Tag Archives: mind

The McGurk effect and what it tells us about our noetic faculties

Here is an excellent example of the McGurk effect:

My interpretation of this effect is based on the physics of both sound and light waves. Based on Shannon’s theorum, light carries more information than sound so it makes sense that our minds would, when presented with conflicting information. So it is understandable why many people operate on the principle of “seeing is believing”. However the McGurk effect should serve as a warning to us that when faced with problems of interpreting information, what we are seeing may be masking the truth of what we are perceiving.

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Man is made for community

Ayn Rand is famous for arguing for a political stance wherein men were seen as sovereign beings. While this view has merits, one of its pitfalls comes when discussing man’s relationship to other men. It seems that any appeal to community is lampooned by her and her followers as “collectivist”. Rand centered her philosophy in the rationality of the mind. However, I believe that it is precisely the mind where we find the strongest reason we have to believe that man is made for community.

When I pressed one of Rand’s followers what reason we have for believing the mind to be an accurate source of true beliefs, I was told:

The reason I trust my mind is due to a long road of trail and error. Started as a baby with simple concept formation.

The process of trial and error is only valid once you have information and a mechanism for evaluating truth from falsehoods. Babies rely on external agents to provide them with information AND the ability to sort out truths from falsehoods.

For example, I jokingly told my kids that landsharks would get them if they didn’t stay in bed a while back. My daughter firmly denied their existence based on prior argumentation of there being no such thing as monsters. My son, however, has been convinced they exist. Both of them have also subsequently been exposed to “evidence” for landsharks in the form of a shark ride at a local park and a youtube clip from SNL (its pretty funny too). Now, how are they supposed to find out, without me or some other external agent telling them, that landsharks are, in fact, not real?

I would agree that a man’s mind is essential to his survival. But the mind alone does not produce information. Like logic, all the mind can do is process what is already in it.

If you maintain that the mind is merely a physical chunk of meat I would wager that your burden of explaining how true beliefs are formed even more difficult since, under such a view, the mind would merely be a slave to the stimuli in the environment around it. This would also further call into question the mind’s design (or lack thereof) of producing true beliefs for it’s owner.

In opposition to this, I would maintain that true beliefs require the intervention of intelligent agents external to ourselves. This condition indicates that man is not complete in and of himself but rather is dependent on others, on the community.

No man is complete in himself, and children are a prime example of this fact.

Implications of a pattern matching mind

I recently wrote a post on the pattern matching ability of the human mind, here I want to explore the implications of that pattern-matching ability a bit more.

My contention with the mind being a pattern matching machine is that in order to match for patterns, we must first be aware of a pattern to match for in the first place. So it is incumbent on every worldview, theist and atheist alike, to come up with a reasonable explanation for why this is.

According to Darwinism, natural selection operates according to random mutations. Now I realize that modern naturalistic apologists like to object and say that its not random but rather directed by forces of some kind or another. But that only pushes the problem back one step (where did these forces come from and why do they bear the marks of intelligence?) and it still fails to demonstrate why men in particular have an innate desire to match for metaphysical realities like the existence of moral patterns.

My observation above is made against the backdrop of the argument for God based on consciousness (more info here and here).

I’m not sure if you ever answered my question about the mind earlier, but the question about whether we are merely a collection of molecules in motion, animated for a brief time and then transferred to some other part of the universe, has a significant bearing on how we live our lives, how we view the world, and how we interact with others.

So we have at least two good reasons to believe in the existence of an intelligent designer, who at this point we haven’t said much about. As for who that intelligent agent is, we would need something more than the general characteristics we are able to discover from their handiwork (an agent’s creation can’t, by definition, be on par with itself). We would need special revelation if we were to know who that designer is. That means that

  1. the agent would have to want to be known and
  2. that the agent desires some sort of relationship with us since communication implies a relationship of some sort

Now as for sources of revelation, not all are created equally or with the same intents and purposes in mind. Like the transmission of objective truth claims regarding reality. In Hinduism, what we observe around is us known as Maya, or merely an illusion. How we would know that to be the case is unclear. Actually, because of such a view of reality Hindus are wholly unconcerned with whether the propositional statements made by their texts actually conform with reality (ie are true) or not. After all, if its all an illusion, why bother with the particulars of such an illusion.

