October 18, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

The Mind and Brain: Evolved or Created?

Evolutionists take swipes at saying the most complex matter in the universe is a product of blind, aimless processes of nature.

Did sight emerge from blindness without wanting to? Did thinking emerge from irrational matter? These are the propositions evolutionists must accept in their attempts to build a human brain from nonliving solids and fluids, and ultimately from a nothingness that exploded. Let’s look at some evolutionary perspectives on the mind, then consider discoveries that point to creation.

Evolution

Neuroscience: The mechanics of mind (Nature). Daniel Bor reviews The Brain: The Story of You, a new book by Daniel Eagleman. When he calls it “a sophisticated study of how the meat in our skulls generates the self,” you know he is going to give a physicalist, reductionist view of the mind; but will he mind being called a meat-head? Exit philosopher and theologian; step aside for the neuroscientist.

In my bolder moments, I consider neuroscience to be one of the most fundamental scientific fields. The brain is, after all, the location of our experiences and identities, and our main tool for understanding every facet of the Universe. The Brain by neuroscientist David Eagleman ambitiously promotes this view. Built around a series of fundamental questions, such as “what is reality?”, it calls on a wide range of classic and recent findings, including innovative experiments by Eagleman himself, to demonstrate how brain science is optimally placed to answer those questions.

The self-refuting fallacy of denying consciousness seems lost on them as both author and reviewer celebrate the notion that selves and thoughts are fallible states of neuron networks. “Throughout, Eagleman provides multiple, varied explanations for what consciousness is and what it is for; he settles on neuroscientist Guilio Tononi’s integrated information theory,” Bor writes. “This equates high levels of consciousness with information that is widespread throughout a network capable of supporting many different information states.” Both ponder uploading brains into computers, forgetting that computers are built by intelligent design, and one must use consciousness to state logical propositions, trusting that immaterial laws of logic are invariant.

A tree of the human brain (Science). Both leading science journals have given self-refuting ideas good press in the same week. Here in Science, Sten Linnarsson leaps from Darwin’s “remarkable insight” about a universal tree of life to the perspective that “every individual is also a tree—a cell lineage tree.” Surely human bodies and brains branch out from a zygote, but if that is merely what human souls are, then Linnarsson presents another reductionist view of human nature. That obscures the fact that development carries out a computer-like program inscribed in digital code—DNA.

Our knack for remembering faces is a highly evolved skill (New Scientist). Clare Wilson leaps from a study that identical twins can recognize faces to genetic determinism. What if this skill appears independent of intelligence or memory? Does that mean it evolved? Could it not be a programmed skill by design? Since Darwinism is the only permitted game in town, she quotes one of the Master’s disciples for authority: “The idea is that telling friend from foe was so important to survival that there was very strong pressure to improve that trait,” he explains in just-so story fashion, failing to state what string of mutations occurred in what genes in the parents, who must not have been able to recognize their own children before the trait evolved.

Research that is simply beyond belief (Medical Xpress). Experiments at UCLA and the University of York have created a lot of buzz with the suggestion that participants can be influenced away from theism and nationalism by magnetic zaps to their brains. It’s doubtful this poorly-designed experiment with its unclear definitions and subjective responses is even true. Even worse, though, is that it begs the question whether the scientists could be cured of their ideology by similar zaps. If that were possible in principle, then no proposition is true, and magnets become tools of whoever is in power.

Update 10/19/15: The brain’s wiring is linked to good – and bad – behavioral traits (Medical Xpress).  This “research” could be dangerous.  Neuroscientists at Washington University believe they have identified patterns in the brains of 1,200 volunteers that show “positive” and “negative” social tendencies. That the positive/negative values are subjective from an evolutionary view did not seem to bother professors Barch and Essen, who think the findings might “help lead to the design of better interventions to help move the brain and behavior toward the positive end of the spectrum” (see previous entry above).  The article weakly acknowledges that “findings of this study do not establish a cause-and-effect relationship between strong brain network connections and positive behavioral traits or between weak connections and negative traits.” Who decides what is positive or desirable? Who runs the interventions? Would the interventions consist of reasoning about moral choices, or taking a pill?

Our brain’s secret to success (Science Daily): This evolutionary article claims that “our primate brain‘s outer mantle, or cortex, was able to expand as much as 1,000-fold through evolution.” The National Institutes of Health gave money to UCSF researchers who supposedly found out that successful people have brains whose parts continue to chatter when they’re not doing anything in particular. How this study distinguishes evolution from creation is not clear. Why don’t they infer that humans were given brains with a 1,000-fold larger cortex?

