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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Neuroscience: Materialist neuroscience leads to controlling politics?

In "Can a machine change your mind?" at Open Democracy, Jane O'Grady argues that "The mind is not the brain. Confusing the two, as much neuro-social-science does, leads to a dehumanised world and a controlling politics" (25 - 05 - 2009)
The most irritating (to us lay people) aspect of philosophical and scientific attempts to reduce the mental to the neural, and to squash down human beings into being on all fours with other physical things, is that their proponents nearly always say that actually they are just putting the truth about consciousness more clearly and taking nothing away from our experience. Like politicians deviously withdrawing privileges, they expect us to be quite happy about this. Some developments of identity theory, however, are more upfront. They force consciousness into equivalence with lightning and water by impugning the ignorance of us ordinary people. The way we talk about sensations, memories and beliefs is, say eliminative materialists, hopelessly antiquated, a form of ‘folk psychology’ as hidebound and superstition-laden as talk about witches, or about epileptics being possessed by devils. ‘Folk psychology’ is a theory about how humans function, they say, that is pathetically inadequate in both describing and predicting. In time, a more scientifically sophisticated vocabulary will replace it.
Well, she is certainly right about the controlling politics!

Almost all totalitarian political systems in the last two hundred years have begun with an account of the human mind that assumes that it is completely understandable in terms of the latest theory (whether of race, blood, genes, neurons, molecules ... oh, who knows?).

Free societies, by contrast, simply state what you are not allowed to do if you live here.

How you came to be what you are and what - if anything - you plan to do about it is, within reason, your own business, really, not the government's.

That is part of what makes a free society.



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