This image was in the August 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine. It shows the “color-coded depiction of routes created by a brain’s neural pathways”, made possible by cutting-edge 3D imaging technology. From the accompanying text:
We like to brag about our gray matter, linking smarts to brain cells. But for neuroscientists, it’s also about white matter, the spaghetti-like tangle of nerve fibers, and the networks that carry information between regions of the brain. Who we are — our memories, thoughts, emotions — derives from these wiring connections. The problem was no devices existed to see and decode the neural maze in live subjects. That’s now changing.
Advances in neuroscience and psychology increasingly prove that our minds – constituted of our memories, thoughts, dreams, emotions, decisions – have a physical basis in our brains. As this knowledge becomes more widely spread and accepted, it will revolutionise the way human beings perceive themselves and others. The ramifications for culture, society, law, religion and politics are immense.
For thousands of years people have, to varying degrees, believed in a soul or self that isn’t bound to the physical body, nevermind the specific lump of matter in our skulls. This dualism is apparent in religion, pop psychology, the cultural products we manufacture, even our language – as when we exhort someone to ‘follow your heart’, meaning to trust their ‘gut’ feeling that is supposedly distinct from their brain-derived thinking. I don’t know about you, but all my heart does is pump blood around my cardiovascular system. I do my feeling with my amygdala and my rationalising with my frontal lobes.
The popular conception of the soul or self is becoming untenable. Like the geocentric universe, bloodletting, bodily humours, phlogiston and much of pre-Darwinian biology, mind-brain dualism will eventually end up in the rubbish bin of false ideas. The only thing keeping it from being immediately thrown out is the ubiquitous triumvirate of social inertia, ignorance, and fear.
Those who still believe in immaterial souls and ghosts in machines are on the wrong side of history.
Image by Van Wedeen