[Neuroscience] Re: Need Help With Neuroscience-Related Article
Glen M. Sizemore
(by gmsizemore2 At yahoo.com)
Sat Jan 6 09:25:59 EST 2007
As a grad student with boatloads of neuro training, I could put in more
than 2 cents worth. As Glen says, there's a good deal of hyperbole
GS: Hi Ian (I doubt that "Vitro" is your last name).
If you read further, though, you will see that I hedged somewhat. Although
not many people who could be called "neuroscientists" would argue that they
are investigating the question "Who am I?" (some would though), it is clear
that neuroanatomy and neurophysiology are unfulfilling until we relate these
disciplines to behavioral facts, and some of those behavioral facts involve
complicated human behavior - behavior that some (but not me) would say
necessitate a "self" (or an "executive") etc. It is when these sorts of
issues are raised that neuroscience is, almost thoroughly, committed to a
dualistic epistemology. No one argues that there is a non-physical stuff,
but the simple substitution of "brain" for "mind" has preserved the old
IV: The article talks mostly about work from the 19th century, which
we've largely moved beyond in many respects.
GS: Have we? I would argue, as did Skinner, that most of what is new in
neurobiology has come about, not by some conceptual revolution, but by
breakthroughs in other fields like physics and engineering (fMRI), genetics
(knockouts), biochemistry (highly selective blockers and agonists), etc. I
believe that the original article, as naïve as it is, captures this
sentiment: we are still simply correlating location of critical circuits and
behavior, without explaining how the physiology mediates behavioral
function. And the reason is, I believe, partly because "we" have adopted a
conceptual structure that is, to put it bluntly, totally screwed up. That
conceptual base consists of a dualistic epistemology. Again, to put it
bluntly, we were once comfortable with an indwelling entity that pulled some
of the strings that make behavior happen, and "we" are still comfortable
with such indwelling entities that live in places like the hippocampus and
IV: The subsequent ones
address modern research, but I couldn't access them to give a breakdown
on any one in particular.
Most modern neuroscientists are not concerned about "Who am I?" in
GS: I have questioned this statement to some extent.
IV: We try to limit ourselves to questions we can answer if
we want to make progress at a scientific level. But it is arguable that
questions such as this drove early neuroscience research. In Phineas
Gage's time (the accident was 1848) most of the world consisted of
confirmed dualists, and the study of mind and brain were only just
starting to coincide thanks to the work of men like Broca, Wernicke and
Hughlings-Jackson later in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
There are indeed dualists within modern neuroscience and the philosophy
of neuroscience. Check people like Hameroff & Penrose (we can't imagine
how consciousness might work, so it must be really complicated and
involve some equally complicated branch of science - I know! Quantum
physics!) and Frank Jackson (and the concept of qualia); who seem to
believe that whatever the mind is, it consists of a physical portion
and some other portion which is affected by unmeasurable, unknowable
forces. Even some respected scientists, Sir John Eccles for example,
emerge as dualists under close scrutiny.
GS: I have suggested that, in contrast to what you say, that the dualism is
widespread. Indeed, I argue that it is nearly ubiquitous when one considers
what is important, i.e., the epistemological stance.
IV: I am personally a staunch monist (see Patricia Churchland, bless her
heart; and Daniel C. Dennett for arguments supporting this side).
GS: Both of these people miss the point. I'm most familiar with Dennett who,
IMO, is an absolute idiot.
IV: Problem is that once you start talking about "self" and consciousness,
you start getting uncomfortably close to what people might think of as
a soul. And a lot of people aren't willing to let go of that concept
(and they might be right for all we know), and thus feel that some part
of the mind continues forever as a soul, and therefore some part of the
mind must be non-material. My personal feeling is that, like
creationism, this has no place in a science classroom or experimental
reasoning, but it needs to be debated.
GS: Once again, the issue is not ontology, it is epistemology.
IV: The analogy of "software" comes from the view of the mind as a
non-physical aspect of the brain, or at least implies that it exists.
It is a fairly common one, and I really don't like it because of the
clear dualist implications.
GS: Good for you! A step in the right direction.
IV: I like the metaphor offered by the monists
that describe consciousness as an "emergent property" of the brain.
Like in nanotech or computer simulations of pattern recognition, large
groups of information processing units seem to spontaneously
self-assemble to maximize efficiency, some philosophers think something
similar occurs in brains using neurons and glia, and their
multitudinous electrical and chemical interactions.
GS: This also misses the point. The issue is, I believe, how such phenomena
are to be understood at the behavioral level, for it is this level that
"contains" what must be explained, and it is here that neuroscience has been
corrupted by mainstream psychology.
IV: To be honest, we still have some scientists and philosophers debating
dualism. However, dualism includes by definition a component
inaccessible through the material realm, and thus unmeasurable to
science. Because science concerns itself with the physical and
material, it shouldn't try too hard to incorporate dualism into its
GS: Again (in case the horse is not yet dead), the issue is not
ontological - it is epistemological.
"ian.vitro" <ian.vitro At gmail.com> wrote in message
news:1168010498.654280.104060 At i15g2000cwa.googlegroups.com...
> As a grad student with boatloads of neuro training, I could put in more
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