THE SPREAD MIND
Why our experience and the object we experience are one

Box 1

Ten (wrong) reasons why we believe our mind is inside the brain

Sometimes, very strong beliefs prove to be unredeemably wrong no matter how much widespread and convincing they seem to be. It is easy to laugh at the ones we have set aside, it is not that easy to spot those that still bias our judgement. The belief that in question is the idea that our experience is somewhat constituted by stuff that takes place inside our head.

Yet, if we believe so strongly in something, there must be strong reasons to do so. Becoming aware of such strong (but wrong) premises will help to get back on the right track.

  • The perceptual center of mass. Where are most of our senses? in the head. Thus it is easy to have the impression that one is were one's ears, tongue, nose, eyes are. Yet, there is no a priori reason why, for instance, one's brain has to be there. Of course, there are many practical reason why it is so, but, in principle, our sense organs may be anywhere.

  • The belief in a immaterial soul. We like to believe we are immortal, but, even if we were, this does not requre that such a special sovrannatural entity is located in any special place — let alone one's brain. Of course there is no necessary connection between having a soul and being inside one's head.

  • The inner world. We like the notion of living in an inner world. It is cozy and conforting like Linus' blanket. It is a safe place we like to be able to retreat from the hardships of life. Still, is it a real place? or is it just a comforting childish dream? what kind of place should it be? surely it is not literally a place. So, it is not a place at all!

  • Social recognition. When people see our body they see us. We show ourselves by means of our bodies and clothes. So we identify ourselves with our bodies. We must be where our bodies are. Since when we look at a body we see just a body, where is the mind? well, it is reasonable to suppose that one is somewhat inside and hidden by one's body. This is silly.

  • Survival. We need to take care of our body if we want to survive. Thus it makes sense to think that our mind is somewhere inside the body like a soldier inside an armor.

  • Sex.Obvious point.

  • Education.We are taught at school that the mind is produced by the brain. Since Renaissance, textbooks routinely show images getting inside us from the world and reaching us inside the head.

  • Movies and literature.Consider movies such as "Inception", "Matrix", "Total Recall", "The locked room" — and countless many others ... they all keep strenghtening the notion that there is a mental world totally autonomous from the real one. But are they an authoritative source?

  • The hubrys of neuroscience. Neuroscience has been running for becoming the true mindscience. At stake there are not only scientific achievements but fundings, positions, recognition, power. There is a catch though. Such an endeavour is based on the assumption that the mind is the outcome of neural activity. If this assumption does not hold, a big house of cards is going to crumble down too.

  • Necessity vs sufficiency. It is well known that damages or destruction of neural tissue lead to impairment or destruction of one's mind. Still, this shows only that neural activity is necessary to the occurrence of the mind. It does not tell anything either about the sufficiency of neural activity or about the location of the mind


  • One more thing: misperception! All the above are totally unfounded factors and arguments. However, there is a fact that, if not taken care of, may indeed provide a strong support for the traditional notion of an inner mind — namely misperception. Occasionally, we experience something that does not seem to be there — from dreams to hallucinations, from illusions to afterimages. How would that be possible if the mind were not different from the physical world? This is what philosophers called the argument from misperception and what scientists routinely quote to get rid of anyone who claims that the mind is not a product of the brain.

The belief that our mind is inside the brain has been criticized by many authors in the recent past (most notably, Daniel Dennett, Kevin O'Regan, Teed Rockwell, Alva Noe).

Riccardo Manzotti, 27 January 2015