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ewippermann's picture

Biologizing Philosophy


Any amount scientific inclination makes the brain = behavior argument seem irrefutable. It’s a scary idea, and I feel programmed by natural selection, but the perspective is very critical to scientific understanding and epitomizes modern philosophic thought—philosophy is being biologized. There is no “mind” to argue about, no blank slate or collective unconscious, there are only nerve axons, synapses, genes, and evolution.
Steven Pinker’s book The Language Instinct introduced me to the theory that language is an inherited instinct, and that application of evolution made me really want to explore new applications. As a result of further readings (including Richard Dawkins, more Pinker, and Matthew Alper’s The God Part of the Brain), I now believe religion, god, spirituality, morality, love, self-awareness, musicality, math, and language are all functions of the brain that are present because they help our species survive.
Something I think is monumental about this tract of thought: if brain = behaviour, similarities between humans greatly overshadow the differences. Every human exposed to language within the developmental window will acquire language, a language that shares a Universal Grammar with every other spoken language because it generates from the same parts of the brain. Religious sentiments are and have been present in every recorded culture; we are the only known species to be self-aware, and to therefore have knowledge of our death, to fear it, and through natural selection, developed a “god part of the brain” that allows us to mentally transcend our physical fears and restraints. What individuals feel to be “moral” is nearly universal, and every society and culture encountered by anthropologists displays astonishing similarities. Sociobioloist Robin Fox said it like this, using the example of a hypothetical society of children untouched by the rest of the world:
“I do not doubt that they [the children] could speak and that, theoretically, given time, they or their offspring would invent and develop a language despite their never having been taught one. Furthermore, this language, although totally different than any known to us, would be analyzable to linguists on the same basis as other languages and translatable into all known languages. But I would push this further. If our new Adam and Eve could survive and breed—still in total isolation of any cultural influences—then eventually they would produce a society which would have laws about property, rules about incest and marriage, customs of taboo, a system of social status, courtship practices including the adornment of females, dancing, schizophrenia, homosexuality, initiation ceremonies for young men, myths and legends, and beliefs about the supernatural and practices relating to it.”
I think the belief that brain=behavior brings to light so many similarities in our species that, if every widely accepted, could really change how humans see the world and how we conduct their lives.



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