Wednesday 3 December 2014

Brain science without the brain

There’s an old story about a lawyer questioning a doctor about an autopsy.

Lawyer: "Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?"
Witness: "No."
Lawyer: "Did you check for blood pressure?"
Witness: "No."
Lawyer: "Did you check for breathing?"
Witness: "No."
Lawyer: "So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?"
Witness: "No."
Lawyer: "How can you be so sure, Doctor?"
Witness: "Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar."
Lawyer: "But could the patient have still been alive nevertheless?"
Witness: "Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law somewhere."

It’s also possible he is alive and practicing neuroscience – the science that studies brains in people that don’t practice law.  Because alleged neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert thinks we don’t have a brain to “perceive the world or think” (presumably then he thought up with his own notion with his appendix, or perhaps his descending retroperitoneal colon). That, he says, “is completely wrong.”

No, “we have a brain for one reason and one reason only,” says our Mr Wolbert, “and that's to produce adaptable and complex movements. There is no other reason to have a brain … once you don't need to move, you don't need the luxury of that brain.”

So while philosophers and psychologists have for centuries investigated the modes and magic of human thought, and even as we speak computer scientists are busy trying to replicate the thinking human brain in silicon, alleged neuroscientists like Mr Wolbert are instead trying to study the repository of human thought and perception without reference to either perception or thought.

Perhaps before positing a brain science without either he could have used his own to analyse and check the thoughts arising out of his nether regions?

[Hat tip Terry V.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Out of our heads
Alva Noe's book gives enough detail to say maybe the brain is not all. Consciousness is something that we humans do.

The Mysterious Flame
Colin McGinn first chapter in this book gives good reasons for taking a semi-dualist position, in that mind is separate from brain - but if the brain is injured/faulty then the mind is also effected. McGinn takes a "mysterian" position.
Mortimer J Adler wrote a similar analysis, but I can't recall which of his many books that was