Herbie Mann Comin' Home

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Know Thyself

Theocratic societies permit no curiosity.

Barbarians -- which is to say, most others -- seek to apply its practicality.

Science sees curiosity as its prime motive, and rewards freewheelingness of search so long as methods hold themselves trim and transparent, any practical results constituting only evidence, not purpose.

So, what to make of science that explores the brain, whose matter and organization so clearly relate to those traits we see distinguishing what's human?

Earlier intellectual examination of humanity speculated more or ideologically buttressed and justified itself. Both, maybe. What science might politely sequester-off as philosophy or, at moments of irritation or memory of persecution, superstition.

To avoid those, science held fast to what was empirical, could be sensed, and worked from there, always verifying from those tangible spots. Reducible to those tangibilities.

Method tended, therefore, to reductivism. That is the bias of science. Not wrong at all, necessarily, as a way of working. But finding firmer truth in what has been reduced most.

Brain science. Highly complex, a relatively new field. Valuable to medicine.

Has found where in the brain the senses 'reside' in order to coordinate perceptions. Has found some of the systemic interconnections among parts of the brain, between hemispheres of the brain, through layers of the brain.

Has speculated. Has speculated whether finding out 'where' higher human functions dwell within and among neural complexes, synaptic series -- whether finding 'where' tells us, simply, the 'just what'.

Consciousness. Morality. Compassion and self-sacrifice.

If we locate the 'substance' from which they operate, have we located 'them'?

Do we commit an 'idealist fallacy' if we see 'evolutionary structure' in such substance whose 'advantage' may allow development of something 'post-physical'?

Science, despite having a theoretical range, would not allow itself to go that far, seeing such a notion as a backward fall into superstition, a stepping too far away from the sensible.



  1. Science believes that everything can be explained through empirical evidence.It is however starting to reach frontiers that are way beyond human comprehension.Quantum mechanics is but one example.How can human thoughts move particles?It will be interesting to see where the empirical evidence is there!If we knew the answer to everything life would not be the adventure it is.

  2. Good scientists stick to their business. If they realize what they're doing, they should realize that everything can be explained through empirical evidence, as you say.

    But those empirical explanations, they might go on to see, may not be the only explanations. If science has a failing, it's not that the methods aren't good ones. It's that the methods might be taken as the only ones.

    Physical universe is one part of human interest. Living in it, though, means dealing with attitudes and accidents and the 'adventure' you bring up of 'experience' -- that's not reducible to the physical relationships alone.

    Thanks for this Friday morning exercise!