Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Live Science places the mind-body connection at number ten on its list of unexplained phenomena. Number one is the Taos Hum, which is just stupid. How body produces mind is, of course, the most important unexplained phenomenon because, unlike all the others, we have now idea how it might be explained. This was the point I was making in my book review at the weekend and which was so brilliantly and entertainingly described by Jerry Fodor.
Anyway - bear with me, this will make sense in the end - we seem to have found a suicide gene. Past experience suggests this claim will be swiftly withdrawn. But the point is the form of the thought. An amino acid called glutamate is said to be involved in the creation of suicidal thoughts. Meanwhile, the professional sceptic James Randi has offered a prize of $1 million to anybody who can show that $7,250 speaker cables are any better than cables costing $80. Randi usually exposes claims about paranormal phenomena. The implication here, therefore, is that audiophiles who claim to hear a difference are victims of the same kind of deluded hysteria that makes people believe in aliens, ghost, out of body experiences and so on. Finally, here is an interesting discussion on the authority of the critic. Ronan McDonald points out that traditional critics who might aspire to teach their readers have lost power to the new critics who simply find things they believe their readers will like. This issue is also raised by this muddled piece about the Turner Prize.
All of these stories are evidence of a struggle within the contemporary imagination about the nature of reality or, to put it another way, about the objective status of mind. Is a thought about suicide reducible to the effects of a single chemical? Is the audiophile really hearing or difference - in which case what can it mean to say he is deluded? - or simply lying? He may be enoying the benefits of something like the placebo effect, which, as we know, is objectively effective. And does authority play any role in our reaction to art or can we only rely on our untutored, subjective judgment, of our mind?
These are all, in fact, the same story.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:19 am