Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Groupthink and Peer Pressure Make It Taboo for Neuroscientists to Put Two and Two Together

Why do so many neuroscientists go far astray in their dogmatic declarations about the brain? To understand the speech tendencies of neuroscientists, we must understand the environments that create and employ such scientists. Neuroscientists are created in university departments that are ideological enclaves. An ideological enclave is some environment where almost everyone believes in some ideology that the majority of human beings do not profess. Different departments of a university may tend to be places where different ideologies are concentrated.

A seminary is an example of an ideological enclave. A seminary is an institution where people are trained to be ministers or priests of some particular religion. A university graduate school program (one issuing masters degrees and PhD's in some academic specialty) may also be an example of an ideological enclave. Just as a seminary trains people to think in one particular way, and to hold a particular set of unproven beliefs, many a university graduate program may train people to think in a particular way, and to hold a particular set of unproven beliefs. Neuroscience graduate school programs tend to train people to believe that all mental phenomena have a cause that is purely neural, and that your mind is merely the activity of your neurons. This strange belief is not a belief professed by the majority of human beings.

It would be incredibly hard for any ideological enclave to enforce its belief ideology if the enclave got its members by some random selection process that gave it new members reflecting the thinking of the general population. Instead, things are much easier for the ideological enclave. There is what we can call a magnet effect by which the ideological enclave only gets new trainees when people choose to join the enclave. This guarantees that each new set of trainees will tend to be people favoring the ideology of the enclave. The great majority of the people signing up to be trained in the ideological enclave will be those attracted to its ideology. The great majority of the people signing up to be trained in a theological seminary will be those who favor the theology being taught in that seminary. Similarly, the great majority of the people signing up for a university graduate program in neuroscience or evolutionary biology will be people favoring the belief dogmas popular in such programs.

Once a person starts being trained in an ideological enclave, he will find relentless social pressure to conform to the ideology of that enclave. This pressure will continue for years. The pressure will be applied by authorities who usually passed through years of training and belief conditioning by the ideological enclave, or a similar ideological enclave elsewhere. In a seminary such authorities are ministers or priests, and in a university graduate school program such authorities are professors or instructors. Finally, after years of belief conditioning the person who signed up for the training will be anointed as a new authority himself. In the university graduate school program, this occurs when something like a master's degree or a PhD or a professorship is granted. In a seminary, this may occur when someone becomes a minister or priest.

Groupthink is a tendency for some conformist social unit to have overconfidence in its decisions or belief customs, or unshakable faith in such things. Groupthink is worsened by any situation in which only those with some type of credential (available only from some ideological enclave) are regarded as fit to offer a credible judgment on some topic. In groupthink situations, an illusion of consensus may be helped by self-censorship (in which those having opinions differing from the group ideology keep their contrary opinions to themselves, for fear of being ostracized within the group). In groupthink situations, belief conformity may also be helped by so-called mindguards, who work to prevent those in the group from becoming aware of contrarian opinions, alternate options or opposing observations. In an academic community such mindguards exist in the form of peer-reviewers and academic editors who prevent the publication of opinions and data contrary to the prevailing group ideology. We saw an example of such conformity enforcement in neuroscience not long ago when an “outrage mob” of 900 petitioners forced the retraction of a neuroscience paper which seemed to have no sin worse than contrarian thinking.

ideological enclave

For the person who completes the program of a university graduate school program, and gets his master's degree or PhD, is that the end of the conformist social influence, the end of the pressure to believe and think in a particular way? Not at all. Instead, the “follow the herd” effect and the pressure to tow the “party line” of the belief community typically continues for additional decades. The newly minted PhD rarely goes off on his own to become an independent thinker marching to his own drummer, outside of the heavy influence of the belief community. Instead, such a person usually becomes a kind of captive of a belief community. The newly minted PhD will very often get a job working for the very ideological enclave that trained him, a particular academic department of a university. Or, he may end up employed by some very similar academic department of some other university, a place that is an ideological enclave just like the one in which he was trained. Such employment typically lasts for decades, during which someone may be stuck in a kind of echo chamber in which everyone parrots the same talking points. So when there is groupthink and ideological conformity in some academic specialty, peer pressure can continue to act for decades on someone like a neuroscientist or a string theorist or an evolutionary biologist.

