Monday, March 12, 2007

Whose Illusion?

"Chris Frith plainly disagrees with the dualistic view that we live in two worlds, the mental and the physical. Yet he boldly makes statements such as "If I think there is a wine glass in front of me, my brain predicts how it will feel when I touch it."
This appears to suggest that "my" brain models the world for "me". But who then am I? The philosopher Daniel Dennet derides the "Cartesian theatre" in which "I" view the world projected onto an inner screen, viewed by a homunculus, on whose screen...
I assume Frith likewise subscribes to the orthodox western scientific view that we live in but one world and that there is no humunculus for whose benefit the brain generates models: I in fact am those modelling processes. Perhaps Frith's apparent dualism is merely an artifact of the difficulty of presenting non-dualist ideas within a culture that deeply assumes dualism.
A separate point that is often missed in discussing the common ground between Buddhism and science is that one of the central tenets of Buddhism is the doctrine of anatman or 'no soul'. In essence, this states that my sense of "I" is an illusion. The Buddha remained silent on the issue of precisely whose illusion "I" am. For his part, Frith seems to suggest that I might be yours."
Mark MacDiarmid
Katoomba, NSW, Australia.
Letter to New Scientist Magazine. 10 March 2007

Mark MacDiarmid writes that Chris Frith is being inconsistent
by using the pronouns "I" and "my" in his argument for non-dualism,
but even Buddhists use these words for convenience though they know deep down that they do not refer to anything that actually exists.
Mark makes a very good point, however, about the reluctance in Western culture
(even in the scientific community) to give up the notion of discrete, individual selves.

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