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

Malcolm Dean malcolmdean at gmail.com
Fri Aug 22 10:30:52 CEST 2008

Three cheers! You are pointing, first, to the poverty of education, which
permits philosophy of science to be a remote specialty, not a daily guide,
and which isolates studies of cultural and religious systems to equal
remoteness, so that many scientists and educators are actually incapable of
recognizing when they undertake dogmatic commitments.

Second, most neuroscience is framed in the dogmatic commitment of the
Cartesian individual. Collective, Environmental and development influences
sneak through in certain journals, but don't appear to exist in much of the
computational literature. For example, neuroscientists often talk of brain
hierarchies, but usually fail to see the whole brain and the individual as
levels within other hierarchies, or to refer to the existing literature on
natural hierarchies.

The "limits we have hit in 20th century physics" are widely cited, but a
postmodernist's "limits" are a physicist's "problems," and unlike
postmodernists, many physicists do not agree that these limits represent an
end to inquiry or certainty. They just shift the inquiry and result in new
certainties. Nevertheless, dogmatic belief in these "limits" is common in
many fields, with the result that local accounts and isolated results are

Perhaps if we asked what is "eternally true" about the nervous system, a
deeper neuroscience would emerge.

Malcolm Dean
Research Affiliate, Human Complex Systems, UCLA

Recent Lectures/Publications:
"The Gods Have Spoken: Descartes Must Die!" Yale IRST/SAC, March 21, 2008

On Thu, Aug 21, 2008 at 2:43 PM, James Schwaber
<schwaber at mail.dbi.tju.edu>wrote:

> *(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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