Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Reductionism? Never Mind...

Another comment from the Dennett thread--those of you who have read my evolutionary biology valentine's day poem will know that I am not a fan of reductionist explanations.

It frustrates me a bit, to find
This parsing out of “what is mind”
Seems always, always to have missed
That I am no reductionist!
I am no fool; I won’t deny
The brain’s importance. Ah, but I
Would argue that is just one part,
But so’s the gut, and so’s the heart.
There is no brain that acts alone—
At least, not any I have known.
The consciousness phenomena
Are everyday and common—a
Description of one’s life, it seems,
Both wide awake and in our dreams.
The consciousness we must explain
Is product of much more than brain!
A wider scope, and not more narrow,
Serves as target for our arrow.

(Explanations claiming “quantum”?
We don’t need, and much less want ‘em;
The level that we need—behavior—
Is not quantum; it can’t save yer
Theory, just because it’s hard
To fathom. We can disregard
The quantum stuff as misconstrued
By several leaps of magnitude.)

The consciousness vocabulary
Isn’t technical or scary;
Rather, it’s the common tongue
We learned while we were very young;
We’re taught our anger, love, and pride
By people with no view inside.
To their thoughts we were likewise blind,
And yet we learned to label “mind”.
But how to learn what makes up “red”
Without a view from head to head?
Or hunger, sadness, even pain
Without a window to the brain?
We learn the things that make us us
Through public, common stimulus;
There is no disembodied “blue”,
But things we learned to call that hue;
When looking at your “mind” today,
Reflect on how it got that way;
The learning that took many years,
Not mere arrangement of the gears.

So much of mental mystery
Reveals itself in history,
Which, if we choose to disregard,
Makes consciousness appear the “Hard
Problem”, as Chalmers so labeled,
A lofty problem, nearly fabled.
It’s “hard” because it asks to find
Physical cause for mental mind.
(The answer I would give—surprise!—
Is one the question plain denies,
As if rotation of the earth
Could not explain the eastern birth
And western death of each day’s sun
As well as Phoebus’s chariot run.)
Our language speaks of mental stuff;
For many, that would seem enough,
And “images” and “memories”
And reified ideas like these
Are what we’re challenged to explain
A task which we’d pursue in vain
Like capturing a unicorn
Or finding where a gryphon’s born.

Reductionist neurologists
By now have plenty on their lists
Explaining this or that or these
In all the detail that you please
Reducing Y to lots of X
Can simplify or make complex,
But if you’re simply changing levels,
Such “explanation” just bedevils.
The problem, if it’s there to find
Is solved in how we learn our mind.
It won’t be found in EEG’s
Or PET scans, CAT scans, none of these—
Oh, yes, we’ll learn some awesome stuff,
But, at that level? Not enough.
“Physical mind” is not just contradiction—
It’s sending us all on a chase for a fiction!

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