Monthly Archives: December 2013

Conferring meaning on my life

GL: Some might say the idea that you are just your brain makes life bleak, unforgiving and ultimately futile. How do you respond to that?

PC: It’s not at all bleak. I don’t see how the existence of a god or a soul confers any meaning on my life. How does that work, exactly? Nobody has ever given an adequate answer. My life is meaningful because I have family, meaningful work, because I love to play, I have dogs, I love to dig in the garden. That’s what makes my life meaningful, and I think that’s true for most people.

via The self as brain: Disturbing implications of neuroexistentialism..., emphasis mine.

Does only the existence of Superman confer any meaning on the work of police officers? Or, without Captain American, is the American military meaningless? I’ve never thought about those questions before. They’re obviously silly and wrong unless we use a ludicrous criteria for what it means for something to be meaningful. Does that mean the statement “Our short, impermanent lives have no real meaning without God” is just as silly and is based on criteria just as ludicrous?

We need to suppress certain kinds of impulses

Interesting turnabout here. The interviewer asks a neuroscientist about free will and the scientist answers in terms of self control. “Do I chart my own course” vs. “Do I have the ability to choose between the options my mind presents.”

GL: Even people who have largely come to terms with neuroscience find certain ideas troubling—particularly free will. Do we have it?

PC: A better question is whether we have self-control, and it’s very easy to see what the evolutionary rationale of that is. We need to be able to maintain a goal despite distractions. We need to suppress certain kinds of impulses. We do know a little bit about the neurobiology of self-control, and there is no doubt that brains exhibit self-control.

Now, that’s as good as it gets, in my view. When we need to make a decision about something—whether to buy a new car, say—self-control mechanisms work in ways that we understand: We decide not to spend more than we can afford, to go with the more or less practical car. That is what free will is. But if you think that free will is creating the decision, with no causal background, there isn’t that.

via The self as brain: Disturbing implications of neuroexistentialism..