Wednesday 2 June 2010

A Dialogue of the Deaf

Periodically I have a lively and entirely futile discussion with someone (she knows who she is) who is fascinated and impressed by such research fields as neuroscience and evolutionary psychology and what they have to tell us about 'human nature'. Our latest 'heated debate' was sparked by this review of Marilynne Robinson's new book (which, needless to say, I look forward to reading). The familiar dialogue of the deaf ensued, the details of which I shan't rehearse here, but it ended in the usual frustrated impasse. The trouble is that not only do I not believe many of the lofty claims made for both these sciences, I fundamentally don't care - whereas She manifestly does. For me, the stories told by science may well be strong and persuasive, but they strike me as stories that tell me nothing I especially need or want to hear, and their reductionist tendency is simply depressing. This means that these recurrent discussions are really the equivalent of any conversation between an enthusiast who can't see how anyone could fail to be fascinated by his/her enthusiasm, and a non-enthusiast who is equally incapable of seeing how anyone could be. Stalemate.


  1. I too have many heated debates with freinds and family about the topic of human nature-a topic with which I have recently become infatuated after taking a course in evo psych and reading several books on the topic. However, I find myself arguing from the evolutionary and neuroscience perspective. While I'm fairly certain I know the gist of your friend's argument, I'm not quite sure what your position would be, but I would be very much interested in hearing it. I'm open to alternative explanations. Why don't we start with this cynical view of "reductionism"- about which I'm almost entirely sure you know very little or at least what you do know is erroneous and mistaken. Evolutionary psychology is in no way a form of "genetic determinism" or "reductionism" (both of which, by the way are straw man arguments. Even the most staunch "reductionists" acknowledge the importance of envioronmental input. They simply study such influences in the context of genetics and neuroscience).

  2. Tell her to read me in The Sunday Times Culture this weekend. Very edifying

  3. Yes but you interested much in butterflies, McGregor10?

  4. I'm open to alternative explanations.

    McGregor10, the best alternative explanation is that it's a bunch of over-intellectualized gobbledegook that everybody thinks explains other folks nicely, but that nobody thinks applies to them.

  5. McGregor - my intent was not to start an argument but rather to show the futility of such arguments, dialogues of the deaf as they tend to be...
    Bryan - I shall!
    Brit - sound.
    Malty - equally.
    Peter - think I'd better ignore that one - you know what'll happen...

  6. Nige:

    Dare to struggle. Dare to win!