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You are Your Brain – or Are You?

March 11th, 2012 by Michael Tabor
Are “you” just a mere physical object of your biology or more specifically – your brain or are you essentially an immaterial “soul.” When I say you, I am talking about the you that really matters like your conscious life or the part of you that smiles, thinks, plans, reasons, feels, writes poetry, has memories, falls in love, laughs, cries; has the ability to build the Hubble Telescope, to be creative and have all sorts of dreams and aspirations. This is the you who is confronted with mini moral dilemmas every single day and who acts on these situations and makes choices that are good or bad, moral or immoral, self – centered or selfless. This is the you that has freewill (or do we? another blog) and who deliberates and is involved in all decision making of how we ought to behave and the very you who can ponder the very question of whether or not “I am nothing more than a product of that 3 lb. grey mass contained within my cranium with its 100s of billions of connections and all of the electrochemical activity that takes place there; or I am certainly more than just some thing or physical object, I have private subjective experience and I am capable of falling in love and in fact love to such a profound degree that I can love another person (i.e. your child) more than myself. ”
I probably know about as much as most lay people about the brain e.g. the medulla is responsible for heart rate and respiration, the cerebellum plays a part in body balance and muscular coordination and the hypothalamus plays a role in hunger, thirst, feeding and sleep – in other words the unconscious things we need in order to survive; but the real action or the thing we call “I” takes place in the cortex and the 4 parts or lobes of the cortex. I think the brain injury to Phineas Gage is probably the ideal case history to ponder and study when thinking in terms of the brain/mind versus the immaterial soul. For those of you who are not familiar with the unfortunate accident that took place in 1848, here it is in a nutshell: Phineas Gage was an American railroad construction foreman who, long story short, was a victim of a horrible accident in which a large iron rod was driven through his cheek bone all the way through and out of his brain and skull and who still miraculously survived. The problem was there was severe damage to Mr. Gage’s left frontal lobe. Yes Phineas Gage survived all right but he certainly was not the same solid citizen he once was.
Before the accident Phineas was respectful, honest, hardworking, responsible and just an all-around good man. After the accident his behavior became very erratic- he started cursing, drinking and womanizing; he began mistreating his wife and children, became a braggart, couldn’t hold a job, started lying, brawling and stealing – he had sadly lost his moral compass and his ability to know right from wrong or if he did he didn’t care. In short, the people who knew Phineas said he was no longer the same man – his personality had changed for good.
Whether or not all the shenanigans Phineas Gage was said to have taken part in may or not be apocryphal the fact certainly remains that the brain is a remarkably complex biological system. In fact a neuroscientist can tell you that there are more neural connections, pieces, and parts in just an inch of brain matter than there are stars in the Milky Way Galaxy (Wow). So if I snip off a piece of that wet, disgusting grey matter inside your head, will you still be the person with the same hopes, dreams, and aspirations? Surely not but the question still is out there – is there such a thing as an immaterial soul or are we just a brain?  So WhaDaYaThink ? What do you think ?
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2 Responses to “You are Your Brain – or Are You?”

  1. letklaus Says:

    If you damage your keyboard, does it mean that your Windows software is damaged? Or it cannot be expressed through the damaged machinery? I see a similar relationship between brain/mind/soul.

  2. Michael Tabor Says:

    good analogy….but what if your software is damaged which is, one would say the brains of the computer.

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