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September 23, 2005

Beyond the cranium

Where does the mind end and the world begin? Until recently, philosophers tended to think of the nervous system as a glorified a set of message cables that connect the body to the brain. But philosopher Teed Rockwell thinks that the boundary between mind and world is a flexible one. In his book Neither Brain nor Ghost Rockwell quotes developments in neuroscience as evidence that the mind is hormonal as well as neural; the borders of mental embodiment cannot neatly be drawn at the skull, or even at the skin. For Rockwell, mental phenomena emerge not merely from brain activity but from "a single unified system embracing the nervous system, body, and environment". At this point Rockwell, man of reason, seems to get nervous, because he describes as “vacuously mystical” the claim that “we are one with everything". To me this sounds like a logical conclusion, not a mystical one. But I'm not an expert in nonlinear neurodynamics, which Teed's book is apparently about. (I've only read extracts of the book, and I only heard about it because of my interest in architectural tourism).

Posted by John Thackara at September 23, 2005 06:52 AM


Hi John,

Thanks for looking at my book. I suppose I am a "man of reason" in some sense of the term, although my faith in reason is of a rather anguished Kierkagaardian sort. But I see myself primarily as a pragmatist in the Deweyan tradition. That's why I don't accept the distinction implied in your phrase "not mystical, but logical". Logic leads to all sorts of mystical conclusions that are impossible to live by. Parmenides was the founder of modern rational thinking, and his conclusion--that the only thing that existed is pure being--was pretty much the claim that we (and everything else) are "one with everything". But such claims are only trivially true if we cannot live on the assumption that they are true. What I am arguing in my book is that the self is a behavioral field that expands and contracts within an environment, and that this theory enables us to solve all sorts of problems that arise in a variety of philosophical and scientific domains. There is always at any given time a distinction between the self and world. But the border between the two fluctuates over time, depending on our goals and purposes. If we need to redesign our science and philosophy by accepting such a theory, it is not vacuously true, but true in a way that matters.

Posted by: Teed Rockwell at September 26, 2005 02:47 AM

Re: Beyond the cranium:

The notion that the mind is outside the skull goes back to McLuhan who made the point that electric media are extensions of our nervous system.

"Electromagnetic technology requires utter docility and quiescence of meditation such as befits an organism that now wears its brains outside its skull and its nerves outside its hide Understanding Media, p. 64)."

I have suggested that language extends the brain into a mind so that that mind + brain plus language. For full article go to
www.physics.utoronto.ca/~logan and find Research
1) Linguistics: the origin and evolution of language & click on
Andy Clark in Natural-Born Cyborgs also develops the notion of the mind outside the skull.

Posted by: Robert K. Logan at October 11, 2005 07:25 PM

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