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The Science Delusion

[ 3 ] July 11, 2015

6a00e5537c83be88340115709d1603970b-800wiTricycle Magazine: The Buddhist Review offers wisdom, meditation, and practices from an ancient tradition for contemporary life. In Spring 2014, it featured an interview with the cultural critic Curtis White, whose book The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers, a follow-up to his 2003 international bestseller The Middle Mind: Why Americans Don’t Think For Themselves, attacks the ideology of scientism, or “the claim that science has got the world nailed down (or soon will, anyway), that the answer to all of our human problems lies in the discovery of natural laws, or that submitting to a scientific perspective is a choiceless imperative dictated by impersonal facts.” A response to Richard Dawkins’ The God DelusionThe Science Delusion argues that STEM disciplines have taken over our narrative of what it means to be human, reducing us to functions within systems. “Neuroscience’s claim to be able to understand meditation in terms of the mechanics of neurons and chemicals is another example of ideological storytelling,” White says. “You can have Buddhism, this story goes, as long as you are willing to acknowledge that it can be best understood through neuroscience.” He warns agains the appropriation of scientific ideas for the benefit of corporate culture, such as the Search Inside Yourself program at Google, making people believe that their prisons are pleasure domes.

Neuroscience in Photography

[ 0 ] July 3, 2015
"Empire Falling." Copyright Elena Dorfman.

“Empire Falling.” Copyright Elena Dorfman.

Over at Nautilus, there is a long piece by Jonathon Keats titled “When Photographers are Neuroscientists.” Keats, the experimental philosopher and conceptual artist, author of the book Forged: Why the Fakes are the Great Art of Our Age, tells the story of the photographers Elena Dorfman, David Hockney, and Weegee, whose work illustrates contradiction and uncertainty in how the brain handles visual information. Citing an influential 2004 neuroaesthetics paper by Semir Zeki, which defines the experience of ambiguity in the brain as the “certainty of many, equally plausible interpretations,” Keats goes on to celebrate photography as an expressive medium. The name of the author is meaningful; the poet John Keats coined the term negative capability, “when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” The photographers highlighted in the essay each manipulated their negatives, creating innovative visions of the world that opened up the minds of their viewers to the possibility of different realities.

Brain Science Podcast

[ 1 ] July 1, 2015
Waking, Dreaming, Being. Columbia University Press, 2015

Waking, Dreaming, Being. Columbia University Press, 2015












The Brain Science Podcast is a great resource for conversations about philosophy of mind. Recently, I listened to a podcast with Evan Thompson, whose book Waking, Dreaming, Being weaves neuroscience, meditation, and Indian and Western intellectual traditions to investigate consciousness and the sense of self. Previous episodes have featured Patricia Churchland on neurophilosophy, Thomas Metzinger on the ego tunnel, and Alva Noë on his book Out of Our Heads. Check out the over 100 episodes, hosted by Dr. Ginger Campbell.

Things As They Are

[ 1 ] June 22, 2015












The Los Angeles Review of Books has a review of the new book by philosopher of mind John Searle. Building on his 1983 classic IntentionalitySeeing Things As They Are, argues for perception as a form of direct realism. “The central claim of direct realism,” the critic John Armstrong writes, “is that perception puts the external world into contact with the subjective one.” Searle looks to visual science for his theoretical process; our sensory receptors sense light rays, which are processed by a module in our brain, which generates a perceptual representation with content. This perceptual representation is encoded as either accurate or inaccurate, based on the initial information from the outside world. According to Searle, perception is different from other mental states because its representations created with objective data, without subjective intervention. I am always wary of the word realism, which we use as an absolute but is always masquerading as an adjective. Nevertheless, Searle is an important thinker, to say the least, and this book offers an exciting new theory for neuroscience and philosophy fans to behold.

Inside Out

[ 0 ] June 20, 2015

imgresThe new film Inside Out from Disney/Pixar claims to be inspired by neuroscience. The “major emotion picture” is about the mental life of an 11-year-old girl, Riley (based on the daughter of writer/director Pete Docter). Joy, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust operate a control panel that dictates her behavior. In an elaborate, Willy Wonka-esque system, memories are colored with feeling, keyed into a core formation, stored on long-term shelves, or dropped into the abyss of the unconscious. “Personality islands” float in the sky, and experiences strengthen these floating monuments to personhood. Characters scrounge through heaps in Imagination Land and an especially deconstructive jaunt through Abstract Thought. In no way doctrinaire, Inside Out nonetheless introduces kids to to the mechanisms of their inner worlds, which may lead to more investigation (and is at least better than the emptiness of Frozen). “What character are you now?” a little girl asked her mom on the way out of the theater. “I’m Sadness,” she said, “because the movie’s over.”

Super-Organic Evolution: Nature and the Social Problem

[ 0 ] June 2, 2015

11335 (1)In 1905, the year before his Nobel Prize, “the father of modern neuroscience” Santiago Ramón y Cajal became more outspoken about his socialist views. Perhaps this was because of the brief rule of the liberal party in Spain, led by Segismundo Moret, who would offer Cajal the position of Minister of Public Instruction (the famous scientist declined). After twenty years, Cajal released a collection of short stories called Cuentos de vacaciones, which has been translated by Emory University scholar Laura Otis as Vacation Stories. Some of the characters depict greedy characters who torment others. Indeed, Cajal expressed a hatred for people who sought only capital, the lazy aristocracy. In his preface to a book called Super-Organic Evolution: Nature and the Social Order, written by the philosopher Enrique Lluria (who also wrote “Humanity of the Future”) and re-published by Forgotten Books, which brings hard-to-find original books from before 1923 back into print at reasonable prices, Cajal talks about how far humankind has strayed from evolutionary laws. The world is unjust, and only the brain, through its discoveries in science, can return us to equilibrium. His vision is prescient. As always, he is at his best when describing the brain:


Our mind is nourished on waves gathered from all parts of the cosmos, and its principal mission consists in classifying, combining, and reflecting them, with reference to their origin. Perceptions, ideas, the spoken word, even muscular contraction, what are they, in their ultimate analysis, but palpitations of heat, of light, of chemical energy, of electricity, etc., transformed, refined, and converted into other palpitations more subtle and spiritual? Like a lens of singular virtue and power, our nervous system gathers all the noises and minute tremblings in the world, in order to concentrate them, now in the splendid form of an idea, now in the flame of will and of passion.

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