Monday, September 27, 2021

Distancing oneself from one's brain

It can be quite useful for someone suffering from a variety of brain conditions, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, to deliberately distance themselves from their brain’s unfortunate doings, by saying to themselves things like: “That’s not me, just my brain.”

If physicalism is true, then brains are either identical with us or at least are the core of who we are. But “That’s not me, just me” is a contradiction while “That’s not me, just the core of my being” isn’t much of a distancing. A similar issue arises in second and third person contexts: if physicalism is true, one must admit brain problems to be grounded in that which is at the core of the other’s being.

The dualist, on the other hand, can pull off the distancing much more easily: “That’s not my soul, just my brain” makes perfect sense. An impairment in the brain is just an impairment of a body part, albeit one of the most important ones.

Of course, that something is a helpful way of thinking does not prove that it’s true. But it is an insight from the beginnings of Western philosophy that truth is generally better for us than falsehood, and so that something is a helpful way of thinking is some evidence that it is true. We may, thus, have some evidence for dualism here.


swaggerswaggmann said...

"That's not me, just me" is not a contradiction, as the first is the personality and the second refer to the biological process, biological process that give the personality, a simple metaphor is "that's not Word, just Windows" Equivocation fallacy.

SMatthewStolte said...

The value of “That’s not me, just my brain” is just to remind us that there are aspects of the activity that are involuntary, in Aristotle’s sense of the involuntary.

I don’t think that a physicalist needs to admit that the surface boundary of the brain is also the surface boundary of the core of one’s being. The physicalist only needs to claim that my core activities (e.g., deliberation and choice, along with certain kinds of thinking) are performed by the brain. But the brain does a lot of activities that are not at the core of my being too, such as sending signals to the heart (all the time) or making dreams in sleep. If I have a dream about, say, robbing a 7–11, I can say to myself, “Oh, that wasn’t me; it was just my mind.” Again, the important part of that thought would just be to remind myself that those thoughts and imaginings were involuntary.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think it's a bit more than a reminder of involuntariness. What one really wants to know is that the event doesn't reflect one's core or character or the like. Being involuntary is a necessary condition for not reflecting it, but it isn't a sufficient condition. For some involuntary things do reflect one's character. (Think of an involuntary scowl at someone one dislikes.)

SMatthewStolte said...

As Aristotle says, you can be praised or blamed not only for your actions but also for your habits, because it was by voluntary actions that you acquired those habits (See NE 3.5). At the end of that chapter, he explicitly says that habits are voluntary, though not in the same way as actions (NE 3.5, 1114b30–1115a3).

Obviously, Aristotle could be wrong about these things, but he doesn’t seem to be in this case.

If I involuntarily scowl at someone I dislike because I have cultivated a certain sort of character through voluntary actions, then this will seem to me to be a reflection of who I am. If not, then not.

philosophyteacher said...

Respectfully, I don’t think it’s an equivocation fallacy. If I correctly interpret you, you’re arguing for some sort of non-reductive physicalist account of consciousness, likely that mental properties (personality) supervene on the physical (biology). However, Dr. Pruss addresses this view when discussing the “core of my being” which I take him to mean non-reductive physicalist accounts.

swaggerswaggmann said...

No. I argue for a reductive. But the neurological base is more that only our personality. Use the exemple I provided.

CharlieCheese said...

I occasion your blog and just stumbled across this post. For years I've battled OCD and pondered the philosophical implications. And you're exactly right, it's so much easier to embrace dualism. In CBT they'll teach you to distance yourself from the thought, recognizing that "you are not the thought". But as a compulsive truth-seeker I countered "why am I not that thought?" I maintain faith that my being doesn't subsist of every thought I have, but I'm skeptical. I've entertained the idea that the body is an external environment in the same way your house might be. And stepping further, much of the mind (anxiety, hatred) is an external environment. But this leads to: "is happiness experienced as an external environment, in the saw way you see a tree?" Something here tickles my brain and I've often felt as though I've nearly struck gold.