An alternative to Kim's physicalism

In his book Physicalism, or Something Near Enough, Jaegwon Kim says:
The final picture that has emerged is this: P is a cause of P*, with M and M* supervening respectively on P and P*. There is a single underlying causal process in this picture, and this process connects two physical properties, P and P*. The correlations between M and M* and between M and P* are by no means accidental or coincidental; they are lawful and counterfactual-sustaining regularities arising out of M's and M*'s supervenience on the causally linked P and P*. These observed correlations give us an impression of causation; however, that is only an appearance, and there is no more causation here than between two successive shadows cast by a moving car, or two successive symptoms of a developing pathology. This is a simple and elegant picture, metaphysically speaking, but it will prompt howls of protest from those who think that it has given away something very special and precious, namely the causal efficacy of our minds. Thus is born the problem of mental causation[...] Causal efficacy of mental properties is inconsistent with the joint acceptance of the following four claims: (i) physical causal closure, (ii) causal exclusion, (iii) mind-body supervenience, and (iv) mental/physical property dualism--the view that mental properties are irreducible to physical properties.

Here P stands for physical properties and states and M stands for mental properties and states. P* and M* are states that follow after (or from) the prior physical and mental states, respectively. Kim asserts that under his stipulated physicalism the only arrow in the below diagram that has any real ability to change the world is the causal arrow from P to P*, because only physical causation is needed for the world to look the way it does: mental phenomena must then be epiphenomenal, and mental causation illusion. Kim's diagram is as follows:

How can the inconsistency with common experience of Kim's conclusions be avoided? One way is by loosening the requirement that M is directly caused by P. In Kim's view, the brain's nature is constituted by its physical properties. What if the person (and/or their brain) is something beyond (or maybe just underneath) their physical properties?

If so, we can instead assert that we have an entity-- say the brain, or the person-- with both physical and mental properties that are not connected by P causing M, but by the underlying entity causing both its P properties and its M properties:

In this case, the entity has both physical and mental properties, but the causation is brain changing its own physical properties and its own mental properties, in parallel, rather than the physical changes of the brain, seen as the "all there is" of brain function, determining the changing mental events, as in physicalism.

It might be objected that this loosens the cause and effect of physical changes on the mental (a blow to the head causes concussion, for example, and there are experimentally measurable physical brain correlates to our mental states). But the loosening of the token identity or type identity of exact physical to mental property matches is useful, for it allows for the empirically demonstrated variability and dynamism of the brain of even the smallest organisms. Even flies do not generally have identical brain state or behavioral experimental correlates to repeated events, only similar ones, even in a seemingly identically repeated experimental setting. Changing our theory of causality of mental states in this fashion would not invalidate any experimental data, and it might fit some of that data better than a strict physical-to-mental causal chain.

Another objection would be that rational thought requires that the conclusion follow the reasoning by one mental event causing another, but I think this confuses the reason with the reasoner: our thoughts do not think themselves, we think them.

Socioeconomic conclusions versus EEG sampling error: A skeptical look at a recent bioRxiv preprint.

In the preprint below, the authors propose a new finding: the EEG alpha pattern correlates with educational level and familiarity with modern technologies. Yet (as also pointed out 4 months ago by Niko Bush in the comments on the paper on bioRxiv), EEG tracings were originally done in Germany in the 1920's and at MIT in the 1930's, and alpha was described well in persons in the US and in Germany during the early 20th century, a time when the technology felt relevant by the authors of the preprint was rare to nonexistent, and when most persons had only what the current authors would have seen as a low amount of education. Berger, writing in 1929, described alpha with average amplitudes of 15 to 20 micro-volts, using a primitive string galvanometer which might have attenuated voltages by a perhaps a third (see H. Berger, Uber das Elektrenkephalogramm des Menschen, Arch Psychiat Nervenkr 87:527-570, 1929).

So the low tech, low education contingent in the 21st century must differ in some other way. Is it due to low intelligence? But in these days of a commercial digital EEG of uncertain utility being commonly utilized by many psychologists, it's well documented that except in pathological cases of retardation the alpha is well seen in about 80% of normal EEG tracings, with about 20% showing lower amplitudes of less than 20 micro-volts and with about 4% showing only fast variant activity and no measurable alpha band (Niedermeyer and Da Silva, Elecroencephalography, Urban & Schwarzenberg Press, 1987).

Are the results reported in the current study related to technique of the EEG acquisition? Here, we may have found some clues. The study being considered used EEG hardware which was not set to acquire the actual amplitudes of the raw data. Rather, what was analyzed was a digital spectrum analysis of the data. This means that a normal alpha rhythm might have been unseen if sufficient muscle or movement artifact was present. Perhaps this explains the large degree to which the reported alpha "energy" calculation varied (10 to 1350, no units given). Of course, this would not yet explain the difference by educational and technlogical familiarity described in the study.

