The Stranger Living Inside You

There was a time when what counted most living inside us was our heart. And, even more important, what was called our soul. That time has passed. Today researchers have shown the brain more than the heart determines who we are; as for the soul, well they can’t find it anywhere so it’s pretty much off their radar.

All right, then, lets stick with just the brain. The New York Times book listings feature a slew of titles on the subject. Like Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow,” and Leonard Miodinow’s “How Your Unconscious Rules Your Behavior.”

Bottom line they seem to be saying our brain mostly functions without checking with us. Like a fencer responding to a thrust with a parry, we often act before we think. Call it impulse, intuition, instinct, but for heaven’s sake don’t call it what it isn’t: Thinking!. These authors appear to be saying we are surely not masters of our fate; rather we are captives of our brain. We are “captives of biological determinism, for once we enter the portals of the strange neural world known as the brain, we literally have not idea what we’re doing.”

Upon closer reading they recall other quasi-determinists like David Hume and Williams James. Authors and ideas long debated but rarely settled.

If you’re one of those inclined to apply theories like these to practices like, say Wall Street, can a case be made for why the wheeler-dealers there do what they do? Why they do it so ruthlessly and without regard for others? Are their brains just wired that way — that proud right-wing Ayn Rand way of making-it-anyway-that-works?

Hard to say, although that might conveniently exonerate whatever souls they still have. To this summer’s Occupiers they may simply explain:”Nasdaq made me do it….!”

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  • You may be interested in reading the book entitled Did My Neurons Make Me Do It? Philosophical and Neurobiological Perspectives on Moral Responsibility and Free Will, by
    Nancey Murphy and Warren S. Brown. We are embedded beings with responsibility.

  • In reply to Moderate:

    This whole issue strikes as a Pandora's Box...where these biologists are leading may not b the way we actually want to be heading ...but it now seems hard to stop

  • In reply to Jack Spatafora:

    Jack, the book is a good read. It does not settle for determinism. It was written by a couple of my colleagues. One is a neuroscientist and the other a philospher and both work at the seminary that I work at and where all things "spritual" are discussed, as well of whether we have souls or not. BTW, this is Sofia, your cousin Joe's wife in California.

  • In reply to Moderate:

    Sofia ~ What a fine surprise! Thanks for the reference. God knows the "spiritual" dimension needs to be factored into these discussions. Please stay in touch.....

  • Since I'm not a philosopher or a shrink (even though many commenters on Chicago Now claim to be the latter).....

    There has to be some combination of nature and nurture. I know someone who got a free ride to engineering school, but apparently didn't have the capacity or interest to be a real engineer, so he became [did you guess it] a financial engineer. Did learn enough in his year of business school to con his eventual employer into believing that someone else offered him a job for more, or maybe that was inherent in his makeup.

    I do assume that brains are wired a certain way, such as a person who has the intelligence but not the stomach to be a doctor..

  • In reply to jack:

    Yep, nature and nurture; altho these guys are putting their money almost exclusively on nature

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