Does their need to be a homunculus?

How it started

I think I first heard about the Homonucleus back in sixth or seventh grade, before there were computers and probably whien complexity theory was not yet a twinkle in anybody mind’s eye. When we studied the brain, there was this picture of a little man standing inside our heads, and that was our brain.  It controlled everything.  Now, I don’t know how that worked for the Sallies and Annes and Hannahs in Mr. Reiber’s class, but it worked ok for me.  Of course, as I got older I started wondering if that little man had a little man… and fleas have smaller fleas and it’s turtles all the way down.


I think it was called a homunculus, center of the man. (actually, I just read that is means “little man”

Now that I have grown older and more learned, I know there isn’t literally a little man in there, but I wonder if there is even one figuratively.  Does there need to be a little man, or a central processing unit, a war room, a President, a God the father?  Or could there be distributed processing, individuals making decisions, a parliamentary democracy and Gaia or the Tao or that which cannot be spoken of. ((Just as an aside—and this book might seem to be nothing but asides—there is an idea from neurology called a cortical homunculus, which is the neurological representation of our physical body inside the brain – the thing that leads to phantom pain after a limb is lost, and may be responsible for Body Integrity Identity Disorder.

Most of the time, if you think about it, you think there is a you.  Our language certainly helps us tend to think that I am me, that you are you – that there is some thing (not a process usually, since a process is too changeable and too much in flow) that is who you are.  Not just your identity, but the thing that makes you you.  When somebody slips away into dementia or Alzheimer’s disease part of what is sad and frightening is that the thing that was them seems to be disappearing. But just because we think something doesn’t mean it is true.  Or even useful.  And just because everybody we know (at least we think everybody thinks this) thinks this, that doesn’t make it true.  It might get us branded as crazy if we said “I don’t exist,” or even worse “you don’t really exist.”

Turtles all the way down


The Buddhists think there is no ego, in the sense of an eternally existing thing that is who you are.  And I think they don’t think there is a central processing unit – certainly not some independent thing that is in charge of everything else.  But the problem with this is that I can’t write about it, and you can’t read about it, without me using the “I” and “you.”

If it was written: this gets tricky…. If I write “you are writing this and I am reading it” that is a nonsense sentence – because I know I am writing it.  But by the time you read it, that same sentence “you are writing this and I am reading it” makes more sense.  Of course “the writer is writing this and the reader is reading it” scans well for both of us, but that points to what Buckminster Fuller said; “I seem to be a verb.”

Can it be that the reader is reading this, and the hearer is hearing whatever is being heard, and the thinker is thinking “what the frick is this guy getting at” without their being anything or anybody “behind” the reader, the hearer, the thinker?  And would it be such a big jump to say “this is being read, that is being heard, the other thing is being thought (of)” without even saying “the reader is reading this?”  I mean, “the reader” is a bit redundant there.

Now, what I was getting at before getting off track is that the buddhists talk about absolute and relatvie truth.   And they say that relatively speaking, you are reading this and I am writing it.  They would agree it is crazy to say “the person who is reading this is writing it.”  So from a relative viewpoint – I really am “Michael Sanger” and you aren’t.  And you and I both really exist – from the relative viewpoint.  But from an absolute viewpoint, not so much.

:Hold on,” the so-called you says. (I love the eecummings used once, Soi-disant intellectuals.  “Self-called.”) If I’m not reading this and thinking about this, then who is?  And even more – I have to be reading it, otherwise nobody would be reading it.  (as E dickenson said “I’m nobody, who are you? Are you nobody too?”  I assume it was nobody, and not knowbody.  To respond to your question, let’s break it into two parts. First, is it possible that there is nobody home.  That is, can we make a reasonable argument that we don’t need a homunculus?  Can there be reading with no reader, thinking with no thinker?  Second, if that is possible, it is right?

If there is no little man in my head, is there a little man in the sky?

This might be part of the problem.  If there is no central me running things for me, then is there a central God running things?