Has Neuroscience Disproven Evil?

GreyMatterVia Modern Mythology:

In “Is Myth Dead?” in The Immanence of Myth, I talked about some of the misconceptions that exist between what falls under the purview of science, and what belongs instead to myth, or as it is more commonly known, narrative. And it is a direct result of misconceptions discussed there that we see a constant glut of so-called “science” articles making claims such as “neuro scientists say that evil no longer exists,” (Slate article) or “neuroscience versus philosophy, taking aim at free well.” (Nature.com article). Let me use these two articles as an example of what is actually an epidemic issue that needs immediate and complete overhaul.

The Slate article is considerably more egregious than the latter, as it presents a singular interpretation as the only possible answer to a very complicated question that has challenged the best humans minds throughout our sordid history.

However, both are unified in this particular detail: they depend on a materialist presupposition at the outset and then using this model as a self-evident proof of materialist claims. I know that sounds somewhat abstract, so let’s look at the position posed by these articles directly.

Is evil over? Has science finally driven a stake through its dark heart? Or at least emptied the word of useful meaning, reduced the notion of a numinous nonmaterial malevolent force to a glitch in a tangled cluster of neurons, the brain?

Yes, according to many neuroscientists, who are emerging as the new high priests of the secrets of the psyche, explainers of human behavior in general. A phenomenon attested to by a recent torrent of pop-sci brain books with titles like Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. Not secret in most of these works is the disdain for metaphysical evil, which is regarded as an antiquated concept that’s done more harm than good. They argue that the time has come to replace such metaphysical terms with physical explanations — malfunctions or malformations in the brain.

Of course, people still commit innumerable bad actions, but the idea that people make conscious decisions to hurt or harm is no longer sustainable, say the new brain scientists. For one thing, there is no such thing as “free will” with which to decide to commit evil. (Like evil, free will is an antiquated concept for most.) Autonomous, conscious decision-making itself may well be an illusion. And thus intentional evil is impossible.

It would seem that for every benefit neuroscience gives us, it puts us back an equal amount when it comes to our sense of personal agency. Or, contrarily, I can stab you in the eye and say my brain made me do it. And since we’re all mechanical beings, if my kidneys start to go, I’ll just carve yours out of your back.

Granted, society — a meta-machine, if you will — can and should lock me away in either event as a means of self-defense. So functionally, there’s no difference.

But functionally there is no difference between determinism and free will to begin with. That’s not the point. This is a misappropriation of science for myth-making.

A note about the project of science, before we look at the particular philosophical quandaries raised by these articles,

Simply, as the great French mathematician Laplace once told Napoleon Bonapart, “Sire, God is a hypothesis I do not need.” And indeed, science and religion should not be seen as antagonistic; they just do not need each other, as they ask questions and give answers within very different ‘modes’ of ‘knowing.’” (The Origins of the Universe, Lurquin.)

His point relates specifically to the cleavage of religion and science, but it is equally relevant to this discussion. Although the history of science, religion and philosophy are all intertwined, and the project of Western philosophy is more closely aligned with science, it has been some time since the two had similar goals.

It is at this point that we can return to the particular issue at hand, as the free will vs determinism argument is irrelevant to scientific enterprise, but very relevant to how we look at the world. Philosophy in many instances is meta-mythology. Rather than posing an example clothed in the engaging narrative of the specific, it instead looks for the abstract. But make no mistake, for the most part, it is dealing in mythology.

Ultimately, one side or the other — free will or determinism — isn’t upheld by “discoveries in neuroscience.”

Why? The underlying premises of the article are specious on two accounts: idealism vs. materialism and free will vs. determinism. In both cases we’re talking about conceptual carts and horses. Attribute “cause” to one side, “effect” to the other; or similarly, “primary” and “secondary.” We are the ones attributing value. We are the ones myth-making.

This kind of thinking is easily outmoded by models in both science as well as philosophy the past 50 years, so this isn’t a case of neuroscience having outstripped philosophy or the other way around. Rather, it’s a case of the article writer trying to paint a picture, and attempting to use science as a cover for some bad literature.

It is maybe somewhat ironic that both of these arguments are silently penned atop a myth that goes back to Descartes, that old yarn about mind / body dualism. As I said, this way of looking at the world has mostly been done away with as an accurate model, neatly dividing mind and matter. What we have instead is an admittedly more willy-nilly view of consciousness that calls to mind the paradoxical existence of light simultaneously as wave and particle. I would ask that the writers of these articles use modern philosophical models to frame the modern scientific discoveries their espousing, rather than a framework grounded in the 17th century.

