Our Beliefs About the Brain and Behavior Are Wrong
Science and progress in human knowledge is the steady pushing back of the ignorance of intuition and everyday cultural beliefs. No less then the misperception of the earth being the center of the universe, our beliefs about how the brain works to cause behavior are deeply wrong. This calls for a major “reset” of ideas, theories and models about behavior across most professional and intellectual domains.
Brain science, like astronomy and the detailed study of the “heavens” is proving that the widely presumed ideas about human exceptionalism, anthropomorphism and even the most cherished beliefs about free will and the conscious control of behavior are predictably naive, childlike and ego, and Western-culturally centric.
As our beliefs project our gods and a friendly universe to make us comfortable, so too our naive realistic certainties about how and why we behave serve to fit our need for magical or wishful thinking and foundational falsehoods like “Mind over matter.”
Essentially, our beliefs about agency and personal causation of behavior never advance much beyond childhood ideas and pop cultural businesses and institutions gladly take our time, money and attention to support and echo those false beliefs.
Pop culture’s job is never to challenge our false beliefs but to strengthen them, for money. Pop culture includes the media, political activities and much of academics, art and intellectual work. We pay time money and attention to be told what we already know and want to believe is true – not the facts.
We do pay specialized professions to tell us the facts in critical areas. Hence, why doctors airplane pilots, engineers, attorneys, accountants and craftsmen are paid to solve technical problems and tell us facts that debunk our everyday beliefs.
Although, we pretty much ignore them as well. For example, overwhelmingly, people going to a doctor never fill prescriptions although to disregard the recommendations of a plumber, electrician or auto mechanic would probably result is being removed from the gene pool rather quickly.
Standing against our intuition, pop culture and wishful and magical thinking stand what is called “science.” Scientific and factual statements can simply be defined as statements that predict measurable events in the future. In fact, the journalistic idea that there is a uniform and universal pattern of behaviors that can be accurately summarized under the heading of “science” is wrong.
The outcome of predictable statements happens in a varied set of ways and is changing. Thus, philosophy of science has a very hard time, if for no other reasons than the subject “science” is ALWAYS changing and inconsistent.
A more accurate term is experimental knowledge or statements and claims based on experimental work. We can further refine that to include the claims and statements made in reports and papers in the professional journals that are pee-reviewed. Yes, there are weaknesses and missteps in experimental, peer-reviewed work and papers but it remains the best system devised for reliably creating new knowledge and facts.
How ignorant and uninformed are we? Well, a lot but we don’t yet know to what extent exaclty. Current Neuroscience is like a single candle in a dark room. It’s casting “a little bit” of light. Mainly enough to see that the intuitions are wrong. But we can be pretty sure the space of our ignorance is a large room and not a tiny closet.
Sadly, but unsurprisingly, instead of embracing the new knowledge being uncovered by very good and expanding Neuroscience, individuals trained in other disciplines are wasting their time, energy and resources to defend old ideas and sometimes fight against the new facts.
Thus, the humanities and social sciences fight to protect a shrinking turf. That seems to be a priority for all animals when confronted with a habitat that is getting smaller or increased uncertainty.
Real change or adopting to anything new seems to run counter to biology perhaps because of the deep, one-way nature of genetics.
The most energetic of the professions try to force their existing beliefs on to brain science, top down. the ideological principles remain the same but they are packaged with superficial references to neuroscience.
So we have “neuro“ lots of things. Probably neuro-economics, and behavioral economics, has gotten the most attention. These models are a good example of “bolting on” bits and bobs from brains science to prop-up classical economic models and theories. Models and theories of human behavior that were created while ignorant in regards to biology, the medical and physiological facts of neurology and animal behavior – let alone the latest advanced findings.
We don’t know whether these popularizations of those ” new brain science” will be useful. i.e., produce statements and claims that predict measurable events in the future. It is hard to see how ideas, models and theories that are not based in the fundamental facts of physics, chemistry, biology and animal physiology could be productive but only time will tell.
Because much of the ersatz “neuro“ work is designed to prop up pop cultural ideas and post-modern sensibilities of the truth of solipsism, naive realism and individual intuition, they are the most easily funded and readily supported. The amount of effort to defend religious ideas about the universe or adopt the heliocentric facts to religious dogma far outstripped that spent on the science and, centuries later, Iron Age beliefs about the universe still predominate. There is always a market for old ideas that are bad.
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