Has neuroscience done this?

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Has neuroscience done this?

Postby vivian maxine on November 7th, 2015, 11:55 am 

A friend emailed me about this essay. It's a bit long which always turns me off but it seemed to touch on another thread going on now about philosophy and poetry. I thought to post the reference in case anyone wants to read it and comment.

http://www.thenation.com/article/humani ... -possible/

As a sidebar says, the essay was excerpted from the author's book: "The Giveness of Things" by Marylynne Robinson, to be published by Farrar, Straus and Girau (sp?) 27 October 2015.

My friend's comment: "The wording is a bit obtuse but she seems to be saying that neuroscience has stripped humanity of its soul and ignored those products of the mind that make us human - the great works of art, etc. Neuroscience seems to focus on the physicality of the brain and how it works, ignoring the mind."

My comment? I am listening for now.
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Re: Has neuroscience done this?

Postby TheVat on November 7th, 2015, 6:39 pm 

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Re: Has neuroscience done this?

Postby neuro on November 8th, 2015, 7:01 am 

this reminds me of some comments that arose when a paper was published, showing that one could detect electrical activity in the reward pathway (the same neural circuit that lights up when we drink being thirsty, are told nice things and /or have sex) when somebody made an empathic of merciful (anyway ethical) act.

Gee! "but if the pleasure circuit lights up that means we are robots!"
"It is impossible!, it can't be that way, because, how's the concept of responsibility going to survive?"

At that times I asked myself: did any of these guy ever realize - before neuroscience demonstrated it - that doing something good gives pleasure?

Does the fact that a neuron lights up to signal (or generate) pleasure add or subtract anything to the pleasure itself, to the ethical value of an act, or to the artistic value of a masterpiece?

I believe people should not make strong statements about what they do not know anything about. And they would live better if, instead of being afraid of what they don't know, they were to inform themselves (or even simply stop for a moment and THINK)...
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Re: Has neuroscience done this?

Postby mtbturtle on November 8th, 2015, 9:29 am 

Dismissing the subjective nature of consciousness and the ontological reality of self does not seem uncommon in neuroscience and related fields. Accusation of being full of bs, unthinking and fearful aren't arguments against the proposition that neuroscience does this but ad hominems.
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Re: Has neuroscience done this?

Postby TheVat on November 8th, 2015, 11:38 am 

Well, when she argues against reductive explanations, she seems to creep into a strawman territory, where science is supposedly saying that a poetic insight is "nothing but" a pattern of neuronal activation. Does anyone but the most hardcore eliminative materialist really believe that?

Every neurologist I've met is also a big donor to local symphonies, and other fine arts.
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Re: Has neuroscience done this?

Postby neuro on November 8th, 2015, 5:10 pm 

mtbturtle » November 8th, 2015, 2:29 pm wrote:Dismissing the subjective nature of consciousness and the ontological reality of self does not seem uncommon in neuroscience and related fields.

I think if anybody dismisses the subjective nature of consciousness they simply do not know what they're talking about.

What "subjective" may mean is another story, as is whether such "subject" must necessarily be a biological entity.

The "ontological reality of self" is an even more slippery concept, as the self can only be said to be a perceptive (possibly an epistemological) reality. Defining it an ontological reality ("I perceive therefore I am", attributing such "I" an ontological reality distinct from the process of perceiving) is begging the question.

In any case, believing that somebody who tries to understand how the brain - and possibly the mind - works has "stripped humanity of its soul and ignored those products of the mind that make us human - the great works of art, etc" is clear stupidity: at least for the last 2700 years humans have tried to understand how the mind works, and I find that the old pre-neuroscience ideas (various colored fluids, the CSF, the pineal gland!!!) were by far less fascinating and respectful of out interior life than our current ideas about the neurophysiology of emotions, perception, motivation, cognition, dreaming, artistic sensibility and social interactions.

Accusation of being full of bs, unthinking and fearful aren't arguments against the proposition that neuroscience does this but ad hominems.

I didn't mention any bs, all I said was about people who talk about things they don't know, and the only possible ad hominem I can be accused of is in stating that people who think that neuroscience (and science in general) "stripped humanity of its soul and ignored those products of the mind that make us human" simply do not know what they are talking about.
But, honestly, is this ad hominem or simple common sense?
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Re: Has neuroscience done this?

Postby vivian maxine on November 8th, 2015, 7:13 pm 

My turn? I come at this from a different angle. I have no idea whether any neuroscientist has ever attacked the idea of a soul. Today I browsed some of my science books and did not even find "soul" mentioned in any indexes. Perhaps most neuroscientists have the philosophy of "if you can't prove or disprove it, don't touch it". So, back to basics.

When I read articles like this, I get a feel for the mood they are being written in. What I see is a very angry woman who has probably just lost an argument with a neuroscientist and is venting her spleen. Perhaps she never learned the very wise maxim that we were taught: Two things one should never discuss in polite company: religion and politics. And, if you dare to, be sure you can be exceedingly polite. Otherwise, Thanksgiving Day dinner will be ruined. (Been there; Done that?)

I have a book by a philosopher, Thomas Nagel, who seems to me to believe something similar: that the "modern materialist approach" has let us down by not explaining certain features central to the mind: consciousness, intentionality, meaning and value. And he doesn't relate any of his argument to religion. Maybe he had the same teachers I had.

His approach is much calmer and more careful with his wording in presenting his case. I don't know if it matters, but he never uses the word "soul" so far as I remember. Is there a connection between the three ideas?

Anyway, the essay (excerpt from her book) is - to my notion - full of venom. She should have waited a week or a month after losing her debate with whomever and then written her book. As this reads, she is not convincing even me who half-believes in a soul, although different from what most religionists believe

I'm finished. Just my thoughts about her writing, not her beliefs. Those she is entitled to and I do not believe in tearing down anybody's faith. It can be quite disturbing, as we see in her essay..
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