De-ontologizing the Brain

Partagez —> /

from the fictional self to the social brain

The brain thinks, not man. Man is just a cerebral

— Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari [1

I don’t pretend to account for the Functions of the Brain. I
never heard of a System or a Philosophy that could do it.

— Bernard Mandeville [2

What can a philosopher say about phantom limb syndrome? More
specifically, what can a materialist philosopher say about phantom
limb syndrome? At first glance, a phenomenon by which our ‘corporeal
imagination’ — what La Mettrie in the eighteenth century called the
“magic lantern” working within the brain, projecting images created
by our memory and intellect [3 — induces us to feel pains in a
missing limb might seem like profound evidence that naive,
scientistic views of consciousness are false or at least useless. How
could science with its measurements ever grasp the irreducibly
subjective construction which my body is? Notice that in any case,
regardless of our answer to such a question, a somato-psychic
phenomenon like phantom limb syndrome raises significant issues
regarding good old-fashioned notions such as the self, and slightly
less old-fashioned notions such as the tandem ‘self and brain’.
Namely, if the self has already been deflated — since Hume and
Nietzsche in their respective traditions, and in recent times since
Dennett — what about the brain?

Our suspicions regarding nefarious neurophilosophers and other
~herauts~ of scientism should be allayed, or at least mollified, by
the realization that present-day neuroscience and philosophy of
neuroscience is fully aware that brains can be sources of illusion,
tricks on the mind, self-deception, as much as they are reliable
ontological substrates of something like the self.[4 An intangible
phenomenon like feeling the presence of a phantom limb used to be
viewed, in a kind of crude reductionism, as “wishful thinking” or
“mourning” on the part of the patient (following Ramachandran’s
expression) but this is no longer so.[5 Consider for instance the
fact of volitional control of a phantom limb, as described in
Ramachandran’s famous mirror box experiment (which he also describes
as the “virtual reality box”) and its implications for an integrated
vision of body, mind and brain.

The box is made by placing a vertical mirror inside a cardboard
box with the roof of the box removed. The front of the box has
two holes in it, through which the patient inserts his good arm
and his phantom arm. The patient is then asked to view the
reflection of his normal hand in the mirror, thus creating the
illusion of two hands, when in fact [he is only seeing the
mirror reflection of the intact hand. If he now sends motor
commands to both arms to make mirror-symmetric movements, he
will have the illusion of seeing his phantom hand resurrected
and obeying his commands, i.e. he receives positive visual
feedback informing his brain that his phantom arm is moving

Now, in what follows my aim is less to stake out a position on
phantom limbs (real? imagined? material? neuronal? phenomenal?) than
to show that philosophical reflection on brains, even when it seeks
to rebut the dogmatic anti-naturalism found in most corners of
phenomenology, does not have to be naively, crudely reductionistic or
scientistic — in other words, to show that one can be a materialist
without having to feel like “a cop at Woodstock” (in Dennett’s
colourful expression, referring in his case to being a reductionist
materialist philosopher at a meeting on quantum physics and
consciousness; but he added that he wanted to be like a “good

My argument runs as follows:

1. What do phantom limbs seem to imply? The first-person

2. But a materialist response to this first-person challenge
is possible. Further, it has to be an embodied materialist

3. However, in order to not reinvest the brain with the
mysterious character that the self has lost, this must also be
an embedded vision of the brain, not just in the body but in the
network of symbolic relations. One can describe this as the
‘social brain’, and emphasize the coeval, co-originary relation
between organ and prosthesis, so that the difference between an
original substrate and an artifact disappears or becomes purely
instrumental. This is what I mean by “de-ontologizing the


Phantom limbs and anosognosias — cases of abnormal impressions of
the presence or absence of parts of our body[8 — seem like handy
illustrations of an irreducible, first-person dimension of
experience,[9 of the sort that will delight the phenomenologist, who
will say: aha! there is an empirical case of self-reference which
externalist, third-person explanations of the type favoured by
deflationary materialists, cannot explain away, cannot do away with.
As Merleau-Ponty would say, and Varela after him, there is something
about my body which makes it irreducibly my own (le corps propre).
Whether illusory or not, such images (phantoms) have something about
them such that we perceive them as our own, not someone else’s (well,
some agnosias are different: thinking our paralyzed limb is precisely
someone else’s, often a relative’s). One might then want to insist
that phantom limbs testify to the transcendence of mental life!
Indeed, in one of the more celebrated historical cases of phantom
limb syndrome, Lord Horatio Nelson, having lost his right arm in a
sea battle off of Tenerife, suffered from pains in his phantom hand.
Most importantly, he apparently declared that this phantom experience
was a “direct proof of the existence of the soul”[10 — the clearest
possible statement of the kind of view I wish to oppose here.

