Can Modern Neuroscience Change Our Idea of the Human?

Abstract

The paper reviews the contribution of recent neuroscience findings to our understanding of human nature – more exactly, of the three properties that we conceive of as highly-specifically human: consciousness, freedom, and language. The analysis yields rather surprising results. Consciousness is not the highpoint of sophisticated cognitive functions, but primarily the basic pre-reflective self-other distinction intimately related to body control and affective states, within whose limits cognitive processes become possible. Freedom is not a violation of natural laws, but a necessary attribute of complex behavior rooted in fundamental biomechanical freedom of biological movements. Language comprehension is neither an instinct nor a set of inferences, but a behavior based on learnt hierarchy of predictive, anticipatory processes. The answer to the question formulated in the title is positive: yes, it can change. However, the direction of the change is at variance with that straightforward mechanistic kind of explanation that is publicly expected.


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