Is the brain a symphony orchestra without a conductor?

  • "You want to make hatred illegal? I've sat up here for fifty years and seen nothing but hatred. Everybody they drag in here is full of it, I'm full of it, you're full of it, and now what? You want to make certain varieties illegal? What are we going to do? Get some samples of hate and send them off to the forensic lab? See what kind we're dealing with?" Judge Whittaker J. Stang in Richard Dooling's novel, Brain Storm

    " In 1996, to take a break from the grueling work of producing his second novel, A Man in Full, Tom Wolfe hung out with a gaggle of neuroscientists for several weeks. The resulting 7,000-word essay, entitled 'Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died,' [see sidebar Mind Shadows] reminded America once again why Wolfe is our greatest journalist. Amidst humor, dish, details, flair, and lots of exclamation points, he told us what he had learned. The Internet might be nice, said he, '[b]ut something tells me that within ten years, by 2006, the entire digital universe is going to seem like pretty mundane stuff compared to a new technology that right now is but a mere glow radiating from a tiny number of American and Cuban (yes, Cuban) hospitals and laboratories.' The technology is called brain imaging. Wolfe predicted that 'anyone who cares to get up early and catch a truly blinding twenty-first-century dawn will want to keep an eye on it.'

    What is it, and why should we care? . . .

    Wolfe predicted that, 'in the year 2006 or 2026, some new Nietzsche will step forward to announce: "The self is dead"—except that being prone to the poetic, like Nietzsche I, he will probably say: "The soul is dead." ' And when this happens, 'the lurid carnival that will ensue may make the phrase "the total eclipse of all values" seem tame.' " More

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    My comments: This concern is legitimate, and is shared by philosophers such as Thomas Metzinger, author of Being No One and The Ego Tunnel, both of which argue that selves are phenomenal--part of conscious experience--rather than real. He has no religious or spiritual axe to grind, but has expressed concern over future impact on society, culture, morality, and ethics as the findings of neuroscience make their way into public attitudes. Nor can we foresee impact on legal systems.

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