Neuroscience: “The Young and the Bureau”

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Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose draws my attention to her post on David Brooks’s column, “The Young and the Neuro” (New York Times, October 12, 2009), extolling the eager young neuroscientists who – in my view – know just enough to get it all wrong, as follows:

Since I’m not an academic, I’m free to speculate that this work will someday give us new categories, which will replace misleading categories like ‘emotion’ and ‘reason.’ I suspect that the work will take us beyond the obsession with I.Q. and other conscious capacities and give us a firmer understanding of motivation, equilibrium, sensitivity and other unconscious capacities.
 The hard sciences are interpenetrating the social sciences. This isn’t dehumanizing. …


 Oh yes it is, and it is intended to be.

Given the way things will go if pseudo-disciplines in neuroscience catch on with government – for example in the criminal justice system – (cf “neurolaw”), were I the headliner, I would be tempted to retitle Brooks’s piece, “The Young and the Bureau.”

Anyway, West Allen comments on the underlying assumption that the mind does not really exist.

As Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz has said, “The brain puts out the call, the mind decides whether to listen.”

Many of the materialists do not believe in free will. (See, for example, the first link below.) This reductionist lens can be insulting to the human spirit. In the legal profession, it can be dangerous

She provides links at the above post to many excellent posts arguing the dangers of neurolaw.

As I always say, if the prosecution team cannot convict on the external evidence, it cannot convict, period. People are citizens with civil rights, not goats or beetles. A government that does not recognize that fact should not exist. If your government does not recognize it, please hold a revolution soon.

If everyone who thought about murder did it, half the bosses on the planet would be found dead on their coffee break – and scads of administrative assistants too.

Incidentally, West Allen is not the only skeptic. As I reported earlier, a writer for New Humanist – not the source that would have immediately jumped out at me – has expressed similar, justifiable skepticism.

Also: New! Neurolaw: Confusing intent with motive is a threat to human rights

25 Replies to “Neuroscience: “The Young and the Bureau”

  1. 1
    Frost122585 says:

    What a perverse quote:

    “I suspect that the work will take us beyond the obsession with I.Q. and other conscious capacities and give us a firmer understanding of motivation, equilibrium, sensitivity and other unconscious capacities.”

    Interesting how they yearn to get rid of the misleading notion of “IQ.” Basically they want a world which does not care about intelligence and only seeks to create it’s own truths that everyone must accept (probably as “scientific consensus”) regardless of whether naturally intelligent people can see and articulate the obvious flaws. That is, they want a scientific religion where the value of the individual is replaced with the individual’s value to the community.

    What they are really trying to say and make true is-

    “If IDists, or religious people are winning the intellectual debate, then to hell with the intellect.”

    And of course this would be a popular doctrine among the stupid followers of the world- who would rather not have to compete with minds and ideas greater than their own.

    “Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocre minds. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his own intelligence.”

    -Albert Einstein

  2. 2
    TempHut says:


    I didn’t get that interpretation at all from the quote. Clearly IQ is not that important, it just happens to be something that we can actually measure. Ironic that you quoted Einstein since he was clearly somebody who could not be picked out by standarized testing, but maybe neuroscience can figure out why he is so much better/more imaginative than almost everybody else when it comes to something like physics.

  3. 3
    Frost122585 says:

    Yeah IQ sure isn’t. I guess Einstein was sucessful because of those teachers who concluded that he was retarded and would never ammount to anyhting when he was in grade school. And I am sure his small bit of success had nothing at all to do with his natural intelligence. You don’t need an IQ to revolutionize physics. You just need a tribe of people to think. And as we all know Einstein just asked way too many questions and spoke way too slowly (to make sure his answers were very accurate)- which proves that there was something badly wrong with him, because he was not playing his defined scoial role in the classroom.

    And of course he never did amount to anything, Thank goodness he listened to his authorities and gave up in school.

    And I am sure this is exactly what Einstein meant in that quote I quoted.

    And I am sure I am not being sarcastic right now because that would make me a smart a$$ and no good person would want to be one of those.

    Unless maybe they have been professionally tested twice (3rd and 11th grade) with an IQ of about 138- and are actually audacious enough think for themselves in spite of what so called authorities say. But in that case the person thinking for themselves would just be wrong- because the only thing that can be right is what society says is right. Because consensus is the same thing as Truth…

  4. 4
    CLAVDIVS says:

    I really believe neuroscience and philosophy of mind is an area where ID proponents should be focussing their efforts.

