27 September 2011

Interview with Alva Noe: You are not your brain

Over at Huffington Post they've got a transcript of an interview between Deepak Chopra and Alva Noe from 2009, near the publication of Noe's book "Out of Our Heads". I think it's worth a read as a quick summary of Noe's position that consciousness is something we do, and that it it extends outside the boundaries of our skulls. Here's a bit from Noe:
The simple proposal that I make in this book is that we can make surprising progress on these questions that seem so mysterious if we give up the idea that consciousness is sort of like digestion.

And as digestion happens in your stomach, consciousness happens in your brain. Consciousness is not that kind of process I propose. I think we should think of it as something we do. Something more dynamic. Something more active. And like everything we do, it depends on context. It depends on the support of the environment, it depends on a certain kind of background and in a way I think we as scientists pitch the question, "what is consciousness?" at the wrong level if we expect to be able to answer it in terms of brain chemistry. The brain chemistry is necessary but not sufficient. Let me just make one remark. When I came on the phone you were talking about memory and the heart and heart cells and you made the observation that there's sort of memories stored in us outside of our bodies. One of the things I'm interested in is the way in which our memories, you said memories are stored outside of our brains and what I was going to say is that memories are stored outside of our bodies, too. The world is a resource for us and we have access to the world because of the kind of bodies and skills that we have so that there's a sense in which the individual person doesn't have the burden of having to memorize everything he or she needs to know. The world helps us.