Science and the Importance of Seeing

We usually visualise cells as colourless, stationary blobs; but new advances in imaging have radically changed our power to capture the lives of cells.

Science, we know, demands that we become comfortable dwelling within the abstract. No one can ever ‘see’ a quark or lepton, though we can listen to musical interpretations of the activity of subatomic particles. So too, the very cells that constitute our bodies are elusive; when we isolate them and direct light upon them to study them, we inevitably kill them. The less we can visualise, make auditory, or tactile the subjects of micro-science, the fewer chances are there that we will trade the mental state of wonderment for familiarity and comprehension. It may not be hyperbole to say that some of the philosophical questions that arise Continue reading “Science and the Importance of Seeing”

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Flies Do It, Leeches Do It— Even Biologists Do It: Free Will Explained

Do both of these structures contain the capacity to exercise free will?

Philosophers shop for free will as hypochondriacs do for good health. Nothing but the real thing will do, and yet they refuse to trust the countless everyday indications that they already possess their quarry. Of course it seems to be the case that to act on one’s decisions is to exercise one’s freedom, but can it be true that, winding time back to the crucial moment, you or I could have done otherwise?

Enter the biologists. We can account for free will so long as we are willing to share it with flies, leeches, and all forms of life that enjoy a nervous system. As Bjorn Brembs has recently argued in The Royal Society, we should equate free will with variability, or an organism’s power to determine the precise way in which it responds to its environment. Variability, Brembs contends, is a (as yet little understood) neural process that amplifies random fluctuations in the brain in order to introduce non-sensory dependent variations into Continue reading “Flies Do It, Leeches Do It— Even Biologists Do It: Free Will Explained”

Sex Verification Test

Gender_neutralIn the weeks to follow, the International Association of Athletic Federations, IAAF, will decide whether South African runner Caster Semenya will be stripped of the gold medal, after winning the women 800-meter race last Wednesday in Berlin at the World Championships in Athletics. Semenya is not guilty of the usual: doping. What is at issue, instead, is whether Semenya was eligible to race as a woman. Continue reading “Sex Verification Test”

No “God spot” to be found in the brain

Phrenologychart(Cross posted in Religion Compass Exchanges)

Reuters have reported the recent publication of How God Changes Your Brain. This book takes a neurotheological – ‘the study of the brain’s role in religious belief’- approach to prayer and meditation in an effort to understand the biological processes involved. The writers, Andrew Newburg and Mark Robert Waldman have used brain scans on individuals who were either praying or meditating, to identify what they describe as “God circuits”. Continue reading “No “God spot” to be found in the brain”

Evolutionary Psych: Too young to be this sexy?

Wasserläufer_bei_der_Paarung_cropEvolutionary psychology is all the rage nowadays. Researchers from around the globe are looking at the interplay between a species’ behavior and its environment, past and present, in an attempt to crack the mysteries of how we came to be as we now are. The appeal is obvious. Darwin seems to have provided a successful explanation of our biological traits. Why not think our psychological traits are to be explained similarly? After all, psychology just is an expression of biology. If reflection on our hunched-back ancestors and their habitat can explain how we came to walk upright, why can’t such reflection also explain our anger over spousal infidelity, why can’t it explain our own infidelity, our altruistic and egoistic behaviors, etc? Continue reading “Evolutionary Psych: Too young to be this sexy?”