Saturday, March 24, 2012

Scruton on “neuroenvy”

We’ve had several occasions (e.g. here, here, and here) to examine the fallacies committed by those who suppose that contemporary neuroscience has radically altered our understanding of human nature, and even undermined our commonsense conception of ourselves as conscious, rational, freely choosing agents.  In a recent Spectator essay, Roger Scruton comments on the fad for neuroscientific pseudo-explanations within the humanities, labeling it “neuroenvy.”

Here’s an especially insightful passage from the piece:

Neuroenvy… consist[s] of a vast collection of answers, with no memory of the questions.  And the answers are encased in neurononsense of the following kind:

‘The brains of social animals are wired to feel pleasure in the exercise of social dispositions such as grooming and co-operation, and to feel pain when shunned, scolded, or excluded.  Neurochemicals such as vasopressin and oxytocin mediate pair-bonding, parent-offspring bonding, and probably also bonding to kith and kin…’  (Patricia Churchland).

As though we didn’t know already that people feel pleasure in grooming and co-operating, and as though it adds anything to say that their brains are ‘wired’ to this effect, or that ‘neurochemicals’ might possibly be involved in producing it.  This is pseudoscience of the first order, and owes what scant plausibility it possesses to the fact that it simply repeats the matter that it fails to explain.  It perfectly illustrates the prevailing academic disorder, which is the loss of questions.

This seems to me almost exactly right.  Consider the way addiction is often discussed these days in pop science and journalistic contexts.  Everyone has always known that smoking, drinking alcohol, taking drugs, looking at pornography, eating sweets, etc. can be habit forming.  Everyone has also always known that the reason has to do with the pleasure involved in such activities.  Yet when neuroscientists tell us that such activities involve an increase in dopamine levels, which are associated with pleasure, this is treated as some major breakthrough in understanding addiction, even one that undermines our belief in moral responsibility.  Hence we are told in one pop science article that:

In the past, addiction was thought to be a weakness of character, but in recent decades research has increasingly found that addiction to drugs like cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine is a matter of brain chemistry.

To see how very silly such a remark is, suppose someone who has been reading up on the chemistry of paint decided that he had hit upon something that would revolutionize aesthetics, declaring:

In the past, the beauty of a great painting was thought to involve craftsmanship, composition, a balance of colors, and so forth, but in recent decades research has increasingly found that it is a matter of paint chemistry.  

The reason I say that Scruton has things “almost exactly right” might be evident from this comparison.  Paint chemistry might have some relevance to understanding the beauty of a painting; for example, it would not be without interest if it turned out that certain colors retained their vibrancy for a longer period of time if they were painted with paint having such-and-such a chemistry.  Similarly, we can allow that neuroscience can give us some insight into human behavior.  (Obviously, if one were chemically to intervene so as to prevent an increase in dopamine levels, this might have an effect on the subject’s tendency toward addiction -- though whether this would be a good way to deal with addiction is another story.)

But paint chemistry is obviously only a part, and a relatively small part, of understanding the beauty of a painting.  And brain chemistry is only a part, and a relatively small one, of understanding human nature.  In particular, it gives us only what Aristotelians call the material cause of human behavior, and part of the efficient cause; but it does not give us the formal or final causes, or the entirety of the efficient cause.  All four aspects are irreducible components of any action, and an analysis which focuses on one or two is like an analysis of a painting which focuses exclusively on the chemistry of the paint.  Scruton gestures in the direction of this point when he writes:

We should recognise that not all coherent questions about human nature and conduct are scientific questions, concerning the laws governing cause and effect.  Most of our questions about persons and their doings are about interpretation: what did he mean by that?  What did her words imply?  What is signified by the hand of Michelangelo’s David?  Those are real questions, which invite disciplined answers.  And there are disciplines that attempt to answer them.  The law is one such.  It involves making reasoned attributions of liability and responsibility, using methods that are not reducible to any explanatory science, and not replaceable by neuroscience, however many advances that science might make.  

