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« On Concussions, the NFL, and Neuroethics (Goldberg) | Main | (More) On Neuroreductionism (Goldberg) »

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Peter,

This is fascinating, thanks for the links. A couple of points leap to mind: first, while this is a sophisticated critique which engages the scholarship on its own (quantitative) terms, there are to my mind some compelling theoretical and conceptual reasons for doubting many of the conclusions drawn by both scientists and lay people alike. (I'm thinking of Bennett and Hacker's notion of the mereological fallacy, Searle's critique of eliminative materialism, Pustilnik's trenchant analysis of the role neuroscience has played in criminal law, Racine, Bar-Ilan, and Illes's articles on neurofallacies and neurorealism, etc.)

These are, of course, the neurofallacies, but what I think is most interesting about the Vul et al. critique is that it essentially states that scientists rather than just laypersons and journalists have perpetrated these fallacies.

This leads to my second point: why is it that so many, scientists, reporters, and laypersons alike, seem to push these fallacies so hard? What is at stake? Why is it important? The SciAm article with Vul touches on it, but I want to suggest that these are actually crucial questions, that tell us a great deal about the culture of science and its role in American society. Very recent data documenting the large amounts of waste that are attributable to medical imaging is quite compelling, in my view, and Vul et al's paper lends even more urgency to the questions of what it is about neuroimaging that seems so compelling, that drives so many to make the claims Vul and others critique.

My understanding is that this paper was due out in May. Either way, there seem to be many cracks appearing in the fMRI love affair.

Senior scientists cited by Vul in his "red list" said that the accusations are unfair: http://www.scribd.com/doc/10240613/Rebuttal-of-Voodoo-Correlations-in-Social-Neuroscience-by-Vul-et-al-summary-information-for-the-press

On the theoretical and conceptual side is also legitimate to say that not all agree with the mereological fallacy and other debunking statements about the sole and only matter of fact about neuroscience: the mind is what the brain does.

Hey Anibal,

Certainly it is true that not all agree with the mereological fallacy, nor did I state as such. I happen to think they are quite right, however, and if so, that has serious implications for the conceptual coherence of neuroimaging techniques.

Moreover, part of my argument above is to note that I do not remotely agree with the vast majority of neuroscientists that "the mind is [merely] what the brain does" (this is not just my impression -- there is literature demonstrating that this is exactly what neuroscientists do in fact believe). I added the "merely" to emphasize Searle's point, that of course the brain is a sine qua non for mind, in the sense that without a brain, there is no mind. The mistake that most interlocutors make, IMO, is to infer that mind is therefore nothing but/reducible to brain. That is an extremely serious error, one that is pervasive in neuroscience. Naturally, most neuroscientists do not think this is an error; it is in many ways one of the conceptual foundations of the entire field.

However, I have no problem whatsoever in stating that I think those who believe that the mind is reducible to the brain are badly mistaken.

Hi Daniel,

there are a lot of epistemological and metaphysical positions about how to know the mind/brain, and what is the mind/brain... and i notice the gross error in believing blindly what neuroscience (a nascent field) tell us, as you did mentioning "neurorealism" and other tendencies to accept without critic neuroscientific data.

But if the mind is not reducible to the brain, how we can find valid machanistical explanations about our mental life.

Where the mental life is suppose to be grounded?

Hi Anibal,

Because I still have guest-blogging privileges -- feel free to revoke any time, Adam! -- I moved our fascinating discussion to a blog post:

http://kolber.typepad.com/ethics_law_blog/2009/01/more-on-neuroreductionism-goldberg.html

As someone involved in fMRI research, I can safely say that Vul's "red list" is just the tip of the iceberg. The emperor has been naked for years and I'm glad someone finally had the guts to come out.

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