Consciousness & the Brain

No holds barred discussion on the Buddhadharma. Argue about rebirth, karma, commentarial interpretations etc. Be nice to each other.

Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby jeeprs » Sun Jun 10, 2012 12:00 am

thanks, Dexing. Overall, I am very sympathetic to the mind-only teachings, but I don't think I understand them very well yet, and it is one of the subjects which presents plenty of opportunity for misunderstanding. I will keep studying it.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Dexing » Mon Jun 11, 2012 9:42 am

For myself, the whole process of how we mistake our subjective conscious experience to be objective external existence is verifiable. The illusion is so real and our attachment to it so strong that it's difficult to get around, because we have had this attachment for so long, but I can see that process happening in my own experience and recognize that it is consciousness-only.

I also understand the explanation of the 8 layers of consciousness and how they interact to result in this continual process, and even how it accounts for things like rebirth and other realms by taking away the often knee-jerk reaction of thinking it's all mystical nonsense by providing logical reasoning for it merely being a transformation of consciousness from one state to the next, rather than having something traversing actual planes of existence in other dimensions and so on. The entire system even ties together Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna teachings and so on, making them all integral parts of an internally consistent path to Buddhahood.

But for me, the only problem is that there is a missing step between experiencing and conceding the first point of consciousness-only, and then taking all of the rest for granted simply because the logic is consistent. Does the latter necessarily follow the former? Of that I'm not sure. I have only a theoretical knowledge of it at this point in my practice.

Hence my creation of this thread to discuss what justification there might be beyond just confidence-based faith and presenting a possible challenge from science. It seems in all the scriptures however, that practice is the only way to bridge the gap. I have confidence enough to continue this practice, but when others use that as their justification it sounds terribly similar to the theists who say that if you haven't had a revelation of god, you were not sincere enough. Which oddly enough I've been fed that line in this thread already, by DN!

    "And do you think that unto such as you,
    A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew,
    God gave the secret, and denied it me?
    Well, well, what matters it? Believe that too!"

    -Omar Khayyám (1048–1131
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby anjali » Tue Jun 12, 2012 1:35 am

Dexing wrote:...But for me, the only problem is that there is a missing step between experiencing and conceding the first point of consciousness-only, and then taking all of the rest for granted simply because the logic is consistent. Does the latter necessarily follow the former? Of that I'm not sure. I have only a theoretical knowledge of it at this point in my practice.

Hence my creation of this thread to discuss what justification there might be beyond just confidence-based faith and presenting a possible challenge from science. It seems in all the scriptures however, that practice is the only way to bridge the gap. I have confidence enough to continue this practice, but when others use that as their justification it sounds terribly similar to the theists who say that if you haven't had a revelation of god, you were not sincere enough. Which oddly enough I've been fed that line in this thread already, by DN!

As the old saying goes, I feel your pain! If we were running a traditional scientific experiment and were getting null results, after a while we might question our apparatus or question the predictions of the theory we were testing. For us as "yogi-scientists", our personal null results (lack of experiences) don't necessarily confirm a generalized null hypothesis. Realized "yogi-scientists" say that experimental confirmation does come when the "mind-instrument" is properly "configured". The method of hypothesis verification is by refined observation (insight) into the fundamental nature of the mind. Thus, we need a very steady, clear and sharp observational apparatus (awareness) that can penetrate right through self-clinging. Otherwise, the experiment will always be incomplete.

At this point, I've probably stretched the scientific metaphor far enough. ;)
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Dechen Norbu » Thu Jun 14, 2012 12:55 am

Dexing wrote:
Hence my creation of this thread to discuss what justification there might be beyond just confidence-based faith and presenting a possible challenge from science. It seems in all the scriptures however, that practice is the only way to bridge the gap. I have confidence enough to continue this practice, but when others use that as their justification it sounds terribly similar to the theists who say that if you haven't had a revelation of god, you were not sincere enough. Which oddly enough I've been fed that line in this thread already, by DN!


Where?
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby dharmagoat » Thu Jun 14, 2012 1:19 am

Dechen Norbu wrote:
Dexing wrote:Hence my creation of this thread to discuss what justification there might be beyond just confidence-based faith and presenting a possible challenge from science. It seems in all the scriptures however, that practice is the only way to bridge the gap. I have confidence enough to continue this practice, but when others use that as their justification it sounds terribly similar to the theists who say that if you haven't had a revelation of god, you were not sincere enough. Which oddly enough I've been fed that line in this thread already, by DN!

Where?

