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« Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #38 of 52: Animal Territoriality | Main | Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #40 of 52: Anger Management »

April 04, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #39 of 52: Is Consciousness Epiphenomenal?

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) --- We are going to have fun here. Fun because I am going to play the Devil’s advocate. Here is the point.

Neuroscience studies the human nervous system, particularly the central nervous system, the brain, and the spine. These studies, so far, have not found any evidence that thinking is anything other than the dance of electrical ions.

We know something about the nerve cell, neuron. There are trillions of them in the human brain. The neuron is like any other human cell (study human physiology, if you have not done so; I am not able to discourse it here). The neuron, in addition to being like other cells, is characterized by certain qualities that enable it to transmit messages from one neuron to another. It has dendrites. A neuron’s dendrite touches the dendrites of other neurons. Apparently, where they touch, called the synapse, is where messages are relayed from one cell to another. The relaying of messages is done through complex electrical exchanges (transmissions). Several electrical ions, such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium and other ions play roles in the transmission of information from one neuron to another.

In addition, several neurotransmitters (such as dopamine, norepinephrine, Serotonin, GABA, Acetylcholine etc) play roles in the transmission of messages from one nerve ending to another. Again, to understand this intriguing subject one needs a few courses in neuroscience and I do not propose to teach you that here. I assume basic knowledge in the reader. Let us just say that messages are transmitted from their point of origin to the brain through complex biochemical and biophysical activities.

In the brain complex biochemical and biophysical activities take place and that is what thinking seems to be all about, electrical activity in the human brain.

Most available empirical evidence indicates that our thinking is strictly materialistic. This would seem to justify a philosophy of material monism, the idea that everything in the universe is materially based, that there is no such thing as spirit or God, that thinking is epiphenomenal, a product of the dance of electrons, protons, neutrons and other particles in our nerve cells.

We know that if something happens to the brain that it impairs our thinking. If a person had an accident that injured a part of his brain his thinking is impaired. In organic mental disorders, trauma to the brain results in mental illness.

If certain parts of the brain atrophy, decay, die the individual may loose his memory, as in Alzheimer’s diseases and old age senility.

All said it would seem that thinking, what makes us seem different from other animals, is, in fact, a product of animal biochemical and biophysical activity. In other words, we are not different from other animals after all; we are just a differently evolved breed of animals!

Neuroscience is increasingly demonstrating that man is just an animal and that that is all there is to him. It is convincingly showing how most of our behaviors are rooted in our biological brain, activities.

Behavioral scientists of the 1960s merely speculated that we are animals but now physical scientists seem to be demonstrating that fact.

If all our thinking is biological and if something happens to a part of our brain our thinking changes, it is very difficult to say that man is anything other than an animal. Consider alcoholics and drug users. They put those poisons into their bodies and they eventually interact with their brains to produce certain changes in their behaviors. Those changes result in their behaving in a certain manner.

Those who use cocaine and amphetamines may become paranoid; those who drink a lot of alcohol may lose their short term memory; those who take the various barbiturates, benzodiazepams and analgesics may hallucinate etc. That is to say that we can now demonstrate the causal relationship between the brain’s health or lack of it and mental health.

You do drugs, in street language; you fry your brain and become crazy. That is your choice. You did it to you, so why should I feel sorry for you? Get out of here. Who asked you to drink too much alcohol? Don’t come crying to me that you do not remember what happened yesterday. You take the consequences of your behavior; I do not have to take the consequences of your silly behavior by sympathizing with you.

(Being a psychotherapist and seeing what people do to themselves can make even the most sentimental man a realist. I used to pity folks until I listened to them. After years of listening to them, I decided that they brought about most of their issues and left them to their problems. It is not for me to solve other people’s problems, let them solve them. My only function is to seek the truth, to pursue knowledge and go wherever that pursuit takes me. I do not have to be available for folks to cry on my shoulders. I am not any ones mother, let folks go cry on their mamas’ shoulders.)

In the past idealistic monism, aka religion and or metaphysics contended that human beings have an external force that operates in them, a force that is not material. Some called that force spirit, soul etc. It is now very difficult to make that argument. Where exactly is spirit in the brain? Show it to us.

Philosophy is different from science. Philosophy deals with rationalism, reason reached through deductive thinking. Science, on the other hand, is reason plus empiricism.

Science may speculate about the nature of things but it must demonstrate their truth in the empirical world. Science is both deductive and inductive in its reasoning.

Philosophical reasoning may tell us that there is a force in us that thinks through us. That proposition seems to make sense, but science asks philosophy to prove it.

Now, big boy, if you believe in God, prove that God exists. Do not beg the subject and ask folks to just believe in what seems to make sense to you. What makes sense to you may be senseless, after all.

Human beings used to believe that the sun is god. My ancestors were the high priests of the sun god, Amadioha. But now we know that the sun is not god. The sun is just a ball of gas, a boiling cauldron of helium and deuterium and other isotopes of hydrogen. The nuclear of those atoms explode (fission) and release energy, which comes to us as light energy.

Light itself is made of particles, photons, traveling at a certain speed (186, 000, miles per second).

There is no such thing as a sun god. Therefore, there is no such thing as god? Everything is matter (which is the same as energy).

If you disagree with materialistic monism then prove your position for us. But do not ask us to believe something just because your religion asks you to believe it.

Do not ask us to believe something because of religious authority. Do not tell us that the founder of your religion, Jesus etc was the son of God and therefore has special access to god and ought to be believed. Jesus is assumed to be credible on religious matters. This is an assumption that has no basis in fact. Do not make assumptions, examine every proposition. Be skeptical until you prove anything to your satisfaction.

First you have to prove that God exists, second you have to prove that Jesus existed and was not a mythical figure that primitive Jews projected their hopes unto.

Make your case, old boy. The ball is now in your court. Let us hear you. Shoot.

In other essays, I made my metaphysics clear. I will not go into that subject here. All I am doing here is setting the stage for us to have some fun debating a serious issue. Show me why you insist in believing that God exists when all available evidence points otherwise. Let us see how smart you are.

Africans generally do not try to reason things out. One of my goals is to force Africans to think and reason things out. I am sick and tired of their merely believing in things.

See, some Danish cartoonist makes fun of a religious founder, a non-African, and Nigerians kill each other. What a bunch of apes we are. Why kill each other because of what other people did? Why kill each other when we do not even know that God exists?

And if God exists and is the all powerful man folks make him to be, surely, he can defend himself and does not need powerless us to defend him?

Or is God our projection, as Freud said in the Future of an Illusion?

Let us hear from smart Africans what they say on this subject.

Ozodi@africainstituteseattle.org

Posted by Administrator at April 4, 2006 01:02 AM

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