why study neurology?

mat mats_trash at hotmail.com
Tue Jan 15 19:48:58 EST 2002


Nick Medford <nick at hermit0.demon.co.uk> wrote in message news:<4xdBCGAIX+Q8EwM1 at hermit0.demon.co.uk>...
> In article <43525ce3.0201130558.320c3832 at posting.google.com>, mat
> <mats_trash at hotmail.com> writes
> >> 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. 
> 
> I still find this a curious assertion: you yourself have provided the
> arguments which show why this cannot really be the case. Religious
> thought is endlessly adaptive. There will always be unknowns and
> mysteries, so there can always be appeals to the non-material world for
> answers to those mysteries. 

I know, I would just hope (in vain) to appeal to a common sense.  The
more of our everyday world that is explained the more the unexplained
phenomena in science become more abstract and seemingly unrelated to
average person.  When we didn't know whether the sun went around the
earth or vice versa, mot people could appreciate it.  Whether the
Higgs Boson exists is something of a more specialised variety. 
Consequently I woul *hope* to show that science is an increasingly
better alternative to religion (and I know many scientists are
religious, but hey).  But as you point out, religion is endlessly
adaptive.
>   
> >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. 
> 
> What a romantic fellow you are!
> 
:) 

> To be serious,  this is not really my point. Even if love is merely an
> evolutionary strategy, this doesn't alter the fact that it is an unquantifiable
> subjective experience. My point is that the scientific method is not well
> suited to investigating first-person subjective experience, yet even the
> most devout scientist would not deny that such experiences exist.
> 
Well it is and it isn't.  I would suggest that our 'subjetive self' is
an elaborate construct of our brains such that we think we are
subjective.  I can imagine why such a development would have been a
succesful evolutionary strategy - if you give a person the feeling
that they are aware of themselves and the world then they can develop
more sophisticated interactions and societies and hence a more stable
existence.  Thats wholly conjecture of course.  I would not deny it
exists becuase that would be blindingly stupid, however I would deny
that it exists in the nature that you say it does.  I do not believe
it to be as it seems.

What you take as evidence of qualia are things ineffable - the redness
of red, the feeling of pain etc. I take the very fact that we can't
describe them outside themsevles to be evidence that they don't exist
in the strong sense you propose.  I can't describe redness objectively
because it doesn't exist.  All I get to know is that an object is red.
 I can make no more investiagtion of the redness becuase I think it is
simply a piece of knowledge.  IMHO our visual and other perceptual
systems provide 'us' with detailed knowledge of the environment and
our interaction with it (even that sentence a dualistic overtones, put
for ease of reading I'll leave it like that).  I know that the blue
box is closer too me than the red one, I can't describe the difference
in colour becuase all I know is that they're different.  We 'see'
certain things as more distant from us than others but I believe all
we have is knowledge that one is further.  We can't describe WHY sound
is different to vision, all we KNOW is that they are.

And I just KNOW you're going to hate that idea! :)

> So this is another reason why religious/spiritual experiences cannot be
> explained away by scientific reasoning, even though we may be able to
> generate rationally-based theories about them. 
> 
> > You make
> >the assumption that becuase science as yet cannot describe even the
> >simplest operations of the brain
> 
> Actually, I think we can already describe quite a few operations of the
> brain

which? :) on a broad general level, but not in an anyway detailed
manner.  Of course everyone *knows* what the brain does, just by
having one, but no one knows how.

> You misread me: I make no such assumption. The point I am trying to
> make- indeed the reason I got involved with this thread- is rather more
> subtle. Even if some biochemical marker for "being in love" were to be
> discovered tomorrow, this would not "describe" or "explain" the
> experiential phenomenon of love. I do not object to the idea that such
> experiences require a biological, neural substrate. I think it is highly
> unlikely that we can experience anything without such a substrate!
>
You are putting forward the belief that the explanation of experience
is not exhausted by the "science" of the brain.  Similar position as
David Chalmers et al. then?  Dualism.  Im not ridiculing it, just
being clear.
 
> Consider this:
> 
> Suppose you have a table in your room, which has various properties:
> 
> - it's a table
> - it is made of oak
> - it is useful to you, because you use it to store things i.e. it has a function
> - it has a sentimental value because it was a present  
> - it is antique and worth a lot of money 
> 
> etc, etc. In short it has a whole range of meanings and properties.
> 
> Now someone who has never seen a table comes to visit you. They are
> intrigued by this strange phenomenon, this "table", and its many functions
> and properties as described above. They seek to understand it, so they
> take a tiny piece of it and examine it under an electron microscope. 
> 
> This enables them to gain a detailed view of the ultrastructure of the
> wood. They then return to your room and  proudly announce that they
> have now "explained" your table and all its various functions, meanings
> and properties.
> 
> You would, I imagine, find this claim absurd. Yet for some reason when
> people do exactly this with the human brain and human experience, many
> scientists don't bat an eyelid. 
>  
This is a fallacy.  I don;t know if you've read Consciousness
Explained by Dennett put he puts forward a similar example (but comes
to a different conclusion)  A neuroscientist is intrested in how the
brain processes colour.  Only problem is she has a retinal defect such
that she can only see in two colours.  However she spends her whole
life studying the neural basis of different peoples' brains and
particularly how they process on seeing the colour red.  Your
conclusion would be that howevr much she investigates she will never
have the subjective experience or quale of seeing red? But how can you
be so sure?  How do you know that once we have explored the brain in
all its depth that we couldn't explain subjective experience in what
we found?  Is there somthing lacking in the theory or in your
imagination based on the current state of affairs?

On recollection the Mary the Colour Scientist example is not
Dennett's, he just uses it.  Don't know who came up with it first.

> >
> >> 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.  
> 
> Hopefully you will see from the above example that one does not need to
> be a dualist to take this position.
> 
It is indeed dualism!  If you're saying that cells, proteins, ions,
etc in the brain - the biological and physical 'stuff' - is not enough
to explain the mind then you must be positing a 'mind stuff'.  Which
if it isn't physical is dualistic. What is the other level you talk
about?  It can't be another part of the neurones or glia becuase then
I would totally agree with you.  The qualia or subjective nature of
experiences that you want included must occur in a 'mind stuff'.

> > 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.
> 
> I don't know, I am not religious. But people who are state that their
> subjective experience affords them some kind of "proof", or at least
> support, for their beliefs. The fact that it cannot be quantified or
> measured means it is not scientific but it doesn't mean it's not "true",
> even if only true for them.  
> 
> >  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? 
> 
> I think it depends on the religion, and on the practitioner.

I was taught religion for quite a while.  Most systems have their very
strange beliefs (usually involves coming back from the dead in some
way).  Simply because they are so popular and rooted in our society
that no-one bats an eye doesn't mean they have any inherent truth. 
The very basis of religion is faith, which by definition requires
there to be no proof (positive or negative)

And I don;t want any psychoanalytic theory on reactionary tendencies
to enforced religious learning thanks! :)




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