opusculus: Black hole (Default)
[personal profile] opusculus
You know, I would have so much more respect for neuroscientists and biologists who argued for God's hand in the brain and evolution if they'd just make better goddamn arguments. Ignoring creationists hiding behind the thin fabric of intelligent design for now, I just picked up a book on religion and neuroscience and AUGH IT IS PISSING ME OFF SO MUCH AND I'M NOT EVEN THROUGH THE FIRST CHAPTER. (The book is The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul, by Mario Beauregard and Denyse O'Leary)

Okay first off? He dedicated the first chapter to attacking atheism - no wait sorry materialism because y'know, let's just pick the term for what we dislike with the worst connotations. And y'know, that's not the way to endear yourself to an atheist. Then he's so completely wrong on what most atheists in general tend to believe I have to assume that either a) he's deliberately lying, b) he's so bigoted about atheism that anything said to him by atheists gets filtered through a thick layer of "atheists are materialistic heathens who hate God because they're just that evil", c) he deliberately sought out the most nihilistic atheists he could find as the one true atheists because that's what he believes all atheists believe. I also tend to figure that if you have to start off your argument by attacking other people's beliefs rather than making your point, your point isn't all that strong.

Second off, his arguments so far are really, really dumb. He tried to make a serious argument for the separate nature of the mind and the brain because of an idiom. The fact that we say "I made up my mind to buy a bike" versus "Bike helmets protect against brain damage" doesn't mean anything except that the English reflects the fact that people have historically seen a major gap between the mind and the body. This has nothing to do with science. And...seriously? If you're saying that brain damage doesn't affect the mind and soul, I'm...not really sure how to explain Gage then. I mean, brain damage turned him from a nice young man into a lying lazy asshole who didn't give a damn about anyone but himself. That would seem to reflect on his soul, wouldn't it?

Third off, what I've seen so far of neuroscience is...not incorrect so much as ignoring the mechanics behind it in order to presume that the soul causes changes in the brain. I will note while I am an avid reader of anything neurosciency I can get my hands on because I find it fascinating, I am not a neuroscientist so I could be wrong here. But this is my understanding of how the brain and neuroplasticity (which is the term for brain changes) works.

Think of the roads in your town. You can ultimately get from any point in town to any other point in town, but there's basically an infinite number of pathways you could take. However, some of these paths are a lot easier to go through. There's been a lot of people through there, so the road's a lot wider and it's paved nicely and the brush is kept off the roads and everything. Then there's older, more worn down roads that are basically dirt and gravel and there's bushes overhanging the road and if you go through there, your car's probably going to get scratched up a little. But you theoretically can. It's just a little more difficult. And if you do decide to go through that worn down road, then you'll widen it just a little more and make it a little easier to go down next time. And if you keep going down it long enough, eventually that road will the new Main Street, with paved surfaces and three lanes and everything.

Those roads are neurons, as you've probably figured out. By the time you're an adult, these pathways are relatively established and very hard to change significantly. However, it is possible! Everyone's doing it to some extent all the time, when they learn and think new thoughts. This is what the author's talking about when he talks about "People who suffer from phobias can reorganize their brains so that they lose their fear". Or like...your morning routine. Most people have a fairly set routine that they don't really want to change. This is a pathway you've created in your brain to do this in this order without really needing to think about it much because the pathway's so ingrained. But you still can. I recently forced myself to completely redo my morning routine into something more efficient by cutting out my computer time. It just takes effort until you've gotten the pathway a little more well-trodden.

But to me, saying that the mind as a separate entity is necessary to initiate these changes in the brain just doesn't make any sense to me. It might if you lived in an isolation tank, I suppose. But people encounter new stimulus every day, and the brain responds to that stimulus by making new connections and reorganizing. Or it might make sense if the pathways didn't in some sense already exist and needed some kind of divine intervention to connect them. (Wow, that would be...a lot of divine intervention. Seriously.) But every neuron inside your brain is already physically connected to every other neuron, if indirectly, so it shouldn't take some kind of self outside the brain to strengthen these connections.

I mean, I suppose there's a chance that he'll make some really good arguments in the future as to why this could be so! I hope so, at least. I pick up these books in hopes of them making a good argument, damnit, and I don't want to be out $15 for this book if the quality of his arguments remains the same. But so far, I am so not impressed.

Date: 2010-05-18 05:51 pm (UTC)
branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)
From: [personal profile] branchandroot
Urgh. Reminds me of the evopsych approach, which appears to be "let us gather all this data on behaviors and then attempt, without any actual biological justification, to claim that every behavior is due to inheritance instead of environment!" And the behavioral data is solid, but that merry leap over the no-evidence gap to the evolutionary claim makes my head hurt every time.


opusculus: Black hole (Default)

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