June 21, 2011

Understanding How Our Brains Work - Opening a 'can of worms' may be a good beginning.

Roundworm neurons.  Photo:  The New York Times

Ever the skeptic about neuroscience and sociobiology mapping the long and intricate pathways between neurons and genes and human behavior, I nevertheless find the article described in the New York Times article linked below very interesting.  Biologist Cornelia Bargmann's research on the brain of a lowly roundworm has promise for understanding much about these pathways in other brains, including ours.

Precisely charting pathways for food finding, harm/death avoidance and other sensory/motor activity in any organism is one thing.  However, I still look with apprehension to the day when our most complex and "highest" behaviors, such as subjective experience, imagining and speculation, as well as our "cultural universe" of cognitive symbols and ideals, are reduced to mean exact pathways involving gene triggers and neuron electro-chemical firings.  Perhaps what I most fear is when subjective experience, cultural symbols and memes become seen as nothing more than a geneto-neuronal function.

Can human qualia be biologically reduced this far and still leave us with our humanity, dignity and freedom?  It can if we insist on a holistic understanding and appreciation of Humankind.  Hopefully such inquiry in neuroscience and genetics will enhance our appreciation for the cultural universe our ever-evolving species created and has become almost totally dependent on for survival.

In Tiny Worm, Unlocking Secrets of the Brain by Nicolas Wade, The New York Times, June 20, 2011
The Believing Brain:  From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies - How We Consruct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths by Michael Shermer reviewed by Ronald Bailey, The Wall Street Journal, July 27, 2011

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