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Newsome poster James Gregory Public Lectures Future Programme: 1. October 28 -- Pauline Rudd: “Am I more than my Genes?” 2. February -- Colin Humphreys “Science and Miracles” 3. April 28 -- David Myers: “Psychology & Religion” Tom (NT) Wright at 1st Gregory Lecture: Recommended Book

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Newsome poster


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James Gregory Public Lectures

Future Programme:

1. October 28 -- Pauline Rudd:

“Am I more than my Genes?”

2. February -- Colin Humphreys

“Science and Miracles”

3. April 28 -- David Myers:

“Psychology & Religion”


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Tom (NT) Wright at 1st Gregory Lecture:


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RecommendedBook

(On sale in foyer)

by

Malcolm Jeeves

&

Warren Brown


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Newsome poster


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Mind: Brain or Spirit?

Bill Newsome

Stanford University


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Science, Religion and the

Causal Status of Mind


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Religion and the findingsof science

Religion and the assumptionsof science

Causality, explanation and the brain


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Tension can occur between religion and the working assumptions of everyday science, and in

particular, when these assumptions are elevated

to the status of all-encompassing ideology.


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Science: experiment-based, precise,

objective (transferable across

communities and cultures).

Religion: more holistic, greater

dependence on intuition, requires

commitment in the absence of proof.

Why go there? Why not just stick with science?

….my colleagues ask me!


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Importantly, the religious mode of thought and

belief is a normal and necessary mode of evaluation and decision-making in real life—for ALL of us!

The scientific mode, in contrast, is quite peculiar: it is applicable to a rather narrow range of experience and is generally practiced by a rather small community of professionals.


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The most important questions in life are not susceptible to solution by the scientific method!

The importance of a question tends to be inversely proportional to the certainty with which it can

be answered.


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Should I pursue a professional opportunity elsewhere in the country at the cost of uprooting my entire family, all of whom have their own independent

lives?


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Should I marry this particular person?


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Simply put, this is the human condition.

It is life, and our most consequential

decisions in life have little or nothing

to do with science.

This is true for everyone, including my

scientific colleagues!

For everyone, the real question is:

Is there an ultimate source of meaning and

value in the universe? If so, what is it?


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Religious quest involves the same sort of

reasoning as the marriage example.

Sources of evidence are available: my primary

experience in the religious community, the

testimony of other seekers throughout

the ages, the critical reflections of fellow

pilgrims I meet along the way.

In the end, the evidence is not compelling in a

scientific sense. Faith, accompanied by

commitment is essential. Stakes are high.


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After this many of his disciples drew back and

no longer went about with him. Jesus said to

the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom

would we go? You have the words of eternal

life.”

— John 6:66-68

And we have believed, and have come to

know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

— John 6:69


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From my point of view, there is no deep conflict between my religious faith and the actual

findings of science.

Tension can occur between religion and the working assumptions of everyday science, and in

particular, when these assumptions are elevated

to the status of all-encompassing ideology.

What about the brain?


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The central dogma of neuroscience:

All of our behavior and all of our mental

life—including our sense of a conscious,

continuing self—is inextricably linked to

the biology of the brain.


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“What about free will”


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Criminal Responsibility

Increasingly, brain scans are being introduced as evidence that defendants have diminished or no responsibility, so they deserve less punishment.

This is not a new issue:


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Charles Whitman


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University of Texas


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Charles Whitman’s Notes

Several days before climbing the tower: “Lately I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts…. I consulted Dr. Cochrum at the University Health Center and asked him to recommend someone that I could consult with about some psychiatric disorders I felt I had.... I talked to a doctor once for about two hours and tried to convey to him my fears that I felt overcome by overwhelming violent impulses. After one session I never saw the Doctor again, and since then I have been fighting my mental turmoil alone, and seemingly to no avail. After my death I wish that an autopsy would be performed to see if there is any visible physical disorder."

Courtesy Prof. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Duke University


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Charles Whitman’s Notes

"It was after much thought that I decided to kill my wife, Kathy, tonight....I love her dearly, and she has been a fine wife to me as any man could ever hope to have. I cannot rationally pinpoint any specific reason for doing this…."

Charles left another note with the body: "If my life insurance policy is valid please pay off my debts... donate the rest anonymously to a mental health foundation. Maybe research can prevent further tragedies of this type."

Courtesy Prof. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Duke University


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“What about free will”


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Bottom-up determinism

The quantum brain

Freedom = uncaused

Self determination, or autonomy


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Scientific explanation and “reduction”

Quotes from Carl Craver, 2007, Explaining the Brain

“According to the “classical” model of reduction (Nagel, 1949, 1961)

from which [most current] models descend, reduction is a species of

covering law (CL) explanation: one theory is reduced to another when

it is possible to define the theoretical terms of the first with those of

the second and to derive the first theory from the second…”

“The metaphysical fundamentalist argues that nonfundamental things

have no causal power over and above fundamental things. They

believe, roughly, that everything has cause at the fundamental level

(the principle of causal completeness of the physical) and that

nothing has more than one complete cause (the principle of

non-overdetermination). If so, it follows that no nonfundamental

things are causes….”


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(Bill’s) Problems with fundamentalist reduction

Doesn’t work in real life.

Doesn’t describe what neuroscientists actually do.

