The New Science of Consciousness
By Laurie Nadel, Ph.D.
An Excerpt from her book
Sixth Sense: Unlocking Your Ultimate Mind Power
The term "new science" was first introduced in 1964 by the late Nobel
neuroscientist Dr. Roger Sperry (1913-1994). It is based on the premise that
your consciousness -- your point of focus which can be compared to a cursor
on your computer screen --can create physical effects in your brain as well
as the other way around.
Like most great ideas, the core concept of the new science is simple, but its
ramifications are staggeringly complex. Although as few as an estimated 5 percent
of scientists accept its basic tenets, the new science is taking hold in the
behavioral and social sciences, particularly in cognitive psychology, which
emphasizes the importance of such abstract mental processes as intuition, insight,
and visual intelligence over external behavior.
Whereas behaviorists believe that they can treat behavior without addressing
the mental state, cognitive psychologists say that mental states organize and
Evolutionary theorists working in biology and related sciences are beginning
to accept the new science, too. Because it believes that consciousness can cause
physical change, the new science is also referred to as "the consciousness
Mainstream scientific thought is based on three primary assumptions:
- Objectivism, which believes that the universe and everything it contains
can be quantified.
- Positivism, which believes that only that which can be physically observed
- Reductionism, which, as its name indicates, reduces phenomena into smaller
The consciousness revolution differs radically from reductionist scientific
thought because it contains the belief that the whole is greater than the sum
of its parts.
Not the Physics of Consciousness
Much has been written about "the physics of consciousness," which
applies the quantum theories of subatomic physics to attempt to explain mental
phenomena, including intuitive perception and synchronicity.
Such sophisticated interpretations are helpful to those who understand quantum
mechanics, but those in the vanguard of the new science believe that, ultimately,
physics cannot explain mind -- including its intuitive aspect -- because mind
cannot be quantified, physically observed, and reduced.
For example, Bell's Theorem of Nonlocality is often cited by New Age teachers
as an explanation for the occurrence of intuitive phenomena in which no sensory-based
precedents are apparent.
Bell's Theorem states that two electrons that are joined and then separated
from each other will vibrate at the same frequency even when they are in different
locations. Many people who teach New Age philosophy cite this as scientific
evidence for the belief that minds, too, can vibrate at the same frequency when
However, physicist John Stewart Bell, who developed his theorem in 1964, did
not intend for his theorem to be applied to mental phenomena. In an interview
published in Psychological Perspectives, Bell said, "I was never so ambitious
as to assume that such a comprehensive description would also cover the mind.
There is clearly some fundamental difference between mind and matter. If science
is sufficiently comprehensive at some point in the future to discuss both those
things intelligently at the same time, then we will learn something about their
The majority of those working in the hard sciences (physics and chemistry)
would challenge Bell's open-mindedness, because they are committed to the positivist,
objectivist, and reductionist model of reality.
The new science, on the other hand, rejects the use of quantum physics to explain
the mind because it does not believe that everything can be explained in physical
terms. That belief is, in itself, a revolutionary idea.
In looking at mind in all its complexity as a biological fact, the new science
asks us to reexamine our own thoughts, feelings, values and beliefs, and to
take them seriously as agents of change. Dr. Sperry believed that "the
new beliefs are a way out of our human predicament."
Dr. Sperry's Consciousness Revolution
"When you walk down the street, your atoms and molecules don't tell you
where to go," said the late Dr. Sperry, who won the Nobel Prize in 1981
for discovering the cognitive complementarity of the left and right hemispheres
of the neo-cortex, known as the "left and right brains." I was privileged
to have been granted an interview with him in 1988.
He despised journalists and made it clear that he was making an exception for
me because I agreed not to ask him any questions about the Nobel Prize or the
research that led up to it.
During our interview, he used this analogy to illustrate one of the main differences
between the new science and reductionist scientific thought. "Neuroscience
says it can explain all brain functions without reference to conscious mental
The new science says that this is not true and challenges the old view,"
said Dr. Sperry, who noted that in the 1950s and 1960s, neuroscientists "wouldn't
be caught dead implying that consciousness of subjective experience can affect
physical brain processing." In fact, in 1966, the prevailing mindset of
neuroscience was described by British scientist Sir John Eccles, who wrote,
"As neurophysiologists we simply have no use for consciousness."
When Dr. Sperry began his pioneering research into the brain he accepted the
traditional view that all brain functions could be explained in terms of neuron
and biochemical activity. But over the years, he gradually reevaluated his own
For the final 25 years of his life, he argued that his colleagues needed to
redefine their own perspectives to include the assumption that mental states
and experiences can have a controlling effect on the brain's physical functions.
His theories have been proven in the laboratories of microbiologists Dr. Candace
of Emotion) and Dr. Bruce Lipton (The
Biology of Belief). Years ahead of his time, Dr. Roger Sperry maintained
that consciousness, ideas, feelings, values, intention, hunches, gut feelings,
and beliefs could be considered emergent properties of the physical brain.
He observed, "When the brain is whole, the unified consciousness of the
left and right hemispheres adds up to more than the composite properties of
the separate hemispheres."
So strong was his belief that the study of consciousness had wider ranging
implications for science than the study of hemispheric functions that Dr. Sperry
broke ranks with many of his colleagues to write and lecture on the new science.
He said, "I gave up the right and left brain because it didn't compare
in the implications. My colleagues thought I defected to philosophy and humanism,
a scientist gone wrong."
In seeking to define how the mind functions in terms of what he calls "downward
causation," Dr. Sperry ventured into new scientific territory. Put simply,
downward causation means that the more highly evolved properties envelop and
control the less evolved components.
For example, if you decide to drive somewhere, your decision can activate a
chain of events that will cause your car to move, according to the principles
of downward causation. Seen from the perspective of upward causation, it is
the movement of gasoline molecules that causes the engine to work, thus causing
your car to move.
It is important to remember that both of these perspectives are accurate and
that they are complementary. One does not exclude the other.
Micro-determinism, which sees events in terms of upward causality, is a valid
scientific methodology. However, traditional science explains all phenomena
in terms of upward causation and does not factor in downward causation when,
in fact, both processes are at work simultaneously.
Dr. Sperry used an airplane in flight as an example of upward and downward
causation. Reductionist science can break down the elements of an airplane flight
in terms of molecular and atomic activity.
But reducing an airplane flight into molecules and atoms fails to take into
account the role of the airplane's electrical circuits or the timing of its
engines. In other words, there must be some organizing principles at work for
the airplane to work.
They cannot make it fly. Macro-determinism says that the molecule is master
of its atoms and controls them," said Dr. Sperry.
Subatomic physics cannot explain how the airplane's circuit plan is designed.
That is done at a higher macro level. Likewise, the circuit design in your brain
is a complex, sensitive system in which your point of focus, train of thought,
or other mental event affects the timing of the neurons.
In conclusion, your molecules do not decide to take you for a walk.
When I made that comment to Dr. Sperry, he laughed. "That's true. But you
cannot go for a walk without them."
*"The New Science" is excerpted from Dr. Laurie Nadel's Sixth
Sense: Unlocking Your Ultimate Mind Power with Judy Haims and Robert Stempson
(ASJA Press). Copyright@2007, Viking Rain, Ltd. All rights protected.
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