Theodore Dalrymple: And So, Why Do You Behave Like That?

Let me see, first there was Freud, who would launch people into a new world of self-understanding. He is now passé. I recall a book by behaviorist B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity, in which he claimed that both are illusory attributes and the sooner we stop believing in them the better. Skinner was a highly respected public and academic intellectual in his day, but his ideas have faded into the background.

Of course, there was also the Steady State Theory of the universe's origin. Then along came the Big Bang. Way back when, there was the ether. A brainy Swiss patent-office examiner put that one to rest. What else? The patent-office examiner said God does not play dice with the universe, but quantum physics revealed that apparently He does. With breakthroughs in quantum physics, humankind was headed for brave new horizons. Then that cussed wave form collapse could not be understood and Heisenberg had to formulate his Uncertainty Principle. More recently, we have string theory, which presently is hanging by a thread for many.

Ah, but don't despair. A bold new group of men and women has emerged. They are highly confident they will find the answer about consciousness. Trumpet fanfare and drum roll, please. Enter: neuroscientists and neurophilosophers who will explain why you feel like you.

Theodore Dalrymple sees this kind of confidence as more than bothersome. Consider the issues of free will, the self, the soul, and human nature. Neuroscience and neurophilosophy have staked out the turf on these topics, and certainly it is turf that will unsettle the public mind, undermine the common weal. Some of the findings will have profound and unsettling implications for individuals and societies, in part because of public misconceptions, in part because researchers make arrogant claims without concern for religious as well as ethical and moral implications for societies and people. If neuroscience teaches us anything, it is that human beings are not ruled by reason.

Dalrymple attended a neuroscience conference and found great optimism toward unraveling the mysteries of consciousness and the brain. He does not seem especially impressed. More

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