Although the materialist might agree with the (reformed)
phenomenologist to reject dualism and accept that we are not in our
bodies like a sailor in a ship, she might not want to go and declare,
as Merleau-Ponty does, that “the mind does not use the body, but
fulfills itself through it while at the same time transferring the
body outside of physical space.”[11 This way of talking goes back to
the Husserlian distinction between Korper, ‘body’ in the sense of one
body among others in a vast mechanistic universe of bodies, and Leib,
‘flesh’ in the sense of a subjectivity which is the locus of

Now, granted, in cognitivist terms one would want to say that a
representation is always my representation, it is not ‘transferable’
like a neutral piece of information, since the way an object appears
to me is always a function of my needs and interests. What my senses
tell me at any given time relies on my interests as an agent and is
determined by them, as described by Andy Clark, who appeals to the
combined research traditions of the psychology of perception, new
robotics, and Artificial Life. But the phenomenologist will take off
from there and build a full-blown defense of intentionality, now
recast as ‘motor intentionality’ (as currently discussed by
neuroscientists such as Alain Berthoz and Marc Jeannerod and
philosophers such as Sean Kelly), a notion which goes back to
Husserl’s claim in _Ideas II_ that the way the body relates to the
external world is crucially through “kinestheses”: all external
motions which we perceive are first of all related to kinesthetic
sensations, out of which we constitute a sense of space. On this
view, our body thus already displays ‘originary intentionality’ in
how it relates to the world.

This is part of what I mean by the appeal to the first-person
dimension. In contrast, for someone like Dennett, phantom limbs and
agnosias are, at least as much as they are instances of
self-reference, instances of self-deception: we don’t have a
transparent relation to ourselves. “You are not authoritative about
what is happening in you, but only about what seems to be happening
in you,”[12 or, as Andy Clark puts it, “the conscious self is but
the tip of the ‘I’ berg.”[13 Phantom limb phenomena merely bring to
light a much wider sense in which we live in ‘intended’ rather than
‘actual’ worlds[14, i.e., we presuppose an enormous amount of what
is there in order to act. Put in an extreme way, “your own body is a
phantom, one that your brain has temporarily constructed purely for
convenience.”[15 Given this, it’s not a good idea — at least
ontologically; the ethical story is different, as Locke saw (and his
response was to emphasize that ‘person’ was a “forensick term”) — to
trace everything back to a central, unifying and grounding

For your entire life, you’ve been walking around assuming that
your ‘self’ is anchored to a single body that remains stable and
permanent at least until death… yet these results suggest the
exact opposite — that your body image… is an entirely
transitory construct that can be profoundly altered with just a
few simple tricks.[16

Our self — and its neural correlates — is a construct, at most a
“narrative center,”[17 and by that token, it’s a fiction (as first
seen by Hume, and also Montaigne). I am a character in a story my
brain is making up, “consciousness is a property I have by virtue of
my brain’s attributing it to me. My story doesn’t have to cohere
completely to be useful.”[18 Katherine Hayles calls this new
intuition “posthuman”: “Consciousness for the posthuman ceases to be
seen as the seat of identity and becomes instead an epiphenomenon, a
late evolutionary add-on whose principal function is to narrate
just-so stories that often have little to do with what is actually
happening.”[19 I will keep referring to it for now in more plain
terms as the fictional self. One also hears echoes of the fictional
self in Michael Gazzaniga’s accounts of his split-brain studies
(severing the corpus callosum in the case of certain seizures): in
commissurotomized subjects, it is not the ‘whole person’ who does the
reintegrating of their world, but one hemisphere of their brain; “the
person is utterly unaware of the tricky communicative ploys the brain
comes to exploit.”[20 This was arguably already Kurt Goldstein’s
point — namely, that it is simply a ‘fact’, a ‘property’ of our
brains that they construct unity or totality, as a normal state but
also in response to abnormal situations[21 — but he ontologized it
into a property of the brain and by extension of ‘the organism’ that
somehow removed it from the world of causality and mechanistic
natural science. I won’t go along with the ontologization, but before
I get to this, I’d like to put some more nails in the coffin of the
(admittedly ‘undead’) first-person perspective.

