the homunculus

Ray Scanlon rscanlon at
Sun Dec 13 19:52:11 EST 1998

The homunculus is the little man who sits in the center of the head,
watching a TV screen and punching buttons. We laugh at those who are so
naive that they believe in the little man. We have a much more sophisticated
homunculus. We have a mind that selects from the data proffered by the
brain, manipulates that data, reaches a conclusion, and forwards the
decision to the brain for execution. No! It is the brain that thinks and
decides, its thoughts are the result of molecular activity.

Science is the examination of the material universe. The brain belongs to
science, the homunculus belongs to religion. This is not to deny religion
but to be clear minded about what is science and what is religion. To this
end I suggest that we use the word soul instead of mind, self, intelligence,
whatever when speaking of that which is aware.

Anyone who ascribes causal powers to soul, anyone who speaks of free will,
invokes the homunculus. Anyone who says a thought is other than our
awareness of a constellation of activated neurons, invokes the homunculus.
Awareness belongs to religion.

Worship of man as emergent, as social animal, is not science, it is

It is too easy to invoke the homunculus. The only defense is to point out
every time that someone slips into religion and calls it science.

There is no use in attempting to revive usages of the past, they are gone.
In 1998 "science" means examination of the material universe, biological
science is molecular, physical science is quantal.

It is my conjecture that during the next fifty to seventy five years
neuroscience will work out the how the neurons of the brain function and
place their activity on a firm molecular basis. When this is done it will be
plain that the material world has no place for soul. Man will leave
cognitive science and turn to religion.

Those interested in how the brain works might look at

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