Friday, May 23, 2008

That's How, but What About Why?

In this month's Harper's, Gary Greenberg reviews five books about neuroscience in a piece called "A Mind of Its Own: Resisting the tyranny of the brain." It's a good piece, and I recommend reading the whole thing. Here's a taste:
When neuroscientists tell us where storytelling comes from, or why we can't tickle ourselves (our cerebellum, stimulated when we move our own hands, cancels the tickle signal from the somatosensory cortex -- something we know because scientists have tickled people in MRI machines), or how "mirror neurons" -- brain cells that are activated both when we perform an action and when we witness someone else performing it -- account for empathy, it's hard to understand what difference that explanation makes. What exactly do we know that we didn't know before? . . . For all their fascination and revelation, these books may not do much more than tell us about our pipes and wires, about the infrastructure of personhood, about the necessary, but not the sufficient, conditions of being a self.


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