alert versus aware

Ray D. Scanlon rscanlon at wsg.net
Fri Sep 24 10:59:47 EST 1999


Stephen Jay Gould has proposed that we recognize two realms in the universe
of thought that he labels the magisterium of science and the magisterium of
religion. (He acknowledges that "magisterium" is a four-bit word.) He is
lead to this because of his conflict with the creationists. As a
paleontologist, he looks to the bones, while they look to the Bible. Both
claim "science". He says this is not right, that they should be satisfied
with religion and give up their claim to science. This is not just a
theoretical argument given the continuing efforts of the creationists to
nullify evolution and outlaw the teaching of it or to give equal weight in
public schools to creation science.

It seems to me that this dichotomy might help me when I look at
consciousness.

Consciousness has two aspects: one, objective, I call alertness; the other,
subjective, I call awareness. A behaving animal exhibits alertness.
Behavioral psychologists have studied it ad nauseum. A physician speaks of
alertness when he judges that the patient is hyperactive, normal, confused,
stuporous, or comatose. Some argue that awareness may be also studied
scientifically. They have established a discipline, cognitive science,
dedicated to this end.

I would argue that cognitive science is an oxymoron as is creation science.

Some would say that there is a soul (mind) that selects from data proffered
by the brain, manipulates that data, comes to a conclusion, and forwards
that decision to the brain for execution. Others say they will have no soul
(mind) with causal powers. Still others say that they will not allow a
mental event that is not identical with a brain event. Is there any science
here? Any hypothesis to be tested in the laboratory?

The neuroscientist studies the neuron. His work is reductionist. He busies
himself identifying proteins, especially those proteins that pass ions
through the cell membrane. Is there any religion here?

If the neuroscientist should isolate a protein that gives rise to the
experience of "blueness", or "pain", or any other quale, then we shall have
a science of awareness and not before. In the meantime, I will pass all talk
of awareness over to the religious magisterium. (Philosophy to be subsumed
under religion.) When I speak of awareness I have entered that magisterium
and admit it.


--
Ray

Those interested in how the brain works might look at
www.wsg.net/~rscanlon/brain.htm








More information about the Neur-sci mailing list