Monday, April 06, 2009

Science, wisdom, the human brain and supposed “discoveries”

Scientists ‘discover’ source of wisdom in the human brain, the opening two paragraphs of which read:

“Scientists have discovered the source of wisdom in the human brain, it was revealed today.

Experts have pinpointed the part of the brain that guides people when they are battling with difficult moral dilemmas, according to the study.”

As usual the reality of the research is somewhat different to what is claimed for it.

The author of the study is Dilip Jeste, Professor of psychiatry and neurosciences at the University of California in San Diego. He is quoted as saying, “Our research suggests there may be a basis in neurobiology for wisdom’s most universal traits”.

Although the findings of the study are described as “a significant departure into the area of expertise that has long been regarded as one of religion and philosophy”, as is most often the case, further reading and just a little thought is far short of such claims and interpretations.

The research of Jeste and his colleague, Thomas Meeks, which is to be published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, claims to show that a person weighing up an issue that just called for am altruistic response used the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is linked to intelligence and learning, but that when someone is considering a moral dilemma other areas of the brain are used, such as those parts that are linked to rational thought and primitive emotions.

According to the report, “Professor Jeste admitted the possibility that wisdom and free will are based on the make-up of someone’s brain rather than metaphysics is unsettling”, though is quoted further as saying, “Knowledge of the underlying mechanisms in the brain could potentially lead to developing interventions for enhancing wisdom”.

Well there are certainly many mainstream scientists, among numerous other people, science reporters included, who could do with a strong infusion of wisdom, though that is unlikely to be the way to obtain it, at least not the best, or lasting, way.

Although many in mainstream science tend to consider the brain as the source of mind that is not proven and is only opinion. Many others are of the opposite view that the brain, along with other material world constructs, emerges from mind. On a practical experience and direct knowledge level that is my view, more properly my knowing. I am well aware of the underlying structure to the physical world, the body and the brain included. I am also aware of thoughts, wisdom, etc., that are of mind in origin without that mind having a physical brain.

Professor Jeste is more careful with his words than the reporter is and, I suspect, many others will be. Indication of processes in the brain is not indication of the processes being only there let alone proof that they are.