    Many within and without academia do not subscribe to the view that the operation of the human mind can be solely explained by currently understood physical processes in the brain. The courts and judiciary, for example, acknowledge a strong concept of free will which contradicts philosophical materialism. There would be many allies across religious, philosophical and social boundaries for a view that rejects purely materialistic accounts of the human mind.

    However, ID proponents appear to remain focussed on rejecting “Darwinism”. I feel this is a confusing approach. Some pretty good arguments against materialism are jumbled up with some (in my opinion) pretty poor arguments against well-understood biological processes, like common descent. ID should drop the rhetoric attacking “Darwinism”, because many take this to mean the basic mechanisms proposed by Darwin which are widely accepted. Instead, concentrate on attacking philosophical materialism, which is much more poorly supported.


  5. 5
    O'Leary says:

    Frost at 3: Re Albert Einstein: It’s not as though no one has tried. Google “Einstein’s brain” which was actually preserved. Also note this.

    Personally, I don’t agree that one can really measure intelligence successfully by a simple test, except when dealing with developmental delay = obviously, something is wrong if a kid is one year old and cannot yet sit up.

    In that case, if you are the parent, seek help immediately. The problem might be resolved or at least alleviated, but anyway, you need to know what resources are available.

    The problem with IQ is that no one is sure what exactly we want to measure.

    – Theoretical intelligence? (Ability to understand abstract concepts, as Einstein did)

    – Practical intelligence? (Ability to conduct a crime scene investigation effectively)

    – Lifestyle intelligence? (Don’t be either the victim or the alleged perp at that crime scene).

    – Ability to perform basic life functions, like self-care, self-protection, and relationships with others? (In this case, the assessment will involve more than an IQ test)

    A woman I know had one of her kids diagnosed as low IQ when the kid was three months old – and simply walked out of the office, carrying the kid, and never bothered with those people again. A similar thing happened when that kid was about eleven. The same kid went on to have a great career. Go figure.

    I suppose IQ tests do some good. They might help teachers determine whether a kid is just lazy and/or disobedient, or really can’t understand the Pythagorean theorem without a lot more help.

    So teachers could use the tests to focus resources efficiently. Some kids just need a homework detention; others a tutor.

    But the history of IQ testing has not always been an attractive one, thus I would approach it with caution.

  6. 6
    Frost122585 says:

    Oleary I am not arguing that there cannot be different and better ways of Testing IQ. I do think IQ tests have changed over time- so an IQ test is obviously biased to how it’s designer views intelligence testing.

    What I am generally arguing for is that individual intelligence – that is the value of the individual to see past what the consensus has defined as infallible – is undermined by this idea that there can be a social or sociological definition of intelligence that somehow is better than the direct consideration of the IQs or just general “intelligence” of individual persons.

    This is the fallacy of democracy. While it is often better than a dictatorship for many reasons- the checks and balance of people’s interests for one thing- it is not by any means reasonable to think that a democratic consensus through elections will give you a better decision of “truth” than say a very or extremely intelligent individual person could.

    SO your point actually goes with what i am saying in that if the person defining the intelligence or IQ test is not “smart enough” (and honest enough) to come up with “the best definition” then the odds often are there is some other person out there who can do better.

    And the point is that defining intelligence “sociologically” is fine to a point but it is only as good as the “individual” or “individuals” who come up with that definition. And history has proven through (global warming, Nazism, communism, socialism, Darwinian evolution evolution etc) that social consensus is not a great definer of truth- or even the best answer.

    And Einstein’s point is that people who stand for the truth or new valuable ideas are very often shot down not because they are wrong or people cannot see what they are saying- but because the people in charge don’t want their view to be accepted and then many other people realistically just cannot understand what the more intelligent individual is really saying.

    So it is a fallacy to discount the importance of individual’s intelligences- or especially the potential for individuals to make better decisions for themselves than that which society defines for them. That is the main problem with a sociological definition of intelligence. How one defines it though is absolutely important- and as I pointed out there are various ways of going about that now. I have seen at least 4 very different kinds of IQ tests. They all cant be totally right or totally wrong either.

    And so forget “IQ” as it is currently defined as ant kid of a concrete complete definition (which I am ABSOLUTELY not arguing for) – but the point I am making is about “individual intelligence” however that is correctly or best defined- but that definition must allow within it for the possibility that an individual could come up with or see a better definition than what is currently defined sociologically. Basically I am saying that intelligence mostly resides within individuals as opposed to within the structure of society- because society can have very unintelligent flaws- and has plenty and tons of them- where as all of the ideas that make societies function come from individuals- even though they are often working together.

