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Alva Noë Versus Antonio Damasio

Why We Should Study Noë’s Theory & the Environment

Alva Noë: Out of Our Heads

                Alva Noë: Out of Our Heads

In Antonio Damasio’s book, Self Comes to Mind, he states consciousness is a direct result stemming from the foundation of our physical brain and body (Damasio 21).  In Alva Noë’s Out of Our Heads though, he argues consciousness is derived from our interactions with the physical environment. Noë says:

“…we need to look to the ways in which each of us, as a whole animal, carries on the process of living in and with and in response to the world around us.” (Noë 7). 

Noë’s theory therefore would be prime to apply to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

Because of the Dominance of Neuroscience, With It’s Sole Emphasis On The Brain, Noë’s Argument Is Less Influential Compared To Damasio’s.

Technological advances provide scientists more objective observations and measurements of consciousness, like fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging).  Damasio also discusses “brain mapping,” where the brain collects, stores, and organizes our experiences from interactions (Damasio 67). Scientists also study the anatomy of the brain by slicing it into parts and analyzing the cells within the tissues. Jonah Lehrer, a renowned American writer, described the physical study like “Jell-O and guillotines and the meat counter at the supermarket” in Scientists Map the Brain, Gene By Gene, published by Wired.

Halloween-themed Deli Meat

          Halloween-Themed Deli Meat

It’s All Mental Though.

These objective studies advance our understanding of the physicalities of the brain. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” focuses on Prufrock’s stream of consciousness – a mental process. Prufrock’s scattered ramblings are virtually dissections of his consciousness that solely reflect his perceptions of his environment (a.k.a. his society).

Consciousness is therefore a mental process that needs an outside factor to provide something for the mind to process.

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The physical brain requires an environment in order to absorb our interactions and formulate material for the brain in order to create our consciousness.

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If You Want To Be Fair and Try To Refute Noë’s Theory With Fellow Educator, Damasio, Though…

You Tried, Damasio.

                 Oh, Noe.

Let's See...

              Well…

You will see Damasio’s ideas in Self Comes to Mind contradict his own theory of the physical brain and body being solely responsible of producing consciousness.  As a result, Damasio’s clashing ideas validate and promote Noë’s argument.

Damasio says:

“…consciousness is a state of mind in which there is knowledge of one’s own existence and of the existence of surroundings.  Consciousness is a state of mind – if there is no mind there is no consciousness; consciousness is a particular state of mind, enriched by a sense of the particular organism in which a mind is operating; and the state of mind includes knowledge to the effect that the said existence is situated, that there are objects and events surrounding it.” (Damasio 167)

His own definition emphasizes the importance of “surroundings.” Therefore, while there may be no consciousness without a mind, there is no mind nor product of consciousness without an environment or outside stimulus.

“Brain mapping” also requires the environment because 

“The human brain maps whatever object sits outside it, whatever action occurs outside it, and all the relationships that objects and actions assume in time and space…” (Damasio 68)

which is exactly what T.S. Eliot utilizes as the sole source for Prufrock’s monologue. Prufrock perceives how people in his society interact with each other, how others may perceive him, and whether he should perform certain activities – all of which occur outside his mind.

One especially large contradiction is when Damasio asserts, 

“Given our incomplete knowledge of both biology and physics, one should be cautious before dismissing alternative accounts.  After all, in spite of neurobiology’s remarkable success, our understanding of the human brain is quite incomplete.” (Damasio 15).  

His argument therefore supports that the branch of biology which studies the interaction of people with their environment, ecology, should also not be neglected – as it has been – in studying consciousness.

Damn Right.

                          His “Damn Right” Face.

Just like neuroscience, Noë’s theory “should not be abandoned unless the technical and theoretical sources…are exhausted…” (Damasio 15).

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IN ADDITION, the history of consciousness shows why we should back up Noë.

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