Here, possibly:
Dexing wrote:
Dechen Norbu wrote:Don't ask justifications for beliefs. Put beliefs on hold, and I mean all beliefs, even those of materialistically minded scientists, practice Dharma and see for yourself.

First you insult my intelligence in saying I parrot others, which implies mindlessly repeating what I have heard, and thus can't think for myself. Now you want to tell me I haven't practiced Dharma enough?

In fairness to both of you, it sounds like a simple misunderstanding.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Dechen Norbu » Thu Jun 14, 2012 1:29 am

There I'm saying the opposite. Put all beliefs on hold and investigate for yourself. :smile:
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Dechen Norbu » Thu Jun 14, 2012 1:35 am

anjali wrote:
Dexing wrote:...But for me, the only problem is that there is a missing step between experiencing and conceding the first point of consciousness-only, and then taking all of the rest for granted simply because the logic is consistent. Does the latter necessarily follow the former? Of that I'm not sure. I have only a theoretical knowledge of it at this point in my practice.

Hence my creation of this thread to discuss what justification there might be beyond just confidence-based faith and presenting a possible challenge from science. It seems in all the scriptures however, that practice is the only way to bridge the gap. I have confidence enough to continue this practice, but when others use that as their justification it sounds terribly similar to the theists who say that if you haven't had a revelation of god, you were not sincere enough. Which oddly enough I've been fed that line in this thread already, by DN!

As the old saying goes, I feel your pain! If we were running a traditional scientific experiment and were getting null results, after a while we might question our apparatus or question the predictions of the theory we were testing. For us as "yogi-scientists", our personal null results (lack of experiences) don't necessarily confirm a generalized null hypothesis. Realized "yogi-scientists" say that experimental confirmation does come when the "mind-instrument" is properly "configured". The method of hypothesis verification is by refined observation (insight) into the fundamental nature of the mind. Thus, we need a very steady, clear and sharp observational apparatus (awareness) that can penetrate right through self-clinging. Otherwise, the experiment will always be incomplete.

At this point, I've probably stretched the scientific metaphor far enough. ;)

It's a nice metaphor though.
I'll give you another. Beginners dismissing the findings of great yogis are like kinder garden toddlers dismissing the propositions of leading astrophysicists. Mind you that astrophysicists may be proven wrong. Just not by toddlers or, using your metaphor, by people who haven't the "mind-instrument" properly "configured".
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Samsaric_Spiral » Tue Jul 17, 2012 9:21 pm

This topic has to do with the Hard Problem of Consciousness, as I infer it. Here is what I have to say:

In Neuroscience, many scientists generally assume mental activity to be wholly reducible to neural phenomena (i.e., they would claim the qualitative experience of fear is the same thing as metal cation movements on axons). My issue with such a claim is the ontological absurdity and how it ignores subjective felt properties. How can first-person experience with its felt, phenomenal properties be explained in quantative terms, which is all a neural model is? Dr. Seung argued once we have explained all the neural circuitry (e.g., synchronized firing all over the brain, reciprocal firing, neural oscillitations, parallel processing, thalamocortical loops, and etc.), the neurotransmitter systems (e.g., neurotransmitters like sertonin released from pre-synaptic membrane to post-synaptic receptors in synaptic clefts), the excitatory/inhibitory properties of neurotransmitters (i.e., that lead to an action potential in the axon hillock), all the molecular mechanisms in neurobiology (e.g., chromosomes containing DNA in the nucleus), and so forth all explained in a model, we will have sufficiently accounted for consciousness. However, these third-person facts do not account for the first-person quality of consciousness. There is an epistemic division. They most certainly correlate but are they the primarily causal link?

My colleague made it clear that perhaps in the future we will have new tools to address the question due to future paradigm shifts in physics, and I agreed this is most certainly conceivable. Qualitative consciousness could then be understood as a distinct and independent form of matter that exerts causal influence on the brain or vice versa (i.e., causal efficacy). This leads to non-reductive physicalism. A non-reductive physicalist claims all mental states are just physical states, but they cannot be reduced to other physical states.

However, lately, I have been considering different approaches to the question more seriously after reading the Lankavatara Sutra:

"In this they are ignorant of the nature of words, which are subject to birth and death, whereas meaning
is not; words are dependent upon letters and meaning is not; meaning is apart from existence and non-existence, it has no
substratum, it is un-born


Can physics then not address the Hard Problem of Consciousness? Is consciousness then a fundamental property of the universe, like the Yogachara school claims? Eminent neuroscientist Christof Koch, a friend of Francis Crick, argued in his new book Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist that he believes primitive awareness to be a fundamental part of the cosmos on the basis of his Information Integration Theory:

Christof Koch wrote:"By postulating that consciousness is a fundamental feature of the universe, rather than emerging out of simpler elements, integrated information theory is an elaborate version of panpsychism. The hypothesis that all matter is sentient to some degree is terribly appealing for its elegance, simplicity, and logical coherence. Once you assume that consciousness is real and ontologically distinct from its physical substrate, then it is a simple step to conclude that the entire cosmos is suffused with sentience. We are surrounded and immersed in consciousness; it is in the air we breathe, the soil we tread on, the bacteria that colonize our intestines, and the brain that enables us to think."