As I said initially, phantom limbs and related phenomena seem like
ideal cases for the phenomenologist (whether slightly favourable to a
naturalistic viewpoint or not), of a bodily state in which the
viewpoint of the subject is an irreducible part of the state, such
that if it were factored out, that ‘state’ would no longer make any
sense, indeed would no longer exist.


The ‘trivially true’ materialist response here would be to say: these
are cases of ‘remapping’ the inner ‘model’ of the body we have, known
as the cortical map[22 or the Penfield map (after the Canadian
neurologist, Wilder Penfield), caused by mismatches between visual
and proprioceptive feedback. In other words, these apparently
uniquely ‘mindful’ phenomena are nonetheless mechanistically
specifiable and explainable. (Ironically, this is not so far removed
from Descartes’ position on phantom limbs: we shouldn’t trust the
senses but rather our reason. He viewed phantom limbs as illusions,
which tells us that the problem of phantom limbs is the mind-body
problem, since it demands that we define the relation between a
sensation and ‘that of which it is a sensation’.) The variant of the
materialist response that I shall offer here can include such
deflationary elements, but I would add that (a) insofar as such
accounts refer back to the uniqueness of our subjective experience,
they run into the aporia of opposing the first-person perspective to
the third-person perspective and (b) insofar as the present version
of materialism allows for embodiment[23 (and is thereby not just a
physicalism), it can accommodate such experiences without having to
explain them in first-person terms.


To lay out the third-person, externalist perspective, it’s always
helpful to remember that there is no homunculus:

The cardinal background principle [for the neurophilosopher is
that there are no homunculi. There is no little person in the
brain who ‘sees’ an inner television screen, ‘hears’ an inner
voice, ‘reads’ the topographic maps, weighs reasons, decides
actions, and so forth. There are just neurons and their
connections. When a person sees, it is because neurons,
individually blind and individually stupid neurons, are
collectively orchestrated in the appropriate manner.[24

And there are no qualia either. As Dennett has memorably written,
believers in qualia are tied to a picture of the mind as a ‘Cartesian
theatre’, in which mental entities are on display before the mind’s
eye. To move from, e.g., the reality of colors as properties of
physical objects to the reality of color qualia as the properties of
internal states is an unjustified inference.[25 One can add that the
notion of ‘phenomenal information’ is doubtful — perhaps
interesting, and heuristically useful, but in no way more real than
the ‘rational part of the soul.’ The Husserlian claim that experience
itself, qualities and all, contains the ‘essences’ we need to inquire
into, is more convincing!

Thomas Nagel’s famous appeal to subjective experience in “What is it
like to be a bat?”[26 is an elegant revival or recycling of the
phenomenological vulgate from the Continent, a ‘minimal credo’ one
could find in Bergson, Merleau-Ponty or even Husserl, but it is not
an argument to assert that ‘the mental is subjective and science is
objective, therefore science cannot explain the realm of the mental
(and materialism is false)’. This is logically true in the same way
that ‘All Martians are adulterous, and all adulterous people are meat
eaters, so all Martians are meat eaters’ is true, but it says nothing
more. In fact,

Human and other subjects can have functionally or
computationally different states that nonetheless home on the
same objective state of affairs, either external or internal.
But there are no intrinsically subjective or perspectival facts
that are either the special objects of self-regarding attitudes
or facts of ‘what it is like’. There are only states of subjects
that both function in a particularly intimate way within those
subjects and have the subjects themselves and their other states
as inevitable referents. And that is all there is to


More interestingly, and moving towards ’embodiment’, Paul Churchland
has pointed out that we can claim to have a first-person, privileged
relation to all sorts of physical things, including our muscles,
skin, stomach and bowels (!), what Patricia Churchland has elegantly
called “awareness of visceral circumstance.”[28 Curiously — and
doubtless without the Churchlands’ knowing it — Leibniz entertains
this possibility in the _New Essays Concerning Human Understanding_
(1704), asserting that “something occurs in the soul in reponse [to
the internal motions of the viscera,”[29 perhaps in response to
Descartes’ remarks in the Sixth _Meditation_ on how my experience of
bodily processes includes “twitching in the stomach.”[30 But
Leibniz, heading off objections to animism, says the soul is
actually unaware of such movements. In any case, the point here is
that purely internal, ‘private’ events which only I can feel, are in
no way separate from the natural, causal world which science
studies. Of course, while muscular or visceral motions can be
studied from a third-person perspective, in terms compatible with
the scientific representation of the world, we can also claim to
feel things about them which this representation cannot include.

