Colin McGinn’s review of V.S. Ramachandran’s new book, The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human is both appreciative and appropriately critical. McGinn rightly calls Ramachandran to the mat for his unwarranted reductionism and his over-reaching claims, while also affirming the bodily basis of consciousness. He ends with an excellent question:
Why is neurology so fascinating? It is more fascinating than the physiology of the body—what organs perform what functions and how. I think it is because we feel the brain to be fundamentally alien in relation to the operations of mind—as we do not feel the organs of the body to be alien in relation to the actions of the body. It is precisely because we do not experience ourselves asreducible to our brain that it is so startling to discover that our mind depends so intimately on our brain. It is like finding that cheese depends on chalk—that soul depends on matter. This de facto dependence gives us a vertiginous shiver, a kind of existential spasm: How can the human mind—consciousness, the self, free will, emotion, and all the rest—completely depend on a bulbous and ugly assemblage of squishy wet parts? What has the spiking of neurons got to do with me?