Barrel Strength

Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Barrel Strength - Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Like trying to lift the gross national product with a set of tongs

News that the billion-dollar European effort to model the brain in a super-computer is on the verge of collapse comes as no surprize.

It will not fail because, as some neuroscientists claim, it is too narrowly conceived. You have more chance of getting a rocket into outer space by throwing rocks off the back of it. At least that method is consistent with Newtonian physics.

It will fail because consciousness is not neural activity. A hundred thousand neuroscientists claiming otherwise will not make it so. A neural network that “learns” how to count or how to remember will not have awareness.

Awareness is not generated out of material arrangements of matter. It may be received and housed by arrangements of matter we call brains and neurons, but neural activity per se  is not conscious and is not awareness.

I call it a category error, like trying to lift the gross national product with a set of tongs. Cannot in principle be done.

This view strongly contradicts Dawkins, Dennett, Sam Harris, John Searle and other professed atheists. It agrees with the views expressed by David Bentley Hart. To my mind, the atheists of that school cannot even explain awareness, let alone God. Yet I take comfort in a book written by a former practising neurological researcher and physician,  Raymond Tallis: “Aping Mankind”. I do so because Tallis expresses the same view as Hart, that consciousness is some other kind of stuff/energy/thing and it is not material – not the product of matter and its motions. So what? We all know this is plain mysticism, right?  Is Tallis not just another theist? Not so. Tallis is a convinced atheist, a member of Britain’s Humanist Association.

He calls “neuromania” and “darwinitis”, the besetting mental obsessions of our day, and he lays an axe to their foundations. His book has left even some of my unconscious assumptions gutted and hanging from branches.

Tallis’ website is here:

I shall read more of him, and suggest you give him a try too.

Anthony Pagden on the Enlightenment

I read Anthony Pagden’s book, “The Enlightenment, and why it still matters”. While finding nothing substantial with which to disagree, I found myself wondering what he was going on about.

The Enlightenment: And Why It Still Matters by Anthony Pagden

Thanks to a review by Edward Feser, who takes sharper issue with Pagden than I was able, I am now able to say what was the matter with Pagden’s book.

For Pagden shows, albeit inadvertently, how little the rhetoric of Enlightenment owed—and owes today—to intellectual substance, and how much to attitude, posturing, and sheer bluff. The Enlightenment matters insofar it is perceived to matter. To a very great extent, what was true in it wasn’t new and what was new wasn’t true.

If you dislike Feser’s attitude that nothing true has been written since Thomas Aquinas, a more modern criticism of Pagden’s book can be found in Stuart Kelly’s review in the Guardian from July of last year.

The upshot is that while Pagden provides a survey of the thought of the 18th century, which is a recommendation in itself, he does not tie it all together in a way that critics from left or right are pleased with. For my part, I made my way through it dutifully, but cannot pretend to have enjoyed it for insight, controversy, or a refreshing attitude:  like eating a plate of well-cooked broccoli, it was nutritious but unappetizing.


This is the lecture given by Bruce Greyson to a group of Buddhist monks in Daramsala, India. He says everything that needs saying about the failure of the materialist idea of the mind: that the mind and the brain are identical, and that consciousness is produced by the brain. The evidence presented in this lecture is purely scientific.

Thomas Nagel again

Thomas Nagel shocked the philosophical world in 2012 with a book called Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. I was reminded of him because of David Bentley Hart, subject of my last posting below.

Hart is a committed Christian and Nagel is an atheist. They are looking at the same mountain from different sides, one from the side of beginning to see what the mountain might really be, and the other from the side of a clear vision of what it is. For each, it is the mysterious mountain.

To Nagel, the question to be explained is whether the account given by Darwinists to man’s capacity for moral reasoning is true. If we have evolved, as everyone admits, then what is our capacity to grasp the difference between good and bad in any fundamental way? Oh yes we can tell the difference between pleasure and pain all right, but is pain really bad or have we just evolved to feel that way? The answer turns on what you mean by “really”.

