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Ethical Brain: Preface

#21: Oct. - Dec. 2005 (Non-Fiction)

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Re: Preface to Ethical Brain

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GOD defiles Reason: I don't know if that means he'll be revealing that "brain mechanism" in this book, or if that's something that will evenually be revealed in the bioethics community. But I hope it's explained in some detail in the book.Given the title of chapter 9 -- "The Believing Brain" -- I'd say it's a fair bet that the overall gist of Gazzaniga's book concerns his conclusions about the "mechanism" of believing. Those are bound to be the more interesting chapters, simply for the reason that Gazzaniga is less likely to be dealing with subjects he's not terribly well qualified to deal with. So far, I'm not especially impressed with his ethical rationales, though I do feel more inclined to take his science at more or less face value. What he said right before that was: "I wanted to debunk these fears, I believed ... "I don't really see how that changes the character of the phrase I was looking at.... before giving the author a chance to get his point across without undue prejudice against his notion of what ethics means to him.Well, therein lies the problem. Because Gazzaniga hasn't been clear about what ethics means to him. I'm four chapters into the book, and he's discussed and concluded on a number of ethical issues without ever firming up his idea of ethics. What I am afraid will happen is, that Gazzaniga will wait until the end of the book -- that is, the chapters on his proposed universal, neurologically based ethic -- long after he has considered individual cases of ethics, to give a clearer picture of what he means by the term. And the real danger, I think, is that it won't be until then that we're made privy to the fact that he means something very different by "ethics" than what we would normally infer from that term -- something more clinical, in all likelihood, since he is proposing to locate the source of ethics by clinical means.As for your discussion of the religious implications brought up by Gazzaniga, we could discuss that if you'd like, but I don't think that discussion will have much to do with the content of the book. Gazzaniga obviously felt that some mention of religion was due, but in these early chapters at least, he's not providing any real evidence or material for discussion. We have a much firmer basis in "The Ethical Brain" for discussing the neuroscientific implications for a secular ethics, and I think that's what we ought to concentrate on if we're trying to get the most out of the book.Now it may be that Gazzaniga will look more closely at religious belief in the late chapters, where he turns to the neurological basis for belief. But for the moment, without any elaboration of evidence or even citation of an external source, I don't see any reason to treat Gazzaniga's statement about the "fear" behind religious belief as anything but a detour around a much larger subject that has very little place in the context of the book Gazzaniga wants to write.
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