As I mentioned in my last post, things haven't gone particularly well for me recently. As part of an attempt to ease myself back into the hustle and bustle of not feeling shut down, I picked up one of the popular science books on my shelf that I have been meaning to read for over a year now: Synaptic Self by Joseph LeDoux. It didn't hold my attention for long for a variety of reasons (some of them not entirely its fault), but one thing that quite bothered me about LeDoux's style was his habitual grouping of human beings in one set and all other animals in another. Such a species-centric view is quite widespread within general discourse, but it is also unfortunately rife within the field of neuroscience where there really is no excuse. As far as I can tell, it is a carry-over from the western theistic philosophers (Descartes and his ilk) that continues to pervade our thinking for no good reason. In the same way that angry evolution-deniers splutter indignantly that their ancestors "weren't no ape", there seems to be a general antipathy toward the suggestion that human beings share their realm of cognitive functions with other animal species.
The reason such an attitude bothers me more when it comes from a neuroscientist than a layman (though it still irks me coming from those without a neuroscience background) is because your average neuroscientist really ought to know better. The vast majority of our knowledge of neurophysiology comes from non-human species which we then extrapolate to ourselves. For example, we know more about the visual cortex of the macaque monkey than we do about the human visual cortex. For such an extrapolation to work, however, we must necessarily share the same domain as those species from which we take our starting data. Of course there are cognitive differences between species, but I think the quintessential human ingredient, the nature of humanity if you will, that people have been searching for in literature and the sciences for centuries only exists if one is willing to attach reams and reams of caveats, addendums, and qualifications. Claiming sole ownership of an ethereal conscious soul that imparts a whole new level of cognitive function for the human race is quite simply unsupported specieistic bullshit.
I could go on at length about this topic, and I am actually fairly surprised I have not mentioned it before since it is something that has been on my mind since the very beginning of this blog (my selected internet pseudonym, after all, is intended as a somewhat sarcastic allusion (hidden within the Russian language) to the apparent love affair a predominant number of neuroscientists seem to have with the human brain). Despite the temptation to ramble on, however, I really should be studying tonight, so I am going to end my rant here. I will most likely pick it up again in the future, particularly if readers take exception to any of the unqualified vitriol I have haphazardly spewed here (for example, I know a lot of people seem to hold Descartes in quite high esteem). In the nature of full disclosure, I did make up the word specieistic, and I apologize for my unimaginative cussing. It may still be a while before I am back to my usual self, so my writing for the next little while might be a little cumbersome.
Note: This discussion was subsequently expanded upon here.