Should we consider light to behave as a wave or a particle? Well, it depends on how you look at it. The same can be said of our minds.  (Note that I didn’t say “is light a wave or a particle.” Both of these things are models.)

Is our consciousness intrinsically tied to the electrochemical goo inside our skulls? Yes, it certainly seems that way. Can we thereby reduce all issues to a quantifiable, strictly behaviorist, materialist, (even positivist) science, and finally “solve” all philosophical quandaries through scientific measurement? Hardly.

To explain why would take us on a long journey through the history of both the past 100 years in science and philosophy. We might consider some major steps along the way to include the works of Neils Bohr, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Jacques Derrida, Werner Heisenberg (though let’s be honest: nobody truly  understands Quantum mechanics,) and of course Albert Einstein. The questions relevant to this particular inquiry seem simple enough, but they remain as perplexing today as they were in the age of the Ancient Greeks: what is the nature of mind? what is the nature of matter?

It is a criticism of ventures in this direction that such questions often lead to semantic arguments. We are no longer concerned with such “fluff,” the modern consumer of pop science literature clearly wants “hard answers.”

Semantic arguments are not necessarily just semantic arguments. Our presuppositions about consciousness, how we define it, how we define concepts such as “will” or “freedom,” are far more important than neuroscans when it comes to our consideration of whether our actions are “free” or “determined.” It is highly probable that our our nervous system has made up its mind about something before we become consciously aware of that decision — or so neuroscientists tell me — but that is merely “passing the buck” as they say. (For non-English natives, that idiom means “deferring responsibility.” I’m told that idioms are “bad writing” because they don’t translate well. So there you go.)

Within the context of the conundrum of consciousness, free will seems merely a footnote. What these articles, and those like them, seem to be proclaiming is actually this: “Philosophy and myth are dead. Long live science.”

Few would argue that our consciousness is brought about by brain and nerves, but the question remains, can we have a unified theory of mind and matter, or must we continue to think of carts and horses? Is it our language itself that creates this delineation, which says “my body,” as if it was a bio-mechanical walker that my brain is floating in, and within that, a mind. (And within that? It’s “turtles all the way down.”)

Pop science likes to pretend that we are just around the corner from “answering” such questions, as if they can be answered without posing another framework that needs exploration. The truth is that we’ve instead fallen far off the wagon, having lost any sense of the intellectual history that has brought us to this point.

In other words, in the long tradition of wrestling with these questions, we’ve continually confused the role of myth and the role of science. The nature of mind is not measured, it is explored, just as the realm of experience is not weighed but rather felt.

Richard Feynman made a speech on “cargo cult” science that I’ve mentioned here before that nevertheless seems relevant to point out again.

I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas—he’s the controller—and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.

Of course, the neuroscience that articles such as these are pointing toward are “real” science, so this is even more treacherous ground for the unwary. They are drawing unscientific conclusions from scientific research. This, as I’ve said before, is the realm of myth—and that is well and good, except for when we fool ourselves into mistaking the metaphor for reality. We are then, in some ways, no different from the fundamentalist Christian that takes the Bible for literal truth. (Those who think that I am trying to somehow tarnish the name of scientific exploration should refer back to “Is Myth Dead?”)

If we posit a premise: we are biological robots, from that we can — no, must — build a myth. But whether we are “just” biological robots, or whether it is a magical thing, that falls to the simple aesthetics of the myth we’re constructing.

This is where our myths begin — which is why I feel such fire in regard to getting these ideas out there to you. I recognize that most people don’t understand the importance or relevance of immanent mythology. Hopefully our work these past few years — and in the coming years — will make that clear enough that many others will take up the work, as they are in other disciplines that are gradually becoming aware of the greatest mystery of all: the narrative is not an afterthought. The narrative is everything.

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  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    The scientific framework is hard and calculated; it leaves no room for uncertainty, freedom, or evil. Anything outside its framework is discarded. Science disproving evil is something more like approving its initial bias.

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    The scientific framework is hard and calculated; it leaves no room for uncertainty, freedom, or evil. Anything outside its framework is discarded. Science disproving evil is something more like approving its initial bias.

    • emperorreagan

      One of the biggest problems I see is to what end do you make these arguments?  Suppose the materialist, hard determinist viewpoint is objectively correct?  How do you order society?  I think you probably end up in some sort of Brave New World dystopia in the best case.  