The existence of a proprietary, first-person epistemological
access to some phenomenon does not mean that the accessed
phenomenon is nonphysical in nature. It means only that someone
possesses an information-carrying causal connection to that
phenomenon, a connection that others lack.[31

The materialist can accept that we have “a route of epistemological
access” to our own body, which others lack (this is not Merleau-Ponty
but the Australian identity theorist David Armstrong!), and thereby
also to our mind.[32 But it must be explained: “there remains a
genuine obligation on the materialist’s part to give some account of
the subjectivity or perspectivalness or point-of-view-ness of the
mental”; “the materialist owes the world an explanation of what it is
about a mental/neural state that makes its proprietor think of it as
subjective.”[33 In other words, instead of denying the existence of
introspection, the materialist should try and locate it within the
physical world, within the overall framework of explanation (as
Spinoza did). One place to start, where philosophy still has to catch
up on neuroscience, despite brief and passing remarks by the
‘identity theorists’,[34 is proprioception, precisely inasmuch as it
is my ‘internal’ sense of my body and yet is light-years removed from
any aprioristic vision of an “inner sense” or “sense of senses” as
found in St. Augustine, Kant or the phenomenologist Erwin Straus. The
American poet Charles Olson was perhaps alone in recognizing the
import of this concept, speaking of “the ‘body’ itself… by movement
of its own tissues, giving the data of, depth,” “spontaneously
[producing experience of, ‘Depth’, viz. SENSIBILITY WITHIN THE
ORGANISM BY MOVEMENT OF ITS OWN TISSUES,” and he described the body
as an “interior empty place filled with ‘organs’? for ‘functions’?”,
which (sounding suddenly very Germanic) “removes the false opposition
of ‘consciousness’.”[35

What proprioception — among other biological phenomena — tells us
is that even if we were restricting ourselves to ‘biological talk’,
we would end up with some account of our subjective relation to the
world, of our sense of ‘self’ in the midst of our experience of the
world. Further, it would equally be within the province of biological
discourse to describe how we construct partial versions of the world
for ourselves (as described at the level of perception by the eminent
neurophysiologist Walter Freeman).[36 One way of explaining this is
to view our perceptual processes as filters, which “take in and
retain only a tiny and tendentiously selected fraction of the
information that is available in an object under scrutiny.”[37 Hence
no two subjects perceive the same object in the same way, including
for evolutionary reasons.

Indeed, since the embodied materialist standpoint is not merely a
physicalism but can appeal to biological information, it offers
plenty of ways to understand individuality, selfhood or agency, from
reflections on the developmental process to immunology and the
neuroscience of action. There is no need, then, to oppose a private
(and foundational) self to the body or the brain. Instead of
declaring rather dualistically that “It is man who thinks, not the
brain,” as Erwin Straus does[38 — that is, that brain events do
exist but have nothing to do with the world of our experience — the
reverse formulation, Deleuze and Guattari’s, seems more wise: “The
brain thinks, not man. Man is just a cerebral crystallization.”[39


The trick is to not go all the way with embodiment, so as not to end
up in what Deleuze, speaking of Merleau-Ponty, called the “mysticism
of the flesh.”[40 After all, is there anything metaphysically unique
about flesh, skin or the brain which makes them do what they do? My
last point, then, is to not get too comfortable with embodiment
either, since the brain is necessarily located within the social and
symbolic world: this is what I mean by ‘de-ontologizing the brain.’

Namely, if we demystify or deflate some concepts of self and
subjectivity by relating such concepts to the reality of the brain —
the processes of which are dynamic, distributed, non-centred,
dissipative, and include ‘remapping’ — we shouldn’t then turn the
brain itself into a mysterious substance which explains everything,
some sort of ‘Wonder Tissue’; a corrective is needed. If mind and
body belong together, as do body and brain, so do brain and world.