I do not know. I do not think this question will ever have a resolved answer. We can just strongly correlate models and list the sufficient + necessary neurological conditions.

In Soto Zen it is said when one is mindful, when the dichotomy of self and other falls apart, the object-of-perception is mindful too. Basically, mindfulness works both ways. When one is mindful when eating an orange, the orange is mindful too...:

The question, "Is the moon still there when Einstein is not looking at it?" is only a failing strategy to preserve Platonism or philosophical idealism: it is, in fact, only half a question, the other half being: "Is Einstein still there when the moon is not shining?" (Plank, 2000, “The Implications of Quantum Non-Locality for the Archaeology of Consciousness”)


Perhaps, the Hard Problem of Consciousness is simply best not thought about or dwelled upon, for the answer is contradictory ('koan-like') and best lived. It is obvious that the "I", self, dependently originates and does not exist apart from the skandhas. It is empty as itself and by itself; it is in a flux and indeterminate, but this does not address qualitative felt properties. How can one even begin to quantify awareness? Perhaps, it is not localized entirely? Whatever.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby steveb1 » Tue Jul 17, 2012 11:07 pm

I'm no philosopher, or scientist, but for me the issue comes down to not committing a category error, which in my view, is to identify mind with brain:

The brain is some thing; I am some one. Too many neuroscientists disregard the category differences here. The brain is a three-pound skull organ; the mind isn't. Too many materialists want to take subjectivity, the self, the qualia, and try to sweep them under the rug, back into the "safe" space of intercranial darkness where they supposedly originate.

Mental events, though to some extent traceable in brain scans, are not the same fact as brain activity. As the cliche says: "Correlation is not causation".
There is no particular reason that a material organ should be generating subjective phenomena, which themselves are non-material and non-organic.

At the same time, everyone knows that brain trauma likely results in mental/self trauma, while brain enhancement likely results in mental/self enhancement. The non-material is linked to the material and vice-versa.

Doesn't this present a problem? Yes, and it's called "the Hard Problem" - for good reason. I believe that it is far too early to claim with scientific certainty that neural systems create non-material selves; and it is too early to dismiss the non-material self from the influence of neural systems.

However, leaving the intellectual/scientific problem on the back burner, and entering into actual practice of "awareness of awareness", or experiencing "the Witness", or "knowing your face before your grandparents were born" ... and other Buddhist and non-Buddhist methods ... can perhaps answer the mind-brain problem in an experiential way that external queries inherent to the intellect and science simply do not offer. In these subjects, I find Raymond Tallis, B. Alan Wallace, and others of some help.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby viniketa » Tue Jul 17, 2012 11:26 pm

steveb1 wrote:Too many materialists want to take subjectivity, the self, the qualia, and try to sweep them under the rug, back into the "safe" space of intercranial darkness where they supposedly originate.


Indeed. The very fact that we continue to contemplate the "mind" of Buddha, some 2500 years after his "brain death," is evidence that thoughts are quite different from the "material" with which they are associated. :D
Last edited by viniketa on Tue Jul 17, 2012 11:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby dharmagoat » Tue Jul 17, 2012 11:27 pm

The problem with panpsychism is that consciousness appears to be limited to the consciousness of brain processes. Without a functioning brain, what is there to be conscious of?
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby dharmagoat » Tue Jul 17, 2012 11:35 pm

viniketa wrote:Indeed. The very fact that we continue to contemplate the "mind" of Buddha, some 2500 years after his "brain death," is evidence that thoughts are quite different from the "material" with which they are associated.

Are they Buddha's thoughts? Or are they our own thoughts, inspired by the record of what the Buddha taught?
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Samsaric_Spiral » Tue Jul 17, 2012 11:39 pm

steveb1 wrote:I'm no philosopher, or scientist, but for me the issue comes down to not committing a category error, which in my view, is to identify mind with brain:

The brain is some thing; I am some one. Too many neuroscientists disregard the category differences here. The brain is a three-pound skull organ; the mind isn't. Too many materialists want to take subjectivity, the self, the qualia, and try to sweep them under the rug, back into the "safe" space of intercranial darkness where they supposedly originate.

