The Man Who Thought He Was Dead
Neuropsychologist Dr Paul Broks embarks on a hunt in search of the self. In the first episode, he considers a patient who thought he was dead. But what makes us think we are alive?
Neuropsychologist Dr Paul Broks embarks on a detective hunt in search of the self.
We all have a strong sense of the self, that little person, or "homunculus" that seems to live somewhere behind our eyes, and makes each of us feel that I am ME. In earlier times, people would have been happier with the word "soul". But they puzzled about how it survived the death of the body, and how we could know it was the same as the one we had when alive.
Nowadays, under the onslaught of science, the self/soul seems more and more like a superstitious remnant. Neuroscientists tell us that there is nothing but the brain, and that even conscious decisions, made freely by the self, are in fact made appreciably earlier, even before the self is aware of them. The more you think about the self, the harder it becomes to pin down: are we nothing but our memories, and if so, what about people who lose their memory, or have false memories? Would we be happy to have our memories downloaded and uploaded into a different brain/body, and if not why not? How can we even know that we are the same person each morning when we wake up, given that our self has, in effect, been shut down for hours? Despite all this, we still believe in the self, but is there really anyone at home?
Over the course of the week, Paul Broks a former clinical neuropsychologist, and producer Jolyon Jenkins, go on a quest for the self, using some of Dr Broks' former patients, interviews with experts and philosophical thought experiments. In the first programme, they consider a patient with Cotard's syndrome, in which the sufferer thinks he or she is dead. It might seem obviously false, but what makes us think we're alive?
Presenter: Paul Broks
Producer: Jolyon Jenkins.
You are at the first episode