Announcement Module

Skeptiko forums moved

The official forums of the Skeptiko podcast have moved to
As such, these forums are now closed for posting.
See more
See less

Charles Darwin: Loss of the Higher Asthetic Tastes Due to Habitual Reductionist and Analytical Thinking

Page Title Module
Move Remove Collapse
Conversation Detail Module
  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Charles Darwin: Loss of the Higher Asthetic Tastes Due to Habitual Reductionist and Analytical Thinking

    Does habitual reductionist and analytical thinking, (explaining phenomena in terms of simpler phenomena) cause the mind to become rigid and prevent it from accepting phenomena that are not susceptible to reductionist analysis? Is this why so many scientists are materialists? Psi and the afterlife cannot be explained or understood in the terms of modern science and are therefore not amenable to reductionist analysis. Do scientists develop a rigid mentality that prevents them from accepting phenomena that they cannot understand because of their scientific mental habits and theories?

    Originally posted by anonymous
    Belief in the afterlife is less prevalent now because science rejected it.

    There were several factors that led to it but the foremost was the adoption of philosophical naturalism. Because science was so successful in bringing out new technologies much of society converted to the scientific belief system. They replaced the old religions with Materialism and Scientism.
    Another factor, mentioned in the first link, is habitual reductionist thinking.

    It seems that Charles Darwin found that his work in science led him to lose his ability to appreciate poetry, art and music.

    Charles Darwin's Autobiography — Addendum

    I have said that in one respect my mind has changed during the last twenty or thirty years. Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds, such as the works of Milton, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley, gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost my taste for pictures or music. Music generally sets me thinking too energetically on what I have been at work on, instead of giving me pleasure. I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did. On the other hand, novels which are works of the imagination, though not of a very high order, have been for years a wonderful relief and pleasure to me, and I often bless all novelists. A surprising number have been read aloud to me, and I like all if moderately good, and if they do not end unhappily—against which a law ought to be passed. A novel, according to my taste, does not come into the first class unless it contains some person whom one can thoroughly love, and if a pretty woman all the better. Contents:

    This curious and lamentable loss of the higher æsthetic tastes is all the odder, as books on history, biographies, and travels (independently of any scientific facts which they may contain), and essays on all sorts of subjects interest me as much as ever they did. My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive. A man with a mind more highly organised or better constituted than mine, would not, I suppose, have thus suffered; and if I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept active through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.
    More here:
    Darwin’s adult neuroplasticity | SharpBrains
    Charles Darwin (1809–1882)‘s autobiography (full text free online) includes some very insightful refections on the evolution of his own mind during his middle-age, showcasing the power of the brain to rewire itself through experi*ence (neuroplasticity) during our whole lifetimes-not just when we are youngest.


    We have already discussed how “cells that fire together wire together”. The neurons and synapses that we use often grow over time; the ones we don’t use get weakened.  As it seems, Dar*win implicitly trained himself to develop a highly methodical and ana*lytical mindset, while, as he posits, not devoting enough time to other interests. Check out this paragraph (which precedes the previous two in the original text):

    If the loss of interest in poety is due to neuroplasticity as this excerpt suggests, neuroplasticity might also cause the brain to lose the ability to conceive of anything that is not congenial to its habitual ways of thinking. This might explain why so many scientists are materialist. Their habitual ways of thinking cannot account for psi or the afterlife so they are unable to accept the evidence psi or the evidence for the afterlife.
    Last edited by anonymous; February 13th, 2013, 02:32 PM.

  • #2
    Maintaining flexibility of thought is important in order to evaluate ideas. Perhaps some people lose their awareness of higher frequencies which includes psi-phenomena. What information we become accustomed to shapes our worldview.


    • #3
      The answer to the question at the top is yes. Voltaire had similar experiences when immersing himself in science and mathematics.

      I can't say precisely why but it is something to do with explicitness. The meaning in poetry is almost entirely implicit. The very best poems leave much unsaid and leave a great deal up to the imagination - the very worst, much of what is published in the New Yorker, for example - are those that stray. Music is similarly impicit, but in its own way. Much (though far from all, Einstein being at least one notable exception) scientific thinking involves explicitness and clarity and analytic philosophers often boast about their own clarity, denigrating their opponents by weaseling them into the opposite position.

      Poetry, like life, is not like that.