Call this the “co-evolutionary” perspective (with Terrence Deacon)
and emphasize ‘Baldwinian evolution’, i.e., the cluster of linguistic
and cultural layers in evolution which do not fall under Darwinian
evolution; call it the “social brain,” in the Spinozist tradition
(including Damasio but also Lev Vygotsky and Antonio Negri[41). The
idea is that ‘not everything is in the head’, or ‘the skin is not a
real barrier’ (think of how much we care about extended limbs, how
upset we get if they are severed, including even remote-controlled
limbs). This is what Andy Clark calls “scaffolding”: we are
inseparable from the “looping interactions” between our brains, our
bodies, and “complex cultural and technological environments.”[42 In
other words, our brains have the talent for making use of the
environment, “piggy-backing on reliable environmental
properties,”[43 which is in fact a far more economical and swift
action procedure than processing representations of objects.
“Scaffolding” is one of the vehicles humans employ, so that language,
culture and institutions empower cognitions.[44 On this view, the
brain is not a central planner but rather possesses a “scaffolding”
which is inseparable from the external world.

Think of it in terms of plasticity: the possibility, as described in
Ramachandran’s mirror box experiment, of reviving volitional control
and somatic sensations in a phantom arm by simply using a mirror,
even when no sensation had been experienced by the subject for the
previous ten years, “implies a surprising degree of plasticity in the
adult brain.”[45 And this plasticity implies in turn a surprising
degree of opportunistic openness towards the non-organic, the
artificial, the technological: the biological functioning of our
brains themselves “has always involved [using nonbiological props
and scaffolds,”[46 with direct consequences for brain architecture
itself: “a youngster growing up in a medieval village in
twelfth-century France would literally have different neural
connections than a twenty-first-century American adolescent who has
spent serious time with computer games.”[47 In Deleuze’s terms,
“Creating new circuits in art means creating them in the brain.”[48

In any case, my point is not to take a position in the current
debates on the status and importance of neural plasticity,[49 but
rather to emphasize the ‘scaffolding’ dimension, which implies — at
the risk of sounding a bit like a practitioner of ‘Theory’ — that
the ‘paradigm’ of the phantom limb might not be not so far removed
from that of the prosthesis.

Given the degree of openness of the central nervous system, and on
the ‘personal’ level, our ability to identify with non-biological
extensions of our body, the ‘artificialist’ perspective, in which
body and prosthesis, indeed, body and tool, merge, is not so far off.
Just as the ‘fictional self’ is the outcome of the deflation of the
ontological unity of self, the social, evolving, ‘cultured'[50 brain
deflates the ontological uniqueness and isolation of the brain.
Instead of opposing subjectivity to the natural world, or the body to
the tool, we have arrived at a vision of the “productive potential”
of the agent as inseparable from a “set of prostheses,”[51 in a
process of what Felix Guattari would have called the “production of
subjectivity.” In Negri’s terms,

The tool… has entirely changed. We no longer need tools in
order to transform nature… or to establish a relation with the
historical world…, we only need language. Language is the
tool. Better yet, the brain is the tool, inasmuch as it is

The brain is “common” inasmuch as it is constituted by and
inseparable from the network of relations to which we belong. If
phantom limb syndrome was the point of entry here by which the brain
opens onto the world of fiction, revealing our sense of self,
including its ’embodied’ dimension, to be a “transitory internal
construct,” in Ramachandran’s terms, then the prosthesis (akin in
this respect to certain appropriations of the figure of the cyborg)
is the point at which the brain escapes any solipsism, whether of the
post-Cartesian, brain-in-a-vat sort, or the more omnipotent,
brain-as-self sort. If one thinks of the recent examples of the
performers Stelarc and Orlan (regardless of their different
vocabularies and cultural contexts), one can see this sense in which
biological limits are being transcended, by being ‘plugged into’
technological networks (this mainly in the case of Stelarc).[53 This
is the kind of commonality we have been discussing — in which self
and brain are constituted through interactions with various extended
entities, so that what it is to be ‘me’ is nothing other than a
productive potential, a “set of prostheses,” of fictions.

* * *

The common brain or social brain generates the fictional self, but
really, the fellow-traveler of such a self should be termed the
de-ontologized brain. Now, one can ask in response if a
de-ontologized brain can “think ontologically,”[54 and the initial
response seems to be No: if an ontology amounts to a definition or
catalogue of what there is, as opposed to what there isn’t (tables,
chairs, bodies and maybe mathematical entities, but not centaurs or
smiles of Cheshire cats), then brains as entities ‘plugged in’ to the
network of artificialist, technological production shouldn’t think
ontologically at all. However, if one understands ontology in a sense
closer to the “production of subjectivity,” namely, as “constitutive
ontology,” in Negri’s terms, then there is no tension between a
plastic, social, cultured brain-in-a-network and the constant
production and reproduction of being, through the desires and actions
of concrete agents.[55 If what there is, is constituted, the brain’s
positing and desiring are no more real than the fictional,
“forensick” masks of the self, but they are also no less real than
the social, ethical and political forms into which they crystallize.


