Saturday, August 06, 2011

Once again mind and brain

This is a quick crazy note that I jotted down on reading “A Trick of the Mind”, Ronaly Bailey’s review of Michael Shermer’s The Believing Brain:
I think that the modern mind in trying to explain everything human by reducing it to brain activity suffers from a blind spot. It cannot see that all that can be described – only described but never explained – in terms of the brain, can be explained, and can only be explained, in terms of the ideas that come into being through the activity of the brain.
Rather than saying that “brains are ‘belief engines’ that naturally ‘look for and find patterns’ and then infuse them with meaning”, I would say, and have long been saying, that the mind creates patterns that give meaning to the dumb and mute givennesses of our experience. Thus, in a sense, all reality is “belief-dependent reality”, for apart from the mind there is no reality but only dark phenomenal shadows.
The opening sentence of Ronald Bailey’s review says, “Superstitions arise as the result of the spurious identification of patterns.” This sets the tone of the review and apparently reflects the tone of the book reviewed. Apparently also it equates belief and superstition implying that as all superstition is bad, all belief is bad. This shares the fault of all brain science and all of modern ‘philosophy of mind’ wisdom: it is content with half-truths.
What if we, human beings, cannot live without ‘superstition’, without necessary fictions? There is no meaning in the world; we put meaning into the world. Plato taught that; Kant taught that. But ‘science’ that knows nothing of subjective reality and believes that the objective is ‘all there is’, does not understand that.
Shall we rest with superstition, then? The crazy superstitions of the ten-thousand religions and the perhaps crazier superstitions of politicians, economists, and even scientists? No. Plato prescribed the remedy: we have constantly, ceaselessly, to break down the grounds on which our superstitions, including our necessary and useful fictions, rest. Kant also gave us a half-remedy: for everything relating to the phenomenal, the actual, the objective, the ‘outside’ world, only the methods of objective science work. When it comes to considering purposes and values, we must go back to the Socratic examination of ideas, an examination that does not give us any new knowledge or any information but clears our minds of misconceptions and prejudices and false values.
D. R. Khashaba
6 August 2011.
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Blogger tim candler said...

I love the point, I think you are making.

And scientists would agree that all reality is a belief dependent reality. Indeed quarrel with them and they will insist their one discipline is as subjective as any other. Especially when it comes to things like grants and political influence over budget committees. Maybe it is the word superstition that has the negative conotation as being somehow primative or stupid. Try saying "Freedom is a superstition" in the wrong room.

11:52 AM  

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