Sunday, September 19, 2010

Denying the self

Slate says that science has now abolished the self:
This pervasive belief in individualism can be traced to the idea most forcefully articulated by René Descartes. ...

In other words, the way we experience ourselves is inextricably linked to the way we experience others—so much so that, on close view, it's hard to draw a concrete distinction between the other and the self. (This in turn raises questions about what the "self" actually is.)

The sensation of "mirror neurons" helped further dissolve the distinction. About 10 years ago, a team of Italian researchers showed that certain neurons that fire during actions by macaque monkeys—when they pick up a peanut, for example -— also fire when they watch someone else pick up the peanut. It's probably overblown to say -— as many have -— that this phenomenon can explain everything from empathy and altruism to the evolution of human culture. But the point is that our brains register individual and social experience in tandem. ...

"We're ready for a Copernican revolution in psychology," Cacioppo says. If it comes, the era of the self will yield to something that may be much more interesting.
It says that the lone genius is a myth, because Einstein talked to his buddy Besso, and Tiger Woods depends on his caddy.

Beware of grand theories when the examples are wrong. Einstein is famous for what he stole from Lorentz, Poincare, Grossmann, and Hilbert, not Besso. Woods would have won a lot of tournaments with any caddy.

Yes, it is trendy and overblown to say that mindreading explains everything.

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