A malign modern myth of meaningness: cognitive “science”

This page is unfinished. It may be a mere placeholder in the book outline. Or, the text below (if any) may be a summary, or a discussion of what the page will say, or a partial or rough draft.

The climax of “Perfection Salad” made fun of “cognitive science.” I dismissed it as a pseudo-science that had twisted our understanding of what people are like. That was in 1988, when people still took it seriously. In the 2014 epilogue, I asked: “Has our understanding of ourselves recovered?”

The short answer, unfortunately, is “no.” The reason is that the delusions of cognitive “science” were transferred to neuroscience, which has continued to propagate the same wrong ideas into mass culture.

“Perfection Salad” was written for an audience of cognitive scientists, just at the time it was becoming obvious that the field had failed. My readers understood the issues in detail, and could see, as they were reading about cupcake recipes, how I was satirizing their discipline. Readers of Meaningness won’t have that background, so I will fill in some explanation here.

However, I can sketch only briefly the cognitivist conception of people and why it is wrong. The background concepts needed to explain exactly what’s wrong come only later in this book. So I won’t try persuade you if you accept those ideas currently.

Instead, this page will explain something of why those ideas matter, where they came from, how and why they traveled from philosophy to cognitive science to neuroscience, and the damage they do.

The “damage” section takes as an example Sam Harris’s justification for America’s wars in the Middle East, supposedly based on cognitive neuroscience as applied to Muslims. I take no position here on those wars. However, his ideas about how Muslim “beliefs” causally result in violence are ludicrous and harmful.