Socrates’ Critique of 21st-Century Neuroscience

Daniel Silvermintz in Scientific American:

If chocolate releases the same chemicals in the brain as sexual excitement, why not forgo the trials and tribulations of a romantic relationship for a bowl of Hershey’s kisses. Twenty-first century neuroscience provides such a sophisticated understanding of brain functions that it is tempting to mistake the psychic mechanism with the ultimate goal. This is precisely what goes on in the field of psychobiology, which eschews discussion of meaning beyond the biological process. Ironically, the scientific study of psychology was initiated by Socrates’ disillusionment with the natural sciences in light of their complete inability to account for human behavior. Alongside advances in brain science, we need to rediscover the ancient approach to behavioral science as a means of restoring meaning to function, if for no other reason than that our lives depend on it.

…For Socrates, the misapplication of the natural sciences to human affairs renders the investigator incapable of seeing such fundamental notions as justice, beauty and goodness since they lack a material explanation. He poignantly illustrates the fallacy of scientific reasoning by considering how a biologist would explain why Socrates is sitting in his prison cell: “The bones are hung loose in their ligaments, the sinews, by relaxing and contracting, make me able to bend my limbs now,” declares Socrates just before drinking the poison, “and that is the cause of my sitting here with my legs bent.” Of course, one cannot argue with the truth of the biologist’s explanation; nonetheless, bones and sinews have nothing to do with why Socrates is sitting on death row.

More here.

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