Swedish author, dramatist, director, comedian etc. Hans Alfredson once said that the brain is an organ with which we think (tÃ¤nker) that we think. The Swedish word used here does not mean “believe”: it means “cogitate”. So, since my teens I’ve read this as a lovely materialist aphorism about how everything that goes on in our heads is actually just simulated in wetware. Our brains help us compute the illusion of cogitation.
Now I find that Alfredson was actually translating something that Ambrose Bierce said in his Devil’s Dictionary (1911): “Brain: an apparatus with which we think we think.” Bierce’s wording reveals a much simpler meaning: he’s just commenting cynically on people’s ability to think. Everybody believes that they think, says Bierce, when many don’t do so very much. And now I wonder if I may have read too much into the Alfredson version of Bierce’s quip.