Such peer pressure can be something that tells people they are  supposed to think in one way, and may also be something that tells people they should not think in some other way. The enforcement of belief taboos and speech taboos is one of the main tendencies of ideological enclaves and belief communities. Such taboos are promoted by those interested in preserving the ideological cohesiveness of the belief community. The belief community of neuroscientists enforces thinking taboos that can prevent neuroscientists from reaching conclusions that follow rather obviously from particular observations. Such taboos can make it culturally forbidden for neuroscientists to put two and two together. “Put two and two together” is a phrase referring to reaching an obvious conclusion. Let me give some examples where belief taboos prevent neuroscientists from putting two and two together.

Example #1: Near-death Experiences and Apparitions

Human beings often have near-death experiences. In such experiences people very often report floating out of their bodies and observing their bodies from a distance. It is quite common for extremely vivid near-death experiences to occur during cardiac arrest, when brain activity has shut down because the heart has stopped. The type of accounts given by those who have near-death experiences tend to have very similar features, the type of items listed on the Greyson Scale. These include things such as passing through a tunnel, encountering deceased relatives, feelings of peace and joy, being told to go back when reaching a border or boundary between life and death, and so forth. Near-death experiences do not have the kind of random content we would expect from hallucinations. Near-death experiences also very often occur when any brain hallucination should be impossible, because the heart has stopped and electrical activity in the brain has stopped. When people report having near-death experiences when their hearts are stopped, they can often recall details of the activity of medical personnel working nearby them, details they should not have been able to observe given their deeply unconscious medical condition.

In addition, perfectly healthy humans are often surprised to see an apparition of someone they did not know was dead, only to soon find out later that the corresponding person did die, typically on the same day and hour as the apparition was seen. You can read about 165 such cases here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Moreover, a single apparition is often seen by multiple witnesses, as discussed in 50+ cases here and here and here and here.

There is a very clear conclusion that must be reached when someone puts two and two together regarding what we know about near-death experiences and apparitions. The conclusion is that human consciousness is not actually a product of the brain, and can continue even when the brain has stopped working because of cardiac arrest. But to conclude such a thing would be to violate a belief taboo enforced by groupthink and peer pressure in the neuroscientist belief community. The belief taboo is that you cannot believe in any type of human soul, but must believe that all human mental activity comes purely from neurons. So in this case the social taboo (enforced by groupthink and peer pressure) prevents neuroscientists from putting two and two together.

Example #2: The Lack of Anything in Brains Suitable for Long-Term Memory Storage or Instant Memory Retrieval

Humans are capable of accurately remembering episodic memories and learned information for more than 60 years. Humans also routinely show the ability to instantly recall information learned many years ago, given a single prompt such as a question or the mention of a name or place. But we know of nothing in the brain that can explain such abilities.

A computer hard disk may read and write information by using a spinning disk and a read-write head, but we know of no similar thing in the brain. We know of nothing in the brain that seems like a unit specialized for reading stored information, nor do we know of anything in the brain that seems like some unit specialized for writing information. No one has ever discovered any type of encoding system by which any of the vast varieties of information humans remember could ever be translated into neural states or synapse states. Nor has anyone ever discovered anything like some indexing system that might explain how humans could instantly recall things.

Although it is often claimed that memories are stored in synapses, the proteins that make up synapses are very short-lived, having lifetimes of only a few weeks or less. There is nothing in the brain that is a plausible candidate for a place where memories might be stored for either several years or six decades. Humans are able to remember very large bodies of information with 100% accuracy, as we see on the stage when we see an actor recall all of the lines of the role of Hamlet without error or all of the lines and notes of the roles of Wagner's Siegfried or Tristan without error. But such 100% recall of large bodies of learned information should be impossible if it occurred through neural activity, given the high levels of signal noise in a brain. It has been estimated that when a neural signal travels from one neuron to another in a cortex, the signal transmission occurs with far less than 50% reliability. Other than the genetic information in DNA, no one has ever found any sign of stored information in a brain, such as memory information that could be read from a dead organism after it died.

There is a very clear conclusion that must be reached when someone puts two and two together regarding what we know about the limits of the human brain. The conclusion is that the brain cannot be the storage place of human memories. But to conclude such a thing would be to violate a belief taboo enforced by groupthink and peer pressure in the neuroscientist belief community. The belief taboo is that you cannot believe that any major facet of the human mind comes from something other than the brain, but must believe that all human mental activity comes purely from neurons. So in this case the social taboo (enforced by conformist groupthink and peer pressure) prevents neuroscientists from putting two and two together.

