The self and science.

by metacognizant

I shared in my first entry that I was reading Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind by V.S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee; recently, I finished this book. Immediately following its completion, I quickly read The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul by Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’Leary. Both of these books seem to be of the highest pop-sci caliber, but I cannot help but notice some logical fallacies in Ramachandran’s book due the philosophical conclusions that he draws, and that are avoided by Beauregard.

Phantoms in the Brain is a story; it is a story behind many stories, or case studies, that unfolds into Ramachandran’s thesis based upon the evidence presented throughout the book. Ramachandran’s eventual point is that our “self,” or our consciousness, is but an illusion: a mere byproduct of the activity in our brain that enables us to live and pass on our genes. His logic and inferences based upon his data is not bulletproof, however; even his own work contradicts itself, as pages 61-62 makes an inference from his case studies’ data (that our bodies are “merely a shell” for our souls, and are used for passing on our genes) that goes against his thesis, as described above. Additionally, Ramachandran’s central thesis is an argument from ignorance, and it begs the question–he draws his conclusion from the fact that his research indicates that no material or natural explanation can be found to account for the soul, therefore, he claims that the soul, or consciousness, simply does not exist.

This flies in the face of Decartes. It disqualifies the famous claim, “I think, therefore I am,” from the first “I,” as he claims that there is no self. As it is known, Decartes is a skeptic of skeptics, but he was able to verify, at the very least, his own existence due to his own self-consciousness. To claim that even this very basic self-consciousness is nonexistent seems to be both intuitively as well as logically wrong, does it not? Simply put, evidence shows that it appears to be wrong indeed. The evidence for the soul is presented at length in The Spiritual Brain, and I find it to be compelling. Space does not allow me to go into details; suffice it to say I recommend this book, despite its occasional flaw.

I wonder, then, why scientists, who are supposedly on a quest for truth, are not skeptical of Ramachandran’s claims? If an undergraduate such as myself can identify the logical fallacies of Ramachandran’s work, then certainly someone such as Francis Crick–who writes praise of Phantoms in the Brain–can see those fallacies as well? Why is it that naturalism is so engrained in our society that faulty assumptions, such as these, are heralded as true in the scientific community? After all, Ramachandran’s thesis is mostly accepted in the scientific community. This is, however, the main reason that The Spiritual Brain was written–to help publicly expose the flaws in works written by individuals such as Ramachandran. I’d guess that, eventually, Ramachandran’s conclusions will be rejected as science shows itself to align more conclusively in the direction of Beauregard.

If anyone who reads this has read these books, please, offer comments.