Thursday, February 15, 2007

Thought Crime

In last weeks issue of The New Yorker (Feb. 12 2007) I read an interesting and at one point scary article about philosophy and neuriscience: 'Two Heads" by Larissa MacFarquhar. It is a portrait of Paul and Patricia Churchland, both philosophers at the University of California, San Diego. Their view on the influence of neural processes on philosophy used to be really controversial in a field focussed on language.

Where it gets scary is when they start talking about abnormalities in the brains of people on death row. Even though they acknowledge that the cause for the deviations might be the very fact that the brain's owner is on death row, they seem to be open to preventive incarceration of people with a brain condition that predisposes them to commit violent acts. That's even worse than than what happens in a Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, where a convicted felon is conditioned to get physically sick when he as much as thinks about violence. In that case free will is taken away from someone who has actually committed crimes. Locking people up for having a specific brain condition is denying them free will in the first place. Do weird brains not often have the potential for greatness as well?

There was a time when peoples skulls were measured to determine if one was apt to being a crook. A practice long abandoned I though.

Reading the last paragraph of the article I started to doubt if the writer fully understood the philosophical subject matter. On the issue of a human can experience what it is like to be a bat, the writer concludes ".. a philosopher might after all come to know what it is like to be a bat, although, since bat's can't speak, perhaps he would be able only to sense its batness without being able to derscribe it." thus equating thought once again to language, the very thing the Churchlands seem to have been rebelling against!

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