Tuesday, June 25, 2013

IsThere a Limit on the Reach of Neuroscience?

David Brooks, in his recent op-ed piece Beyond the Brain (NY Times June 18),  discusses the marvels of neuroscience, but concludes that neuroscience has its limits.  Neuroscience will never be able to explain "the passions aroused by Macbeth," or the difference between lovers and friends.  The "brain is not the mind."

I find it difficult to understand why Brooks and others of the same mind (no pun intended) choose to place limits on the reach of neuroscience.  Why does he feel that "it is probably impossible to look at a map of brain activity and predict or even understand the emotions, reactions, hopes and desires of the mind." Is it unreasonable to believe that at some future time such emotions and passions will be mapped, will be understood, or will be predicted?

There is no reason to imagine that what cannot be interpreted today, will remain uninterpretable forever.  And, let's eliminate the idea that being able to "map" a thought or an emotion makes the thought or emotion any less extraordinary.  Understanding that water is, in fact, a combination of hydrogen and oxygen doesn't render water less extraordinary.   Understanding the sun - its composition, its size, its origins, its chemistry - doesn't make it less extraordinary.

If one doesn't believe that all functions of the mind and brain may be ascertained and understood at some future occasion, I would urge a hard retrograde look at what was once thought to be not understandable, and now is.  Let's not be short-sighted.  Tomorrow's knowledge has probably not even been contemplated yet today.

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