UFO Conjecture(s)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The NeuroScience Backlash (and an inadvertent explanation for Alien Abductions?)

The September 9th [2013] New Yorker had a piece by Adam Gopnik that is fraught with quite a few interesting observations. 

The article was (and is) Mindless: The new neuro-skeptics [Page 86 ff.].

A blurb at he bottom of Page 86 states (to invite controversy?):

“Neuroscience can often answer the obvious questions but rarely the interesting ones.”

 Gopnik opens his piece with this:

“God myths turn on simple pairs -- God and Lucifer, Sun and Moon” and then offers this about Star Trek:

“Mr. Spock speaks for the rational, analytic self who assumes that the mind is a mechanism and that everything it does is logical [but] Captain Kirk [speaks] for the belief that what governs our life is not only irrational, but inexplicable, and the better for being so.” [Page 86]

“Writers on the brain and the mind tend to divide into Spocks and Kirks, either embracing the idea that consciousness can be located in a web of brain tissue or debunking it.” [Page 86]

“The neurological turn has become what the ‘cultural’ turn was a few decades ago: the all-purpose nn-explanation explanation of everything.” [Page 86]

“Myths depend on balance, on preserving their eternal twoness, and so we have on our hands a sudden and severe Kirkist backlash. A series of new books all present watch-and-ward arguments designed to show that brain science promises much and delivers little.” [Page 86 still]

Robert A. Burton, the author of A Skeptics Guide to the Mind discusses free will offering “that neuroscience doesn’t yet know enough and never will” … The mind is and will always be a mystery.” [Page 87]

Gopnik writes (which I like) that “Psychology is an imperfect science, but it’s a science.” [Page 87]

Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld in their book Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuro-Science “Courageously … take on, and dismiss, the famous experiments by Benjamin Libet that seem to undermine the idea of free will.” [Page 87]

Nickolas Rose and Joelle M. Abi-Rached, in their book, Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind, are skeptical that Libet’s indication that the brain begins “firing” muscle movement before any (thoughtful) choice has been made “tells us anything about the exercise of human will in any of the naturally occurring situations where individuals believe they have made a conscious choice…” [Page 87]

Patricia S. Churchland, defends neuroscience in her book, Touching a Nerve: The Self as Brain.

Gopnik writes that Churchland “is rightly contemptuous of ‘scientism’ to dismiss the importance of neuroscience to philosophy.”

Gopnik write that “Humanism not only survived [many] demystifications” and was made “stronger by demonstrating the power of rational inquiry on which humanism depends. Every time the world becomes less mysterious, nature becomes less frightening, and the power of the mind to grasp reality more sure. A constant reduction of mystery to matter, a belief that we can name natural rules we didn’t make – that isn’t scientism. That’s science.” [Page 88, for Gilles Fernandez]

“It’s perfectly possible … to have an explanation that is at once trivial and profound” and citing Churchland he offers “She gives a lively example of the panic that we feel in dreams when our legs refuse to move as we flee the monster. This turns out to be a straightforward neurological phenomenon: when we’re asleep, we turn off our motor controls, but when we dream we still send out signals to them. We really are trying to run and can’t. If you feel this, and also have the not infrequent problem of being unable to distinguish between waking and dreaming states, you might think that you have been paralyzed and kidnapped by aliens.”  [Page 88]

There are no aliens … the best thing for people who have [such] recurrent nightmares … is to get more REM rest. ‘Get more sleep’ … It works.” [Page 88]

Gopnik sums up with this:

“Philosophy may someday dissolve into psychology and psychology into neurology, but since the lesson of neuro is that thoughts change brains as much as brains [change] thoughts, the reduction may not reduce much that matters.” [Page 88]

“Or, as they say on the Enterprise, it takes kinds to run a starship.” [Page 88]



  • Rich:

    This is why Kurt Godel is my intellectual hero. He proved—didn’t simply speculate, but proved—that a system at least as complex as mathematics cannot be simultaneously complete and correct. That means it cannot ever generate a complete set of all true statements that derive logically from its own postulates. This is a statement about the limitations of how much we can ever know or learn from Science. Since mathematical reasoning is a subset of the human mind, it would seem to follow that the human mind cannot ever give a complete description of itself.

