Sunday, June 30, 2013

Mechanism Is Not Meaning


It is only natural that advances in knowledge about the brain make people think more mechanistically about themselves. Still, mechanism is not meaning. The brain creates the mind through the actions of neurons and circuits, yes, but it cannot reveal its nuanced contents. Despite our romance with the brain, we make sense of ourselves and the world by thinking about desires, intentions, and actions. No matter how intricately scientists understand the brain, they won’t be able to answer why we sabotage ourselves—the question that, in some form or another, has launched a zillion therapy hours. It won’t compel us to adopt a new moral code or revamp our system of criminal justice.

Learning more about the brain will help unravel more about the knotty relationship between mind and brain; it will make deep inroads into treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s. But no matter how dazzling the fruits of inquiry or how ingeniously they are obtained, brain-based explanations of our longings, exploits, and foibles are sure to break our hearts.

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