Questions of meaning, responsibility, reasons for action and the like are questions about the formal and final causes of the behavior of rational animals, and thus lie necessarily beyond the domain of reductive neuroscience.  When I intentionally type these words into my computer, there is the material cause of the action, which is the associated neural and other physiological activity, and the efficient cause of the motion of my fingers, which includes this physiological activity; but there is also the final cause of the action, which is the end or goal of conveying some philosophical ideas, and the formal cause, which is the human soul -- “human soul” here understood, not in the popular sense of a wispy, ghostly thing that enters into a body in order to animate it and exits it at death,  and not in the Cartesian sense of an immaterial substance, but rather in the technical Aristotelian sense of the substantial form of a rational animal.  And the efficient cause of the action includes the intellectual activity distinctive of something with that sort of substantial form (as contrasted with the merely sensory or imaginative powers that a non-rational animal possesses) -- where the intellectual element and the neural element are not two things (as they are for the Cartesian dualist) but rather two irreducible aspects of one thing (just as a sentence is one thing with two aspects, material and semantic).  

This Aristotelian understanding of a human being, like the Aristotelian understanding of every natural substance, is radically anti-reductionist.  The “higher-level” features of human beings -- their thoughts, volitions, actions, perceptions, and other activities and properties of the organism as a whole -- are no less real and fundamental than their “lower-level” features (e.g. their neural processes).  Indeed, the latter are themselves only properly understood by reference to the whole of which they are a part.  To give a purely neuroscientific description of human behavior is to abstract from actual concrete reality, just as to ignore the differences between a falling human body and a falling sack of grain for the purposes of physics is to abstract from actual concrete reality.  In both cases the exercise in abstraction can be very useful for certain purposes.  And in both cases it would be ludicrous to treat the abstraction as if it captured the whole of the phenomena in question.

Materialists and Cartesians alike share the tendency to reify abstractions and then reduce the things of our experience to the abstractions.  In particular, both treat the necessarily partial description that natural science gives of the human body as if it were an exhaustive description.  Cartesians just tack on to this abstraction a separate “immaterial substance.”   They rightly see that there is no way that a completely materialist analysis can account for consciousness, intentionality and rationality -- that is to say, for those human activities and properties that science itself, in whose name the materialist puts forward his reductionist position, necessarily presupposes.  But having reified abstractions -- reducing the human body to the sort of mechanical system describable by physics and raising the human mind to a complete substance in its own right -- they make of a human being a bizarre Rube Goldberg contraption, a ghost mysteriously moving around bits of clockwork, which understandably raises the suspicions of materialists.  

Materialists typically assume that the Cartesian move is what anyone who criticizes their reductionism must be committed to.  (See chapter 4 of Aquinas for a detailed account of the differences between the Aristotelian-Thomistic and Cartesian views of human nature.)  And so deeply and unreflectively have they imbibed reductionist thinking that they fail to perceive that the arguments that they think prove reductionism really only assume reductionism -- begging the question, and none too subtly at that.  In particular, they fail to see that the stuff about increased dopamine levels “proves” that addicts lack moral responsibility, or that Libet’s experiments “prove” that we lack free will, only if we already assume that human action is entirely reducible to the neural phenomena in question, which is of course precisely what is at issue.  And they would also beg the question were they to insist that categories like formal and final causation are acceptable only if they can somehow be reduced to those recognized by physics, chemistry, biology, or neuroscience.  

Meanwhile, critics like Scruton and Raymond Tallis, while they rightly denounce reductionism of both a materialist or Cartesian sort, fail to put in its place a systematic rival metaphysics like the Aristotelian one.   Powerful as their criticisms are, their positive account of human nature is bound to seem obscurantist to those who cannot see any plausible alternative to materialism as a general conception of the natural world.  For it takes a metaphysics to counter a metaphysics.  Until materialism, scientism, and naturalism are not only criticized but replaced with something better, they will not lose the baneful grip on modern culture that Scruton and Tallis rightly deplore.

