Will neuroscience make humans machines

Will neuroscience make us machines?

Cognitivism is not without ulterior motives, since it starts from the postulate that thought can be reduced to the processing of information and that cerebral imagery allows empirical observation of its functioning.

It is essential in a modern country that educational decisions are informed by science. When we talk about sciences, we don’t mean the human sciences (psychology, sociology, ethnology, etc.), the very ones that we regularly accuse of cultivating a culture of excuse, but the cognitive sciences.

The new world that we are presented with, in which the politician is interested in artificial intelligence, neuroscience and the contribution of digital technologies, is in fact not that new. Beyond the obvious economic objectives, a scientist ideology is at work which assimilates politics to a management of human stocks and flows, and the individual to his single brain mechanism.

The inexistence of the soul

Make no mistake: cognitive science, no more than genetics or any other scientific discipline, is not bad in itself. They are actually heirs of a very long philosophical tradition, which starts from ancient atomism and which passes through the materialist monism of the Enlightenment.

The brain is the common center where all the nerves spread in all parts of the human body come to merge. It is with the help of this internal organ that all the operations that are attributed to the soul are carried out. These are impressions, changes, emotions, movements communicated to the nerves which modify the brain.

Consequently it reacts, and involves the organs of the body, or else it acts on itself and becomes capable of producing within its own enclosure a great variety of movements, which we have designated under the name of intellectual faculties.

The idea is simple: the soul, invisible, intangible and immortal principle of life and thought, does not exist independently of the body, is nothing other than the name that we give to certain bodily functions, that we have long known to associate with brain functions. In a society where religion played a very large role, this idea was revolutionary.

But the Enlightenment, which saw the triumph of science and technology as the liberation of humanity, also gave birth to monsters of eugenics and racism in the 19th century. Indeed, from the moment when we affirm that science can and must improve man, there is only one step to take to justify that we get rid of everything that harms this improvement in the name of medical and hygienic principles. This is the lesson that advocates of cognitivism should think about today.

The illusion of neutrality

There is a fundamental lesson in epistemology: neutrality in the sciences is an illusion. All the more so when the researcher puts himself at the service of political power, or of the production system. The application of neuroscience in education has already had indeed the massive prescription of Ritalin to calm hyperactivity, to the great happiness of pharmaceutical laboratories.

Again, nothing new under the sun: this way of relying on expertise to endorse anything and everything is characteristic of Taylorism, which assumes that the worker must rely on a man more used to discover laws than him, to develop them and to instruct him to work in accordance with these laws.

The scientific organization of work theorized by Taylor imposes a division between those who order (who give orders and who think about procedures) and those who execute; between the head and the arms, in short. It is therefore not surprising that it can be replaced by a machine. Or better yet: let it itself become a machine.

Towards the human-machine

Replaced in the broader process of Taylorization of existence, it is not surprising that it is the explanatory model of cognitive science that is riding high.

Cognitivism is not without ulterior motives, since it starts from the postulate that thought can be reduced to the processing of information and that cerebral imagery allows empirical observation of its functioning.

In other words, if we submit information to it, we will see it execute a movement. The brain works like a computer (hence the current weight of artificial intelligence: if the brain works like a computer, then a computer can work like a brain), but also like … a worker!

Man is thus reduced to a complex machine without dreams, on which any manipulation aimed at increasing its performance would be justified.

And for everything that we cannot improve, we will use machines. The smart car will help reduce road accidents (once it doesn’t cause them anymore), because humans are decidedly too weak and too unpredictable to drive a car on their own.

Robots will perform all medical procedures, because health is nothing more than a mechanical matter. MOOCs will easily replace teachers, since an effective class alternates, every day, periods of explicit teaching and periods of checking knowledge.

Finally, the new world where politics and business make massive use of cognitive sciences (as well as artificial intelligence and the algorithms that they allow to develop) wants to tend towards a world without roughness, without problems, without conflicts; where technical and scientific progress leads us to the path of happiness.