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

MEhrDAD mehrdad61 at yahoo.com
Fri Aug 22 13:23:29 CEST 2008

So, why don't you go one step further? (generalize if you can't solve!) 
Are we neurons communicating in a Hyper-Brain called society? The Hyper-brain has some similar properties to the Human Brain specially sustained persistant activity, small communities like synapses....Is the analogy possible about the two things we have very little knowledge about?... Does it really matter what language are the Neurons communicating with (Spike, English, etc. ) ?

----- Original Message ----
From: Malcolm Dean <malcolmdean at gmail.com>
To: James Schwaber <schwaber at mail.dbi.tju.edu>; comp-neuro at neuroinf.org
Sent: Friday, August 22, 2008 10:30:52 AM
Subject: Re: [Comp-neuro] Re: (3) A Matter of Religion

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 demanded. 

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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