33 comments:

Syphax said...

So, as a grad student in psychology, I'm wondering how exactly you'd interpret the findings of psychologists in a way that is acceptable to Aristotelians then. In other words, if I am leaning towards Aristotelianism, how could I write/publish future psychology research that takes into account formal or final causes?

I assume it would still be acceptable to talk about parts of the brain, neural properties, networks, information processing and storage, etc., but 1) instead of saying, for instance, memory can be reduced to storage in neural networks, I would say that memory DEPENDS on such-and-such neural networks, etc., and 2) it would be acceptable to talk about different parts of the brain having such-and-such purpose for the whole of the organism (the amygdala's purpose is to help the organism provide a bridge between memories and emotions, etc.).

I am sympathetic to the Aristotelian view, and I am quite willing to try my hand at reworking my language in future publications to language that accomodates the Aristotelians, but only if it's not too cumbersome, nor is it so dramatic of a language difference that reviewers would just scratch their heads and reject it.

Developing an Aristotelian language for psychology is a pet project of mine, and so I'm wondering how it could be done in a modern context.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Syphax,

Check out books like P. M. S. Hacker's Human Nature: The Categorial Framework and Daniel Robinson's Consciousness and Mental Life. I've often recommended Baker and M. R. Bennett's Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience, and their book History of Cognitive Neuroscience is worth looking at too.

Syphax said...

They're now on my list. Much appreciated.

Syphax said...

Or, to clarify, the cheapest books on that list are on my Amazon wishlist now.

Edward Feser said...

BTW, though they are not "up to date," it would also be useful to track down and read relevant older Aristotelian-Scholastic works, e.g. Brennan's Thomistic Psychology and History of Psychology, Mercier's Origins of Contemporary Psychology, Klubertanz's Philosophy of Human Nature, and Maher's Psychology: Empirical and Rational.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

I think that neuroscience can help us understand better human nature. And why not? We are part of physical nature too, aren’t we? To the degree then that we are part of physical nature the physical sciences have something useful to say.

For example, in Nora Volkow’s video the claim is made that about 50% of peoples’ vulnerability to addiction is genetically determined. Such claims are certainly within the subject matter of neuroscience, and knowing of no defeater I assume that this particular claim is true. Thus I learn something new about people, indeed something useful which helps me think better (and more charitably) about those who fall to addiction. And I learn this from science and not from metaphysics.

I have only now started reading Ed’s Aquinas (it’s finally available on the kindle btw), but I am not sure I see any conflict between such knowledge about human nature based on scientific research and A-T metaphysics. We already know that people have different potentials, and here science actually demonstrates that this extends to our potential related to morality. I have always understood that the Christian view is that God’s judgment takes into account both nature and nurture which are outside of a person’s responsibility. Those who are blessed with better nature and nurture are held to a higher standard. (Which, conversely, may explain the meaning of “blessed are the poor in spirit”.) The concept of personal responsibility itself is not amenable to scientific research of course, but what is amenable to scientific research can help us understand better the relationship between human nature and personal responsibility.

Ed uses a nice analogy about this. He says that “the intellectual/intentional element and the neural/physical element are not two things but rather two irreducible aspects of one thing – just as a sentence is one thing with two aspects, material and semantic”. But then, in the same way that science can help us read better a sentence on an ancient scroll and thus helps us find out its meaning, science can also help us understand better human nature by revealing to us its neurophysical aspect. And in the same way that only seeing the sentence clearly on that scroll is not sufficient for understanding its meaning, neither is clearly seeing the neural structure of the brain sufficient for understanding the mind. To understand its meaning requires knowledge far beyond details about the physical structure of the sentence. To understand the mind requires knowledge far beyond details about the physical structure of the brain. (The analogy leads to directions which a Aristotelian-Thomist may not like though: The same way that the meaning of a sentence is specified by but is not dependent on the physical structure of an actual sentence, the same way the human mind is specified by but is not dependent on the physical structure of an actual brain.)

