Sunday, April 19, 2009

Consciousness: Alva Noe, "Out of Our Heads" author, interviewed

I see where Alva Noe was interviewed at Salon recently by Gordy Slack (March 25, 2009):

For a decade or so, brain studies have seemed on the brink of answering questions about the nature of consciousness, the self, thought and experience. But they never do, argues University of California at Berkeley philosopher Alva Noë, because these things are not found solely in the brain itself.

In his new book, "Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons From the Biology of Consciousness," Noë attacks the brave new world of neuroscience and its claims that brain mechanics can explain consciousness. Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist Francis Crick wrote, "You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules." While Noë credits Crick for drawing popular and scientific attention to the question of consciousness, he thinks Crick's conclusions are dead wrong and dangerous.

Noe's conversational style is gentle, attentive and easygoing. But, in true philosopher fashion, he also picks his words deliberately, as if stepping off the path of right thinking would result in some tragic plummet into the abyss of illogic.

In San Francisco there's a brain gym where members exercise their brains with "neurobic" software. A sign outside the place reads: "You Are Your Brain!" It has become almost a mainstream notion now. But the subtitle of your book begins "Why you are not your brain." What's wrong with the "You are your brain" view?

Noe: It's one thing to say you wouldn't be you if not for your brain, that your brain is critical to what you are. But I could say that about your upbringing and your culture, too. It's another thing entirely to say that you are your brain.

Go here for more.

I am reading Noe's book, Out of Our Heads. It's most interesting, though - so far - somewhat deformed by the apparent need to tip his intellectual hat to modernist silliness - perhaps to avoid attack by mediocre tenurists.

That tendency could get better or worse. I am only partway through, so I simply don't know.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose.