by Michael Davidson
Is it possible to have a science of mind? Is science necessarily materialistic so that we can only ever have a science of brain? To answer this we need to understand what science is.
The English philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon (1561-1626) is sometimes credited as the “father of modern science” for his philosophical work, the “Instauratio Magna” (Latin: instauratio = to reform, to repair or renew; magna = great , hence the Great Restoration) which was only partially completed.
Bacon roundly condemned his predecessors: they have laid “down the law of nature as a thing already searched out and understood, [and] have therein done philosophy and the sciences great injury. For as they have been successful in inducing belief, so they have been effective in quenching and stopping inquiry.”
Bacon saw that the way the human mind is constituted makes rational enquiry and experiment difficult. We have a propensity to generalise too hastily. We accept data that agrees with our own ideas and dismiss data that does not. We use words that are too vague in meaning. We accept the dogmas of the various schools of philosophy without subjecting them to test.
It is time to reassert Bacon’s project, to roll back the tide of scientism that declares what is and what is not acceptable science, what can and what cannot be published on the grounds that we now know the laws of nature. This ‘scientific’ view declares that people are material objects subject to the same laws as the rest of the universe which we now thoroughly understand. Human beings are machines. There is no such thing as ‘free will’, it is a delusion foisted on us by electrochemical processes in the brain. But in that case how is it that we seem to have free will? Who or what is this ‘us’ that harbours such a delusion? How do electro-chemical impulses in the brain provide us with this rich perceptual world? Are we really the effect of our genes and upbringing – robots programmed to react in certain ways? Or is it the case that we really are agents, able to actually cause events?
My e-book “Rethinking the Mind” considers the evidence from multiple perspectives including the philosophy of mind, the sciences of physics, biology and neurology and the technologies of computers and psychiatry. I conclude that much of the ‘common knowledge’ in these subjects which describes human beings as physical objects whose thoughts are mere by-products of brain processes determined by the laws of physics and chemistry, is actually metaphysics masquerading as science.
A more considered approach requires a better understanding of what we mean by the word ‘science’, and an empirical approach to the phenomena of mind without insisting that the evidence should fit into some preconceived scheme.