How much can we learn about the mind by using brain imaging techniques like fMRI? In a recent NYT article, David Brooks has argued that we can learn very little. He notes how multiple brain regions are responsible for a single psychological process like working memory, and a single brain region like the insula is involved in multiple mental states. Tim suggests that systems neuroscience is well aware of the first problem, and that we might just abandon some mental states as natural kinds to solve the second. There are other real problems for fMRI, but only if it is not used in conjunction with other methods.
Tagged with “philosophy” (6)
In this episode we ask a provocative question: Given what we know about the brain, is it possible that we live in “The Matrix?” Tim argues that, if all our brains are doing is using sensory information to validate an internal model of the outside world, then as long as those expectations are being met in the right way, it would be theoretically feasible to simulate them. Is it really that far fetched that these could be replaced with artificial wires and sensors? In fact, we’re already starting to do that in neuroscience right now.
A growing body of research in cognitive neuroscience seems to be suggesting that the concept of free will may be nothing but an illusion. It’s fair to say that both Tim and Derek think neuroscience might one day show that human actions, much like other events, are caused by nothing more than previous events and the laws of nature. This is the philosophical position known as ‘determinism.’ Where the A&A hosts disagree is whether this kind of determinism is threatening to free will (at least to the kinds of free will we are usually concerned with) or if the two might be compatible.
Providing a theory of consciousness has been one of the most important issues in philosophy of mind. Tim is pretty much a skeptic that this is a valid (neuro)scientific endeavor. His stance arises because consciousness itself is a pretty un-quantifiable concept. There isn’t a device or test that can measure the “degree of consciousness” and often it gets conflated with concepts like being awake, intention, or attention. Derek is open to the possibility of a “science of consciousness,” but he is currently unimpressed by what’s been offered so far. His position agrees with Tim that most of the definitions of consciousness are vague and unhelpful; they usually define consciousness in terms of what it’s not. However, scientists can sometimes make new discoveries about phenomena of which we have vague or incomplete concepts.
Michael Huemer: The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey
The philosopher Robert Nozick once claimed that the most basic question of Political Philosophy is “Why not Anarchy?” Political philosophers pose this question often with the intent of demonstrating that there is indeed a good philosophical reason why governments should exist. Indeed, we often simply take for granted that the state and its vast coercive apparatus is morally justified. Similarly, we tend to think that anarchy is both a practically untenable and morally undesirable mode of social association. But governments claim not only power but authority over their citizens. And a few moments of reflection on the idea of authority suffices to see how curious an idea it is. To have authority is to have a right to create moral obligations in others simply by issuing commands, and a corresponding right to coerce compliance when others fail to obey one’s commands. It seems a puzzling phenomenon: The government claim to be able to make it the case that you’re morally required to do something simply in virtue of the fact that it has told you to do it. And they claim the moral right to imprison you for failing to do what they say.
In The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey (Palgrave Macmillan 2013), Michael Huemer explores this puzzling phenomenon, and defends the conclusion that in fact there is no such thing as political authority.
Individualist Anarchism Against Bosses, Inequality, Corporate Power, and Structural Poverty
Ed. Gary Chartier & Charles W. Johnson
Individualist anarchists believe in mutual exchange, not economic privilege. They believe in freed markets, not capitalism. They defend a distinctive response to the challenges of ending global capitalism and achieving social justice: eliminate the political privileges that prop up capitalists.