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Scientists Are Not Human

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“Most scientists today subscribe to a mechanistic view of the mind.  We’re the way we are because our brains are wired up in the way that they are…But we scientists are inconsistent.  If we were consistent, our response to a misbehaving person like a child murderer should be something like, ‘This unit has a faulty component, it needs repairing.'”  That’s not what we say.  What we say is, ‘vile monster, prison is too good for you.'” — Richard Dawkins

A Matter of Context

It’s not that scientists are inconsistent, it’s that they’re not human — when they are doing science.  When Dick refers to the child murderer as a unit with a faulty component, he is speaking from the point of view of the dispassionate observer.  From this point of view, we can talk about group dynamics, the evolution of moral sense and what role that played in our survival.

When Dick talks about the child murderer as a vile monster, he is reverting to being human.  Instead of the outside view looking in on the system of guilt and moral sense, he is inside the system, experiencing the dynamics of moral sense.

I remember watching Jill Bolte Taylor bring a real human brain on stage at TED.  My reaction was much like the audience’s — at first, there’s an uneasy, queasy feeling and resultant nervous laughter/gasp.  Then the “observer from above” kicks in and it’s just a brain, a bunch of matter that we’re studying — the person who inhabited that brain is long gone.  I experienced, as did many of the audience, a context shift from human to extra-human.

Looking at ourselves from the outside can be useful, because it is often difficult to solve problems from within.  We’ve all seen couples arguing and as the outsider, we can see what the problem is so clearly, but when it’s our turn, we are just as blind.  This doesn’t mean that we should always stay outside — the purpose of going outside is to enhance the experience inside.

He Said, She Said

The inside/outside split doesn’t only happen amongst scientists.  Consider the following two descriptions of Love:

Studies in neuroscience have involved chemicals that are present in the brain and might be involved when people experience love. These chemicals include: nerve growth factor, testosterone, estrogen, dopamine,norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin.  Adequate brain levels of testosterone seem important for both human male and female sexual behavior.  Dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin are more commonly found during the attraction phase of a relationship.  Oxytocin and vasopressin seemed to be more closely linked to long term bonding and relationships characterized by strong attachments. —Wikipedia


Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs,
Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers’ eyes,
Being vexed, a sea nourished with lovers’ tears.
What is it else? A madness most discreet,
A choking gall and a preserving sweet. —William Shakespeare

Both views are equally valid and useful in different ways.  At some point, we evolved a love emotion.  Further down the road, we evolved a capacity to not only feel the love emotion, but to understand it.  Sometimes this causes a clash, but it needn’t and shouldn’t.

These differing viewpoints are often a source of miscommunication between men and women.  Men tend to think scientifically whereas women tend to think emotionally/spiritually.  Men tend to read the literal content conveyed while women read the emotion they feel in reaction to the content.

Let’s say Jane tells John about how the heel broke off her shoe.  John tells her that he will fix it tomorrow, and to John, the conversation is done.  Jane, however, keeps talking about the heel and John starts to get annoyed.

John, the broken heel is not the problem at all.  She feels upset/disappointed about the heel and that is the problem.  Fixing the heel doesn’t fix that problem.  Sympathize with her and let her know that you feel what she feels — that will fix the problem.  I guess that’s why women get along so well with gay guys.  (You can’t say God doesn’t have a sense of humour.)  Just pretend you’re one of her gay friends, minus the Prada shoes.

Jane, when John gives a short answer, he’s not being unloving or insensitive.  He just wants to solve the goddamn problem — for you!  You just need to stop thinking with your vagina for a second.

Dilbert Relationships

The Atheist Crusade

Back to Dick.  What’s with him and his crusade against religion?  Isn’t a misunderstanding of the Universe inside somebody’s brain also a part of the Universe?  (I’m not saying that all religious thought is a misunderstanding of the Universe.  Dawkins actually speaks against the scientific misunderstandings of creationism, but then extends his argument against religious thought in general.)  As a scientist, shouldn’t that misunderstanding also be something to be studied?  He wouldn’t look under the microscope at a virus and yell at it for ruining people’s lives.  He wouldn’t debate a virus.  Instead, he studies them as part of the Universe.  But when it comes to religion, he doesn’t put his fellow humans under the microscope, to be studied as objects.  He is speaking to other humans, as a human.  So in some sense, his crusade is a form of respect, in spite of his aggressive agenda.

I’ve touched on this idea before in my post about dealing with stupid people.  The fact that we feel frustrated at stupid people means that we view them as human and want more out of them because we see that they can fulfill a greater potential.  Sometimes we facetiously (or sincerely) think “No, there is no hope for that dimwit”, but if this were true, we wouldn’t be as frustrated.  We don’t get mad at our toaster for not being able to drive a car, because we don’t expect it to.  But when it comes to other humans, somewhere inside we’re screaming, “Come on, you have a brain, I know you can do this, please just use your fucking brain!!!”

Dick’s crusade against religion is about him being human.  He fights for our mind as zealously as religions fight for our soul.  He fights for the future of humanity, for truth, and though he may not think of it this way, he also fights for Truth — which is exactly what religions fight for.  An anti-religionist might say that religions are fighting for power and control, or are just plain evil.  No doubt, some are.  But I do believe most religious people want to do the right thing, even if what they think is the right thing is different than what I think is the right thing.   Not all scientists are about the science either.  Some of them want to be famous, others want to create the ultimate sex doll, and yet others are just plain evil.

Reconciling the Inner with the Outer

We’ve been talking about the human view versus the extra-human view, but isn’t the ability to “see ourselves from a non-human point of view” also part of being human?  Humanity is constantly being redefined by us.  The moment we talk about us, we have changed.  And as we reach towards the outside, we are still bound to the inside.  Even though the outside view is dispassionate, we are still compelled to feel awe at what we discover.  I think that is where scientists become human again.  Dick, even when presenting his “outside view”, let a little of his humanity slip in.  He says that the unit has a “faulty” component.  A truly dispassionate view would have said the unit has a component that compels it to kill children, with no judgement as to whether that is good or bad.

We are extremely lucky to not only experience the Universe first hand, but to also have the intelligence to be competent directors of that experience.  Hopefully, we can be enlightened enough to herd ourselves in a harmonious direction, while at the same time not losing our ability to feel and “just be”.

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12 Responses to "Scientists Are Not Human"

  1. Lou says:

    reply me and lets see if your notification works! ^.^

    1. Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?

      1. Lou says:

        nope, I didn’t receive any notification leh.. 🙁
        wait, it’s in my junk, lemme add you and you reply again and see see la! reply me reply me~!

        1. WTF are you doing up so early?

          1. Lou says:

            wei I didn’t receive any notification wor! And I woke up at 4 smth am today 🙂

  2. Lou says:

    I didn’t receive any noticfication mail of your reply, not even in junk! and it didn’t allow me to reply your reply! I woke up at 4smth am today la, after sleeping 14 hours, hehe~

  3. Lou says:

    Why are YOU up so early?!

    1. Well I went to sleep at 3am and couldn’t sleep so I got up and started writing.

      This is funny, because I’m receive notifications from your comments…

      1. Lou says:

        I got it this time! Maybe it’s a replyn after a reply that I wouldn’t receive a notice?! Try to reply me with whatever and see if I got anything this time sin~!

          1. Lou says:


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