Regression issue: whose “fundamental” level is

actually fundamental?

The most fundamental level is arguably acausal.


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Bertrand Russell, 1913

“On the Notion of Cause”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian

Society, 13:1-26,

“In advanced sciences such as gravitational astronomy, the word

"cause” never occurs. Dr. James Ward, in his “Naturalism and

Agnosticism”, makes this a ground of complaint against physics:

the business of those who wish to ascertain the ultimate truth

about the world, he apparently thinks, should be the discovery of

causes, yet physics never even seeks them.”

“To me it seems that philosophy ought not to assume such legislative

functions, and that the reason why physics has ceased to look for

causes is that, in fact, there are no such things. The law of causality,

I believe, like much that passes muster among philosophers, is a relic

of a bygone age, surviving, like the monarchy, only because it is

erroneously supposed to do no harm.”


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Problems with fundamentalist reduction

Doesn’t work in real life.

Doesn’t describe what neuroscientists actually do.

Regression issue: whose “fundamental” level is

actually fundamental?

The most fundamental level is arguably acausal.

Poverty of quantum mechanics (QM isn’t wrong; just

impoverished).


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Pat Churchland, 2002

Brain-Wise (chapter on Free Will)

“Random, uncharacteristic behavior is not a paradigm for free,

responsible behavior. Behavior that has internal causes, consistent

with our history, motivations, preferences, goals, beliefs, etc, are

properly considered “free”. Random behavior would convince me

that someone is messing with my mind.”

“Hume made the deeper and more penetrating observation that

an agent’s choices are not considered freely made unless they

are caused by his desires, intentions, and so forth.”


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The central dogma of neuroscience:

All of our behavior and all of our mental

life—including our sense of a conscious,

continuing self— is inextricably linked to

the biology of the brain.


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Toward an understanding of autonomy

Key issue: what counts as a “cause.”

Wholes are more than the sum of parts by virtue of

the organization of causally interacting components.

Wholes have causal powers that parts do not.

Organization (in the abstract, information) is reducible in

individual instances, but not in the general case.

Fundamental laws (i.e. physics) constrain but do not

determine the behavior of a complex system.

Neuroscientific explanation is intrinsically multi-level.


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Multilevel, mechanistic explanation in neuroscience

Quotes from Carl Craver, 2007, Explaining the Brain

“The systems tradition…construes explanation as a matter of

decomposing systems into their parts and showing how those parts

are organized together in such a way as to exhibit the explanandum

phenomenon… Systems explanations involve showing how something

works rather than showing that its behavior can be derived from

more fundamental laws. ”

“Mutual manipulability: a part is a component in a mechanism if one

can change the behavior of the mechanism as a whole by intervening

to change the component, and one can change the behavior of the

component by intervening to change the behavior of the mechanism

as a whole.”

“Making a difference…”


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Long-term spatial memory (explanandum)

Mouse navigating a water maze

Hippocampus generating a spatial map

Neurons inducing long-term potentiation (LTP)

NMDA receptor activating

Genes producing more receptor molecules


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What does all this MEAN?

I lost track of what is at stake here!

Self-determination, autonomy, responsibility

Key issue: what counts as a cause?

If we can find a way to talk meaningfully about

nonfundamental causation (and I think we must),

then we can take mental causation (and responsibility!)

seriously.

This is NOT to say that bottom-up causes are unimportant;

explanatory relevance runs both upward and downward.


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Pat Churchland, 2002

Brain-Wise (chapter on Free Will)

“The absolutely crucial point, however, is that not all kinds of causes

are consistent with free choice; not all kinds of causes are equal before

the tribunal of responsibility. Some causes excuse us from culpability;

others make us culpable because they are part of the story of

voluntary action. The important question is what are the relevant

differences among causes of behavior such that some kinds play a

role in free choice and others play a role in forced choices. ”


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[Genes] swarm in huge colonies, safe inside gigantic lumbering robots, sealed off from the outside world, communicating with it by tortuous indirect routes, manipulating it by remote control. They are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence.

[Genes] are trapped in huge colonies, locked inside highly intelligent beings, moulded by the outside world, communicating with it by complex processes, through which, blindly, as if by magic, function emerges. They are in you and me; we are the system that allows their code to be read; and their preservation is totally dependent on the joy that we experience in reproducing ourselves. We are the ultimate rationale for their existence.

Gene language

Denis Noble --

The Music of Life: Biology Beyond the Genome (OUP 2006)

Richard Dawkins --

The Selfish Gene (1976)

—Courtesy, Dr. Ard Louis, University of Oxford


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Lasker Award story, New York Times, September 2006


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Bottom-up intervention:

modify neurotransmitters, receptors

Top-down intervention:

change patient’s beliefs, patterns of interaction

“Cognitive restructuring”


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Beliefs matter!


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“Who was it that had really

sentenced him to death?”

“It was a system –

a concurrence of

circumstances.”


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Understanding the nature of human

freedom is the most important problem

facing the neurobehavioral sciences.

Important for obvious reasons of human

dignity and social responsibility….

…but also for science itself!


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If my mental processes are determined

wholly by the motions of the atoms in

my brain, I have no reason to suppose

that my beliefs are true…and hence

I have no reason for supposing my brain

to be composed of atoms.

—JBS Haldane


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God, Brain and Mind


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