The human brain has been studied since ancient Egyptian times, yet despite the incredible things we now know about it – thanks to modern technology – consciousness itself is still a huge question mark.
There are about 100 billion neurons in the human brain, the same as the number of stars in our galaxy. Neurons process electrical and chemical signals. How to describe the brain then – as our body’s server or a computer? But even if this analogy is on the right track – and you may suggest better ones, I am no scientist – we are still missing one important question, one well outlined by this article.
Although I neither agree with, nor understand everything in it, the writer Mark Vernon, points out that there is such a thing as Neuromania, a position that arises from:
“The doctrine that consciousness is the same as brain activity or, to be slightly more sophisticated, that consciousness is just the way that we experience brain activity, what is astonishing about this rampant reductionism is that it is based on a conceptual muddle that is readily unpicked. Sure, you need a brain to be alive, but to be human is not to be a brain. Think of it this way: you need legs to walk, but you’d never say that your legs are walking.”
How is it then that humans seem to be more than the sum of their parts? Professor Stephen M. Barr makes the above false position even clearer in his booklet, Science and religion, a position according to which:
“Neuroscience has shown how intimately our mental processes are connected with processes in the brain. Many have concluded that in the final analysis we are nothing but biochemical machines -’machines made of meat’ or ‘wet computers’ – and that our behaviour is therefore entirely explicable by physics and chance. The supposed hallmarks of our spiritual natures, our moral and intellectual freedom, are increasingly said to be ‘illusions’.”
For the Christian, this argument is answered by knowing that humans are made in the image of God, and have been given the capacity to know and love Him. Having a growing understanding of how we work, should make us ever more grateful to the Lord for constructing such a fascinating creature that has the capability to understand, to a greater or lesser degree, the world and itself.
As Catholic philosopher and cultural theorist Marshall McLuhan observed:
“One of the advantages of being a Catholic is that it confers a complete intellectual freedom to examine any and all phenomena with the absolute assurance of their intelligibility.”
And that includes ourselves.
Thanks to Ignatius Insight for flagging up the quote.
Science and Religion: the Myth of Conflict is available from CTS priced £2.50
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