Mental events, though to some extent traceable in brain scans, are not the same fact as brain activity. As the cliche says: "Correlation is not causation".
There is no particular reason that a material organ should be generating subjective phenomena, which themselves are non-material and non-organic.

At the same time, everyone knows that brain trauma likely results in mental/self trauma, while brain enhancement likely results in mental/self enhancement. The non-material is linked to the material and vice-versa.

Doesn't this present a problem? Yes, and it's called "the Hard Problem" - for good reason. I believe that it is far too early to claim with scientific certainty that neural systems create non-material selves; and it is too early to dismiss the non-material self from the influence of neural systems.

However, leaving the intellectual/scientific problem on the back burner, and entering into actual practice of "awareness of awareness", or experiencing "the Witness", or "knowing your face before your grandparents were born" ... and other Buddhist and non-Buddhist methods ... can perhaps answer the mind-brain problem in an experiential way that external queries inherent to the intellect and science simply do not offer. In these subjects, I find Raymond Tallis, B. Alan Wallace, and others of some help.


Yes, I agree with you 100 hundred percent. You put it more concisely than I did.

dharmagoat wrote:The problem with panpsychism is that consciousness appears to be limited to the consciousness of brain processes. Without a functioning brain, what is there to be conscious of?


The typical answer would be "it just is". Awareness can persist without intentionality (aka mindfulness). Mindfulness is an awareness without subject/object duality.

Intentionality goes against emptiness. Awareness still dependently originates but does not have to be tied or directed to anything in the external world. In other words, how can there be an inherent bond between processes that lack inherent natures? Of course everything dependently originates, but the intentionality of consciousness claims there is a fixed relation between consciousness and the object of perception.

Panexperientialism (wiki definition - variation of Panpsychism that "credits all entities with phenomenal consciousness but not with cognition, and therefore not necessarily with full-fledged minds") is compatible with many schools of Buddhism, but we are far from having any empirical evidence to Hard Problem. Heraclitus argued our "neural systems are some kind of antennae for tuning in the Logos as some kind of broadcast consciousness" and this is kind of similar too. (source of claim) This would then mean the brain allows for higher levels of cognition, but is not wholly the source of consciousness/primitive awareness.

However, all of these are either conjectures or based off personal experience. Until future empirical evidence, we can only speculate or not think about it.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Jyoti » Sun Aug 12, 2012 11:39 am

dharmagoat wrote:The problem with panpsychism is that consciousness appears to be limited to the consciousness of brain processes. Without a functioning brain, what is there to be conscious of?


Just take note of these points:

Consciousness can be in a state in corresponding in its biological condition, when a brain failed, the consciousness function in corresponding to its biological condition, that is, remaining in unconsciousness state (it required the potential of a conscious state for the 'unconscious' state to function as it is).

The biological brain could consist of consciousness as one of its main functioning component, so one can as well say 'without the consciousness, what is there for the brain to function, since the activities of feelings, perceptions, thinking, dreaming, even sleep are all function of consciousness?'
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Matt J » Sun Aug 12, 2012 7:24 pm

This is an interesting thread and I'd like to thank those who participated in it. For me, this is a big question.

However, it takes a different tone when one considers one's own direct experience. Consciousness is immediately known to all. The of a world "out there" has to be created or learned.

An additional problem is that any talk of objects already presume consciousness. As pointed out by the Yogacara teachings, anything that is experienced is an event in consciousness. It is impossible to talk of objects apart from consciousness, because to even conceive of an object is to build a picture colored entirely by consciousness. A ball is only a visual color, a series of tactile sensations, and perhaps a set of sounds that is known by consciousness. Even things like space and time seem to me to be based on the relationships of objects, and every object requires a consciousness.

We cannot step outside of consciousness. Accordingly, our own experiences, and even yogic experiences, really only relate to our own minds. For example, if I have a past life memory, how do I know that I am really remembering a past life, as opposed to the mind conjuring up a dream image? We can never know with certainty. The mind is limitless, it can create any experience. Sleep researchers call the waking state "dreaming with conditions" whereas the dreaming state is "dreaming without conditions."

The correlation/causation is problematic for me as well. To say that we've never seen consciousness apart from a brain--- well, quite frankly, we've never seen consciousness apart from our own minds. A tree doesn't have a brain, but how can be say it lacks consciousness? I cannot directly experience the consciousness of another person, much less other beings and forms. For all I know, every other person is a biological machine with no sentience. I don't think so, based on how people act and react with me and the environment. But it also seems to me that all life forms exhibit something consistent with what I find in sentient beings, and who is to say that even atoms and quarks don't have some sentience?

