Home » Neuroscience, News » The problem isn’t that brain scientists want to play God but that they want to play Utopia

The problem isn’t that brain scientists want to play God but that they want to play Utopia

Which usually ends up worse than Monopoly.

In “Bursting the Neuro-Utopian Bubble ” (New York Times), Benjamin Y.Fong offers a skeptical view of projects aimed at understanding humanity better and addressing its problems by mapping the total brain:

The rebuttal from the scientific community has generally gone something like this: The living organism is a complex machine. To understand it, one must take it apart and put it back together again, as one would the engine of a car. Opposing this research but encouraging medical advance is like asking your mechanic to fix your car without popping open the hood. We’re not playing God. We simply want the allowance, both financial and legal, to advance down the road to a true knowledge, a true mastery, of life. As this mastery grows, both physiological and psychological diseases will slowly be rooted out, and the moral and political questions will become more tractable, where they do not disappear entirely.

What precisely is objectionable about this vision? Why should we be worried about the advances of neuroscience, and in particular those of the Brain Initiative? On one level, its proponents are simply naïve about the corporate wolves with whom they run.

Fong is right about the dangers posed by corporate wolves, of course, but bigger and badder wolves work for governments, who can be much grander and more global in their objective of gaining control over human beings. They don’t just want to sell you stuff, they really want control over your life “for the greater good”—the one you can’t easily argue with.

Give me the smaller goods any time. Then I can just say no.

Fong, further:

The real trouble with the Brain Initiative is not philosophical but practical. In short, the instrumental approach to the treatment of physiological and psychological diseases tends to be at odds with the traditional ways in which human beings have addressed their problems: that is, by talking and working with one another to the end of greater personal self-realization and social harmony.

The fact that the brain initiatives don’t work at all is only part of the problem. The damage all utopian schemes do is usually far greater than their failure, because they disrupt and destroy the limited systems that do work to at least some extent.

We’ve noticed a number of recent stories debunking materialist neuroscience, and here are just a few entries:

Right-brain left brain myth keeps getting debunked, keeps coming back …

At Slate, Daniel Engber argues that the age of nonsense neuroscience is already over …

It’s becoming conventional to assert that the mind is not the brain—even NYT’s David Brooks is now doing it

Is even New Scientist now scoffing at materialist neuroscience?

and

Why materialist neuroscience must necessarily remain a pseudo-discipline

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3 Responses to The problem isn’t that brain scientists want to play God but that they want to play Utopia

  1. We don’t want to do either.

    And no, the mind is not the brain, any more than a waterfall is the same material thing twice.

  2. A bad analogy. A waterfall is conceptually the same, just as a river is. We don’t have to keep renaming rivers ‘cos its different water’!

    But a material brain and a mind, well, they’ve been proved to be different animals.
    I’ve posted an account of an NDE, a while ago, in which the patient’s state of body and mind were constantly monitored, eyes taped I believe, but certainly ears plugged. Dr Peter Fenwick is an English neuro-psychiatrist who has made a lengthy study of the subject.

    Anyway, here is the link I have in mind:

    http://science-spirituality.bl.....ly-to.html

  3. It’s not a great analogy, but it makes the point that the whole is not the same as the parts, and has radically different properties.

    Your link appears to be to the case of Pam Reynolds. Interesting, but a very long way from “proved”, I’d say. There’s no doubt that people who regain consciousness after cardiac arrest report some very interesting and vivid experiences, but the evidence that they acquired information while arrested is thin I’d say – thinner than it often looks, when presented anecdotally.

    But clearly many here will disagree. They could be right.

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