Lessons from 17th century optics

Those of you who have noticed will have noticed, eventually, that I have been increasingly focused on my theory of the trans-brain which says – if I may avoid nomenclature for a minute – that your brain is everywhere. My theory was originally stated here, gained momentum thanks to the New York Times here, saw the desperation of its opponents here, and was supported by a budding neurophilosopher here.

Instead of continuing to focus on the present and future, I think it is important for me to show how my theory is grounded in the scientific tradition. Two views of the brain dominated the pre-, during-, and post-Englightenment period. One was defended by Descartes and Newton. The other view was developed by someone no one has heard of, Thomas Reid. Thomas Reid pointed out that the Descartes of the world believe that the brain has things in it that it perceives. In other words: I am not seeing a tree in the world, I am seeing a tree in my brain. That’s what the Descartes and Newtons think.

To this, Reid issued a resounding “Nein!” Allow me to quote Reid.

[T]he brain has been dissected times innumerable by the nicest anatomists; every part of it examined by the naked eye, and with the help of microscopes; but no vestige of an image of any external object was ever found. The brain seems to be the most improper substance that can be imagined for receiving or retaining images, being a soft moist medullary substance” (Inquiry into the Intellectual Powers of the Human Mind II, iv [256b], quoted in another book, pg. 80).

The other book goes on to quote Reid again: “We are so far from perceiving images in te brain, that we do not perceive our brain at all; nor would any man ever have known that he had a brain, if anatomy had not discovered, by dissection, that the brain is a constituent part of the human body” (ibid ibid, ibid [257a], quoted in ibid, pg. ibid).

Do simulacrums of my pathbreaks get any more fortuitous? Gleaming from these difficult passages are truths Reid gleaned which were far ahead of his, as it was, Sits im Leben. First, Reid is quite right that the brain is unsuited to receive images. We know from the theory of the trans-brain, and from an elementary application of Pascal’s razor, that it is quite enough to say that the eyes are what see objects. It is remarkable that Reid was able to know this through pure reason alone. We today only know it because animal rights organizations have allowed us to experiment on dogs and rats, which have remarkably similar visual systems to apes, which are similar to us. The transitive genomic principle will get you the rest of the way. Anyhoozle, Reid points out that we really don’t perceive “our brain” at all – because we use it itself to perceive! The subject of perceiving cannot be its own object, according to the widely accepted Universal Grammar. Yet – and here Reid reveals himself as a scathing rhetoricalist – because of “anatomy” we now “know” we have brains, which are “constituent part[s] of the human body”!

Reid’s point is this: If the brain is a mere constituent of the human body, and perception happens in brains looking at themselves, and yet this is impossible, then we can’t actually see! But we couldn’t see anyway because we’re really just looking at our brains! But if we are looking at our brains, then we can see after all! But if we can see, then it can’t be with our brains! But if it is not with our brains, and it is with our brains, then our brains must be more than we have supposed them to be. Hence, if I may return to the vulgar colloquial, your brain is everywhere.

For those of you who don’t understand words, here is a zenn diagram of the differences between Reid and his discontents.

Thomas Reid was effervescent enough to foresee that the brain must at least include the eyes.