At the Neuroscience and the Humanities Workgroup meeting on November 28, 2011, we discussed:
Casebeer, William D. and Patricia S. Churchland. “The Neural Mechanisms of Moral Cognition: A Multiple-Aspect Approach to Moral Judgment and Decision-Making.” Biology and Philosophy 18 (2003): 169–194.
My sketch of notes prior to the meeting:
neural mechanisms of moral cognition (NMMC)
norms vs facts
theory of mind (TOM) and mirror neurons > Asimov’s robots, imagination and reasoning, he created a theory of mind, potentials, but he did much more in TOM
memory (184) > important
moral state space > c.f., Damien Broderick’s science fiction mega-text and narrative phase space
My notes from the discussion:
both authors in philosophy departments
non-chauvanistic: moral judgement > debate in meta-ethics, do they constitute a belief and can they be true or false, non-cognitivists vs cognitivists
chauvanistic > ethical judgement > presupposes the cognitive side
most neuroscientific article yet read in the group
mirror neurons > where we can think about empathy, however consider the monkey experiment where theory of mind allows one monkey to steal from another > evolution and survival
what are the evolutionary precursors to moral judgement in humans?
neural correlates in human and monkey brains, each reflecting the same behavior
virtue ethics > best empirical direction for ethics
Kantians > empiricism irrelevant to ethics
(178) Children’s ability to lie > how far along that they had a theory of mind > Aristotle – Nicomachean Ethics – youths/feeling > end of ethics is action not knowledge > children > immediate pleasures and pain > develop habit of not stealing > then when they have theory of mind > if not established habit before TOM, they may turn out devious
pointing to the virtue ethics model
shortcomings of brain imaging
Utilitarianism (faculty of calculation) or Kantian (will) > each is one-dimensional
neuroscience > interaction between all parts of the brain > more complex
ethical theories are too flat to account for all of these feedback/empirical reality of brain’s complexity
suspicion of neuroscientific imaging > limitations of what it can “see” and how what it “sees” is interpreted by theory, mathematics, and computer technology
question: what are you guys held up on brain imaging?
people associate brain science with brain imaging
other experiments including lesion studies and brain trauma observation, dissection after the fact, etc.
brain imaging > the real thing > we can see and know the brain (in a sense)
brain imaging is highly theorized
they are not photographing the brain, however
fMRI 101 [on youtube: how MRI works, another explanation, and how fMRI works]
fMRI is a translation, a rhetorical act, a deliberative act
how are these things reified in public discourse and legal discourse
recent discoveries > mirror neurons > discovered by fMRI
discomfort reading this article, also an issue of translation from one discourse to another, one understanding to another
refreshing and illuminating
localizing functions within the brain
V.S. Ramachandran’s The Tell-Tale Brain
limbic system > interwoven into many other areas of the brain including motor control, facial control
systems > use multiple structures/areas within the brain > common function > defined by function rather than by organ
fMRI confirms that there is no moral center within the brain
dispersal, distribution > gives new meaning to Greg Egan’s SF novel Diaspora > metaphor for our understanding of the functions of the brain
Utilitarian vs virtue ethics debate? first part of 20th century > Kantians vs Utilitarians > small skirmishes > after all of this conceptual work, possible to make progress in conceptual debates through empirical evidence
some philosophers say that science cannot tell us anything about ethics: descriptive/science vs normative/philosophy
Stanley Cavell and Jacques Derrida argument > ethical comportment in people
fact-value distinction > science can tell us facts but nothing else
Aristotle > facts and values are different, but they are interrelated in many ways
metaphysical distinction between facts and values > hold this and science will not help you at all
Aristotle and Newton > Newton was a physicist who creates the calculus (along with Leibnitz) to do his science > Aristotle was a biologist > created philosophy to do his biology > Aristotle never forgot that humans are animals > ethics and political science are influenced by this
Phineas Gage > localized view of the brain originates here
Gabriel Giffords – 20/20 program . shows her progress over time, shows where her brain was damaged and what other effects might have been if the wound was different > plasticity issue > the brain rewiring itself > reprogram in a sense
plasticity > to understand the capacity of the brain to heal itself > where a humanities person might get excited
where does the excitement for the humanities mean the failure of science?
do scientists care about what poetry means? some do.
V.S. Ramachandran’s Phantoms in the Brain
Seneca > woman not acknowledging her disability > chiding her for her behavior > might have had a stroke or other brain issue
science and the humanities > hypothetical questions for each
childhood studies > developing a physics > not mediated by language
going back to Aristotle > he was a collector of animal specimens > categorize > one of, if not the, first libraries, too
writes on poetics, politics, etc. but he wasn’t a writer on religion or the afterlife, he was interested in this life
“human beings desire to know.”
Aristotle’s categories > his shortest work, all encompassing > his logic was invented so that he could relate things in the way that he needed
this seems like the moment for the turn from language (20th century) to the study of the brain
I talked about technical limitations of current imaging technology, but it is amazing what we can do.
also, I mentioned the work of Roger Penrose in relation to quantum mechanics and other conjectures about how the laws of nature will likely prohibit our real-time investigation of the human brain while it is in a living person. issues of resolution and function and organic matter
Henri Bergson’s “Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic” > the mechanical encrusted on the living
The Symposium (in Greek it means a wine party for talking and drinking)
irony in Aristotle and Plato?
situational irony > Plato’s Gorgias
rhetorical irony > controlling all questions himself > cannot step outside of himself
We will plan our next meeting at the beginning of spring semester 2012.
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