November 20, 2011

Free Will - Why Do Many Neuroscientists Say There Is No Such Thing?

Brain Might Not Stand in the Way of Free Will by Anil Ananthaswamy, New Scientist, August 8, 2012

Free Will and "Free Will": How My View Differs from Daniel Dennett's by Sam Harris, The Blog, April 5, 2012

The Illusion of Free Will by Sam Harris, Excerpt from Free Will, February 12, 2012

Is Neuroscience the Death of Free Will?  by Eddy Nahmias, The New York Times, The Opinion Pages, November 13, 2011

I have never accepted neuroscientist Sam Harris' claim in his books and on his blog that free will is an illusion. I knew there was something wrong in his extrapolation from neuroscience to how we make decisions: the brain processes information subconsciously; this subconscious activity has been shown to be the precursor to decision making; this in turn makes conscious consideration of information a mere after the fact reflection or projection of such decisions. It seems to me Harris is using neuroscience to beat the dead horse of dualism: brain=subconscious decision-maker=no role for the conscious mind=to think mind is free to or has a role in making decisions is an illusion.

I've been puzzling for some time on how to articulate my objections to Harris regarding free will but have been unable to put my thoughts together as well as philosopher Eddy Nahmias has in this link. I am a monist. Brain, decision-making and mind are one. But I reject Harris' idea that all we need to really understand is a detailed understanding of the neurology of decision-making; that a belief that our conscious mind is involved in decision making is a illusion, or more accurately a delusion or self-deception. Nahmias' article expresses my objections to Harris' and other so inclined much better than I ever could.

The implications for the value of human freedom and, conversely, absolving the individual of moral and legal responsibility if Harris' and other like-minded scientists prevail in such reductionism are staggering.  I can also see how religious fundamentalists could latch on to Harris' idea and impute God's will into the neurology of the brain - after all, God made our brains and knows our thoughts and decisions before we think about them or make them.

For more on "free will" see my previous post:  Free Will:  Of course we have it!  Don't we?

November 18, 2011

A Taste Of African Food And Culture

Here are three very different presentations that have one thing in common - a love of Africa, its people, and all Humanity.  Enjoy!

Bagisu women prepare matooke for steaming

1.  The first is a post on the "Elgon Pearls - A Ugandan Journey" blog:  Traditional Ugandan Food In Pictures by Immy Rose Namutosi Lassiter, Elgon Pearls, November 8, 2011.  The owner of the blog and author of the post is my wife and best friend, Immy Rose Namutosi Lassiter, from Mbale in eastern Uganda.  Her post is about traditional Ugandan food with an emphasis on the specialities of her ethnic group, the Bagisu, also known as the Bamasaba.  The photographs were taken mostly by Immy Rose and me.  There are other very interesting posts on this blog about life in Uganda.

The Gisu are linguistically classified as Bantu-speakers.  Their homeland is located on the very fertile western slopes of the dormant though still beautiful volcano Mt. Elgon in eastern Uganda, on the Uganda-Kenya border.  Most Bagisu in their homeland, which is known as Bugisu, are small-scale farmers and coffee growers.  The city of Mbale is the commercial center of Bugisu and the administrative capital of Mbale District.  Other Gisu and other ethnic groups very closely related to them live in Kenya on the eastern and southeastern slopes of Mt. Elgon.

Enjoy the post!  Make your next vacation destination Uganda to taste these delicious foods and meet some very friendly, gracious people!

2.  "Wanahamuna," A song by Immy Rose and Jim Lassiter, Sung to the tune of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," November 17, 2011

The song is about Wanahamuna, a squirrel known among the Bagisu for his clever, tricky and humorous ways.  Here are the lyrics:

Wanahamuna – by Immy Rose and Jim Lassiter.  Sung to the tune of The Lion Sleeps Tonight – G C G D

Tsya iyoyo, tsya iyoyo, tsye yoyoyo
Tsya iyoyo, tsya iyoyo, tsye yoyoyo

Wanahamuna, wanahamuna, wanahamuna, wanahamuna
Wanahamuna, wanahamuna, wanahamuna, wanahamuna

In Mbale, upon Wanale
A squirrel makes his home
In Mbale, upon Wanale
A squirrel makes his home

In a village, a Gishu village
The squirrel steals g-nuts
In a village, a Gishu village
The squirrel steals g-nuts – Chorus

Nyondo farmers, they chase the squirrel
To save their g-nut crops
Nyondo farmers, they chase the squirrel
To save their g-nut crops

But the squirrel, the naughty squirrel
He laughs and runs away
He’s not worried, no he’s not worried
He’ll come another day – Chorus

Tsya iyoyo, tsya iyoyo, tsye yoyoyo
Tsya iyoyo, tsya iyoyo, tsye yoyoyo

3.  Finally, a link to a YouTube post of Lost in Africa - Episode 6.

This is a wonderful portrayal of remote village life in Kenya, specifically that of the Pokot people.  American Kevin A. Urban and his Kenyan friend and collaborator Hosea Azere travel throughout Kenya to meet members of the country's various ethnic groups and share their experience with the rest of us via YouTube.  Kevin and Hosea possess a great appreciation and respect for the people they visit which is reflected in the humanistic way they interact with, photograph and interview them.  After viewing Episode 6 take a look at the previous five episodes of Lost in Africa on YouTube for a candid, down-to-earth and therefore realistic portrayal of this part of Africa.  You'll be glad you did!

November 17, 2011

Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army - The Facts vs. Rush Limbaugh's Lunacy

The Lord's Resistance Army: End Game?, The International Crisis Group, November 17, 2011
Lord's Resistance Army News, The New York Times, Commentary and Archival Articles
Heartbreaking: Former Abductee Responds to Rush Limbaugh's LRA Comments, Mediaite, October 19, 2011
Limbaugh Defends Lord's Resistance Army by Robert Mackey, The New York Times, News, October 17, 2011
Lord's Resistance Army, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, REFWORLD
Lord's Resistance Army, Human Rights Watch

November 2, 2011

Neuroscience And Darwinism Rule! - "Curb Your Enthusiasm" Says Knowledgeable Briton, Raymond Tallis

A knowledgeable curmudgeon, Raymond Tallis, pokes neuroscience and Darwinism in their respective, metaphorical eyes.  See Raymond Tallis Takes Out the 'Neurotrash' by Marc Parry, The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 9, 2011.  Perhaps both endeavors need such doses of skepticism and critique to help curb the public's and some scientists' enthusiasm (and worry) that these current paradigms that dominate the scientific study of our species can and will explain it all.

Seems to me there's something in all this about our species' apparent insecurity with the incomplete and provisional nature of science on the one had; and yet on the other a counter-current fear that science will expose our precious selves and take our individual uniqueness and privacy away.

Many of us who reject the absolute truth of the Abrahamic religions regarding the nature of the Universe and Humankind, really would like to see secular science keep trying to explain it all.  I am one though as I have written elsewhere on this blog, scientific knowledge will never be complete.  Maybe science will eventually explain a significantly greater portion of the "All" than it can at present.  But not so fast, says atheist Tallis. 

I welcome Tallis' critique as a dose of needed humility for secularists at large, and as a cautionary antidote for the possible emergence of scientific absolutism.  His criticism is good for the growth of scientific knowledge.

Tallis' recently published book might be worth a read:  Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis, and the Misrepresentation of Humanity


Decoding the Brain's Cacophany, Profiles in Science - Michael S. Gazzaniga, by Benedict Carey, The New York Times, Science, October 31, 2011

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