Craft and Theoretical Knowledge in Neuroscientific Terms, David E. Schmitt, Ph.D.
Presented at The International Society of MacIntyrean Enquiry, Grand Rapids, Michigan, July 27, 2013
In Dependent, Rational Animals, Alasdair MacIntyre facilitates the elaboration of a mutually workable scientific and philosophical paradigm founded in human animality. This framework employs a brain-bodied human animal interacting with the environment (MacIntyre, 1999). MacIntyre proposes that acknowledged dependency and skills of practical reasoning are virtues that serve both personal and common ends of flourishing. Recently, I argued for a Thomistic neuroscience (Schmitt, 2013). Key elements of my proposal are the hylemorphic brain; the neurophysical phantasm (most certainly grounded in the quantum nature of physical reality); sensory and motor channels interconnecting mutual, but asymmetrical, regulatory centers of the brain and the body-environment; and, though not embraced by physicalist aquinians (Freeman, 1999; Murphy, 2006), an interaction of the neurophantasm with a non-material intellect via a hylemorphic, form-form bridge that circumvents the difficulties of various categorical dualisms. A non-material, informational Cosmos all the way down (and up) is assumed (Sayre, 1976; Davies & Gregersen, 2010). Two modes of influencing the informational, feedback couplet of the neurophantasm and the body-environment, are the acquisition of craft knowledge (techne) and theoretical knowledge (episteme). This inquiry into craft knowledge and neural activity began with an anecdotal claim that astronomical artists perceive and draw images previously unknown to photographic astronomers and more casual telescopic observers. Still in the verification process, this hypothesized phenomenon suggests a possible long-term central mechanism whereby non-conscious perceptions are accumulated and are presented to the consciousness of the focused observer in the form of a neurophantasm after a significant delay, but earlier than—if at all–for casual observers. This would be distinguishable from familiar instances of non-conscious perception that operate on essentially immediate, temporal scales. If such a long-term modification of neural activity is verified, there may be important implications for understanding craft behavior in neurophysiological terms. The slow acquisition of craft, its ineffable and non-formulaic quality, as well as its typical requirement for sensorimotor, iterative and experimental manipulation of the body-environment may become biologically understandable. There is recent interest in highlighting the motor centers as the conceptual loci of experience (Freeman, 1999; and Llinas, 2001). Non-conscious and conscious perception differ not in degree, but in kind (Merikle & Daneman, in Gazzaniga, 2000). Thus, it may be at the combined and interacting levels non-conscious activities of both sensory feature analysis and pre-motor composition of intended action on the one hand, and conscious reduction of the neurophantasm to verbal, geometric and symbolic relationships on the other, that most corresponds to the dichotomy between craft and theoretical knowledge. For example, the bifurcation of the dorsal and ventral streams of the visual pathways may be relevant to this. The possible description of this fundamental, long-standing philosophical distinction of types of knowledge in the terms of neural architecture would have significance for discussions of economic and political theory, government, business management, psychotherapy, education, human performance, national security and seminary training. Thomism posits an intellect and will capable of apprehending final causes and executing efficient cause, respectively. The neurophantasm becomes the patient of a virtue-directed will that is preponderant over the manipulative actions from the body-environment, frequently deleterious to self and society. Each is charged with the care of his own neurophantasm (phronesis).