Saturday, January 27, 2007

Philosphical -v- Empirical Knowledge

If I don't promise myself to be brief, I'll end up saving this as draft and not be able to share something I think is very important vis-a-vie some comments regarding the "Smokers' Weak Point Identified" article on which I posted*.

The comments which prompted this post were both logical and sensible in their call for caution, or their expressed revulsion at the idea of hacking our brains to keeps us from doing other, perhaps less damaging or repugnant, things to our bodies.

While I've really no disagreement with either of those admonitions, I don't really think that anything in the article suggested anything like what they were cautioning against. I probably should have been more articulate in my presentation, but since I wasn't then, I hope that I can be so now, and perhaps clear up any misunderstandings. Of course, it's quite possible that there weren't any of those. Caution is after all an exemplary feature of any research involving the understanding of a biological structure as complex and extraordinary as the brain of Homo Sapiens.

I feel the need to start with a reminder that the man in the article had accidental damage occur via a stroke which destroyed a portion of his brain. Annihilating that part of the brain is emphatically not what the findings suggest as a cure for the addiction to smoking which ensnares millions of people, just like me, the world over. My excitement is that the episode, well documented and supportive of previous discoveries vis-a-vie the brain's architecture, provides knowledge of the results of our brains' components in a direct and extraordinarily definitive manner. Similar occurrences are what gave rise to the research discussed at the end of the Guardian article which I quoted in full.

This is knowledge without which we would continue to be utterly in the dark about the physiological processes which make so many folks be as we are when it comes to giving up Cancer Sticks and other deadly addictions. (I'll leave Dr Dawkins to argue - quite convincingly, IMO - that religion fits in that category quite well.)

I've stated before my understanding that Philosophy can only illuminate so much, and when it fails to provide readily apparent conclusions, a failure it must always face to some extent, it leaves our fantastically intellectual capacities open, in the form of our imaginations, to the perversions of Religious Beliefs; results of fear out of our ignorance which, whilst naturally evolved to console and defend (and entertain?) our psyches, have the ultimate result of keeping our minds from securing the empirical reasons for the "demons" which confront us.

As with removing tonsils, an organ which, once along the path of human evolution, was required for staving off infections, but has since become (possibly during our rising from quad to bipedalism) more a cause than a cure for such phenomena, occluding biological functions may or may not be the Best Thing for everyone.

The findings in the Science study give me hope because they give us knowledge beyond the philosophical realm of educated guesswork. They provide actual empirical evidence which can be considered in order to supply more efficacious means of treatment for folks who Will Die or, at the very least, lead horribly infected lives because "praying for strength" is a placebo which quite simply, and via ubiquitous demonstrations, is absolutely worthless to so many of us.

They say necessity is the mother of invention and it's readily apparent that we often have need for crutches to get us through a time of healing. I think its easily agreed that the invention of crutches follows from the necessity of their function. Just as aspirin (or analgesics in general) dull pain so that we can be more relaxed and allow our bodies to heal naturally with more effectiveness, it's my great hope, my belief even, that drugs which may result from this line of research will provide folk the time and release from philosophical pain we need to Do the things we know that we must, naturally and of our own - often extremely tenuous - Free Will.


* Silly Humans is my original, and still primary, blog. It's the place where the referenced post can be found.

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