What defines you?

Who or what are you really?

What defines you as a person? Can we really perceive reality for what it really is or do we only sense its rough outlines? These questions are beautifully embedded in the following comic:

XKCD comic - Trapped
911? My brain is hatching an escape plan, please stop it!

This comic raises some interesting questions. The first question makes us reflect on who we really  are and what defines us. Our brain is trapped in a continuously changing “cage”. In essence, one could say we’re nothing more than a bunch of cooperating cells. However most of these cells get damaged, die and are regenerated.

Shocked? Probably not, yet losing a limb or even a finger is a very traumatic experience. A lesson can be learned here: our brain doesn’t seem to cope well with mass-murdering, but tolerates occasional fatalities. But more importantly, this shows that we think of ourselves as more than just a bunch of neurons and the ideas trapped inside of them.

Indeed, our brain needs the rest of our body to move about, get sensory input, nutrients and oxygen. That’s were the third panel comes in. The girl suggest that the brain shouldn’t feel trapped, but use the surrounding tissue to move about and make sense of the world its living in.

The last panel is of course a nod to Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”. The main protagonist rightfully remarks that its senses only show an imprint of reality, one that is far less complex than the true underlying processes. We only sense the “shadows” of reality.

Plato would certainly approve. I bet he would have loved the opportunity to see what’s going on inside our brain.

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