Example #3: The Results of Hemispherectomy Operations or Even Greater Brain Tissue Loss

A hemispherectomy operation is an operation in which half of a patient's brain is removed, typically to stop very bad seizures the person is suffering from. Hemispherectomy operations provide an excellent test for dogmas regarding the brain. From the dogma that the brain is the cause of human intelligence and the storage place of memories, we should expect that suddenly removing half of someone's brain should cause at least a 50% drop in intelligence, along with a massive loss of memories and learned information.

Nothing of the sort happened when such operations were done. You can read about the exact effects of hemispherectomy operations by reading my posts here and here and here and here. In most cases hemispherectomy operation does not cause a significant reduction in intelligence as measured by IQ tests. In quite a few cases, someone did better in an IQ test after half of his brain was removed in a hemispherectomy operation. Hemispherectomy operations also do not seem to cause major loss of memories.

Brain-ravaging natural diseases sometimes provide an even better test of dogmas about the brain. Such diseases often remove much more than half of a person's brain. Astonishingly, the result is often a person of normal intelligence and sometimes even above-average intelligence. The physician John Lorber studied many cases of people who had lost the great majority of their brains, mostly because of a disease called hydrocephalus. Lorber was astonished that more than half of such patients had above-average intelligence. Then there are cases such as the case of the French person who managed to long hold a civil servant job, even though he had almost no brain

There is a very clear conclusion that must be reached when someone puts two and two together regarding what we know about how loss of half or most of the brain has little effect on intelligence or memory. The conclusion is that the brain cannot be the storage place of human memories, and cannot be the source of human intelligence. But to conclude such a thing would be to violate a belief taboo enforced by groupthink and peer pressure in the neuroscientist belief community. The belief taboo is that you cannot believe that any major facet of the human mind comes from something other than the brain, but must believe that all human mental activity comes purely from neurons. So in this case the social taboo (enforced by an echo chamber of groupthink and peer pressure) prevents neuroscientists from putting two and two together.

In this regard we may compare neuroscience departments of universities to some bizarre pharmaceutical manufacturer that allows its researchers to note when the company's pill causes a person to collapse, turn white, and stop breathing, but makes it a taboo for researchers to put two and two together and conclude that the company's pill is dangerous. 

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Your Physical Structure Did Not Arise Bottom-Up, So Why Think Your Mind Did?

Neuroscientists typically maintain that human mental phenomena are entirely produced by the brain. But this claim is mainly a speech custom of a social group, a belief dogma of a belief community, rather than something that is justified by facts. Looking at the human mind, we find again and again characteristics and abilities that cannot be credibly explained though any known features of the brain. Consider the following:
  1. Humans are able to recall extremely esoteric or distant items of information instantly. For example, I scored more than 50% on a pair of Youtube.com challenge videos playing 40 musical themes from the 1960's and 1970's TV shows, without offering any set of choices to choose from. And upon hearing of some obscure historical or literary figure he haven't heard of in 40 years, a 60-year-old may be able to identify him. But we know of nothing in a brain that could allow such instantaneous recall. Computer information systems that retrieve information instantly can do this because of features such as b-trees, hashing and indexes that are unlike anything in the human brain. 
  2. For many types of performers such as Shakespearean actors and Wagnerian tenors, recall of voluminous learned information occurs with an accuracy of at least 99%. But in neurons and the supposed storage place of memories (synapses), there are multiple types of signal noise that are believed to prevent chemical/electrical signals from being transmitted at more than a 50% accuracy. Since a chemical/electrical signal would have to pass through many different neurons and synapses, we would expect a neural recall of memory to have much less than 10% accuracy. 
  3. Humans can remember things very well for more than 50 years, but synapses (the supposed storage place of memories) are made up of proteins that have an average lifetime of only a few weeks. Based on this fact, we should not expect synapses to be able to store memories for more than a few weeks. 
  4. Humans are capable of thought, reflection, insight, imagination, and creativity, but we know of no specific features in the brain that might allow any of these things. We know of no real reason why a single neuron should be thoughtful, reflective, insightful, imaginative or creative, and we know of no real reason to suppose that billions of connected  neurons should be thoughtful, reflective, insightful, imaginative  or creative.
  5. Computers are able to store information rapidly and recall information rapidly partially because they have a specific component called a read-write head that handles such functions. But we know of no specific component in a brain that might act like a write mechanism, nor do we know of any specific component in a brain that might act like a read mechanism. 
  6. For a human brain to be able to store memories, it would need to have some incredibly sophisticated and elaborate encoding system whereby information that humans can recall (images, words, abstract concepts, feelings and episodic memories) could be translated into stored neural states. Nothing like any such encoding system has ever been discovered. If it were ever discovered it would be a miracle of design that would worsen a thousand-fold the problem of naturally explaining the origin of humans. 
  7. As discussed here, there is very good experimental evidence for paranormal abilities such as ESP, evidence that cannot be explained by brain activity. 

