Monday, August 17, 2009

Troubling Claim

"The core idea of neuroscience is that our brains are a kind of computer, though far more powerful than any of the actual computers we know about. Psychologists try to find out exactly what kinds of programs our brains use, and how our brains implement these program " (43)

Johnson & Lakoff have a nice article ("The Metaphorical Structure of the Human Conceptual System") discussing the pitfalls of adhering to only one metaphor to explain something (in this case, obviously, the mind/brain). Having read this article I'm made nervous when someone commits themselves to just one metaphor to understanding something (their point is that if we use only one metaphor we will only recognize that which is made visible by that metaphor). Though I have to
thank Gopnik for being so upfront about the metaphor she's using. I do wonder, though, in what way she thinks the brain is like a computer - is it only in the way that it "runs" programs? Where do these programs come from and what's a program that it's distinct from the brain? I tend to favor a more organic (as opposed to mechanical) conception of the brain - thinking of it more as a topiary and the neural pathways as, well, actual paths in a forest.

I doubt that what Gopnik is saying here is going to be seriously effected by her metaphor (this is pretty macro level stuff she's discussing) but the whole brain/computer metaphor bothers me fairly seriously since it's so mechanical and seems fairly committed at the outset to simplistic dualism. But, she is trying to communicate to laypeople and maybe she is correct that neuroscientists tend to think this way -- I tend to be more interested in cognitive science at this point and try to make as few commitments about brains as I can. But, still, I'm pretty sure that the whole computer/mind/brain thing is kinda outdated.

No comments: