Thursday, June 4, 2009

Scientific Theories of Psychic Phenomena Part 3

Part 1
Part 3, continued from Scientific Theories of Psychic Phenomena Part 2

The Filter model of the brain

I haven't discussed the filter model of the brain before on this blog. Briefly, the filter model of the brain says that the brain does not produce consciousness it filters it. Consciousness exists separately from the physical brain and the brain restricts the faculties of consciousness that we have when in the physical body. This is discussed in more detail on my web site on the page on skeptical fallacies where the fallacy Consciousness Is Produced by the Brain is discussed.

Someone might question whether the filter model of the brain can be falsified. Any change in mental function can be explained by it. If mental faculites are increased, as sometimes occurs when a head injury leads to increased psychic perceptiveness, it can be ascribed to reduced filtering by a damaged filter. If mental faculties are decreased, as may occur after a stroke, it is ascribed to less transmission through a damaged filter. This seems to be exactly the situation Karl Popper was concerned about when he developed his falsifiability criteria.

However the filter model makes several predictions which if found to be false would disprove the filter model:

  • Consciousness can exist independently of the brain.
  • When consciousness is separated from the brain, it's faculties should be increased.
  • The brain does not produce consciousness.
The possibility of testing the filter model with these tests demonstrates that the filter model is a scientific theory.

A common, but baseless, objection to the first test might be that one can't prove a negative, one can't prove consciousness doesn't exist independently from the brain. The idea that you can't prove a negative is a fallacy which I discuss on my web site You can't prove a negative. This is baseless because it is sufficient to either prove consciousness can exist independently of the brain.

In fact, the first test has already been passed. Part 1 of this post has discussed this. Further evidence is given on my web site in the chapter on Evidence for the Afterlife which describes the evidence demonstrating that consciousness survives the death of the physical body. Thus the filter model is not just scientifc, it is confirmed by empirical evidence.

The second test has also been passed. The evidence that conscious faculties are increased when the mind is separated from the brain comes from reports of Near Death Experiences (NDEs). People who experience NDE's are able to perceive more than they do when in the body. They report seeing in 360 degrees and seeing colors that they do not see when in the body. Blind people report seeing during NDE's. Some near death experiencers report being able to communicate telepathically with other beings. Some report understanding that time is just an illusion or that they seem to have access to all the knowledge in the universe.

The third test, proving the brain does produce consciousness will also falsify the filter model of the brain. The fact that it may be currently impossible due to technological limitations to make this proof, does not alter the fact that if it was proved, it would falsify the filter model. The possibility of this test is sufficient to demonstrate the filter model is falsifiable and is therefore scientific.

An electronics engineer can examine a radio reciever and determine that it does not generate the signal it recieves and converts to sound. A scientist should be able to examine the brain and determine how it works in the same way. The research that is currently being conducted by neuroscientists to prove the brain produces consciousness may eventually reach a blank wall like an engineer tracing the signal all the way back to the antenna of a radio and then not being able to go any further and concluding that the radio is a reciever.

The electronics engineer doesn't have to know anyting about radio waves nor should the scientist have to know anything about non-physical consciousness. The engineer only needs an amplifier and and oscilloscope and he can trace the signal. Similarly the scientist only needs to understand the physical mechanism of the brain.

The same electronics engineer can analyze a computer and show that all the behavior of the circuts are determined by the physical elements of the computer. If the brain produces consciousness, the scientist should be able to do the same thing for the brain. If you properly understand the brain you will know how, for example, an impulse to move your arm originates. If you can't explain how that impulse originates by the mechanism of the brain then you have to look for something outside the brain to explain it.

If someone says a computer is a receiver for radio waves you can falsify it by demonstrating the behavior of the computer is explained by the properties of the physical elements comprising it. If someone says a brain is a filter for consciousness you can falsify it by demonstrating the behavior of the brain is explained by the properties of the biological elements comprising it. Neuroscience will eventually resolve this question.

How might the filter model be proven? Perhaps some exremely improbable quantum phenomena will be found to occur in the brain on a regular basis. If nothing known to science can explain it, scientists will have to look for some new phenomena which may lead to the "discovery" of consciousness.

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