Thursday, December 30, 2010

Noë on Why we think we are our brain 2

Despite having learned so much about the anatomy and physiology of the human brain in the last century, we don’t actually have a better account of how consciousness and cognition arise in the brain than it arises out of immaterial soul-stuff.
This last claim is not controversial, not really. But then why are we so certain, as a scientific and as a popular culture, that the secrets to our nature lie inside us, in the brain?
Answer: We can’t imagine an alternative to this “you are your brain” idea that does not end up giving up on science. Either you are your brain, or you are a mystery.
Why are we so certain that the secret to our nature lies in the brain?  Roughly, the leg doesn't matter because you are still present when you break your leg or your leg is amputated.  Same for arm, left lung, right lung, heart, etc.  Much of this would be evident from observing the effects of injuries.  In the 20th Century, this common sense has been supported by experiments with neuromuscular blockade in which mental life is surprisingly stable, despite essentially complete bodily incapacitation.  That seems to me to be a start on at least a solid (albeit defeasible) basis for thinking that you are your brain, even not the basis of some certainty

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