Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Brain and Consciousness

Two things that are as plain as the nose on your face, but cause no end of arguments amongst philosophers. I'm looking forward to probing more deeply into the controversy in university-level philosophy courses, if God spares me. In the meantime here's a little foretaste:

Materialists start to come to grips with global failure, but materialism dies hard: "In 'The Neural Buddhists,' David Brooks references Tom Wolfe's dramatic 1996 article 'Sorry, but your soul just died,'

.. in which he captured the militant materialism of some modern scientists.

To these self-confident researchers, the idea that the spirit might exist apart from the body is just ridiculous. Instead, everything arises from atoms. Genes shape temperament. Brain chemicals shape behavior. Assemblies of neurons create consciousness. Free will is an illusion. Human beings are ‘hard-wired’ to do this or that. Religion is an accident.

In this materialist view, people perceive God’s existence because their brains have evolved to confabulate belief systems.

Uh huh. Mario and I took it all to pieces in The Spiritual Brain. Modern neuroscience provides no basis whatever for that view - on the contrary.

Brooks, the author of BoBos in Paradise, acknowledges,
Over the past several years, the momentum has shifted away from hard-core materialism. The brain seems less like a cold machine. It does not operate like a computer. Instead, meaning, belief and consciousness seem to emerge mysteriously from idiosyncratic networks of neural firings. Those squishy things called emotions play a gigantic role in all forms of thinking. Love is vital to brain development.

Researchers now spend a lot of time trying to understand universal moral intuitions. Genes are not merely selfish, it appears. Instead, people seem to have deep instincts for fairness, empathy and attachment.

Scientists have more respect for elevated spiritual states.
Do they indeed? In that case, to learn what is really going on, they must acknowledge where they have been mistaken.

Brooks, however, hopes that the revolution will stop with 'neural Buddhism,'which turns out to mean things like 'the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships' and 'God can best be conceived as the nature one experiences at those moments, the unknowable total of all there is.'

Sorry, BoBos, it's not up to you to decide where it will end. It will end where the evidence leads, and the evidence simply does not favour materialism - yours or anyone else's."

(Via Mindful Hack.)

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