At a small eatery in Seville, Spain, Alan Jasanoff had his first experience with brains — wrapped in eggs and served with potatoes. At the time, he was more interested in finding a good, affordable meal than contemplating the sheer awesomeness of the organ he was eating. Years later, Jasanoff began studying the brain as part of his training as a neuroscientist, and he went on, like so many others, to revere it. It is said, after all, to be the root of our soul and consciousness. But today, Jasanoff has yet another view: He has come to see our awe of the organ as a seriously flawed way of thinking, and even a danger to society.
In The Biological Mind, Jasanoff, neuroscientist at MIT, refers to the romanticized view of the brain — its separateness and superiority to the body and its depiction as almost supernatural — as the “cerebral mystique”. Such an attitude has been fueled, in part, by images that depict the brain without any connection to the body or by analogies that compare the brain to a computer. Admittedly, the brain does have tremendous computing power. But Jasanoff’s goal is to show that the brain doesn’t work as a distinct, mystical entity, but as a ball of flesh awash with fluids and innately in tune with the rest of the body and the environment. “Self” doesn’t just come from the brain, he explains, but also from the interactions of chemicals from our bodies with everything else around us.
To make his case, Jasanoff offers an extensive yet entertaining review of the schools of thought and representations of the brain in the media that led to the rise of the cerebral mystique, especially during the last few decades. He then tears down those ideas using contrary examples from recent research, along with engaging anecdotes. For instance, his clear, lively writing reveals how our emotions, such as the fight-or-flight response and the suite of thoughts and actions associated with stress, provide strong evidence for a brain-body connection. Exercise’s effect on the brain also supports this notion. Even creativity isn’t sacred, often stemming from repeated interactions with those around us. (1)
An interesting viewpoint. But a very limited one.
It is not just the brain connected to your body.
It is your body connected with others.
It is your mind connected with everything else.
Would you be afraid without your stomach?
Could you speak without your food?
Would you dream without your heart?
Could you cry without your daughter?
Your soul is connected with the cosmos.
Yes, you are your body. And your mind. And your brain. And your heart. And your mother. And your children. And everything around you. You are these things and these things are you. Look at the stars in the vast cold space. They are there. And you are here. And yet, you wouldn’t be able to fall in love without them. Look at the stars in the sky. You are here. And they are there. And yet, they couldn’t even shine without you…