The Raving Theist

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In a Pig’s Mind

September 1, 2006 | 30 Comments

Are people controlled by some kind of mysterious, Immaterial Mind or Spirit? Austin Cline of About Atheism, for some reason, rebels at the idea. In particular, he’s distressed that Michael LaBossier, writing in The Philosopher’ Magazine, has analogized from cloned pigs to reach that conclusion. LaBossier notes that studies of such animals show that they exhibit distinct personalties — with differing food preferences and degrees of friendliness — despite being genetically the same and having been raised in similar environments. LaBossier suggests that if the dissimilarities persisted even after factors such as minor environmental differences, wombs and epigenetics were accounted for, the best explanation would be the effect of a non-physical mind.

Cline writes:


LaBossier seems to think that given the exact same starting conditions, any two physical systems will necessarily progress along the same path and to the same conclusion — thus any two identical genetic beings raised in an identical environment must necessarily develop the same characters. There’s so much wrong with this, it’s hard to know where to begin.

Gasp! The passage makes it sound like Cline is about to describe what’s “wrong” about induction — the bedrock foundation of all science and materialistic determinism. In fact, what follows is essentially a defense of the concept:

First, it’s difficult to say that we can ever be sure when such a large, complex system is identical to another. How do you measure the precise levels of every element of a system or its environment? Second, it’s not true that identical genetic sequences will remain identical in their function — genes might be expressed in different ways for reasons that are simply not obvious to us.

Finally, any system that is sufficient complex just can’t be predicted down to every detail. No matter how much we know about the current environment, it’s very difficult to predict the precise trajectory of our weather. Even if the conditions today are precisely the same as another day in the past, we can”t be sure that our following days will be precisely the same as the following days of the past situation. Is there any reason to think that our brains are so much less complex than the weather that its operation is more predictable?

Cline concludes by asking “[w]hy do so many people insist on trying to “explain” something by using a concept which they can’t really define or describe — [h]ow can ‘immaterial minds’ possibly explain what LaBossier describes unless we know what it means to be an ‘immaterial mind’ and how it interacts with the material universe?”

What I find most interesting about the discussion is how it touches on a number of important theological issues without actually being about God. Remember, even if LaBossier proves his thesis, all he’s established is the existence of an immaterial mind — And a pig’s mind at that.

Comments

30 Responses to “In a Pig’s Mind”

  1. JUST_ANOTHER_PRIMATE
    September 1st, 2006 @ 9:37 am

    And the pig also says “I stink therefore I am” …

    Well it is one thing to use inductive thinking and another thing to simply grasp at straws (the basis of many of the wild claims in ‘new age’ literature).

    I suspect it is more likely that there are other explanations than an ‘immaterial mind’ — which further research would most likely demonstrate.

  2. Forrest Cavalier
    September 1st, 2006 @ 9:59 am

    Life is an approximation. Our senses are limited by bandwidth, locale, and accuracy. Our actions do not always match our intent. It is good that we assimilate memories and experiences as patterns, so that we can generalize and predict even when new situations are not 100% accurate matches to the learned ones.

    In the same way, perhaps the perception of a “mind” is an approximation of a more complicated physical process. The mind perceives itself to be “there”, even though science looks and finds merely a complex system of electro-chemical reactions.

    If we admit that the mind can generalize concepts like “cold” or “red” or “mind,” mustn’t we also admit that the mind can also perceive an ideal of established life processes, relationships, and interactions that have conspired to result in our own birth and sustenance?

    Can we name that “God”? Would that approximation be any less real than the mind? Could we study it? Discuss it? Contemplate our relationship to it? Learn how to apply what we learned to help us live better?

    And if we denied it, wouldn’t we also be denying ourselves?

  3. Thorngod
    September 1st, 2006 @ 10:01 am

    Regardless of the degree of effort devoted to producing identical animals in identical environments, it is inconceivable that the stimuli impacting their visual, auditory, olfactory and tactile receptors would not differ to some extent, nor that both animals would injest identical numbers of every species of bacterium that would gnaw at their various internal organs and systems. The butterfly effect is not confined to meteorology.

  4. Down21
    September 1st, 2006 @ 10:08 am

    First of all he will not be able to establish the existence of an immaterial mind. I find it interesting that two genetically “identical” pigs raised in the same environment have different characters but it is a massive and unscietific leap of faith to suggest this implies an immaterial mind.

    Just to elaborate slightly on what thorngod has said above, the different stimuli impinging on the nervous systems of pigs will lead to different fine wiring of the physical brains of the 2 pigs. Furthermore different stimuli at different times can lead to the transcription of either different genes or transcription of genes at varying levels. It is way more likely that experience dependent plasticity in the 2 pigs is different producing pigs with slightly different tastes etc.

  5. a different tim
    September 1st, 2006 @ 11:47 am

    Cline is completely right. Even identical twins raised in the same environment and the same womb at the same time have distinct personalities. This is a known observed fact. Complex systems like developing brains are sensitive to small preturbations.

