The story of the brain's separation from the body begin with Rene Descartes. The most influential philosopher of the seventeenth century, Descartes divided being into two distinct substances: a holy soul and a mortal carcass. The soul was the source of reason, science, and everything nice. Our flesh, on the other hand, was "clock-like," just a machine that bleeds. With this schism, Descartes condemned the body to a life of subservience, a power plant for the brain's light bulbs.
Chapter 1, page 3
Chimeras of Experience: A Conversation with Jonah Lehrer (2009)Edit
Neuroscience has contributed so much in just a few decades to how we think about human nature and how we know ourselves.
After all, we're a brain embedded in this larger set of structures. You can call it culture, call it society, call it your family, call it your friend, call it whatever it is. It's the stuff that makes people sign onto their Facebook a thousand times a day. It's the reason Twitter exists. We have got all these systems now that really make us fully aware of just how important social interactions are to what it is to be human. The question is, how can we study that? Because that, in essence, is a huge part of what's actually driving these enzymatic pathways in your brain. What's triggering these synaptic transmissions and these squirts of neurotransmitter back and forth is thoughts of other people, what other people say to us, interacting with the world at large.
We feel like more than just the sum of a trillion neurons. We feel like more than just three pounds of wet flesh, and so simply describing the brain in terms of its neurotransmitters and neurons and all these chemicals and exciting ingredients doesn't fully grapple with what it feels like to be human, the first person subjective experience of being a conscious being. When you think about the really grand epic questions of neuroscience … what is consciousness? How can we form a scientific explanation for consciousness, for human experience? That is the holy grail.
As much as I loved the ideas, I excelled at experimental failure, I found new ways to make experiments not work. I would mess up PCRs, add the wrong buffers, northerns, westerns, southerns. I would make them not work in quite ingenious ways, and I realized slowly, over the course of those years, that the secret to being a great scientist is to love the manual labor of it.
Simply translating the act of the scientist is the first job of any science writer. Then, in my more grandiose moments, the other big job of a science writer is to see connections, to see the forest composed by all these trees. The act of being a scientist, by definition, the act of being a modern scientist requires you to really focus. You have to drill down. You have to spend years studying one brick, one synaptic protein, one kind of thing that turns on the amygdala, one very particular question.
Lehrer: Humans love being certain, ...so humans tend to filter the world to confirm what we already believe, and that's a big problem.
Colbert: Very comforting.
Lehrer: It is very comforting, and not being certain can be very troubling. So, that's why conservatives watch Fox News and liberals watch MSNBC, because it's nice to have your preconceived notions confirmed... And so it's very important to be aware of those flaws so then you can take steps to counteract them to adjust your decision-making style to the task at hand.