Neuron tangle 1: Okay then, if I don’t have a self, do you have a self? If so, why are you talking to me?
Neuron tangle 2: No, I don’t have a self either. This here prof is quoted in New Scientist (Liz Else, “Your brain creates your sense of self, incognito”, 19 April 2011), and he knows more than the two of us put together:
All of this is designed to probe and eventually destroy any residue of an unexamined, if presistent, sense of “I” that enables most of us to believe we are in charge of our senses, our thoughts and feelings. As Eagleman rightly observes:
…who can blame you for thinking you deserve the credit? The brain works its machinations in secret, conjuring ideas like tremendous magic. It does not allow its colossal operating system to be probed by conscious cognition. The brain runs its show incognito
Eagleman is especially interesting on the issue of “dethronement”: where the emerging understanding of the brain shifts us from an intuitive sense of being at the centre of things, to being far out at the edge. So what happens then? How are we to think of ourselves? As a “parliament of pieces and parts and subsystems,” says Eagleman, a democratic team of rivals.
Aside from that somewhat tricksy analogy, Eagleman is keen to avoid reductionist traps: the future of understanding the mind will not be down to neurons alone but much more to do with “deciphering patterns of activity that live on top of the wetware, patterns that are directed both by internal machinations and by interactions from the surrounding world”. As for the biggest puzzle of all – how to understand the relationship between physical matter and subjective experience we call consciousness – the jury (in the shape of the world’s top labs) is still out.
Neuron tangle 1: So they don’t know what consciousness is, but they know that you and I don’t have unified selves?
Neuron tangle 2: Yes. It’s the assured results of modern science.
Neuron tangle 1: And so is the inability to get a handle on consciousness doesn’t cause anyone to wonder … ?
Neuron tangle 2: It’s the assured results …
[ — this conversation extrapolated to eternity … ]