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Alva Noe: Out of our heads. Why you are not your brain and other lessons from the biology of consciousness

By Noigroup HQ What are you reading? 17 Dec 2013

What are you reading? (and what are you drinking with it!)

Name: Tim Cocks
Profession: Physiotherapist
Book title: “Out of our heads. Why you are not your brain and other lessons from the biology of consciousness.”
Author: Alva Noë
What are you drinking with it? A robust Barossa Shiraz.
Thoughts so far/Quote:
Noë is a philosopher of mind.  This means he joins a long and diverse history of thinkers that have tackled perhaps the most difficult questions in philosophy (and biology); what is mind and consciousness, from where do they arise, what is it like to have a mind and have conscious experience, are all minds conscious, is my mind and my conscious experience the same as yours, do you have a mind, are YOU conscious?  The list continues.

In Out of our heads, Noë aims to answer some of these questions by first taking a stance against what he describes as the “neural microfocus” of the search for mind and consciousness.  He argues that we have been looking for consciousness in the wrong place – in the brain.   Noë suggests that for our understanding of the phenomenon of consciousness to progress we need to “get out of our heads” and look to the “dynamic life of the whole, environmentally plugged-in person or animal”.

Noë argues that the brain, while necessary for consciousness is not sufficient.  He suggests that “we need to widen our conception of the machinery of consciousness beyond the brain to include not only the brain but also our active lives in the context of our worlds”

Noë’s postion on consciousness could perhaps be summed up best by his statement that

“Consciousness is not something that happens inside us.  It is something that we do or make.  Better: it is something we achieve.

Consciousness is more like dancing than it is like digestion

Noë presents many arguments for his position, citing examples from neuroscience research such as Mriganka Sur and his ferrets, David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel and their cats, Paul Bach y Rita and his visual tactile sensory substitution system and Matthew Botvinick and Jonathan Cohen and their first description of the rubber hand illusion.  While the book is easy to read, it is dense with new ideas and thought provoking ways of thinking.

With all this heady philosophising, I’ve found it useful, actually necessary at times, to pair “Out of our heads” with a robust Barossa Shiraz.

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Book title:
What are you drinking with it?
Thoughts so far/Quote:


  1. davidboltononoi

    Are thoughts feelings and emotions a sign of consciousness ? We can see the activity of such experiences on brain scanners but , as far as I know we can’t see a “thought”………
    Until we can see it we cannot begin to decide where it is! Now there’s a mind reproductive action………

    1. timcocks0noi

      Yes, and if a thought is non-physical, how can it have a causal effect in the physical world? The epiphenomenalists would dismiss mental events, thoughts, altogether.

      Maybe if a thought is not merely activity in a brain, but in fact a dynamic sensorimotor / action-perception relationship between an animal and the world it is situated within? Noë might suggest something along these lines!

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