Beware neuroscientists trying to do philosophy: in defense of Descartes

At the Inside Catholic blog, I am told that Descartes’ “cogito” argument has been “shattered” by neuroscience.  Descartes, you’ll recall, pointed out that there’s one non-tautological, contingent truth of which anyone can be absolutely sure–his own existence.  Claiming to have disproved this insight has long been a very popular activity, but it’s so obviously valid that only a lunatic would doubt the inference of existence from thought.  And so comes the new debunking of Descartes:  some psychologist says Descartes’ inference is wrong because he’s dug up some lunatics who don’t make it.  These nuts deny their own existence, therefore…therefore…what, exactly?  Descartes never said that everyone necessarily has reflective knowledge of his own existence, only that from the fact that one is thinking the fact that one exists does necessarily follow.

Most of the article is spent attacking the idea that conscious subjects possess a unified self, and for the most part it’s equally sloppy.  The fact that amnesiacs and multiple-personality nuts have changing knowledge or beliefs about their identity doesn’t change the fact that their transcendental ego must be at any time unified.  It then cites studies on people who have had the left and right hemispheres of their brain separated, arguing (rather extravagantly) that such people have two independent centers of consciousness.  I doubt it is really the case, as the authors are so eager to believe, that there are two thinking subjects in such a person, but even if there are, it wouldn’t prove anything.  Each self would have to be a unitary subject for it to think as we understand the word.  And it would not mean–as they recklessly and foolishly imply–that normal brains have two selves that just “sync” so often that we don’t notice it.

What’s the agenda?  It is exactly what Zoe says the scientists aren’t addressing–whether human beings have souls.  Whether or not the neuroscientists are addressing it, it is precisely the point of the article to convince readers that they have no soul, i.e. no internal principle of unity.  And they let the cat out of the bag half way through the article, when they start openly advocating the evil religion of Buddhism.  Make no mistake:  this isn’t just an attack on Descartes; it’s an attack on the entire Western substantialist tradition, an attempt to replace the Western insight that parts can join together to form a real unity with Buddhism–the sinister anti-intellectualism of the East.

One Response

  1. […] Most overmaligned philosopher:  Descartes […]

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