Notes from 10/14/2011 Meeting of The Neurosciences and the Humanities Working Group at Kent State

Today, the Kent State University working group on the neurosciences and the humanities held its second meeting of Fall 2011 semester to discuss, among other things, Neil Levy’s “Neuroethics and the Extended Mind” from The Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics edited by Judy Illes and Barbara J. Sahakian (Oxford UP, 2011).

These are my stream-of-consciousness notes on the conversation from the meeting:

Empathy and mirror neurons

Marco Iacoboni’s Mirroring People book

Thomas Metzinger

Martha Nussbaum’s article “Not for Profit”, cursory account of empathy, her argument won’t fly in modernist circles, making it fully linguistic–can we do this?

language puts us right in there with these issues

Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf, neuroscience and reading

Keats talked about seeing a bird pecking the ground–being there, as if experiencing as the bird

(what about Thomas Nagel’s “What Is It Like to be a Bat?”)

Shelley, “A Defense of Poetry,” similar argument to Nussbaum

Me: Evolutionary questions around empathy, altruism and conserving resources–why did we evolve this resource wasting/non-gene passing along adaptation?

Some others: Lots of sentimentalism about what it means to be human, but I don’t think that we are getting to the core of where this came from. Simply saying that we are different from animals (not something that I buy anyways)

Philosophers debate two aspects of empathy: 1) imagining what someone else feels or projected empathy, and 2) motivating someone to do something as a result of emapthy

Hardwired empathy–it would seem so.

Levy article:

narrow view of what the mind does–propositional knowledge

Why is it important that he is only focused on propositional knowledge? Is he favoring language as the medium of thought?

Godel’s theorem = undefinable propositions

Language always leaves something out (Lacan)

How do we think? in language? natural language?

Ganlan–mental activity that language rests on

Gotsky–the dialectical

Indeterminacy, thinking of the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle applied to language

Speech act theory, language does something that only language can perform


Machines that count as humans

Selfobject–can be a literal object, a person, an environment or setting, need that relationship to otherness

Damasio–core self consists of feedback loops, don’t really change over the whole life, those core states don’t changes, other things self

Science of consciousness and emotion, tree of emotion, drives > basic emotions > complex emotions

Clumping emotion and feelings together

Does consciousness begin in the body?

Community integrity–deaf persons and their children, for example

Functional intervention–someone needing a drug to enhance mental performance, memory, alertness, etc., then taking that drug away, what then?

Me: not troubled by extended mind, all for a posthuman future and the rapture of the nerds, related my own experience with identity transformation through medical interventions, that is not any different than non-intervention changes, though it is mediated by technology–cyborg? yes! (on the way home, I was thinking that I should have suggested steering the conversation towards haves-and-haves-nots for pharmacological and other technological interventions).

Identity–changeable and transformative over time | interventions in identity, drugs, plugging things into our brains, cyberpunk

Consider adding things to mind, but also the possibility of taking things away from mind

PTSD and Mrs. Dalloway–story of a woman who commits suicide and story of a woman hearing the story of the woman who commits suicide

Neuroscientists > PTSD is for past traumas more than the trauma that triggered PTSD, maybe forgetting the trigger event won’t help, this is why out of a group of people who experience the same trauma only some develop PTSD while others do not

extended mind–countering externalized soul?

Interventions > “you are playing god” > not consistent, hyperreligiosity

Milton > Blake, Milton lives on in him but not in the sense of reincarnation

Damasio–all about the self, the protoself is purely brain, core self built upon the brain

Denett–qualia and mind

Thomas Metzinger–The Ego Tunnel, he argues that there is no self, for next meeting

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.