Monday, July 21, 2008

Book review: Hunting, herding, hiding, and hustling - that explains our social relationships?

In "The Synapse and the Soul" in Wall Street Journal online, Adam Keiper, editor of The New Atlantis and a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center reviews popular materialist neuroscience book Human, by Michael S. Gazzaniga (July 8, 2008).

Remarkably, Keiper "gets it" about what is wrong with most of that stuff, when offering cautions regarding Gazzeous views:
"All those social relationships we now worry about so intensely," he writes, "are merely byproducts of behavior originally selected to avoid our being eaten by predators." Our social instincts were formed by "hunting, herding, hiding, and hustling." Mr. Gazzaniga even takes a stab at explaining the supposed biological origins of religious belief, although that section of his argument is (blessedly) brief. In essence, he claims that religious practices and beliefs satisfy certain "moral modules" – innate affinities for things like hierarchy, purity and coalitions.
So where are these "moral modules?" Isn't this just another way of talking nonsense? Keiper notes,
Mr. Gazzaniga does little to explore the implications of the research he describes. Once we have been armed with the latest scientific findings about how our brains came to be and how they function, how ought we to act? The findings of neuroscience do not immediately penetrate to the most intimate levels of personal experience. If you are scared of heights, it will make you no less afraid to hear that the "actual cause" of your feeling is a catecholamine rush. But neuroscience is increasingly playing a role in marketing, education and the law, and Mr. Gazzaniga offers no insights into whether this growing influence is justified or appropriate.
He dismisses Gazzaniga as "far too credulous," and I agree.

Scared of heights? Toronto Christians have a practical approach to "scared of heights." Our CN Tower is the world's tallest freestanding structure. It has a glass floor - and now even glass elevator floor panels. But there is still an infamous glass floor 322 m above Toronto. Children tumble and laugh over it; many adults can't put a foot forward on it.

Until they get down on their knees. Then they can manage.

So we say, you think there is a God? If so, remember, the first thing you do when you are in trouble is, ... Find knees! Use knees!

See also: Neuroscience: Human brains are unique, neuroscientist observes.


Psychiatrist Jeff Schwartz speaks on what drugs can do for you - and what you and your mind must do for yourself

Stephanie West Allen from Brains on Purpose relays an interview with Mario's non-materialist neuroscience colleague Jeffrey Schwartz on Irish radio here.

Psychiatrist Schwartz addresses key topics like self-directed neuroplasticity, role of drugs and therapists, narcissism, empowering clients, self-help, OCD, and more.

Well, good for him! The reality is that non-materialist neuroscience should be the way of the future for mental health.

We cannot fix ourselves by taking drugs. Drugs might help us calm down or cheer up, but they don't create mental health. They're not miracles, they're just chemicals. They're stupid, basically.
They do not have ideas. WE have ideas. Any idea we ever got, good or bad, we did not get from a drug. And for better mental health, we need to replace bad ideas with good ideas.

Like any real world program for improvement, it's not easy - but it is possible.