Anyway, I have a lemma which I have found to be very useful: God is the author of physical nature too, and therefore whatever the physical sciences may discover about nature helps me understand God better.

James Drake said...

Following up on Syphax's question, could you make recommendations or suggest examples for how one could pursue research in the physical sciences that takes account of formal or final causes?

Daniel Smith said...

This may be a very stupid question but... what exactly IS the human soul?

I understand the concept that the soul is the 'form of the body' (or maybe more correctly the 'form of the person') and I believe that it must then be immaterial, but what exactly is it? Is it an 'idea' that 'informs' the material components as to their 'goals and purposes'?

My view of nature, as informed by my interpretation of the Fifth Way, is just that - that everything in nature runs on 'ideas from the mind of God'. I just don't know how 'thomist' that view is.

jhall said...

Hi James,

Check out the book "Philosophy of Nature and Quantum Reality" by nuclear physicist Ian J. Thompson. It focuses heavily on the interpretation of modern/quantum physics from a new essentialist perspective. In fact, he argues that understanding modern physics in terms of dispositions (read final cause) provides more insight than does the mechanistic model which currently dominates the sciences. This is one of the few guys that seems to be competent in both philosophy and physics.

I'd be curious to know if others have read this, and if so, what they think of the work.

goddinpotty said...

...where the intellectual element and the neural element are not two things (as they are for the Cartesian dualist) but rather two irreducible aspects of one thing (just as a sentence is one thing with two aspects, material and semantic).

This viewpoint does not seem different at all from that of reductive cognitivism. To a cognitivist, a chunk of neurons, or a chunk of logic from an AI, is exactly that -- a material thing that also has a semantic component.

Yet somehow you think you are in radical opposition to cognitivism. I don't get it. The only difference is that you are explicitly Aristotelian while they are (usually) implicitly Aristotelian.

Aquinas3000 said...

The other thing to keep in mind with memory is there is intellectual memory and sense memory.

Hunt said...

"And brain chemistry is only a part, and a relatively small one, of understanding human nature."

This isn't good evidence against psychological reductionism. Most researchers don't describe things using such absolute words as "cause" and "prove." Most will say that neurochemistry will predispose a person to be prone to addiction. Those with certain genetics will have a greater tendency to have an addiction during their life. Other circumstances will also play an important role. However, the causal nature of neurochemistry will affect the average number of addicts in a certain population. That is the kind of thing science will predict. You have to argue against the real methods of science if you don't want to be pointlessly fighting straw men.

Frank said...

Prof. Feser

Presumably you would not hold a student responsible for falling asleep in your class if he had been given a large enough dose of sedative, but why not? Is there any discovery of internal medicine or psychology that could lead you to conclude that a given action was not as free and responsible as you had previously thought?

An unrelated question, and one perhaps too vague to admit of a useful answer: to what extent do the books by Hacker and by Baker and Bennett depend upon Wittgensteinian arguments about category mistakes, abuse of language and "what one would say"?

Eduardo said...

Reductionism is a philosophical position, held, if Dr Feser is right, by materialists and cartesians.

Some times people will use Scienctific knowledge to argue for premises in philosophy.

Hunt you are equating Materialism or Cartesianism to Science. You see the post is not a cirtique of Scientific knowledge ITSELF.

___________________________________


Frank ... The post is not about, human beings have control over all their actions... Actually no such thing was argued.

Conrad said...

Of course we human beings do not have control over *all* of our actions. (c.f. Patellar reflex test.)

But for responsibility, and hence if a coherent form of Christianity is true, we must have control over *some* of our actions.

If we have control over some of our actions, then some of our actions cannot originate from brain chemistry/physics, since we have no control whatsoever over brain chemistry/physics.

But every single one of our actions in the physical world is brought about during its terminal phase by brain chemistry/physics, so if we have control over some of our actions, then something other than the brain (mind, soul, whatever) must in some way affect brain chemistry/physics primordially if moral responsibility is to make sense.