A shorter version of this paper was presented at the conference on
‘Phantom Limb Phenomena. Neuroscientific, Aesthetic, Philosophical
Perspectives’, Goldsmiths College, University of London, January
14-16, 2005. Many thanks to John Symons (UT El Paso) for steering me
in the right direction with some of this material.


[1 Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, _Qu’est-ce que la philosophie?_,
Paris: Minuit, 1991, pp. 197-198.

[2 Bernard Mandeville, _A Treatise of the hypochondriack and
hysterick diseases_, 2nd corrected edition, London: Tonson, 1730;
reprint, Delmar, N.Y., Scholars’ Reprints, 1976, p. 137.

[3 Julien Offray de La Mettrie, _L’Homme-Machine_ (1748), in Aram
Vartanian, _La Mettrie’s “L’Homme-Machine.” A Study in the Origins of
An Idea_, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1960, p. 165. La
Mettrie adds that the soul as a whole can be reduced to the workings
of the imagination.

[4 See Todd E. Feinberg & David M. Roane, “Anosognosia, completion
and confabulation: the neutral-personal dichotomy,” _Neurocase_ 3
(1997) and William Hirstein, _Brain Fiction. Self-Deception and the
riddle of confabulation_, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2005 (an
important work which addresses several of the concerns in the present

[5 V.S. Ramachandran & L. Levi et al., “Illusions of body image,” in
Rodolfo Llin?s & Patricia S. Churchland, eds., _The Mind-Brain
continuum: sensory processes_, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996;
V.S. Ramachandran & William Hirstein, “The Perception of phantom
limbs” (D.O. Hebb lecture), _Brain 121_ (1998).

[6 Ramachandran & Hirstein, “The Perception of phantom limbs,” p.

[7 Daniel Dennett, “The Myth of double transduction,” _Toward a
science of consciousness II, The Second Tucson discussions and
debates_, eds. S. Hameroff, A.W. Kaszniak & A.C. Scott, Cambridge,
Mass.: MIT Press, 1998, p. 97.

[8 See Antonio Damasio, _Descartes’ Error. Emotion and reason in the
human brain_, New York: Putnam, 1994, pp. 62-66.

[9 Feinberg & Roane, “Anosognosia, completion and confabulation: the
neutral-personal dichotomy.”

[10 As quoted in Ramachandran & Hirstein, “The Perception of phantom
limbs,” p. 1604.

[11 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, _The Structure of behavior_, trans. A.L.
Fisher, Boston: Beacon Press, 1963, pp. 208-209 (trans. modified).

[12 Daniel Dennett, _Consciousness Explained_, Harmondsworth:
Penguin, 1990, p. 96.

[13 Andy Clark, _Natural-Born Cyborgs. Minds, technologies and the
future of human intelligence_, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002,
p. 100.

[14 Borrowing this formulation from Chris Frith (discussion, London,

[15 V.S. Ramachandran & Sandra Blakeslee, _Phantoms in the brain_,
New York: W. Morrow, 1998, p. 62.

[16 Ibid.; the body image is a “transitory internal construct”
(Ramachandran & Hirstein, “The Perception of phantom limbs,” p.

[17 Dennett, _Consciousness Explained_, ch. 13, esp. pp. 426-427;
“The Self as center of narrative gravity,” in F.J. Kessel, P. Cole &
D.L. Johnson, eds., _Self and consciousness: multiple perspectives_,
Hillsdale, NJ: L. Erlbaum, 1992; Antonio Damasio, _The Feeling of
what happens_, New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1999, ch. 7.

[18 Drew McDermott, “Little ‘me'” (commentary on Daniel Dennett &
Marcel Kinsbourne, “Time and the observer”), _Brain and Behavioral
Sciences_ 15:2 (1992), p. 217.

[19 N. Katherine Hayles, “Flesh and Metal: Reconfiguring the
Mindbody in Virtual Environments,” _Configurations_ 10 (2002),
p. 319.

