5/4/09

Brain worship


Philosopher Alva Noë has an interview in Salon that is well worth reading. The general thrust of the interview, as I understand it, is that consciousness exists in more than just the brain. It also exists in the environment, in language, in culture, and other physical locations (Noë is not a dualist). I've written before about consciousness existing in the body, as well as the brain. Noë takes it up a notch. I think it is a challenging shift in perspective, but I'm inclined to agree with him. It is important to realize that, as Victor Vinge says, what makes humans unique is that we outsource our cognition to the world around us.

Dan Dennett, my favourite philosopher of consciousness, takes the interdisciplinary approach to consciousness that Noë encourages; in a radio discussion (which unfortunately I can't track down), he agreed with someone (whose name I've forgotten) who wrote a book about "brain worship" that it's important to focus on more than just the brain, but also the head. Dennett, however, unlike Noë, will tell you that the taste of an apple is in your brain, not in the apple.

Noë's arguments are thought provoking, although I really don't like how he puts an aesthetic and moralistic spin on it all. Isn't it enough just to say brain monomania is a bad idea? I spotted some strawmen in there as well, but I imagine it would be hard to voice the arguments Noë is trying to hammer home without going overboard a little bit. My main complaint is that he seems to be longing for a quasi-skyhook, although it's hard to tell if that's actually the case. Like most interesting arguments, Noë's are an uncertain mix.