Sunday, February 06, 2005

Reductionist Approach

This was an article sent to me via a friend of mine and her rabbi:

One Soul's Adventure: Spiritual Growth Through Halacha

Read it before reading my comments about it.

I thought this article was unique because the first part of his life is rather similar to my own, minus the Catholicism and fighting about Church. Though even that is a significant difference because as a child I was very religious.

He has a few flaws in his reasoning. He sees that science can be thwarted by the bias of scientists and thus comes to see it as nothing more than a belief system as valid as any other. But how can that be true? You don't see other belief systems making vaccines and sending people to the Moon.

And the fact that Chromsky revealed Skinner's bias is part and parcel of the correcting nature of science. Any one scientist or group of scientists can have inherent bias, they're only human after all. But everything they write must go through peer review and is going to be criticized for every fault and bias in them. And eventually, like Skinner, their bias will be revealed.

He also writes: "If a single bioelectrical impulse traveling along aneuron in a petri dish is not a moral action, then the same must betrue of human thought and behavior -- merely a complex system of such impulses. From this perspective, "right" and "wrong" are meaningless, and God is denied."

But the flaw in logic here is that he says the complex system of the human brain and mind is nothing more than the sum of its parts. But that's wrong. Systems like the brain have emergent properties that individual neurons can't have. Having "merely a complex system of such impulses" makes a new entity different from its constituents.

As the brain allows us a sense of identity and of pain, morality comes down to the simple avoidance of suffering. Because if we all care for the other's suffering, we won't suffer ourselves. A rising tide lifts up all ships. This hardly makes morality meaningless, it just makes it not need the handiwork of God.

"There were too many instances in which reason clearly indicated acourse of action, but I acted in another way, the "right" way. If morals were the outcome of reason, how could reason and morals demand a contradictory course of action?"

Because that feeling of what is right or wrong is just as reliable as an emotion. One may feel sad for a person being executed, but if he's a rabid murderer that emotion is out of place. People "feel"differently about different things. Some people think cannibalism is morally acceptable, some verily do not. How about homosexuality? How do people "feel" about that?

Sometimes feelings of morality can go against reason, not because they're coming from a higher reason, but because they are the stuff of emotions.

"Liberated from the confines of rationalism..."

This is my favorite quote. That's like being liberated from the confines of those silly fences on top of really tall buildings. Where are you escaping to? Of course critical thinking and rationalism confines and directs one's considerations, that's its greatest strength.

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