19 July 2008

Existentialism on a Saturday morning



Wake to the sound of rain. Lazy sparks of last night keep me in bed with The Wire for another hour. But no matter, it's Saturday. In the lab the iMac won't start and I'm down to my last, barely functional array. Never mind, I write an email to dad instead. We've agreed that science doesn't describe every aspect of human existence. Now he asks how I decide which such non-scientific values, world views and systems of thought are stable, important, lucid and respectable, and which are myth, superstition or wishful thinking. Moreover, is it possible to modify man's biological nature without eliminating her sense of agency and freedom?
I write:
"I don't believe in choosing between materialism and existentialism - we need a world view that combines both; an existentialism that is compatible with the science of today and tomorrow. Our thinking about freedom, agency and responsibility must be compatible with what we know, and expect to know, about the formation of evaluations and decisions within the biological nervous system. It's hard to believe in meaning and morals if flesh and urges permeate every particle of our phenomenology, but the scientific description of mind and brain is real, and we must come to terms with it.

However, I do not think that such a 'scientific existentialism' must entail the elimination of free will. The iPlant, for instance, is designed to INCREASE the sense of agency and freedom in those lacking discipline. It requires, however, that we be comfortable with the realization that our desires, choices and our experience of meaning are intimately linked with the flow of dopamine in our brains.

I believe we need to fully identify with our bodies, brains and genes, and with our fellow human beings. As long as we can do that, we will be able to experience identity, agency, desire, love and meaning, and make use of biotechnology rather than recoil from it."
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