The true poverty here is that anyone could ever imagine that mapping electro-chemical firings in the brain could ever tell us what love is, or hate, or why we wonder about eternity or why we seek meaning in life and relationships. Talk about a fool’s errand. I’m reminded of the story about the police officer walking his night-shift beat and noticing a man crawling around on all fours under a street light. Approaching, he asks, “Can I help you?” The man looks up, and says, “Thank you officer, I lost my house keys.” After looking a while, but with no success, the officer asked, “Right here, you lost them?” And the man replied, “No, I lost them way over there in that dark alley.” Puzzled, the officer asked, “Then why in the world are you looking here?” The man replied, “Well, the light is so much better over here.” These neuro-idiots are, as the song tells us, “looking for love (and everything else) in all the wrong places.” Maybe we should examine their brain waves to see if the words “clueless” and “anal retentive” are spelled out in their electro-chemical firings. I wish the neuro-scientists all the best and appreciate their work. We should delve as far as possible into the mechanics of how our brains work and pursue every implication. But please let us have none of this nonsense that somehow images and mapping will unpack the mystery of our minds or touch upon the complexity of what it means to be human.
“It’s not hard to understand why neuroscience is so appealing. We all seek shortcuts to enlightenment. It’s reassuring to believe that brain images and machine analysis will reveal the fundamental truth about our minds and their contents. But as the neuro doubters make plain, we may be asking too much of neuroscience, expecting that its explanations will be definitive. Yet it’s hard to imagine that any functional magnetic resonance imaging or chemical map will ever explain “The Golden Bowl” or heaven. Or that brain imaging, no matter how sophisticated and precise, will ever tell us what women really want.”
As an aside, we just celebrated Thanksgiving. No brain image or analysis, magnetic resonance imaging, or chemical map will ever pin-point the feeling or notion of being “thankful” or what it means. And for that, we can be very thankful.