Review: Alva Noe: ‘Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness’
‘Out of Our Heads’ has an undercurrent of personal battles against other academics, those in the mainstream, who take a more reductionist, physics-like approach to the problem of consciousness. Noe advocates a biological approach but this seems to amount to not much more than saying that any entity is part of a larger system. Without our environment, we would not be what we are. True. But ‘systems thinking’ has to mean more than just this assertion. What supporting material there was for this claim did not persuade me. Reductionism might be an oversimplification but it often works – it gets us a hold on the problem to enable us to develop better explanations over time. He particularly rails against Hubel and Wiesel, the 1981 Nobel Prize winners for Physiology, seemingly for being biologists who have taken a reductionist line (and so should have known better?). The book was worth reading if only for introducing me to the sensory substitution work of Paul Bach-y-Rita and Mriganka Sur) but for an argument that we need to look outside of our heads to understand our minds, Andy Clark’s ‘Supersizing the Mind’ was far more convincing.