Sunday, 27 February 2011

Is the soul/self an illusion?

I am a Christian with an interest in the science of the brain. One of the most frighening idea's I've come across is that the soul might be an illusion. To make matters worse it's a source of inefficieny in the human organism. To quote from a recent paper I found on the subject:

"At least under routine conditions, consciousness does little beyond taking memos from the vastly richer subconcious environment, rubber-stamping them, and taking the credit for itself. In fact, the nonconscious mind usually works so well on its own that it actually employs a gatekeeper in the anterious cingulate cortex to do nothing but prevent the conscious self from interfering in daily operations.

...Compared to nonconscious processing, self-awareness is slow and expensive. (The premise of a separate, faster entity lurking at the base of our brains to take over in emergencies is based on studies by, among others, Joe LeDoux of New York University. By way of comparison, consider the complex, lightning-fast calculations of savantes; those abilities are noncognitive, and there is evidence that they owe their superfunctionality not to any overarching integration of mental processes but due to relative neurological fragmentation. Even if sentient and nonsentient processes were equally efficient, the conscious awareness of visceral stimuli—by its very nature— distracts the individual from other threats and opportunities in its environment. The cost of high intelligence has even been demonstrated by experiments in which smart fruit flies lose out to dumb ones when competing for food possibly because the metabolic demands of learning and memory leave less energy for foraging."

It seems that some for of consciousness is necessary for art, but that's basically just the brains way of hacking itself to release pleasurable chemicals. It's unneeded and ultimately a waste.

Is this true? Is the self an unneeded illusion?

Doubtless we all have illusions about ourselves, but the self cannot be an illusion. To have an illusion presupposes that there is a conscious self which holds the false belief. If there were no conscious selves there could be no illusions.

It is not surprising that self-awareness is “costly” in biological terms. And it is limited. But it is simply ridiculous to say that it is non-existent.

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