And we can flip this equation: even if consciousness and brains exist on a 1:1 correlation, why do we assume that the brain gives rise to consciousness rather than the other way around? It's not like we see consciousness developing from inanimate matter, either.

If I had to guess based on my direct experience, I would say consciousness is primary. However, it is impossible to conclusively investigate what the world is like independent of consciousness, because there is no way to step outside of consciousness.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby steveb1 » Mon Aug 13, 2012 12:36 am

Matt 3 wrote, "And we can flip this equation: even if consciousness and brains exist on a 1:1 correlation, why do we assume that the brain gives rise to consciousness rather than the other way around? It's not like we see consciousness developing from inanimate matter, either."

For nonmaterialists, this is the sticky part of the Hard Problem:
Generally speaking, brain trauma impedes self/mind function, and brain beneficially affects self/mind.

On the one hand, the brain is a three-pound skull organ. But mind, with its consciousness, qualia, subjective self is not physical at all.

Otoh, the brain causes changes in mentals states. If dualism is valid, how is it that mind suffers injury when the brain suffers injury? It looks like a simple cause-effect mechanism.

However, "looks" can be deceiving, and as the cliche says, "correlation is not causation".

So to answer your question: This apparent "brain state = mind state" observation is the basis for the assumption that the brain gives rise to consciousness, rather than the other way around.

Is there a kind of experiment that could show "the other way around"? It is proven that thoughts, wishes, and exercises of the will do cause changes in the brain. However, skeptics will say, this is not a case of a nonmaterial being making changes to its brain; rather, it's a case of the brain willing itself to make such changes.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby dharmagoat » Mon Aug 13, 2012 11:00 pm

It would be very hard to explain how brain injury could be directly caused by reduced mental ability, instead of the other way around. Does anyone want to try?
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Matt J » Mon Aug 13, 2012 11:39 pm

I don't think that's quite right.

Imagine a dream in which a tree falls on you. Your dream brain is injured, and as a result, your mental activity is reduced. It is not dissimilar from dream drugs or alcohol that can impact your dream functioning (albeit in a different way).

But having said so, there is some evidence that mental activity rewires the brain (neuroplasticity).


dharmagoat wrote:It would be very hard to explain how brain injury could be directly caused by reduced mental ability, instead of the other way around. Does anyone want to try?
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby steveb1 » Tue Aug 14, 2012 12:50 am

dharmagoat wrote, "It would be very hard to explain how brain injury could be directly caused by reduced mental ability, instead of the other way around. Does anyone want to try?"

I don't know about tissue damage, "bruising", whatever, but if "injury" spans "bad chemistry", then how about a psychologically-caused depression: a mental state that causes "injury" to the brain by stimulating the brain's "depression centers" ?
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby vajrahorizon » Wed Aug 15, 2012 4:45 am

Dexing wrote:For myself, the whole process of how we mistake our subjective conscious experience to be objective external existence is verifiable. The illusion is so real and our attachment to it so strong that it's difficult to get around, because we have had this attachment for so long, but I can see that process happening in my own experience and recognize that it is consciousness-only.

I also understand the explanation of the 8 layers of consciousness and how they interact to result in this continual process, and even how it accounts for things like rebirth and other realms by taking away the often knee-jerk reaction of thinking it's all mystical nonsense by providing logical reasoning for it merely being a transformation of consciousness from one state to the next, rather than having something traversing actual planes of existence in other dimensions and so on. The entire system even ties together Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna teachings and so on, making them all integral parts of an internally consistent path to Buddhahood.

But for me, the only problem is that there is a missing step between experiencing and conceding the first point of consciousness-only, and then taking all of the rest for granted simply because the logic is consistent. Does the latter necessarily follow the former? Of that I'm not sure. I have only a theoretical knowledge of it at this point in my practice.

Hence my creation of this thread to discuss what justification there might be beyond just confidence-based faith and presenting a possible challenge from science. It seems in all the scriptures however, that practice is the only way to bridge the gap. I have confidence enough to continue this practice, but when others use that as their justification it sounds terribly similar to the theists who say that if you haven't had a revelation of god, you were not sincere enough. Which oddly enough I've been fed that line in this thread already, by DN!

    "And do you think that unto such as you,
    A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew,
    God gave the secret, and denied it me?
    Well, well, what matters it? Believe that too!"

    -Omar Khayyám (1048–1131


Dexing I like the cut of your jib, a great discussion on your part without one ad hominen attack.

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