Wednesday, April 13, 2005

On Reductionism

Excerpt from The Emerging Mind, (BBC, The Reith Lectures)
by Vilayanur Ramachandran
Many social scientists feel rather deflated when informed that beauty, charity, piety, and love are the result of the activity of neurons in the brain, but their disappointment is based on the false assumption that to explain a complex phenomenon in terms of its component parts (“reductionism”) is to explain it away. To understand why this is a fallacy, imagine it’s the twenty-second century and I am a neuroscientist watching you and your partner (Esmeralda) making love. I scan Esmeralda’s brain and tell you everything that’s going on in it when she is in love with you and is making love to you. I tell you about activity in her septum, in her hypothalamic nuclei, and how certain peptides are released along with the affiliation hormone prolactin, etc. You might then turn to her and say, “You mean that’s all there is to it? Your love isn’t real? It’s all just chemicals?” To which Esmeralda should respond, “On the contrary, all this brain activity provides hard evidence that I do love you, that I’m not just faking it. It should increase your confidence in the reality of my love.” And the same argument holds for art or piety or wit.

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