I am not taking this course, but am interested in this discussion.
What are all these thoughts concerning the nature/origin of behavior? It is amusing and interesting to entertain notions of some intangible forces having some control over the behavior of human beings. But, letís think for a moment. Actually, letís think empirically for a moment. If some "force" is not observable, it is beyond the realm of science. If you are in the proximity of someone who is physically ill, and then develop similar symptoms of illness, do you ask yourself if the person you were exposed to was possessed by "evil forces" or do you wonder how the virus/bacteria entered your system? Do you wonder over the infinite permutations and combinations of what is possible or do you use the principle of parsimony? Questioning whether or not there is a "god" is analogous to questioning whether or not you got sick from those dreaded "evil forces." If a thing cannot be observed, it cannot offer itself to scientific examination. Before the scientific method emerged, you may have had your arteries opened to cure your illness. Hell, it was "possible" that bloodletting would cure you. Our universe could be a speck of dust in an infinitely larger universe; which could be a speck of dust in an infinitely larger universe; and so on. All this is "possible", but it is most probable that such speculation is ludicrous and potentially dangerous. If there is no empirical evidence Ė nothing that can be tested with the scientific method Ė donít satisfy some emotional need to explain something that cannot be explained. Yes, it may someday be empirically feasible to know and explain everything concerning our existence, but until that day, letís not waste our time pondering untestable possibilities.
So, Iím an empiricist. I think the reader understands my thoughts on the subject of "god" and what is possible. Trying to be as arrogant and pompous as possible (while still being correct!), the only realistic viewpoint for an intelligent and educated human being to have regarding the existence of such possibilities is that of agnosticism. Because there is no direct evidence that supports or denies the existence of a "god," it is not rational to be an atheist or a believer.
Why is there such an emphasis on the unobservable when it comes to discussing human behavior? I guess we like to feel that we are somehow more important than we are. It is comforting emotionally to think that we are all part of some "plan." Iím more interested in the observable "truth" than feeling good.
Back to the brain/behavior conundrum. Everything that we can observe; everything that science has to offer regarding this immense, leviathan of a brain-teaser points to the brain being the source of all behavior. We must, however, have a biological support mechanism for the brain. I would think that it would be obvious to most that if we yanked the brain and central nervous system out of any individual human being, there wouldnít be much "behaving" following such a procedure. The brain needs its support mechanism in order for it to remain "functional."
Sorry for the sarcasm and arrogance of my writing but the mere idea of debating whether an unobservable "god" is responsible for our behavior is intellectually repulsive to me. We are not far removed from a time in our history when "witches" and other "evil" forces were viewed to affect our behavior. Human beings were persecuted or killed because others believed that they were "possessed" with unseen forces. And it was fear of the "unknown possibilities" (and probably the search for power) that drove their tormentors. Letís not revert to those "glory days."
I am now thinking of Carl Sagan. I wish I could be as articulate and eloquent as he was in his defense of science and rational thought. In his book, "The Demon Haunted World," he stressed the importance of logic and the scientific method. He also warned of the pitfalls of believing in such "mystical" things as the power of crystals and "ESP." I feel that I am doing Sagan a great disservice just by mentioning his name. I know I am not as persuasive and mellifluous as he was. (Yes, I looked up "mellifluous" in the thesaurus!) But, in any case, Iím getting tired of this. Why donít we all just go out and join a cult? Thats a form of behavior.
Ms. Kinser's response to my first commentary is correct. It's "possible" that schizophrenics are in touch with a more "correct" reality than "normal" people are. But I think she missed the main point of my first argument: without the constraints of empirical verifiability/testability, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!
Ms. Kinser would like to keep all possibilities in mind - or at least the religious ones. She wouldn't want "to neglect to pick up on an idea" because it had been presented religiously. I know it is difficult for most people who have been socialized by a Christian culture to accept that our notion of a "god" is simply another variant of what is untestably "possible." The belief in a "god" is no different from believing in any one of an infinite amount of untestable possibilities. So why give the notion of a "god" more intellectual weight than any other untestable "possibility"?
I am distrustful of those who base their behavior and views on that which cannot be tested empirically. Religion - or really its use - can connect people together, can serve as a great solace in an otherwise hostile environment, but it can also hinder and harm. Both Galileo and Darwin faced tremendous opposition for their empirically derived theories from those entrenched in religious doctrine. "Heretics" and "witches" were burned at the stake.
If it is possible for religious "believers" to contain their faith within their private lives - then I have no problem with their beliefs. But if they attain positions of power and attempt to legislate or influence others based only on those beliefs - then I do have an objection. Dr. Anthony Fauci (I hope I spelled his name correctly!) is a practicing Roman Catholic. He is also a scientist and was/is the director of a governmental agency (NIH or Center for Disease Control - I think). In any case, even though he is a Roman Catholic, he recommends the use of condoms to control the spread of HIV. Dr. Fauci is able to separate his personal beliefs from his public responsibilities as a scientist. Hopefully you, Ms. Kinser, and the many other intelligent and educated "believers" like you, can do the same.
I can't resist responding, but if we're going to continue the dialogue, let's do it in a more appropriate forum, ok? I'm copying this note of yours and my reply to our Science and Culture Forum, where any interested others can find it and any continuation, and contribute themselves.
Yes, of course, "religion - or really its use - ... can also hinder and harm". The same, unfortunately, is true of science as well. "Distrustful of those who base their behavior and views on that which cannot be tested empirically"? This would be paralyzing if taken to an extreme. For two reasons. First, life frequently demands actions which require judgements beyond those for which one has a firm empirical base. Second, without pre-existing views the grounds for which are uncertain, empiricism itself has no base from which to grow (and continue to develop). "Separate personal beliefs from public responsibilities"? I don't think anyone every fully does this (or could do it). Empiricism itself is based on a view that cannot be validated empirically: the view that what empiricism leads to is necessarily in some sense better than what non-empiricism leads to.
Don't misunderstand. I am, I'm pretty sure, at least as much of an empiricist as you are. Empiricism is though, for me at least, a means rather than an end, a tool justified as the best available for the continual testing of given understandings, and as providing a resulting impetus for more comprehensive understanding. For this reason, I'm perhaps less inclined than you to insist that people need to be avowed empiricists to be taken seriously. Significant candidate understandings may arise in a variety of ways; some may in fact arise only in brains which are not wholely constrained by an empiricist perspective. What's important (to me at least) is not the origin of the candidate understanding but rather its usefulness in the process of continually deriving and testing broader understandings.
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