Brains work via their genes just as much as their neurons (Medical Xpress). Gene should know genes. Gene Robinson, author of this article from The Conversation, is the Director of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois. His article starts out with a design analogy. “We are beginning to appreciate how genes and neurons work together, like software and hardware, to make brain function possible,” he says, in what appears to be a non-reductionist view of the brain. “Learning to understand this two-layer system can help us understand how the environment affects behavior, and how to hack the system to improve mental health.” Genes and neurons, however, are physical entities. Does his article rise above physicalism? After describing the complexity of the brain, he shows how studies of honeybees, stickleback fish and mice reveal a link between genes and behavior. Robinson never mentions evolution. He repeats again the “software” metaphor that contains the kernel of intelligent design, since software is conceptual, using symbols to initiate functions. The designer, however, is just “Nature” and the users of the hardware and software appear to be pawns of their machinery:

The brain’s neurons and the genomes within them, the hardware and the software, together orchestrate one’s response to a new situation, which can vary from person to person. The same dramatic event – a challenge at school or work, a new person in one’s social circle – might cause a great deal of stress in one person, and very little in another. We now think that the neural systems of two such people are likely tuned differently by their genomic systems, perhaps as a consequence of differentially stressful past experiences. In the living brain, unlike a computer, the software can help modify the hardware, and as new situations are encountered, the functioning of the neural hardware continues to modify the genomic software. Nature has come up with a “smart” system in which hardware and software are adaptable and interact dynamically!

Brains do more than direct our behavior. They build our experiences into a coherent perception of the world. This world will be as unique for each of us as our personal history, with the potential to be sunny, or cloudy, or filled with shadows. If we can become proficient in the code our brains run on, perhaps we can learn to give these narratives a nudge in the right direction, and flood every person’s world with light.

Robinson’s diplomatically worded article does not divulge his view on human consciousness, but it vaguely implies the ability to make choices by free will. Nevertheless, we need to ask, who is the subject? Who can “become proficient in the code our brains run on”? Who does the nudging to fill a person’s world with light? Who nudges the nudgers? This non-commital entry leads us into articles that suggest design in the brain and its sensory inputs.

Creation

Larger brains do not lead to high IQs, new meta-analysis finds (Science Daily). It’s quality, not quantity. Findings at the University of Vienna undercut assumptions dating back almost two centuries. For example, Friedrich Tiedemann wrote in 1836, “There is undoubtedly a connection between the absolute size of the brain and the intellectual powers and functions of the mind.” That assumption should have been refuted by looking at any small Asian female math whiz with a PhD in physics shaming a big-headed football player in a contest of wits, as creationist Bob Enyart likes to point out.  Think, man! Men are not smarter because their heads are bigger. This should be obvious. The Viennese researchers, surveying 8,000 participants, showed that brain volume plays only a minor role in intelligence.

The importance of brain structure compared to brain volume becomes already evident when comparing different species. When considering absolute brain size, the sperm whale weighs in with the largest central nervous system. When controlling for body mass, the shrew is on the top of the list. Similar results emerge when considering other aspects of species anatomy: Homo sapiens never appears at the top at the list, as would be expected. Rather, differences in brain structure appear to be mainly responsible for between-species differences in cognitive performance.

They couldn’t rule out a small correlation, but they learned, “Rather, brain structure and integrity appear to be more important as a biological foundation of IQ.” But does IQ have a biological foundation? Is IQ even a meaningful concept? Those are controversial questions. There’s something to be said for the less-well-endowed brain owner who applies him- or herself to study hard over the natural genius. Character counts, too. What’s sad is to remember all the racial ranking that was based on the flawed assumption that brain volume is a function of human intelligence, and therefore value to society. That eugenic bias carried over into flawed measurement techniques that served to confirm the bias—not too intelligent for someone who calls himself a rational scientist.

Optical illusion override (Current Biology).  Michael Morgan explores the difference between perception (an active process) and saccades (an automatic process), and how the brain keeps track of reality.  He delves into the thinking of philosophers, such as Christian philosopher George Berkeley about whether perceptions are the memory traces of previous actions. Morgan argues that recent experiments by Lisi and Cavenaugh show that the brain does not send the same commands to the eyes that would be required to perceive an object. “On the face of it, the results show a remarkable dissociation between perception and eye movements,” he says, but he rejects simplistic explanations, saying that further elaboration is needed. In summary, “A new experiment shows that the perceived motion path of a textured object is affected both by the path of the object and by the motion of texture within it, but that eye movements attempting to intercept the object are unaffected by the texture movement.”

How the retina marches to the beat of its own drum (Science Daily). The eye uses an opsin protein to set its own clock independent of the biological clock. “Researchers at Johns Hopkins and the University of Washington report new research that sheds light on how the retina sets its own biological rhythm using a novel light-sensitive pigment, called neuropsin, found in nerve cells at the back of the eye.” The work finds a new function for neuropsin, one of seven opsins in mammals. “The retina is the only tissue known to ignore the master clock, but it does keep itself on a schedule, so we wanted to know how.” That was the observation that led to discovery: the expectation of function. Surprisingly, this pigment was found in the cornea, which is supposed to lack pigment. Understanding its function there will require further research.

Surprise: Your visual cortex is making decisions (Science Daily). “The part of the brain responsible for seeing is more powerful than previously believed,” reads this creation-friendly article. “In fact, the visual cortex can essentially make decisions just like the brain’s traditional ‘higher level’ areas, finds a new study led by a Michigan State University neuroscientist.” The study was “counterintuitive and surprising” that the visual center not only takes in data but can choose what to focus on; “it actively switches between different interpretations of the visual input without any help from traditional ‘higher level’ areas of the brain.”