      Sometimes Sam Harris has basically made the argument for a benevolent scientific dictatorship, forcing “less advanced” cultures more into line with what he perceives as a “more advanced” culture.  Even if this “more advanced” culture is assumed to be objectively correct in all matters, I don’t see how anyone can envision things turning out any better than they have when people have tried to impose what they saw as a more perfect culture on others.  

      • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

        Ahh sorry, I just realized how what I said might be confusing. I was in no way endorsing the purely scientific framework, I was more commenting that they start out with materialist assumptions, and through confirmation bias, they affirm their original assumptions.

        The scientific worldview likes to reduce reality into calculable terms. If it is too complex, or maybe containing a little subjectivity, they discard it as “probably not important”, or decide to explain it away… An example of this is the mechanism of consciousness.

        • emperorreagan

          I left out the connection in my response – I was continuing on your thought, rather than criticizing – that even if you’re willing to accept the initial suppositions of the argument, the reasoning doesn’t seem to go anywhere useful.

  • Anonymous

    Debating Evil is for the Philosophers. 

  • Redacted

    Debating Evil is for the Philosophers. 

  • Jim

    Who am I going to point the finger at now?

  • Jim

    Who am I going to point the finger at now?

    • J03

      The big bang.

  • A Christian

    If there is no such thing as free will and evil is just a necessary outcome of predetermined thought processes, how are we to justify the punishment of any of the most violent crimes?  Should Hitler have been excused because he was just “wired” to attempt world conquest at the cost of millions of lives?  I don’t think that even the most extreme humanist would agree to this…not even Sam Harris!

  • A Christian

    If there is no such thing as free will and evil is just a necessary outcome of predetermined thought processes, how are we to justify the punishment of any of the most violent crimes?  Should Hitler have been excused because he was just “wired” to attempt world conquest at the cost of millions of lives?  I don’t think that even the most extreme humanist would agree to this…not even Sam Harris!

    • J03

      We would justify punishment (in the absence of mythical free-will) the same way we do for children.  We don’t presume that children have free-will and yet we have no (philosophical or practical) impediment to taking action to modify their behavior.

      Don’t freak out.  Nobody is suggesting we let everyone run wild.

  • emperorreagan

    One of the biggest problems I see is to what end do you make these arguments?  Suppose the materialist, hard determinist viewpoint is objectively correct?  How do you order society?  I think you probably end up in some sort of Brave New World dystopia in the best case.  

    Sometimes Sam Harris has basically made the argument for a benevolent scientific dictatorship, forcing “less advanced” cultures more into line with what he perceives as a “more advanced” culture.  Even if this “more advanced” culture is assumed to be objectively correct in all matters, I don’t see how anyone can envision things turning out any better than they have when people have tried to impose what they saw as a more perfect culture on others.  

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    Ahh sorry, I just realized how what I said might be confusing. I was in no way endorsing the purely scientific framework, I was more commenting that they start out with materialist assumptions, and through confirmation bias, they affirm their original assumptions.

    The scientific worldview likes to reduce reality into calculable terms. If it is too complex, or maybe containing a little subjectivity, they discard it as “probably not important”, or maybe explain it away… An example of this is the mechanism of consciousness.

  • emperorreagan

    I left out the connection in my response – I was continuing on your thought, rather than criticizing – that even if you’re willing to accept the initial suppositions of the argument, the reasoning doesn’t seem to go anywhere useful.

  • Halo Bender

    Holy shit James!

    Some critical thinking you’re doing here– coherently…

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6571339670615446379&q=

    Keep up the good work.

    It’s no longer some merely “philosophical” debate.  Our lives are on the line.  Our planet is on the line.  It has finally reached that point.  It’s no longer abstract.  There is no longer any place left to go (to escape the insanity).

    Maybe
    you (generally speaking) have yourself some cushy job and some health care, but so so many of
    us don’t, and the shit is hitting the fan.  Obama’s “HOPE” was the
    final insult to the body politic.  Now the shit is going down.  Or… we
    cynically succumb to just become automatons in some sort of robotic
    social order.  Work hard, and then die, when you are no longer useful to
    your masters.

    Thanks “civiliization.”  Thanks a whole fucking
    lot… for nothing… for your lies… for your “economy”… for your “religions” of so-called compassion… eat shit
    and die already.

