Brain Anatomy Diagram Human anatomy organs
Are you curious about the connection between human brain anatomy and our apprehension of ultimate reality?
Ontology is the study of reality. In the western philosophic tradition the central question of ontology is, “What kinds of entities are real?” Thinkers have answered that question in different ways; philosophers have proposed very different inventories. That itself invites a question, namely, “How should we explain why ontologists have divided reality in many different ways?”
(1) Part of the explanation is that they have had different conceptions of what it is to be an entity (to be real, to be existent). The central question of proto-ontology is, “What is an entity?” Since it makes little sense to give an inventory of the kinds of entities without first clarifying what it is to be an entity, proto-ontology is more fundamental than [logically prior to] ontology.
Panayot Butchvarov’s view, which I think correct, is that an entity is whatever is subject to at least one two-in-one (“material identity”) judgment. An object is anything “singleoutable,” anything you can notice or pay attention to by, for example, touching it or hallucinating it. an entity is multiply singleoutable. For example, the reality of this desk is that it may be singled out more than once (perhaps, my seeing it, my touching it, your seeing it, your touching it, and so on). The reality of this desk just is its being able to be singled out in multiple ways.
If so, the fundamental concept [principle of sorting] is two-in-one. Without ever taking two objects to be, in reality, one, there would be no intelligibility because we would be locked in a domain of ceaselessly new objects. There can be no understanding without such recurrence or re-identifiability.
(2) Part of the explanation is that they have also noticed different similarities and differences. They have generated different conceptual hierarchies by noting different qualities of different objects. Some thinkers are “lumpers” whereas others are “slicers.” Different philosophers have different intellectual temperaments.
Except, perhaps, for the terminology used here, neither of the first two parts of the explanation is controversial.
(3) It becomes much more dangerous to ask, “Does part of the explanation have to do with differences in brain anatomy?”
Using both invasive and noninvasive techniques, neuroscientists have been able to learn a lot about brain anatomy in recent decades. For example, function imaging (fMRI) enables real time visualization of the functioning of specific neurons.
A basic fact of brain anatomy is that human brains contain two cerebral hemispheres that, normally, work together. Although it is true that nearly all human evolution occurred prior to the Agricultural Revolution some 12,000 years ago and that the development of written language occurred much more recently than that, like the effects of our learning how to grow crops and domesticate other animals the effects of our ability to create and use verbal language changed our brains.
Our genes are nearly identical to those of our Pleistocene ancestors; the differences amount to less than one-tenth of one percent. (My speculation is that nearly all of the changes are due either to the consumption of different foods or to language development.)
Nevertheless, minor differences can be important. The differences in total DNA sequences between us humans and chimpanzees is very small (estimates I have seen range from six-tenths of one percent to 1.6 percent). Similarly, regardless of your age or sex, your genes are almost the same as mine: all humans share 99.99% of their genes. However, there are differences between us and other animals and differences among us that are important.
The two hemispheres of the human brain are normally integrated neuronally by the corpus callosum. (One way to study the different functions of the two hemispheres is simply to separate them by cutting the corpus callosum and observing what happens.) Hemispheric dominance is determined by which hemisphere functions to create and understand verbal language.
According to the neuroscientists, the right hemisphere uses pictures whereas the left uses details. The right focuses temporally on the present moment whereas the left processes information as past, present, and future. The right lacks a self concept whereas the left functions with a self concept. The right interprets nonverbal behavior whereas the left interprets verbal language and creates conceptual hierarchies. The right lumps whereas the left slices; in other words, THE RIGHT EMPHASIZES IDENTITY (SAMENESS) WHEREAS THE LEFT EMPHASIZES DIFFERENCE.
It may be, then, that those ontologists with a shorter inventory of kinds of existents have a brain anatomy with a more dominant right hemisphere and those with a longer inventory have a brain anatomy with a more dominant left hemisphere. [Compare homosexuals who are stimulated by sameness and heterosexuals who are stimulated by difference!]
However, even if it is true that to be real is to be identifiable or singleoutable in at least two ways, that means that reality is itself a concept because there are objects to which it is applicable and objects to which it is inapplicable. The domain of ultimate reality lies beyond reality and unreality, beyond being and nonbeing. [This is not the domain of bisexuality: it is beyond sexuality and asexuality.] While differences in brain anatomy may correlate to differences in preferred ontological inventories, what about ultimate reality itself?
Following Nagarjuna, I myself would argue that the concept of ultimate reality itself is empty. That, though, is a long story for another occasion.
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