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The Brain and the Meaning of Life 10: Making Sense of it All

09/22/2012

Connections Made
Sums up all the arguments of the prior 9 chapters.

I have no doubt that the human brain evolved by natural selection, but available evidence does not particularly well support claims commonly made by proponents of evolutionary psychology that the brain is a collection of special-purpose innate modules such as ones for language and social behavior (2734).

Wisdom Gained
Thagard argues that the conclusions that he’s made do not warrant loss of hope, just a change of perspective, like learning that we are one animal among many, or not the center of the universe.

If you can develop confidence that moderately successful pursuit of love, work, and play will satisfy your vital needs for relatedness, competence, and autonomy, then you shouldn’t need the religious belief that God is looking out for you or the spiritual belief that everything happens for a reason (2753).

Note: It would be nice to see a critique of religious “sources” of meaning, instead of this tacit acceptance that they are workable. It would help underscore Thagard’s contrast. I also think some may come away from the book thinking that theistic morality works, or that theistic views of meaning are coherent. I don’t think we ought to cede ground on that.

What Kind of Government Should Countries Have?

The countries with highest subjective well-being include Mexico, Denmark, Columbia, Ireland, Iceland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, and Austria. Looking at the countries on both lists, we might reasonably conjecture that the currently available form of government most conducive to satisfaction of human needs consists of a liberal democracy operating in a capitalist economic system with substantial state support for education, health care, and other egalitarian social requirements (2785).

How Can Creative Change be Produced?

What is Mathematical Knowledge?
Thagards view of math is that it is a fiction, but one which is helpful in describing the world. It is made up, and given rules that must be consistent.

Why is There Something Rather and Not Nothing?
Thagard tries to go one further than the big bang theory, appealing to Neil Turok on brane theory, where the universe is somehow eternal, and comes into and out of existence. Really, I don’t feel this is necessary to rule out God as a likely example, given the historical failure of agent based explanations. It also opens things up to the next people to ask where the “branes” came from, and so on, ad infinitum.

The Future of Wisdom?

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