Thursday, October 15, 2009

Social cognitive neuroscience is our friend?

"The hard sciences are interpenetrating the social sciences. This isn’t dehumanizing. It shines attention on the things poets have traditionally cared about: the power of human attachments. It may even help policy wonks someday see people as they really are. "

That's how New York Times columnist David Brooks ends his recent column extolling the virtues of social cognitive neuroscience.

I guess it depends on your perspective.

A lot of people would take the news that most of our feelings, beliefs and actions are merely the result of neural firings as quite dehumanizing, indeed. Some scientists have said for generations that the existence of God cannot be proved because he can't be put under a microscope. Trouble was, at the time, neither could his creatures.

Now, it appears, we creatures can be reduced to mere electrical impulses. While I'll not argue against their science, I do find it less than humanizing to say that's all we are. It seems that once you can show something under a microscope, that's all it is. The search for a unified field theory doesn't include philosophy; that's just a hobgoblin we're on the verge of killing with hard science. Microscopes: Real. Ideas: Electricity.

Brooks marvels in his column that the scientists exploring this brave new field are young -- in their 20s and 30s. Whatever happened to the wisdom of age?

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