Sunday, April 28, 2013

Robert Burton's "Skeptic's Guide to the Mind" (Brain Science Podcast 96)

This week's episode of Dr. Ginger Campbel's Brain Science Podcast features a conversation with Robert Burton, author of On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not (2008) and his new book, the topic of this discussion, A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves (2013).

Book description:
What if our soundest, most reasonable judgments are beyond our control?

Despite 2500 years of contemplation by the world’s greatest minds and the more recent phenomenal advances in basic neuroscience, neither neuroscientists nor philosophers have a decent understanding of what the mind is or how it works. The gap between what the brain does and the mind experiences remains uncharted territory. Nevertheless, with powerful new tools such as the fMRI scan, neuroscience has become the de facto mode of explanation of behavior. Neuroscientists tell us why we prefer Coke to Pepsi, and the media trumpets headlines such as “Possible site of free will found in brain.” Or: “Bad behavior down to genes, not poor parenting.”

Robert Burton believes that while some neuroscience observations are real advances, others are overreaching, unwarranted, wrong-headed, self-serving, or just plain ridiculous, and often with the potential for catastrophic personal and social consequences. In A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind, he brings together clinical observations, practical thought experiments, personal anecdotes, and cutting-edge neuroscience to decipher what neuroscience can tell us – and where it falls woefully short. At the same time, he offers a new vision of how to think about what the mind might be and how it works.

A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind is a critical, startling, and expansive journey into the mysteries of the brain and what makes us human.
Enjoy the podcast.

Robert Burton's "Skeptic's Guide to the Mind" (BSP 96)April 26, 2013


In On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not Robert Burton showed that the feeling of certainty, which is something we all experience, has its origin in brain processes that are both unconscious and inaccessible to consciousness. Now in his new book A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves he extends these ideas to other mental sensations such as our feeling of agency and our sense of causation. The idea that much of what our brain does is not accessible to our conscious awareness is NOT new, but Dr. Burton considers the implications for our understanding of the MIND.

When we talked recently (BSP 96) Dr. Burton explained that his new book has two many parts. The early chapters he extends the principles he developed in On Being Certain to other mental sensations. We tend to take things like our feeling of certainty, agency, and causation for granted, but he points out that these are generated in parts of the brain that we can neither access or control. What makes A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind stand out is that Burton then explores the implications of this reality. He argues that while we can become ever more knowledgeable about how our brain works the MIND, which is something that we each experience subjectively, is much more illusive.

The fact that we are trying to study the MIND with the MIND has inherent limitations and I think that Dr. Burton is right when he says our response should be HUMILITY.

Download BSP 96 (mp3)

Free Episode Transcript (Coming Soon)


Related Episodes:
  • BSP 42: A discussion of On Being Certain 
  • BSP 43: Interview with Robert Burton about On Being Certain 
  • BSP 67: Interview with Thomas Metzinger, author of The Ego Tunnel 
  • BSP 85: Interview with Sebastian Seung, author of Connectome.
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