Nagel got himself into trouble with some quarters by saying that we know that pleasure and pain are good or bad in themselves and we are so constituted that we know this difference really, not just because we have evolved to avoid one and seek the other. This is what is called a realist view: realist in the sense that we truly apprehend the world, and are not confused by demons who actually hold our brains in vats, while we experience this three-dimensional illusion of the world, à la Matrix movies.

Nagel concludes that the Darwinian picture must be incomplete.

The historical question is about our origins: What must the universe and the evolutionary process be like to have generated such beings? Both these questions seem to require some alternative to materialist naturalism and its Darwinian application to biology, but what are the possibilities? (at p.112)

To which David Bentley Hart would say to Nagel, “well done, you are starting to ask the right questions”. Hart takes a view that I share, namely that consciousness is primary and the material universe is secondary:

Once again: We cannot encounter the world without encountering  at the same time the being of the world, which is a mystery that can never be dispelled by any physical explanation of reality, inasmuch as it is a mystery logically prior to and in excess of the physical order. We cannot encounter the world, furthermore, except in the luminous medium of intentional and unified consciousness, which defies every reduction to purely physiological causes, but which also clearly corresponds to an essential intelligibility in  being itself”. (pp.297-298)

In brief:

  • physical explanations do not explain the mystery of being;
  • we cannot experience the world apart from consciousness, which cannot be reduced to material causes; and
  • the world is intelligible.

To which Hart would add, all religions, at all times, have asserted as much.

Below, on a related matter, Hart discusses his disappointments with the atheists: Dennet, Hitchens, and others. Hart’s style is high, wry and dry, and one could wish for a littel more oomph in the presentation, but he is bombing from a great height: the B-52 airstrike so high the newly dead never heard it.

Abortion and Race

Gleefully tossing a salad composed of the two most toxically loaded subjects ever, I came across this statistical analysis of pregnancies, abortions and births by race, based on national US figures :


In 2008, while 69% of white pregnancies resulted in a live birth, only 49% of black pregnancies led to live births. The abortion rate for white women was 12.4%, and the rate for black women was nearly three times higher, at 35.6%. Thus, despite a higher pregnancy rate than whites, black pregnancies are much less likely to result in a live birth, largely because of their dramatically higher abortion rate.

The article is found here.

I am having   very politically incorrect thoughts here, such as: is this the reason no one on the conservative side in the States, apart from genuine Christians, is much concerned by abortion anymore?

Political correctness and Islam are the same thing

All the instances of suppression of speech are the same story: the Left has gotten into the habit of suppressing speech and cannot stop at any point; since habits are habit-forming. Says Mark Steyn:

 If free speech is only for polite persons of mild temperament within government-policed parameters, it isn’t free at all. So screw that.

After recounting all the recent instances of people suppressed or punished for being out of line with the Cathedral, Steyn adds:

 A generation ago, progressive opinion at least felt obliged to pay lip service to the Voltaire shtick. These days, nobody’s asking you to defend yourself to the death: a mildly supportive retweet would do. But even that’s further than most of those in the academy, the arts, the media are prepared to go. As Erin Ching, a student at 60-grand-a-year Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, put it in her college newspaper the other day: ‘What really bothered me is the whole idea that at a liberal arts college we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion.’ Yeah, who needs that? There speaks the voice of a generation: celebrate diversity by enforcing conformity.

Once again, Steyn ties it all together in a way I can only envy.

As it happens, the biggest ‘safe space’ on the planet is the Muslim world. For a millennium, Islamic scholars have insisted, as firmly as a climate scientist or an American sophomore, that there’s nothing to debate. And what happened? As the United Nations Human Development Programme’s famous 2002 report blandly noted, more books are translated in Spain in a single year than have been translated into Arabic in the last 1,000 years. Free speech and a dynamic, innovative society are intimately connected: a culture that can’t bear a dissenting word on race or religion or gender fluidity or carbon offsets is a society that will cease to innovate, and then stagnate, and then decline, very fast.

