On Argumentation in the Mind-Body Dualism Debate and Mike A. Robinson

There is a fellow by the name of Mike A. Robinson running about and self-publishing just about everything he writes, blogging the rest.  I have yet to find, within the expanse of his writings, anything that is particularly good or well informed.  I stumbled upon one of his blog postings, entitled “The Brain and the Mind Are Not Identical,” and I felt it was closely enough related to my last blog post that I should comment on it.  Originally, my intention was to demonstrate how assumptions made by any side of a debate, such as the free-will/determinism and soul/no-soul debates, make it unlikely that we will ever have a clear and definitive answer; but this blog has turned into a review of Mike A. Robinson, as an author.  I cannot recommend avoiding his writings enough.

I can’t stress enough reading everything as philosophically analytically as one is capable, because there is much in the way of vapid statements that such authors will throw into an article.  If you pass these comments up, simply accepting them without a meta-level conscious response of inquiry, you will take it for granted as fact, whether you intend to do so or not.  Consider one of Robinson’s initial remarks in his attempt to illustrate that the mind is not the body.  He says, ‘But if the human mind consisted only of hard chemicals and neurons bouncing around in the skull, human thoughts would be no more true or valued than a midafternoon stomach growl. Both are just chemical reactions. This means that there is no reason to count my thoughts more important than gastric noise; they are just meaningless and empty chemical reactions.’  Robinson never gives any reasoning as to why one should consider physiological responses, such as thought and borborygmus, as being different.  For instance, John Dewey, in breaking the human being down into nothing but nerve responses that result in behavioral patterns, put forward a considerable argument as to why it is quite the opposite as Robinson supposes.[1]  That supposition is precisely the problem: Robinson is willing to assert some point, dogmatically accept it, and then argue on its basis, even though he is, in fact, supposed to be arguing to that point’s end via some line of reasoning.  Axioms are acceptable, but one should not argue to a statement’s end, having already adopted it as an axiom.  Such is a fallacy by petitio principii.  Why should thought be valued over borborygmus, just because it appeals to an empty human intuition that it should?

 

After this bit of unreasoning, Robinson shifts gears to show how poorly he at reasoning, and employees a popular device among untrained philosophers, a non sequitur.  He says, ‘If my thoughts and words are meaningless, then they are not true; hence my thoughts cannot be meaningless.’  This is like saying that the borborygmus is meaningless.  This last statement, I hope all can see, is silly.  Hunger and other responses tell us something about the periodicity in the relationship between the inter-organism-environment relationship, in this specific case, that it has been approximately a certain amount of time since something from the environment (nutriment) has passed through the organismic-environs boundary.  In just the same way, when the exterior of the organism indicates that it is necessary to reproduce a behavior or initialize a habit, brain function employs the imagination to determine which behavior should be set into action.  Like all physiological responses, thought is meaningful in the sense that it deals with governance between the human organism and environment.  If physiological responses are generally meaningless, then it is not clear upon what grounds thought is meaningful.  Of course, when said like that, maybe Robinson’s point makes no sense, which is my opinion.

 

Then you get the bit in Robinson’s blog about the false-memory study performed at UC Irvine.  Robinson doesn’t coherently stitch it into his blog post, and it is just floating there —a fine example of how to write very poorly, and what not to do as a writer—, so I won’t even address it, since I don’t know how he thinks it fits in.  (Writing seems to be a cathartic process for Mike A. Robinson, with little function beyond that, the pleasure aroused in conforming zealots excepted.)

 

In the subsequent paragraph, Robinson shocks and awes us with an uncited assertion, which he would like us to take for granted.  I will simply say dismissively, if one would like to support a general notion with a scientific finding, first, the study should be cited (at least a title and date should be given, not just the author’s name!), and, second, the scientific study has to be interpreted, replete with explanation as to why the study is thought to imply or say whatever the general notion says.  Simply saying, ‘Therefore, research supplied evidence that the mind is distinct from the hard brain tissue,’ makes zero sense and is impotent.