Likewise, the central thrust of Buddhism is towards nothingness. Its a lot like atheism in that regard. And since nothing is the universal aim of life, it makes little sense to consider the particulars.

Contrasted to all of this is monotheistic belief in a personal God where in an intelligent agent designed the universe and us, has endowed us with epistemic resources that are well suited for the environment in which we find ourselves, and who encourages us to know

  1. Him
  2. Ourselves
  3. The environment

Its out of this worldview that science emerged, and its out of this worldview we’ve made much progress by way of understanding our surroundings.

Where we begin our epistemic journey of discovery of the world around us matters. It matters whether we will even begin the journey in the first place. And it matters whether we can trust the data our epistemic resources like our mind and senses, provide us.

So, the questions for us to consider are:

  1. What is the mind?
  2. How did it come about?
  3. How do we know we can trust it?

Pattern matching and the human mind

The human mind is a pattern-matching machine. I have a habit of pattern matching license plates as I drive. Since I work in the field of IT, I’ve developed quite a list of acronyms that I recognize and can match for. My license place, for example, contains the letters AJX, which I expand to AJAX.

This behavior, I believe, gives us great insight into how the mind works. First of all, the mind is wired to try and make sense out of the environment in which it finds itself. It is almost as if we expect the world around us to make sense.

Second, our pattern matching abilities are commensurate with the patterns we know about beforehand. One of the strongest patterns all humans excel at recognizing is that of the human face. We are so good at matching it that we often come up with false-positive matches where we see “faces” where none really exist.

Third, our pattern matching is surprisingly fluid. Our minds, often unconsciously, will go to great lengths to match a pattern even if the data we are given isn’t an exact match for an existing pattern. That is what happens when I expand my co-worker’s license plate to read ‘bible’ even though the actual letters are BLE.

Now one could believe, I suppose, that this powerful pattern matching ability just magically arose through the combination of random mutation and the liberal application of time (though not infinite time). However I would argue that our cognitive systems, our mental faculties, themselves bear the markings of design. And because of that I believe that the human mind is among the most powerful evidence that exists for an intelligent designer being at the heart of the world we find ourselves in.

In fact, we might call this entity the intelligence designer.

Sanctified idiots: The specter of Christian education

To clear up any confusion on this post I felt the following disclaimer is necessary:

The major opponent or thrust of my argument is not homeschooling per se since it is wholly possible to attend public or private schools while maintaining an isolationist mentality. Isolationism is the major issue here, not the format of education.

The Mat 10:16 quote comes in because Jesus makes the point that he is not advocating that we disassociate ourselves from people in the world, which I believe is not only a problem but contributes to a stunted intellectual life by avoiding exposure to divergent ideas and arguments.

I recently ran across an article on the educational views of Morris Chapman, the current executive director of the Southern Baptist Convention. At the center is the call by Chapman for churches to establish “Christian schools” in order to avoid the “secular reasoning, situational ethics and moral erosion” found in public schools.

While I am no fan of the particular moral dogma taught in secular institutions I think it is worth pausing and examining Christianity’s commitment to education and how the historical commitment looks nothing like the contemporary “exodus mandate” taken by many well intentioned parents.

Christianity’s Historical Commitment to Education

Many people may be surprised to learn that Christianity was the driving force behind universities like Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Oxford, etc. These institutions were, at one time, bastions of learning of both the “secular” variety as well as the Christian theological variety. The reason they were founded by Christians is because of the nature of the Christian religion, specifically it’s grounding in truth and it’s call to “test the spirits” and examine the world around them. Many scientists, the founders and formers in fact, were committed Christians who firmly believed that if this world was created by a God of order in accordance with logic that has been, in part, imparted to us, then we can, though careful study and analysis, understand how it works.