It is the concern of every thinking person that the we are rapidly heading to the same dismal state of inquiry as we find in Islam. We arrive at it by the same process as political correctness enforces: the suppression of free “unbalanced” debate.

And just as it was with Islam, it is a lack of confidence that underlies the suppression of free inquiry. In both cases, the lack of confidence is justified.

Compare that insecurity to the robust confidence of Christians trained in the Greek classical tradition, who are ready to take on philosophical attacks from any direction. Why are they so confident? Because they believe that human reason grasps reality and that, while some things are mysteries, we do actually apprehend with our minds what is real.

That is why Christianity gave rise to universities, science, and the modern age, and that is why political correctness and Islam are so weak, while appearing so strong. Their weakness causes them to suppress, and what each suppresses is – for the moment – different. Soon, however, political correctness will be Islam, and Islam will be political correctness. What is essentially alike will recognize its underlying likeness in the other, and will assimilate. Borg will absorb Borg.

If these forces prevail, just put a black flag on top of Parliament, shut it down and refer all political issues to the jurists at human rights commissions whose judges, naturally, will be Islamized political apparatchiks. All inquiry and discussion will become subject to  jurisprudence, since everything important has been decided anyway. No one will question anything, and inquiry will rapidly atrophy. That, at least, is their hope.

Why do Islam and political correctness resemble one another? Because they know they are artificial constructs that cannot withstand the scrutiny of reason, and must rely on the enforcement of conformity in thought, word and deed to hide from themselves their emptiness.

Am I wrong?


Near Death

Mario Beauregard, a research scientist at the University of Montreal, writes an interesting article on near death experiences in Salon Magazine.

NDE= near death experience

OBE = out-of-body experience

Although the details differ, NDEs are characterized by a number of core features. Perhaps the most vivid is the OBE: the sense of having left one’s body and of watching events going on around one’s body or, occasionally, at some distant physical location. During OBEs, near-death experiencers (NDErs) are often astonished to discover that they have retained consciousness, perception, lucid thinking, memory, emotions, and their sense of personal identity. If anything, these processes are heightened: Thinking is vivid; hearing is sharp; and vision can extend to 360 degrees. NDErs claim that without physical bodies, they are able to penetrate through walls and doors and project themselves wherever they want. They frequently report the ability to read people’s thoughts.

The effects of NDEs on the experience are intense, overwhelming, and real. A number of studies conducted in United States, Western European countries, and Australia have shown that most NDErs are profoundly and positively transformed by the experience. One woman says, “I was completely altered after the accident. I was another person, according to those who lived near me. I was happy, laughing, appreciated little things, joked, smiled a lot, became friends with everyone … so completely different than I was before!”

Of course, nothing will persuade the materialist that all mental events  derive from the brain and no mental event happens outside the brain, and all mental events are brain events. It reminds me of Mussolini’s dictum: ” all within the state, nothing outside the sate, nothing against the state”

All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.
All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.

Hmmn…materialism as a form of brain fascism.

Materialism – the doctrine that everything in the universe is of one substance: matter and its motions, and nothing else – is the dominant world view of this century and the last. It has precisely zero chance of lasting another fifty years, except as a relic, like fascism or communism. It is so twentieth century.

Anyway, for  the interested, here are a few books worth your attention on the subject of mind, awareness, and consciousness,  and why consciousness is primary:

Out of our Heads, by Alva Noë (2010) The author is a philosopher.

The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size, by Tor Nørretranders (1999) The author is a science writer.

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, by Julian Jaynes 1976. The author was a classicist [Jaynes was almost certainly wrong in part but absolutely brilliant]

The Purpose-Guided Universe, by Bernard Haisch (2010) The author is a physicist

Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, by Stephen M, Barr
(2003) The author is a physicist.

