Re: Ch. 9 - The Believing Brain
Among other things, this chapter left me with a number of questions concerning the methodology and rationale that led to the conclusions Gazzaniga has espoused. And it seems to me that the only way to really get answers to those questions is to do a hell of a lot more reading -- Gazzaniga leaves a lot of gaps in the argument that are presumably covered more in depth in the scientific abstracts he references in the endnotes. I probably won't get to many, if any at all, of those abstracts, but I thought I'd raise the questions for the benefit of the group, or on the chance that someone else picked something out of the reading that I missed.
1. What does it mean to say that part of the left hemisphere "interprets" or "makes sense of.. the events in our life"? Are we talking about making things meaningful in the sense of appraising their significance, about translating them into modes of practical action, simply arranging them into forms that we can then consciously assess? What?
2. All of the case studies Gazzaniga has performed and synopsized in on pages 148-150 were performed on people with rather severe, pre-existing, neurological damage. What methods did he and his staff use to ensure that this damage didn't skew their results and conclusions? How can we feel sure that that these conclusions hold equally true in undamaged brains?
3. In talking about the response of people surveyed about a particular ethical dilemma, Gazzaniga concluded that "what is different is how they interpret
their response, which is based on how they think and feel about the issue at hand." (p. 153) The emphasis is Gazzaniga's but it hits the crucial word. His conclusions seems to presuppose that the moral response necessarily precedes the conscious thought which explains it. But how do Gazzaniga and Marc Hauser (whose research Gazzaniga has employed here) justify that presupposition, especially sense the research was carried out over a web site? Why should we feel inclined to accept that order over the more traditional view that we think consciously about the problem in order to produce the moral response? Would it not be just as plausible to suppose that, in completely novel dilemmas, the person must do some conscious cognitive work to arrive at a moral response, but that such dilemmas may then be generalized such that the individual bypasses the formerly necessary cognitive work by associating certain general features of a problem with a remembered moral response?
4. How is it determined that everyone from van Gogh to Socrates suffered from TLE? Van Gogh's case is, fortunately, well documented, since Van Gogh himself produced a large body of biographical material. But Socrates left no writings, and first hand descriptions are of dubious certainty, since at least one of his contemporary biographers used Socrates as his mouthpiece in fictionalized dialogues. The other historical figures represent a range of biographical certainty, so what purpose is achieved in casting light on the agency behind their achievements?