 

Then we have Robinson’s note, that ‘Some attention-grabbing science has uncovered reasons to believe that life survives the physical death.’  I hardly know where to begin in dealing with this mess.  First of all, the clumsy wording “life survives the physical death” is nonsense.  Biological stuff lives, but context suggest he’s not talking about the human organism as living after it dies.  He is, instead, inefficaciously trying to say that the soul survives the body’s death; but what is he assuming?  He’s assuming there is a soul, to begin with.  Why?  Isn’t that part of what he needs to set out and show?  Yes —just another example of his lack of philosophical training.  The actual article he uses is from some little-known publication I have never heard of, telling about “scientists” studying the afterlife by giving messages to people prior to death, and then seeing if they can telepathically send these messages to the living.  I am unfamiliar with any such study, but, so far as the article describes the study, there are overwhelming issues with calling it anything like “science” —and this is important for everyone to remember: not everything that someone, who is trained in science, does is science.  The first is the fact that there are no controls for those individuals who might go about telling their message to friends and family before they die, ruining the experiment.  Additionally, there are issues related to the philosophy of science.  For example, assuming there is a soul, how do we know it has immediate access to information, as opposed to the information being stored in the material brain and manipulated from there by the soul?

 

The remainder of the section entails a deluge of unconnected bizarre assertions, which, I guess, are supposed to be compelling, though I see no reason why anyone would be compelled unless they wanted to be from the outset —in which case, I see no reason to read the blog post, anyways.  For instance, Robinson says, ‘To ask the question about a possible afterlife presupposes that God lives.’ Yeah —um…—, no it doesn’t.  I haven’t even the slightest clue why Robinson would think this.  A scientist, believing that there is no such thing as an afterlife, may go about, acquiring funding, only to continually seek null results.  No presupposition that “God lives” needed.  I promise.  Then we have the “empty-threat argument,” as I sometimes call it: ‘When the atheist backs up in a conversation and says, “Hold on, I’m searching for a word,” point out the inconsistency. I like to ask them: “Who is searching?” Those who claim that only the physical world exists, and that their mind is just a block of flesh, can’t really answer that question.’  Actually, why wouldn’t the person say that ‘I’ is just the referent that happens to be the block of flesh, a self-referential indexical when the block of flesh needs to indicate itself as a pertinent unity?  These sorts of lines of argument (I guess that’s what Robinson is doing…or it may just be catharsis) dumbfound anyone who looks at them with any kind of critical thinking.  About the only thing in the section that could make sense as a legitimate argument is what he refers to in Keith Ward, about some things not existing in space-time, but, of course, he doesn’t cite his source, so who knows.  Without knowing what it is that Ward has to say, the response would be to meet things like dream with the question (and subsequent discussion) of: Well, the virtual space of video games and computer servers don’t exist in space-time, so either electronic things sort of have souls, or are conscious, or something of the like, right?  Robinson can carry an argument the way most infants can carry jumbo jets, so I guess there’s nothing more to say on the matter.

 

Given all of the above, I thoroughly recommend not wasting your time reading anything by Mike A. Robinson.  He’s not a coherent writer, his ability to argue is infantile, and he is completely incompetent in the ways of philosophical thought.  I hope that what has shone through, even if ever so slightly, is that the assumption people make when discussing the interpretation of science to demonstrate the existence (or inexistence) of the soul or free will abound, and sorting through these have always demonstrated inconclusive results for that interpretation.  Additionally, the assumptions made when generally philosophizing are no less abundant than when interpreting science to suit one’s fancy.  There are a number of good arguments for the existence of the soul, as well as the inexistence of the soul, and while none were employed in Robinson’s blog post, I hope it is clear that one of the tasks of philosophy is to continually determining what assumptions exist in a particular line of argumentation, probably proceeding in this fashion ad infinitum.

 

[1] See John Dewey’s Reconstruction of Philosophy and Human Nature and Conduct.