    How could LaBossier possibly “prove” his thesis? It’s an immaterial mind of the gaps. It’s utterly untestable. Any theologian will tell you that’s bad theology as well as bad science.

  6. Kreme
    September 1st, 2006 @ 12:12 pm

    Any theologian will tell you that’s bad theology as well as bad science.

    Well then what is good theology? Theology rests its entire case on trying to realize a big indescribable nothing from the many somethings used to deduce it.

  7. Trevor Blake
    September 1st, 2006 @ 2:57 pm

    “induction — the bedrock foundation of all science and materialistic determinism”

    Karl Popper’s excellent “Conjectures and Refutations” may convince you that the above claim is false.

  8. Kamikaze189
    September 1st, 2006 @ 3:47 pm

    I, for one, don’t believe in magical mind, souls, or gods.

    RA, shoot yourself in the head to demonstrate why. When your body collapses thoughtlessly (since you have destroyed the physical brain, where all thoughts emerge) against the keyboard in front of you, you would have understood had your magical seperate mind existed.

    To someone who believes in magical separate minds, how do you explain all sorts of psychological disorders involving chemical imbalances in the brain or damage to it that result in change in personality?

    If you want, you can just admit you’re participating in wishful thinking. Or better yet you can tell us how you banged your head and, as a result, have found Jesus because your rationality control center got squished.

  9. Choobus
    September 1st, 2006 @ 4:06 pm

    I’m confused. Was LaBossier assfucking one of those pigs or not?

  10. ocmpoma
    September 1st, 2006 @ 6:05 pm

    “What I find most interesting about the discussion is how it touches on a number of important theological issues without actually being about God.”

    Really? I think the most interesting thing for you, RA, is that LaBossier goes along with your hope for the immaterial and all that is currently riding on it.

  11. Axolotl
    September 1st, 2006 @ 6:14 pm

    Nice try, RA. However, no cigar. I don’t think it’s a significant leap to attribute the observed personality differences between pigs (or people) that start out with identical DNA to those pesky “minor environmental differences”. Human identical twins start out with identical DNA, but they do not have identical fingerprints (similar but not identical). And though pig clone/human twin brains may start out with the same “hard wiring”, it could be that environmental factors contribute to the additional connections that are made, starting in the womb.

  12. "Q" the Enchanter
    September 1st, 2006 @ 7:57 pm

    Identical twins also exhibit different patterns along dimensions like disease and mortality. Are we to induce from that fact the existence of immaterial immunity angels? Elan vital?

  13. qedpro
    September 2nd, 2006 @ 12:30 am

    I like pigs. Cats look down on you. Dogs look up to you. Pigs treat us as equals.
    -Winston Churchill

  14. Marcus
    September 2nd, 2006 @ 12:26 pm

    If we believe that what a mother eats or whether or not a baby in the womb hears soothing voices has an impact on their emotional development, then clearly we believe that genes are only a very incomplete part of story.

    I’d say there’s still a whole lot of randomness in biological development, and that any such randomness can have dramatic impacts on the future, when you’re talking about something so incredibly delicate as a personality.

    I’m surprised you thought he was going to attack induction though. Isn’t the problem with the idea of identical environments pretty obvious? The idea that identical genes will produce identical creatures? I’d have the same thought as Cline; there are innumerable problems with that idea.

    (Incidentally, as to whether we do have immaterial minds, I’d say that’s a matter of interpretation, more than the kind of thing you can prove. Also, Labossier’s answer really seems like the classic millenia-old fallacy: “I don’t have a scientific explanation for this at the moment, so I’m going to suggest that there can be no scientific explanation.” That’s what ties it to the God idea, I think, and why those such as Cline would rebel against it.)

  15. John Bragg
    September 3rd, 2006 @ 1:35 pm

    Two plastic cubes with numbers on each side were made at the same factory, with the same materials and same process.

    And yet, when dropped, they will often land with different numbers facing up. Clearly this is evidence of immaterial, free willed spirits living in the cubes.

  16. Kim
    September 4th, 2006 @ 4:55 pm

    Nice to see someone else has two brain cells to rub together – I enjoy your site.

  17. bernarda
    September 5th, 2006 @ 3:15 am

    This is another case of the lack of scientific knowledge of a theoritician/theologan. In this case he seems unfamiliar with Chaos Theory, roughly defined like this: “the irregular, unpredictable behavior of deterministic, non-linear dynamical systems.” It doesn’t only concern complex systems.

    As to the weather, Edward Lorenz, first described it in the 1960’s and it became known as the “butterfly theory”. But the origins go back to mathematician Poincar√© in the 19th century, “It may happen that small differences in the initial conditions produce very great ones in the final phenomena.”

