Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Mind-Body problem

The Feb 12th New Yorker has a fascinating article on the Mind-Body problem. I guess I like it because it seems to articulate beliefs that I've held for a while, but really was not able to defend due to my lack of formal education and knowledge in that discipline.

A couple of highlights... The first is that a sound neurological and physiological understanding of the brain and nervous system is critical in building a foundation for understanding the mind. We are in the infancy stage of this branch of medicine and science. However, there is nothing that leads me to think that a steady advance in understanding the brain is bound to result in some dead end. One key point the article makes is that we may not be capable of understanding the solution even if it were presented to us.

"Suppose you're a medieval physicist wondering about the burning of wood", Pat likes to say in her classes. "You're Albertus Magnus, let's say. One night, a Martian comes down and whispers, 'Hey, Albertus, the burning of wood is really rapid oxidation!' What could he do? He knows no structural chemistry, he doesn't know what oxygen is, he doesn't know what an element is - he couldn't make any sense of it. And if some fine night that same omniscient Martian came down and said, 'Hey Pat, consciousness is really blesjeakahgjfdl!' I would be similarly confused, because neuroscience is just not far enough along."

Here's another interesting quote:

In the classical era, there had been no separation between philosophy and science, and most of the men whom people now thought of as philosophers were scientists, too. They were thought of as philosphers now only because their scientific theories (like Aristotle's ideas on astronomy or physics, for instance) had proved to be, in almost all cases, hopelessly wrong.

I will let the reader draw their own analogies.


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