Friday, June 14

What Neuroscience cannot Tell about Ourselves by Raymond Tallis






Finally I found common sense in the neuroscientist kingdom. There are numerous disciplines that neuroscientists are trying to take over sometimes with hilarious approaches for those who work on the field.

Disciplines such as  neuroaesthetics, neuroeconomics, neurosociology, neuropolitics, neurotheology, neurophilosophy, neurolaw, neurolit and others are at the curriculum of some universities.
The neuroscience conceit is creating some appalling hypothesis and arguments that defy logics and sometimes are even funny because of the mistakes and incongruent ideas.
But the field is receiving money for research while the humanities and even the scientific researches that are not of the interest of these sponsors receive nothing.

I just found this article by Raymond Tallis, a neuroscientist, where he analyzes and criticises all this neuromania.

It is a long article and it can be downloaded as pdf here or read here.

Excerpts:

"As a clinical neuroscientist, I could easily expatiate on the wonders of a discipline that I believe has a better claim than mathematics  to being Queen of the Sciences. For a start, it is a science in which many other  sciences converge: physics, biology, chemistry, biophysics, biochemistry, pharmacology, and psychology, among others. In addition, its object of study is the one material object that, of all the material objects in the
universe, bears most closely on our lives: the brain, and more generally, the nervous system."

"What neuroscience does not do, however, is provide a satisfactory account of the conditions that are sufficient for behavior and awareness. Its descriptions of what these phenomena are and of how they arise are incomplete in several crucial respects, as we will see. The pervasive yet mistaken idea that neuroscience does fully account for awareness and behavior is neuroscientism, an exercise in science-based faith. While to live a human life requires having a brain in some kind of working order, it does not follow from this fact that to live a human life is to be a brain in some kind of working order. This confusion between necessary and sufficient conditions lies behind the encroachment of “neuroscientistic” discourse on academic work in the humanities, and the present epidemic of such neuro-prefixed pseudo-disciplines as neuroaesthetics, neuroeconomics, neurosociology, neuropolitics, neurotheology, neurophilosophy, and so on." (emphasis added)

"The failure to distinguish consciousness from neural activity corrodes our self-understanding in two significant ways. If we are just our brains, and our brains are just evolved organs designed to optimize our odds of survival — or, more precisely, to maximize the replicative potential of the genetic material for which we are the vehicle — then we are merely beasts like any other, equally beholden as apes and centipedes to biological drives. Similarly, if we are just our brains, and our brains are just material objects, then we, and our lives, are merely way stations in the great causal net that is the universe, stretching from the Big Bang to the Big Crunch." (emphasis added)

"Wrong ideas about what human beings are and how we work, especially if they are endlessly repeated, keep us from thinking about ourselves in ways that may genuinely advance our self-understanding. Indeed, proponents of the neuroscientific account of human behavior hope that it will someday supplant our traditional understandings of mind, behavior, and consciousness, which they dismiss as mere “folk psychology.” According to a 2007 New Yorker profile of professors Paul and Patricia Churchland,
two leading “neurophilosophers,” they like “to speculate about a day when whole chunks of English, especially the bits that constitute folk psychology, are replaced by scientific words that call a thing by its proper name  rather than some outworn metaphor.” The article recounts the occasion Patricia Churchland came home from a vexing day at work and told her husband, “Paul, don’t speak to me, my serotonin levels have hit bottom, my brain is awash in glucocorticoids, my blood vessels are full of adrenaline, and if it weren’t for my endogenous opiates I’d have driven the car into a tree on the way home. My dopamine levels need lifting. Pour me a Chardonnay, and I’ll be down in a minute.” Such awkward chemical conversation is unlikely to replace “folk psychology” anytime soon, despite the Churchlands’ fervent wishes, if only because it misses the actual human reasons for the reported neurochemical impairments — such as, for example, failing to get one’s favored candidate appointed to a post."  (emphasis added - keep reading  here.)

Raymond Tallis, emeritus professor of geriatric medicine at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom, is the author, most recently, of Michelangelo’s Finger: An Exploration of Everyday Transcendence (Yale, 2010) and Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity (Acumen, forthcoming in 2011). This essay has been adapted from a lecture delivered in February 2010 at the American Enterprise Institute.

There is also a good article about neuroaesthetics here: "Art and the Limits of Neurosciences".


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