Tom Gilson

“Hunter-Gatherer Nut Cases”

Salvosalvo.jpg magazine’s current issue includes this article I wrote on altruism and morals, brain waves and neuroethics—and nuts. This thread is open for discussion on the article.

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3 thoughts on ““Hunter-Gatherer Nut Cases”

  1. Brilliant Tom. Wry and knowing. Well done.

    It is always the same thing that the neuroethicists fail to understand. If they’re right then none of it matters, especially their own work. For if all we are, think, feel, or care about is just brain chemistry then none of it, not our thoughts or ouselves, matters a whit.

  2. I entirely agree that the simplistic reasons presented for reductionism are absurd and mistake correlation for causation. However, there are much stronger arguments for the physical brain causing experience. Change the physical state of the brain, and the experiential state changes (e.g. by taking psychoactive drugs). Surely it is at least strongly arguable that certain brain-damaged individuals are incapable of feeling love? And surely it follows that it is very likely love has a physical origin? Abnormal psychology in general has a lot of weight in experiential matters.

    I would think that the least natural conception of mind that could be reasonably argued for would be some kind of symbiotic relationship between a transcendental entity (soul?) and a physical brain. It then becomes a matter of working out the dividing line of what extent the “soul” has meaningful input on the state of the mind. To me, the least natural conception of a mind that seems not-unlikely is one which all human experience (love, ethical feeling, “soft” consciousness, memory, identity) is caused by physical brain states; except
    1) transcendental will
    2) transcendental “experience” – but such that it emerges causally from the physical brain state

    NB: I mean “experience” as in “hard” consciousness/awareness if you get what I mean [is there a precise term for this?]
    Also, I would note that I am agnostic on whether “experience” and “will” are in fact natural or not.

    However, even if you take reductionism to be true, I don’t agree with their evaluations and reflections. I don’t understand why, if human experiences (consciousness, love, ethics, free will, etc) are reducible to physical phenomena, that they should be any less meaningful (in a weak sense).

    The logic seems to be nothing more than:
    “We know the mechanism that explains X. Therefore X is an illusion”
    To me this just doesn’t seem to follow. Is a car an “illusion” because it is the product of combusting fuel and the action of pistons and such? Is the concept of a flower an “illusion” or any less meaningful because it can be reduced to a collection of atoms and molecules?

  3. The amazing thing, to me, is that it practically never occurs to them that their theories hold the exact same implications for reason and truth in general as they do for moral reasoning and moral truth. They just take for granted all the stuff they like (the objectivity of scientific truth), while applying their theories only to things they don’t like (the objectivity of moral truth/God/etc) and want to deconstruct or relativize. This shows that they aren’t really engaged in open scientific inquiry. They’re engaged in a poorly thought-out philosophical pursuit in which they selectively misinterpret and misapply specific scientific observations to aspects of opposing philosophical views that they want to do away with, while lazily failing to even consider what the implications of their arguments are for their own view.

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