Further perusal of the Materials and Methods section does provide further clues. The equipment used was an Emotiv EPOC device which was used for EEG recording of duration 3 minutes per individual sample. The study states that "Participants answered a series of questions regarding their demographic, communication and mobility behavior in addition to having EEG recorded for three minutes while they were awake and seated with their eyes closed" which suggests that the sampling might have been set up and was finished within several minutes.

With standard clinical EEG acquisition, the EEG is set up over a period of 10 to 20 minutes, with the patient encouraged to relax and the patient often kept comfortably reclining or supine in a dimly lit room to promote sleep. The EEG alpha rhythm and amplitude is well known to be sensitive to anxiety, with about 3 times more subjects with anxiety showing low alpha voltage than in subjects who were not anxious (eg., Enoch, M.-A., White, K. V., Harris, C. R., Robin, R. W., Ross, J., Rohrbaugh, J. W. and Goldman, D. (1999), Association of Low-Voltage Alpha EEG With a Subtype of Alcohol Use Disorders. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 23: 1312–1319).

It seems quite likely to this writer that it is exactly that group of people who might be those of lower education, who were lower in familiarity with technology, who would also tend to be more anxious when multiple electrodes were first placed on their head. One wonders what the alpha power spectrum might have been if those individuals had been given more time to be less threatened by the EEG procedure, and the sampling done only after they were felt to be more relaxed as a result of taking that extra time.



Modernization, Wealth And The Emergence Of Strong Alpha Oscillations In The Human EEG

Dhanya Parameshwaran, Tara C. Thiagarajan



Oscillations in the alpha range (8-15 Hz) have been found to appear prominently in the EEG signal when people are awake with their eyes closed, and since their discovery have been considered a fundamental cerebral rhythm. While the mechanism of this oscillation continues to be debated, it has been shown to bear positive relation to memory capacity, attention and a host of other cognitive outcomes. Here we show that this feature is largely undetected in the EEG of adults without post-primary education and access to modern technologies. Furthermore, we show that the spatial extent and energy of the oscillation have wide variation, with energy ranging over a thousand fold across the breath of humanity with no centralizing mean. This represents a divergence in a fundamental functional characteristic of an organ demonstrating both that modernization has had a profound influence on brain dynamics and that a meaningful average human brain does not exist in a dynamical sense.

On the Deontology of Immunization

In the US today, there is a one in a million chance that any particular person who is not immunized against measles will contract measles this year. Why is this so? Herd immunity: if all with whom I share air do not have measles because they are immune, I cannot contract the disease from them.

But why do we immunize? After all, currently there is about a 1 in 100,000 chance of a severe reaction to the vaccine, but only about a 1 in 1,000,000 per year chance that the child we immunize will get measles if we do not give the vaccine to them.

We immunize because it is our duty to the entire population to keep up that herd immunity! After all, if we stopped giving immunizations, the chance of contracting measles in the younger population would rise within a generation to its 19th century value of close to 1.0! And the serious and even fatal consequences to many of those who then got measles would far outstrip the rare problems of our present day with the vaccines.

So we have a duty to society to immunize that benefits all, but indirectly. Duty to the "herd," our society and country, requires that all, or almost all, individuals take that small risk individually. In addition, the immunized person does benefit: because they and others like them are all immune to the disease, they and others like them are better off, because they will not get sick from measles.

Pedestrian use of prescription medications increases pedestrian risk of being hit by vehicles.

Pedestrians are involved in 13 percent of US vehicle-related fatalities, and the majority of these accidents are caused at least in part by the pedestrian's own actions, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Why do pedestrians step out in front of moving traffic when they do not intend to do so? One reason that may happen is that a pedestrian can be impaired in attention or gait by side effects of common prescription or OTC medications, as shown in the study below.

The relative risk was 1.12 to 2.98, so, assuming the causality is correct and the illness for which medication was prescribed did not itself cause the additional risk, one might estimate that benzodiazepine and OTC antihistamine medication might roughly double the risk of a pedestrian being hit.



Prescription medicine use by pedestrians and the risk of injurious road traffic crashes: A case-crossover study

Mélanie Née , Marta Avalos, Audrey Luxcey, Benjamin Contrand, Louis-Rachid Salmi, Annie Fourrier-Réglat, Blandine Gadegbeku, Emmanuel Lagarde, Ludivine Orriols

Published: July 18, 2017


While some medicinal drugs have been found to affect driving ability, no study has investigated whether a relationship exists between these medicines and crashes involving pedestrians. The aim of this study was to explore the association between the use of medicinal drugs and the risk of being involved in a road traffic crash as a pedestrian.