[20 Daniel Dennett, _Elbow Room. The varieties of free will worth
wanting_, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1984, p. 40, n. 23, referring
to Michael S. Gazzaniga & Joseph E. Ledoux, _The Integrated Mind_,
New York: Plenum, 1978. See also, inter alia, Gazzaniga, “The
Neuronal Platonist” (interview by Shaun Gallagher), _Journal of
Consciousness Studies_ 5:5-6 (1998), online at

[21 See Kurt Goldstein, T_he Organism: a holistic approach to
biology derived from pathological data in man_, New York: Zone Books
/ MIT Press, 1995 (originally published 1934). In modern neuroscience
Goldstein’s role as a predecessor of more recent split-brain studies
has been seen by Norman Geschwind, “Disconnexion syndromes in animals
and man,” _Brain_ 88 (1965).

[22 See Nicholas Humphrey, _A History of the mind_, New York: Simon
& Schuster, 1992, pp. 171-176, here, p. 172.

[23 For more on the ’embodiment’ paradigm in cognitive science, see
Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson & Eleanor Rosch, _The Embodied Mind_,
Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1991.

[24 Patricia S. Churchland, _Neurophilosophy: towards a unified
science of the mind/brain_, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1986,
p. 406.

[25 Daniel Dennett, “Quining Qualia,” in A.J. Marcel & E. Bisiach,
eds., _Consciousness and contemporary science_, Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1988.

[26 Thomas Nagel, “What is it like to be a bat?,” _Philosophical
Review_ 83:4 (1974).

[27 William G. Lycan, “What is the ‘subjectivity’ of the mental?”,
in James Tomberlin, ed., _Philosophical Perspectives vol. 4: Action
theory and the philosophy of mind_, Atascadero: Ridgeview Publishing,
1990, p. 126.

[28 Patricia S. Churchland, “Reduction and the neurobiological basis
of consciousness,” in Marcel & Bisiach, eds., _Consciousness and
contemporary science_, p. 282.

[29 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, _New Essays on Human Understanding_,
P. Remnant & J. Bennett, ed. & trans. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1982, book II, chapter I, sect. 15.

[30 Rene Descartes, Oeuvres, C. Adam & P. Tannery, eds. 11 vols.,
reprint, Paris: Vrin, 1964-1974, vol. IX, p. 60.

[31 Paul M. Churchland, _The Engine of reason, the seat of the
soul_, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1995, p. 198.

[32 David Armstrong, in his exchange with Norman Malcolm,
_Consciousness and causality. A debate on the nature of mind_,
Oxford: Blackwell, 1984, p. 112. See Armstrong’s _A Materialist
theory of the mind_, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968 (2nd ed.,
1993), pp. 100-115, for the materialist’s reconstruction of

[33 Lycan, “What is the ‘subjectivity’ of the mental?”,
pp. 110, 116.

[34 See e.g. J.J.C. Smart, “The Identity theory of mind,” _Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy_ (http://plato.stanford.edu) (2000) and
Armstrong, in Armstrong & Malcolm, _Consciousness and causality_, pp.
110-112. Admittedly, most of the cognitive science discussions of
proprioception seem to miss its philosophical implications, too. In
his broad and influential work _Being There. Putting brain, body and
world back together again_, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1997, Andy
Clark simply says that proprioception is “the inner sense that tells
you how your body is located in space” (p. 22) and leaves it at that.

[35 Charles Olson, “Proprioception” [1961-1962, in _Collected
Prose_, ed. Donald Allen & Benjamin Friedlander, Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1997, pp. 181, 182. Thanks to Homa Shojaie for
helping me locate this text.

[36 See Walter J. Freeman, “The Physiology of Perception,”
_Scientific American_ 264 (February 1991) and _How Brains Make Up
Their Minds_, London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1999.

[37 Lycan, “What is the ‘subjectivity’ of the mental?”, p. 117.

[38 Erwin Straus, _Du sens des sens_, Grenoble: J. Millon, 1989,
p. 183.

[39 Deleuze & Guattari, _Qu’est-ce que la philosophie?_,
pp. 197-198.

[40 For Merleau-Ponty’s overtly mystical statements about ‘Flesh’
see e.g. _Phenomenology of perception_, trans. Colin Smith, London:
Routledge Kegan Paul, 1962, p. 212: “Just as the sacrament not only
symbolizes… an operation of Grace, but is also the real presence of
God… in the same way the sensible has not only a motor and vital
significance but is a way of being in the world… sensation is
literally a form of communion.”

