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Monday, May 25, 2009

Neuroscience: When reduction fails

In "Chimaeras of Experience", science writer Jonah Lehrer writes,
The paradox of modern neuroscience is that the one reality you can't describe as it is presently conceived is the only reality we'll ever know, which is the subjective first person view of things. Even if you can find the circuit of cells that gives rise to that, and you can construct a good causal demonstration that you knock out these circuit of cells, and you create a zombie; even if you do that... and I know Dennett could dismantle this argument very, very quickly ... there's still a mystery that persists, and this is the old brain-body, mind-body problem, and we don't simply feel like three pounds of meat.
Oh? Could materialist philosopher Dennett really "dismantle this argument very, very quickly"?

Alva Noe would say no, in his recent Out of Our Heads, of which my review is here.

Reduction can be elegant. On the other hand, it can be lazy and greedy.

To say that the brain is "three pounds of meat" is like saying that the world's oceans are billions of tonnes of salt water.

Some reductions reformulate information in a simpler and more elegant way. One thinks of Newton's laws of planetary gravity, for example.

Other reductions just hide problems that more correct and inclusive statements do not hide. Reductions of the mind to the brain belong to the latter group.

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