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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The authors try to save human values from materialism, 17 Sept. 2009
This review is from: The Self and Its Brain: An Argument for Interactionism (Paperback)
The scientific aim of 'The Self and Its Brain: An Argument for Interactionism' is to add to our understanding of minds. Its moral aim is to defend the concept of human values against the perceived dehumanizing effects of materialism, reductionism and behaviourism. The danger of a mechanistic explanation of the mind is that the complete reduction of the mental mind to the physical brain must devalue the mind.

A fair judgment is that this book is a failure in both aims, though any attempt to defend human dignity from intellectual assault is admirable and Karl Popper masterfully clarifies the underlying philosophical issues. Moreover, the Popper parts are clearly and beautifully written, as always.

Karl Popper and John Eccles essentially agree with Rene Descartes' dualistic solution to the body-mind problem, saying that the mind interacts with the body at some place in the brain. There is no evidence for anywhere in the brain where such interactions might take place (Popper and Eccles conjecture it is the frontal lobes) and the notorious logical problems of Cartesian dualism (the infinite regress of a conscious observer in the mind, who needs a conscious observer in his own mind) are not addressed.

The real problem, however, is in the assumption that such attributes necessary for human dignity as the conscious self, free will and rationality must act top-down from a mental world onto the mundane physical brain. Far better (I think) to seek a bottom-up mechanism in which mental attributes emerge from physical brain-processes. A 'modest reductionist' approach like this can none the less affirm the reality of self, free will and reason. It is employed by Daniel C. Dennett in 'Consciosuness Explained' and in 'Freedom Evolves', for example, which say that we have a soul and free will but they are made from the interactions of lots of material parts ('tiny robots').

Part 1 of 'The Self and its Brain' by Karl Popper concerns philosophy and is excellent. Part 2 by John Eccles concerns neurobiology and is unreadable. Part 3 consists of discussions between the two men that have been criticised as somewhat obscure (I do not find them so) but Popper's contributions are the more coherent and interesting.

This book is worthwhile for Popper's examination of the underlying philosophical issues and for its Quixotic attempt to save human dignity and human meaning from 'materialism', even though they are not really under threat.
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G. Imroth
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Location: Hertfordshire, England

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