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5 Comments

Filed under Cognitive Science, Philosophy, Philosophy of Mind

5 responses to “On Argumentation in the Mind-Body Dualism Debate and Mike A. Robinson

  1. Looks like you exposed a real winner there… looking at his profile I see he’s fairly much a bible belt type protestant with combative leanings, a sort of in your face approach of stuffing his particular brand of religion down your throat for your own good. Yea, I got your drift of being upset with that sort of slipshod reasoning – or irreal non-reasoning. Looks like on his facebook that he’s brought a bunch of gullible beings into his fold, too bad.

    Makes if difficult for someone like you who seem honest about your religious background and faith. I admire your ability to question things. I see that in a few of the theological turn folks… Let’s face it I came out of a religious background so know the difference. My feeling has always been that religion has a place, but that it should be more expansive and accepting of others beliefs. I’m a moderate atheist in that sense, still a child of the Enlightenment that believes in tolerance: without it where would we be? Not a good place, that’s what… For better or worse the enlightenment project with all its warts brought with it democracy, freedom, human rights, a new sense of justice… because we have eroded that is not the fault of the project itself, it’s our own problem for not truly committing ourselves to the democratic project.

    • I appreciate compliments from critical thinkers, so thanks. As prolific as the fellow was, I guess I just expected that what he writes isn’t complete drivel. My expectations were thoroughly disabused, and I was agitated. I have no problem with any position, if it is reasonably argued for. As I am sure you noticed, I didn’t make a single mention of his bible-belt bent, because, for me, that is not what is at issue; it is as you say, the “irreal non-reasoning.” The subject matter is just a detail.

      The good that has come of this, I think, is that now there exists a fair review of Mike A. Robinson, possibly saving some folks time and money on his self-aggrandizing spilling of ink.

      • “…saving some folks time and money on his self-aggrandizing spilling of ink.” Yea, capitalism at its finest. Boy you said it brother… he’s not out to do anything else that capitalize on religion and the basic mass fears of the populace. What’s said is that a great many of the bible-belt will not read secular philosophy or literature, but will soak up this kind of reasoning all day long. Having grown up in it I know that as a fact. Preachers at least as I grew up believed that people should only read the bible and Christian works… that everything else was of the devil and to be despised. Over the years it took me to escape that rigid codified system of control, and as I grew to know the ancient literatures and philosophies it became apparent how clouded peoples minds are to the greater problems of the world.

        People like this guy are con men working on the gullible nature of these closed minded tribes of Protestantism … so sad to see it still exists.

        My beliefs about the early Christian movement compared to its aftermath seem in diametrically opposite spheres. I’ve still felt a close relation to the actual early Christian world even if after studying Greek I realize the New Testament is a palimpsest of overlays created over a long period of time rather than as we were once taught – some unified set of books. Strange how the truth gets overlooked and forgotten …

      • That last paragraph parallels some of my own thinking. Even Kierkegaardian thought on those matters appeals to my own sentiments. I guess there is something emotively and intuitively arousing about genuine soul searching, when it comes to the infinitude and the ultimate, which yet escapes our every, save poetic, grasp and description.

      • Yes, exactly! For me it all began with my first trip on orange sunshine back in the sixties… the serotonin reconfigurations of my consciousness exposed me to new perceptions that seemed to align with what Rimbaud in his self-induced psychosis or breakthroughs experienced. This sense that reality is no what our common bounded reason based cognitive systems control us with… that we could counter these control systems.

        Obviously this is a two edged sword that can be used and abused. Yet, it is funny how the one drug that actually opened up awareness to alternate views of reality was so desperately banned and even forgotten during the 70’s and 80’s, but began resurfacing in the 90’s along with other pharmakons…

        The study of ancient systems from shamanism to voodoo show the extremes of these explorations.

        The ancient Greeks used natural substances as part of their Eleusis mysteries and other subcultures such as the Therapeutiae. etc. But with the advent of Christendom much of this ancient world was forgotten or banned except as it appeared here and there over the medieval periods under the rubric of rye poisoning, etc. and the supposed reasoning of the witchcraze.

        Either way people like Kierkegaard would question those deeper levels and bring back new views. We too are at a crossroads… and in need of some form of reawakening to the sacred. However that takes on a spark… whether of the immanent or transcendent variety. Even is like Zizek there is no Big Other, we still need what it offered… a path back to the Real.

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