I Am, Therefore I Think

In today’s New York Times is an account of some fine experimental neuroscience, and another revealing glimpse of the “merely” physical substrate of conscious experience.

The story describes work done by an American/Israeli team of researchers into the neurological underpinnings of memory. By examining the activation patterns of individual neurons, the team found that they were able to predict what memories were about to enter a subject’s mind, a second or two before the subject consciously experienced them.

Results like this — and we are going to be seeing more and more of them as our tools and expertise improve — are going to be making things hotter and hotter for those who still cling to dualistic models of the mind, I expect.

Read the article here.


  1. Brandon says

    Could you elaborate on why you think this experiment on short term memory could make dualistic models more difficult to accept? Do you not think it is possible to reconcile with various forms of dualism that are currently presented (Thomastic/Emergent dualism)? The article is not too clear on what drives the cells in the first place to record the memory, unless I misunderstood it. I am actually more curious on long term memory than short term memory, since short term memory seems to come and go. I would really like a study that studies this long term – ex. Recall the clips today, a week later ask them to recall it again – review the neurons as they fire, perhaps less light up as the short term memory diminishes? But I do not think this truly dampens dualism, a lot of models propose that there are a lot of aspects of the human physical experience that are contingent with the body and limited to the working capabilities of the body. I forget memories all the time, but I don\\\’t think it is the actual neuron that ceases to exist, I think it simply discards the memory – I am curious on how that all works. Sorry to ramble, I know I am talking all over the place.

    Posted October 28, 2008 at 11:31 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Hi Brandon,

    Simply put, for the dualist the conscious experience is the primary phenomenon. For a purely physical process to precede and predict the conscious experience places the cart before the horse in a most awkward fashion.

    Posted October 28, 2008 at 11:40 am | Permalink
  3. Brandon says

    Valid point. There are some dualists that do incorporate the unconscious/subconscious/conscious experience all tied in with the “soul”.

    I do not think the time delay so to speak is anything new, especially with Ben Libets experiment of the past where the action potential preceded the conscious awareness. I wouldn’t say it predicts the conscious experience as a whole, since there is more to the conscious experience then the awareness of something, and again this still doesn’t dive into long term memory as of yet.

    Short term memory could very well be solely a physical process or there could be a series of time delays that extend to the “soul” itself – perhaps an aspect of the soul intertwined with the subconcsious that correlates with driving memories, since one must first recognize the memory that is asked about which is in itself another memory. The memory recollection itself may precede the conscious awareness of that memory but it doesn’t precede the conscious awareness of being told to recall that memory, the area of storage may simply be a mediator for the soul to manifest that specific memory for organizational purposes since most dualists do believe the brain is needed in connection to the soul for the full embodied human experience.

    Obviously proposing a soul all the time just pushes the problem a step further in terms of explanatory power, and there are still mysteries of the mind still being worked out. I just don’t think this really pushes the dualist into any sort of corner – yet…….but nevertheless I am interested in the reconciliation of this new information from a true dualist.

    Have you passed this info on to the maverick philosopher, Mr. Bill, to hear his thoughts?

    Posted October 28, 2008 at 2:06 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Well, as you can imagine, I see no reason to imagine that non-physical souls exist. In my opinion they explain nothing — and as we see here, the more we learn, the more the model requires more and more in the way of ether and epicycles to cling to credibility (or even coherence).

    One point that Dennett makes about these experiments is that while conscious experience does not take place at any particular place or time in the brain, the memory of the conscious experience may be retroactively “time-stamped” in such a way that makes these results unreliable.

    I have had long and difficult arguments with Bill V. over the years about mind-body issues. I respect him a great deal, but on this topic we have intractable axiomatic disagreements. I wasn’t about to bother bringing this up at his place, though you are of course welcome to.

    Posted October 28, 2008 at 2:47 pm | Permalink
  5. Brandon says

    I agree, I really think the only need to bring a soul into play is if the supernatural is believed in and thus needs reconciliation for the latest neuroscientific discoveries. However, even with that said I still think the concept of dualism will evolve to adhere to today’s discoveries, the same way science evolves to adhere to their latest discoveries even if the fundamentals remain unchanged. If anything, I am really excited about the Big Bounce theory and would love to learn more about Chemosynthesis as an origin for life, but anyway, good blog, I appreciate your wisdom as well as Bill’s.

    Posted October 31, 2008 at 12:28 pm | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    Thanks Brandon! Glad to have you as a reader and commenter.

    Posted October 31, 2008 at 12:55 pm | Permalink
  7. Brandon says

    I read what you wrote about your mother. Very well written, very touching, and very inspirational. The ending to that essay is something I hope for myself when it comes to loved ones. Best Wishes.

    Posted October 31, 2008 at 1:48 pm | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    She was an amazing woman.

    Thanks again.

    Posted October 31, 2008 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

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