why study neurology?

Nick Medford nick at hermit0.demon.co.uk
Fri Jan 11 12:51:45 EST 2002

In article <4b9ea6a.0201080313.1f71fab1 at posting.google.com>,
Mathew Guilfoyle <GuilfoyleMR at cardiff.ac.uk> writes
>I am also studying medicine, and I would like to specialise in
>neurology with a significant amount of my time spent doing research if
>at all possible. 

I have been following this thread with interest- I'm a UK medic, I was a
a trainee neurologist, I switched to neuropsychiatry some years ago.

> Humans have always regarded themselves as having a
>special spirit, a soul

Indeed, this has, as far as we can tell, been a feature of every human
culture that has ever existed. Why do you think this might be so? Is it
because everyone, everywhere, has been involved in the same denial of
harsh reality? Could there be another explanation? (Have you ever read
any Jung?)
> 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).

>, gradually the 'soul'
>has been pushed further and further into the corner, and it now
>resides in the brain for those who believe in it. 

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.

> 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?
> We
>ourselves are nothing but the complex dynamics of molecules. 

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. 

> Far from
>diminishing what it means to be human, understanding how complex and
>intricate our brains are would be a great step forward

Well, I agree with that at least.

 (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. 

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.

Nick Medford

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