From sounds to meaning (Medical Xpress): Do infants have the ability to associate verbal cues with meaning? Yes, this article says. This is known as “referential relationship”: the sound of the word “apple” because it is associated with the fruit. Without the ability to make associations, language would be impossible. Fortunately, babies are equipped for this. The article never mentions evolution, nor does it explain why lower animals do not have this ability.

Amazing FactsA sensitivity to speech sounds is already present in newborns. These types of sounds are, in fact, perceived as special starting from the first days of life, and they are processed differently from other types of auditory stimuli. What makes this type of stimulus so special for the newborn?” asks Marno. “There’s definitely a ‘social‘ saliency: Speech sounds signal interaction between conspecifics, which is important for the survival of the infant. But there is also another important aspect, i.e., referentiality: Words are symbols that carry meanings and convey messages. If infants didn’t know this, albeit implicitly, they wouldn’t be able to acquire language.”

“Try to imagine an infant who, on several occasions, sees his mother holding up a cup while uttering the word ‘cup,’” explains the researcher. “He could just think that this is something his mum would do whenever holding the cup, a strange habit of hers. But instead, in a short while, he will learn that the word refers to that object, as if he were ‘programmed’ to do so”.

Longitudinal spread of mechanical excitation through tectorial membrane traveling waves (PNAS). Researchers at MIT were curious to find out how the cochlea in the inner ear does such precise discrimination of frequencies. “The mammalian inner ear separates sounds by their frequency content, and this separation underlies important properties of human hearing, including our ability to understand speech in noisy environments,” they realize. Through experiments in which they altered the stiffness of the tectorial membrane (TM) that runs along the length of the cochlea, they determined that both stiffness and viscosity affect the fine-tuned discrimination of frequencies of sound. “We show that increasing viscosity or decreasing stiffness of the TM reduces the longitudinal spread of mechanical excitation, which would sharpen frequency selectivity,” they found. “These trends are opposite those trends for a resonant TM, where increasing viscous loss or decreasing stiffness would broaden tuning.”

A higher order visual neuron tuned to the spatial amplitude spectra of natural scenes (Nature Communications). This paper finds, as the title suggests, a “higher order” function in vision. Their subject was the humble hoverfly. “The mammalian visual cortex is also tuned to natural spatial statistics, but less is known about coding in higher order neurons in insects,” they said; that’s why they wanted to know if similar functions exist in these tiny flyers. “Our results thus reveal a close coupling between the inherent statistics of natural scenes and higher order visual processing in insects.

Spatial Cognition: Grid Cell Firing Depends on Self-Motion Cues (Current Biology). Poor rats; they got confused when moved around in a transparent cage. The authors of this article wanted to know how grid cells function. These are brain cells that help an animal map its surroundings. They learned that self-motion cues (awareness of actively moving oneself) are important for keeping track of space. You may sympathize with the rats if you’ve had someone drive you somewhere and lost all awareness of where you are. The scientists learned that “visual and vestibular information alone are insufficient to support grid firing.” Proper grid cell function requires “active movement,” the experiments showed, but that alone is not sufficient. Other experiments have shown that environmental cues also play a role, “implying that environmental cues, such as boundaries, may provide grid cells with an error correction mechanism.

Study reveals neuron-firing patterns that underlie time measurement (Medical Xpress). Understanding a working, well-designed function motivated this work. “Keeping track of time is critical for many tasks, such as playing the piano, swinging a tennis racket, or holding a conversation,” the article begins. “Neuroscientists at MIT and Columbia University have now figured out how neurons in one part of the brain measure time intervals and accurately reproduce them.” Neurons can ramp up in anticipation for what the animal or human expects to occur. The ability is distributed between multiple regions of the brain, they say.

The articles under the “Creation” list were not, as far as we know, written by creationists. They are, however, creation-friendly, pointing to design features in the brain and sense organs that defy evolutionary explanations. Furthermore, they did not mention evolution. They each show that evolutionary theory was useless or superfluous at stimulating basic research and scientific discovery.

The articles under the “Evolution” list, by contrast, demonstrate that evolutionary thinking only operates at the level of glittering generalities and just-so storytelling. Can anyone find a function for Darwin’s theory in any of this brain research? Note: shooting oneself in the foot is not a function.

 

Comments

  • John C says:

    Recently watched Eagleman present a program on the Brain on PBS. The idea that reality is only what we make of it (even the sense that it is occurring a half-second before we realize it), is strange to say the least. While admitting that our separate personalities and receptors have a bearing on the colors we see, etc. we are forced to admit that reality has to have a separate existence beyond our concept of it. A cliff edge is real, and to say we aren’t aware of it until 1/2 sec AFTER we step over it is to doom the race to oblivion (there are all kinds of sensory “cliffs”). Colors are the reflection of collected light from an object, which is independently measurable by spectrometer. This is only one instance of the failure of his concept.

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