Otherwise, it seems we just have chains and chains of unbroken physical necessitation stretching back from brain chemistry/physics to some other type of chemistry/physics that was up and running well before we were even born, and we are obviously not responsible for things that preceded us. But if we aren't responsible for those chains, then we aren't responsible for these current chains and their effects either, since they're all the inevitable products of the chains that preceded us.


[Personally, I'm still a theist for Aristotelian reasons and will likely always be one, and will continue to believe that the mind is irreducible to brain. But I can't commit to any moral system because I can't find a way around this pesky problem of physical necessitation, and for the life of me I cannot grasp how the Aristotelian doctrine of "final causality" does the conceptual work of addressing the idea that every action is necessitated by a particular neurological substrate, which was in turn necessitated by pre-neurological physical events both inside and outside the body, the chain of physical necessitation stretching back all the way throughout history to at least the onset of macromolecular systems.]

Anonymous said...

If we have control over some of our actions, then some of our actions cannot originate from brain chemistry/physics, since we have no control whatsoever over brain chemistry/physics.

This depends largely on how "we" and "brain chemistry" are being defined, and is possibly guilty of begging the question against the Aristotilean/thomist out of the gates. It's not just that the thomist and the materialist disagree about the existence of some "soul", but that they also disagree about the nature of matter itself. You're describing what seems to be a thoroughly reductionist understanding of matter, and pointing out the problem of making sense of the Aristotilean view given it. But that understanding is precisely what Aristotileans and Thomists question to begin with.

vjtorley said...

Hi Ed,

I wrote a piece a while ago on the interaction problem, which I think is a real one for Thomists too:
http://www.uncommondescent.com/
intelligent-design/
why-i-think-the-interaction-problem-is-real/

See also:
http://www.uncommondescent.com/
intelligent-design/
how-is-libertarian-free-will-possible/

Of possible interest:
http://www.uncommondescent.com/
philosophy/
battle-of-the-two-elizabeths-are-free-will-and-physical-determinism-compatible/

Conrad said...

Anon,

I understand that Aristotelians believe that matter and nature more generally are imbued with teleology. And like I said, I am certainly some variety of Aristotelian/Thomist, because I do think that A-T thought successfully shows that God - conceived as Pure Actuality - exists. What I don't see at all, however, is how this teleology - this "final causality" - does any conceptual work of ridding us of the issue of physical necessitation and hence of the issue of the apparent lack of responsibility.

Here's my problem: Regardless of whether we're working within a "mechanistic" framework or a "teleological" one, putting Na+ and Cl- together will necessitate the production of NaCl, glutamate binding to a synaptic cleft will necessitate certain neurological signals, and so on. These are just observable truths. And now I see a bundle of macromolecules called a "sperm cell" fuse with a similar macromolecular system known as an "egg cell," and I think to myself, "The macromolecules of this unconscious bundle interacting internally with each other and externally with the environment in strict adherence to physical law are going to keep on interacting with each other and the environment in strict adherence to physical law, and eventually a particular sort of molecular bundle - a self-aware human adult - will emerge, and unless the immaterial mind that will then come into existence exerts some sort of influence over the physical laws that govern the macromolecules, or over the macromolecules themselves, the system will continue to unfold according to the laws of physics. And if the immaterial mind doesn't directly affect the physical world, I will be forced to conclude that the state of affairs A1, the macrophysical state of the self-aware person at any point during its life, was necessitated by A0, the macrophysical state of affairs before the sperm and egg fused.

In this way, if our immaterial minds do not in any way affect changes in the body, it appears impossible to deny that our lives are akin to a certain subsection of falling dominoes, a subsection which is situated within a much larger array of falling dominoes.

And whatever "I" am, I am not responsible for things that precede my existence, nor for anything they necessitate.

James Chastek said...

Here's my problem: Regardless of whether we're working within a "mechanistic" framework or a "teleological" one, putting Na+ and Cl- together will necessitate the production of NaCl, glutamate binding to a synaptic cleft will necessitate certain neurological signals, and so on.

