Monday, September 27, 2010

"And How!"

Physicians at John Hopkins Medical School, working with colleagues at Harvard University, today concluded a five year study seeking to "map" the sections of scientists' brains that cause them to "find" and believe reductivist scientific explanations of complex human cultural and social phenomena, such as romantic love or creative activity, evil, or commitment to social justice. The study was declared a "complete success." Lead scientist John Pumpernickel, III, M.D., Ph.D., commented in The New York Times:

"It took us a whole year to figure out that it would be difficult to take notes on the results of tests that we were performing on ourselves. Despite my best efforts, for example, I found it difficult to write while undergoing a self-administered brain-scan and two attempts to perform brain surgery on myself were only partly successful. So we recruited students from the Humanities Center, who seem to have a lot of time on their hands, and had them videotape our efforts and take notes for us, as we attached electrodes to one another."

Dr. Pumpernickel mentioned all of the elite "researchers" who participated in this effort, reserving special praise for Frau Doktor-Doktor Eva Hottvixxenschein, of the Einstein Institute in Munich, who found it necessary to perform elaborate experiments on all portions of his body -- experiments which Dr. Pumpernickel, in the interests of scientific integrity and thoroughness, repeated twice daily and once in his hot tub in the evenings.

It seems that "scientism," known prosaically as "pseudo-scientific bullshit," is explicable in terms of increased activity in the right frontal lobe of the brain, which the scientists have dubbed the "bullshit center." This reductivism is combined with an inability to read good books, and explains flawed scientific efforts to decipher all of the mysteries of human subjectivity and boil them down to a formula. Sam Harris and a few other American academics display an awesome talent for such bullshitting with a pseudo-scientific gloss. Kwame Anthony Appiah, "Science Knows Best," in The New York Times, Book Review, Sunday, October 3, 2010, at p. 12. (Review of Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values (New York: Free Press, 2010), 291 pages, $26.99. Reinventing the wheel, Sam?)

The newly-charted cerebral territory is unusually developed, according to the research data, in politicians and lawyers, but even more in persons of all races and ethnic backgrounds and of both or any number of genders working in the advertising industry, with academics not far behind, as it were. Yet the all-time champions in enhancing this region of the brain are writers, especially writers of fiction, and some self-proclaimed "scientists," notably behavioral psychologists.

Explanations for the development of this faculty are evolutionary in nature. It seems that beginning around 1950, scientific or quasi-scientific sounding explanations for all human phenomena acquired exceptional prestige in academia and the elite professions. Persons with a mortgage as well as an orthodontist's bills to pay, who were in search of tenure or promotion, found that success or "survival" required a facility for expressing banalities in the language of scientific discovery, together with a blurring of the distinction between the "coincidence" or precondition of a particular brain state with a subjective experience and the "causing" of that subjective experience by the brain state.

For examples of this tendency, see Carl Zimmer, "Sizing Up Consciousness By Its Bits," in The New York Times, "Science Times," September 21, 2010, at p. D1 and Kent A. Khiel & Joshua W. Buckholtz, "Inside the Mind of a Psychopath," in Scientific American, September/October, 2010, at p. 22. (Marco Rubio?)

Dr. Pumpernickel has received a 50 million dollar grant from the United States government to determine whether persons with this gene for "scientism" can be identified in vitro, so that these persons may be tracked and encouraged, at the appropriate stages in their lives, to enter the professions at which they may then be expected to excel. It is too soon to tell, but there is a distinct possibility that Dr. Pumpernickel will be the first scientist to identify a future President of the United States by isolating this single gene. ("On Bullshit" and "Richard Dawkins and the Atheist Delusion.")

Along with Dr. Hottvixxenschein, who remains a trusted and admired colleague, Dr. Pumpernickel plans to move his facility to California, where he expects to "fit right in," in a manner of speaking, since he believes that there may be religious insights to be gained from his findings -- not to mention, a potential benefit to the manufacturers of hot tubs.

Dr. Pumpernickel has already been approached by a number of psychologists seeking to develop "therapeutic strategies" that benefit from his empirical research and has been invited to Hollywood.

Wistfully, Dr. Pumpernickel sighed and offered this reporter a cup of coffee, as he remarked that: "We live in an age of wonderful discoveries."

With a knowing smile, Dr. Hottvixxenschein agreed. "Ja," she said, "and how!"

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