By Volkart Wildermut

“We are not one me, but several, perhaps several ego states,” writes Gerhard Roth. (Suhrkamp / Deutschlandradio)

In his latest book “Über den Menschen”, Gerhard Roth takes stock. A thesis: wanting to recognize your true self is hopeless. The neuroscientist and philosopher, however, lacks evidence.

There is no “I”, no “free will”, no “guilt”: at least that is what some neuroscientists want to read from colored images of the brain or patterns in nerve impulses. . Almost 80 years old, brain researcher and philosopher Gerhard Roth takes stock and questions whether we really need to rethink our view of human beings based on the new findings.

In previous books, Gerhard Roth has examined neuroscientific findings in detail. In “About Man”, he starts from the major questions of philosophy: What is the I, are certain knowledge possible, can we understand others?

Change of scientifically unjustified optimism

Brain research can help here. After a stroke, some aspects of yourself are sometimes lost, such as the experience of the body as your own. From this Roth concludes: “We are not one ego, but several, perhaps several ego states”.

Trying to recognize your true self is therefore hopeless. More importantly, actions are primarily triggered by unconscious brain processes. “But the ego doesn’t know”, often in retrospect, it must find a plausible explanation for its own behavior.

Therefore, according to Roth, a conscious resolution is of little use if it does not match the unconscious motives. “The optimism for change which is prevalent in our society and especially in coaching is not justified from a scientific point of view.” It has been shown time and time again that the philosophical considerations initiated by brain research ultimately lead to very realistic conclusions.

It is precisely this starting point, the neurosciences, that remains unclear in this book. Gerhard Roth cites messenger substances and brain regions as slogans rather than integrating them into understandable explanations. For example, the tendency to violence: this may be due to “damage or improper development of the ventromedial and orbitofrontal cortex in small children”, but it is not mandatory. The reader is not really the wisest here. Additionally, specific bibliographic references are often missing, surprisingly in the case of a non-fiction book.

Age work with suggestions for reflection

Gerhard Roth is interested in big questions, at the heart of the relationship between the brain and the mind. His point of view is clear: “We have to accept the mind as a physical state.

Many find this difficult, and he also gives a neuroscientific explanation for this: the brain processes bodily sensations, the world of things and spiritual experience are strictly separate. We may think that consciousness goes back to nerve impulses, “but it is impossible for us to understand this vividly and in terms of experience, because the brain forbids such a thing.”

Gerhard Roth wrote an ancient work. If you want to go deep into the brain, you have to read other books. But in “About the man” you can find suggestions for rethinking old questions. Ultimately, his conclusion was:

“A person is not their brain, but without their individual, socialized brain they would not be the person they are. This may represent a new image of man for many.”

Gerhard Roth: “About the man”
Suhrkamp, ​​Berlin 2021
368 pages, 26 euros