Stingy Materialism

Geoffrey Miller, in an essay on the future of neuroscience, has this to say about the relationship of mind to brain:

Too many of us have become Stingy Materialists. A Stingy Materialist takes the view that subjective experiences may not be real if they have not yet been associated with particular brain areas, neurotransmitters, or genes. They suppose that if we have found the brain area for pain, then pain is a real emotion; but if we haven’t yet found the brain area for sexual jealousy or existential dread, they are probably not real emotions. Likewise, if we have found neurotransmitter deficits in schizophrenia, then it is a real disorder; but if we have not found such deficits in irritability, then perhaps it is not a real disorder.

Stingy Materialists lack confidence in their doctrine and in their consciousness, with the result that they fetishize neuroscience, and seek its approval for all things subjective. Since neuroscience is still in its infancy, this results in an infantile view of human nature, in which people are portrayed with crude outlines and primary colors, like stereotypes from a Jerry Bruckheimer action film.

Read the rest:
Miller, G. F. (2002). The science of subtlety. In J. Brockman (Ed.), The next fifty years, pp. 85-92. New York: Vintage. Link (MS Word doc, sorry)

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