[Comp-neuro] Discussion - religion

Davi Geiger geiger at cs.nyu.edu
Mon Aug 25 15:14:10 CEST 2008

I see your main point about religion, and could not agree more, but I don’t understand what you say below:


“…I have said before, in my view, any theory of cognition that denies the relevance of neurons is by definition duelist. Once you accept duelism, then anything is fair game, including "
deeper evolutionary causality" which I assume is another way of saying "directed design."


It seems to me you are being dogmatic here. How can you say “in my view” when you are giving a definition of duelist? Are you saying, this is “YOUR” definition of duelist? And if it is, why does *this definition* imply “direct design” is plausible? I thought the problem of “direct design” is that it does not add anything to the understanding of things, i.e., by adding a layer of “I don’t know” (with a label of “G did it” ) to explain things  does not mean we learn anything about how things seems to work, it does not provide any new insights, does not simplify things, nor gives new predictions into the problem one is trying to understand. Again, by saying “I don’t know” as an explanation of things we don’t know, it does not really add anything, so it is better to say “we don’t know” not as an explanation but suggesting there is work to be done.  However, theoretical models of how an information systems process sense data, without mentioning neurons, is a well defined problem that has many researchers working on. Results may even help understand how neurons process sense data (of course, understanding neurons is not questioned here and the potential to learn how systems process information …) . But, if you don’t want to call this study cognition, than yes, it is your “view’ of what cognition is. I would however, remark that you seem to like the idea of Kolmogorov complexity, and this is exactly a result in a general sense about information,  without making any reference to neurons.  Study of perception via modeling without considering “neurons”  is also. I would also point out that you like to use Physics as a reference (which makes sense), and general relativity when was created made no direct references to atoms or particles (though of course after some point the “hunt” for gravitons or more modern string stuff became an active research topic).  The point again is, while I appreciate very much most of what you say …. I also see some dogmatism …


Finally, a general remark, in some sense in agreement with something else you said about intuitions: I think mathematics is different than science, so one should be careful with analogies to math. Math is a language, not a science, it does not attempt to model real phenomena, but rather to be a language to describe objects and relations that we believe are important to model the real world. So physics and all sciences, I believe, *must* at the end be written in math (including discrete stuff, algorithms, statistics, …). Of course, the people that create math are “people” like the ones that make science (and anything else) so of course the way we all work is quite similar ….  So a slight difference appears when mathematicians claim intuition to explain a proof, it is understood that one can PROVE that intuition to be right or wrong, one does not need to go in the real world to check, but rather, one must write down the full proof to test. There are other differences …



Best regards




Associate professor of computer science, NYU


From: comp-neuro-bounces at neuroinf.org [mailto:comp-neuro-bounces at neuroinf.org] On Behalf Of jim bower
Sent: Saturday, August 23, 2008 7:22 PM
To: Malcolm Dean; Comp neuro
Subject: [Comp-neuro] Discussion - religion


Sorry, I pushed send on my last posting by mistake:

This now is far afield, (and I appologize). And I would not have bothered to respond, except that there is a point to be made about the levels of description on accepts and what else one is potentially buying. 

I have said before, in my view, any theory of cognition that denies the relevance of neurons is by definition duelist. Once you accept duelism, then anything is fair game, including "
deeper evolutionary causality" which I assume is another way of saying "directed design"

"This thread is about incipient religious dogmatism in neuroscientific discourse"

No it is not, and I started this thread. The fact that humans have a tendency to be dogmatic, and the fact that religion by definition, and in its essence is dogmatic, are completely seperable facts. No scientific predisposition discussed here can be defended by reference to some higher cosmic authority. Any effort to defend any supposid scientific theory in this way, by definition excludes it from science. 

"Darwin himself was interested in other factors, and indicated that, with time, deeper evolutionary causality would be discovered."

So what? Darwin was trained as an Anglican priest. Another fundamental difference between science and religion, no figure in science no matter how important, speaks with absolute authority. Science has no saints, priests, or popes, and no gods either. To the extent that any of us behave that way, like dogma, is an unfortunate side consequence of the fact that humans do science. Fortunately, in the limit, scientific knowledge transcends individuals - one reason why it has been so succesful. 

Jim bower

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T


From: "Malcolm Dean" <malcolmdean at gmail.com>
Date: Sat, 23 Aug 2008 12:28:16 -0700
To: james bower<bower at uthscsa.edu>; CompNeuro List<comp-neuro at neuroinf.org>
Subject: Re: [Comp-neuro] Re: (3) A Matter of Religion

On Fri, Aug 22, 2008 at 4:31 PM, james bower <bower at uthscsa.edu> wrote:

Sorry, this requires a response.

I did hesitate before venturing into these waters. The phrase "requires a response" often indicates the entry of dogma.

Selection is the engine of evolution -- 

No, it is a theory of evolution. Even if it is the *right* theory, it is not the *only* scientific theory, and many evolutionary theorists who include Selection in their work place it in one relation or another to other factors. Darwin himself was interested in other factors, and indicated that, with time, deeper evolutionary causality would be discovered.

and, I have stated previously, biology specifically organizes across levels -- in my view, that is how it attains its efficiency and its performance.

Hierarchy (levels), efficiency and performance, key terms in thermodynamics and cognition, are factors in several major alternative or hybrid theories to Selectionism. Selectionists frequently ignore or subsume scientific alternatives while quietly suppressing publications which propose and explore them.

Finally, evolutionary theory has nothing to do with religion, although it is unfortunately often taught that way to our children.

To confound evolution with religion is to fail to understand either, but usually indicates another purpose altogether. 


Jim Bower

This thread is about incipient religious dogmatism in neuroscientific discourse. Evolutionary theory (of which Selectionism, again, is only a portion, and the most dogmatic portion) is always present, no matter how unrecognized, because religions are the cultural forms of evolutionary theory. The claim that they are separate is a particular view with its own ancient history, a view which is continuously disproved by cultural evolution, to this day. 

In the neuroscientific literature of recent years, several categories have evolved concerning the development and function of religious and cultural cognition. The original observation which began this thread noted how these phenomena are present, even in a forum such as this.

Malcolm Dean


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