Understanding the Human Brain Does Not Preclude Philosophical Considerations of Its Work

In the past, I was invited to consider the possibility that there are some domains of knowledge in the humanities that the sciences cannot scrutinize, because I admittedly sounded at the time like I had switched back from English and cultural studies to the sciences. It was in part my thinking about this that I wanted to post the link to the Feynman video yesterday about the pleasure of finding things out [here].

I believe that it can go both ways. The humanities, today perhaps more than ever, needs and relies on science and technology as the driving force behind the social and culture. Science, likewise, needs the social and culture to provide some of its research questions, its inspirations, and its debate regarding research and technological applications. I do also believe that science can peer into the workings of the humanities, the social, and the human animal just as the humanities can investigate the sciences, its methods, its meanings, and its implementations of power.

The humanities however is not specifically tasked with testing and modeling all domains of knowledge, but the sciences include everything, including the humanities, as worthy of inquiry. Science is supposed to figure things out, break things down, and provide reproducible findings. Nevertheless, I do not think that the sciences can erase the importance of the humanities and the work that we do. I found this quote today in Michael O’Shea’s The Brain: A Very Short Introduction that I think is extremely appropriate. He writes, “Some future scientist may proclaim that he or she has attained a complete understanding of the brain. But it seems improbably that the rest of the world then would simply stop regarding thinking, dreaming, poetry, and the beauty of a sunset as somewhat puzzling manifestations of the brain in action and the cause of some modest philosophical reflection” (O’Shea 123-124). It is important to know how the brain works for a variety of reasons including its importance to the work in the humanities, but simply knowing every facet of its operation and development will not take away from the questions and speculations that humanities professors, students, and everyone contemplates with their brains. Knowing the brain does not discount the things that we all use our brains for including humanities work. If anything, I believe that knowing the brain and using the humanities to better understand the brain will only expand our understanding and wonder about ourselves.

I am a professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on 20th/21st-century American culture, science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology.

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Posted in Personal, Research, Science, The Brain
Who is Dynamic Subspace?

Dr. Jason W. Ellis shares his interdisciplinary research and pedagogy on DynamicSubspace.net. Its focus includes the exploration of science, technology, and cultural issues through science fiction and neuroscientific approaches. It includes vintage computing, LEGO, and other wonderful things, too.

He is an Assistant Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY (City Tech) where he teaches college writing, technical communication, and science fiction.

He holds a Ph.D. in English from Kent State University, M.A. in Science Fiction Studies from the University of Liverpool, and B.S. in Science, Technology, and Culture from Georgia Tech.

He welcomes questions, comments, and inquiries for collaboration via email at jellis at citytech dot cuny dot edu or Twitter @dynamicsubspace.

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