  • Halo Bender

    Holy shit James!

    Some critical thinking you’re doing here– coherently…

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6571339670615446379&q=

    Keep up the good work.

    It’s no longer some merely “philosophical” debate.  Our lives are on the line.  Our planet is on the line.  It has finally reached that point.  It’s no longer abstract.  There is no longer any place left to go (to escape the insanity).

    Maybe
    you (generally speaking) have yourself some cushy job and some health care, but so so many of
    us don’t, and the shit is hitting the fan.  Obama’s “HOPE” was the
    final insult to the body politic.  Now the shit is going down.  Or… we
    cynically succumb to just become automatons in some sort of robotic
    social order.  Work hard, and then die, when you are no longer useful to
    your masters.

    Thanks “civiliization.”  Thanks a whole fucking
    lot… for nothing… for your lies… for your “economy”… for your “religions” of so-called compassion… eat shit
    and die already.

  • J03

    This guy is all over the map.

    On the one hand he says there is functionally no difference between free-will and determinism, and then he goes on to say that we must defend myth from science?

    I am unable to detect anything resembling a logical critique of the articles cited and more importantly I see no logical defense of this guy’s counter argument (in favor of myth?).

    Free-will is basically a relic of apologetics that has somehow seeped deeply into secular thinking.  It is mere superstition and not supported by any logical or scientific evidence.  Furthermore we would be much better served with a practical code of ethics designed to protect the normal functions of our society without the short-sighted scape-goat of individual responsibility that often short-circuits needed social reforms.

    • Jamie Lee

      “We must defend myth from science.” 

      That’s not what I was saying. Try again. :) 

      This might help: http://www.modernmythology.net/p/what-is-modern-myth.html

      • J03

        I’m totally lost.

        I am not unfamiliar with myth.  Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, Robert Anton Wilson, these guys are pretty cool and I have no problem understanding them.

        But I feel like I am missing your fundamental points.

        I present the following quote:

        “If we posit a premise: we are biological robots, from that we can — no, must — build a myth. But whether we are “just” biological robots, or whether it is a magical thing, that falls to the simple aesthetics of the myth we’re constructing.”

        This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

        Let me attempt to paraphrase:

        If we assume (perhaps hypothetically) we are robots (no free-will) then we must (why must we?) build a myth (why must we build a new one?  All the current myths are still working just fine, myths are ancient, any “new” myths are just re-imaginings of old myths).  If we imagine we are robots with magic (magic equals free-will) that falls to the simple aesthetics of the myth (Whether we inject magic into our world-view seems like a lot more than “simple aesthetics” to me).

        If I had to guess, I’d say you don’t believe it’s possible for science to disprove the existence of free-will.  I’d simply like to know why you hold this opinion.

        namaste

        • emperorreagan

          He’s not discussing myth as in religious myth.  

          He’s discussing myth as in a social/cultural narrative.  Without some sort of cultural narrative, there’s no particular reason we should believe in a vast number of the fundamental suppositions of our society – whether it’s ownership of property, the value of hard work, or any of a number of other stories we all tell ourselves.  

          Whether there is degree of objective truth to some or all of those stories is almost wholly irrelevant to the function of a society.  We tell a story about private property.  People, aside from those who choose a different story or choose to otherwise rebel against the popular narrative, function within a narrative where private property is accepted as a premise.  

          Likewise, the choice between free will and determinism is largely an aesthetic choice and one you can look at throughout history and various cultures.  You can look at various sects of Christianity to see different expressions of the determinism versus free will debate manifested over the centuries - Calvinists, for instance, rejected free will and believed in predestination.  You can look at the various Greek philosophers and how their opinions on free will and determinism played out in various regions.  It’s nothing new.  It’s just the story for the how and why people go about their lives.

          Where you have to be careful is how you tell these stories.  As several studies have shown, if you create doubt about free will in an average person functioning in today’s society, you have a tendency to drive people towards fatalism.  You can tell a story about biological determinism and end up with eugenics, or you can tell a story about biological determinism and have a generation of doctors trying to cure or prevent inevitable cancers.

          • J03

            Thanks for that clarification.

            Yes, I believe the manner in which we present the story of “the human experience sans free-will” is crucial.

            I also agree that average people tend to jump to ridiculous conclusions such as “my life has no meaning” or “we must set all criminals free” if you just tell them that free-will is no longer a viable concept.

