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Can we please stop confusing the brain with a computer?

The announcement of a science segment on a well-known public radio program in the United States immediately caught my attention: "Today we are going to talk about the human mind," said the announcer. Since that topic is not only interesting, but also constantly changing and always important, I decided to listen to the show.

A few minutes later, the program began with the journalist making this statement: "Today we are going to talk about the human mind, that portable microcomputer that we have inside our skull between one ear and the other."

I honestly thought that the announcer was immediately going to say that this statement was just some kind of joke aimed at capturing the attention of the listeners, but it was not like that. In fact, in the next few minutes it became clear that the program would focus on identifying "mind" with "brain" and "brain" with "computer." At that point, I decided not to continue listening.

I find it appalling (to put it elegantly and briefly) that a mechanistic, reductionist, and technologizing model is still used to understand the human mind, especially when countless scientific studies and experiments (many of them related to quantum physics, of which I don't understand anything) seem to suggest that neither matter is as material as we believe nor is consciousness as immaterial as we believe.

I understand very well that such a complex and endless topic, overloaded with deep philosophical elements, cannot be treated in all its depth in a short public radio program. But that doesn’t mean that somebody hast right to simplify the subject to such an extent that what is said no longer represents what the issue was about.

An anecdote is told about Albert Einstein (probably false, like so many of the anecdotes that include his name) when a person asks Einstein to explain the theory of relativity. Einstein makes a first attempt, and the person says, "Could you explain it more simply?" This situation is repeated several times until the person says: "Now that you explained it so simply, I understood it." Einstein then replies: “Okay. But what you understood is no longer the theory of relativity."

Beyond the anecdote, it is possible to argue that there are certain topics that are so complicated (the human mind) that trying to explain them in a simple way results in preventing people from understanding the topic both in the present and in the future.

As one of my philosophy professors used to say: "I'm sure you didn't understand anything I just said, but at least know that you haven't understood something very important."

That "not having understood something very important" served as an invitation and left the door open so that, instead of asking for a simpler explanation, one devoted oneself to deepen one's own level of understanding until one understood what one did not understand before. Unfortunately, that “rising ourselves to a new, higher level of understanding” is rarely happening, promoted, or practiced anymore in our times. 


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