Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Beauty and the brain

The latest Philosophy Bites podcast is Pat Churchland on Eliminative Materialism. For those who were interested in the past discussion of whether we have minds (or souls) apart from our brains, she goes into this, mentioning at about the middle of the interview something on visual perception, the valuation of what we are seeing, and the brain. I didn't understand it well, but it seems like it would touch on the subject of Beauty in theology. She said (sorry for any mistakes in transcription) .....

Here's a really interesting fact: very, very early in the visual cortex, that is in the first area in the visual cortex to which visual signals are sent, there is valuation, because there are projections from higher areas of the brain all the way back to V1 that attach a value to a signal, to this perceptual signal rather than that one. And so when philosophers say 'but you must separate fact and value', it's an interesting feature of the brain that before we're even conscious of a visual perception, it comes with a valence ...

I keep harping on this materialism stuff I guess because I'm so creeped out by the idea that my feelings, beliefs, values, etc., are not produced by a reflective mind/soul that exists semi-independently of my brain Yet, on the other hand, I do so respect the knowledge gained from science. Disturbing :( Maybe at the end of the day it doesn't matter? Must think more about this.


Blogger Paul said...

I guess I see the universe(s) or being itself as a process to which me and my brain and my sense of self and my experiences-phenomenology are part and parcel.

My sense of it is that finally there's just one thing going on and we're all involved in that process. I don't trust that our knowledge of the overall process is so good that the metaphysical distinctions we draw - like "mind" vs. "matter" - really amount to anything.

Wouldn’t the sort of visual valuation you mention consist of values of a low order? Like, "That's really big or loud so I'd better pay attention to it" vs. morals or aesthetics?

9:16 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

I don't know what kind of valuation she meant but I think what she means by the worry is when people start making theological claims .... like linking perceived beauty to intrinsic goodness, or linking what is a survival mechanism to what is morally right.

11:42 AM  

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