Complexity once not twice

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To say that the key problems lie 'outside the brain' (e.g. Where is the problem?) is not new [1][2] and, by itself, it does not solve any problem. However, it is a statement of belief about where effort should be devoted in neuroscience. The complexity of human activity and thought is staggering, but that complexity needs to appear only once in the equation. There is a tendency to think that human behaviour and cognition are immensely complex and the brain is vastly complex in an unrelated way. Instead, it could be that simple operations by the brain, when carried out in the appropriate sequence, achieve the complexity we observe (including making a cup of tea....). It is hard to imagine this: it is easier to imagine that the brain generates a rich, coloured, textured, 3D reconstruction of the scene and is doing some fearsome computation to achieve this. Although it may be the harder option to imagine that the brain is doing something relative simple, over and over again, by itself failure of imagination cuts no ice[3].

More on O'Regan and Noë (2001).


  1. O'Regan, J. K. (1992). Solving the" real" mysteries of visual perception: the world as an outside memory. Canadian Journal of Psychology, 46, 461-488.
  2. O'Regan, J. K., & Noë, A. (2001). A sensorimotor account of vision and visual consciousness. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24(05), 939-973.
  3. "Philosophers' Syndrome: mistaking a failure of the imagination for an insight into necessity." in Dennett, D. (1991). Consciousness explained. Boston, MA: Little Brown.