    That reductionist neuroscientists keep trying to give an ever more complete description of mind, or consciousness, if you will, is not-by itself—a bad thing. But I am put off by the narcissicism of every new crop of intellectuals who take on the challenge. I can’t tell you how many young Stanford, MIT, or CalTech PhDs I have met who are all convinced that they will personally solve the “problem” of the mind on the way to gaining tenure. What they really mean is that they will solve the “problem” of other, lesser people’s minds. I have observed that such professors act as though they believe they have free will, but nobody else does.

    However, I don’t think this has anything even remotely to do with alien abductions.

    By Blogger Larry, at Sunday, September 15, 2013  

  • Yah, Larry...

    Those damnable "alien abductions" are iffy as ever.

    But I do think they are mental not real surely, nor even paranormal.

    The complex that brings such experiences on needs some real scrutiny....not hypnosis, but actual scientific methodology, as some persons who believe or say they have been abducted are not crazy and not lying....not knowingly anyway.

    Neurology can't resolve the matter; but maybe bio-psychology or neuro-chemical analysis is the way to go, as I have noted many times previously here and at the RRRGroup blog.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Sunday, September 15, 2013  

  • If you're going to relegate them to "mental" then you're going to have to explain a lot of factors that say otherwise. Like more than one person experiencing "visitors", and the same conscious event.

    But there's two distinctions to make: one is the myth of alien abduction, ala Jacobs, Hopkins and the despicable practice of regression hypnosis (which are demonstrable nonsense) - and then there's direct conscious experience, involving the facade of the "alien" that most of the UFO folks have not been exposed to.

    They haven't been exposed to it, because it doesn't say ET, and because its such a bizarre experience that it doesn't lend itself well to selling books or postulating down to earth theories.

    This experience has been relegated to a cartoon by the very field claiming serious study of it. Now, that's mental.

    By Blogger JR, at Sunday, September 22, 2013  

  • > Like more than one person experiencing "visitors", and the same conscious event.

    JR, we need to be skeptical of such reports too. The Hill case is often touted as a shared experience, but that isn't true in any meaningful way.

    Both Hills report conscious recall of a light in the sky but only Barney reported seeing aliens while on the highway -- and he had a mental block for the alien faces. Also, Fuller notes that much of the dialogue that takes place on the highway was lifted from the hypnosis sessions! This casts doubt on much of the "consciously recalled" testimony.

    Under hypnosis, both Hills report being escorted to the ship, onto the ship, being examined, then marched off the ship. However, Barney's eyes are closed and he is generally non-responsive when walking up to the ship: he doesn't confirm Betty's account. Nearly everything about this part is from Betty (who "improved" it over the decades). On the ship, they are immediately separated. Later, when being marched to the ship's exit, Betty sees Barney but he does not seem to see her -- again, that bit is reported by Betty alone (note that Betty tells the story about Barney's dentures -- Barney doesn't tell us that).

    Betty had dream "memories" about the aliens but Barney did not. She told people about the dreams but for many years claimed that Barney never heard them. This was evidence that Barney's hypnotic recall was not tainted. However, that myth too has fallen away: Kathleen Marden admits that on at least two occasions, Barney heard Betty discuss her dreams in the company of others (which means Betty lied about this).

    When you break it all down, the reports of their "shared" experience have very little overlap, very little collaboration. Yet this is often promoted as the best abduction case, with the best corroboration and the most integrity.

    By Blogger Terry the Censor, at Sunday, September 22, 2013  

  • Terry-
    As I said, hypnotic regression is no kind of tool to recover memory in any meaningful way whatsoever. For that reason, for me, the Hill case holds no water. What truly happened we will likely never know (if anything truly anomalous happened at all.

    There are however significant numbers of people who have shared extraordinary experiences that are connected to strange objects seen in the sky. These are direct recall, as easily as one remembers what they had for breakfast.

    The point is that "UFOlogy" is all it's delusional wish fulfillment has steadfastly ignored the real experiences and traded them for a co-created narrative of the researcher/hypnotist's own ideologies.


    By Blogger JR, at Monday, September 23, 2013  

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