August 10, 2004

Neural Darwinism. A brief interview with Gerald Edelman. [Via dangerousmeta!]
  • Thanks for this, homunculus - interesting stuff. Edelman is on to something, I believe, but whether it deserves to be called Darwinism is another matter. Francis Crick, as you probably know, said it should be called 'Neural Edelmanism'. A better analogy, possibly, is the one Edelman himself makes with the immune system. The brain, like the immune system, recognises things not by having a ready-made encyclopaedia, nor by a priori computation, but by generating an unbelievably large number of patterns, one of which is bound to match.
  • by generating an unbelievably large number of patterns, one of which is bound to match I am abandoning a long tradition of subtle and nuanced critique to more or less unequivocally agree with this. No, seriously, to what degree is experience experienced because it's capable of narrative-isation? And, more importantly, what does this prismatic grid impose upon our memories?
  • Answers in a sealed envelope, please.
  • I loved Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It did bring up related issues of experience and memory. As Edelman said, "When our bodies go, we go." In the movie, they destroyed memories by destroying parts of brains, and thus destroyed that part of the person's self that pertained to that memory. Perhaps Eternal Sunshine should be on the mind fuck list! Of course, Edelman's view has always been my point of view since I was an intelligent and critical child capable of using logic and thinking for myself. I came to it of my own accord. I even remember the exact moment I decided I that atheism made the most sense to me, when I was approximately 11 years old. Of course, now I'm agnostic, but I was atheist for a number of years. Let's face it, anyone who pretends to know anything absolutely given our paltry senses and limited understanding is asking for trouble.
  • This is the theory that alcohol only kills off the brain cells that are aged or weak, yes? I like that theory. PigAlien, curious what moved you from atheism to agnosticism -- just healthy scepticism? (I am noting the same shift as I age)
  • Well, I shouldn't claim that Edelman is an atheist or that that is his viewpoint. I actually meant that I came to the realization that consciousness was a physical phenomenon and had no relation to any sort of spirit. I extended that to the religious realm and decided that if there were no spirits, there probably wasn't a God either. God would have to be part of the physical world, and the laws of the physical world didn't really allow for omniscience, omnipotence, etc. Besides, if God was part of the physical universe, how could he precede it? Since then, I've come to realize that my 'logic' is entirely dependent upon my senses, my perception, my consciousness, which are entirely faulty and vague. How could I claim to categorically know that what I know or perceive to be true actually is? Therefore, for me, the only logically consistent position is agnosticism.
  • Now why doesn't that lead you to solipsism? Or worse yet, solipsism of the present moment? Not that these are terribly popular viewpoints.
  • Kudos PigAlien. I reached quite similar conclusions, although by a different way, and took me a helluva time to do so, some sort of atheism/agnosticism at 16. I'm still pretty much confused about everything. But I'm pretty sure everything I learned through church is mostly bollocks.
  • My own shift from atheism to agnosticism was based on the realization that atheism is like religious faith, in that it is a formulated answer to an unanswerable question. Agnosticism is being comfortable with the fact that the question is unanswerable. The derail is as interesting as the original post
  • Well, Rorschach, I do occasionally think of solipsism of the present moment quite frequently, actually. I often wonder if everything up to the present moment was merely fabricated for my own self-delusion. Of course, it works out perfectly that I've had this thought in the past as well - it makes it seem more consistent and believeable. In as far as solipsism puts me at the center of existence, then I choose to believe there is a real world outside of my own consciousness because it makes it more fun. Ok, the truth of the matter is, no matter how hard I try to believe I control the universe, I can't seem to do it! Damn, its so depressing. I'm sure that's why I love fantasy and science fiction. Hang on, hang on, the future's almost here! We certainly have telepathy in the form of cell phones.
  • occasionally != frequently, LOL! oops...
  • Edelman is far from the only atheist or disbeliever in the soul in this field, of course. In fact, the only people I know of who have made a serious scientific attempt to reconcile the soul with modern neurology are Sirs John Eccles and Karl Popper. Of course, had they succeeded, the sould would thereby have ceased to be mysterious, 'spooky', or immune to science.
  • You can be atheistic *and* agnostic. The first says that you don't believe in God, the second says 1)you don't know and 2)you think the question can't every be answered with certainty. The two definitions are exclusive.
  • I think the last 10 years have ground me down. I used to tirelessly put forward the argument from limitations with regard to human experience and cognition, but it seemed like everyone, no matter their personal theory, was invested in believing *something* for certain. It wore me out. pigalien -- never had to seriously dig myself out of the epistemological pit until a trip that went particularly bad about three hours in (with five to go).
  • *cough* -- a long time ago.