[Comp-neuro] Re: (3) A Matter of Religion

James Schwaber schwaber at mail.dbi.tju.edu
Thu Aug 21 23:43:06 CEST 2008

_(3) A Matter of Religion_

I am really struck by the forceful and repeated confessions of faith in 
this thread: we are materialists with every fiber of our body, we are 
certain the material world is well understood and the brain is part of 
it, reductionistic accounts are in principle complete, determinism makes 
freewill an illusion, and so on. My experience is that this faith is 
universal among us neuroscientists, and to a somewhat lesser extent 
biologists in general. We want to believe we are real scientists, just 
like physicists, and will prove it by mechanistic reduction of behavior 
and brain to physical-chemical levels.

It is my interesting experience that this faith is often not shared by 
physical scientists and philosophers of science - that this kind of hard 
reductionism/determinism may be passé, not considered a workable 
approach.  That is, a bottom-up, seamlessly mechanistic-deterministic 
account of all of nature is typically not considered a reasonable goal 
of science, e.g. given the limits we have hit in 20th century physics. 
In this context, a local account of some mental or behavioral or 
neuronal function in its own terms would be a success to the extent it 
was predictive-useful, but never taken as complete or eternally true.  

Obviously this is a matter of faith, of 'religion'. I wonder if the 
faith of neuroscientists is inhibitory to how we consider how brain's work?
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