Reductionism non absurdum

In one way or another, skipping along the surface or lurking in the shadows, reductionism was part of last week’s series on consciousness, not to mention any number of other postings, recent and not so recent.

To some non-materialists, especially when it comes to the study of consciousness, “reductionism” is an evil methodology that takes the human out of humanity.

But there is reductionism, and then there is reductionism. Continue reading

It’s not easy being rational

Republican presidential candidates fight over who “believes in” science the least, in a party where accepting the reality of global warming is political suicide.

Anti-vaccine crusaders fight against the imagined evils of MMR and HPV inoculation, despite overwhelming clinical evidence that immunization is both remarkably safe and an indisputable life-saver.

American voters continue to elect money market shills, while knowing that their representatives intend to continue to sell them out to the interests of the 1%.

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Raymond Tallis says no to “biologism” — again

I haven’t yet read Raymond Tallis’s latest book, Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis, and the Misrepresentation of Humanity.

It’s not that I’m not interested in the subject. I certainly am. It’s simply that I haven’t managed to lay my hands on a library copy.

Yet, thanks to another of his reviews of others’ books, I do have the gist of Tallis’s argument against “neuromania.” I’ve written about his objections before, and here he — and I — go again.

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Let your mind wander, like a zoned-out rat

One of the most common pieces of advice you’ll get when you’re stuck on a seemingly intractable problem is to stop trying and just let your mind wander.

Sometimes your best efforts are no conscious effort at all. Listen to the rain falling, watch the sunset, do anything but do anything, the advice goes, and the answer to your problem will emerge all on its own.

That this is not nonsensical advice is thanks to a series of brain functions known as the “default mode network” (DMN), and until now it’s been thought to be one of the many cognitive functions that we have and other animals don’t — one of the ways that our consciousness differs from that of “lower” animals.

New research begins to question this view, as reported in “Zoned-out rats may give clue to consciousness,” published by New Scientist on October 12th.  Continue reading

The end of “evil”?

Is evil over? Has science finally driven a stake through its dark heart? Or at least emptied the word of useful meaning, reduced the notion of a numinous nonmaterial malevolent force to a glitch in a tangled cluster of neurons, the brain?
– Ron Rosenbaum

A while back, I reviewed Simon Baron-Cohen’s contentious book, Zero Degrees of Empathy, which claims that evil is really nothing more than the absence of empathy. And a bit later, I reviewed David Eagleton’s Incognito, which includes a treatise on reforming the penal system in light of the new neuropsychological understanding of criminal behaviour.

The last two books are prominent targets in Ron Rosenbaum’s “The End of Evil?” an article published by Slate, September 30, 2011.

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Today, little robot rats — and tomorrow?

As sometimes happens, I find myself in an unplanned group of related posts. It may not be every article, but over a period of weeks a trend emerges.

The general subject this time is the nature of consciousness and human identity in the face of the growing evidence that the seemingly ineffable self-awareness we call “mind” is essentially a representation of our physical brain functions.

The particular stimulus today is an article by Linda Geddes in the September 27, 2011, issue of New Scientist. In “Rat cyborg gets digital cerebellum,” Geddes reports that a team at Tel Aviv University has implanted a “working” digital cerebellum into a lab rat.

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