    Bottom line is that no theory of intelligence can discount the importance of the potential of the individual- and the objective truth which exists outside of whatever consensus a society comes to.

  7. 7
    jitsak says:


    Unless maybe they have been professionally tested twice (3rd and 11th grade) with an IQ of about 138- and are actually audacious enough think for themselves in spite of what so called authorities say.

    Impressive. An IQ of 138. Not quite Dave Scott Springer territory, but still. Have you considered a career in science?

  8. 8
    toc says:

    Every time I read something like this I remember Alvin Plantinga’s compelling argument supporting the idea that Evolution and Naturalism are diametrically opposed.


  9. 9
    ScottAndrews says:

    Having a high IQ is like being tall. It has advantages in specific situations, but there are numerous other behaviors and characteristics that are more likely to help one achieve success.
    Calvin Coolidge said (paraphrased) that unrewarded genius is a proverb, but nothing takes the place of persistence.

    Aside from that, IMO nearly everyone is a genius. If the test can’t measure it then it doesn’t know what to look for.

  10. 10
    TempHut says:


    I am not sure what you are saying. Nobody thinks IQ is a great measure for intelligence or how well a person can do anything other than take IQ tests. It is largely irrelevant. Employers and schools don’t even use it for hiring and admissions because there are so many more important things they can use.

  11. 11
    jitsak says:


    Where I come from the army uses IQ tests to see if you’re officer material. I failed and became a soldier 2nd class. Thank god.

  12. 12
    Frost122585 says:

    Scottandrews is exactly right. Having a high IQ is a lot like being tall. If you look at basket ball for example- you have great players who are 7 feet tall (Dwight Howard) and you have great players who are 6 feet tall (Allen Iverson). Both players are amazingly good- and actually the shorter player has some advantages during the game- but overall the Taller players have the overall advantage. While Iverson can dunk- Howard can dunk without even trying- and as a joke he even dunked on a 12 foot rim (league regulation is 10 feet) in the all star slam dunk competition.

    Now it should also be noted that if you are 7 feet tall and you don’t develop that talent you wont be great.

    The old saying is “hard work can beat talent if talent doesn’t work hard.”

    But the more naturally high IQ you have the higher you can potentially achieve usually. Some people start off high and actually drop down lower believe it or not. But in truth God does give some people natural gifts.

    However the one distinction between IQ and height is that height is totally natural- you cannot really “work” on your height too much. But IQ CAN be improved. For example if you study IQ tests you can learn how to get better at them and get higher scores- and the more you practice the higher you can score. And the harder you try the higher you can score. So IQ tests do not perfectly test for “natural or hereditary” intelligence either. Which means that a lot of people with high IQ owe that to their beliefs or, personality, or effort or (maybe spirit) and or the environment and people which shape them as they grow.

    Nonetheless some people do test higher at a younger age. But I will say we often do not know who the geniuses will be. Einstein is just one example of a talent that no one could appreciate at a young age. If I am correct (I think according to the book Einstein’s cosmos) he aced his equivalent to a college entrance examine in mathematics/physics and almost failed it in liberal arts part.

    But I should add that having a high IQ is not necessarily beneficial in all ways as Scott correctly noted. For example you are generally less social because you tend lack interest in common simple things. You are also more troubled with the big questions and just questions in general. So having an average IQ can some times mean you have more of the best of all worlds. I remember reading a couple of years ago they did a test of the average IQ for professional doctors and it was about 115. So you don’t need overwhelming brains to be considered socially smart and intellectually successful.

    I think one of the real keys to having a high IQ is seeking truth and taking you time to do it. Being genuinely committed to getting the absolute right answers. Keep an open mind like Anthony Flew and don’t form your final conclusion about somewhat important things, like on the existence of God, in one day. There is this classic lesson of patience in Einstein’s riddle

    It is said that only 2% of people can solve it.

    To solve it you need to use structured reasoning- and be very patient. It is hard but it teachers you how to think. I solved it 4 years ago for the first time in about 25 minutes. Not the fastest but I was happy when I did it and got the answer right. But the lesson is so important which is intelligence is about thinking things through slowly and carefully and PRECISELY in a very ordered fashion.

    And that is what true intelligence is. It is precise, wise, methodical and moral and elegantly structured. It is not some guy ripping off impossible to follow IQ questions like a machine gun as fast as humanly possible. Some of the greatest truths and smartest realizations are subtle (Archimedes’ Bathtub). This is also why you should never jump to or on the bandwagon of a consensus in science.

