POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

I Love and Hate Brain Scanning

For those of you who know me realize that I maintain a keen interest in both science and technology as well as related philosophical issues surrounding both.  This morning I wanted to comment a bit on both Love and Hate as it is the subject of some recent research regarding the brain and brain scanning technology in particular.  Of such technology I am both a lova and a hata...let me explain.

On October 29th, Reuters UK reported the following story - Thin line between love and hate? Science knows why. The article shows how reductionism tells us little or nothing useful for our lives.  The article recounts some research of the brain activity of people who are looking at images of people they hate.  The subjects brains were active in an area similarly active when you have that loving feeling. Here is a quick excerpt that summarizes the research.

Brain scans of people shown images of individuals they hated revealed a pattern of brain activity that partly occurs in areas also activated by romantic love, Semir Zeki and John Paul Romaya of University College London reported on Wednesday.

"This linkage may account for why love and hate are so closely linked to each other in life," the researchers wrote in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS One.

I found this article to profoundly communicate nothing that is actually useful to human beings.  The subject of brain scanning is interesting because it demonstrates what parts of our brains are active when we experience certain thoughts, emotions, etc.  Now, if you were to simply watch brain activity over time you would know absolutely nothing about the human condition.  What this sort of research relies upon is real world configurations and information from human persons.  If you just watched electrical activity in the cortex, you would not know jack unless a person said - "I'm really angry right now."  With such feedback, or stimuli (showing you pictures that really hack you off) the researcher sees the resultant brain state and then makes a ridiculous error in reductionism.  Just a side note, the philosophy of naturalistic reductionism has been covered here before so I'll just refer you to that little ditty, but what I want to get at today is that there is much more to love, hate than brain chemistry.   

The scientist looking only at brain chemistry eliminates all human elements to his subject by making an identity statement between the brain state and that which is described by the human being.  If someone is praying and a certain brain circuit is firing the reductionist thinker says "That is God" - of course the "That" is nothing but biochemical reactions and surely not "God."  Similarly we think that a brain circuit = hate or love for that matter.  This is a profoundly hollow view of human experience. 

In fact, resultant brain states give no real useful information to a human person. For someone to know that their brain chemistry corresponds to certain emotions gives them zero help in understanding, controlling, guiding, shaping their own minds and souls.  For instance, the reductionist view sees the human person only as a material being which is subject to cause and effect relationships in matter.  Love or hate just are responses to external stimuli like seeing pictures of people you despise.  What are you going to do about it? When you think about it, this view eliminates the existence of a separate "YOU" altogether. You are your brain and that is it.  Contrary to this view, the mind has demonstrated a perplexing ability to act upon its material substrata.  This is true in our self-conscious reflective experience and fleshed out in recent studies in neuroplasticity which show that the mind can actually change the brain's physical make up by mere thinking.  Furthermore, as a theist I might add, it is also interesting that the mind of God influences our thoughts and brains as well.

Back to the reductionist view. I remember in college I had a professor in a class on information transmission who made what I found to be a very obtuse statement.  He said something like "What is love - it is nothing, nothing but I/O" - in other words "love" was not real, but rather a material phenomenon of sensory inputs and glandular outputs. I remember thinking - there is more to love and life than that.  Now, philosophically I believe that the soul is inextricably joined with the body; so I reject a harsh dualism in favor of a more holistic one.  So it seems to me that the mind plays out in the medium of the brain/body and their exists a correlative power that minds may have over "brain matter" and a reciprocal power that the body has on the mind.

By simply saying that brain patterns = SOME MOOD, EMOTION does really nothing for me.  It is fascinating technology to be able to watch neuron behavior - I do love that. It is great science in and of itself.  Yet to say that hate/love/prayer/joy/compassion IS JUST a brain state is profoundly ridiculous based on an assumed philosophical leap into the darkness of naturalistic faith.  It has so little information to actually help anyone with the way they live (save the case where someone may need to temporarily and artificially alter brain states through drug therapy to stabilize a person). I for one find there is much more we can say about love and hate but this requires us to venture into the world of objective values, ethical truths and human agents which can reflect and act upon them.  This sort of thing my friends, you simply will not find in your own brain, but they are indeed found in the mind and character of God.