Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Our brains and our minds...

...and our wider worlds too

A very useful posting on Norman Parrin's blog this morning has directed my attention to a book by UC-Berkeley philosoper Alva Noë, by way of an interview in salon.com with its author, by Gordy Slack (no science-philosophy slouch he, either).

The book is called Out of our heads: why you are not your brain, from which its content should be self-evident, as should also be its relevance to Conductive Education which seems at times to be drowning in the same sea of brain reductionism in which the general moiety of exising services perish around it.

Sure footing

You hardly need contemporary philosophy as a lifeline in this plight if your feet are planted securely on the firm ground of Vygotskii's and Luriya's historical materialism. Unfortunately, there are few in CE privvy to this grounding, and there is little mechanism other than long, arduous self-study whereby this wrong can be righted.

In the context, therefore, contemporary philosophers may serve as a user-friendly assurance.

No time here to give other than a few quick extracts from what Professor Noë said in this interview, to give the flavour.
  • It's one thing to say you wouldn't be you if not for your brain, that your brain is critical to what you are. But I could say that about your upbringing and your culture, too. It's another thing entirely to say that you are your brain.
  • When we go to a magic show, there's a feeling of delicious pleasure when the wool has been pulled over our eyes. Similarly, to be told that the love you feel is actually just a chemical reaction, or that your depression is just a malfunctioning of your brain, is surprising and in some paradoxical way satisfying. There's a modern pleasure in the unmasking of our everyday experience. We feel like we're seeing behind the curtain, seeing how the trick is done.
  • Consciousness is an achievement of the whole animal in its environmental context. And to really understand it, you'd have to study it that way.
  • But you can't reduce the study of human life to the study of things happening inside a person's brain. You have to look at a person's active life in its context.
  • Instead of asking how the brain makes us conscious, we should ask, How does the brain support the kind of involvement with the world in which our consciousness consists? This is what the best neuroscientists do. The brain is not the author of our experience. If we want to understand the role of the brain, we should ask, How does the brain enable us to interact with and keep track of the world as we do? What makes a certain pattern of brain activity a conscious perceptual experience has nothing to do with the cells themselves, or with the way they are firing, but rather with the way the cells' activity is responsive to and helps us regulate our engagement with the world around us. There's a lot to learn about the way the brain does this and this work is important.
  • Instead of asking how the brain makes us conscious, we should ask, How does the brain support the kind of involvement with the world in which our consciousness consists? This is what the best neuroscientists do. The brain is not the author of our experience. If we want to understand the role of the brain, we should ask, How does the brain enable us to interact with and keep track of the world as we do? What makes a certain pattern of brain activity a conscious perceptual experience has nothing to do with the cells themselves, or with the way they are firing, but rather with the way the cells' activity is responsive to and helps us regulate our engagement with the world around us. There's a lot to learn about the way the brain does this and this work is important.
Brain, mind and CE, again!

To find some recent articles in Conductive World on the brain-mind problem in Conductive Education, go to then left-hand tool bar of this page, scroll down to the alphabetic list of topics and click on Brain/mind.

Many times already in Conductive World the brain, the mind, their outside world, especially their social world, have been linked together systemically, throught the causative mechanisms of learning and development, as the necessary basis for understanding the essential role of pedagogy and upbringing in human development, and therefore of Conductive Education, in rehabilitation and special education (see below for an example from last November).

References

Noë, A. (2009) Out of our heads: why you are not your brain, and other lessons from the biology of consciousness, NY, Hill & Wang

Perrin, N. (2009) You are not your brain, Paces, 8 June
http://paces.typepad.com/paces/2009/06/you-are-not-your-brain.html

Slack, G. (2009) You are not your brain, salon.com, 25 March
http://www.salon.com/env/atoms_eden/2009/03/25/alva_noe/index.html

Sutton, A. (2008) A developmental disorder, not a diagnosis, Conductive World, 4 November

2 comments:

  1. Thanks Andrew. You might be interested to know that your reference drove up visits to my faltering blog massively!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Not just that, maybe. I also gave Norman's blog a plug on Twitter.

    ReplyDelete