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Role of biology in behavior?

Debate and discussion of any biological questions not pertaining to a particular topic.

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Role of biology in behavior?

Postby tomkkk » Wed Sep 29, 2010 3:53 am

"everything psychological--every idea, every mood, every urge--is simultaneously biological"

What does this mean to you?
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Postby Julie5 » Wed Sep 29, 2010 8:00 am

It means that the mind is expressed via brain - whatever our subjective (experiential) thoughts/feelings, they have a concomittant corrolative (correlative?sp?) in some kind of molecular organisation in brain tissue.

However, the 'control mechanism' so to speak between mind and brain is not necessarily straightforward - changes to brain chemistry by outside influences (think booze!) change our expeeriential, subjective 'self' etc etc. And the reverse works too, so it seems, with eg particular synaptic pathways being reinforced when we learn, etc etc.

From a reductionist philosophy, mind is 'only' brain. From a non-reductionist POV, brain is merely the vehicle of mind.

This debate between what boils down to free will vs non-free will has gone on for ever (throughout recorded history), and probably always will. Non-reductionists can alway come up with arguments to oppose reductionists, and the bottom line is what makes us happy. Some folk like thinking we are 'nothing but' chemicals, and diss us down, down, down, whereas other more optimistic folk like to think not that there is some kind of loopy vital force, but that it's pretty damn amazing that a bunch of molecules in nervous tissue can look at a Rembrant and go 'wow!'....
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Postby biohazard » Wed Sep 29, 2010 9:53 am

Heh, well said, Julie5.

However, I don't see why it should be necessary a bad thing to think of us as "nothing but chemicals". Isn't it quite amazing that a bunch of well-organized molecules can give rise to something as cool as us! :)

In the end, I think, the debate of free will versus pre-determined faith doesn't matter that much - in the end we probably can never prove either one to be right or wrong, and it doesn't affect your daily doings anyway: you have such a strong illusion of free will that even if you didn't have one, it doesn't matter :P

I personally do not know any biological reason for free will to exist (and I do not believe in spirit stuff) but I don't care, because this feels free enough in any case!

I have always had this odd mental image in my mind: imagine you are in a room with two one-way doors, which lead to different places (let the places be a metaphor for different events of one's life, for example). Now, to get out of the room, you must walk through one of the doors. You do so, and can never come back. How can you prove that you actaully had a chance to choose which door you go through? You cannot. You can always say "I could have chosen the other door if I wanted", but is that really so? I think you never had any chance to go through the other door. The chemistry of your brain was already on course for the future decision to choose the door you did. And you had no chance of going through the other door, ever.

Most people I have told this strongly disagree with me and I don't blame them. But nobody can prove that they ever had a chance to make the other choice - that is, they cannot prove they had free will =)

This debate is of course mostly of just academic/philosophic interest, but heck, what is more fun than philosophy!
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Postby Julie5 » Thu Sep 30, 2010 7:55 am

No, I agree - there is, to my mind (er, should that be brain ha ha?), nothing 'nothing but' about the mind being expressed in chemicals - just the reverse, as you say, and as I hope I indicated in my comment about Rembrandt (or any other kind of traditionally 'higher' cerebral response).

But there do seem to be some folk who take the idea (fact?) of mind being expressed via brain (ie, chemicals) as some sort of 'proof' that human cognition is a pretty pathetic sort of thing, and that human existence is 'nothing but' chance, random, 'mechanical' etc etc. All words that indicate we are fooling ourselves if we think anything 'higher' in traditional terms. Such folk will diss down everythign and anything, from altruism (only for our genetic relatives!), or love (only for hopes of procreating our genes), or art (some kind of weird sidekick of tool making skills essential for survival) or humour (social bonding so our fellow tribesmen don't kill us), etc etc etc. ie, they constantly and continually 'talk down' humanity.

To me it's completely the reverse - I think it's absolutely fantastic that we can take a bunch of complex molecules and lo and behold, they can love someone, or be emotionally moved by music, or find something hilarious and enjoyable - who can relish their own existence and those of others. I think it is an amazing tribute to the universe, that that can happen. Like you, I see nothing 'reductionist' (ie, 'nothing but') in the mind-as-brain.

As for free will - I think it's an inherent logical paradox, as it tries to give autonomy to experiential self, which is, (?) an illusion. But I don't think it really matters. To me, if I think I have free will, and act as if I have free will, then I am expressing free will and the consequences of my choices are ones I have to live with.

From a societal-moral point of view, however, the BIG moral/free will issue is - if a child is brought up badly, are they responsible for their subsequent actions (ie, do they really have 'free will' to be 'good' but choose to be 'bad', truly freely choosing to deliberately hurt/kill someone, instead of helping them?) I think that is a very, VERY hard question for societies to answer, but a very important one!
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Postby biohazard » Fri Oct 01, 2010 6:47 am

Wise words again, my dear Julie5 ;)

I think pretty much the same way. It seems I misunderstood that one part in your earlier post, where you said that some folk who think we're just chemicals like to diss us - I thought you meant everybody who thinks our mind is made of chemistry and physics is by default dissing us humans.

That Rembrandt-part is very clear to me now :)

I'm not an expert on this topic, but as far as badly treated children go I belive many of them have already got their brains "wired" badly due to abuse they've faced as kids. After all, the human brain is shaped very much during the early years, and there is no doubt that reflects to the rest of our lives.

That being said I also think that people who have these problems can, with patience and usually with other people's help, re-wire their brains to work in a more empathical and social way. That is, people can alter their behaviour by actively concentrating on it, but it surely is not easy.

It is very likely that in many cases these people actually cannot help themselves and, for example, cannot control themselves when angered. Many assaults and non-planned manslaughters are made by people who have serious problems in controlling their feelings due to neglect and abuse they've gone through as children.

Are they responsible for their actions? (Legally thinking) I think they still are - our societies are based on the assumption that a "free man" is always responsible for his doings, and changing that would pretty much change the foundations of our societies. I also think one cannot avoid jail simply by saying that "the chemicals in my brain made me do it!", even if that actually was true. So I guess, in other words we are made responsible for our own brain chemistry, even if we had no control over it. Funnily enough, in some rare cases (i.e. mental disroders), bad brain chemistry actually IS a valid reason to avoid the sentence - and in this light also neglected children should get lighter sentences, because it's just bad chemistry why they cause trouble ;)

I wouldn't mind, though, if there parents of these children would have to serve half of their badly treated children's sentences, because they are as much to blame as the actual culprit...
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