This is true, but it is also an observable fact that this necessity can be used instrumentally by an intention, nature, luck or chance. I can mix the chemicals myself, and then we'd observe them being made intentionally; the chemicals could be mixed in the body of some organism, and then we'd observe them being made naturally or by nature; they could collide randomly in space and then we'd observe them being made by chance, etc. In other words, the necessity you speak about is used by intention and nature all the time. To observe necessity as a fact does not answer the question whether it is fundamental or instrumental. Plato gives an interesting argument in Book X of the Laws that the necessity you speak of is essentially the instrument of soul (as it is when I make my own salt), and this is concomitant with all of St. Thomas's five ways. Nature, both in its necessity and contingency, is still a moved mover, and so is an instrument of another.

Anonymous said...

Conrad,

n this way, if our immaterial minds do not in any way affect changes in the body, it appears impossible to deny that our lives are akin to a certain subsection of falling dominoes, a subsection which is situated within a much larger array of falling dominoes.

This seems flatly untrue, and again, it seems to rely on assuming the truth of a reductionist materialist account of the world. At least this is the way it's coming across to me.

Put the issue of determinism aside for a moment (and let's skip over the potential quantum physics talk too). When you give the sort of account you are, it really seems like you're suggesting - maybe without realizing it - that describing how macromolecules will function in hypothetical situations is to give a complete description of what's going on. But that's, again, what the aristotilean/thomist is going to be denying - they'll say that the description is woefully incomplete, and that the teleological description is complete. And the teleological description is going to speak in terms of intentionality, etc, in addition to everything else (rock-bottom intentionality, no less). You may object that even the teleological description still is going to be fixed in a way - "Could I have done otherwise?" - but that's actually a secondary concern. The teleological description gives an account of the mind that is at odds with the mechanistic one.

I suppose another way to say it is that the mind and the dominoes differ, because under the A-T understanding the mind really is thinking, really has intentionality, really is... real. Dominoes lack minds, this kind of intentionality, etc. All that's arguably similar is their determination, which is an important subject (and thats where we get into determinism, quantum physics, etc), but not the only relevant one.

Anonymous said...

"reductionist materialist"

just to butt in here, Conrad did say he believes in God and the irreducibility of the mind to matter, so this charge is untrue.

Ann O. said...

Syphax --

Abouut a new set of words for Aristotle's technical terms. "Efficient causality" is a most misleading expression. I suggest that you use the term that has become common in virtue ethics, "agency". It would serve nicely in the physical sciences and psych as well.

The other extremely misleading term in the current Aristotelian lexicon is the generic term "accident". The everyday meaning of the term has nothing whatsoever to do with the philosophical meaning. "Property" in the physical sciences stil retains the Aristotelian meaning, but the generic term "accident" really has got to go.

Good luck.

Paulinus said...

Presumably you would not hold a student responsible for falling asleep in your class if he had been given a large enough dose of sedative, but why not?

Not sure how this causes any particular problem in terms of free will. Either the sedative, with full knowledge of its sedative effects, was taken freely with predictable consequences, or it was administered surreptitiously by another, again, with predictable consequences.

In the first instance if the student was stupid enough to take a sedative before a lecture, the he would be culpable for falling asleep. The clue was in the word 'sedative'. If he was administered the drug by another, then he would hardly be culpable (unless he were so imprudent that he allowed another to administer GHB or ativan or whatever without asking what he was being given)

Likewise if he was narcoleptic and he fell asleep - he's not culpable for that.

This was a spectacularly bad example of neuroscience somehow mitigating falling asleep or explaining away any other behaviour in the face of the idea of free will.

Do you want to try again?

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

I think the article I cite below would provide some concrete grist for the theoretical mill of this thread. The researchers pull no punches on the metaphysical import of their research, so I think an equally self-aware metaphysical parsing would be fruitful.
http://www.laboratoryequipment.com/news-Memories-are-Held-in-Specific-Brain-Cells-032612.aspx?xmlmenuid=51

Aquinas3000 said...