The Master and His Emissary, The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, by Iain McGillchrist (2011) The author is a psychiatrist.

Biocentrism, by Robert Lanza (2009) Lanza is a medical doctor, whose book is a more popular rendition of the ideas and arguments found in Bernard Haisch and Stephen Barr.

Brain Wars, by Mario Beauregard (2012). Beauregard is a brain researcher at the UdeM. Also by him:
The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist’s case for the existence of the soul

Genetics has more influence on political orientation than environment

The modern doctrine is that sexual orientation is hard-wired, while political orientation is a matter of free will. Each is probably a mixture of both,  but the news here is that political orientation is influenced by genetics. Kevin Smith and John Hibbing conducted the study, based on the analysis of identical twins.

(Medical Xpress)—A research paper appearing in the academic journal Political Psychology re-affirms the genetic underpinnings of political beliefs, refuting critics who challenged previous research that linked politics with genetics. The new paper, “Genetic and Environmental Transmission of Political Orientations,” is the lead article in the December edition of the journal. It is based upon a 2009 survey of nearly 600 sets of in their 50s and 60s, sought through the Minnesota Twin Registry. “The data from the twin studies is strong enough now that if you don’t believe political attitudes and behaviors are genetically inherited, you can’t believe that breast cancer is genetically inherited and you can’t believe that addictions are genetically inherited,” said Kevin Smith, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln political scientist who co-authored the study.

The more recent paper backed up earlier research of theirs in 2005 that concluded:

The 2005 paper directly challenged conventional wisdom that children are taught their political attitudes by their parents, with their beliefs later being shaped by life events and experiences. “We find that political attitudes are influenced much more heavily by genetics than by parental socialization,” the researchers wrote in the 2005 paper.

Another treatment of this article is found at Huffington Post.

What did the researchers find? The identical twins’ political views were consistently more similar than were those of the fraternal twins, and further statistical analysis revealed that these differences were partially the result of genetic influences.

“I know people get bent out of shape about this,” Smith said in a written statement. “The environment is important, it’s just not everything. You can talk about biology and you can talk about the environment. Who we are is a combination of both.”

Their work is consistent with what Jonathan Haidt has been showing with his Moral Foundations Theory.

Moral Foundations Theory is a social psychological theory intended to explain the origins of and variation in human moral reasoning on the basis of innate, modular foundations. At present, the theory proposes six such foundations: harm, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, and purity; however, its authors envision the possibility of including additional foundations. The theory was first proposed by the psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Craig Joseph, building on the work of cultural anthropologist Richard Shweder, subsequently developed by a diverse group of collaborators, and popularized in Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind.

Although the initial development of moral foundations theory focused on cultural differences, subsequent work with the theory has largely focused on political ideology. Various scholars have offered moral foundations theory as an explanation of differences between political liberals and conservatives and have suggested that it can explain variation in opinion on politically charged issues such as gay marriage and abortion. In particular, Haidt has argued that liberals stress only three of the moral foundations (harm, fairness, and liberty) in their reasoning while conservatives stress all six more equally.


People who tend conservative are more cautious, more conscientious, more concerned with loyalty to the group, and hence more socially concerned, more concerned with seemliness, holiness, and quicker to disgust. Liberals tend to more concerned with procedural fairness, equality of outcomes, and freedom from oppressive social arrangements than are conservatives. It seems entirely reasonable that political orientations are the results, and not the sources, of profounder pre-political notions and sentiments: such as holiness, profaneness,fairness, disgust, oppression, sociability.

Studies like this confirm what everyone already knows. They are controversial only to a narrow segment of ideological liberals who insist that everything is environmental, and nothing genetic, except of course, homosexual orientation.