Methods and findings

Data from 3 French nationwide databases were matched. We used the case-crossover design to control for time-invariant factors by using each case as its own control. To perform multivariable analysis and limit false-positive results, we implemented a bootstrap version of Lasso. To avoid the effect of unmeasured time-varying factors, we varied the length of the washout period from 30 to 119 days before the crash. The matching procedure led to the inclusion of 16,458 pedestrians involved in an injurious road traffic crash from 1 July 2005 to 31 December 2011. We found 48 medicine classes with a positive association with the risk of crash, with median odds ratios ranging from 1.12 to 2.98. Among these, benzodiazepines and benzodiazepine-related drugs, antihistamines, and anti-inflammatory and antirheumatic drugs were among the 10 medicines most consumed by the 16,458 pedestrians. Study limitations included slight overrepresentation of pedestrians injured in more severe crashes, lack of information about self-medication and the use of over-the-counter drugs, and lack of data on amount of walking.


Therapeutic classes already identified as impacting the ability to drive, such as benzodiazepines and antihistamines, are also associated with an increased risk of pedestrians being involved in a road traffic crash. This study on pedestrians highlights the necessity of improving awareness of the effect of these medicines on this category of road user.

Author summary

Why was this study done?

Pedestrians account for 22% of the world’s road traffic deaths. Medicines have the potential to impair the ability of all road users, including pedestrians. To our knowledge, no study so far has investigated the association between consumption of medicinal drugs and risk of road traffic injury as a pedestrian.

What did the researchers do and find?

We matched French nationwide databases with data on road traffic crashes (collected by police officers) and data on medicine delivery (collected by the national healthcare insurance system). We identified 16,458 pedestrians involved in an injurious road traffic crash between 1 July 2005 and 31 December 2011. Among them, 6,584 were included in our analyses. Several classes of medicine were associated with an increased risk of a pedestrian being involved in a road traffic crash. The most commonly consumed medicines associated with an increased risk of crash included benzodiazepines and benzodiazepine-related drugs, antihistamines, and anti-inflammatory and antirheumatic drugs.

What do these findings mean?

Increased awareness of the risks of medicine use for pedestrians is important as the risks of medicines in road safety have hitherto been thought to concern drivers only.

Ulu fries

Our 'ulu (hawaiian breadfruit) tree is bearing heavily this summer. Ulu is an excellent source of magnesium and fiber. Picked when mature but still hard, it can be prepared as follows: Microwave on high in a plastic garbage bag twisted shut and placed in a bowl to microwave-steam the ulu for 15 to 20 minutes (depending on size). Cool, peel and core, cut into home fry sized chunks, then deep fry into ulu fries. Better than potato fries!

See also this link, for nutritional facts.

Prospective Study: Concussion Affects Menstrual Patterns in Adolescent and Young Women

Severe traumatic brain injury is a well-documented cause of secondary amenorrhea (lack of menstrual periods after menses has begun) in young women. This is usually suggested to be due to traumatic injury of the pathways between the hypothalamus and pituitary which modulate the cycle of ovulation and menstruation via control of the pituitary's secretion of the gonadal control hormones FSH and LH.

The study below, from JAMA Pediatrics, confirms that even a much less severe injury to the brain, such as that seen with concussion, can change the menstrual cycle, at least over the following 3 or 4 months.

Could the effect have been due to the stress of the injury alone? Probably not, since a control group was selected to also be physcally stressed. The controls were those who had orthopedic but not head trauma.



Association of Concussion With Abnormal Menstrual Patterns in Adolescent and Young Women

Meredith L. Snook, MD; Luke C. Henry, PhD; Joseph S. Sanfilippo, MD, MBA; et al Anthony J. Zeleznik, PhD; Anthony P. Kontos, PhD

JAMA Pediatr. Published online July 3, 2017. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.1140

Key Points

Question Is concussion associated with the development of abnormal menstrual bleeding patterns in young women?

Findings In this cohort study of 129 adolescent and young women with a sport- or recreation-related concussion or nonhead orthopedic injury who were followed up for 120 days after their injuries, the risk of having 2 or more abnormal menstrual bleeding patterns after injury was significantly higher among patients with concussion.

Meaning Menstrual patterns should be monitored after concussion.


Importance Brain injury may interrupt menstrual patterns by altering hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis function. Investigators have yet to evaluate the association of concussion with menstrual patterns in young women.

Objective To compare abnormal menstrual patterns in adolescent and young women after a sport-related concussion with those after sport-related orthopedic injuries to areas other than the head (nonhead).

Design, Setting, and Participants This prospective cohort study of adolescent and young women with a sport-related concussion (n = 68) or a nonhead sport-related orthopedic injury (n = 61) followed up participants for 120 days after injury. Patients aged 12 to 21 years who presented within 30 days after a sport-related injury to a concussion or sports medicine clinic at a single academic center were eligible. Menstrual patterns were assessed using a weekly text message link to an online survey inquiring about bleeding episodes each week. The first patient was enrolled on October 14, 2014, and follow-up was completed on January 24, 2016. Inclusion criteria required participants to be at least 2 years postmenarche, to report regular menses in the previous year, and to report no use of hormonal contraception.

