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Emergence and the Mind-Body Problem in Roger Sperry’s Studies

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Abstract Roger Sperry’s scientific career from his beginnings at Oberlin College in 1934 to his Nobel Prize in 1981 and his death in 1994 is examined from the point of view of the interaction between his scientific works and the evolution of his scientific philosophy. A progressive disengagement from the initial ambience of a reductionist and behaviorist attitude and a move toward the elaboration of an emergentist view of the mind-body problem is observed. This evolution is based on observations on the global and resistant properties of the central nervous system in animals in which the architecture of peripheral nerves has been surgically modified, on reflections on qualia (subjective global experiences such as that of pain). It follows many detailed observations of patients whose two cerebral hemispheres have been surgically disconnected for medical reasons, and in whom both the cognitive abilities of each separated cortical hemisphere and the unity of consciousness persist. Sperry’s resultant emergentist philosophy is paradigmatic of the strong form of emergence: not only is the global mind more than the sum of its parts, but in consciousness has a definite, downward causation power on subsequent and subjacent neural process. This view may be logically defendable only in a diachronic view of emergence, well in phase with a possible emergentist view of Time itself.

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