The Mindless Brain

The schism in the West has produced a science that has disowned vast areas of what use to be natural philosophy. A large section of this turf can be summed up with the word 'consciousness'. The mechanical worldview disapproved of any theory that postulated the existence of something that cannot be established. It suspected any theory that allowed for hypothetical constructs such as 'mind', without attempting to explain events without that construct. Just as many of Newton's contemporaries discredited the theory of gravity because Newton could not postulate a mechanism that accounted for its effect, many sciences now still seem to insist that the mind, as unreachable as it is for our technical measuring devices, can not be granted our license to exist.

To disallow consciousness, though, science must be able to account for the natural world, to save the appearances, without it. Reflection on the uncertainty principle shows that this has not necessarily been accomplished. The July 1992 edition of Scientific American describes the latest failed attempts at cheating the uncertainty principle. The physicists cited seemed largely annoyed at the fact that there was no way to account for the phenomena without positing that there might be an effect from their own experience of the experiments. (27) However, instead of doing so, most work through the problem in the terms of the dominant paradigm, using their established rules to try to reason why their experiments failed to achieve the desired end.

Another recent edition of Scientific American was devoted to an overview of the state of the art in 'mind and brain' sciences. Out of eleven articles, only one addressed the issue of consciousness, and this was a concerted effort at equating consciousness with specific electrochemical events in the brain. "Clearly", writes Sir Francis Crick, "the problem of finding the neurons whose firing symbolizes a particular perception is not going to be easy. It will take many careful experiments to track them down, even one kind of percept". (28)

The reductionist tactics of both physics and psychology are a result of the unconscious acceptance that to know what a thing is, you must take it apart and examine its pieces, and the further belief that things are what they are apart from your experience of them. While this approach is very useful as a means of discovering facts, centuries of reducing natural philosophy questions on ever smaller parts of nature has made it difficult for the right hand to know what the left is doing. In classical Greece and India, questions about existence, knowledge, perception, ethics, and physics were all answered within the single framework of each of the popular philosophies. Buddhist scholarship continues to provide a coherent view of these areas of study, while western science does not. Physics found experimental evidence for consciousness, while psychology bends over backwards in its attempt to deny any such thing exists. Undoubtedly, due evaluation of every proposition is what makes science as successful as it is in so many fields, but it is prone to contradiction on the larger scale when the workload is permanently divided among so many different areas of theory and research.

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Copyright © 2005 Dan Haig