(Copyright © 2000 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
By analyzing different kinds of brain damage, and the feelings associated with
(people with missing limbs can still feel pain in those non-existent limbs),
British neurologist Vilayanur Ramachandran
concluded that the brain constructs cognitive maps that are, basically,
plausible interpretations of the world. It is those maps that cause all mental
life, starting from perception itself.
The limb is no longer there, but its representation in the brain is still
there, and thus the person feels it as if it still were there. Whether it
is truly there or not is negligible compared with the fact that it is
represented in the brain.
If one generalizes this finding, one reaches the conclusion that all mental
life could be "phantom", because that is a general behavior of the brain.
All sensory experience is an illusion. All feelings are illusions.
Even the self consists of an illusion, largely constructed out of interactions with others.
The brain creates these representations of different kinds (from representations
of limbs to representations of the I) and then believes that they truly exist
and they get associated with feelings.
(Thus the solution to the pain caused by a phantom limb would be to induce the
brain to believe that the phantom limb does not exist anymore, i.e. to remove
the representation of that limb in the brain).
In a sense, the entire body is a "phantom limb": the brain constructs its
existence and then "feels" it.
His test for consciousness includes three properties: irrevocability, choice and memory. Any living being that exhibits these features can be said to be conscious. Ramachandran thinks that consciousness is located in the temporal lobes and associated limbic structures. Ramachandran thinks he has even located the seat of religious feelings: they seem to originate from the brain's temporal lobes.
An interesting point that the authors make is that both brains and cultures use languages: the brain uses the language of neural chemistry, a culture uses the spoken languages. Unfortunately, he fails to produce a general meaning of this fact (other than the trivial fact that both are compound objects made of many interacting parts).