Re: [asa] scientific fact vs. ideology?

From: Jim Armstrong <>
Date: Wed Mar 18 2009 - 14:06:36 EDT
Jack -
Of all folks on this listserve, you would be the appropriate one to correct this information where needed. These data were collected from a variety of sources over time as I pondered these issues, and I did not retain the sources [wimp out]. But, I will take a look to see if I can recover them.

But in the meantime, just to restate my understanding of these thresholds. Up to 40 days, there is nothing detectable via EEG that resembles brain-like activity. It is not until 25 weeks that the EEG traces are distinguishable as specifically human (apparently reflecting continued development and refinement of brain activity during this period). And finally, the brain/nervous system continues to develop to essentially complete status by month 7 or 8.

With respect to brain death, that may be a sloppy comparison. I was simply noting that at brain death, detectable brain activity ceases. On the other hand, in early fetal development there is a detectable onset of detectable and identifiable (though evidently primitive) brain activity. The only point was to suggest that the onset of brain activity might in some thinking signal the onset as well of something like personness.

Thank you for checking in on this. I would certainly like to correct or rephrase as necessary.

JimA [Friend of ASA]

Jack wrote:
I challenge your last two statements about the EEG as being factually incorrect and contradictory.  Please provide references and I will try to get the scientific literature for you, (I cant find my EEG atlas.)  But the EEG correlate of brain death is nothing (electrocerebral silence) so if at 25 weeks you get the counterpart of brain death (whatever that means), it seems to be implying that up until that time there is no EEG activity which contradicts the 40 days statement.

Mar 17, 2009 11:35:14 PM, wrote:
Without trying to take any particular position (this time), here are some developmental markers and various views on this subject that might be of interest.

A "person" begins at...
  • Conception: most commonly held popular view; conservative Christian view.
  • Uterine Implantation: Normal reproductive milestone; in its absence no baby results.
  • 14 days after fertilization: each embryo can produce only one individual - resolves the twin issue - threshold for biomedical community in UK
  • 18 days: (first EKG indication of anything related to heart activity); first semblance of blood; actual blood cells about week 20-21 (relevant to the OT blood-centered concept of concept of life)
  • 28 days, neural tube is forming, the ultimate home of the spinal cord and brain
  • 40 days: (first EEG sign of anything related to brain activity – brain/nervous system not complete until month 7 or 8)
  • 25 weeks – human specific electroencephalogram acquired (counterpart of commonly accepted definition of brain-death)

Some Biblical perspectives
  • Before conception - shared by Eastern perspectives -  Jer1:4 ("...before I formed you in the womb I knew you, ...")
After conception -
  •     Torah states that if in the course of an altercation with a third party, a person causes a woman so that she has a miscarriage, but she lives, then the man who injured her shall be fined whatever amount the woman's husband shall demand, and as the judges approve. But if any harm comes to the woman and she dies, he shall be executed. Ex 21:22-23  TLB [fined vs executed?]
  •      Torah (Genesis 2:7) states that life begins at first breath, but babies are not valued in census until they are a month old (Numbers 3:40; Leviticus 27:6).
    Finally, some Jewish perspectives found (not universal, I'm sure)
  • While abortion of fetuses is a grave offense, it is difficult to justify prohibiting the use of life-saving tissue from aborted fetuses for fear of encouraging or condoning abortion. Otherwise there may ensue avoidable death of additional human beings.
  • No moral status to an embryo before forty days of gestation. Furthermore, uterine implantation of an embryo… is required to create moral status.
  • In light of Judaism’s moral and religious mandate to save human life and alleviate human suffering, supporting the proposed [embryonic stem cell research enabling] legislation can be considered not only praiseworthy, but even a Jewish moral and religious duty.”
And finally a  question from me, how should we regard a fetus derived from a terminated ectopic pregnancy? What is the best future for its potentialities?

  JimA [Friend of ASA]

George Murphy wrote:
Sure, if you assume that whatever is necessary for the fullness of human nature is formed at conception then rational capacities are formed, & by virtue of our assumption of the necessity of the brain for rational thought, the brain begins to form then.  A perfect example of circular reasoning.
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 9:19 AM
Subject: Re: [asa] scientific fact vs. ideology?

Heya George,

Alright - then when does the brain 'begin to form'? Because by my sights, that marker happens to be conception. That's precisely where it 'begins to form' as nature (whether conceived the old fashioned way, or by similar-enough scientific meddling) takes its course. Later on it's simply further along the process of formation.

I have to wonder.. if it's not 'a person' - presumably not a child either, since children are persons - what is it? Would someone be justified in calling it a parasite? Nothing more than a blob of cells? A growth, malignant or benign, depending on one's subjective view?

And heya Preston,

Again, 'supernatural' or 'immaterial' does not go away just because there's a dependence on the physical. Aquinas and many others, in past and present, did not believe this. Likely even Descartes didn't believe this. Lewis was not reacting to the idea that human thought and mind may have some (very important) basis in the physical. It was the idea that minds are nothing but the material (particularly, I think, the classical material/'mechanist' view of material), unguided and unintended in any ultimate sense, that he reacted most strongly against. As for computers, the basic concept isn't all that different from Leibniz's mill - and, as impressive as computers are even nowadays, making them the 'basis for reason' in an exclusive sense is fraught with problems. And very often the examples sound compelling because unspoken commitments to the immaterial are snuck in through the back door. (John Searle's particularly known for highlighting this, but others do so as well.) I think Lewis could have easily accepted the idea that the mind has very important and necessary physical bases, but is more than the physical. Then again, probably the only ones who couldn't would be the thoroughgoing physicalists.

And no, I don't think Lewis had any problem with modern science. Probably modern philosophy that often championed (and in the process, heavily abused) science. Particularly since Lewis was around at the height of some considerable abuses of science in the service of aggressive philosophy.

On Tue, Mar 17, 2009 at 7:51 AM, George Murphy <> wrote:
I would be willing to accept the claim that a functioning brain is a necessary but not sufficient condition for thought.  That is a sufficient basis for an argument that before the brain begins to form an embryo is not rational, and therefore not a person, to proceed.
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 4:46 AM
Subject: Re: [asa] scientific fact vs. ideology?

I'm pretty sure C. S. Lewis was aware of the great scientific discovery that is 'drinking booze has a noticeable effect on subjective experience and reasoning.' More often, the scientifically inclined just don't know enough philosophy on the point.

Moreover, the idea that dualists of all varieties (or even most) don't see the brain as necessary for many/most mental operations doesn't ring true. Hylemorphic dualists would emphatically disagree. As would, I believe, very many dualists of cartesian, property, emergentist, and other varieties. A functioning brain could be a necessary but not sufficient requirement for thought, and 'the classical physical can do it all!' position is fraught with problems, some of which make the "but what about alcohol?" objection pale in comparison.

On Tue, Mar 17, 2009 at 12:43 AM, Preston Garrison <> wrote:
""matter cannot think.""

It may depend on your definition of "think."  Can computers "think?" They do make decisions.  They can even "appear" to be sentient.  It may be possible to have a conversation with a computer (over the internet) and not even realize it is not a real person.


'm articulating this well...)

There's a flip side to this. Read Dilbert today. Dilbert bemoans the fact that his boss keeps failing the Turing test. When our reason goes bad, do we cease to be human? Is God taking a coffee break? :)

Does Moorad think (by whatever mechanism) that the function of the brain is not necessary for reason? Then why do we get more and more confused as the alcohol concentration in the brain increases? I love C.S. Lewis, but I think he just didn't know enough science on the point.


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