13 January 2012

What the neuro-humanities will look like...

The Economist 'demolishes' free will, and one can almost imagine what Jonathan Swift would say:
...we assign responsibility for desired public outcomes to decision-making units [in our brains] that communicate well internally and have internally shared interests in that outcome. So in general, it makes a lot of sense to make individuals responsible for themselves: modules inside one person's brain may be distinct but they're usually in very close communication and generally share a common interest. However, some brain modules don't communicate well and may conflict with each other. One module in your brain wants to be fit; a different one wants to drink that soda. Taking as a given for the moment that we have a public interest in people being fit, it may make sense to have social institutions work collectively with the modules in everyone's brains that want to be fit, rather than depending on each individual to resolve the contest between their get-fit module and their drink-soda module. The shift in thinking here isn't necessarily so different from the Freudian development of the idea of the subconscious mind. But like psychoanalysis, neuroscience's challenge to the idea that individuals are coherent subjects who make their decisions consciously and can be held responsible for them tends to shift the way one thinks about society and politics. In many cases, it's not only unfair to hold individuals accountable for the actions of the modules in their heads, it's also completely counterproductive, while solutions pursued at either a neuropsychological-pharmacological level or at a social level would be the effective ones.
Note also that the way the author confounds "will," "intent," and "accountability". Amazing.

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