A conversation with gerburg treusch-dieter about neuroscience in the field of tension between enlightenment and religion
In the current debate about brain research, cultural-historical backgrounds are rarely illuminated. In an interview with telepolis, cultural scientist gerburg treusch-dieter explains the religious and historical roots of the question of "free will" (it is not man who murders, but his brain). Starting from the construction of the christian hereditary knowledge, she describes the connection of neuroscience to the enlightenment critique of religion and raises the question of whether priestly positions are continued today with the means of modern science.
What is the cultural-historical tradition of the assertion of various brain researchers that free will is an illusion, that the nature of the brain determines our behavior?? Gerburg treusch-dieter: the discussion about "free will" in the occident is in the tradition of the christian religion, which from its old testament root formulates the question of free will in such a way that it establishes a fundamental contradiction: how can a being, which obviously begets itself, be subjected to the fact that it is created by a god whose will it is supposed to obey? This contradictoriness was constructed in the erbsunde as follows: man who begets himself, sexually begets, is considered to be sinful and unfree; but since he is also created by god at the same time, he is free to change this state of nature, and to do so by means of religion and by aligning himself with the decisive instance god. I think this is an interesting construction, because there is a self-transcendence in it: i can loosen myself from determinations with the help of religion. In the construction of the erbsunde, an attempt is made to overcome the dependencies that are, so to speak, inherent in us "by nature" by nature, in that there is a reference to the counterpoint of religion, which allows me a freedom in dealing with myself. This freedom is however at the same time again a being subject to. Man should orient himself to the one who gave him this freedom – to god, that is, to the creator who created him. And this paradox cannot be resolved. This complicated dialectic, which is very many-faced and is formulated by augustine as the first one who makes a consistent interpretation of the christian moral doctrine, this complicated dialectic is dissolved in brain research with a wave of the hand. If the brain only pretends us an ego-instance, then the construction of the free will, as it is present in the erbsunde, is abolished with it. For this is based on the possibility of the "i know what is good and evil". This is the basic joke of the matter. When brain research claims that human behavior is predetermined by brain processes, it actually wants to free us from the promise of freedom that is inherent in the erbsunde? Gerburg treusch-dieter: yes, in this point brain research stands in a clarifying tradition. The enlightenment, as a critique of religion, has fundamentally resisted this dialectic of inheritance. A half-free, half-unfree will, what is that?? Either it can do everything. That would be the idealistic position. Or, conversely, the determinism of nature is introduced by the materialistic explanation. Nature is thus set against the creator. We simply invoke what has always been denied in creation, nature. And this determinism by nature, which man can get a grip on, is then built up as a new promise of freedom? Gerburg treusch-dieter: it seems to be a liberation from the dialectical entanglement of hereditary knowledge, to bring the determinacy of nature into the field against it. Thus, the efforts of neuroscience are in a coarser tradition of modern natural science, which in a certain way introduces the counter-victim, which, according to the tendency, also leads to darwin’s investigations. Darwin is a materialistic enlightener and it has no sense to heresy him in such a way as if he had brought the evil again by a determinism of the evolution. The nature is not determined with him, the evolution is incomplete. By invoking nature by him and other representatives of the enlightenment as a counter-sacrifice, it appears as freedom that one is both determined and not determined by it: infinite in one’s own finiteness. One invokes nature and begins to examine it, to justify man by it, to give him an origin of his own. But then the whole thing turned around: darwin, the fighter against throne and altar, appears as the one who pushed man anew into the abyss of his own holle. A reversal to keep in mind.
The blind spot of brain research
how is the role of gender changing in the wake of this enlightenment self-divinization of humanity? Gerburg treusch-dieter: the sex was the point of reference for the man of the erbsunde in his dependence on nature. By turning to god as the opposite pole that gives him freedom, he also had to detach himself from his gender. In the course of the enlightenment there is a paradigm shift from gender to brain. Since the man is now his own victim, he claims for himself the divine brain that created him within the dialectic of the original knowledge. The modern subject claims the objective reason of god now as subjective reason. This is connected with the detachment from this whole gender-bound construction of the original reason. But it is clear that the subjective reason has to get an objective quality again, otherwise it could not be law-giving. Brain researchers like franz joseph gall already tried to solve this problem at the beginning of the 19th century. Century, by measuring the brain. Man now claims for himself to be the brain of his world, which means to take over the divine brain. That is the crucial point. In the current debate about brain research, there is rarely any discussion about the methods used by the researchers. Is there a "blind spot" of brain research? Gerburg treusch-dieter: the brain, so it is said in the final effect, is a physiological function, which cannot explain itself, therefore it must be explained. Brain research, however, can only study the brain with the brain. But how should this "i think" be investigated without presupposing what is to be investigated in the first place?? And this brings us to the kantian paradox, that the mind only recognizes what it puts into the knowledge from the beginning. Well, i think that this is particularly striking in brain research, it puts this into practice "i think" what it wants to investigate first. Thereby the researched remains a thing in itself. It must remain alien to this research, to which it is not even accessible. And there is the border from the beginning, but it is denied. Brain research ventures into a realm, the realm of the brain, to which the genesis of cognition is attributed, but in doing so fundamentally renounces epistemology. This is the stupidity of this research. A further paradox consists in the fact that it examines from its tradition at the non-functioning, how the brain works. Franz joseph gall still ames that the "ego instance" is compelling for the brain. At the same time, however, he breaks it down into functions, all of which ultimately have a "non-ego" to the surface. He concludes from the non-existence to the existence. The lameness indicates that something has moved in this or that place, where now something is lamed. The functioning of the brain is thus read off from what is no longer functioning. Highly controversial is also the role of imaging techniques that suggest to be able to watch the brain thinking. Does this research make a qualitative leap in contrast to earlier methods?? Gerburg treusch-dieter: at the moment, brain research is trying to give itself a glamour with all the means of natural scientific investigation, but these are only the means. Contrast fluency, which shows coloration in photographic or cinematic processes, is fundamentally used in medicine, so what is new about it?? That is, this whole imaging can be refined naturally, but it continues actually only medical-diagnostic procedures, which were already there. On the one hand, with the help of these methods, brain research questions the religious promise of hereditary knowledge. On the other hand, does religion now return in the belief in modern life sciences?? Gerburg treusch-dieter: the simplification, which is now present, culminates in wolf singer’s sentence: "the arrogance of free will is now over." this is grotesquely the return of a priestly position. Implicitly, the chastisement rod is swung, according to the motto: well, you pigs, you probably think you could afford promiscuous fucking as well as free thinking, but you have cut your finger. We now know how the brain works you think you could relate to, and from there we tell you what’s going on. And we tell you that as if we don’t speak the language of the priests, that is, we don’t do a re-enactment of religion. That is the decisive thing. They explicitly refer to the enlightenment, claim to continue the enlightenment, and actually accuse everyone who doubts this research of counter-enlightenment and of falling back into dull, stubborn religion. This pretense is doubly twisted in itself, because they betray both: the highly interesting dialectics of the erbsunde and the clarification that their critique had on this religious construction. And after this double betrayal they take in the most primitive and simplified way a priest-scientist-doctor position, which now thinks to be able to say in one sentence what has thousands of years of argument under its belt. They claim that all the questions that man has about himself, that he unwinds as tragedy or comody, that he develops within the framework of philosophies or works out within the framework of literature, pictures, art, but especially in questions of education, all this can now be radically removed from the table in one fell swoop. That is unbelievable. (fabian kroger)