    LaBossier seems to accept a linear theory of development. There is lots of online information about Chaos Theory.

    http://www.societyforchaostheory.org/tutorials/

    One on human development(I don’t necessarily accept all that they say here, but it gives of perception of different questions),

    http://www.geocities.com/iona_m/ChaosTheory/chaostheory1.html

    There are many such sites, some serious some not, about chaos and human/animal development.

    For basic information on Chaos Theory, try “Chaos: Making of a New Science” by James Gleich, and “The New Scientist Guide to Chaos”. There is also “Fractals: Images of Chaos” by Hans Lauwerier and “Does God Play Dice: The New Mathematics of Chaos” by Ian Stewart.

  18. Chris
    September 5th, 2006 @ 8:49 am

    Step one, ignore anyone who ever published an article in a “philosphy” magazine. Step Two ignore anyone who has ever submitted an article for publication in a “philosphy” magazine.

    Genetically identical means nothing more than you started with the exact same sequence of genes. Any nine year old could tell you that.

  19. Aaron Kinney
    September 5th, 2006 @ 5:50 pm

    RA’s stance in this post seems delibirately indeterminable. Yet recent previous posts by RA suggest that he may be in favor of an immaterial mind.

    But if an immaterial entity cannot be detected even in principle by a material one (like a scientific instrument), then how can a material entity (a biological organism) be effected in any way by an immaterial entity?

    And if an immaterial entity CAN be detected or measured by a material one, then it wasnt immaterial to begin with.

    “Immaterial” is another version of “God of the gaps”.

    “I cant detect what is causing this discrepancy, so it must be IMMATERIAL!”

    Yea. Lets invoke a whole new dimension of existence to explain the differences that we cannot account for in central nervous systems with billions of neurons and neural connections. That’ll solve the problem.

  20. ranma1/2
    September 6th, 2006 @ 11:03 pm

    I am just commenting that judging by how long this one has been up here and the number of comments , this must either be a booring subject, or people have lost interest in this section, or both.

  21. Thorngod
    September 7th, 2006 @ 7:58 am

    Isn’t it self-evident that one follows from the other?
    Actually, all sections seem to have suffered the same fate.
    RA must be either gnashing his teeth wondering what to do about it, or snickering in glee at our bewilderment and looking forward to his total retirement from the fray.

  22. Lucy Muff
    September 7th, 2006 @ 10:40 pm

    this site was being most of rude before, but now I see that filthy ones have left and it now is nicer by lot. Also, RA is makings better post with no more nasty sayings. Good for you RA

  23. Marcus
    September 7th, 2006 @ 11:25 pm

    As someone fairly new here, I don’t really know what’s going on, but it does strike me as pretty interesting. Not that I have any idea how an atheist blog can continue while refusing to discuss atheism. Nor that I get the point. Was there supposed to be irony in the idea that you can’t even say you’re an atheist without challenging someone’s theism? It seems to ignore the basic premise of atheism, that it’s simply a lack of belief, not some assertion of certainty in a negative. No?

    I would almost have to think that this is a illustration of the futility of intellectual pacifism, except that the RA seems so adamant that it’s not. So I guess that leave me in the dark, but still wondering what will happen next.

  24. Thorngod
    September 8th, 2006 @ 7:54 am

    M, some of us are wondering whether ANYTHING will happen next.

  25. Professor Chaos
    September 8th, 2006 @ 8:48 am

    zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  26. JUS
    September 8th, 2006 @ 10:27 am

    Lucy Muff said:
    this site was being most of rude before, but now I see that filthy ones have left and it now is nicer by lot. Also, RA is makings better post with no more nasty sayings. Good for you RA
    ———————————————————————————-
    Lie down so I can eat your “muff” — is that rude or nasty enough for you?

    Not all the rude ones have left – frankly they should stick around — they are about the only interesting aspect left at this webiste!

  27. Lucy Muff
    September 8th, 2006 @ 8:15 pm

    JUS, forget you! I see that not all potty mouth is gone. Probably you is retard so I is not going to argue with retard. probably you is gay homosexual as well.

  28. HomoCyclist
    September 9th, 2006 @ 3:41 pm

    Lucy Muff said:
    “JUS, forget you! I see that not all potty mouth is gone. Probably you is retard so I is not going to argue with retard. probably you is gay homosexual as well.”

    Fuck you Lucy Muff! You, pathetic and filthy piece of ass

  29. Godthorn
    September 10th, 2006 @ 1:31 am

    Well, Ms Muff, you asked for it; looks like you got what you asked for. I have no idea where you’re coming from, but haven’t you gotten the feeling yet that you keep stumbling into the wrong stall? The only thing that ever results from your appearance is a flurry of shit.

  30. Lucy Muff
    September 10th, 2006 @ 6:01 pm

    See how the homocyclist has the foul mouth! it prove that homosexuals is wrong and the foul atheists also prove that god is rightt and you better ask for forgiveness while you still can. Jesus is love, atheists is arrogunt and full of pride at they own ignorance. How dumb is that.

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