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Radical Reductionism
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The discussion of reductionism came up in one of my classes yesterday.

It's basically the view that higher level cognitive process can be explained in terms of functions and interactions at the cellular level. In other words, anger and love and dreams are neurons firing.

I guess if that's the view, then I'm a reductionist. It still makes sense to talk about phenomenon and function at a higher level in the hierarchy. It still makes sense to talk about anger as something real. There are still words and concepts used at all levels of the hierarchy that are useful in qualifying macro-level behavior.

Just as it wouldn't make sense to talk about what your web browser is doing now solely in terms of and/or gates flipping in your CPU. It makes sense to conceptualize function and higher levels of abstraction. You click the "Next Page" button and your browser takes you to the next page. A lot easier than describing the action of thousands of logic circuits flipping this way and that in your CPU. This doesn't mean that you still believe that that's what's underlying the higher level function of the software on your computer.

It would seem there are only two alternatives to the reductionist viewpoint:

1) That human (and possibly some animal) thoughts and behavior are the result of something other than neuron activity.

2) That thoughts and behavior are the combined result of neuron activity and something else.

So okay. I'd like to hear from anyone who believes that all you say and do and think and are is not solely the result of neuronal activity. Presumably you fall into one of the two categories above (if there is another I have left out, please let me know).

What is this something else other than neuronal activity? Is it part of the natural world? If it is, why do you believe it exists? Can it be measured? Are we just not able to measure it at this point in history? If not, why do you still believe it whatever it is?

I'd also like to say that thinking that emotion, thought and action are all "just" neurons firing is not some cheap, simplistic view. We're talking about the most complex system in the known universe. It would be like saying building a skyscraper is just a matter of slapping raw materials together in the right order. It's not simple, and it's not belittling to believe that underlying complex behavior is the action of neurons. They are wired in dizzying complexity and organized into systems and subsystems that we've barely begun to understand. You can still believe actions at the molecular level are responsible for thought and behavior while holding and humble reverence for the brain's intricacies.

But again, if you don't hold this view (and I'm sure some of you don't), please explain why.

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