The Self and Its Brain [Book Review]

Review of Metaphysics 35 (4):894-896 (1982)

This work is understood as an up-to-date philosophical and neurobiological answer to materialist positions concerning the nature of the human mind maintained in the English-speaking philosophy of today. Against physicalist and parallelist views of the body-mind relationship a "strong dualist-interactionist" theory of this relation is defended, in which the primacy is ascribed to the self using, modifying, and shaping its brain in deliberate autonomy. This theory is proposed and clarified in 3 sections. In the first part of the book, Popper mainly examines materialist philosophies of the mind and gives "a history of the body-mind problem since Descartes and especially of the steps which led to parallelism". Physicalist theories of the self, like radical materialism and behaviorism, psycho-physical parallelism, epiphenomenalism, or identity theories are found to be incompatible with the irreducible reality and activity of 3 worlds : the universe of physical entities, the world of mental states, including states of consciousness, psychological dispositions, and unconscious states, and the world of the products of the human mind. Phenomena of consciousness seem "radically different" from what is found in the physical world; due to conscious and purposeful action dramatic changes have taken place in the physical environment of man. The idea of the closedness of W1 is "clearly refuted" by the existence of W3. Plato's and Descartes' conceptions of the body-mind relationship are basically correct--in spite of the fact that the Cartesian model of physical causation has broken down. The "brain is owned by the self, rather than the other way around". This philosophical view of the ultimate superiority of the self over the brain finds its scientific confirmation in Eccles's review of physiological findings concerning structure, function, and development of the nervous system offered in part II of the book. As especially Sperry's studies of brain-split patients have shown, the self stands in direct liaison with the body "only in relationship to activities in the dominant hemisphere" ; only specific neuronal structures, "the modules in the cerebral cortex," and these only in special conditions, are open to an interaction with the self. The evidence for the dependence of the mind upon determined brain centres in sensory, emotional and motoric behavior, in the acquisition and use of language and memory is presented. This dependence is found never to be automatic, instantaneous, or merely passive; nor does it offer an explanation of the experienced unity of the self or even of an image of perception. As a result of his survey of contemporary physiological knowledge, the author proposes "a radical new hypothesis" concerning the self-brain relations. The self-conscious mind "is an independent entity" actively engaged in reading out from the multitude of active centres in the modules of the brain's liaison areas, deliberately selecting from these centres in accord with its interests, integrating its selections into the unity of conscious experience, and acting back on the neuronal centres. The self-conscious mind developed in relationship to W3 influence on the self "exercises a superior interpretative and controlling role upon the neuronal events by way of a two-way interaction" between W1 and W2.
Keywords Catholic Tradition  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0034-6632
DOI revmetaph198235495
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