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A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind (sciencebasedmedicine.org)
63 points by tokenadult 1422 days ago | hide | past | web | 25 comments | favorite

I think they are talking about cognitive neuroscience and not neuroscience in general. Many in the neuro community consider fMRI studies to be the equivalent of phrenology. But looking at the top journals in the field (neuron and nature neuro) you rarely find fMRI studies. The bulk of the work is basic science that attempts to figure out how the brain works. Basic neuroscience has its problems too [1] but it is not full of overstatements. Unfortunately, what gets in the news is mostly catchy subjects that relate to psychology.

1] http://www.nature.com/nrn/journal/v14/n5/abs/nrn3475.html

This book sounds like it resonates with one of my main fields of interest.

After getting my PhD in physics at Columbia and starting a company, then going back to get an MBA (also Columbia), I was fascinated at how effectively the exercises in leadership class worked. They pointed out how leadership was based in behavior and said "If you behave this way, people will respond that way. Doing so will make you a leader."

The exercises worked surprisingly well. I learned behavior that helped me lead my company better. People began deferring to me as a leader where they didn't before -- in regular life as well as business. My science background saw reproducibility and concluded there must be a useful theory beneath. My physics background wanted not just a theory, but a simple one too. But when I asked my teachers why it worked they just said "Don't ask. Just do it. It works." Business school is a vocational school, so that response made sense.

My scientific curiosity kept me going. I studied evolutionary psychology, positive psychology, cognitive behavioral therapy, and more. I also kept practicing what I learned in business and life as I continued running my business and starting others.

As an entrepreneur my goal was not to publish papers, despite my science background, but to make a useful theory -- useful to entrepreneurs and businesspeople like myself. Like I gather this book says, I found tons of low-level detail out there on neuroscience that, while fascinating, was so detailed and frontier it wasn't clear how to use it, nor how long before newer results changed our understanding of it, nor could anyone know enough of it to use it effectively. Not many neuroscientists make great leaders, nor do many psychologists or psychiatrists, despite knowing so much detail about the brain. Knowing about something is not the same as knowing how to use it.

Like the author of this book (quoting the review) "has a bone to pick with neuroscientists. They are discovering fascinating information, but their interpretations often go beyond what the data can really tell us. They often draw questionable conclusions from imaging studies that could have other explanations." I share his skepticism not of the scientific results, but of its utility to day-to-day life, especially in an entrepreneurial or leadership environment. My goal was to make the information useful to lead, to run a company, and in general to win friends and influence people.

Eventually I realized an effective model of the mind had to balance low-level detail with high-level breadth and ability to be communicated and understood. I think geeks like us tend to get caught up in fascinating detail, whereas when we interact with others, especially to start or run our companies or work in teams, we have to make the information useful in the moment.

My end result was two-fold: a model of the human emotional system and the core of a book putting it all together that also evolved into a seminar I give at business schools as well as the New York Academy of Sciences. On a personal level, I would say I've increased my emotional intelligence and self-awareness tremendously, two concepts I didn't understand and couldn't figure out how to increase before creating my model despite knowing their value to my life.

For anyone interested in how the mind works not to publish papers but to use it to lead, to start or run their company, to win friends and influence people, to live a better life, and to increase their self-awareness and emotional intelligence, I have a long series of blog posts that are an effective first draft of the core of that book on the model of our motivational and emotional system -- http://joshuaspodek.com/the-model-summary -- and how to use it -- http://joshuaspodek.com/method-step-by-step.

Sorry for the long post leading to a longer series of posts, but if you clicked this story, I suspect you have the same curiosity about making neuroscience useful in business and life and may find the material helpful.

EDIT: based on Luc's fair comment, I should note the material is not polished -- maybe alpha stage or earlier -- and some stuff on models in general very basic for this community. I've gotten positive feedback and no negative feedback (no doubt due in part to selection effects) from people who have made it all through. I'm in the process of making it into a single volume.

I hope you can find another approach to explaining your model than what you have up on the 'The Model: summary' page. Some months ago I read through two thirds of it and still felt I hadn't got any idea of where you were going with this. I felt it was all very hand-wavy.

Now, I do appreciate people putting in the effort to publish free content online, and one doesn't always want to be confronted with smart-asses who find nits to pick, but since you are writing a book I thought I'd mention it.

I felt it was all very hand-wavy

It's as if you expect him to actually understand and explain what his brain is doing ;)

I'd be interested in learning a model of the mind that would explain why you felt compelled to name-check your school twice in one post.

Hey, I realize you seem to have done a lot of awesome things in your life, and your book will probably go further in depth. However, after reading those two links as well as some other articles, doesn't it kind of all boil down to:

emotions matter in people's decisions, so be aware of the effect you have on others and on yourself ?

I remember reading http://www.amazon.com/Descartes-Error-Emotion-Reason-Human/d..., and it was all about that thesis.

We are so certain that people are biased in thinking they are certain of something.

Also, the other ones, the ones saying things we don't agree with, are saying that "just because [insert your favorite bias here]". We're the ones really cool and aware of mind traps.

