At an online site we have an interview with a psychologist who has written a book that claims to be teaching lessons about the brain. In the interview we have the usual oracular proclamations by a neuroscientist, without any reference to specific research studies or specific experiments. We are expected to accept such ex cathedra declarations, like some Sunday school student is expected to accept whatever dogmas are taught by some minister teaching his class.
The psychologist gets off to an extremely bad start by saying in the first paragraph, "Every thought you have, every emotion you feel, every action you take is ultimately in the service of regulating your body." That statement is quite absurd and untrue. Philosophical thoughts and political thoughts and religious thoughts have nothing to do with regulating your body. The psychologist repeats the same obviously untrue statement later in the interview, by saying, "Everything you think, feel, and do is a consequence of your brain’s central mission to keep you alive and well by managing your body budget." Of course, this is nonsense. When you watch TV or play games or read a novel, such activities are not at all "a consequence of your brain’s central mission to keep you alive and well by managing your body budget."
The rest of the interview just follows the old technique of describing the workings of the mind or will, and describing that as some action of the brain. The psychologist presents no evidence that most of the things described are products of the brain; she just keeps saying your brain does this and your brain does that. Our psychologist makes this claim: "Emotions don’t happen to you—they are made by your brain as you need them." No, you don't need to feel anger or disappointment when your favorite quarterback throws an interception; and you don't need to feel lust when you see a naked person on your laptop or TV; and you don't need to feel joy when your sports team does well; and you don't need to feel hate when you see someone on TV acting in a revolting manner; and you don't need to feel grief when someone dies; and you don't need to feel wonder when you look at a sky ablaze with stars.
Later our psychologist tells us "your brain doesn't know what's going on in the outside world." That at least is correct, although completely inconsistent with many of the other statements she makes. Your brain does not know about the outside world, and no one has ever discovered knowledge of the outside world by examining neurons. It is only your mind that knows things.
The interview was the usual procession of softball questions we see in interviews with scientists. Just once I would like to see a journalist asking a lot of probing questions when interviewing some authority spouting doubtful claims about the brain. In such an interview, in which a journalist would act like a real journalist, there would be frequent questions like this:
- "Is there any robust evidence for such a claim? If so please explain what that evidence is."
- "So you mention some studies. Were they well-designed pre-registered studies using a good blinding protocol and adequate study group sizes after a sample size calculation was done? Or were such studies the kind of weak research that uses questionable research practices?"
- "On a scale of 1 to 10, in which 1 is pure speculation, and 10 is something directly observed like a moon of Jupiter is directly observed, how strong would you rate the evidence for that claim you just made?"
- "So you say your brain is thinking, but do you really have any understanding of how neurons could produce a thought?"
- "So you say your brain remembers things, but how could a brain remember things that happened 50 years ago, when the brain replaces its proteins at a rate of 3% per day?"
- "Do you really have any understanding of how a brain could translate some learned konwledge into brain states or neural states? If so, explain how that works."
- "Do you really have any understanding of how a brain could instantly remember some knowledge learned many years ago? If so, explain how that works."
- "So if brains do our thinking, how come so many of Lorber's patients had above-average IQ's and brains that were mostly destroyed by disease?"
- "If brains store memories, how come no one has ever found a memory in the brain of a dead person?"
- "So is it your habit to just always say 'the brain does this' when you merely know that a mind or a person does that thing?"
- "Have you studied evidence with conflicts with your claims about the brain, such as evidence for psychic phenomena? If so, what fraction of the 100 main books presenting such evidence did you read?"
- "Have you studied neuroscience case histories that seem to conflict with the standard claims about brains, such as people who think and remember well after removal of half a brain? How do you explain such cases?"
- "When you first started thinking that the brain does that thing, was it because some experiment or observation forced you to believe that, or did you just start thinking the brain does that thing because the people at your school thought such a thing?"