At the highbrow end, there are scholars and theorists that some have called the “nothing buttists.” Human beings are nothing but neurons, they assert. Once we understand the brain well enough, we will be able to understand behavior. We will see the chain of physical causations that determine actions. We will see that many behaviors like addiction are nothing more than brain diseases. We will see that people don’t really possess free will; their actions are caused by material processes emerging directly out of nature. Neuroscience will replace psychology and other fields as the way to understand action.Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne responds:
By equating free will with the absence of determinism and materialism, Brooks implicitly labels himself a dualist. And yet the program of the “nothing buttists” sounds pretty good to me: in fact, it’s the only program that is likely to make progress in understanding how and why we think. ...Here are two sharply different views. If we are going to be scientific, then we should ask for some experiment that demonstrates one right and one wrong. But there is no experimental evidence for or against free will.
You know why Brooks would be a bad scientist? It’s because he wants this dualism to be true: he wants there to be something more to the mind than the neuronal secretions of the brain. And yet his objections to the materialist program are not objections at all. Nor does he suggest an alternative. His decrying materialism suggests some kind of festering spirituality, which is odd coming from someone who wrote a book claiming that much of our modern behavior is coded in our genes. For Brooks’s brand of evolutionary psychology is nothing but materialist and reductionist.
In fact, the brain is the mind in the sense that the mind is a product of the brain, and without a brain there is no mind. The brain is in fact the meat computer that, taking in physiological and environmental inputs, produces the mind as its output. That may sound reductionistic and materialistic, but it happens to be true. Unless, that is, there’s a spiritual homunculus sitting in our heads.
Brooks is not a scientist, but Coyne is, and I expect more from him. If he is going to lecture us about science, then he should bring some scientific evidence to bear.
Another leftist-atheist-evolutionist who is always lecturing the public about the nature of science is PZ Myers. The Dilbert cartoonist criticizes him:
Over at The Bearded Taint's blog, the citizens have lit torches, grabbed pitchforks and come after me (again). I don't think I have seen more concentrated hate in one place. It's actually quite fascinating from a mental health perspective.Apparently the root of PZ Myers' hatred is that Scott Adams once expressed some skepticism about a Newsweek article on fossil evidence for evolution. Myers hates religion, but Adams does not appear to be religious. Adams regularly posts skepticism about all sorts of things.
I left my own comments on the Bearded Taint's blog if you want to follow along.
The interesting thing is that I'm reasonably sure my haters and I have exactly the same opinions on the topics they are getting worked up about. But once the Internet decides you are a holocaust-denying, creationist, science-hating, sexist, sock puppet, all evidence seems to support that view. And in this case, these science-loving folks are basing their views on rumors, stuff taken out of context, misinterpretations, faulty memory of stuff they once read but don't fully remember, and that sort of thing.
I'll say it again because it is so interesting: The people who are hating me because of my opinions have exactly the same opinions. They just don't realize it because of the fog of confirmation bias.
Coyne and Myers and blinded by ideology. If they really want to promote science, then they ought to attack those who deny demonstrable facts. But Brooks and Adams are not denying any facts. They are just making observations and stating opinions. Adams is also a comedian, so he also says things just because they are imaginative or funny or provocative. Apparently this is the most offensive quote:
The reality is that women are treated differently by society for exactly the same reason that children and the mentally handicapped are treated differently. It’s just easier this way for everyone. You don’t argue with a four-year old about why he shouldn’t eat candy for dinner. You don’t punch a mentally handicapped guy even if he punches you first. And you don’t argue when a women tells you she’s only making 80 cents to your dollar. It’s the path of least resistance. You save your energy for more important battles.His cartoons make fun of people much more than that. You have to read him a while to appreciate his sense of humor. He used to sometimes tag comments with BOCTAOE (But Of Course There Are Obvious Exceptions) just for the people who take him too literally.
Update: The New Yorker reviews a new book:
A backlash against pop neuroscience is now in full swing. The latest, and most cutting, critique yet is “Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience,” by Sally Satel and Scott Lilienfeld. The book, which slams dozens of inconclusive studies that have been spun into overblown and downright dubious fields, like neurolaw and neuromarketing, is a resounding call for skepticism of the most grandiose claims being made in the name of neuroscience. The authors describe it as “an exposé of mindless neuroscience: the oversimplification, interpretive license, and premature application of brain science in the legal, commercial, clinical, and philosophical domains." The book does a terrific job of explaining where and how savvy readers should be skeptical. ...That's right, one can be a materialist and still be skeptical about whether the mind will ever be understood from brain scans and similar technologies.
But the idea that the mind is separate from the brain no longer makes sense. They are simply different ways of describing the same thing. To talk about the brain is to talk about physiology, neurons, receptors, and neurotransmitters; to talk about the mind is to talk about thoughts, ideas, beliefs, emotions, and desires. As an old and elegant phrase puts it, “The mind is what the brain does.” ...
If critics are too pessimistic about what the future holds, they are right about one thing: over the past decade, neuroscience has become overprivileged as a method of examining the mind. Journalists, courts, and sometimes even scientists seem to believe that a brain scan can be more telling than a profile of an individual’s behavior. Perhaps as neuroscience progresses, it is possible for objective, physiological assessment of the brain to win out as the ultimate arbiter of truth when it comes to the mind. But that’s a long way off, if it ever will be possible at all.