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

Malcolm Dean malcolmdean at gmail.com
Sat Aug 23 00:53:07 CEST 2008

On Thu, Aug 21, 2008 at 3:06 PM, james bower <bower at uthscsa.edu> wrote:

> I would like to venture that evolution and selection makes the issue a bit
> different for biology and neuroscience than for the physical world as a
> whole.  In other words, unlike (we assume) the physical world of particles
> and forces (on which, of course, biology is based), selection of traits adds
> an additional twist to the usual reductionist arguments.  In other words,
> selection has "worked" to organize brain's to perform a particular function
> - as neurobiologists, I would suggest that our ultimate objective is to
> understand the function in the structure that selection "put there"  (thus
> my own focus on that structure first). This also means that arguments in
> other fields related to reductionist to abserdum may not apply to biology -
>  as selection, in some sense "brackets" our inquiry.  Thus, 'what level is
> too fine' comes down in my view to the question 'what is the lowest level
> that the process of natural selection "sculpts" component parts.  Molecules
> for sure -- submolecular, it can't.  At the other end, how can selection
> possibly work on ideas of  'mind' explicitly assumed to have no physical
> manifestation?  So, unlike physical science - we have no mandate to link
> across all levels of scale from the infinite in one direction, to the
> infinite in the other direction. For that reason,  Godel's proof, which had
> a profound effect on Hilbertian axiomatic "link it all together
> consistently' descriptions  may not apply given the proofs explicit
> dependence on infinites.

With great respect, I will venture a risky response -- risking that readers
are as capable of considering alternatives as they seem to be -- and point
to some of the received views in this post.

First, there is the conflation of Evolution and Selection. Second, there is
the suggestion that Selection (which many now attempt to raise to the status
of Natural Law) works differently at different levels. Third, there is the
idea that Selection is an active force or principle that can "put things
there." Finally, there is the suggestion that there is no mandate to link
across all levels.

Selectionism certainly marches forth with the claim that it is the unique
explanation of Evolution, and that it is the standard-bearer against
infidels proposing alternatives -- in this way, it certainly functions in
the culture of modern science exactly as do the religions which
Selectionists decry. But even within the broad mainstream of science, there
are alternative theories of Evolution, and the idea of Evolution should be
clearly distinguished from its theories, no matter how dominant and

The idea that science has no mandate to link across levels is either
enlightened postmodernism or a clear admission of multiple failures, your

Malcolm Dean
Research Affiliate, Human Complex Systems, UCLA
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