I had an op-ed in the LA Times on Sunday. It’s about reductionism and the brain:
The reductionist method, although undeniably successful, has very real limitations. Not everything benefits from being broken down into tiny pieces. Look, for example, at a Beethoven symphony. If the music is reduced to wavelengths of vibrating air — the simple sum of its physics — we actually understand less about the music. The intangible beauty, the visceral emotion, the entire reason we listen in the first place — all is lost when the sound is reduced into its most elemental details. In other words, reductionism can leave out a lot of reality.
The mind is like music. While neuroscience accurately describes our brain in terms of its material facts — we are nothing but a loom of electricity and enzymes — this isn’t how we experience the world. Our consciousness, at least when felt from the inside, feels like more than the sum of its cells. The truth of the matter is that we feel like the ghost, not like the machine.
I think it’s important to be clear about what argument I’m not making. I’m not rehashing Keats’ criticism of Newton: I’m all in favor of unweaving the rainbow. I think reductionism can be startlingly beautiful and will always be our primary method of understanding everything. But I think it’s important to note that reductionism is not our only method. There are some questions, and these questions happen to include the grandest questions of neuroscience, that can’t be answered in such strict and narrow terms.
Tear my argument apart in the comments.