    So lastly, never underestimate those few people (not me of course) who are the real Einsteins out there slowly cranking out the truth. And also be aware that an individual’s intelligence level (however it is best measured or described) is certainly one of the main components that allows them to see further. As Kurt Godel once said:

    “there is more apriori knowledge, than is currently known.”

  13. 13
    Frost122585 says:

    Jitsak @ 7,

    You mean Davescott from here at UD? I use to debate him a lot and he would get mad and threaten to ban me. What was that quote from Einstein again? 😛

    Toc @8,

    Plantinga has done some good work and very bad work. I like his work on freedom and choice and how that relates to evil- but his work on things like faith and reason I don’t like. I think if you are a Christian it has to do mainly with being one of the elect and choosing to believe first and understand second. Many of the saints and true believers of the past did to have access to all of the information and arguments for faith we have today- nor the ones against faith. Faith often has a lot more to do with choice than knowing. And I don’t see faith and reason as separate justifications of knowledge but together as one spiritual whole. The same “will” that guides one’s faith guides one’s reasoning as well- which together in turn result in one’s justification- that is faith AND works.

  14. 14
    semigloss says:

    It would seem that Stephen Jay Gould was way ahead of us all here with his collection of essays titled “The Mismeasure of Man” released many years ago.

  15. 15
    O'Leary says:

    semigloss at 14, I recommend Mismeasure of Man as one of a number of antidotes to pseudoknowledge about human nature.

  16. 16
    Frost122585 says:


    Let me quote a passage from your book The Spiritual Brain (which I own)on page 119-

    You are actually quoting Popper but the quote is very interesting…

    “We shall be talking less and less about experiences, perceptions, thoughts, beliefs, purposes, and aims; and more and more about brain processes, about dispositions, to behave, and about our behavior. In this way mentalist language will go out of fashion and be used only in historical reports, or metaphorically, or ironically. When this stage has been reached, mentalism will be stone-dead, and the problem of mind in relation to the body will have solved itself.”

    Very Kantian, and very incomplete.

    I am with you and your advocated view that this kind of reductionist account of intelligence is very inadequate. When I argue for the importance of the individual IQ- or “personal intelligence” (however it is best qualified and or quantified). I am NOT merely referring to the structure of their brains – or the natural balance of their nero-chemicals- or their hardware and mainframe- (whatever role they play) – but more importantly, the value of their spirit or soul which facilitates the measurable aspects of their potential.

    Einstein’s quote is about spirits being opposed by minds- Not minds beings opposed by minds.

    And I would ask materialists,

    “How do you test for or quantify the size of an individual’s heart?”

    You cannot. But you can observe some of it’s effects. These inner driving forces make themselves manifest only after they act though- which is why I am arguing not to underestimate the unquantifiable potential of the individual- or sell short the inner driving forces for metrics defined by exterior results.

    My point about perversion is that to define intelligence as a sociological thing- outside or beyond the significance of the individual undermines their unknown potential. Individuals often act more or less independently and in opposition to flawed societies (hence the Einstein quote)- and history is filled with individuals like Einstein and Winston Churchill who did great things because they opposed cultural memes which they knew were wrong. That is, they challenged and changed the world around them and saw a little further.

    “A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality.”

    “Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.”

    -Winston Churchill

    Whatever the source of Churchill’s or Einstein’s accomplishments, they certainly go down as some of the outstanding minds of recent times- times which desperately needed brilliant independent minded thinkers, due to the severe world turmoil that came with Nazism. Their value is measured though by what they did.

    So the question is “is it the soul within us that guides us to change and leads to the actualization of our potential, or is it material chemical/physical changes of bodies that make the ultimate consequences happen?”

    This is much like the question of origins and evolution which is “what guides the changes and development of life?” The questions of origins are ones concerning motivation- what motivates change- what makes the atom move- the proximate and ultimate causes. Simply put “what makes a potential a reality?”

    “In the realist, faith does not arise from the miracle, but the miracle arises from faith.”


    The mind/body, or soul/body, interface is definitely one of the most interesting questions and topics there is. I can certainly say that when it comes to the “reality” of human consciousness though, nothing is more revealing than the uniqueness of personal experience.

  17. 17
    osteonectin says:

    My point about perversion is that to define intelligence as a sociological thing- outside or beyond the significance of the individual undermines their unknown potential.

    there surely is hope for you because as outlined in Matthew 5,3 God definitely will not care about your IQ :

    Beati pauperes spiritu.

  18. 18
    semigloss says:

    O’Leary at 15,

    Do you agree with Gould’s viewpoints stated in that book? Do you find common cause with him as he was also Catholic?

  19. 19
    semigloss says:

    Frost122585 at 16:

    “Whatever the source of Churchill’s or Einstein’s accomplishments, they certainly go down as some of the outstanding minds of recent times- times which desperately needed brilliant independent minded thinkers, due to the severe world turmoil that came with Nazism. Their value is measured though by what they did.”

    But they paid a steep price in terms of close personal relationships. And your view seems a bit Eurocentric. Nazism was not the only source of turmoil during that time.

  20. 20
    Frost122585 says:


    Im feeling you. But I think the Nazi’s were the main thing. And Einstein played his role in altering Roosevelt that the Nazi’s were nearing the bomb and we needed to act- and obviously Churchill was the one who stood up to the pacifist liberals- and helped get support for stopping Hitler. If the Nazi’s had gotten the bomb and kept moving across Europe it would have been a lot worse because they were killing everybody. I have an very old neighbor who is a long retired neurologist who escaped from the Nazis in Austria- and he has told me about how crazy it was.

  21. 21
    jitsak says:


    Do you agree with Gould’s viewpoints stated in that book? Do you find common cause with him as he was also Catholic?

    Um, Stephen Jay Gould was an atheist from a Jewish family. Or were you joking?

  22. 22
    Clive Hayden says:


    Speaking of Dostoevsky, this may interest you on the subject of free will…

  23. 23
    semigloss says:

    jitsak at 21,

    Typographical error on my part. The last statement should have been “Do you find common cause with him?” The rest of the statement was intended for another response to an unrelated matter. Could the mishap have been “designed”?

  24. 24
    Frost122585 says:


    I think Notes From Underground was a very entertaining and original novel. It is basically a rant by a crazy old drunk- about his own life and experiences (all of which are pathetic and borderline insane)- but he tells the stories as if they are extremely significant occasions.

    The book begins with this:

    “At the time I was only twenty-four. My wife was even then gloomy, ill-regulated, and as solitary as that of a savage… At work in the office I never looked at anyone and I was perfectly well aware that my companions looked upon me not only as a queer fellow, but–I always fancied this– with a sort of loathing.”

    Since the whole book is a rant and includes many of his personal stories and experiences it reads more like a crazy poorly written memoir then an actual rant would sound- which it is supposed to come off this way because it playing on all different kinds of perspectives and ideas. It is really sort of a “psychedelic” read in certain ways.

    There is philosophy, and then there is just the common stories and what they are meant to teach and mean- and there is what you yourself read into the apparent mild psychosis of the speaker- which manifests itself though obvious contradictions and paradoxes that are dark but amusing.

    At times you think it is just an aimless rant and then you see that Dostoevsky is really trying to tell the reading something- in a sort of subliminal way- backhanded or roundabout way.

    It is very original. I remember reading it and laughing a lot, thinking about how crazy it was. Dostoevsky was a literary genius by common standards for sure, and his writings definitely reach that grey-middle ground between philosophy and fiction.

    The end of the book is very good. Allow me to quote:

    “As for what concerns me in particular, I have only in my life carried to an extreme what you have not dared to carry halfway, and what’s more, you have taken your cowardice for good sense, and have found comfort in deceiving yourselves. So that perhaps, after all, there is more life in me than in you. Look into it more carefully! Why, we don’t even know what living means now, what it is, and what it is called? Leave us alone without books and we shall be lost and in confusion at once. We shall not know what to join on to, what to cling to, what to love and what to hate, what to respect and what to despise. We are opressed at being humans, humans with our own real bodies and blood; we are ashamed or it, we think it a disgrace, and we keep trying to be some sort of fairy-tale universal beings. We are stillborn, and for generations past have been begotten, not by living fathers, and that suits us better and better. We are developing a taste for it. Soon we shall contrive to be born somehow from an idea. But enough; I don’t want to write any more from “Underground.”

    [The notes of this paradoxicalist do not end here, however. He could not refrain from going on with them, but it seems to us that we may stop here.]”

    What it all means is sort of left up to the reader- but clearly he is exploring the human consciousness in action- its divinity and its flaws- its coherence and its obvious unavoidable contradictions- its selfishness and its “attempted” selflessness- and this is all indeed done, in sort of an existentialist way.

  25. 25
    Mung says:

    Soon we shall contrive to be born somehow from an idea.

    Or an Idea.

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