Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Against reductionism

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Little did I know when I made my first tentative approach to the brilliant doctor-professor-philosopher-poet Ray Tallis to ask him if he might consider writing something for New Humanist that he would end up writing not one, but two brilliant, erudite and very funny pieces decrying the current fashion for to trying to locate the source of everything in the brain. As someone who has used neuroscience in his professional work as a gerontologist, and believes it offers real benefit in the treating of conditions like Alzheimers, he is uniquely placed to skewer the overblown and reductionist claims made on behalf of brain sceince. Last issue he concentrated on the way neuroscience was being wheeled in to social policy; this time he concentrates on the (he says futile) search for the 'God Spot'. Follow the links in the article to read responses from two of the researchers he calls out - Sam Harris and Bruce Hood.

NB Tallis' latest book Michaelangelo's Finger; An Exploration of Everyday Transcendence is out in March from Atlantic. It's all about pointing, apparently.


MouthAlmighty said...

Interesting discussion. However, I think Tallis is simply getting worked up over reductionism per se resulting in somewhat of a straw man argument. Both Hood and Harris defend their positions adequately.

Also, I think that there is good reason to look for the correlates of biology and belief. Not sure of the source now (possibly Pinker) but I'm pretty sure there are strong correlates between schizotypal individuals and magical/paranormal beliefs.

Tom Rees said...

Correlates of thoughts are interesting. They don't tell how consciousness works, but they're essential groundwork.

It is not trivial or obvious that the parts of the brain involved in thinking about god are the same as those involved in thinking about interactions with real people.

We need to know where those similarities (and divergences) are before we can hope to unravel the more complex questions relating to how the brain generates consciousness.

Anonymous said...