On One Hand

January 14, 2005

Brain

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 12:35 am
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When I was a kid, I was afraid that my own self/consciousness would fade away each time I fell asleep and that a new one would emerge the next morning, with the same memories and personality as me, who thinks he is me, but who is not me. I felt that way because I would think about what a mind is and what a brain is and had a hard time figuring out what made me me other than the fact that I felt like me continuously since I woke up in the morning. I was sometimes afraid to fall asleep, worried that I would experience my last moments alive as I drifted off.

Science has determined that the mind, whatever it is, is located in the brain, and strongly suggests that the mind is the brain. Science has determined that the mind can be manipulated through chemical or physical adjustments in the brain, and that every conscious act correlates to a natural chemo-electrical impulse in some part of the brain. That might lead one to fear that that’s all a conscious act is – just a chemo-electrical impulse in the brain, or a series of them, with really little romance or mystery involved.

If I took a brain cell from me and put it into your brain, and a brain cell from you and put it into my brain, I would imagine that I wouldn’t feel much of a difference. I have billions of brain cells and we woudln’t have exchanged a significant proportion of them for any real change to occur. And what if I took a second cell from me and a second cell from you? Once again, I doubt we would notice any new feelings. But what if we exchanged cells rapidly, continuously, without stopping, until eventually all of our brain cells have moved? At what point do I become you and you become me? Would there be a sudden moment, a flash, an instant of reallignment when we switch heads (or bodies), or would the change be fluid and smooth? My sense of reason directs me toward the second option, because I realize that I am a sum of my brain cells, not just one of them. But if I’m a sum of my brain cells, that means that when just one cell dies, I have changed. When one has changed the sum has changed, I have changed, and I have died and a new person has emerged with one less cell who thinks he’s me. Since I’m losing brain cells all the time, I’m dying all the time. I once thought mortality lingered in the distance, some eighty or sixty or at least forty years in the future. Perhaps it happens every millisecond. Every moment I die, and a new me emerges with my thoughts. How many times have I died and been reborn in the time it took to write this?

Only parts of your brain are awake at any given time. When you read this written text, there are three important places in your cerebrum that are active. First, the back of your cerebrum processes the visual signal from your eyes and lets you percieve that there is a two-dimensional screen in front of you, a series of black spaces and white spaces. Your brain doesn’t then pass the perception of the image on to you; the image is already IN you now, in your brain, and the flashing of your brain’s neurons IS your perception of sight (which doesn’t really make sense to me). Then another part of your cerebrum, most likely on the right side since language is interpereted in the right hemisphere, desiphers the words that you read. It comprehends the sentences, with their meanings, and then its task is complete. Then a third part of your brain ponders the question, the paradox behind the sentences. Just a tiny fraction of the neurons in your brain are active when you carry out this complex task.

Then, lets say you close your eyes and listen to a piano chord playing in the background. Suddenly the visual and lingual parts of your brain shut of, and the auditory part of your brain has awakened. Perhaps some old memories are stimulated as well, since you recognize that the chord is from a piano and perhaps you are familiar with the song. Now, in your mental paradigm shift, you have become a completely different person. The part of you that was once awake to read is no longer functioning, and this new you that is awake to listen has taken control. It is impossible for your whole brain to be active at once; the experience of that would feel like mental overload, like a psychotic episode or panic attack. The most sane and skilled people are, in fact, the ones who are most able to turn unnecessary parts of the brain OFF when those parts are not needed.

So I am just a brain. My brain is made of molecules and electrons that are moving. They move in order, as part of a system, to more efficiently disperse energy in the Universe’s never-ending quest to become homogeneous and featureless on a smaller and smaller scale. When I die, the molecules that make up my body will continue to move, to disperse, and the entropy of the Universe will leap upward in a gigantic release that will happen the very moment all of my thoughts and memories are lost. Like a gigantic thermodynamic orgasm, the Universe will spew into nothingness all the information it has built up in me. And the molecules will coninue to move, to break appart and become soil, become ash, become tree roots. They will spread, and continue to spread, never coming together again, but never stopping in their movements either. The molecules will contine to move and to disperse until they stop being molecules, until they stop being atoms, until they stop being any kind of matter at all. But whatever it is left will still move, as it did while I was me, a part of the process as if I hadn’t died at all. All processes become parts of new processes, new seperate processes that are all actually just one process, one movement in the Universe toward infinite distribution, a state that can never actually be reached. Am I immortal then, being a part of a process that will never cease? Or does this all imply that I was never alive from the beginning?

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3 Comments »

  1. i like the places you let your mind wander. and have been trying to follow your example through out the day. maybe i’ll post some day =P

    Comment by coffeecup_poet — January 14, 2005 @ 3:36 pm | Reply

  2. Thats an interesting point of view on the mind. It’s like the question one of my teachers asked me a long time ago. If they built a transporter that could move your molecules to another place and reassemble them would you be the same? Good analysis of the problem.

    Comment by matraxis — January 14, 2005 @ 10:11 pm | Reply


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