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You dont' have to apologize for Penrose to me - I dig him. He was the first person I read who ever made me feel as though I understood quantum mechanics. It was SHADOWS OF THE MIND, a really enjoyable book, by the way, especially for science fiction fans.
We were discussing Penrose briefly a few months ago, with our occasional visitor strangelet. My view is that he might have an insight into the most irreducible and fundamental mechanics of thinking (mentation?), but that the mechanics wouldn't be quite the same thing as the formation and enunciation of thoughts and concepts. For that I'm still partial to a society of mind/hyper-accelerated evolution model, though I'm still thinking through for myself (by some mysterious process) how the possible deficiencies in Darwinian natural selection might affect my picture of it.
As for conservative views, one approach would be to drop a level down, and think of the mind as a free market economy, exploiting "market" signals and spontaneous order. There would be an appeal to more traditional conservative views about society that would work here, too. As I think about it - and the society of mind - I'm wondering if there is any general statement about politics that one couldn't equally apply to the functioning of the mind. Will reflect on it as I got about my affairs.
Count me as a skeptic of the notion that neuroscience can solve the fundamental questions of consciousness from within neuroscience. It can only ever describe organic mechanisms for the production or reception of ideas and things. The idea as idea and thing as thing are beyond its purview, because neuroscience itself is an idea about things. It would need to exceed itself, and at that moment cease being neuroscience, to grasp its own concept, and the paradox would apply just as much to the perhaps broader idea of "cognitive science," which can teach us lots of things, but runs up against the limits of language and philosophy and philosophy of language and the languages of philosophy, and so can't ever quite tell us us what cognitive science is.
This problem is well-known, of course, including by you, clearly. I do wonder why and how free will exactly matters to neuroscientists, and whether any of their investigations take us very far beyond the "cognitive science" of the great and disagreeable philosophers who've been practicing the science without a license since forever.
Odd how these exchanges are tracing over material, including the original "immanentize the eschaton" essay, which I just happened to grab this last week.
A little bit of static there, but I get the point, and I agree that Obamist neo-progressivism is a lot more Spirit of '76 than Spirit of '87 in the sense of the above discussion - or would be if it was coherent. More later.
@ Rex Caruthers:
Not sure the Russian dream is done. As for us, I think it's questionable whether the U.S. would survive the death of the idea of the U.S., in any recognizable form.
Rex Caruthers wrote:
If we are going to salvage our empire,or our nation,(we have to choose which)we have to do that with our Reason and Intelligence, not some fantasy of Predestination,Divine Right or Manifest Destiny.
I'd say we need to do it, and re-do it, with our acts, not our abstractions - immanentize the ol' eschaton. As for being "special" or "exceptional," the proof is also ever only immanent. We know ourselves by our works, the reach that exceeds whatever intellectual grasp. The "fantasies" you deride were also dreams of Reason and Intelligence. You can declare them monstrous, but any such declaration, reified, is just another monster being born.