            What people tend to miss is the deep feeling of connectedness that comes with the acknowledgement that perhaps in some way, “I am a part of everything that has happened since the beginning of time and I am a part of everything that will happen in the future.  My existence is inevitable and necessary.  We can do no wrong.”

            This may sound a bit far-fetched to some, but I think it’s similar to what Buddhists describe as “being one with all things”.

            I’m still not 100% on the original poster’s argument.  Are they trying to say that scientists simply aren’t qualified to present major modifications to the social myth?  I think they’re as qualified as anyone, and speaking mythologically, they are sort of the high priests and magicians of our modern age.

          • emperorreagan

            I would assume partly from the invocation of that particular speech from Feynman and partly from other things I’ve read by the author, that his opinion is that a good scientist is very careful in what they say and how they say it.

            The field of neuroscience seems to be full of people who aren’t particularly careful in the broad conclusions they draw from relatively limited research – in particular the sort who are out shilling for pop-science books and their own celebrity.

          • Jamie Lee

            “a good scientist is very careful in what they say and how they say it.” 

            Yes, but also– it is often not scientists themselves that are writing these articles. It is science writers, who often have some kind of science in their background (hopefully), but the narrative that a scientific discovery is couched in is where the myth comes in. I don’t think it’s sloppiness on the part of scientists, for the most part, so much as science writers being pushed by editorial staff to make something exciting out of whatever “findings” are new this month. That’s where these specious leaps come in. I think it’s important for people to be aware of the distinction between the narrow and specific scope of inquiry allowed for within a particular scientific experiment, and the narrative process that occurs afterward when it tries to explain the results within the context of cultural and layman expectation. These are two different things, and demand the audience to be aware of the differing functions/projects of “myth” (in its more general sense) and “science.” 

          • Jamie Lee

            Right on the money. 

  • J03

    This guy is all over the map.

    On the one hand he says there is functionally no difference between free-will and determinism, and then he goes on to say that we must defend myth from science?

    I am unable to detect anything resembling a logical critique of the articles cited and more importantly I see no logical defense of this guy’s counter argument (in favor of myth?).

    Free-will is basically a relic of apologetics that has somehow seeped deeply into secular thinking.  It is mere superstition and not supported by any logical or scientific evidence.  Furthermore we would be much better served with a practical code of ethics designed to protect the normal functions of our society without the short-sighted scape-goat of individual responsibility that often short-circuits needed social reforms.

  • J03

    This guy is all over the map.

    On the one hand he says there is functionally no difference between free-will and determinism, and then he goes on to say that we must defend myth from science?

    I am unable to detect anything resembling a logical critique of the articles cited and more importantly I see no logical defense of this guy’s counter argument (in favor of myth?).

    Free-will is basically a relic of apologetics that has somehow seeped deeply into secular thinking.  It is mere superstition and not supported by any logical or scientific evidence.  Furthermore we would be much better served with a practical code of ethics designed to protect the normal functions of our society without the short-sighted scape-goat of individual responsibility that often short-circuits needed social reforms.

  • J03

    We would justify punishment (in the absence of mythical free-will) the same way we do for children.  We don’t presume that children have free-will and yet we have no (philosophical or practical) impediment to taking action to modify their behavior.

    Don’t freak out.  Nobody is suggesting we let everyone run wild.

  • http://www.facebook.com/agent139 Jamie Lee

    “We must defend myth from science.” 

    That’s not what I was saying. Try again. :) 

    This might help: http://www.modernmythology.net/p/what-is-modern-myth.html

  • J03

    I’m totally lost.

    I am not unfamiliar with myth.  Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, Robert Anton Wilson, these guys are pretty cool and I have no problem understanding them.

    But I feel like I am missing your fundamental points.

    I present the following quote:

    “If we posit a premise: we are biological robots, from that we can — no, must — build a myth. But whether we are “just” biological robots, or whether it is a magical thing, that falls to the simple aesthetics of the myth we’re constructing.”

    This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

    Let me attempt to paraphrase:

    If we assume (perhaps hypothetically) we are robots (no free-will) then we must (why must we?) build a myth (why must we build a new one?  All the current myths are still working just fine, myths are ancient, any “new” myths are just re-imaginings of old myths).  If we imagine we are robots with magic (magic equals free-will) that falls to the simple aesthetics of the myth (Whether we inject magic into our world-view seems like a lot more than “simple aesthetics” to me).

    If I had to guess, I’d say you don’t believe it’s possible for science to disprove the existence of free-will.  I’d simply like to know why you hold this opinion.

    namaste

  • J03

    The big bang.

