Strong opinions, weakly held

Finding meaning in neuroscience

Here’s another article that gets at what I found interesting about the Steve Jobs piece I linked to yesterday. In this one, David Brooks (not that David Brooks) writes in the New Yorker about What the science of human nature can teach us. The piece is the biography of one hypothetical person as seen through the eyes of neuroscience.

In it, a hypothetical neuroscientist tells the hypothetical subject of the article how he finds meaning in life through his scientific view of the world:

I guess I used to think of myself as a lone agent, who made certain choices and established certain alliances with colleagues and friends. Now, though, I see things differently. I believe we inherit a great river of knowledge, a flow of patterns coming from many sources. The information that comes from deep in the evolutionary past we call genetics. The information passed along from hundreds of years ago we call culture. The information passed along from decades ago we call family, and the information offered months ago we call education. But it is all information that flows through us. The brain is adapted to the river of knowledge and exists only as a creature in that river. Our thoughts are profoundly molded by this long historic flow, and none of us exists, self-made, in isolation from it.

The article is sort of a slog up to that point, but I enjoyed the end.

Update: It is that David Brooks. I almost regret linking to the article now. And yeah, I agree with the linked blog post here that the stuff about the Composure Class at the beginning is just completely stupid. I almost gave up on the article early on due to sheer annoyance.

Further update: Apparently David Brooks has written a whole book on the Composure Class. The day that I linked to this article is one that will live in infamy.


  1. Are you sure it’s not that David Brooks?

  2. I tried to figure it out and had thought not, but maybe I’m wrong.

  3. I am completely wrong, it is the same David Brooks:


  4. yeah, you can tell by the level of insight. this is like evolutionary psychology exploding and smattering everyone in the viscinity with crap. so painful (and such bad writing that it had to be that David Brooks or the New Yorker would never have taken it!)…

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