Science vs. Blatherskite
Gary Greenberg’s rant on David Brooks’s newest book [“The Dumbest Story Ever Told,” June 6] is another in the long line of sarcastic, culturistically fundamentalist diatribes against what is in fact valid and factual information essential to understanding human behavior. What are Greenberg’s credentials that he can repudiate so facilely all neurological, evolutionary and cognitive science?
I find Brooks generally annoying in trying to tie conservative “values” to this subject, but the science he has attempted to understand is not the problem. To sneer at the extraordinary new insights the discovery of mirror neurons has given us is sophomoric. Mirror neurons, oxytocin and empathic functions that underlie the emergence of conscious feelings and cognitions are important components that help us understand who we are—not through reductionist, pat answers but through descriptions of somatic and neural system components that in interaction with external environmental systems, cultural and physical, within which we are situated, give us a handle on some of the baffling complexities of which both religion and cultural anthropology are deeply ignorant and dismissive.
It’s time the left, like the right, started respecting the recent findings of science and adapting their ideals to them. Science is not a religion to be repudiated, à la fundamentalists, but important knowledge to be accommodated and applied. It is of course embedded in cultural and political forces, but that is not a reason to deny its validity. That form of reasoning is notoriously right-wing. Nothing in science requires a moral reset in order to acknowledge it. It requires us to take the effort and have the courage to constantly re-evaluate and re-understand an infinitely perplexing world.
Through the use of fMRI brain-scanning machines, neuroscientists are making some amazing, if tentative, discoveries concerning the political aspects of the human mind:
§ Democratic and Republican biases regarding political information (Kaplan), as well as their differing disgust reactions to Abu Ghraib (Hamman);
§ Liberals and conservatives as to tolerance and perceived threats (Kanai);
§ Aggression and bullying (Decety);
§ Empathy (Iacoboni);
§ Roles of reason and emotion in political thinking (Westen);
§ Racial biases based on skin tone (Ronquillo).
But instead of incorporating those findings into their work, psychoanalytic professionals (this time, Gary Greenberg) respond with nonscientific, sarcastic (shame-based) attacks on the whole fMRI endeavor. It seems they intend to preserve the dark ages of Freud, which not only provide them with personal and professional sustenance but are conjured out of their roots in Western religion/philosophy. They would extend their reign as the experts on the human condition. But their work has become “so last century” (Freeman).
Meanwhile, the hard sciences will still be sliding human beings into fMRI machines, stimulating them, observing the brain’s responses, for more hard data. They will do so without much regard to their findings being hijacked by us politicos to pursue our pre-existing agendas (this time, David Brooks of the right and Greenberg of the still largely psychoanalytically guided left).