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New Science of Consciousness: Part 1
Laurie Nadel, Ph.D.
Author of Sixth
Sense: Unlocking Your Ultimate Mind Power
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
believe that they can treat behavior without addressing the mental state,
cognitive psychologists say that mental states organize and control behavior.
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:
which believes that the universe and everything it contains can be quantified.
which believes that only that which can be physically observed is real.
which, as its name indicates, reduces phenomena into smaller elements.
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
For example, Bells 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. Bells 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 physically separated.
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 interaction.
The majority of those working in the hard sciences (physics and chemistry)
would challenge Bells 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
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.
Sperry's Consciousness Revolution
When you walk down the street, your atoms and molecules dont
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 neocortex, 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 states. 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 wouldnt be caught dead
implying that consciousness of subjective experience can affect physical
brain processing. In fact, in 1966, the prevailing 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 position. 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
brains physical functions.
His theories have been proven in the laboratories of microbiologists Dr.
Candace Pert (Molecules
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 didnt 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.
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.
Microdeterminism, 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 airplanes 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. Macrodeterminism
says that the molecule is master of its atoms and controls them,
said Dr. Sperry.
Subatomic physics cannot explain how the airplanes circuit plan
is designed. That is done at a higher macrolevel. 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
In conclusion, your molecules do not decide to take you for a walk.
When I made
that comment to Dr. Sperry, he laughed. Thats true. But you
cannot go for a walk without them.
New Science is excerpted from Dr. Laurie Nadels Sixth
Sense: Unlocking Your Ultimate Mind Power with Judy Haims and Robert
Stempson (ASJA Press). Copyright@2007, Viking Rain, Ltd. All rights protected.
10 Mysteries of the Mind