The Shift

What happened, then to drive us off of the intellectual high ground we enjoyed for well over 1,500 years? Was it a coup of the evil secularists and atheists? Hardly. The real enemy and reason for Christianity’s ousting from the halls of academia came from within rather than from without.

In short, we gave up and stuck our holy heads in the sand.

I won’t speculate on the particular event or chain of events that ultimately toppled the intellectual superiority, but I will point out that as secular challenges grew, Christians retreated. Rather than stand our ground, a ground well established upon the truth we claim to believe to be a person in the form of Jesus Christ, we ran away. First we created competing schools to replace the ones we lost to the rising tide of secularism. Then we created smaller schools to replace those schools once they failed.

Now, it seems, we are encouraging parents to retreat into specially designated schools and, in many cases, their own homes.

What are we retreating from?

It may almost sound absurd to ask such a simple question, especially since many Christians have been taught by their pastors for years to “hate the world”, but I believe it would do us good to stop and re-examine what we are afraid of and what we are running from. In short, we need to re-examine what “the world” is and how we are to relate to it.

J.P. Moreland, in his series on “The Kingdom Triangle“, makes the excellent point that “the world” is not always a negative thing, but that it depends on how you define “world” since it is used in various senses in the Bible to refer to vastly different sets of people and paradigms. Put simply, the difference is that in one sense “the world” refers to the whole of human kind and is either positive or neutral when used in Scripture whereas in the other sense, “the world” refers to a system dominated by Satan and evil.

Since we are told we are to be “in but not of” the world, we can surmise “world” and “secular” aren’t necessarily evil. It may shock some people to hear that because it is vastly different than the “us vs. them” mentality1 taught in most churches, but the notion that anything that isn’t explicitly “Christian” is to be avoided is just plain silly. As Paul out it in 1 Cor 5:10, we shouldn’t avoid the world or expect the people in the world to behave as if they knew Jesus. Even the Amish, who make a conscious effort to avoid anything “worldly” can’t avoid the culture they live in.

What does this mean for our children?

Are we supposed to throw them to “the wolves” of secular education and pretend they are willing missionaries being sent out to reclaim their schools?

Certainly not.

Rather we should understand that no matter where we decide to educate our children, we are in the midst of a battlefield and the only way to protect and prepare our children for the world (good or bad) is to teach them to be as wise as serpents at the same time we are obeying Deut 6:4-9 in teaching them to be as innocent as doves2.

Anything less than a complete training in both the ways of the world as well as the ways of God is to retard the education of a child and thus handicap him in some way.

Does this mean that home schooling, private schooling, magnate schooling, etc. are forbidden options for a Christian?

Certainly not.

Each parent must decide the proper course for their children. Each situation, school, circumstance, etc. is different. There is no “magic bullet” that will solve all of our problems or make our lives easier. By the same token, however, there is also no grounds for us to claim that homeschooling is the holy grail of education and that those who refuse to drink of the cup are somehow less holy.

The heart of the matter

The central issue here is our attitude towards education and “the world”. As Ed Stetzer recently quipped: How can we circle the wagons in an attempt to avoid the world and then expect to be on a mission to the world?

We, as Christians, need to come to terms with “the world” and 1. stop the misguided notion that anything that isn’t labeled “Christian” is inherently evil and 2. stop retreating from the public square while at the same time whining about how “the secularists” are taking over.

Put up or shut up.

Either join the fight to make a difference in the world by becoming an active participant in the world (which means not making a “Christian copy” of everything), especially in education, or stop whining about the rising tide of immorality in culture.

I think that many Christians have conveniently forgotten who the keys to kingdom of heaven3 and what Jesus said about the gates of hell and their resistance to an advancing kingdom.

It’s high time we stop retreating, turn around, pick up our crosses, and start singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” again.

  1. Not to say that there isn’t a difference between believers and nonbelievers, but that the mentality here is to tend to think of believers as superior to nonbelievers as if the nonbeliever is incapable of doing any good. []
  2. Mat 10:16 []
  3. The Lord of which who is the only one that can effect real, lasting, moral change in sinful people, not laws from a secular government []