Monday, 9 December 2013

At last I can come clean, I am a denier - now read on

I have spent many a merry hour in recent months in the debunking of some pretty serious misinformation, wondering all the time what goes on in the mind of a denier.  Now, at last, I can come clean.  I am a denier myself.

While going down some of the tributaries of misinformation and woo that I never realised existed, I came across a paper called "The Antique Roadshow: How Denier Movements Debunk Evolution, Climate Change, and Nonlocal Consciousness" by someone called Stephan A Schwartz, published in NeuroQuantology, volume 9, issue 1, pages 118-128 (March 2011).  Full text is here.

Now, I am not an evolution or climate change denier, so that only leaves me the option of being a nonlocal consciousness denier.  I should have known, but I must have forgotten, that there are some people who claim there is nonlocal consciousness.  That is consciousness that is not confined to that grey walnut like organ inside your cranium.  Indeed, there are those like Rupert Sheldrake who reckon that the Sun might be conscious. 
You don't have to watch.  Quality is not great - sound mostly, but information content too. 

I will probably mischaracterise nonlocal consciousness but as far as I can tell it is the suggestion that consciousness is not the product of the physiology of the brain but something spreading out wider, throughout the universe, and perhaps even part of the properties of inanimate objects and fundamental particles.

What is there not to deny?  Like the Ruler Of The Universe who solipsistically explains that his cat may or may not like fish, I have as much of a clue as anyone else whether my cat or an electron has consciousness.  I reckon my cat does and that an electron doesn't.  I reckon my cat has consciousness because he behaves in a way that suggests as much.  An electron doesn't.  I have no way of proving either but I do know something about consciousness.

You see, I have one.  I've had it for as long as I can remember and roughly once a day I switch it off because it needs a rest.  On a couple of occasions I have had it switched off for me, by a bang on the head.  I don't lose consciousness when I stub my toe, only when I bang my head.  This is trivial evidence that consciousness is situated in my head in some way, and probably my brain.  There is obviously more (I must read Daniel Dennett), abundant evidence that consciousness resides within the brain in some way.  We don't know how yet and we may never know.

Schwartz links climate change, evolution and nonlocal consciousness denial into one paper as if they were equal.  In order to do so, he states:
Consciousness deniers are materialists who conceive of all aspects of
consciousness as entirely a construct of physiological processes, in spite of hundreds of studies demonstrating this conclusion is not justified.
Materialists here means those that persist in believing only in physical causes for phenomena.  It is a term used in insult.  Note, Schwartz doesn't give any references to any of these hundreds of studies which I, for one, would have welcomed.  Perhaps he doesn't want anyone to read them.  After all, they are probably tat but we'll never know.

So I can proudly proclaim that I am a nonlocal consciousness denier.  Not a consciousness denier, as Schwartz flips the terminology. 

There's something just plain strange about Schwartz's paper.  He admiring quotes Rupert Sheldrake:
English biologist Rupert Sheldrake (1999) conducted a survey of leading
journals published between October 1996 and April 1998. The papers these journals had published were broken into three categories: “1.) Not applicable: papers that did not involve experimental investigations, for example theoretical or review articles; 2.) Blind or double-blind methodologies used; and, 3.) Blind or double-blind methodologies not used” (Sheldrake, 1999; p. 90). The
reader may find the results surprising. As can be seen in Table 2, parapsychology overwhelmingly utilizes this third protocol more than any other discipline.
I'm not sure that's a good thing.  When blinding has been introduced into parapsychological studies, the effect under study tends to evaporate.  It happens in alternative medicine studies too.  So I wouldn't proudly announce the fact that 85% of parapsychological studies do not use blinding, especially when suggesting this means parapsychology cannot be dismissed on methodological grounds  Whoops.

So perhaps Schwartz isn't a scientist.  I'll let you make up your mind by visiting here.

Or I could answer for you: no.

Well, now I know I am a denier, I can truly understand the mind of Anthony Watts or Lynne McTaggart?  Actually, no.  Because my denial of nonlocal consciousness is not the same as the denial of climate change or evolution.  In both of those it is silly to deny the heaps of evidence in favour of those fields of study.  In the case of nonlocal consciousness, the laws of physics, the biological evidence, all weighs in favour of a material basis of consciousness.  I deny nonlocal consciousness because it doesn't exist and never will. Everything points in the consensus opinion that consciousness and the brain are indivisible. End of story.

Schwartz's sleight of hand is that of a poor magician.  He won't get many gigs at the top scientific parties if he tries that trick too often.  We can see what's up his sleeves.  We spotted the swap.  We know it is rubbish. 

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