The Observer has a fantastic debate between neuroscientists David Eagleman and Raymond Tallis about how much brain science tells us about free will and the unconscious.
The main point of contention revlves around whether we can understand the brain as the source of human nature or whether we have to look beyond the individual to make sense of our experience and behaviour.
Eagleman: It is clear at this point that we are irrevocably tied to the 3lb of strange computational material found within our skulls. The brain is utterly alien to us, and yet our personalities, hopes, fears and aspirations all depend on the integrity of this biological tissue. How do we know this? Because when the brain changes, we change…
Tallis: Yes, of course, everything about us, from the simplest sensation to the most elaborately constructed sense of self, requires a brain in some kind of working order. Remove your brain and bang goes your IQ. It does not follow that our brains are pretty well the whole story of us, nor that the best way to understand ourselves is to stare at “the neural substrate of which we are composed”.
This is because we are not stand-alone brains. We are part of community of minds, a human world, that is remote in many respects from what can be observed in brains. Even if that community ultimately originated from brains, this was the work of trillions of brains over hundreds of thousands of years: individual, present-day brains are merely the entrance ticket to the drama of social life, not the drama itself.
As an accompaniment to the piece, I also wrote a ‘brief guide to neuroscience’ that you can also read online.