March 25, 2009

You Are Not Your Brain

The Dalai Lama was taken to task when he suggested that there was more to consciousness than its neural components. Now, from a somewhat different point of view, UC Berkeley philosophy professor Alva Noe is arguing that three's more to consciousness than gray matter. In a Salon interview about his recent book Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, Noe lays out his argument. Unlike many Buddhists, though, he is not arguing for the immateriality of mind,  rather:

The brain is necessary for consciousness. Of course! Just as an engine is necessary in a car. But an engine doesn't "give rise" to driving; driving isn't something that happens inside the engine. The engine contributes to the car's ability to drive. Consciousness is more like driving than our philosophical tradition leads us to expect. To be conscious is to have a world. The fact is, you and I don't have what it takes to make a world on our own. We find the world, we don't make it in our brains.

For Noe, consciousness is a  fluid exchange between people and their environment, with permeable boundaries between brain, body and world, which engage in the "joint venture" of consciousness.

It begins to sound a bit like interdependent co-arising...

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j's picture

Buddhists don't argue for the immateriality of mind, they argue that it is not just physical, not just immaterial, not both, and also not neither.

Jamie G.'s picture

I just finished the Dalai Lama's book "The Universe In A Single Atom" where he mentioned that and was not in agreement, and somewhat disappointed. I am actually glad that someone did take him to task on that. However, most of the rest of the book is pretty good, at least in the sense it did provide some insight for me on a few subjects.

“You are not your brain” |'s picture

[...] argues Alva Noë, a professor of philosophy at Cal Berkeley (hat tip to Tricycle).  He gave an interview to Salon, and it can be read [...]