Exposures Sport-related concussion or nonhead sport-related orthopedic injury.

Main Outcomes and Measures Abnormal menstrual patterns were defined by an intermenstrual interval of less than 21 days (short) or more than 35 days (long) or a bleeding duration of less than 3 days or more than 7 days.

Results A total of 1784 survey responses were completed of the 1888 text messages received by patients, yielding 487 menstrual patterns in 128 patients (mean [SD] age, 16.2 [2.0] years). Of the 68 patients who had a concussion, 16 (23.5%) experienced 2 or more abnormal menstrual patterns during the study period compared with 3 of 60 patients (5%) who had an orthopedic injury. Despite similar gynecologic age, body mass index, and type of sports participation between groups, the risk of 2 or more abnormal menstrual bleeding patterns after injury was significantly higher among patients with concussion than among those with an orthopedic injury (odds ratio, 5.85; 95% CI, 1.61-21.22).

Conclusions and Relevance Adolescent and young women may have increased risk of multiple abnormal menstrual patterns after concussion. Because abnormal menstrual patterns can have important health implications, monitoring menstrual patterns after concussion may be warranted in this population. Additional research is needed to elucidate the relationship between long-term consequences of concussion and the function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis.

Cannabadiol For Epilepsy

Cannabadiol, an extract of marijuana different from the THC ingredient in which most forms of hemp used as a recreational drug are enriched, has been in clinical trials for several years. This is the first good quality, large trial of the drug in the US to be published.

Note that most persons purchasing hemp oil for its CBD content are using between 1/100th and 1/10th the dosage used in this study (20 mg/kg would be 1400 mg in a 70 kg adult, and see, for example, online published dosages for CBD oil here). So most "medicinal" users of marijuana who are using the medication for seizure prevention are not likely to be getting a therapeutic dosage of CBD in their herbal intake.



Trial of Cannabidiol for Drug-Resistant Seizures in the Dravet Syndrome

Orrin Devinsky, M.D., J. Helen Cross, Ph.D., F.R.C.P.C.H., Linda Laux, M.D., Eric Marsh, M.D., Ian Miller, M.D., Rima Nabbout, M.D., Ingrid E. Scheffer, M.B., B.S., Ph.D., Elizabeth A. Thiele, M.D., Ph.D., and Stephen Wright, M.D., for the Cannabidiol in Dravet Syndrome Study Group*

N Engl J Med 2017; 376:2011-20

20 May 25, 2017

DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1611618


The Dravet syndrome is a complex childhood epilepsy disorder that is associated with drug-resistant seizures and a high mortality rate. We studied cannabidiol for the treatment of drug-resistant seizures in the Dravet syndrome.


In this double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, we randomly assigned 120 children and young adults with the Dravet syndrome and drug-resistant seizures to receive either cannabidiol oral solution at a dose of 20 mg per kilogram of body weight per day or placebo, in addition to standard antiepileptic treatment. The primary end point was the change in convulsive-seizure frequency over a 14-week treatment period, as compared with a 4-week baseline period.


The median frequency of convulsive seizures per month decreased from 12.4 to 5.9 with cannabidiol, as compared with a decrease from 14.9 to 14.1 with placebo (adjusted median difference between the cannabidiol group and the placebo group in change in seizure frequency, −22.8 percentage points; 95% confidence interval [CI], −41.1 to −5.4; P=0.01). The percentage of patients who had at least a 50% reduction in convulsive-seizure frequency was 43% with cannabidiol and 27% with placebo (odds ratio, 2.00; 95% CI, 0.93 to 4.30; P=0.08). The patient’s overall condition improved by at least one category on the seven-category Caregiver Global Impression of Change scale in 62% of the cannabidiol group as compared with 34% of the placebo group (P=0.02). The frequency of total seizures of all types was significantly reduced with cannabidiol (P=0.03), but there was no significant reduction in nonconvulsive seizures. The percentage of patients who became seizure-free was 5% with cannabidiol and 0% with placebo (P=0.08). Adverse events that occurred more frequently in the cannabidiol group than in the placebo group included diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, pyrexia, somnolence, and abnormal results on liver-function tests. There were more withdrawals from the trial in the cannabidiol group.


Among patients with the Dravet syndrome, cannabidiol resulted in a greater reduction in convulsive-seizure frequency than placebo and was associated with higher rates of adverse events. (Funded by GW Pharmaceuticals; number, NCT02091375.)

An alternative to Kim's physicalism

In his book Physicalism, or Something Near Enough , Jaegwon Kim says: The final picture that has emerged is this: P is a cause of P*, wi...