I’m somewhat ambivalent about the New Atheists. On the one hand I fully support their rationalist critique of religion. On the other I think they largely miss the point: that the brain ‘constructs’ reality through developing explanatory narratives and that it really, really likes a good story. In fact we could almost say the brain is addicted to narrative and often prefers fiction to cold, hard facts: artifice vs science, artifice wins.
It seems to me that the balance lies in holding both worldviews simultaneously; in knowing truth from fiction, whilst being able to immerse oneself in the pleasure of narrative – from whence all art derives.
At first I found myself agreeing with Sam. I do think a science based ethics is possible and it should be based on a nuanced consequentialist justification.
I would change the objective of such an ethics from ‘well being’ to ‘achieving one’s highest potential’. It seems to me that the latter necessarily achieves ‘well being’ whilst ‘well being’ might easily be construed in a rather mediocre sense – it would be possible to settle for a vague sense of ‘well being’ that is rather less than one’s highest potential.
I also agree with him that neuroscience is revolutionising our understanding of the mind. My novel Wild Child is ultimately about how a brain can be wired quite differently (Bliss has synesthesia and some of Dobrowski’s Overexcitabilities).
I also agree that a new ethics must be based on the findings of neuroscience. However, as I continued I became more and more restless. I thought he began to meander. At first I thought it was just my ill disciplined attention span, but then I realised he was jumping around a bit: citing the findings of various psychologists and then jumping to settling an old score. I think this is a problem of attempting to write two books at once. Perhaps it would have been a better book if he had simply focused on the science.
Okay, now to the substantive criticisms.
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