Michael Egnor: The Evidence against Materialism

An interesting if infuriating video. What is it with brain surgeons? I’m sure I’d trust this guy to operate on my brain, but leave my mind alone :slight_smile: From my alma mater no less! Different department :slight_smile: It touches on the question “what is scientific evidence” that I recall seeing lately. I doubt that using some poorly understood aspect of mental function as evidence of activity independent of the brain qualifies, but what do I know. By the way, in case anyone misses the point, they’re talking about scientific evidence that refutes materialism. I stopped watching when they got to “how materialism taints science”; I think I’ve got a handle on that already :slight_smile: I would be most interested in looking into the experiments of Dr. Penfield more.

I note he has been previously mentioned here:


Numbers 1 and 3 are addressed by neural network theory which, even though it’s been around since the 19th century, it appears Dr. Egnor has never heard of. It’s no accident that this is a fundamental aspect of AI research:

Number 2 is just silly. Cutting the corpus callosum is NOT the same thing as “cutting your brain in half”. It is simply bisecting a particular bundle of connecting fibres. That this has limited effect only demonstrates that the hemispheres of the brain largely function autonomously from one another.

Maybe I’ll watch more and comment later. I’m working, and also the Raptors’ victory parade is on today!


Evidence #4

Oh. My. God.

Remember: what Egnor is arguing that the mind is an immaterial entity that is not dependent on brain activity for its existence.

His fourth piece of evidence for this claim? That some patients who are in a vegetative state still show evidence of mental activity.

What is this evidence?

That functional MRI will show evidence of brain activity in these patients.

I am not making this up. Watch for yourself it you don’t believe me.

Egnor himself, in his own argument, is relying on the presumption that mental activity arises from brain activity. The very thing he is trying to argue against. An eliminative materialist could make the same argument he uses here.



Yeah I didn’t get that one at all. He did mention that they excluded the possibility of normal background activity, and it did seem there was some aural response function at work. He seemed particularly impressed that the response was only to meaningful sentences and not individual words, but I have no idea how that is supposed to support his case and “refute materialism”.

Hypothetically, I’d like to see a patient ask him, “So Doctor, you can guarantee that my mind will be unaffected by this brain surgery? No? Well, are there some aspects of my mind that you can guarantee will be unaffected? No? Well…”


I often ask people who insist their mind is immaterial to put their money where their mouths are, by scooping out their brain and pulverizing it in a food processor, then continuing our discussion with their mental faculties still intact, as they should be if they were correct. No one has ever taken me up on this.

Jeez, even I can deal with that one. The mind communicates with the body through the brain. Remove the brain, and the mind can’t work the body any more.


Wouldn’t that be cool, though? To be pure consciousness, unencumbered by physical limitations? Wouldn’t at least someone want to experience that?

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Can pure consciousnesses see, hear, etc.? Can they move around? Can they influence the world in any way? I would not be prepared for the experiment without clear evidence on those points. Not really ready to give up the flesh.


MIchael Egnor believes so, as do most of the people who believe in out of body experiences and things of that sort as evidence for the immateriality of the mind.

Apparently they must also believe in the immateriality of the eyes and ears.

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Or at least of vision and hearing. I don’t get that either, but it’s not my circus.


What do you make of Egnor’s claim (based on the work of Wilder Penfield) that neurosurgeons “have stimulated every imaginable region of the brain yet they have never stimulated abstract thought nor have they observed an intellectual seizure”? This strikes me as an interesting point.

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It seems to be an incorrect claim. A lot of people would call schizophrenia something like an intellectual seizure (though not technically a seizure), and it can be induced with medication in normal people.

I am curious @Faizal_Ali’s thoughts too.

It strikes me as not at all relevant.

That is an interesting example, and I think it may well be germane.

But the other point is that Egnor is simply wrong. Intellectual seizures do occur. Here, for example, is a woman with frontal lobe epilepsy whose seizures consisted of the thought "“I have something that I must do”

There are other such examples.

I think Egnor’s argument errs in failing to appreciate the neurological complexity involved in complex abstract thoughts. Similar to his other arguments, he seems to believe that there is a single point in the brain that, when stimulated, should cause someone to understand the Pythagorean theorem or make an argument in favour of a flat tax rate. By the same token, you don’t just stimulate a tiny point in the brain and cause someone to brush his teeth.


I don’t think you understand what material/immaterial means. Consciousness is immaterial by virtue of the fact it has no physical properties – no mass, no electric charge, no velocity, it can’t be seen, touched etc. That is simply the way things are. Materialism so defined is simply not correct.

I’m sure no one in the history of the Universe has ever claimed the brain has zero effects on consciousness. As usual, materialists attacking ludicrous straw men.

No idea why my comment doesn’t appear underneath this Faizel Ali’s comment.

Can disembodied consciousness see or hear etc? Why wouldn’t it be able to? I think people that ask this question appear to be presupposing the brain produces consciousness. If the brain doesn’t produce consciousness, then it doesn’t produce my visual perceptions etc either.

The issue is no whether consciousness is “material” in that sense. Rather, the issue is whether anything other than material brain processes are needed to account for its existence.

Who has claimed that anyone has?

Right. So…?

Can there be such a thing as disembodied consciousness?