Saturday, November 17, 2012

A note to To The Best of Our Knowledge


I listen to at least part of your show each Saturday and enjoy especially the challenging subjects you tackle and the eminent guests you talk to.

I would like to share a couple of thoughts, particularly on listening to your interviews with Daniel Levitin and Michael Gazzaniga. 

Mr. Levitin's account of some of the most complex human experiences, those having to do with music, seemed a bit lightweight.  I don’t know if he was going for concision or brevity or dumbing things down a bit.  The brain science he described seemed reductive.  But more unsatisfying was his attempt to account for musical experience, one of the most profound and ineffable phenomena we know of, in terms of physiology, and more broadly from a purely materialist perspective.  His discussion of “Superstition” was so superficial that I wasn’t sure what he was talking about.  (Not to mention the thwacks in “Tell Me Something Good” are from a clavinet, not a guitar.)

Mr. Gazzaniga failed to answer the basic questions posed by the host and by his book’s title.   This is part of a broader difficulty. The topics each week on TTBOOK are tantalizing as are the introductions and questions posed by the hosts.  The question of what consciousness is, where it comes from etc., seems to come up a fair bit, but we always seem to hear the same non-answers.  There is a preponderance of guests on TTBOOK that are really sold on the materialist fallacy.  They sometimes seem like caricatures of the arrogant scientists of yore, the ones who brought us phrenology, DDT, the atom bomb, and the promise of food in pill form.  I’m very ok with hearing from materialists, but I hardly ever hear perspectives from people who at least acknowledge mystery and the problems with materialism, let alone that accept or describe a spiritual reality.

 A vast majority of our species have explained consciousness as proceeding from a spirit or soul that animates the body, and departs with death, leaving the body lifeless.  This concept has never been convincingly challenged.  Other concepts of metaphysics vary greatly from culture to culture and from era to era, but this seems to be almost a universal.

I fear arrogance of any kind.  I also fear purely mechanistic explanations of human individuals or groups.  Obviously the material world is the sphere of science, but I think scientizing such things as consciousness, free will, and aesthetic experience, without at least acknowledging limitations is problematic.


Christian Asplund
Associate Professor
School of Music
Brigham Young University