It’s strange how our brains lie to us sometimes.
For example, for some unknown reason, I was under the vague impression a few years ago that Baruch Spinoza, the 17th-century Dutch philosopher, was somehow related to the constructed language Esperanto. This belief was, of course, baseless, and as soon as I thought about it for two seconds and browsed the wikipedia pages of each that became quite clear. I still, however, subconsciously link the two, and so my gut response to the question of “who thought up Esperanto” is going to be “Spinoza”, and I’ll have to consciously correct myself. Presumably with time this will correct itself, but for now, my brain insists on this link between these two unrelated things.
I think the fact that our brain is able to do this probably encourages the belief that we somehow have a
mind that is separate from our brain. There is this obvious (if actually non-existent) interplay between our brain, which we think of as functioning as a kind of storage and retrieval system, and our mind, which does the actual thinking – and the brain, we think, can give false information the the mind – when it does this is the brain’s fault, not the mind’s. This makes us want to say, for example, that we could somehow take our consciousness and transplant it to another body and “we”, meaning our consciousness abstracted from our brain, would somehow take control of that body. Really, it’s another example of gnosticism.
This distinction is, of course, absurd. Scientifically there is no basis for it, and neither does religion provide one – at least not the Catholic religion. The person, for the Catholic, is both body and soul, and the soul is intimately intertwined with the body – separating the two leaves you without a complete person. (I suspect that the state of the soul is somehow reflected in the physical state of the brain – this would mean that even if you could observe the process of decision-making in the brain before the person was conscious of their decision, it would not mean that the decision was not freely arrived at by the soul – but I know of no doctrinal support for this belief.)
Yet many of us, whether atheists, Christians, or something else, approach life as if this were the case. I suspect this is because we are predisposed to do so given how we can observe our brains lying to us – even if the distinction between “brains” and “us” is completely meaningless.