Clearly, the human brain is an extremely poor candidate for something that can explain the human mind. But people continue to cling to the idea that the brain generates the mind (or the equally faulty idea that the brain is the mind). If you ask someone to justify such a belief, the person may say something like this: “You must believe your mind comes from your brain, because there's no other organ in the body that could be making the mind – and of course it would be ludicrous to believe that the mind comes from something other than the body.” But such an idea should not seem ludicrous in the least when we consider that another huge aspect of ourselves – the human form or structure – cannot possibly have arisen bottom-up from anything in our bodies, and must somehow arrive from outside of our bodies or from something different from our bodies.

Let us consider how little we know about how humans come into the world. When a sperm unites with a female ovum, the result is a speck-like fertilized egg. But somehow over 9 months, there occurs a progression leading from this tiny speck to a full human baby. This process is sometimes called morphogenesis or embryogenesis. How does this progression happen? We have basically no idea.

For decades many have pushed an untenable misconception about morphogenesis. The idea is that DNA in a cell contains a blueprint or set of instructions for making a human, and that morphogenesis occurs when such instructions are read and carried out inside the human womb. But there are several reasons why this idea cannot possibly be true. They include the following:
  1. Human DNA has been thoroughly studied, and no blueprint of a human form has ever been discovered in it, nor has anyone discovered anything in it like a program, algorithm, or set of instructions for making a human, or even any organ or cell of a human. There is not anything like a general blueprint for an overall human form in DNA, nor is there anything like a blueprint for making any large system of a human, nor is there anything like a blueprint for making any organ of a human, nor is there even anything like a blueprint for making a particular type of human cell. Similarly, there is not anything like a set of instructions or program for making an overall human form in DNA, nor is nor is there anything like a set of instructions or program for making any large system of a human, nor is there anything like a set of instructions or program for making any organ of a human, nor is there even anything like a set of instructions for making a particular type of human cell.
  2. The actual information in DNA is merely very low level chemical information, information on the chemical ingredients that make up proteins and RNA. 
  3. DNA is written in a minimalist bare-bones language in which the only things that can be expressed are things such as lists of amino acids. There is absolutely no high-level expressive capability in DNA that might ever allow it to be something that might be a blueprint for making humans or a set of instructions for making humans. 
  4. The amount of information in human DNA and the number of genes in DNA are vastly smaller than we would expect if DNA was a specification of a human. For example, a simple rice plant has twice as many genes as a human. 
  5. There is nothing in the human womb that could ever be capable of reading and executing the fantastically complicated instructions that would need to exist in DNA if DNA were to be a specification of a human. Blueprints don't build things; building construction occurs only when there's an intelligent blueprint reader and a construction crew. We know of nothing in the human womb that could act like an intelligent blueprint reader or a construction crew. If a human specification were to exist in DNA, it would need to be instructions so complicated it  would require an Einstein to understand it; and there's no Einstein in the womb of a pregnant woman. 

See this post, this post and this post for a very detailed discussion of why DNA cannot be a human specification. Those posts include quotes by quite a few biological experts supporting my statements on this topic.  Below are only a few of more than a dozen similar comments that I have collected at the end of this post.

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." 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. Rather, 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." A press account of the thought of geneticist Sir Alec Jeffreys states, "DNA is not a blueprint, he says."  B.N. Queenan (the Executive Director of Research at the NSF-Simons Center for Mathematical & Statistical Analysis of Biology at Harvard University) tells us this:

"DNA is not a blueprint. A blueprint faithfully maps out each part of an envisioned structure. Unlike a battleship or a building, our bodies and minds are not static structures constructed to specification."

"The genome is not a blueprint," says Kevin Mitchell, a geneticist and neuroscientist at Trinity College Dublin. "It doesn't encode some specific outcome."  His statement was reiterated by another scientist. "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. He 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."

The visual below shows you the very humble reality about DNA (so much less than the grossly inflated myths so often spread about it): that DNA merely specifies low-level chemical information such as the amino acids that make up a protein.  Particular combinations of the "ladder rungs" of the DNA (the colored lines) represent particular amino acids (the "beads" in the polypeptide chain that is the starting point of a protein). 


