All that's separating you from him, from the other person, is your skin. Remove the skin, you experience that person's touch in your mind. You've dissolved the barrier between you and other human beings. And this of course is the basis of much of Eastern philosophy, and that is, there's no real independent self aloof from other human beings, inspecting the world and inspecting other people. You're in fact connected. Not just via Facebook and the Internet. You're actually quite literally connected by your neurons.... There's no real distinctiveness of your consciousness from somebody else's consciousness. And this is not mumbo jumbo philosophy. It emerges from our understanding of basic neuroscience.It's from this TED talk (which I haven't had a chance to watch yet but very much want to) that he gave about mirror neurons.
Ramachandran's far more confident and excited about mirror neurons than I think a lot of neuroscientists are, but considering his remarkable record of making big intuitive leaps that end up being correct (many of which are detailed in his Phantoms in the Brain, which I really cannot recommend highly enough), it seems to me that his ideas on the subject are at least worth pondering.
And it's things like this that make me sad when I see thinkers I respect talking about scientific progress as a negative in itself. To be sure, a great deal, a large majority even, of scientific efforts as they manifest themselves now are indeed negative. But this is because the large majority of science is done, as I discussed in the previous post, at the behest of corporations and the military. When it is done for other reasons--out of a desire to better humanity and the world, out of the pure love of it (art for art's sake, in other words)--you get people like Ramachandran, and findings like what he's discussing in this quote.
The more we know about science, the more we know that the boundaries between ourselves, our minds, and the rest of the world are fictional. Everything is a result of atoms interacting with one another the way atoms have to interact with one another. Some of these molecules give rise to a system that thinks it's me, some make rocks, some make neutron stars, some don't make anything in particular other than molecules, but they all behave the same way. And, even more fascinatingly, underneath that deterministic level is one where all behavior is random, unpredictable, not even bound by causality. Somehow this random behavior gives rise to the predictable molecular behavior I was talking about, and then from there is everything we can see and, so far as we know, everything we can't.
Knowing this, how can we continue killing and exploiting and hating one another? How can we continue killing and exploiting and hating our environment? How can we feel anything but a sense of awe towards, respect for, and connection with the universe? This is no pseudo-scientific What the Bleep?!? new-age bullshit. I'm not going to ask the universe for a million dollars. This is real, it means something.
It helps that in the space of one month I was introduced to this Ramachandran quote, David Bohm's concepts of the implicate and explicate, and Paula Gunn Allen's book on Pocahontas (incidentally, check out what comes up before the results when you search Amazon for that book), all of which cover much of the same ground, from different perspectives.
The Baronette is taking an introductory-level science class right now, and her textbook includes this bewildering quote, on Copernicus's shifting the center of the universe from the Earth to the Sun: "We do not know how Copernicus, a busy man of affairs in medieval Poland, conceived this question, nor do we know why he devoted his spare time for most of his life to answering it." The authorial "we" clearly has the same limited perspective as Eric D. Isaacs, as discussed in my previous post. Both display a complete lack of understanding of class issues (do the authors of the textbook think that medieval Polish peasants were more likely to spend their time in abstract scientific speculation?), and both seem to discount curiosity and the envisionment of a better world--indeed, anything other than a desire for profit--as a motivating force.
Of course these two failings go hand in hand. And from the perspective of Power, they aren't failings at all, but rather completely desirable attitudes for the masses to have. If we don't understand class structure, if we are incurious, if we cannot imagine anything better, then we are all that much more controllable. And if all scientists want is money, then they are all the more willing to direct their research in directions that harm the majority of humanity, for the benefit of Power.