15 Sep 2009

The Brain and Mind Are Not the Same Thing!

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Fresh off Gene Callahan’s discussion of methodology and the analyst’s decision to impute intelligence to a process, we have this NPR interview on Neal Conan’s “Talk of the Nation.” (Click here to get either the transcript or to listen to the audio.) In general it’s a fascinating interview for our health care debate. Leftists will love to hear the good doctor (a neurosurgeon who worked in Ukraine) criticize the “wastefulness” of Western medicine, whereas Hannity fans will love to hear him explain the need for paying doctors under the table and how jealous doctors brought a lawsuit against their more successful rival.

But here’s the part that most interested me:

CONAN: I just have time for one last question. I guess it’s a personal one. I had somehow always imagined that once you opened up the skull and looked in, it would be pretty easy to tell the difference between regular brain matter and a tumor. I suppose I thought it was green or yellow or something.

Dr. MARSH: No. It depends on the tumor. But the particular sort of tumor you see in the film and the particular sort of tumor I specialize in operating in Britain, the tumor looks like the brain. It doesn’t quite feel like the brain when you’re working on it with your neurosurgical sucker, but visually, it’s more or less the same. And this is why they’re so difficult, because the more you remove, the more the risk is you’ll stray into the brain and cause damage.

And that is why, with operations of this sort, increasingly, and in Britain (unintelligible) where I pioneered technique, you operate with the patient awake under local anesthetic, so you can see if you’re starting to produce any significant brain damage as you operate.

CONAN: And you say something fascinating as you’re doing that. You’re looking at it and saying, it’s impossible to believe, really, but that is thought.

Dr. MARSH: Yes.

CONAN: That is consciousness I’m looking at.

Dr. MARSH: It is extraordinary. And I still, in fact, the more I think about it as I get older, the more extraordinary and incomprehensible I find it, that thought – that mind is a physical entity. It’s a hugely revolutionary idea which none of us have really quite come to terms with, I think, yet.

Oh boy. Even though this guy obviously has forgotten more about how the brain works than I will ever know, he is falling prey to the crudest of fallacies. The brain is a physical thing; the mind is an abstract thing. He is not “discovering” that the mind is really “right there at the end of my scalpel!” No, he is relying on a theory of materialism and asserting it.

We could just as well have a cosmetic surgeon talk about filling people’s lips with Botox and saying, “It’s really amazing to think that I’m staring at love. Love is a physical thing. Wow.”

If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to throw Human Action on a scale and see how much Austrian economics weighs.

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