Human bodies have multiple levels of organization beyond such simple polypeptide chains, including: 

  • The three-dimensional structure of protein molecules
  • The three-dimensional structure of the 200 types of cells in the human body, most of these cell types being fantastically complicated arrangements of matter (scientists have compared the complexity of a cell to the complexity of an airplane or city)
  • The structure of tissues
  • The structure of organ systems and skeletal systems
  • The overall structure of the human body, what you see by looking at a naked human body

None of the structures listed above are specified by DNA or genomes or genes. How such structures arise is unknown. 

In light of the facts I have discussed, we must draw a very important conclusion: the biological form of an individual (his overall body plan or structure) cannot originate bottom-up from something within the human body. The physical structure of a human must come from some mysterious source other than the human body or outside of the body. Much as we would like to believe the widely circulated myth that the form of your body comes from your DNA, the facts do not at all support such an idea. We know of nothing in the human body that can be the source of the human form or body plan, nothing that can explain the marvel of morphogenesis, the progression from a speck-sized egg to a full-sized human body. So the human form or physical structure or human body plan must somehow come from outside of the body or from some source other than the body. 

The person who has carefully considered such a reality should have no objection to the idea that the human mind must come from some source outside of the body or different from the human body. Both conclusions follow from similar types of evidence considerations. Just as DNA fails in every respect to be a credible source for the human physical form, the brain fails in almost every respect to be a credible source of the human mind (for reasons discussed at great length in the posts of this site).

We must climb out of the tiny thought box of materialism and consider other possibilities. One possibility is that the human mind comes from some spiritual or energy reality that co-exists with the human body. In such a case it might be true that the mind of each person has a different source, but not a bodily source. Another possibility is that every human mind comes from the same source, some mysterious and unfathomable cosmic reality that might also be the source of the human physical form.

To gain some insight on how we have been conditioned or brainwashed to favor a bad type of explanation for our physical structure and minds, let us consider a hypothetical planet rather different from our own: a planet in which the atmosphere is much thicker, and always filled with clouds that block the sun.  Let's give a name to this perpetually cloudy planet in another solar system, and call this imaginary entity planet Evercloudy.  Let's imagine that the clouds are so thick on planet Evercloudy that its inhabitants have never seen their sun.  The scientists on this planet might ponder two basic questions:

(1) What causes daylight on planet Evercloudy?
(2) How is it that planet Evercloudy stays warm enough for life to exist?

Having no knowledge of their sun, the correct top-down explanation for these phenomena, the scientists on planet Evercloudy would probably come up with very wrong answers. They would probably speculate that daylight and planetary warmth are bottom-up effects.  They might spin all kinds of speculations such as hypothesizing that daylight comes from photon emissions of rocks and dirt, and that their planet was warm because of heat bubbling up from the hot center of their planet.  By issuing such unjustified speculations, such scientists would be like the scientists on our planet who wrongly think that life and mind can be explained as bottom-up effects bubbling up from molecules. 

Facts on planet Evercloudy would present very strong reasons for rejecting such attempts to explain daylight and warm temperatures on planet Evercloudy as bottom-up effects. For one thing, there would be the fact of nightfall, which could not easily be reconciled with any such explanations. Then there would be the fact that the dirt and rocks at the feet below the scientists of Evercloudy would be cold, not warm as would be true if such a bottom-up theory of daylight and planetary warmth were correct.  But we can easily believe that the scientists on planet Evercloudy would just ignore such facts, just as scientists on our planet ignore a huge number of facts arguing against their claims of a bottom-up explanation for life and mind (facts such as the fact that people still think well when you remove half of their brains in hemispherectomy operations, the fact that the proteins in synapses have very short lifetimes, and the fact that the human body contains no blueprint or recipe for making a human, DNA being no such thing). 

We can imagine someone trying to tell the truth to the scientists on planet Evercloudy:

Contrarian: You have got it very wrong. The daylight on our planet and the warmth on our planet are not at all bottom-up effects bubbling up from under our feet.  Daylight and warmth on our planet can only be top-down effects, coming from some mysterious unseen reality beyond the matter of our planet. 
Evercloudy scientist:  Nonsense! A good scientist never postulates things beyond the clouds. Such metaphysical ideas are the realm of religion, not science. We can never observe what is beyond the clouds. 

Just as the phenomena of daylight and planetary warmth on planet Evercloudy could never credibly be explained as bottom-up effects, but could only be credibly explained as top-down effects coming from some mysterious reality unknown to the scientists of Evercloudy, the phenomena of life and mind on planet Earth can never be credibly explained as bottom-up effects coming from mere molecules, but may be credibly explained as top-down effects coming from some mysterious unknown reality that is the ultimate source of life and mind.