Swedish author, dramatist, director, comedian etc. Hans Alfredson once said that the brain is an organ with which we think (tänker) 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.