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Our intuitive concept of the relations between brain and mind is increasingly challenged by the scientific world view. Yet, although few neuroscientists openly endorse Cartesian dualism, careful reading reveals dualistic intuitions in prominent neuroscientific texts. Here, we present the “double-subject fallacy”: treating the brain and the entire person as two independent subjects who can simultaneously occupy divergent psychological states and even have complex interactions with each other—as in “my brain knew before I did.” Although at first, such writing may appear like harmless, or even cute, shorthand, a closer look suggests that it can be seriously misleading. Surprisingly, this confused writing appears in various cognitive-neuroscience texts, from prominent peer-reviewed articles to books intended for lay audience. Far from being merely metaphorical or figurative, this type of writing demonstrates that dualistic intuitions are still deeply rooted in contemporary thought, affecting even the most rigorous practitioners of the neuroscientific method. We discuss the origins of such writing and its effects on the scientific arena as well as demonstrate its relevance to the debate on legal and moral responsibility.


This article was originally published in Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, volume 27, issue 2, in 2014. DOI: 10.1162/jocn_a_00723


MIT Press



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