"The Little Man in the Brain"

BTG Issue: 
January/February 1992 | Vol. 26 No. 1
Although this idea "that consciousness just might be due to a nonphysical entity ... is anathema to scientists who insist that everything must obey known physical laws ... it could well be true."

"During a recent television show ... vision scientist V. S. Ramachandran of the University of California at San Diego ... said that if you ask the man in the street how vision works, he will say there is an image on the retina of the eye. The optic nerve faithfully transmits this image to the brain, in what we call the visual cortex. And that is the image we see. Ramachandran pointed out that this explanation leads to a logical fallacy. If you create an image inside the head, then you need another person in the head – a little man in the brain – who looks at that image. Then you have to postulate an even smaller person inside his head to explain how he sees, and so on, ad infinitum. ... The basic fallacy of the little man in the brain argument is that it assumes implicitly that consciousness can be understood in physical terms. . . When that attempt also fails, one takes refuge in the overwhelming complexity of the brain and says that a conscious-producing mechanism must be hidden in there somewhere. All we have to do is find it. ... Another way to escape the fallacy is to consider that consciousness just might be due to a nonphysical entity – dare we say soul? – that reads the data displays of the brain just as we might read the letters in a book. ... To realize its potential for enriching our scientific understanding, all we have to do is seriously consider it."

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