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Brain research and the social self in a technological culture

Abstract

The paper does not claim to be a novel contribution to any field. It simply opposes claims by philosophers of consciousness—I take Daniel Dennett as an example (though no more than that) that non-conscious robot-like neurons (Dennett’s phrase) can, taken together, add up to an explanation of (even the illusion of) consciousness. To this I oppose G. H. Mead’s so-called social behaviorism. My argument, such as it is, proceeds in well-defined stages: 1. I first introduce the history of anti-reductionism among philosophers, including those of the analytical persuasion, especially among North American philosophers; 2. the “new archaeology” of hominid prehistory is then introduced to show how some eminent archeologists oppose the reductionist view that large brains—deduced from finds of larger and larger skulls—constitute the best explanation we have for the advent of Homo sapiens; 3. the heart of my paper is then a reference to—not a proper summary of—Terence Deacon’s masterful book, The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain—where the idea of co-evolution of human communication and brain development (along with other physiological traits such as a proper voice box) is put forward as a better—as co-evolutionary—explanation of human symbolic behavior than the standard ones (including Dennett’s); 4. I then make equally brief summaries of confirming evidence of such co-evolution; 5. this is followed by similar summaries of the alleged science of historical linguistics—none of it explaining the beginning, but only the development of human languages in non-reductionist terms; 6. I then introduce Berger and Luckmann’s Social Construction of Reality to make a central claim: that even reductionist science—whether genetic reductionism or brain-studies-based reductionism—is and must be socially constructed; and 7. I conclude with a preference for a Meadian (similar to a Deweyan) social responsibility activism. One note relative to item number 1: I make no claim here to discuss Merleau-Ponty or any other well-known anti-reductionist; this is in answer to one referee of the paper.

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Correspondence to Paul T. Durbin.

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Durbin, P.T. Brain research and the social self in a technological culture. AI & Soc 32, 253–260 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00146-015-0609-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00146-015-0609-4

Keywords

  • Brain research
  • Mead
  • Social self
  • Technology
  • Culture