9 Apr 2009

Conceptual Foundations of Emergence Theory, 6.ii. Roger Sperry, Clayton

by Corry Shores
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Philip Clayton

"Conceptual Foundations of Emergence Theory"

6. Strong Emergence Since 1970

6.ii. Roger Sperry

Roger Sperry began defending emergentist theories of consciousness in the 1960's. He was a neuroscientist. So any explanation of mental properties needed to be founded on neural processes. However, consciousness does not just come as an addition to neurological processes. It actually influences the brain's functioning as well.

Sperry wanted a middle position: he did not want to say that there was no mind, but he also did not want to posit a mind/body dualism.

He claimed that mental phenomena are emergent properties. This allows them to "govern the flow of nerve impulse traffic."
Individual nerve impulses and other excitatory components of a cerebral activity pattern are simply carried along or shunted this way and that by the prevailing overall dynamics of the whole active process.
But it works the other way as well:
the conscious properties of cerebral patterns are directly dependent on the action of the component neural elements. Thus, a mutual interdependence is recognized between the sustaining physico-chemical processes and the enveloping conscious qualities. The neurophysiology, in other words, controls the mental effects,and the mental properties in turn control the neurophysiology. (Sperry, "A Modified Concept of Consciousness," 532, qt 20a)
Sperry's compelling evidence is that "split brain" patients who have their corpora callosa severed still have unified consciousness. But there is no account for this on the basis of neurological activity, because there is no longer communication between the two brain halves. (20bc)

Clayton, Philip. "Conceptual Foundations of Emergence Theory." in The Re-Emergence of Emergence: The Emergentist Hypothesis from Science to Religion. Ed. Philip Clayton and Paul Davies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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