UFO Conjectures

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The NeuroScience Backlash (and an inadvertent explanation for Alien Abductions?)

The September 9th [2013] New Yorker had a piece by Adam Gopnik that is fraught with quite a few interesting observations. 

The article was (and is) Mindless: The new neuro-skeptics [Page 86 ff.].

A blurb at he bottom of Page 86 states (to invite controversy?):

“Neuroscience can often answer the obvious questions but rarely the interesting ones.”

 Gopnik opens his piece with this:

“God myths turn on simple pairs -- God and Lucifer, Sun and Moon” and then offers this about Star Trek:

“Mr. Spock speaks for the rational, analytic self who assumes that the mind is a mechanism and that everything it does is logical [but] Captain Kirk [speaks] for the belief that what governs our life is not only irrational, but inexplicable, and the better for being so.” [Page 86]

“Writers on the brain and the mind tend to divide into Spocks and Kirks, either embracing the idea that consciousness can be located in a web of brain tissue or debunking it.” [Page 86]

“The neurological turn has become what the ‘cultural’ turn was a few decades ago: the all-purpose nn-explanation explanation of everything.” [Page 86]

“Myths depend on balance, on preserving their eternal twoness, and so we have on our hands a sudden and severe Kirkist backlash. A series of new books all present watch-and-ward arguments designed to show that brain science promises much and delivers little.” [Page 86 still]

Robert A. Burton, the author of A Skeptics Guide to the Mind discusses free will offering “that neuroscience doesn’t yet know enough and never will” … The mind is and will always be a mystery.” [Page 87]

Gopnik writes (which I like) that “Psychology is an imperfect science, but it’s a science.” [Page 87]

Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld in their book Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuro-Science “Courageously … take on, and dismiss, the famous experiments by Benjamin Libet that seem to undermine the idea of free will.” [Page 87]

Nickolas Rose and Joelle M. Abi-Rached, in their book, Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind, are skeptical that Libet’s indication that the brain begins “firing” muscle movement before any (thoughtful) choice has been made “tells us anything about the exercise of human will in any of the naturally occurring situations where individuals believe they have made a conscious choice…” [Page 87]

Patricia S. Churchland, defends neuroscience in her book, Touching a Nerve: The Self as Brain.

Gopnik writes that Churchland “is rightly contemptuous of ‘scientism’ to dismiss the importance of neuroscience to philosophy.”

Gopnik write that “Humanism not only survived [many] demystifications” and was made “stronger by demonstrating the power of rational inquiry on which humanism depends. Every time the world becomes less mysterious, nature becomes less frightening, and the power of the mind to grasp reality more sure. A constant reduction of mystery to matter, a belief that we can name natural rules we didn’t make – that isn’t scientism. That’s science.” [Page 88, for Gilles Fernandez]

“It’s perfectly possible … to have an explanation that is at once trivial and profound” and citing Churchland he offers “She gives a lively example of the panic that we feel in dreams when our legs refuse to move as we flee the monster. This turns out to be a straightforward neurological phenomenon: when we’re asleep, we turn off our motor controls, but when we dream we still send out signals to them. We really are trying to run and can’t. If you feel this, and also have the not infrequent problem of being unable to distinguish between waking and dreaming states, you might think that you have been paralyzed and kidnapped by aliens.”  [Page 88]

There are no aliens … the best thing for people who have [such] recurrent nightmares … is to get more REM rest. ‘Get more sleep’ … It works.” [Page 88]

Gopnik sums up with this:

“Philosophy may someday dissolve into psychology and psychology into neurology, but since the lesson of neuro is that thoughts change brains as much as brains [change] thoughts, the reduction may not reduce much that matters.” [Page 88]

“Or, as they say on the Enterprise, it takes kinds to run a starship.” [Page 88]