Monday, March 15, 2010

Further Adventures in Neuroscience

I am no neuroscientist. But I have been long interested in brain studies and their relation to philosophy and theology. Back in the 1980s James Ashbrook was on my dissertation committee and exposed me to neuro-theological work. He was way ahead of his time.

In my last post I quoted psychologist Michael Gazzaniga as stating a claim I've heard many times now, which is:
  • The brain acquires information and makes decisions well before we are consciously forming choices.
  • We're all on a little bit of taped delay between unconsciousness and awareness.
  • We think we are in charge, but we're really not.
I think I understand the meaning of that. So I have this problem, which may just be me. Logically, it forms like this:

1. The brain is the decision maker, not "I."
2. Gazzaniga's brain made a decision to communicate the idea that we think we are in charge, but we're really not.
3. Gazzaniga, therefore, is really not in charge.
4. Are we then simply to believe Gazzaniga's brain on such things?

If the brain makes a decision prior to some "self" "consciously forming a choice," can we choose against the brain? If so, then it seems that "I" am in charge, and not the brain. But if the brain really is in charge, then "I" do not have free will about this (in the sense of consciously forming a "choice." "Choice-making" then is but epiphenomenal activity, itself having no causal effect on the physical brain. "Michael Gazzaniga" did not make some "choice" between competing viewpoints and "decide" for the theory "he" is putting forth.

Certain neuroscientists such as U. of Montreal's Mario Beauregaard believe there is an "I" that makes choices that then effect changes in the physical brain. But if Gazzaniga is correct how could "we" ever know it? Why should we believe his brain? And how could one ever reason about the truth of competing theories?