Streams

Our Brains, Our Selves

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Patricia Churchland, professor emerita of philosophy at the University of California, San Diego and author of Touching a Nerve: The Self As Brain (W.W. Norton and Company, 2013), shares her theory that the 'self' is entirely derived from the brain - not from the soul or anything else.

The Morning Brief

Enter your email address and we’ll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.

Comments [23]

Ed from Larchmont

Descartes indeed didn't succeed fully in explaining how the soul and body interact. But that's because their relationship is not mechanical, but organic. Like a friendship, can't really model how the interaction goes.

The best a scientist could do would be to say - we can explain it seems how things happen by making reference to the brain without reference to the soul. But that doesn't imply that the soul doesn't exist (Okham's razor). The body is the person's interface with the physical world, the soul is the person's interface with God and the angels. Only man participates directly in both worlds. (I need to read more about this.)

Jul. 29 2013 05:50 AM
Margaret from UWS Manhattan

Identity and awareness aren't rooted in the brain, if people can see themselves from above during surgery, from a vantage point nobody else in the room has, as many have testified to. Their corroborating witnesses are doctors and nurses present at the time. You can call 'going down the tunnel' in near-death experiences the misfiring of neurons; but you can't tell me I haven't experienced premonitions of things I had no superficial practical knowledge of. Your disbelieving something true won't stop it being true.

Jul. 23 2013 05:42 PM

Allen2saint from NYC
Oh I get we have to shut up and take it while u brainwash others into your cult.
I don't think so.
We need to shine light on the lies.

Jul. 23 2013 12:22 PM
allen2saint from NYC

Hs,
I do not need to prove or validate my beliefs to anyone. The fear I sense in many of these conversations is from people like yourself, so baised and ignorant of modern religious thought, that you would prefer to label us as less then yourselves. Modern religious thinking, from any faith system, affirms science and also affirms the importance of the here and now. I'm a hospital chaplain and I work on a team with psychiatrists. None of us are trying to disparage each other on these teams. Only people, like yourself and the author, who proceed from a bias.

Jul. 23 2013 12:06 PM

Boo bl!!
A whole week on voodoo and myth and ten minutes on the brain
When is science week on the bl show schedule ?
Boo and hiss

Jul. 23 2013 12:02 PM

Worth noting that the brain is also taking inputs from the body (e.g., testes/ova) so mind is brain & rest of body.

If you don't produce testosterone or other hormones or have other inputs -- both internal to the body and external inputs like life experience or a truck that hits you in the head... it changes the brain.

That said I don't think it makes sense to extend our definition of mind to include parts outside the body (which philosopher David Chalmers advocates). I do think it makes sense to include the rest of the body's chemical inputs in changing the brain as part of the mind.

Jul. 23 2013 12:02 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I like "bring your brain back tomorrow"! But do I bring my brain back, or does it bring me back?

Jul. 23 2013 12:01 PM
Frank De Canio from Union City, New Jersey

It helps to know that there is no self directing a self but that there are hosts of contingencies that constitute the I and give an illusion of free will. Free will is nothing but the totality of contingencies of reinforcement that decide what we want to do. The notion of a self directing our actions is a detriment to free will. Free will is banking on prior contingencies to effect new ones beneficial to a productive life. As Schopenhauer said we can choose what we desire but not our desires; our desires, wants, intentions are the function of prior determinants which themselves inform the subsequent ones.

Jul. 23 2013 11:57 AM
Elaine from baltimore

Oh dear, your guest has a very superficial idea of what she calls "heaven" at least from a Judaic point of view. There is what is called "olam haba" in which one is accountable for behavior, choices, etc made in this world, but Judaism very much emphasizes our job is to make this world a better place.

Jul. 23 2013 11:56 AM
Mirene from Brooklyn

"Spooky soul" is incredibly condescending. I'm not religious but this way of talking about science vs. "mysterious non science" isn't any better than creationist rhetoric.

Jul. 23 2013 11:54 AM

Allen2saint from NYC
Don't talk from fear. Do u have evidence on what you speak?

Jul. 23 2013 11:54 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Good question, without a soul we're determined.

Jul. 23 2013 11:53 AM
John A from Churchland

Face it, a large part of our populace was raised w/o tough parenting, without that "gumption" the author references. To then consign them to tens of thousands in neurological care, well what a tax on society that is.

Jul. 23 2013 11:52 AM
Nat from NYC

I dunno, it seems obvious that everything going on internally flows from the brain. What's the alternative, that our sense of self derives from fairies or unicorns?

Jul. 23 2013 11:52 AM
Ed from Larchmont

No doubt the brain has lots of influence on the person, and problems in the brain have serious implications. But why attack the soul? I side with Plato and Aristotle on that question.

The focus of science is the physical world, so it can study the brain, not the soul.

If there's no soul, religion is of course not so. There is nothing liberating in thinking that death is the end of our lives - but it isn't.

Jul. 23 2013 11:52 AM
Allen2saint from NYC

"Spooky soul?" So frustrating to hear an arrogant scientist talking down religious thought from medieval times, mistaking it for modern religious thought. Awful.

Jul. 23 2013 11:51 AM
Elaine from baltimore

interesting, so are we responsible for our "moral choices" or do we really only think we have free will for moral choices but according to your guest, this really determined by chemical activity in the brain?

Jul. 23 2013 11:51 AM
John from NYC

Well, lots of opportunity for us all to jump in. So, what about the body? Merleau-Ponty's "Body-Subject?"

A chair is a chair because we can SIT IN IT, a function of the body, not just a concept in the brain.

Jul. 23 2013 11:49 AM
Stew from Manhattan

"The same force that flows through every circuit,
It's the juice that's spent every time you work it,
Every life form is based on this simplicity,
The soul that you have is electricity"

~311

Jul. 23 2013 11:48 AM
John A

I prefer the term 'mind', not brain. A brain can exist living, or dead on a butchers shelf... But a mind has to be alive and celebrated to be. When we die you can say the mind lives on or (to the science) just vanishes. But no dead minds to put on the counter and pick at.

Jul. 23 2013 11:10 AM

Anything to say about William James's 1904 essay "Does Consciousness Exist?" ??

Jul. 23 2013 09:22 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Please comment on the neuroscientist about six months ago who was about to die of a brain disease, whose brain was anesthetized, and who had experiences, vivid ones, and knew he should not have had them.

Jul. 23 2013 08:08 AM
Ed from Larchmont

This question has been debated in philosophy since the beginning of philosophy. Professor Churchland presents philosophical arguments on one side of the debate.

Jul. 23 2013 07:59 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.