CHAPTER EIGHT -- BRAINS DON'T SEE - AND THEY DON'T CHANGE THEMSELVES, EITHER
"... the view that perceptual systems and action systems are dispositions implies that it is the animal that perceives and acts, not its perceptual and action system, respectively. Dispositions are causally impotent in the sense that they cannot do anything. Brittleness cannot break. The thing that acts is the thing that possesses the disposition, say, the glass that is brittle. This means that if functional systems are conceived of as powers of the animal, it is the animal, as opposed to its functional systems, that perceives and acts. This implication fits with an idea forwarded by Bennett and Hacker (2003). In their conceptual analyses of recent neuroscience, they accuse many neuroscientists of making the 'mereological fallacy'-the fallacy of ascribing psychological attributes to the brain or parts thereof, whereas such attributes can only be sensibly ascribed to the animal as a whole...."Excerpt from "On Ecological Conceptualizations of Perceptual Systems and Action Systems" --Rob Withagen Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam,Claire F. Michaels University of Connecticut,
For those who have the patience to scroll back to the first Chapter of COMING TO YOUR SENSES they will find that what is now PART ONE of "COMING TO YOUR SENSES" began with a phone call I received from a man I hadn't seen or spoken to in more than 53 years - Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita -- and that was at Graduation Ceremonies of the January 1951 Class of the Bronx High School of Science.
During that phone call we found that although our paths had gone in very different directions - we did have one thing in common - our interest in the Brain/Mind. In fact, during that very first phone conversation, I happened to mention that two friends I had been working with over the years - J. Krishnamurti (JK) and Professor David Bohm (DB) both had suggested that "Thinking" was a material process. Paul was surprised if not stunned by the statement. Although he'd never thought about "thought" before, it seemed to him that it had to be made of a more ethereal substance. I said I didn't see why, since the thinking process had long been recorded by fMRI's and other means. He then asked if there was a published scientific reference he could see that made such a claim. I told him that one of the friend's - Professor Bohm - had made the statement way back in 1980 in one of his classic books entitled: "Wholeness and The Implicate Order". Paul said he'd call me back, hung up his phone, drove to the local Border's Book Store, purchased a copy of the book, called me back and quoted chapter and verse to me re: how and where Prof. Bohm had made the statement. Paul then went on to say that he was presently writing a paper on the subject of the Brain and would include that statement in it.
What JK and DB had to say about the relationship of the Mind and Brain would eventually lead to explaining what actually makes the "residual" or therapeutic effect possible. But the initial evidence - as it was presented to us - in actuality - can be found in the content of this next 4 and 1/2 minute collection of clips - some of which you've seen before. The events they capture occurred during the first 8 months of my relationship with Paul and his cohorts. But it would be seven years before they made the kind of sense they do now; beginning with the fact that the "fallacy of mereology" introduced my Messrs Bennett and Hacker in their "Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience" and cited above by the two psychologists is evident throughout the video overview. (NOTE: The book which I mention in an earlier entry as well, was published during the same year I began working with Paul.)
This "fallacy of ascribing psychological attributes to the brain .... whereas such attributes can only be sensibly ascribed to the animal as a whole" can be quite clearly identified throughout the overview even by someone who knows nothing about these things. Example: Paul's first statement to me (and the camera) talks about some mysterious "brain mechanisms" that are causing the residual or therapeutic effect we can all see happening to the subject - Cheryl Schiltz. And yet, physiologist and principal Scientist for Paul's company at the time speaks of "forces" and "internal resources" that are "awakened" within a human being - not the brain. Unfortunately, it's taken this long for the inherent "mereological" fallacies and contradictions in my friends' research to be made obvious. There are a number of these that can be readily perceived in this overview:One has to wonder - if Dr. Doidge was to see that little 4 ½ minute clip you just viewed, would he perhaps consider making his title “THE BRAIN THAT AWAKENS ITSELF” rather than THE BRAIN THAT CHANGES ITSELF” ? It’s definitely a sexier title … And it’s equally non-sensical. The fact is that brains don’t do anything to themselves… or by themselves. Even Paul’s young engineering associate states quite clearly that “the brain needs multiple sources of information that it correlates in order to expand function" - which means that the brain doesn’t manufacture that information! It comes from "multiple sources" – meaning somewhere else - and not just the vestibular system. Moreover Paul corroborates the statement's validity – even though he erroneously mixes up sensory systems and perceptual systems (more about that later) – by quoting James J. Gibson. And he completes the sequence by telling us this has all “been known for years.”
How all this got so messed up is simple enough to understand if one begins with the false premise that the brain - or any organ of the body - is somehow capable of doing something "by itself" – independent of any input from the rest of the organism. It has been further suggested by many - including David Bohm - that by promoting this false premise, contemporary science - rather than doing away with the dualism introduced by Descartes who divided the human being into "extended substance" and the substanceless “soul” which was the province of God, has actually perpetuated it. For it appears that Descartes' duality has merely been replaced by the duality of the brain and the body. It is no longer God but the the brain that - according to people like Doidge - is capable of the miraculous. And the people he calls "neuroplasticians" are the new priesthood. In other words nothing has changed from 400 years ago - despite Doidge's pronouncements to the contrary.
And that was the "neuro-scientific scenario" I walked in on in 2003 when I came to Middleton Wisconsin. In fact, it was the man who invited me - Paul Bach-y Rita - who was about to be proclaimed – by Doidge – as the original high priest of the new religion. After all, what is a religion if not a belief system that stands inviolately toe-to-aggressive-toe with other belief systems. For that matter even atheism is a belief system… But I digress.
One final adjunct to this "new" neuroplastician's belief system - which once again proves "that everything old is new again". Those who continue to be fixated on the vestibular system or any single system as the source and probable origin of the so-called "therapeutic effect", and write volumes on "Sensory Substitution" in defense of the indefensible - neglect the fact that it was the inventor of the term "Sensory Substitution" himself, my old classmate Paul, who a) reminds us, when he quotes "Gibson", that all systems - including the vestibular system are somehow connected... So what happens to one happens to all... And b) as for the Sensory Substitution" part... Senses cannot be substituted... You smell with your nose and you listen with your ears --- But in certain instances, their functions can appear to be substituted. The most well-known of these phenomena is when a blind subject "reads" braille. Although he/she does so with his/her fingers the visual cortex also "lights up" ... They are connected... all of them ... including tactile and visual ... And so it goes...