Neuro-neuromania-mania: An enthusiastic and reductionist way of thinking, in which the affected believes that every person around him suffers of neuro-reductionistic maniac behavior.
I’ve watched recently the presentation below by Professor Raymond Tallis — and reaction by Matthew Taylor —, titled Neuromania?, about how the materialist view of mind is poorly justified (or I’ll let you think that’s what it’s about). I recommend you watch it first and read my comments later.
Disclaimer: I should say that I consider the presentation of Professor Tallis quite valuable and powerful food for thought, even if I have some trouble showing it.
OooK. So Profesor Tallis main argument seems to be that
some portion of the neuroscience community (and the general public) suffers from neuromania, a cognitive illness in which you mix up correlation with causation, and causation with identity. We, bunch of post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc-ers!! (not that I am in any meaningful sense part of the neuroscience community, or the general public, or any public, for that matter)
Later on, the video degrades to a less-useful debate, each side trying to keep afoot while trying to make the other one tumble. But first things first: how come neuromaniacs can’t tell between correlation and identity? Professor Tallis says that, because neuromaniacs see a correlation between certain experiential events and certain neurophysiological events, they think those events are identical.
And neuromaniacs do, for sure, by definition!! Another entirely different assertion is saying that a relevant portion of neuroscientists also err that way. Let’s focus on the correlation equals causation part, with a little thought experiment.
Let’s suppose almost each time you feel the bitter-sweet-greasy-creamy-frozen taste of chocolate ice cream certain portion of your brain fires in some recognizable pattern as measured by our imaginary equipment. That’s correlation. If you go yelling at other people that you have proof of causation, then you’re wron-nnnnnggg. But if you say you have a hint of causation, well, keep searching, maybe you’re on to something.
Now, let’s suppose that our imaginary equipment is able to reproduce the firing pattern in your brain and, voilà, you feel again the same sensation, but without the ice cream. And you repeat the test with other people, keep the myriad of experimental biases into account, etc., and keep getting the same reliable result. You can go and say now that you have evidence (not proof) of causation!! And please do not yell.
And that’s the way science works (sort of): with a lot of correlations, some evidence for causation, seemingly sound explanations, no proofs whatsoever, and an intended guarantee of falsifiability.
Moral: Correlation does not imply causation, though correlation is necessary for (certain forms of) causation, and could be indeed a hint of it.
Scientists following correlation hints do not represent maniac behavior, but those following hints as dogma do. Burn’em all.
P.S.: About the causation equals identity part, let’s follow our previous Gedankenexperiment. Strong evidence of a necessary and sufficient condition pretty much amounts to a logical if-and-only-if (iff.), which is closely related to logical equality. No identity necessarily here, though.