Thursday, January 12, 2006

Nomadic reflections

Gary continues his discussion of vitalist vs. mechanistic conceptions of life science, kicking it off with Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent's critique of nanotech biomimetism, from which the following paragraph is taken:

Self-assembly presupposes that the instructions for assembly are integral to the material components themselves or that they are embedded in their relations. Matter can no longer be viewed as a passive receptacle upon which information is imprinted from the outside because self-assembly rests on spontaneous reactions between materials. Molecules have an inherent activity, an intrinsic dynamis allowing the construction of a variety of geometrical shapes (helix, spiral, etc.). It is not an obscure and mysterious vital force, a breath, or animus that would come from the outside to give life to inanimate matter. It is more like Claude Bernard’s inner force guiding phenomena generated by physico-chemical causes. But ironically, it is the reductionist approach of molecular biology – the understanding of the mechanisms of molecular recognition as well as the process of morphogenesis – that eventually allowed chemists to develop such emergentist views of molecular architectures.

I should have said yesterday that Strapp's idea regarding nonhuman ideas, was remarkable to me not in itself, but for its being the considered idea of a committed materialist. I must say, though, that in reading Bensaude-Vincent's critique, the word "dynamis" jumped out at me. Does that truly describe a more empirical, less metaphysical reality than anima? Lyotard's "Anima Minima" (in Postmodern Fables) gives us the notion of a soul existed by the sensible, which may be ameniable to a hyletics, but if this is the direction quantum physics is going in, it looks to be an interesting third millenium indeed.

In another corner of the sphere, Thomas Nadelhoffer has stumbled across an article on mirror neurons, which introduced me to the work of neuropsychiatrist Marco Iacoboni. Here is the abstract to his Understanding others: imitation, language, empathy (pdf):

Brain imaging techniques allow the mapping of cognitive functions onto neural systems, but also the understanding of mechanisms of human behavior. In a series of imaging studies we have described a minimal neural architecture for imitation. This architecture comprises a brain region that codes an early visual description of the action to be imitated, a second region that codes the detailed motor specification of the action to be copied, and a third region that codes the goal of the imitated action. Neural signals predicting the sensory consequences of the planned imitative action are sent back to the brain region coding the early visual description of the imitated action, for monitoring purposes ("my planned action is like the one I have just seen"). The three brain regions forming this minimal neural architecture belong to a part of the cerebral called perisylvian, a critical cortical region for language. This suggests that the neural mechanisms implementing imitation are also used for other forms of human communication, such as language. Indeed, imaging data on warping of chimpanzee brains onto human brains indicate that the largest expansion between the two species is perisylvian. Functional similarities between the structure of actions and the structure of language as it unfolds during conversation reinforce this notion. Additional data suggest also that empathy occurs via the minimal neural architecture for imitation interacting with regions of the brain relevant to emotion. All in all, we come to understand others via imitation, and imitation shares functional mechanisms with language and empathy.

And what would the quantum life scientist say of the architectonic? Has dialectic become so jejune one simply doesn't admit to thinking it? Just wondering.

posted by Fido the Yak at 10:30 AM.


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