Ann O, the trouble with that is that what most people mean by a "property" is what a Thomist would call a "proper accident" that is to say, an accident which flows out of the nature or sort of thing that it is (for example that man is risible which flows out of having an intellectual nature capable of seeing the absurd). But that a man be black or white or 180cm tall is not a property of man but perhaps of this man. So accident is a broader term.

Ann O. said...

Aquinas3000 --

Yes, that's why I said that "accident" is the generic term.

As to the meaning of "property", it seems to me that in the sciences it has retained the Aristotelian meaning of an accident which flows from a substantial essence and is necessarily found in all things of that substance. It is because properties are necessarily found in all of a kind that they can be used in constructing a "definition" of that kind of thing, e.g., water freezes at 32 degrees Farenheit. (Strictly speaking a combination of properties is not a definition, but serves just as well to identify a substance.)

Anonymous said...

@Jhall

I looked up the book you recommended about essentialism and quantum physics. I found a free . PDF of the book on the web so I skimmed through it. The topic that grabbed my attention was the candidates for pure actuality. I read it more thoroughly but I'm not sure if I necessarily agree. He seems to claim that pure actuality is finite although his argument does not seem convincing. It seemed to me that his pure actuality is a finite event. What is your understanding of that and how do you reconcile that with Thomism and Classicsl Theism? 

machinephilosophy said...

jhall,

Thanks for the book recommendation. The Table of Contents itself is amazing. I'm also interested in checking out his Starting Science From God: Rational Scientific Theories from Theism, which came out a year later (2011).

machinephilosophy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
machinephilosophy said...

Ed,

A great list of books. I've never even heard of the authors, much less the tomes themselves, although I've seen P.M.S. Hacker's name before, who is the co-author of Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience as well as the Human Nature book. I'm already previewing that one. Heavy metal.

Perhaps you could at some point compose a bibliography of books relating to all the issues you deal with.

Zach said...

What strikes me as much more alarming is neurophobia, the knee-jerk reaction that neuroscience will be irrelevant because some armchair hack insists on it. The new fad of inventing derisive terms like 'neurobabble' or whatever. Neuroluddites are dying, their paroxisms simply transparent attempts to save the Titanic. Good riddance.

This is pseudoscience of the first order, and owes what scant plausibility it possesses to the fact that it simply repeats the matter that it fails to explain.

It isn't science at all that he cites, but a philosopher Patricia Churchland. As a summary of the research on the neuronal processes that have some explanatory bearing on social relations in mammals, I'm not sure why he is getting so up in arms. What she said, which is a quick summary of more details she gives about the actual research, is fine when considered in context.

She would never say she is offering a full or final explanation, but following the evidence where it leads, and it suggests that there are certain chemicals that are very important in certain social interactions in mammals.

It is noncontroversial, and she would admit, early in the research.

That book 'Conceptual Foundations of Neuroscience' has had zero effect in neuroscience, because it is horrible. For reasons adumbrated various places.

The authors are analytical behaviorists. How someone who acts like an authority on these matters could recommend such a piece of trash that is obviously inconsistent with his actual position is something I leave as an exercise for the readers to explain.

Stick to metaphysics.

machinephilosophy said...

"neuroscience will be irrelevant"

Who said that? Are you talking about Scruton, Ed, or some group of people?

Anonymous said...

Zach seems to be one of those desperate defenders of neurononsense, who doesn't even understand the essence of the post and thus resorts to knee-jerk reactions, which is in fact ironic. Someone needs to explain it to him, if he is to contribute anything at all other than the usual tiresome and pedantic neurorhetoric.

Regardless, neuroscience (when done correctly) is helpful but very limited. We should presue investigations in the field but always be extremely careful of how we interpret the findings along with how we construct the theories/paradigms. The notion that neuroscience will illuminate our understanding of Mankind in some radical way is a mere illusion that has no place either in science or philosophy.

What is dying here, is the public's blind faith in neurogarbage and that is a step in the right direction.