The exocerebro: Another way of looking at consciousness – Health and Well-being

The exocerebro hypothesis is an interesting theory about consciousness that, in general terms, states that it is not only located in the brain, but also in the environment in which the human being operates.

The exocerebro hypothesis is a theoretical elaboration formulated by the anthropologist Roger Bartra, in the first decade of the 21st century. He argues that consciousness is the result of internal processes that take place in neurons, in combination with external processes that occur outside the brain, more precisely in the symbolic environment of each individual.

Bartra argues that a large part of neurobiologists have tried to explain the phenomenon of consciousness only from the biophysical and biochemical processes that occur in the brain. According to the anthropologist, this has prevented significant advances in this specific field, despite the great advances in neuroscience.

In the opinion of Roger Bartra, what is missing from this approach is to take into account that many functions of the human brain would not be possible without the necessary complement offered by the environment. This is the axis of the exocerebro hypothesis, which we will talk about next.

“Neuroscientists often feel uncomfortable in this motley company, but they will have to get used to sharing the territory of consciousness with strange colleagues if they want to move forward.” Roger Bartra.-

The exobrain hypothesis

Roger Bartra started from a work prepared by Stevan Harnad in which a compilation of studies on consciousness up to the beginning of the 21st century was made. The lengthy article was titled No easy way out and served as a starting point for Bartra to formulate his exocerebro hypothesis.

A first approach, very bold, by the way, was to point out that consciousness is not the result of some function of the brain, but of a dysfunction. To explain this idea, he compares the brain to a pneumatic machine. He says that if the latter is faced with a job that is beyond her strength, the result is that she stops.

In principle, the same should happen to the human brain, but it is not. Why? Because man has devised “prostheses” or external aids that prevent this from happening. These prostheses are the cultural and social networks in which the human being is immersed. Bartra calls them “cultural prostheses” and they are basically made up of language and symbols.

Cultural prostheses and the exocerebro

The exocerebro hypothesis then states that the brain is incapable of creating consciousness on its own. It must be clarified that Bartra defines consciousness, in a general way, as “self-awareness or awareness of being aware”. The deficiency of the brain would come to be compensated by the cultural prostheses, that is, the social and cultural systems present in the environment.

Therefore, consciousness would be the ability to connect the internal processes of the brain with external circuits, located in the environment. Bartra indicates that the process is similar to that which occurs when a prosthesis is installed to correct a sensory dysfunction, such as deafness, for example. In these cases, the brain adapts to these devices and comes to incorporate them into its functions.

In this sense, cultural prostheses are defined as symbolic substitution systems, which act as compensatory mechanisms for the brain. For example, when hominids changed places and encountered unknown or adverse conditions, instead of stopping, as a machine would, they built signaling or orientation systems to locate and adapt.

The lack of cultural prostheses

Roger Bartra points out that one of the pieces of evidence for the exocerebro hypothesis is found in two specific cases. One is that of autism, a disorder in which many of the cognitive functions can remain intact and even overdeveloped. Even so, the absence of a link with the environment prevents the formation of a conscience as such.

Another example is that of people with antisocial personality disorder. It has been detected that it is common for those with this diagnosis to present a lower volume of gray matter, up to 11 percent. By virtue of this they fail to connect with the environment and this leads them to lack consciousness. Both in this case and in the previous one, there is talk of lack of exocerebro.

The exocerebro hypothesis was born by an anthropologist and is very difficult to prove experimentally, but it has caught the attention of many neuroscientists around the world. At the moment, it is considered a plausible explanation, but under verification.

The Mind is Wonderful.-

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