Monday, September 17, 2012

A Personal Philosophy Part I

Much of Western Philosophy is based on the premise that there is a real distinction between the organic brain and what is referred to as the mind or spirit that encompasses the higher order functions attributed exclusively to human beings including,  thought, ideas and, of course, self-consciousness.  The origin of this supposed difference was derived from the seemingly apparent fact that while the brain is material – organic - in origin the product of the mind – thought – is immaterial.  This concept imposes an aura of mystery and, therefore, spirituality around the nature of being human.  This duality is essentially fallacious; it imposes a level of complexity that is unnecessary.  Thoughts, ideas and self-consciousness are natural products of the functioning brain.  They are not overlaid upon the organic fabric of the brain by some mysterious process emanating from some other source.  The remarkable and impressive advances that are being made in the areas of neurobiology and neuroscience have helped elucidate the organic mechanisms involved in higher order brain function.  Well-studied neurological ailments such as Alzheimer's disease also show that the ineluctable destruction of brain tissue over time leads to the unraveling of essential aspect s of the human personality and cognitive ability.  Unless one chooses to propose that a separate entity – let's call it spirit for the sake of argument – is responsible for high order function but dependent upon organic processes and therefore loses function as brain tissue is destroyed, the evidence of neurological disease points to a clear relationship between thoughts, ideas, self-consciousness, etc. and the brain.  This reality is a pivotal concept, and any further reference I make to "mind" or "spirit" is completely equivalent to the human brain.

Neurobiology is currently making great and impressive strives regarding the organization and function of the human brain.  For example, many of the behavior patterns that typify human activity such as seeking pleasure and avoiding pain seem to depend upon unique circuits that are common to all of humanity.  The presence of these circuits appears to be the rule rather than the exception.    In addition, aberrations in human behavior including drug addiction and obsessive/compulsive disorder have been shown to be associated with neuronal brain circuits as well.  Since the underlying architecture of the human brain is common to all humans and it is this structure that in many ways defines our "humanness," it would not be far-fetched to assume, therefore, that there is genetic basis for brain structure and function.  As a consequence, inheritance would be a strong determinant in regards to anomalous human behavior.  This relationship between genes and brain structure and, finally, behavior is being established by current brain research on a continual basis.

Much of Western thought that is the bulwark of the judicial system is based on the concept of free will that is a direct corollary to the supposition that the mind, as separate from the organic brain, is the final arbiter when it comes to human choice and behavior.  This view also presupposes that the concepts of right and wrong that are embedded within the overarching idea of morality and moral judgment exist separate from human experience analogous to Plato's idea of the immutable forms.  Therefore, the concepts of good and evil share a separate existence and reside within their own separate moral universe.

At its best, the judicial system is exceedingly hypocritical even when viewing reality through its own lens, for the negative moral judgments it makes are highly skewed to a particular social strata i.e. the powerless.  The prisons rarely have representatives from the upper class and those with political power.  In spite of the fact that these are the classes from which flow the most heinous and destructive behavior, they are seldom accused of the crimes.

This idea of a moral universe separate from ordinary reality as established by human institutions is taken even further by various systems of religious belief.  According to the beliefs originating from many religions, the source of this moral universe is God.   In addition, from this deity, judgments, often severe, are imposed upon individuals dependent upon the degree to which they have acted contrary to his or her laws.  Within the mythology of the Catholic Church, for example, these judgments stemming from God can be so severe that those who do evil without the opportunity for repentance are destined to spend an eternity in the supposed after life in the inexhaustible fires of hell.   The list of sins that fit this category is extensive.  To consider such beliefs as anything but mythology is to deny reality at its core.

I maintain that the concepts of morality, of good and evil are valid but only within the context of the human experience and exist as an integral part of the neuronal structure of the human brain.  The desire for harmony and peace is a natural component of this architecture as well as the tendency to treat those who lie outside the boundaries of the local tribe or community with distrust, fear and suspicion.  A natural product of the former is what we regard as civilization, and aggression and its corollary, war are the products of the latter.  Both these tendencies reside within the realm of human behavior and are a direct result of millions of years of human evolution.    

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