Science: March 2004 Archives

Soul Creation

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Evangelical Outpost has sparked an interesting discussion on whether the human organism is fully existent at conception or at a later time, including whether the soul is present at conception. Since it tied in nicely with some of what I've been working on possibly for my dissertation, I had to throw in some of my own thoughts on problems with the soul having existed since conception. I'm hoping someone has some nice responses to those problems, though, since it might help getting my stalled project back off the ground.

What Dreams Reveal

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A Harvard study shows that what we dream about seems to be affected by what thoughts we try to suppress during our waking hours. If this is right, it disproves much folk wisdom about dreams revealing what we subconsciously want to think about (but won't admit it). Freud wouldn't be very happy with this. Dreams are about what we don't want to think about, so it may indicate greater moral resistance to those things.

I stumbled upon something refuting the ridiculous myth that we use only 10% of our brains, with even some discussion on how such a stupid idea ever got started. Of course it never seemed so stupid to me when I kept hearing people parrot it around with no basis for their claim other than that some other misinformed person who never checked on it had first told it to them.

I believe it was Ryle who, in defending his outright silly view that mental properties are merely properties of our physical bodies, i.e. our behavior, insisted that their must be some sort of motion that we do, even if undetectable, to correspond to our innermost thoughts. It's true that some people do this, but most people don't move their lips when thinking. This was rightly seen as special pleading.

NASA scientists have now shown that Ryle was right on one thing. When we're about to talk, some sort of behavior in our throat preceds our mouth's uttering of words. These motions can now be analyzed and given content. Computers can now tell what you're saying subvocally even if you don't move your lips or face.

Now this doesn't really rescue Ryle. His version of behaviorism is demonstrably false, which is shown by a number of cases:

1. The in-principle possible perfect actor spends an entire life acting out the behavior that accompanies certain mental states without ever having them.

2. The in-principle possible muscle relaxant that doctors believe to be a perfect pain-killer. They never see the effects of the pain caused by the operation, because every measurable muscle in the body is temporarily frozen somehow, preserving life and feeling. Then the drug's amnesiac properties kick in, and the person forgets all the pain caused by the operation, so no one ever finds out through behavior that there was any pain. Yet there was.

So Ryle was wrong that pain or other mental states can be viewed as simply behavior or dispositions to behave in certain ways. However, the irony is that that the most ridiculed element of his defense of such a ridiculous view has now at least partially been vindictated.

How manly are you?

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Joe at Evangelical Outpost had a post a while back with two tests for autism and autistic spectrum traits. One involves mind-reading by looking at someone's eyes, with the rest of the face occluded. [It's a little funny to call it a mind-reading test, given that these pictures are of people faking certain faces to look like they have certain emotions that they don't really have.] They tried to remove some of the subjective factors by trying to find common enough agreement on which emotions the eyes showed, but I doubt it's as objective as they'd like. Either way, it does test some differences between people with Asperger's Syndrome (AS) or high-functioning autism (HFA) and the average person (with differences between males and females.

The other is a personality test somehow labeled "the autism quotient test" that picks out ISTJ traits as autistic traits and then saying that the test reveals who has autistic traits. [Note: Asperger's is a high-functioning autistic spectrum condition with higher-functioning, though not necessarily completely normal, cognitive and language abilities, sometimes even better than normal, but with delays in social and communicative delays with obsessional, repetitive, and routine behaviors.]

On the mind-reading through eye-reading test, there were 36 questions. The average score among AS/HFA people was 21.9. The average male score was 26. The average female score was 26.4. My score was 24, right between the normal male score and the AS/HFA average, just slightly closer to the average male score. (I should say that I got all 20 questions right on the whole face emotion recognition test, but I couldn't find the statistics on how people in general do on that one.)

The AQ test had an average score of 16.4. 80% of AS/HFA people scored at least 32, though the average AS/HFA score was 34.4 on one study and 35.8 on another. I scored 28. I wonder how the male/female differences turn out among the normal score group. The only data I have are for a group of Oxford University students who scored a little better on the mind-reading test than the average person did. The male average among them was 19.5, the female average 16.6. Both averages are higher than the 16.4 overall average, so this select population doesn't set a baseline standard. Again, my score was between the average male score and the AS/HFA average, though this time a good deal closer to the AS/HFA side.

Now there's important new research suggesting that the autistic spectrum is just one side of the male-female spectrum in terms of a number of traits, with males tending to be better at systematizing intelligence and females tending to be better at empathizing intelligence. Autism is a disorder that's even more extreme in the male tendency toward systematizing with difficulty on the empathizing end. There's also a disorder that's the reverse (but it's extremely rare) called Williams syndrome. Given that, I seem to me more male than most men. In other words, I'm quite the studly dude. So take the tests at the link above and see how manly you are!

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