "paranormal." It is sometimes said that the systematic scientific study of the paranormal began with the founding of the Society for Psychical Research in the late nineteenth century.  That is not correct.  We have nearly two hundred years of systematic scientific evidence for the paranormal, which dates all the way back to the second committee on Mesmerism (1825-1831) carried out by the Royal Academy of Medicine in France, a committee which resoundingly found in favor of the existence of clairvoyance (as discussed here).  Every decade of human experience since 1831 has provided abundant written evidence of human experiences and human capabilities that cannot be explained by any neural theory of memory and minds.  Some of the reasons why phenomena such as ESP cannot be credibly explained under any bodily explanation or brain explanation are discussed here

What goes on in neuroscience departments of universities is a kind of giant game of "wear the horse blinders" under which neuroscience professors pretend that a large fraction of the most important human observations never occurred.  The diagram below illustrates the situation. The "Prevailing Academic Dogmas and WorldView" in the diagram is maintained largely by customs of evidence censorship, in which evidence conflicting with prevailing academia dogmas is excluded from college textbooks and from university courses.  

academia dysfunction

Let's consider just one tiny fraction of this evidence censorship. Studies suggest that the phenomenon of deathbed apparitions (also called end-of-life visions) occurs to between 10% and 35% of the population. survey of family members of deceased Japanese found that 21% reported deathbed visions. A study of 103 subjects in India reports this: "Thirty of these dying persons displayed behavior consistent with deathbed visions-interacting or speaking with deceased relatives, mostly their dead parents." A study of 102 families in the Republic of Moldava found that "37 cases demonstrated classic features of deathbed visions--reports of seeing dead relatives or friends communicating to the dying person."  A 1949 book states this

"It is a commonplace truth, observed by many physicians and clergymen, that a dying person, when conscious near the moment of death, acts or speaks as if he saw standing near loved ones who have already died. Dr. Russell Conwell told Bruce Barton in the interview quoted earlier in another connection, that he had witnessed this phenomenon 'literally hundreds of times.' "

But this very important observational phenomenon is completely ignored by the vast majority of psychologists and neuroscientists.  The type of evidence censorship that is going on is as great as it would be if the medical community were to deny the existence of migraine headaches, which we have reason to believe do not occur to a higher percentage of the population than deathbed apparitions or end-of-life visions (studies report migraine headaches occurring to between about 3% and 21% of the population). Deathbed apparitions and end-of-life visions make up only a tiny fraction of the evidence for the paranormal that neuroscientists and psychologists exclude from their papers and textbooks. 

When someone has to resort to massive evidence censorship, it is a symptom of a severe explanatory dysfunction.  For example, if someone maintains that all dogs are small and lap-sized, and he tries  to maintain that belief by allowing only the publication of books that refer exclusively to small dogs (or books suggesting that anyone reporting large dogs is hallucinating),  then something has gone very, very wrong in the thought process of such a person. Similarly, when neuroscience departments and psychology departments find it necessary to exclude from their courses and textbooks some of the most important experiences and observations humans have made, for the sake of excluding observations that do not fit with their prevailing dogmas of brains making minds,  then something has gone very, very wrong.  

But paranormal phenomena are just "icing on the cake" in regard to showing that bodies and brains do not explain minds. You can show that nothing in the body can explain a human mind and human memory by discussing only facts that are not disputed by neuroscientists: the neuroscience facts and case histories I discuss in the posts of this blog.