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This review is from: Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness (Paperback)
Like a good Buddhist challenging ego-centric Westerners to point to where their interior, individuated selves might be, Alva Noe challenges the neuroscientific orthodoxy which tries to nail consciouness to the brain. After all, has anybody ever been found to be in their head? Has any post-mortem revealed an interior self or homunculus? No, most of our lives is out of our heads. Our consciousness is in the world and moves around and has its effects out there, not in here. Being's being in the head is an experientially based presumption of scientists who don't realize how thorough-going their own intellectualism is - and go on to obliviously found whole scientific descriptions on this unexamined starting point; their personal experience of interiority. This book begins deconstructing those unfounded and philosophically [even scientifically] errant presuppositions.
Drawing existentially on Maurice Merleau-Ponty and theoretically on contemporary work in the field of situated cognition [which he here makes popular and accessible], Alva Noe begins to establish a legitimately sustained place for consciouness in the processes of the world. Why should I claim information is being processed in my head [where no one has ever actually located information, in spite of trying] when I have a pen and notepad in my hand, on which I am working out an equation? Look, the writing miraculously appears, the very substrate of my thought - there, in the world! Why locate that information processing where it has never been found as such; doing so is a cartesian prejudice. Why say my neurons are the substrate of my memory when I, equally, have images on my laptop? We are outside our heads, or at least contiguous with a world in which divisions of interior and exterior can only ever be relative. To make a cut in the contiguity of cause and effect, as this information arises on the screen, is to lay down a political and experiential marker, delimiting a supposedly independent consciousness. Where are these words? Where is the 'meaning' of these words? In systems biology, there is no privileged level of causation, equally there is no location sustained without the world, that looks at the world and controls it.
This brief publication is a good, popularizing punt, but Alva Noe has some way to go yet before he can describe an experience of consciouness, which is both fully fleshed out and established in the continuous material of the world, as well as the present paradigm forces many people, unfortunately, to live in the material inside their heads. However, if you are stuck inside your head - at least partially due to the tyranny of the dualistic divides of orthodox science - this book may help you, to some degree, get out of it.