So I heard an interesting question the other day – I found it on the thumbnail of YouTube video. It’s apparently part of skit by Bill Burr – which I haven’t watched, and at the moment, don’t plan to. But it asked an interesting question, one which has been reverberating through my mind ever since I read it.
The question goes something like this: “Do you control your brain, or does your brain control you?”
Now this is a fascinating question, and not because of the question as stated. It’s because of the assumption inherent in the question. Can you spot it?
Here it is: the assumption is that you and your brain are different entities.
Now, that opens up a whole bunch of other cans of worms. How can they be different entities? What’s the nature of one entity vs. the other? What is the dividing line between both entities? Is it even true that they’re both entities? All valid questions, and all questions with no clear answer. But they’re necessary to even begin to explore the question, as stated.
So, after some thought, here is kind of where I’m leaning on this. The answer is yes.
The brain has a particular responsibility, and a particular limitation/characteristic. The responsibility is this: It is the sole arbiter of interpreting the sensory world. There is little to nothing about this physical world that can be sensed without the intermediation of a properly functioning brain. If your eyesight is shut off, for instance, you can’t see. And that’s pretty much it. You won’t be able to see again until your eyesight gets turned back on, in whatever way that happens. The brain, by its design, interprets the world in a very specific way, and the way the world is perceived is entirely mediated by the brain. This statement is evidenced by the fact that psychoactive drugs are so capable of screwing up your perception of reality. So, in that regard, your brain controls you, because it’s entirely responsible for processing the world around you and delivering your perception of it.
And because of individual variations in brain and body, it’s entirely possible that different people perceive the world very, very differently.
So the brain controls you.
But that’s not the end of the story. Because the very fact that we can conceptualize of the idea that the brain and the self are different is its own problem. And, also, there are people who seem to be able to perceive things that are entirely independent of the brain. By which I mean, the brain also has a huge limitation. It is responsible for mediating and processing the physical world, but that’s it. It can process things that impinge on it from the non-physical world, but it’s incapable of understanding them. So any understanding of those things needs to come from elsewhere, and the brain is pretty much along for the ride. It has a job to do, but past that job, it’s completely bereft. That’s why there are certain thoughts that can cause the brain to go into near-insanity if pursued. The brain cannot process every thought – it is limited to the physical world. And yet thoughts can exist that are not of the physical world, and those thoughts can inform and alter the brain’s function, sometimes to the point of destruction.
So you control the brain.
I know of one of those thoughts. There is also some anecdotal evidence of things existing that the brain does not possess the sensory capacity to detect or process. Because science is dependent on sensory input of one kind of another, teasing out the existence of those things from the brain is nearly impossible. This is why, while I respect science, I consider it to be highly limited. Science is based entirely on our shared sensory experience, and while that is of a great deal of use in shaping and altering our sensory world, it is entirely limited, in the sense that by definition, it cannot detect anything beyond those senses. Unfortunately, that is entirely where our sense of self resides. It is not possible to say with absolute certainty that such a world exists, because to say so is to say that we have physical evidence of that fact, and by the very nature of extrasensory phenomena, such direct evidence is impossible. So there remains the very possible existence of a “reality”, such as it is, that is completely impossible for science, and by extension the brain, to ever detect – to either prove or disprove.
So, Do we control our brain, or does our brain control us? Yes.