Babette Babich on R. S. Bakker

Bakker’s “Blind Brain Theory” is simply and quietly set aside as irrelevant, not needing a critique. What is retained is the pleasure and excitement of reading Bakker’s science fiction, which is truly marvelous. Bakker’s intelectual contribution is in the articulation of a “sensibility” rather than a theory. Contrary to what many a naive aficionando may think, there is no “blind brain theory”. There is a brain sensibility, and Bakker is both passionate and passionately convincing about the importance of recent findings in cognitive science and brain studies. There is also a theoretical sensibility, and there, despite the interest of what he has to say on his own account, Bakker stands condemned for dogmatic bravura and ignorant demagogy in his remarks on rival projects. If Bakker had been content to say: “there is all this stuff about the brain, it’s incredibly interesting and important”, he would have been an amazing force for thinking anew. Instead we are faced with diatribes about how everyone else gets it wrong, and how his “theory” gets it right. Unfortunately, there is no “theory”, and Bakker has no idea about how to go about elaborating one. He strives merely to create the impression that he has a theory.

As usual for her, Babette Babich puts the emphasis on the positive in discussing Bakker’s oeuvre, but there is not the slightest doubt: she rejects all these dogmatic pretentions as ridiculous, and treats them as unworthy of comment. I think many people are in the same case: we admire the science fiction, and we are inspired by Bakker’s philosophical passion and his neuro-sensibility, but we reject his “philosophy is dead” diatribes. I don’t think one has to subscribe to Bakkerism to enjoy the fiction and to be stimulated by his non-fiction. One can only insist that Bakker is a great writer, and agree with Babich: “The philosopher in me … prefers Bakker sheerly for the fun of it. “

synthetic zero

“Reading Bakker was the first and the only time I have cottoned to an Aristotelian telos since I learned as a young biology student that all, but all talk of thinking of purpose was out of place in a well-designed or even mediocre-minded lab experiment. I left the field owing to my sensitivity to the contradictions of studying beings by and through heartlessness and not the exclusion of purpose or end from the biological sciences.
What bothered me, then, sorry to reminisce but it matters to the point: was perfusion, using the animal’s own heart to pump out its blood, replacing its blood with colored plastics, the better to see anatomical details — the advances in science mean that now the same technique is used to render the mouse a translucent jelly of itself, to the same end using the same mindless cruelty. Or the moronicism of the questions in…

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