Thursday, October 11, 2007

Yoga and Neurophilosophy

E-zine Spiked recently ran a piece in its science section in which it asked various scientists of various stripes to produce videos briefly explaining what they would teach the world about science if they had only one thing to teach. The answers are great, ranging from Euclid's Proof about an infinite number of prime numbers to our topic today, which is Dr. Lisa Saksida's discussion of mind/body dualism (more specifically, why it's impossible). The video features Dr. Saksida doing yoga in front of a fire place (for some reason), while her voice over briefly outlines why she thinks dualism is false.

Interestingly, she makes the point that eliminative materialism is equally false, saying:

I think it frightens people to think that those higher level processes (like consciousness and love) are just coming out of chemical reactions in the brain, but those things are still happening. I mean, that's how we experience those physical changes that are happening in our brain. So it's not that they're any less real (or any less important), it's just that the basis of them is something different.

This is an excellent choice for something to tell the world, it seems to me--Descartes' advent of dualism has cast a lot of confusion over philosophy of mind over the last, oh, few centuries or so. However, eliminative materialism seems equally false, as it forces us to say that things like consciousness, love, desire, fear, and a whole host of other mental states don't really exist at all, but are just illusions caused by brain state changes. Dr. Saksida's more nuanced position--which seems, from its brief exposition, to be a species of emergentism--is a nice departure from the radical materialism that's prevalent today. As someone who often argues against eliminative materialism and often is accused of overly metaphysical or mystical thinking, it's nice to see this kind of a view articulated by a scientist--I feel a bit vindicated for holding an emergent view.

Update: I apparently forgot to post a link to the actual movie, so here it is!


Nick said...

Speaking of emergentism, have you read much of Douglas Hofstadter's work? Definitely worth looking at if you haven't, specifically Godel, Escher, Bach.

Jon said...

I haven't read any of his primary stuff, though what I know about him is pretty positive--I know that he doesn't think Deep Blue's victory over Kasparov has anything to do with machine intelligence, for instance. Thanks for the tip!