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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Neuroscience of Thinking

I just keep thinking about thinking. Can't stop.

I've been reading V.I. Ramachandran A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness. Just excellent. So I want to grasp by writing the neuroscience of thinking. You see I don't really grasp it until I express it. And even then not until I express it in different ways over again.

VI Ramachandran explains the neuroscience of thinking using insights gathered in his treatment of patients with brain problems. Like Kurt Goldstein whom I read avidly as a college student, Ramachandran studies persons with brain lesions, stokes, and other injuries to the brain and compares their behavior to others with normal or healthy functioning to determine the parts of the brain that relate to certain effects in behavior. He backs up his conclusions with experiments that he and others carry out in brain imaging as well as by studies in the evolution of the brain in mammals and especially the genus homo to better understand the peculiarities of homo sapiens behavior.

In other words, neuroscience and evolutionary psychology can answer questions that were formerly the provenance of religion or religious oriented philosophy: What is mind, soul, spirit? How are we responsible and do we have free will? where does good and evil come from? How does our capacity to abstract, to think symbolically, to speak, and to communicate come about? Who are we and where are we going? Is there or can there be an immortal self?

But this inquiry is not to dismiss the function of religion or to disparage my religionist friends. But it does demonstrate that while religion may be useful to some to keep them going and to provide metaphorical motivations and guides to living, religion does not explain nature and should not pretend to take the place of science nor block further scientific inquiry.

In a wonderful passage, Ramachandran says he indeed agrees with Huxley that humans are not angels, but merely sophisticated apes. Yet he points out that in the evolution of the mind, "we feel like angels trapped inside the bodies of beasts, forever craving transcendence, trying to spread our wings and take off."

 Next: how Rakmachandran explains the evolution of thinking and consciousness.

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