Thursday, May 22, 2008

David Brooks and his foray into neurology

I think I tend to have more respect for David Brooks than a lot of my peers, at least those I see commenting on a lot of news sites. He's been getting some attention recently from his editorial titled The Neural Buddhists, which covers some of the research that, in his opinion, finds "science and mysticism are joining hands and reinforcing each other."

Ana Marie Cox of Time magazine had the initial response of questioning Brooks's inclusion of Buddhism in the union with science -- presumably at the exclusion of other religions. Her conclusion was that he could start to sound like he was in line with anti-science propaganda*. Brooks offered his response at a Pew Forum that preceded the article, "My theory is I carry the label 'conservative,' and the label 'conservative' sets off certain neural patterns in your head that make you think that, as a conservative, I have reasonably strict spiritual beliefs or traditional religious beliefs, and therefore would be hostile to Buddhism." Admittedly, he was in the mood to describe everything in terms of neurology (which is not by any means a bad thing).

At the aforementioned Pew Forum, Brooks documented some of the conclusions of existing research quite accurately. My favorite point of his is on the subject of emotion theory: "The Doctor Spock idea from Star Trek, that reason and emotion are two different things, is completely wrong. Emotion is what we use to assign value to things, and without emotion you can’t make decisions."

Also: "There is no such thing as one individual brain. Our brains are all merged together in a series of ultimate feedback loops. So I think when you look at this research... It won’t lead to the idea that we are just material creatures and atheism is the answer."

Again, this is just a journalist summarizing the research of others, but the professor of radiology who was present at the forum had only corroborations to offer.

Speaking of belief: having never seen the man in person, it is my belief that David Brooks is roughly seven feet tall.

* - Whereas I suspected she was going to go in the direction of "anti-Christian propaganda," thus perhaps implying our unconscious allegiances. After she mentions the science-Buddhism link, she sarcastically asserts, "they're not like you and me!" implying her Christian allegiance, thus making Brooks guilty of potential anti-science (though, her allegiance is likely due to being a journalist representing the interests of a dominantly (and self-reportedly) Christian nation (the "you" of the "you and me"). My allegiance of unconsciously trusting science first led me to predict her argument would lead to an anti-Christian conclusion. Of course, if I were a Buddhist who didn't trust science, I would think it anti-Buddhist. But no matter.

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