[41 On the social brain, see Paolo Virno, “Multitude et principe
d’individuation,” _Multitudes_ 7 (December 2001),
http://multitudes.samizdat.net/Multitude-et-principe-d.html and
Charles T. Wolfe, “Il cervello sociale,” _Forme di vita_ vol. 4
(Rome, 2005).Some of the recent interest in Gilbert Simondon touches
upon this topic, including the recent special issue of _Multitudes_
17 (2004).

[42 Andy Clark, _Natural-Born Cyborgs_, pp. 11, 43. Clark intersects
here with a good deal of recent cultural theory, media theory, and
literary theory (when it concerns itself with the relation between
fiction, embodiment and technological forms) — see in particular
Donna Haraway’s “cyborgs” (in “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science,
Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in
_Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature_, New York:
Routledge, 1991, online at
http://www.stanford.edu/dept/HPS/Haraway/CyborgManifesto.html) and
Katherine Hayles’ “posthuman” subjects (in “The Life Cycle of
Cyborgs: Writing the Posthuman,” in _A Question of Identity: Women,
Science and Literature_, ed. M. Benjamin, New Brunswick: Rutgers
University Press, 1993; _How We became posthuman: Virtual bodies in
cybernetics, literature, and informatics_, Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1999 and “Flesh and Metal: Reconfiguring the Mindbody
in Virtual Environments,” op. cit.). But Clark is unique in that he
speaks from within cognitive science — which also entails that there
is no utopian dimension to his theory.

[43 Clark, _Being There_, p. 45.

[44 Ibid., pp. 21, 87.

[45 V.S. Ramachandran & L. Levi et al., “Illusions of body image,”
p. 34.

[46 Clark, _Natural-Born Cyborgs_, p. 86.

[47 Hayles, “Flesh and Metal: Reconfiguring the Mindbody in Virtual
Environments,” p. 300.

[48 Gilles Deleuze, _Negotiations 1972-1990_, trans. M. Joughin, New
York: Columbia University Press, 1995, p. 26.

[49 Contrast Steven Quartz & Terry Sejnowski’s “neural
constructivism” (essentially a kind of ‘hyper-plasticity’) with
Gazzaniga’s insistence that we actually have less plasticity than is
currently thought. Further, consider the ‘new innatist’ point that
phantom limbs imply the existence of internal representations of our
body which we are born with (e.g., the fetus which knows how to put
its thumb in its mouth without ‘putting out its eye’, an example
suggested by a participant in the ‘Phantom Limb’ conference).
Another, more cautionary response to invocations of plasticity is to
point out that cortical remapping is not always a good thing! (Bodies
are not just what Los Angeles media executives make out of them, in
Eagleton’s celebrated image — he was attacking the postmodern
obsession with the body coupled with its disregard for the real-life
“piece of matter that sickens and dies,” and concluded that “the
creature who emerges from postmodern thought is centreless,
hedonistic, self-inventing, ceaselessly adaptive. He [is more like a
Los Angeles media executive than an Indonesian fisherman”
[T. Eagleton, _After Theory_, London: Allen Lane, 2003, p. 186.)

[50 On the theme of the “cultured brain” see Warren Neidich,
_Blow-Up. Photography, cinema and the brain_, New York: Distributed
Art Publishers, 2003. A ‘Deleuzean approach’ to the brain is a
significant component of Neidich’s analysis; for a helpful discussion
of Deleuze on the brain see John Rajchman, _The Deleuze Connections_,
Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2000, pp. 133f., 136-138, and my review
at http://mentalhelp.net/books/books.php?type=de&id=476

[51 Antonio Negri, “Alma Venus. Prolegomena to the common,” trans.
Patricia Dailey & Constantino Costantini, in Charles T. Wolfe, ed.,
_The Renewal of Materialism_ (Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal
22:1, New York, New School for Social Research, 2000), 16b. Online at

[52 Ibid.

[53 See http://www.stelarc.va.com.au and http://www.orlan.net

[54 As suggested by an anonymous reviewer for CTheory.net

[55 Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri, _Empire_, Cambridge, Mass.:
Harvard University Press, 2000, p. 362. For more on Negri’s notion of
“constitutive ontology,” see my discussion, “Materialism and
temporality. On Antonio Negri’s ‘constitutive’ ontology,” in Timothy
S. Murphy & Abdul-Karim Mustapha, eds., _The Philosophy of Antonio
Negri 2: Revolution in Theory_, London: Pluto Press, forthcoming