Monday, August 23, 2010

Being part of the future

Last night I read the concluding chapter of Mindfield, a book which has taken me on a fascinating journey through the latest developments in neuroscience. The author, Lone Frank, asks a series of questions about how our growing understanding of the brain raises questions about the mind, about the idea of "myself". She asks:
What will define the neurorevolution? As I see it, we are looking at a liberation. The general message wrapped up in the countless research results is a message of freedom. That might sound overblown, but it becomes obvious when you think about what all this brain research is fundamentally doing. It is providing us with unprecedented insight into ourselves. The scanners and artful experiments are pushing us past guesswork, assumptions and vague notions in order to reveal exactly what is hiding deep within this formidable creature Homo sapiens. By exposing human nature, neuroscience makes us able to transcend and rise above it.
In my philosophy class last week, we were discussing Freud's concept of the self and how the modern understanding of psychology and physiology has altered our thinking. A discussion arose between the materialists in the class, who believe that our selves are the products of our physiology interacting with our environment (what Lone Frank calls the habitus of the human mind), and those with a more metaphysical bent, who believe that the self is transcendent: that the sum of our genetic, physiological and psychological parts is less than the whole.

These latter-day transcendentalists believe that studies in neuroscience will never uncover the basic explanation for how we think and why we think the way we do. Yet when you consider the leaps and bounds that neuroscience has made in the past 20 or 30 years, the future possibilities seem almost unlimited. When Crick and Watson first revealed the structure of DNA in the mid-twentieth century, the mapping of the human genome that was completed some fifty years later would have seemed an impossible task. Who is to say that, in fifty or a hundred years time, we won't have a similar map of the human mindfield?

1 comment:

  1. There's been a bit of a furore in science circles on this subject this week. Ray Kurzweil's prediction that we'll be able to reverse engineer the human brain in 20 years' time has raised a lot of hackles. An interesting discussion (with lots of links to other science bloggers) can be found here.