Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A new description of our inner lives....

I rarely mention my internal experience and sensations on this blog - first, because I have viewed readers as "wanting the beef," objective stuff on how minds work. Second and more important, because my experience of noting the flow of my brain products as emotion laced chunks of sensing/cognition/action - knowing the names of the neurotransmitters and hormones acting during desire, arousal, calming, or affiliation - strikes me as a process which would feel quite alien to most people. Still, if we are materialists who believe that someday we will understand how the brain-body generates our consciousness and sense of a self, we will be able to think in terms like the following (a quote taken from Larissa MacFarquhar's profile of Paul and Patricia Churchland in the Feb. 12 New Yorker Magazine):

"...he and Pat like to speculate about a day when whole chunks of English, especially the bits that consitute folk psychology, are replaced by scientific words that call a thing by its proper name rather than some outworn metaphor... as people learn to speak differently they will learn to experience differently, and sooner or later even their most private introspections will be affected. Already Paul feels pain differently than he used to: when he cut himself shaving now he fells not "pain" but something more complicated - first the sharp, superficial A-delta-fibre pain, and then a couple of seconds later, the sickening, deeper feeling of C-fibre pain that lingers. The new words, far from being reductive or dry, have enhanced his sensations, he feels, as an oenophile's complex vocabulary enhances the taste of wine."

"Paul and Pat, realizing that the revolutionary neuroscience they dream of is still in its infancy, are nonetheless already preparing themselve for this future, making the appropriate adjustments in their everyday conversation. One afternoon recently, Paul says, he was home making dinner when Pat burst in the door, having come straight from a frustrating faculty meeting. "She said, 'Paul, don't speak to me, my serotonin levels have hit bottom, my brain is awash in glucocortocoids, my blood vessels are full of adrenaline, and if it weren't for my endogenous opiates I'd have driven the car into a tree on the way home. My dopamine levels need lifting. Pour me a Chardonnay, and I'll be down in a minute.' " Paul and Pat have noticed that it is not just they who talk this way - their students now talk of psychopharmacology as comfortably as of food."

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