From Ed Yong at the Atlantic:
Five neuroscientists argue that fancy new technologies have led the field astray.
John Krakaeur, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, has been asked to BRAIN Initiative meetings before, and describes it like “Maleficent being invited to Sleeping Beauty’s birthday.” That’s because he and four like-minded friends have become increasingly disenchanted by their colleagues’ obsession with their toys. And in a new paper that’s part philosophical treatise and part shot across the bow, they argue that this technological fetish is leading the field astray. “People think technology + big data + machine learning = science,” says Krakauer. “And it’s not.”
He and his fellow curmudgeons argue that brains are special because of the behavior they create-everything from a predator’s pounce to a baby’s cry. But the study of such behavior is being de-prioritized, or studied “almost as an afterthought.” Instead, neuroscientists have been focusing on using their new tools to study individual neurons, or networks of neurons.
According to Krakauer, the unspoken assumption is that if we collect enough data about the parts, the workings of the whole will become clear. If we fully understand the molecules that dance across a synapse, or the electrical pulses that zoom along a neuron, or the web of connections formed by many neurons, we will eventually solve the mysteries of learning, memory, emotion, and more. “The fallacy is that more of the same kind of work in the infinitely postponed future will transform into knowing why that mother’s crying or why I’m feeling this way,” says Krakauer. And, as he and his colleagues argue, it will not. More.
Yer darn tootin’ it will not. What it will produce is generations of neuroscientists who think they have discovered things they have only imagined. And, doubtless, public policies to match.
We’ve been here before. One would have thought a quick trip through the history of eugenics and Freudian psychiatry would be useful. These too were science once.
But who do they think brains’ owners are? Entities that did not evolve so as to understand reality?
See also: What great physicists have said about immateriality and consciousness
Would we give up naturalism to solve the hard problem of consciousness?
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