Introduction to Philosophy Dr. James Grindeland
January 26, 2015
In the Radiolab podcast "Who am I?" two overarching themes appear to me, the first being the mind and body and the second being the 'self' of the mind and body. I believe the 'self' can be ever changing yet still the same; also I agree with the views of dualism, that the mind and brain (by extension the body) are two separate and distinct entities.
The Mind and Body
Dualism is the idea proposed by Rene Descartes that the human mind and body are two distinct entities that communicate with each other to make a person. Descartes theorized that the mind and the body communicate with each other via a small structure at the base of the brain called the pineal gland. Standing opposite of dualism is materialism; materialism holds that the only thing that can be truly proven to exist is matter. Thus, according to materialism, all things are composed of material and all phenomena, such as the mental phenomena of consciousness, are the result of physical interactions of matter.
At 6:28 in "Who am I?" V.S. Ramachandran states that the 'self' or the 'soul' is where ever one would hear the firing of neurons, the tiny cells that control your muscles via chemical signals from the brain, and that these "tiny wisps of jelly" (3), are life. Further evidencing materialism in the podcast is at 13:11 when Professor Julian Keenan talks about an experiment where he puts the right side of a person's brain to sleep and they lose their sense of self while it is asleep. These suggest that the mind, at least in part, is the brain, I disagree.
Think of a computer, it is composed of two parts, the hardware and the software. The hardware uses the software in order to accomplish certain tasks; the software tells the monitor how to light the pixels in order to create a picture. If you remove or shut down certain pieces of hardware, the software will not be able to accomplish its purpose. If you corrupt the software, pieces of the hardware will not operate correctly such as a fan or mouse malfunction.
The brain is our hardware and our mind our software, when people have issues like Alzheimer’s it is a hardware issue, part of the afflicted person’s brain is deteriorating. An issue such as a nervous tic or a repressed memory is a problem with the software that is the mind; a repressed memory may be caused by fear. This fear, I believe, is not caused by your brain releasing chemicals that cause fear, rather your fear which causes them to be released therefore affecting your body. Think about drugs, when a person uses an opiate he is tricking his brain into thinking it is happy, this causes a sensation in your body, not your mind, then your mind which is connected to your body, experiences the same sensation as your body. To be clear, the drug causes a change in the body which is felt and experienced by the body and is then perceived by the mind.
Rene Descartes' First Meditation, subtitled 'What can be called into doubt,' begins with Descartes reflecting on the number of falsehoods he has come to believe as true during his life and on the subsequent fallibility of the body of knowledge he has gained from these falsehoods. He has resolved to sweep away all he thinks he knows and start again from the foundations, building up his knowledge once more on certain grounds. Descartes reasons that he needs only to find a single reason to doubt his present opinions in order to find them fallible. Rather than doubt every one of his opinions individually, he reasons that he might cast them all into doubt if he can doubt the foundations and basic principles upon which his opinions are built. Everything that Descartes has accepted as true, he has come to learn from or through his senses. He acknowledges that sometimes the senses can be deceived; therefore one cannot trust his senses as a way of attaining true knowledge.