Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Brain and Mind: from medecine to society

In these two videos you can listen to a conference given by the great neurologist, scientist, thinker, Antonio Damasio, in Barcelona in 2005, on the revolution of emotions in medecine and society. Damasio played a major part in this revolution. Usually, philosophers and scientists use the term 'revolution' to designate a change of paradigm in Science. The Emotions revolution changed our perception of rationality and rational decision making as well as our perception of the roots of moral deliberation. The Neurobiology of Emotions proved that Emotions play a major role in decision making and moral evaluation.
Part 1

Part 2


olaf krassnitzky said...

Hi, Was on your blog in 2005, then life took over. Got back into the thinking mode after I learned about Stuart Kauffman's book "Reinventing the sacred", which I saw as not very helpful given the current state of human sensemaking. Starting with Rappaport's notion of the operational and the cognized environment (leaving aside the fact the the cognized also has a biological, operational basis), three environmental subsets exist: 1)the operational environment which is cognized (overlap between the two); 2) the operational environment which is not cognized, and which for the most part is not cognizable; and 3) that which is cognized but has no operational reality in the environment. I found that 3) is often substituted for 2), because the brain tries to make sense of the world as a hole - and that can be religion, sacred, god, magical, superstition and ouright error.Kaufman actually proposes a section of the 'cognized operational', i.e. the 'creative universe' as the new sacred, something to be 'in awe' of. My argument is that should not put up a 'sacred' in any form, until the material operational sensemeking is sorted out, or at least improved, and for that I was reaching back to my doctoral work in sociology, which dealt with the phenomena of rationality, morality and emotionality. My conclusion then was that our decisions are neither rational nor moral, but emotional. And I prefer to call the emotional 'aesthetics', we are making aesthetic decisions, in the original Greek sense of the word: perception. Now that I have seen Damasio talk, I guess I feel I should come back to your blog, and probably the first issue will be the most sacred of all philosophical (and cutlural, legal etc) cows, free will - because this discussion depends very much on our assumptions about free will. Thanks for putting Damasio on your blog. Olaf Krassnitzky, MD, PhD(soc), MA(anth),visual artist. 

Sonia Mansour-Robaey said...

Hi Olaf,

Life took over for me also. I have not been contributing much on this blog since you visisted first in 2005,at least not at the rythm of the first weeks.
Thank you fro dropping by again and as far as I can seeyou have been doing some interesting readings. Thank you for sharing them.
Well Iguess I agree with you, at the basis of all things humans there are emotions but that does not exlude rationality or morality, it just redefine them.

As for free willI wasdiscussing it with a psychiatrist recently who believed there is only determinism and no such a thing as free will. I believe that we have to redefine free will also. Free will exist whenever we are faced with a moral choice and pressed to make a decision, it exists between our two determinisms, biological and social. We can let biology do its work or we can let the social do its workand the social determinism is much more complex, it educates our emotions, like for example your art or any other art can transform our emotions,so I believe free will exist because we are creative, we add things to our biological and basic sociological dterminism and we create spaces of free will between these determinisms sowe can choose actually when faced with a decision.

olaf krassnitzky said...

Hi Sonia,
Thanks for answering. I did watch the Damasio lecture, and by clarifying emotion vs. feeling, he did clarify my preference of aesthetics (perception) over emotions. But rationality and morality got a bit of a short shrift there. 10 years ago I reached the conclusion that rationality and morality are two distinct modes of cognition, and that they are, in fact, ‘incommensurable’, i.e. there is no common standard by which they can be compared. But since all of our moral and rational memories are tagged with feelings and emotions, in an actual decision situation (such as utilitarian/moral dilemmas), the emotional balance of these tags (such as pleasure vs. pain, or reward vs. punishment) will determine the action to follow. Genes and environment (such as culture) generate the requisite memories to make decisions (as we get entrained, encultured, socialized etc.), but they are not the immediate cognitive players when we actually make decisions.

Just to support the claim of two distinct cognitive modalities: Morality tells us what is important, it tells us about relative values, it tell us how we relate to our life world and what is in it, but it cannot tell us how our life-world works and how it can be used. Reason can explain how our life world works, how it can be used, but it cannot tell us what is important, and how we should relate to our life world. We tend to moralise our rational lapses, and we tend to rationalize our moral lapses. Rational (or ‘utilitarian’ thinking rests on networks of signs (language, math, function), which can be rearranged as needed for different purposes. Moral thinking rests on net works of symbols, which hang together in cosmologies, the totality of relating to our life-world. (e.g. Greek mythology). One of the best examples to think about these things is abortion: child (person), moral vs. fetus (thing) utility (or lack thereof). I would like to go so far as to suggest that the two hemispheres are dedicated to the two cognitive modes, both in cortical representational and associative terms and in routine/habit practice terms in deeper centers – but I do not have the neurological knowledge to support this at hand. It did strike me that we express our social relations in spatial terms (over, under, next to, behind, etc, and heaven is above and hell below.)

Of course the issue of free will comes back here, but it may be too early to address it here. At the very least this argument does hint at the constraints that our memories (consciously or not consciously) put on our decision making. But it also points to the criticality of education in all dimensions for individual and collective decision making.