why study neurology?

mat mats_trash at hotmail.com
Sun Jan 13 08:58:54 EST 2002


As I have said in other posts, religion and soul etc.. start with the
premise that they are not scientifically provable or unprovable. 
However, if you can prove a scientific theory of mind, then the
religious option become less attractive.  You can never disprove the
religious hypothesis becuase by definiton people who believe it don't
want it to be disproved and will have faith regardless.  As Richard
Dawkins has used as example, if you show devout christians the
overwhelming evidence for evolution the 'rational' among them accept
it but then say 'well God directs evolution' and interpret the story
of creation differently! You can never win.  Even if you showed that
the flux of ions and the protein dynamics in your brain could entirely
account for consciousness, people with religious beliefs will always
then say that a higher power directs them in their activity. At the
simplest level they can never accept things as just so.

> Really? My impression is that those who believe in the soul see it as
> something extracorporeal, non-material, rather than residing in any
> particular body part.

Maybe in some religions, but the heart is regarded as the 'source of
love' etc.. by its nature there is never an exact formulation, but
there have been popular assumptions such as these throughout history

> > or whatever.  Early studies of the heart showed
> >it isnt there, molecular biology has shown that cells have no 'life
> >force' just complex dynamics of proteins etc.
> 
> I am not aware that studies have shown any such thing. The exact nature
> of life and how it is conjured from certain biochemical constituents
> remains a mystery (much like consciousness).
> 

Of course studies have never disproven it because they never can. 
Religion is admirably clever in self-sustaining itself that way. 
However, though genomics and proteomics may still have a long way to
go, few believe in a vis vitalis within cells orchestrating it all. 
What I said initially is a pretty direct copy from a quote by James D.
Watson and although a call to higher authority is never a good
argument I know, in this case I think its justified.

> > I would like to to
> >make some contribution to showing that we do not have a soul. 
> 
> I have to confess this made me smile. As you yourself appear to consider
> in another post, this is not a question which is amenable to scientific
> inquiry one way or another. The scientific method is a wonderful tool for
> learning about ourselves and our world. Like all tools, it is useful for
> some things but not for others. 
> 
> Would you, for example, deny the existence of love? If you are prepared
> to believe it exists, then how would you go about proving that
> scientifically?? How would you "scientifically" advise a friend who was
> unsure whether to marry a particular woman?

I did not say proving.  Developing coherent and succesful scientific
theories to demonstrate the untenable position of religious beliefs is
all you can hope for. As to the second question I think you make an
error.  I would not deny the existence of love at all.  It is a
sucessful evolutionary strategy to promote species survival.  You make
the assumption that becuase science as yet cannot describe even the
simplest operations of the brain that it will never be able to
describe the higher level functions such as love.

> It is a fundamental philosophical error to state that all human experience
> can be reduced to electrochemical activity. Yes, such activity may be the
> biological substrate for experience- but it is not identical with the
> experience. Things work at more than one level. 

Maybe its a philosophical error but that does not equate to scientific
error at all. What you say has connotations of dualism.  If
electrochemical activity is simply the bioloical substrate, where then
does experience occur??  Dennett has pointed out that even most
scientists are dualists.  How often do we see animations of neurones
with brilliant flashes of light racing along to represent action
potentials as if they were something ethereal?  In comparison to the
total ion content of cells, action potentials are actually minor
events. However most scientists still have tacit beliefs that the
action potentials are something special.  Or they go further and
propse a property dualism, such as Penrose and Hameroff with their
Quantum Consciousness theory.
NB I'm not saying that APs do not function as the computaional
substrate of the brain, simply that they don't have dualistic
overtones.

>  (From one of your other posts):
> >I reckon that if scientists put forward theories in which we just had
> >to 'have faith' and no proof, more people would actually 'follow' and
> >believe sceince. 
> 
> We could all be said to be doing that though- the whole edifice of
> science is based on a number of unproven, perhaps even unprovable,
> assumptions. Quantum mechanics has necessitated a re-think of some of
> those assumptions and still no-one really knows what it means. 

Theories must connect observtions as part of a coherent whole.  There
may be unproven assumptions underlying these, but that depends heavily
on what you accept as proof.  Quantum mechanics explains certain
phenomena and some might consider that enough to be proof of the
assumptions made within the theory.  That another theory could come
along and still explain observation with a whole host of different
assumptions is not in dispute.  No one is asking you to have faith in
Quantum Mechanics on the basis of no proof whatsoever.  Parts of
Quatum mechanics are the most succesful theories ever created to
explain real-world phenomena.  However religion asks you simply to
have faith on the basis that you just should.


> This is not meant to sound anti-science- I'm currently employed as a
> research neuroscientist after all. However, you make very sweeping
> statements about the nature of science, about human belief systems, even
> about the nature of life itself. I can't help suspecting that your knowledge
> and reading of the murkier aspects of all this is rather lacking, otherwise
> you could not be so confident in your views. This is not meant to be
> insulting, just an honest impression of your posts thus far.

I do not pretend to be expert in any of these areas.  What I would say
though is that believing science will explain consciousness etc.
without resorting to dualistic notions of souls is in fat a much less
sweeping statement than believing in God and extracorporeal existence
and the like.  We ridicule and pity those sects who believe in such
things as aliens in spaceships hiding behind comets and if they commit
suicide they'll be taken with them.  However, how much different are
many of the beliefs of the popular religions?  Just because they've
been around for millenia and are ingrained in our society doesn't make
them any less whacky.




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