Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The End of Evil?

Neuroscientists suggest there is no such thing. Are they right?
Ron Rosenbaum

Neurons by Santiago Ramón y Cajal

Is evil over? Has science finally driven a stake through its dark heart? Or at least emptied the word of useful meaning, reduced the notion of a numinous nonmaterial malevolent force to a glitch in a tangled cluster of neurons, the brain?

And in reducing evil to a purely neurological glitch or malformation in the wiring of the physical brain, in eliminating the element of freely willed conscious choice, have neuroscientists eliminated as well "moral agency," personal responsibility? Does this "neuromitigation" excuse—"my brain made me do it," as critics of the tendency have called it—mean that no human being really wants to do ill to another? That we are all innocent, Rousseauian beings, some afflicted with defects—"brain bugs" as one new pop-neuroscience book calls them—that cause the behavior formerly known as evil?

This argument has been going on for more than a millennium, at least since Augustine proclaimed that evil was in the realm of “non-being," which seems to some a great evasion. Meanwhile pop neuroscience—and its not-very-well-examined assumptions—has taken center stage in the struggle to put evil in its place under the thumb of science.

Despite all the astonishing advances in neuroscience, however, we still know woefully little about how the brain enables the mind and especially about how consciousnesss and intentionality can arise from the complicated hunk of matter that is the brain. ... Discovering the neural correlates of mental phenomena does not tell us how these phenomena are possible.

The problem of evil—and moral responsibility—is thus inseparable from what is known in the philosophical trade as "the hard problem of consciousness." How does the brain, that electrified piece of meat, create the mind and the music of Mozart, the prose of Nabokov? Where is consciousness, anyway?


Ron Rosenbaum asking Jonathan Marks about the eradication of free will through neuroscience´s approach.

And he offered what I thought was one of the wisest responses to the debate over the existence of evil (and thus free will):

What he suggested is that we ought to act as if we had free will to choose good or evil.

And his warnings against the consequences of believing otherwise are validated by the fantasies of some fMRI enthusiasts. Consider, for instance, one of the more prominent new brain books: David Eagleman's Incognito.

In an excerpt in the Atlantic's "big ideas” issue, Eagleman depicts an Orwellian future in which fMRI scans will be used to preemptively identify those who have the potential to commit acts formerly known as evil, and prescribes for such possible malfeasants a regimen of "prefrontal workout[s]" to "better balance" those selected (how? by whom?) for brain remodeling.

He actually goes so far as to say, "Some people will need to be taken off the streets," on the basis of their fMRIs, "for a longer time (even a life time)." Neuroscientific totalitarianism invades your brain! The ultimate panopticon. No one seemed to notice or to care. It's science!

Read the rest


i was thinking exactly this today, not in scientific, but in spiritual, emotional, and psychological terms.

If this proof amounts to anything, I´ll use myself as an example...

Without having the slightest idea that neuroscience was up to the task... I began thinking about "The End of Evil" or the "Illusion of Evil", the concept was a faint whisper floating in mind for a while. In some deep part of my chain of ideas and beliefs there lay the question of insanity, how the mere thought could imply things that cannot be empirically proven or if taken to an extreme could turn us into:

A. Brave New World
B. Panoptically controlled robots (as the excerpt above mentions)

So the cloud lingered there...
Until today it manifested as something "concrete" with this article...

I do in some way believe that "evil" is a distant figment in and of our brain. I´d say Plato´s and Jung´s writings on archetypes would support the theory that the concept of "evil" has been imprinted on the unconscious mind since the biblical notion of Adam & Eve/free will, since the beginning of time, since the construction of our souls.

I´m not saying that evil doesn´t exist, it does and has. Many cannot conceive genocide, wars, mass destruction, as anything other than that, pure evil, and thinking "Evil is dead" would only justify it right?

In my mind, I´d disagree.

When man STOPS moving through dualistic notions as most "normal" human beings do, oscillating between love and hate in seconds time, and begins pulling all its little parts together into something greater than themselves; call it God, Jesus, Earth, Heaven, Humanity, Universe, Creation, etc. instead of the insignificant ego; "evil" will start dissolving into a distant and empty formless form.

i.e. I´d even dare to say pulling ourself together towards our own "true" self; in a sincere manner not in a self-destructive one...
The reader might ask how does one know if something is sincere?
4 basic principles that impulse:
1. Love
2. Liberty
3. Equality
4. Preservation of life

Utopic, maybe. Impossible, I hope not. I´m still trying.

So my question is, how is it at all possible for me to be aware of any of this? How is the conscious, unconscious, subconscious, superconscious sensitive to it? I have absolutely no clue about neuroscience, little knowledge about science, and a strong belief in free will, but at the same time inclined toward destiny... Is it all there suspended above our heads as if it were connected or something, waiting to be materialized? If it were so, what does that connectivity imply?

A. That we´re all the same. "All humans are equal". We essentially all come from the same place, wherever you believe that to be.
B. That this "oneness" exists.

All the ties, links, "coincidences", resonance, glitches, synchronicity, is what I find mind blowing and an utter mystery, and what keeps me coming back to the rhizome.

Everything in one giant nothing, or and nothing in one giant everything.

A special thank you to @unfolding for posting the link to the article.

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