A comment on a blog post by Steve Ramirez, a neuroscientist (http://okaysteve.wordpress.com/2010/09/09/i-dont-know-so-maybe-im-not):
The main difference between Matt Segall and myself, is that he may, as you say, labor under a misunderstanding of the current accomplishments of neuroscience, while I must admit, not just to misunderstanding, but to ignorance. I do not grasp neuroscience, therefore I am an ignoramus (Latin, actually first-person plural, meaning “we are unaware”). Yet I know a few things, enough to know my ignorance and to question convictions and certitudes, mine and your own, which, pardon my bluntness, are more dogmatic than scientific.
You, Steve, set out to “convince” Matt and your other readers “that neuroscientist’s [sic] are actually doing a fantastic job at figuring out the nitty gritty of consciousness, that it resides solely in the brain, and that it can be explained solely through brain activity.”
I shall indeed take the time to read some of the sources that you indicate, and perhaps they will dispel some of the clouds of ignorance that obfuscate my awareness. In the meantime, I do perceive, in this trying to “convince” people, the evangelical posture of an ardent believer in the fantastic job and the current doing of it. But were I a scientist, I should not be so confident that the job has already been done, and that neuroscience has reached the point at which one can employ the most unscientific of adverbs, “solely”: solely in the brain, solely through brain activity.
Science, in my modest understanding, speaks the language of mathematics; scientific knowledge gives us quantities, not qualities. I only ask the scientist not to deny to the knowledge of qualities the title of true knowledge, especially in three areas that are of particular interest to me: music, love, and mysticism. Set aside the third, if you wish, but leave me at least music.
A developing area of study is that of musical cognition, and here neuroscience and evolutionary biology can shed amazing light on the musical experience. Human musical expression has evolved enormously, alongside science and often in dialogue with it. I cannot say that the music of Bach and Mozart is “better” than that of Toru Takemitsu and Sofia Gubaidulina (two favorites of mine), but certainly the music of the latter two has “evolved” in complexity/consciousness from the earlier maestros.
Gubaidulina’s concertos show their debt to Mozart’s perfection of musical form; she sometimes quotes Bach. Yet she speaks a musical language that addresses my membership in twenty-first-century humanity, although I cannot tell how this is so. I can analyze her forms and her counterpoint (music has, after all, strong affinities with mathematics); you could analyze the firing of my neurons with her music in my ears. But a way of knowing is there for me, which neither my formal analysis nor your brain scans can pin down.
There is an endless excess in human knowing to which scientific measurement can never mark an end-point. All knowledge is approximate; scientists elude this messiness of human knowing and the fuzziness of human logic by reducing observed data to number. I know that “fuzzy logic” is being studied by computer scientists; I am vaguely aware of chaos theory. But both disciplines still need the math.
Music has its math side, like all knowing, but it has another and ultimately inexplicable side that will never be reduced to numbers because it is constantly expanding (I don’t say, “progressing”). Gubaidulina’s struggle with the interactions of tempered and non-tempered tuning (e.g., her recent orchestral work “Light at the End”) starts with Herz-numbers (cycles per second) but takes us into a realm that is numberless and that corresponds with the “potential infinity” of human consciousness, while suggesting that another music, now being written or yet to be written, will go beyond hers, great as it is.