Am I just my brain by Sharon Dirckx | Book Review

When I initially looked through the glossary, I was thinking that I wouldn’t have chosen this book from the bookstore. My eyelids twitched, and my brain grew tired from the terminologies used. You should be able to guess by now that I don’t enjoy reading deep literature.

After being unsuccessful in reading a self-help book and feeling terrible about the number of books I have read this year. I picked this one up from my wife’s bookshelf. Only because 143 pages seemed like something that I can finish in a day or two. But, I took more than two days to finish this book.

Having a minimum idea about what this book is all about. I ventured into this 143-page-long journey. Though I say that this book wouldn’t have been on my wishlist. I should mention that I find this topic interesting. The only problem or handicap that I face is that I cannot follow along in these intellectual talks about feelings, the mind, consciousness, and the brain.

The forewords written at the start of this book do make you comfortable by mentioning that anyone from any background can follow along in this book.

I spend a lot of time with academicians. Many of them have completed their dissertation and some are still on the way, including myself. It is a very prevalent mindset among researchers to give too much credit to their brains. Yes, we need brains to do the research. But I have found with at least some of my friends that we eventually start measuring ourselves with what we have achieved in research. Owing everything to our brains. Training and disciplining your brain to constantly output great research is a great quality for any researcher. But the problem arises when we soon forget that our brain does not account for everything that is to us.

A little bit about my work and why I find this book relevant. Much research in my domain is revolving around artificial intelligence. Teaching machines to learn from patterns and then make decisions for themselves with no human input. Much of what I do revolves around the machine making decision to classify or detect objects. But, a little google search on the current artificial intelligence research will tell you that is not all that is happening in this domain. We have websites creating marvelous-looking images just by simple text input. We have Deepfakes, which can animate a person saying anything from a script. Recently Facebook reached a milestone by achieving 97% accuracy in face recognition. They published their study titled, “DeepFace: Closing the Gap to Human-Level Performance in Face Verification”

An image generated by Dall.E.2 with the input, “a fat man laughing while sitting over the earth in solar system”

Seeing the effect of what robots are able to do now compared to a few years past. It surely does interest me to think Am I just my brain? And if, I am just my brain, can I teach an inanimate machine to do what I am capable of doing? Dr. Dirckx quotes the Chinese room thought experiment by Philosopher John Searle in her book that answered my question. She quotes, “Imagine a Person A sitting in a room passing Chinese messages through a narrow slot to Person B. Person B is fully enclosed and has no knowledge of the Chinese language, however, they have a table of Chinese symbols with which they can decode each message and construct a reply. To Person A, it seems as if Person B speaks Chinese, but this is incorrect. An ability to process Chinese characters is not the same as speaking the language.

An illustration of a Chinese room.

This thought process can help answer a very important question. Machines though having the ability to process inputs in a very fast, reliable, and accurate manner will never learn to speak by themselves. My standpoint is that machines will not have the consciousness that humans have. There are many arguments that Dr. Dirckx shares to map out the thin line between our brains and our minds.

The book goes into detail about how neuroscience explains the existence of God and why some of us are religious while others are not. She tries to explain why there could be more to the explanation of God than from neuroscience itself.

Dr. Sharon Dirckx is a Christian and the book is written in accordance with her faith. As someone who has read a lot of Christian books, and understands the harm some Christians do by trying to look at everything through the spectacle of religion. I’ve found this book to be neutral. There are instances where Dr. Dirckx quotes the Bible but it is all done to complement her arguments. Moreover, she does not quote the Bible as a religious text but uses it from a historical standpoint. Throughout the book, you will find cited articles published in world-class journals. She does not refute the arguments just on religious texts.

I would give this book 3.5/5 stars. The language of the book is easy to read with very few difficult words. For an average reader, I don’t expect you to be reading this book along with a dictionary. The book does have a fair share of neurology terminologies which may seem difficult to grasp at the beginning. But, Dr. Dirckx reiterates all of those throughout the book. The book is divided into small sections that make it easy for the reader to follow along with the arguments.

Happy reading!