Thursday, June 24, 2021

Nervous system

I post this now because I believe it is relevant to my prior post, What is consciousness for? The sensory or afferent nerves are involved in all awareness. The motor or efferent nerves are involved in all volitional bodily movement -- of legs, arms, hands, fingers, head, jaws, etc. So the nervous system links awareness/consciousness and volitional movement. The article 'What is consciousness for?' also links consciousness and volitional movement, but makes only one brief mention of the nervous system.

Very interesting.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

What is consciousness for?

'What is consciousness for?' is the title of this excellent article about consciousness and volition. The entire article is there. The abstract follows.

"The answer to the title question is, in a word, volition. Our hypothesis is that the ultimate adaptive function of consciousness is to make volitional movement possible. All conscious processes exist to subserve that ultimate function. Thus, we believe that all conscious organisms possess at least some volitional capability. Consciousness makes volitional attention possible; volitional attention, in turn, makes volitional movement possible. There is, as far as we know, no valid theoretical argument or convincing empirical evidence that consciousness itself has any direct causal efficacy other than volition. Consciousness, via volitional action, increases the likelihood that an organism will direct its attention, and ultimately its movements, to whatever is most important for its survival and reproduction."

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

New Alzheimer drug

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved use of a new drug -- Aduhelm or aducanumab developed by Biogen -- for treating Alzheimer’s disease. 

Three medical experts on an FDA advisory panel resigned from the panel after deciding the drug's effectiveness has not been sufficiently shown or that the drug will do more harm than good. Link.

The financial effect of the approval on Medicare and Medicare Advantage programs and beneficiaries will be huge. Only time will tell how huge. Medicare’s long-standing practice is to make coverage determinations without taking cost into consideration.  This article from the Kaiser Foundation puts an expected price tag on the drug of $56,000 per patient per year. Since the drug will be physician-administered, it will be covered by Medicare Part B, for which Medicare covers 80% of the cost and the patient 20% (up to the annual out-of-pocket maximum of $7,550 for in-network care and $11,300 for combined in-network and out-of-network care in 2021).

"[T]he drug’s approval could trigger hundreds of billions of dollars of new government spending, all without a vote in Congress or indeed any public debate over the drug’s value." "If even one-third of the estimated 6 million people with Alzheimer’s in the United States receives the new treatment, health-care spending could swell by $112 billion annually." (The Atlantic).

Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are sacred cows to politicians and more than half of federal government spending. 

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Philosophy and science compared

The book The Neural Basis of Free Will by Michael Tse gives an interesting comparison of philosophy and science in the Introduction.

Why has philosophy been unable to make substantial progress in solving the mind-body problem? The root of philosophy’s impasse is that its main tools – logical argumentation, “thought experiments,” “intuition pumps,” and persuasion – are inadequate to the task. By themselves, these tools are incapable of settling basic debates between scholars with conflicting views rooted in incompatible starting assumptions. Logic can derive conclusions for axioms, but it cannot derive axioms, or, for that matter, the assumptions, biases, hunches, or intuitions that seem to underlie so much philosophical argumentation. With no objective way to settle a conflict, it is rare to find a philosopher who has written, “I was wrong and my rivals were right.” Without an objective arbiter of truth such as that imposed by falsifiability, why would a philosopher ever concede, especially when doing so might diminish career standing? A field cannot move forward to the next stage of a problem, and acknowledge that what was once a problem has now been solved, unless those on the wrong side of the debate are forced to concede they were wrong. Science, in contrast, has nature to falsify theories and models, and the scientific method of experimentation and model-correction/abandonment that forces scientists to stand on the shoulders of giants. Whether or not scientists concede they were wrong does not matter in the long run. Nature forces their concessions. Scientists who dogmatically maintain a position despite concrete evidence to the contrary are left behind. Whereas philosophers receive acclaim for occupying a position and defending it persuasively, scientists receive acclaim for making new discoveries that push the field to modify existing models of reality. Science makes astonishing progress year after year, whereas philosophy makes slow progress over centuries – at least concerning mental causation, free will and the mind-body problem – because debates can be objectively settled in science but cannot be objectively settled in philosophy.

One could quibble with some of this, but I believe it is largely accurate. Some might take this to discredit philosophy, but such a critic has to rely on some philosophy when science has no good answer to some questions.