religion and the brain

Paul Bramscher brams006_nospam at tc.umn.edu
Mon Oct 11 16:17:53 EST 2004


Well, it's more than DNA.  I'm not a life science expert, but I recall 
reading that while the DNA molecule builds everything from toes to 
eyeballs, it's dependent on some still ill-understood chemical 
mechanisms that turn on or off certain parts of the DNA molecule, to get 
it working at building a neuron or building a blood cell.

So we can't reduce to DNA.  We must look at DNA in relation to other 
DNA, in geo-spatial-chemical proximity to other cells which turn 
sections of it on or off to suit useful purpose in its present location. 
  As they say, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  There is 
an emergent dynamism here which is enabled by DNA (and its dependencies) 
at one level, but is more than DNA at another.

ray scanlon wrote:

> There is a continual attempt by the religionists to show that the
> brain is other than the expression of the DNA. The DNA constructs a
> precisely connected brain and sets the rules for synaptic growth and
> strengthening. These rules provide the structure with which the brain
> alters itself to adjust to the exterior world. Any statement to the
> effect that the DNA does not have sufficient informational capacity to
> build such a brain is simply a denial of science.
> 
> Any statement that the neurons are randomly connected, or that
> behavior is not completely determined by the condition of the neurons
> at the instant of the behavior, is a denial of science.
> 
> Any reference to free will, or to a soul with causal powers, is a
> denial of science. For soul, read spirit, essence, psyche, mind,
> consciousness, awareness, intelligence, intellect, mentality, self,
> individuality, persona, personality, executive function, conscious
> mental field, self-awareness, sentience.

I'm not so sure we need include intelligence and awareness here as 
"denials of science."  By over-stating the case, you risk weakening it.

Levels of dynamism beyond constituent components might help us 
understand the system both in terms of the dog wagging the tail, and the 
tail wagging the dog.

For example, the portuguese man 'o war is a composite organism, a number 
of different individuals with specializations coming together to build a 
a group effort, with ability to do things (float from the surface, sting 
food, etc.) that none of the individuals can do as a whole.  The 
composite organism affects the individuals and vice-versa.  Same general 
principle probably applies with regard to DNA and intelligence.

But we're so hung up on duality, cause/effect, and determinism, that 
it's troubling to even conceive of things intermingled this way.



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