Scientific Misinformation

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October 28th, 2010

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Stuart Hameroff, MD, is an anesthesiologist and professor at the University of Arizona. In one of many articles and videos about consciousness on the Huffington Post, Hameroff describes how anesthesia can help explain consciousness.

If the brain produces consciousness (all aspects of the term), then it seems to follow that turning off the brain will also turn off consciousness. This is exactly how anesthetics work.

While most anesthetics are nonselective “dirty” drugs, they all produce loss of consciousness, amnesia, and immobility by either opening inhibitory ion channels or closing excitatory ion channels in neurons. The commonly used intravenous drug propofol, for example, acts by activating GABA receptors, the ubiquitous inhibitory channels in CNS interneurons. Brain off = consciousness off.

Hameroff does not subscribe to this. He argues that consciousness is an intrinsic part of the universe and that anesthetics simply disconnect it from the brain. He also thinks that by saying “quantum” a lot, he can scientifically prove the existence of the soul.

What’s scary is that Hameroff has “MD” and “Professor” next to his name. Will Joe the Plumber see through the misinformation?

Don’t take the HuffPost too seriously:

Consciousness and Anesthesia with Stuart Hameroff

Can Science Explain the Soul?

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3 Comments on Scientific Misinformation

  • I actually think that this idea is not so outlandish. I believe Prof. Takeo Watanabe (at BU) entertains an idea similar to this one.

    If we can’t point to a certain brain structure and say “that is conciousness” than who is to say that “consciousness” is housed in the brain. Furthermore, who is to say that consciousness dies when the brain (and body) do. (These are Watanabe’s thoughts- not mine).

    Not that I buy into the rational… but I guess it is possible..

  • These ideas are so attractive to mystics because they are untestable. You can speculate all you want, but there is no way to test the dualist hypothesis. If there is a soul, it has to be some kind of *thing*? Where is it? Is it dark matter? Quarks? Microtubules?

    If there is no way to explain the mind without the soul, we should be looking for it. But if the soul is not required to explain the mind, then why invoke it? We’re not quiet ready to say how the mind emerges from neurons, but at least we have testable hypotheses when it comes to neurons. There are no testable hypotheses about the soul. Whether or not our inability to probe something means it doesn’t exist, I don’t know.

  • Okay, I just watched the video- and he does seem like a bit of a loon.

    And I do agree that if you are unable to prove something as false than it is a moot point from the beginning since you cannot prove it as true either.

    What I meant to say though, is that Dr. Hameroff is not the only one who holds this view. Many other academics (philosophers and scientists alike) seem to subscribe to the idea…. Though I do agree that sometimes science would be better off not trying to involve itself in matters of philosophy/theology (See Frank’s blog post on “Is-Ought contrast”)

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