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Video: Are people more than just their brains?
Professors Kurt Fischer and Antonio Damasio

Kurt Fischer: There's a misconception that we have to get rid of, a prevalent misconception in the English language and culture in general, that we are brains – that we learn with our brains as opposed to being people who have brains that help us learn. We are not brains disembodied in the bucket sitting in the corner. And likewise, we don't learn by having information stuck into our brains.

So by one image, I have a port up here on my brain – see that little mark right here on my forehead – and that's where I plug in every morning, and the computer tells me the knowledge for today.

Well, it doesn't work that way. We have to learn more actively than that.

So it is not true that you can plug the world into the brain and thereby know everything. Instead, knowledge has to built.

Antonio Damasio: There are probably people who have been very successful in neuroscience and probably are a bit careless in the way they present their results. Or, if they're not careless then the media ends up being careless, because things are presented constantly as "this big discovery" or "that big discovery," and "this part of the brain" – which is invariably called "center" in the New York Times, does this, there is a "center for love," or a "center for reasoning," and so on.

And this of course gives a very bad reading of what is happening in neuroscience. So there are people in neuroscience that probably think in very primitive ways, like in every other discipline, and we just let them be.

And the other thing is that there is an attempt, sometimes, there is the misinterpretation that you would somehow reify the idea of mind, that you would turn mind into a thing, that you would turn mind into something solid like the brain, or that you would confuse the mind and the brain. I don't think, of course, that this is necessarily the case, and I don't know of any of the best thinkers in our field that would want to subscribe to that.

Copyright © 2009 The President and Fellows of Harvard College