Read Part I
And speaking of measurement, first a word from our sponsor, BrainView Magnetic Window3, the world’s leading manufacturer of fMRI devices, the machines which produce colorful glowing pictures of certain parts of the brain when those certain parts are “active.” And thus let us explain why the amygdala of conservatives (or was it liberals?) are more energetic than liberals (or what it conservatives?), etc., etc., etc.
I can’t stress to you just how crude these machines are. All studies which use fMRI (or PET scans, or whatever) are statistical. They show that an area of the brain is more active than other areas, but they do not show this reliably, or the people under the microscope do not always use the same exact portion of their brain when undergoing the same experimental procedure. It is also false that the rest of the brain, the parts that do not glow, are quiescent when other parts are “active.” The brain is a seething, restless, never-ceasing beast. The science of brain measurement is thus at the same level of eighteenth century Chinese medicine, where doctors would diagnose all ills by comparing the pulses of the patients’ left and right hands.4
Back to the mind: how does it arise? Gazzaniga says “emergence”, which itself is no explanation, since all it means is that the brain-body is so complex that the mind somehow arises out of it. This we already knew. What we want to know is how it does it. But Gazzaniga doesn’t know. Nobody does; not yet, anyway, and if you listen to philosophers who call themselves “mysterians”, nobody ever will5 (a point of view with which I have much sympathy, given my familiarity with over-certainty).
Gazzaniga likes to use the example that knowledge of how a car engine works tells us nothing (or a something close to epsilon) about the complexities of traffic. He quotes approvingly from Philip W. Andersen’s paper “More is different”:
The main fallacy in this kind of thinking is that the reductionist hypothesis does not by any means imply a ‘constructionist’ one: The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe. In fact, the more the elementary particle physicists tell us about the nature of the fundamental laws, the less relevance they seem to have to the very real problems of the rest of science, much less to those of society…
The arrogance of the particle physicist and his intensive research may be behind us…but we have yet to recover from that of some molecular biologists, who seem determined to try to reduce everything about the human organism to ‘only’ chemistry, from the common cold to all mental disease to the religious instinct. Surely there are more levels of organization between DNA and quantum electrodynamics, and each level can require a whole new conceptual structure.
In other words, you can’t tell what’s going on above by knowing what’s going on below. “In neuroscience when you talk about downward causation you are suggesting that a mental state affects a physical state. You are suggesting that a thought at Macro A level can affect the neurons on the Micro B level.” Even though he says this, this isn’t exactly what Gazzaniga is suggesting: he chooses to use the word “complementarity” in just the same sense as Bohr used it, but between the mind and brain-body (he’s dreadfully afraid of opening a door for dualism). But I don’t see the difference. By saying the mind—which arises out of the brain-body; it is its form—causes changes, we are not tossing out causation: we are saying the mind itself causes changes in the brain-body; that is, changes in itself. Placebo effect anybody?
Gazzaniga then plays around with the idea of a “social mind” saying that minds cannot exist in isolation and need others. Or something. And that “the environment and the organism are coupled across time.” And that universal, more or less, behaviors and moral attitudes (e.g., to incest) are found. Regarding the social mind, I think either the logic collapses on itself or reduces to Aristotle’s truism, so I do not explore these ideas further.
Given that alternate theories exist, why should people be so anxious to deny free will? Gazzaniga tackles that in the last section of his book.
There is more than a smack of savioritis among neurologists who bring us the gospel of determinism (or perhaps enfant terribilism is more apt). “You don’t have to be free!” they tell us, “Embrace determinism and whatever you do is not your fault.”
The fallacy, if it isn’t already, is made obvious with this anecdote where John Maynard Keynes observes the behavior of Bertrand Russell:6
Bertie in particular sustained simultaneously a pair of opinions ludicrously incompatible. He held that in fact human affairs were carried on after a most irrational fashion, but that the remedy was quite simple and easy, since all we had to do was to carry them on rationally.
As David Stove commented, “Just two effortless sentences, and yet how fatal they are to any belief in Russell’s political wisdom, or even sense! They are like a bayonet thrust through the heart and out the back.” Why, the trouble with the world is that people do not know they are not free; therefore, to fix the world, we just need to act like we are not free. Sheesh. It really is no better than this. However, we are no longer talking philosophy, but psychology.
The first suggestion on the minds of the hard determinists is that we should “change the law”, especially punishment, seeing that the guilty had no choice but commit their crimes. This ends their argument. And in so ending, it ought to tell you the why. For if the guilty had no choice, the judge has no choice but to punish. What makes the judge freer to change his behavior than the criminal? His position of authority does not after all allow him escape from the “causal chain gang.”
Even Gazzaniga, no determinist as we have seen, allows himself to imagine that “neuroscience has an enormous amount to say about the goings on” inside the courtroom.
It can provide evidence that there is unconscious bias in the judge, jury, prosecutors and defense attorneys, tell us about the reliability of memory and perception with implications for eyewitness testimony, inform us about the reliability of lie detecting, and is now being asked to determine the presence of diminished responsibility in a defendant, predict future behavior, and determine who will respond to what type of treatment. It can even tell us about our motivations for punishment.
The last claim is false, and the others are dicey. But we shouldn’t begrudge a little speculative fiction from a man obviously in love with his job. As long as these ideas are not taken too seriously, they can even be fun. Trouble begins when are taken seriously. We can all be grateful, for example, that courts have still resisted the idea of using “scientific” lie detectors.
Gazzaniga recognizes this, and says the following about using “brain scans” to identify “abnormal brains” in the courtroom:
There are other problems with the abnormal brain story, but the biggest one is that the law makes a false assumption. It does not follow that a person with an abnormal brain scan has abnormal behavior, nor is a person with an abnormal brain automatically incapable of responsible behavior. Responsibility is not located in the brain. The brain has no area or network for responsibility.
He reminds us of the case of John Hinckley who was found “not guilty” because of insanity. Yet his murder attempt “was premeditated. He had planned it in advance, showing evidence of good executive functioning. He understood it was against the law and concealed his weapon. He knew that shooting the president would give him notoriety.”
We started with Dr Johnson and we end with him, at least as far as demonstrating the existence of free will. We see that we have it because we use it, therefore it exists. Nevertheless, the fear is that we are only at the start of the neurological predestination fad. Gazzaniga’s book provides a sober check to the excesses we find elsewhere.
3I made it up.
4Doctors, all men, would not even be allowed to view female patients of the noble. These ladies would sit inside an enclosure and only stick their wrists out. Gazzaniga explicits that statistical nature of measurement himsel, and warns against using “averages” of images to infer facts about individuals; see p. 197. Whenever you see an fMRI study use the word “associated” when describing regions and behavior, you know the measurement is uncertain.
5For an explanation of this viewpoint, see Colin McGinn’s The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds In A Material World. Also see Feser. McGinn is arguing that philosophers should be renamed to “onticists”. He doesn’t like that in calling himself a philosopher, he is expected to know the answer to all of life’s mysteries.
6I learned of it from David Stove’s On Enlightenment, though I have since seen it elsewhere.
I’ll be away from the computer until Thursday.