“Brain-only” adherents link in to Protagoras’s relativism but give it another turn. Not so much man, since the brain is considered to be the measure of all things. Man is reduced to a strictly material entity. All his characteristics are materially determined, reducible to matter and hence measurable, given the availability of suitable devices. This holds for the whole of man, both his physical and spiritual features, ie, his mind.
“We are our brains.” The brain determines what and who we are. Beyond the brain lies nothingness. The brain is all-mighty and omnipotent. It is the ultimate contraption steering our life. The brain assumes almost divine grace—Protagoras’s thesis is excessively stretched; overstretched, I would say.
2. Protagoras phrased his thesis in such general terms that it is hard to interpret. He speaks of “man . . . ,” but which man? The average one (if that type exists), the exceptional man, the man approaching stupidity, the humane man or his egocentric counterpart? The variability of mankind is enormous. Furthermore, how do we “measure” man? Where does the benchmark go: in the middle, higher, or maybe lower?
Protagoras speaks of “all things.” But, what are these things? Morality perhaps? Taking into account man’s track record, this bespeaks a rather gloomy worldview. Is Protagoras speaking of introspection, reflection, empathy? The word “thing” is indefinite and, hence, meaningless. Thus, there are many questions but no answers.
3. The third objection is one of personal character. The statement that man is the touchstone of all things kindles in me dreary feelings. Is that arbitrary, undefined “man” really our gauge? Should the standard not be somewhat higher? My answer is: indeed it should. If not, a society stagnates and decays into colorless skepticism or, worse, into defeatism. I refer once more to the Bible in which the standards are very high—for many of us, perhaps unattainably high. Does it harm to consider that high level as a guideline? Certainly not, it is virtuous. It spurs us to try to reform or better a society, with the ultimate (although unattainable) goal of perfection. It provides life with purpose and meaning, however modest the improvement may ultimately be. Such objectives feed hope, and hope is the priceless fruit of the Messianic notion. Without hope, living would make little sense.
As a motto for a scientific movement, Protagoras’s adage seems unsuitable; as a motto for the human condition—disheartening. Man too often remains below par, to serve as a measure of all things.
Descartes: more right than wrong
Videtur quod sic. It would appear that in psychiatry the soul has to retreat in favor of the brain, that Cartesian dualism is false, that a truly causal treatment in psychiatry is treatment of a brain disorder. That viewpoint is misleading and counterproductive, in terms of both patient care and scientific progress.
Brain and mind are of equal status; communicating partners. They are unbreakably linked but made of fundamentally different “stuff.” Much can be achieved with technology. However, technology fails in understanding the mind. Man is more than a machine—he has spirit, will, and self-determination, all of which are impenetrable to biological technology.
Body and soul—brain and mind: two complex worlds mutually dependent and yet in many ways self-governing. Human nature truly is a natural wonder. It is not surprising that it is imagined (and believed by some) to be created in the image of God.