Harper and Putin; Putin and Holy Mother Russia

Our Prime Minister has been leading the charge against Putin’s land grab. In this Mr. Harper is to be commended for doing best what Harper does: calling out the world from moral torpor to assert the supremacy of right. So ten points to our Prime Minister. Yet his assertion that Putin is acting out of a Cold War mentality is, I believe, in error. The Crimean incident is produced from a deeper well of history than the Cold War, which was the temporary arrangement between victorious parliamentary capitalist powers and the victorious communist power to divide the world among them, 1945-1990, after the defeat of national-socialism. Matthew Fisher in the Post quotes Harper saying:

“We simply, as a world, cannot afford the risk of Europe going back to being a continent where people seize territory, where they make claims on other neighbouring countries, where the bigger military powers are prepared to invade their neighbours or carve off pieces,” Mr. Harper said.

However much I agree with the Prime Minister, and I do, this is not the whole story. Something much larger is going on My take on Putin is to listen to what the Russian leader says he is doing, rather than to what westerners say he is doing. In that regard Father Raymond de Souza provides a deeper insight into the Russian psyche than any understanding predicated in Russia as an old failed-communist state. It is to Russia as the only Orthodox Christian political power of consequence that we must refer.

“To understand the reason behind [the referendum result] it is enough to know the history of Crimea and what Russia and Crimea have always meant for each other,” Putin said. “Everything in Crimea speaks of our shared history and pride. This is the location of ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptized. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilization and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.” In 988, Vladimir was baptized in the Crimean coastal city of Khersones (Chersonesos) and the date marks the beginning of Russian Christianity. After his baptism in Crimea, Vladimir’s family was baptized in Kyiv. Russia thus finds its cultural and national roots in the baptism of Kievan Rus’. When Putin says it is Orthodoxy that unites Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, he is placing himself in a line that stretches back a millennium to events that took place not in Moscow, but in Kyiv and Crimea — hence the importance of Ukraine in Putin’s politics.

This struggle between Latin Christendom and Orthodox Christendom goes back a thousand years. I do not say that the struggle is religious in origin, though it may be. I mean only to say that the antipathy to the West in Russia is of long standing.The divisions between us are not of recent invention. The myths that animate Russian culture centre on the resistance of Orthodoxy to the pretensions of the Roman Church (i.e. the Papacy) to Christian supremacy, as much as they do the resistance to Islamic oppression from the Tatar Mongols and the Turks. This brings me to the demographic catastrophe besetting Russia. Every year Putin loses hundreds of thousands of Russians from failure to reproduce, from premature deaths, from abortions. The Russian birth rate is collapsing. Something must be done to make Russians want to breed; and belief is the main reason why people bring forth children into the world. If that need to believe is to be animated once again, the only reasonable candidate for the task is the Orthodox Church. It is both the tool at hand and is fully embedded in Russian national consciousness. What, you ask, is the relationship between fertility of civilizations and faith? Is that not a stretch?  Not if you read “How Civilizations Die: and Why Islam is Dying Too”, by David Goldman, who makes a persuasive case that it is religious faith that peoples the world, and that nothing else suffices. Goldman cites the United Nations population division statistics (at p.233) to show that Russia’s population decline from its 2010 level to what it will be in 2100, on constant fertility, will be 53.3% – more than half of the current population. Imagine a Canada where the prediction of Canadian population would go from 33 million now to 16 million 90 years from now. Goldman invites us to think about larger issues than our hedonic culture allows. As he writes:

“The problem of cultural survival, – the possibility that a people (or a majority of a people) might cling to a backward or even barbaric culture, because that culture offers them a bulwark against mortality, – does not occur to Enlightenment political philosophy”

Tsar Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin has a much much larger problem to address that western economic sanctions. He has to rekindle religious faith in a land from which it was excluded by force of arms, massacres, prison camps, and relentless materialist propaganda (à la Dawkins backed up by secret police) for eighty-five years. he has to get Russians breeding again, and that means to stop drinking, smoking and carrying on, and turn to producing babies in stable families. It is a huge turnaround. It can only begin with the restoration of faith in themselves, in their Church, and in their God. Putin intends just that. 450px-Russian_Total_Fertility_Rates