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Jeanette Bates's picture

Starting Thoughts

            It is hard to argue against the premise that “brain=behavior.” Even something as crucial and valuable as moral judgment seems completely dependent on how the brain functions. As Pinker states in his article on morality, people with ‘normally-developed’ brains were not comfortable with throwing a large man in front of train in order to stop it from killing five other people. However, those who had ‘damaged frontal lobes,’ and therefore damaged emotions, did not see a difference between pressing a switch that would have the train kill one man instead of five and the afore mentioned situation. This shows that the way a person’s brain is built and whether or not it is considered normal by our standards will very much affect a person’s moral standing. I can extrapolate from that that it would affect their overall personality as well. If this fact is true, then the brain must be the same as behavior. Though I do think that the brain affects our behavior extraordinarily, I am also willing to argue that it is not the only thing that determines our behavior. I say this because of Watters’ article. His article showed that though people across many different cultures had what would be considered the same types of mental illnesses, the way those mental illnesses manifested themselves in the culture was different. In China, for example, it used to be that anorexic girls were not anorexic because they were concerned with fat and weight like American girls, but because they felt as if they had bloated stomachs. This shows that the same disease, which is most likely caused by the same ‘brain deficiency’, can come across very differently in different cultures. Therefore, it is my belief that behavior is not only a factor of the brain, but also a factor of culture -and perhaps even more things that we don't recognize.
            I definitely think that science is a story. Science often comes across as completely objective and factual. I believe that the reason why it seems that way is because scientists often try to approach everything with as little bias and with as much certainty as possible. I believe that scientists are increasingly concerned with publishing something that is ‘correct’ or at least publishing something that makes sense, and as a result, science is seen as a bunch of hard facts. Going beyond current methods, however, the main purpose of science is to make sense of the world. Though science seems more ‘factual’ than anything else, it is never completely certain, and it is ultimately just a human construct that is supposed to help us grasp the world through its story-telling, just as religion did in previous centuries. Because I think that scientific conclusions are not necessarily as true (i.e. it was once thought true that the world is flat. Now it is considered round) as much as they are a concept that the mind needs to create in order to understand the world, I think that having a ‘loopiness’ to the scientific method is helpful. In the end, all we find are implications, and these implications could easily be proven or disproven in the future. And if the implication reached does not end up working, then new observations can be reached, new implications reached, and new things discovered. Having a loopy scientific method helps us to explore the world better. It leaves more options open because it does not turn the observations into ‘hard facts’ or ‘truth.’ I think that making science a story and the scientific method into a loop is a good way to successfully make and summarize observations because these methods try to turn observations into some tangible understanding of the world while still recognizing that the observations could lead to or change into something else in the future. A good scientific story would, for example, say that anorexia is a mental illness and also leave open the possibility that culture and other factors could also affect the disease.

            The only thing that bothers me with these approaches to science is that there is a great lack of certainty. There may be no absolute truth, but some things have high certainty (i.e. pure silver should always sink in water). I think that sometimes, though it may be rare, there is such a thing as a ‘certain observation.’ There are a few observations that will always stay the same. I think that certainty is mostly important for the human psyche. If everything is uncertain, than the world becomes too foreign and unpredictable. People create these stories in the first place so that they can develop some sort of certainty and security. If that is lost, than humans start to feel uncomfortable and insecure, which causes them to question their role and purpose. Nevertheless it is really important to recognize that, in fact, almost nothing is certain or can be fully explained-we can only do our best to understand and come to terms with it. It is that very fact that I find the most exciting.   

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