Methodological Foundations of the Science of Consciousness

  • Jeffrey Foss


Complementarity has assumed a double life, having in the last chapter taken on the role of advisor concerning how we should pursue the science of consciousness, though it was originally introduced as just a statement of how things are. But in the world of practical affairs — and science is a practical affair — how we should proceed must be a function of how things are. In this chapter I will further delineate the practical, methodological face of complementarity. As a statement of fact, complementarity is the thesis that we have two ways of conceiving of things in general, the scientific and the manifest. These provide different but complementary views of the world. The scientific model arose during historical times. The manifest model arose deep in our animal history, long before writing, long before we learned to make and keep historical records, long before science was possible. Indeed, it predates us as a species, since our sensory mechanisms and the nervous system they require were inherited from our pre-human, even pre-mammalian ancestors. Just as the manifest model could only have arisen in prehistoric times, so the scientific model could only have arisen in historical times. The scientific model is a spectacular, social offspring of our native, hardwired perceptual modeling system, and like many a child is not entirely independent of its parent. As we saw in the last chapter, science depends upon the manifest as its key, its interface with reality. This dependency can be further traced back to the sharing of spatial geometry by the scientific and manifest models. The geometry of science is itself a child, however precocious, of manifest geometry.1


Scientific Model Conscious Experience Locus Ceruleus High Energy Particle Scientific Observation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes to Chapter 5

  1. [1]
    It is instructive to examine the pervasive and essential appeals to manifest geometric intuition in the large literature (dating from Galileo’s time and blossoming in our own))written for a broader, but scientific audience, by scientists themselves, particularly physicists. This is particularly true, naturally, when the nature of space and time themselves are discussed. See, for instance, Thorne (1994), Zajonc (1993), or Hawking (1988). This is matched by similar use of spatial intuition used in the mathematical education of children. Could fractions be introduced in any better way than by means of pictures of pies (or whatever) cut into equal pieces? Could it, practically speaking, actually be taught in any other way at all?Google Scholar
  2. [2]
    Some materialists, perhaps because they have seen that the thorough discrediting of introspection must inevitably discredit scientific observation itself, have denied that science requires conscious human observation at all. Paul Churchland (1989, pp. 139–51), following the lead provided by Feyerabend (1969), has proposed that science might in principle be done by information processing mechanisms completely,thus removing human consciousness from the scientific process altogether. This proposal was made in the process of defending eliminative materialism: the view that in the fullness of time, advances in neuroscience will lead us to abandon such concepts as consciousness, beliefs, desires, emotions, colors, smells, and so on, as obfuscatory bits of folk psychology. Like phlogiston, caloric, and witches, the various species of conscious phenomena will come to be seen as the illusory products of primitive science. One day (or so it is supposed), given a better scientific upbringing and the plasticity of perception (Churchland 1979), we may even come to perceive our own neural processes more perspicaciously, from a neuroscientific point of view. We will come to experience not a color, but a certain level of activity in a segment of our visual cortex, not anger, but the effects of epinephrine on synaptic function, and mutatis mutandis for the rest of our experiences. But, these sanguine prospects are cast in the future. For now, given their thesis that our current, primitive form of consciousness is an illusion, eliminativists must squarely face the consequence that the consciousness of the scientist must also be an illusion. Thus, they try to show the possibility of science without consciousness. This and bizarre implication of their program has gone, so far as I know. unremarked — though it must follow.Google Scholar
  3. Two powerful arguments undercut any cogency this thesis may seem to have. First, it simply changes the topic to be addressed, for even if someday in the future science might get along without consciousness, that still fails to take account of the fact that science requires conscious agents, namely scientists, at the present time. The very idea of science without scientists is completely out of touch with current reality. Whatever science we have now achieved has been crucially, if not exclusively, dependent upon conscious observation and deliberations. Indeed, part of what makes scientific theories scientific is that we do not hold them subconsciously or for subconscious reasons. Our theories, as well as our evidence, must be face up on the table. Even if information processing machines produced the very same scientific laws as we accept today, along with the same items to obey them, this would still be of no use to us unless we could interpret these results as keyed to our manifest image. They could be science for us only insofar as we were conscious of them and understood them. Secondly, when the eliminativist maintains that what we take to be consciousness is naught but a pervasive illusion, this can only mean a misleading form of consciousness itself. If we suppose that scientific observation merely appears to us under the guise of consciousness, then surely it follows that this appearance itself must be, or be an effect of, processes of the nervous system. — in which case, appearances, that is, a form of consciousness, are the consequence of the information processes of the nervous system. But then all of the things that the eliminativist wants to eliminate, such as the look of pink involved in the observation that a piece of litmus paper has changed color, pop up again as neural processes, and need not, or cannot, be eliminated. In short, if my feeling of anger is an appearance, it is one generated by my nervous system, and hence is something to be explained, not eliminated.Google Scholar
  4. [3]
    This is clearly the view of Churchland in his 1984.Google Scholar
  5. [4]
    The Churchlands have been arguing for decades now that our comfortable folk-psychological concepts should not be viewed as sacrosanct, and I take the just stated facts to confirm their claim. However, they imply that the transformation of our ordinary concepts of ourselves will also alter our everyday consciousness. But the transformation of the ineffably unanalyzable concept of pain into an amalgam of unpleasant sensation and discomfort under the effect of Demerol has not in any way changed my normal perception of pain. As I now bite my tongue, I directly witness, by the pain it creates, that the plasticity of perception (3.1.2) has not obtained here. Perhaps the Demerol experience cannot be learned, but can only be injected. Perhaps ordinary perception, at least, is not completely plastic. Perhaps, fmally, the manifest model has a stable form despite whatever tutoring we may be so lucky as to receive.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeffrey Foss
    • 1
  1. 1.University of VictoriaCanada

Personalised recommendations