  • emperorreagan

    He’s not discussing myth as in religious myth.  

    He’s discussing myth as in a social/cultural narrative.  Without some sort of cultural narrative, there’s no particular reason we should believe in a vast number of the fundamental suppositions of our society – whether it’s ownership of property, the value of hard work, or any of a number of other stories we all tell ourselves.  

    Whether there is degree of objective truth to some or all of those stories is almost wholly irrelevant to the function of a society.  We tell a story about private property.  People, aside from those who choose a different story or choose to otherwise rebel against the popular narrative, function within a narrative where private property is accepted as a premise.  

    Likewise, the choice between free will and determinism is largely an aesthetic choice and one you can look at throughout history and various cultures.  You can look at various sects of Christianity to see different expressions of the determinism versus free will debate manifested over the centuries - Calvinists, for instance, rejected free will and believed in predestination.  You can look at the various Greek philosophers and how their opinions on free will and determinism played out in various regions.  It’s nothing new.  It’s just the story for the how and why people go about their lives.

    Where you have to be careful is how you tell these stories.  As several studies have shown, if you create doubt about free will in an average person functioning in today’s society, you have a tendency to drive people towards fatalism.  You can tell a story about biological determinism and end up with eugenics, or you can tell a story about biological determinism and have a generation of doctors trying to cure or prevent inevitable cancers.

  • J03

    Thanks for that clarification.

    Yes, I believe the manner in which we present the story of “the human experience sans free-will” is crucial.

    I also agree that average people tend to jump to ridiculous conclusions such as “my life has no meaning” or “we must set all criminals free” if you just tell them that free-will is no longer a viable concept.

    What people tend to miss is the deep feeling of connectedness that comes with the acknowledgement that perhaps in some way, “I am a part of everything that has happened since the beginning of time and I am a part of everything that will happen in the future.  My existence is inevitable and necessary.  We can do no wrong.”

    This may sound a bit far-fetched to some, but I think it’s similar to what Buddhists describe as “being one with all things”.

    I’m still not 100% on the original poster’s argument.  Are they trying to say that scientists simply aren’t qualified to present major modifications to the social myth?  I think they’re as qualified as anyone, and speaking mythologically, they are sort of the high priests and magicians of our modern age.

  • emperorreagan

    I would assume partly from the invocation of that particular speech from Feynman and partly from other things I’ve read by the author is that a good scientist is very careful in what they say and how they say it.

    The field of neuroscience seems to full of people who aren’t particularly careful in the broad conclusions they draw from relatively limited research – in particular the sort who are out shilling for pop-science books and their own celebrity.

  • Jptaylor13

    Great essay! I really enjoyed it all the way through.  Myth building biological robots with turtles all the way down, nice :)
    One statement stuck out like a sore thumb to me though, “Few would argue that our consciousness is brought about by brain and nerves, but…”
    What else would it come from? I think the majority of scientists would argue very strongly that consciousness arises from the brain.  Theological explanations of consciousness could align with that quote.
    Again, wonderful article, keep up the good work!

  • Jptaylor13

    Great essay! I really enjoyed it all the way through.  Myth building biological robots with turtles all the way down, nice :)
    One statement stuck out like a sore thumb to me though, “Few would argue that our consciousness is brought about by brain and nerves, but…”
    What else would it come from? I think the majority of scientists would argue very strongly that consciousness arises from the brain.  Theological explanations of consciousness could align with that quote.
    Again, wonderful article, keep up the good work!

  • http://www.facebook.com/agent139 Jamie Lee

    Right on the money. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/agent139 Jamie Lee

    “a good scientist is very careful in what they say and how they say it.” 

    Yes, but also– it is often not scientists themselves that are writing these articles. It is science writers, who often have some kind of science in their background (hopefully), but the narrative that a scientific discovery is couched in is where the myth comes in. I don’t think it’s sloppiness on the part of scientists, for the most part, so much as science writers being pushed by editorial staff to make something exciting out of whatever “findings” are new this month. That’s where these specious leaps come in. I think it’s important for people to be aware of the distinction between the narrow and specific scope of inquiry allowed for within a particular scientific experiment, and the narrative process that occurs afterward when it tries to explain the results within the context of cultural and layman expectation. These are two different things, and demand the audience to be aware of the differing functions/projects of “myth” (in its more general sense) and “science.”