Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Blog on hold until June 15, 2011

Because I am writing a book and working for a living, I have regretfully decided that the only time management solution now possible is to put this blog on hold until June 15, 2011.

I thank all regular readers and occasional donors.

Always glad to share a good read and thoughts thereon. The blog search box at the top left will give you access to all past stories.

I will still be blogging at Access Research Network (bottom row of headlines), Salvo, and Uncommon Descent.

Good luck to all in the happy hunting ground of materialist nonsense that so much pop science has become.

Us vs. Them is not in our genes (or brains), but in ourselves

In The Chronicle Review, On the perennial subject "us vs. them," while noting significant recent books, Carlin Romano offers us "Good News From the Ancients!" (January 23, 2011):
Rethinking the Other in Antiquity, by Erich S. Gruen, out this month from Princeton University Press, like all excellent scholarship massages the mind in useful new directions. Gruen, a Berkeley professor emeritus of history and classics, wields his command of ancient sources to shake a widely shared historical belief—that ancient Greeks and Romans exuded condescension and hostility toward what European intellectuals call the "Other." For those Greeks and Romans, that largely meant peoples such as the Persians, Egyptians, and Jews. Even if Gruen doesn't wholly convince on every ground that Greeks and Romans operated like Obamas in togas, regularly reaching out to potential enemies, his careful readings of Aeschylus, Herodotus, Tacitus, and others introduce us to a kinder, gentler ancient world. His analysis confirms how even back then, tossing people into a category and then hating them en masse was a choice, not an evolutionary necessity.
Yes, it is a mental construct: Me better, you worse, as Carlin puts it - or in the version more familiar to me: Me Tarzan, you wrong.

Defensive claims of superiority pop up again and again through history, not because there is a "gene" or neural circuit for it but because the circumstances that excite the temptation keep reappearing, and all you need after that is a human brain, period.

Thus, when we hear that "they have found the brain area for prejudice," we would most wisely interpret as follows: "This is a brain area that prejudice may activate in some individuals."

Labels: ,

Catholic philosopher saint can help neuroscience?

Aquinas in stained glass, Beao, Creative Commons
Here, Dominican Br. Christopher attempts to map 13th century Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas onto modern neuroscience:
It turns out that at least one neuroscientist, Walter J Freeman of UC Berkeley, finds that Thomas’s philosophical foundation for explaining the mind-body problem is the most useful for grounding recent studies in nonlinear brain dynamics. Specifically, it is Thomas’s understanding of intentionality that fills the explanatory gap between the complementary observations of lower-level electrophysiological data and higher-level goal-directed behavior.
An interesting scheme is offered, with the following comment:
This is not, of course, a perfect one to one mapping of terms; however, this attempt at translating between the language of Thomas and neuroscience hopefully will generate dialogue between these two communities. Freeman notes that neuroscientists often don’t have a strong grasp of the philosophical questions and issues that relate to their topic of inquiry: how do we think? At the same time, philosophers generally do not have a firm understanding of the contributions modern neuroscience has made to our understanding of the workings of the brain, which certainly should influence any approach to the mind body problem.
Hey, wait a minute. The main reason, in my experience, that neuroscientists "often don't have a strong grasp" of mind-related questions is that they don't believe the mind exists. That is the starting point of their research.

While editing a book that addresses these issues recently, I was struck by the contempt for philosophers a famous neuroscientist exhibited. Had he expressed himself in such terms about any discipline whatever in science, he would certainly have been thought an ignoramus, regardless of his accomplishment in his own field, but no one questions his saying it about philosophers. Worse, even though neuroscience has a track record of zero to a zillion in explaining consciousness - the subject of his enquiry - his confidence was undiminished.

Unless that problem (proud, studied ignorance) is confronted, it is useless to ask whether Aquina's insights would be a help.

Hat tip: The Sheepcat

Labels: ,

Neurosexism: Cordelia Fine's expose stays in the news

Seems Carol Tavris at the Times Literary Supplement is also interested in CordeliaFine's takedown of the supposed neuroscience behind Fred and Wilma Flintstone:
Cordelia Fine has produced a witty and meticulously researched exposé of the sloppy studies that pass for scientific evidence in so many of today's bestselling books on sex differences

- "The new neurosexism" (January 26, 2011)
The whole field has the hallmarks of bad science: The researchers wanted to find genetic or evolutionary support for beliefs that were actually their own mental constructs. They were sure to find what they were looking for because it already existed, though not, as it happens, in nature.

The risk is that exposing the bad science will trigger another feminist "bashmen". In reality, "men" are not even, in isolation, responsible for this one. Many women promoted it too.

A hopeful sign is that people aren't just letting this one go, in an era where anyone with a scanner becmes an instant prophet, it seems.

See also:

Are men's and women's brains really different

and, especially,

this(on pink and blue).


Edge Question: Which science concept would make everyone think better?

Wordle: science terms 1

Here is the "Edge World Question Center", a leading materialist think tank, with 2011's Question:

James Flynn has defined "shorthand abstractions" (or "SHA's") as concepts drawn from science that have become part of the language and make people smarter by providing widely applicable templates ("market", "placebo", "random sample," "naturalistic fallacy," are a few of his examples). His idea is that the abstraction is available as a single cognitive chunk which can be used as an element in thinking and debate.

The Edge Question 2011


The term 'scientific"is to be understood in a broad sense as the most reliable way of gaining knowledge about anything, whether it be the human spirit, the role of great people in history, or the structure of DNA. A "scientific concept" may come from philosophy, logic, economics, jurisprudence, or other analytic enterprises, as long as it is a rigorous conceptual tool that may be summed up succinctly (or "in a phrase") but has broad application to understanding the world.

[Thanks to Steven Pinker for suggesting this year's Edge Question and to Daniel Kahneman for advice on its presentation.]
164 contributors, many whose names you will recognize, participated.

Any thoughts of your own? Go here to comment.

Note: Interesting, how many key words from medicine easily come to mind, yet medicine has slowly been moving away from a materialist paradigm, as Mario Beauregard and I noted in The Spiritual Brain.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

Labels: ,