Delight Springs

Friday, October 17, 2014

Reductionism and the science of love

Trying to distract myself this morning from the outcome of last night's ballgame. The red tie I wore to class did not help my team. The upside, though, is that now I can root for Cinderella in the World Series. She'll be wearing blue this year.

Speaking of red...

Good reports yesterday in CoPhi, on mental illness, Karl Marx, and love. The last segued perfectly from our text's contention that novelists and poets do a much better job than scientists of explaining love. And yet, much light is shed by biochemistry, neuroscience, and psychology. The reporters showed us this:

One of my discussion questions to the class yesterday was whether anything ought not to be studied scientifically. I say no. But I also say, keep those poems and novels coming. We should feel good about every opportunity to glean insight into our amazing brains. It's not scientism to seek understanding, so long as we leave room in our science for ourselves. 

And that reminds me of the interesting bar conversation we had night before last on reductionism. Most scientists are methodological reductionists, seeking the ultimate causal conditions of phenomena. Nothing wrong with that, so long as we resist the explanatory reductionism that would dispatch and dismiss every other approach including poetry and fiction and (as we also discussed in class yesterday) the rambling self-seeking sort of essay ("attempt") that Montaigne patented.

And that reminds me to pick up E.O. Wilson's latest book, humbly titled The Meaning of Human Existence. He's been widely panned as the worst sort of reductionist, ever since "sociobiology" got him a pie in the face - or was it a dash of cold water? But he was saying nice, non-reductionist-sounding things about the humanities on the radio the other day. Science needs us humanists, he seemed to be saying, as much as humanists need the reality as limned by science. Beware talk of "replacing" one genre with another; but be open to mutually-instructive "colonization."
Would the humanities care to colonize the sciences? Maybe use a little help doing that? How about replacing science fiction, the imagining of fantasy by a single mind, with new worlds of far greater diversity based on real science from many minds? Might poets and visual artists consider searching in the real world outside the range of ordinary dreams for unexplored dimensions, depth, and meaning? Would they be interested in finding the truth of what Nietzsche called, in Human, All Too Human, the rainbow colors around the outer edges of knowledge and imagination? That is where meaning is to be found.
Bridge the "two cultures" at last, without eliminating either? Contrary to my more "robust physicalist" friends, I would love that. 

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