Wednesday, September 16, 2009
A balance of neurobiology and culture
"The picture I am drawing for humans is that of an organism that comes to life designed with automatic survival mechanisms, and to which education and acculturation add a set of socially permissible and desirable decision-making strategies that, in turn, enhances survival, remarkably improves the quality of that survival, and serves as the basis for constructing a person.
The neurophysiological base of those added strategies is interwoven with that of the instinctual repertoire, and not only modifies its use but extends it's reach. The neural mechanisms supporting the superinstinctual repertoire may be similar in their overall formal design to those governing biological drives, and may be constrained by them. Yet they require the intervention of society to become whatever they become, and are thus related as much to a given culture as to general neurobiology."
~Antonio Damasio M.D., Ph.D, Descartes Error
So this is the kind of balanced view of human nature that I am striving to convey in my writing via fluid action narratives. I seemed to have pulled it off in "Lisa with Child." Now let's see if I can hit it again in Phase Line Escher.
One aspect of the emerging, consilient biological paradigm that I am enamored with--due disclosure time here folks--is its interconnectedness. In discussing the differing material conditions that gave rise to both our neurobiology and cultures, it forces us to address both the long-duration geographical factors and more near-term social forces that shaped us. The very scientific reductionism that divorced us intellectually from the world and each other almost three-centuries ago seems to be leading us back to a holism through its study of complex entities such as the brain-mind organism and ecosystems.
It also demolishes the narcissistic solipsism of the post-modernist view. While it offers no iron-clad certainty, it does overwhelmingly suggest that our minds are carefully evolved reflections of an external reality. It means that we may well inherently possess enough commonalities that we can not only understand and connect with one another in the here and now, but with those in the past as well. It mean that there likely exists a basis for universal human rights not in some hegemonic doctrine of cultural colonialism, but through our common primate heritage. Rather than the nihilism of the blank slate, there is the continuity of biological life.
Of course, we are reaching this awareness even as we are gaining the conceptual and technological tools to alter that nature. If our minds are a reflection of an external world, what happens when we seek to expand or otherwise change that reflection? Can we create a mind that reflects those aspects of reality that lie outside the macroscopic Newtonian context of our evolutionary background?