When I was still taking social psych courses, one of my favorite events would be after every lesson when half the class would say something like, "I know about new cognitive biases! I am now immune."

My favorite event is recognizing a cognitive bias in me. "Wait, this is rosy retrospection! Damn you, brain!"

I love the smell of roses, but people say I always complain when I smell them...

The only way I can tell that I had a bad time in college is because, when I left, I said to myself "in a few years you're going to remember all the great times, but the majority wasn't that great".

Lo and behold, five years later, I only remember the good times.

Of course, I was the only one that actually knew better.

I love reading popular neuroscience books, but boy, they sure are filled with a lot of hooey... It's refreshing to hear about a book that tries to avoid this problem.

Not sure, there appears to be a reasonable amount of hooey here too, but then it's a subject that we're only really just gaining the tools to handle.

I quite like John Searle take on the philosophy of mind, his book "Mind: A Brief Introduction" is pretty well written, and I like the Chinese room thought experiment which I think kind of highlights what a lot of people find problematic about the mind-body problem.

I find Searle's argument hard to take seriously as it is fundamentally rooted in dualism. If a chinese room were to behave in a manner indistinguishable (based on input and output) from a person, it would be irrational (not to mention unscientific) to conclude that it still lacks a "mind" in some vague, unmeasurable and unfalsifiable sense. His entire argument essentially hinges upon denial of emergent behavior- that since no part of the chinese room is "conscious" the sum of these parts similarly cannot exhibit this property. This is also clearly nonsense- I could similarly state that when I take a computer apart and examine individual atoms I will find none individually capable of performing IEEE-754 floating point multiplication and thus conclude that any machine constructed of such atoms would be similarly incapable.

I actually think that Searle's Chinese room experiment neatly defines the divide between the mind from matter and dualism groups. The dualists believe that the Chinese room can not be squared with their notion of consciousness, the qualia, which is largely based on their subjective experience of consciousness. The Mind from Matter people essentially think that the subjective experience is an illusion, that there is no qualia. That's the fundamental divide, and the Chinese room experiment is useful in that it neatly divides those two groups.

I personally don't buy the "if it's indistinguishable from a person it's conscious" argument. Philosophical Zombies for example are a good example of system that I think could appear conscious, but I don't think are in any meaningful way. That is to say, if you had a large lookup table of every possible response, or just "guessed" reasonable responses by chance, I don't think that says anything meaningful about consciousness.

The above might be solved by putting somekind of information content limit on this system, for example if a system responds as a human, and it's construction requires as little or less information than a human then it can be said to be conscious, but basing your judgement purely on response is not enough in my view.

In general I find philosophers rather annoying when they try and deal with consciousness, Searle is at least easier to pin down and does attempt to interact with the AI community to some degree.

Philosophical Zombies are not falsifiable, as they are necessarily completely indistinguishable from conscious beings in any way we could test or measure. Falsifiability is one of the pillars of modern scientific thought and crucial to drawing useful conclusions about the world.

If there is no amount of interrogation that could possibly convince you that another being (in silico or otherwise) possessed consciousness, your logic can be followed through to solipsism.

"Philosophical Zombies are not falsifiable, as they are necessarily completely indistinguishable from conscious beings in any way we could test or measure."

You might impose an additional criteria such as complexity limits as I suggested, which could lead you to a definition of concuousness as a near minimal encoding of "human like" responses. And would of course be falsifiable.

But you can take it in the other direction for example someone who is completely paralysed, they might be conscious but we'd have no way of knowing. That could bring into play the idea that the ability to interact with the rest of the universe is an integral part of concuousness.

The problem is that to most people consciousness is defined by its purely subjective experience. Mind from matter people would possibly say that subjective experience is an illusion. Searle's thought experiments highlight that fact, which is what makes them useful, because they make the division between the two camps clear.

To be honest, I never understood his argument at all. If consciousness is a sort of information sheaf attached to spacetime that "measures" (in some yet-to-be-determined mathematically precise way) certains canonical kinds of information flow (e.g., recursion, self-reference, entwined causality) over all possible sets in the topology, then the Chinese room would be isomorphic to the mind. One also has to consider its interactions with the external environment. What if everything else in the universe was "Chinese-roomized" so that time and space scale appropriately? That's the same consciousness sheaf on the same space doing the same computations, and there is little reason to believe the algorithm would feel any different from the inside.

> Chinese room thought experiment


A submission just made to HN,


a link to a review of Daniel Dennett's newest book, is very much on-point for this thread. I see I have two interesting books to look forward to reading, the one reviewed in the review opening this thread, and the one reviewed in the review opening that thread.

If you enjoy reading about applications of Neuroscience, the following is also good.


"…our brains possess involuntary mechanisms that make unbiased thought impossible yet create the illusion that we are rational creatures capable of fully understanding the mind created by these same mechanisms."

Any theory that posits we are not rational creatures is self refuting. If I can't trust my mind to reliably deliver rational conclusions, why should I trust it to have delivered a rational conclusion about the very theory I'm proposing?

Many biases can be adjusted for. It is hard, though.

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