So, Edge has a new question for 2006 for its All-Stars of Academia to answer: What is your dangerous idea? (Suggested to Edge by Steven Pinker, who perhaps got the idea from a colloquium series at his old haunting grounds.)
Offhand, one might expect a broad range of perceived dangerous ideas, varying by research interests and such. What’s surprising is that many of the luminaries think that the “most dangerous idea” is this particular, same idea: As neuroscience progresses, popular realization that the “astonishing hypothesis” — that mind is brain — will create a potentially cataclysmic upheaval of society as we know and have profound (negative) moral implications as people claim less responsibility for their actions.
Of course, this just isn’t true. But, would you believe that
John Allen Paulos,
and, in a more genetic context, Jerry Coyne and Craig Venter
are all very worried about this issue? (And I didn’t even read 50% of the Edge dangerous ideas… there might be even more… ) Is this really the most dangerous idea out there to all of these talented thinkers?
I feel strongly that science and morality have always been separate domains and that any worry that, by “debunking” the mind, we automatically become immoral machines is just ridiculous. Through this scientific knowledge, we might gain some humility, maybe better see our close relatedness to nonhuman primates and place in nature, etc., but we’re not going to flip out and become crazed zombies. This just isn’t going to happen.
Does anybody else think that this just isn’t a truly dangerous idea (although certainly an “astonishing” one, in the Crick sense)? Or am I wrong here?
Samples of academic worrying after the jump.
“Free will is going away. Time to redesign society to take that into account.” – Clay Shirky
“In contrast, the widespread rejection of the soul would have profound moral and legal consequences.” – Paul Bloom
“If all this seems dehumanizing, you haven’t seen anything yet.” – VS Ramachandran
“The Depressing, Dangerous Hypothesis: We Have No Souls.” – Paul Horgan
“Revealing the genetic basis of personality and behavior will create societal conflicts” – J. Craig Venter
“Unfortunately, what appears to be a rather modest proposal on some counts, is dangerous on another. It is dangerous to those who abhor biologically grounded theories on the often misinterpreted perspective that biology determines our fate, derails free will, and erases the soul.” – Marc Hauser
Seems like a lot of worrying to me over very little…