SmartBrief is partnering with Big Think to create a weekly video spotlight in SmartBrief on Leadership called “VIP Corner: Video Insights Powered by Big Think.” This week, we’re featuring philosopher and cognitive scientist Alva Noë.
Today’s thinkers and scientists are allied with those of old in believing that we have a consciousness. The difference today is that we’ve discovered the role of the brain rather than believing that a separate, unlocatable soul is responsible. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve found any of the answers philosophers sought centuries ago, says Alva Noë.
The difference in where thinkers thought consciousness came from — soul versus brain — was largely borne out of a lack of medical and scientific advancement, Noë says. While we understand more now about how the brain works, he says, “the truth of the matter is we don’t have a better idea today how the brain does [consciousness] than Descartes had how immaterial soul stuff does that.”
What this means for the rest of us might be taking care in our approaches to problems and where we seek the answers. Sometimes, as in the case of cognitive neuroscience, it could be a matter of knowing where to look.
“We’ve been looking for [consciousness] inside of us. For me, that’s a sort of profound mistake. It’s a little bit like trying to find the dancing in the musculature of the dancer or trying to find the value of money in the chemical composition of the dollar bill. It’s the wrong kind of place to look,” he says.