An old media saying is, it takes three to make a trend. If so, scoffing at materialist neuroscience may be a trend.
It’s not just medical neuroscientist Raymond Tallis, but back to him in a minute. New Scientist, the National Enquirer of pop science, recently featured a cautiously favourable review of two new books trashing the idea that current neuroscience is anywhere along the path of “reading minds.”
This matters because, as the New Scientist article puts it,
That, at least, is the popular conception of neuroscience – and it’s worth big money. The US and the European Union are throwing billions of dollars at two new projects to map the human brain. Yet there is also a growing anxiety that many of neuroscience’s findings don’t stand up to scrutiny. It’s not just sensational headlines reporting a “dark patch” in a psychopath’s brain, there are now serious concerns that some of the methods themselves are flawed.
Flawed methods? That’s the least of the problems. A bigger one is the basic idea.
Here’s where Darwin-doubting neuroscientist Raymond Tallis can help. Responding to the claim that brain scanning can locate Muslim fundamentalism, he notes,
You don’t have to be a Cartesian dualist to accept that we are more than our brains. It’s enough to acknowledge that our consciousness is not tucked away in a particular space, but is irreducibly relational. What is more, our moment-to-moment consciousness – unlike nerve impulses – is steeped in a personal and historical past and a personal and collective future, in cultures that extend beyond our individual selves. We belong to a community of minds, developed over hundreds of thousands of years, to which our brains give us access but which is not confined to the stand-alone brain. Studies that locate irreducibly social phenomena – such as “love”, the aesthetic sense, “wisdom” or “Muslim fundamentalism” – in the function or dysfunction of bits of our brains are conceptually misconceived.
Even the concept of fundamentalism is misconceived if it ignores the nature and outcome of beliefs.
It is scary to think that people are trusted with brain scanners who shouldn’t be trusted with a push mower. But maybe fewer people are listening to their insights these days …