Consciousness in a Single Atom

July 27th, 2006 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized

Found a great article by scholar B. Allan Wallace called In Defense of The Universe in a Single Atom posted over at the Tricycle magazine web site:

In this Tricycle web exclusive, scholar B. Allan Wallace responds to George Johnson’s New York Times review of the Dalai Lama’s new book The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality.

I especially like Wallace’s call for a more complete approach to consciousness studies that includes both first person introspective methods combined with third person methodologies, something I’ve advocated from the very beginning here, here, here and here. I’ve been meaning to pick up his book, The Taboo of Subjectivity: Towards a New Science of Consciousness , for a while…now might be a good time to check it out…

Allan takes a more “integral” route in defense of the tetrameshing nature of consciousness:

Scientists have established that specific neural processes are necessary for producing specific conscious mental processes in humans and some other animals. In this way, correlations have been identified between brain and mind processes. Brain processes are detected with the third-person methods of biology, but mental processes are directly observed only by means of the first-person perspectives of individuals introspectively monitoring their own states of consciousness. This evidence proves that certain neural processes are necessary for producing specific mental events in humans, but not that they are sufficient causes of consciousness, nor does this indicate that consciousness itself is a physical phenomenon. Moreover, while many scientists believe that mental phenomena are emergent properties of brain, no one has ever objectively measured any mental event emerging from the brain, so that, too, remains an untested hypothesis that can be taken for the time being only on faith.


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  • It’s both interesting and not suprising that a subjectivist epistemological research approach to consciousness studies has not had the level of popular support we may both wish for. The problem in the sciences in general, is that the objectivists have wanted to assume some sort of psuedo-objectivist stance to their research approaches: the ‘neutral’ observer role. Unfortunately this role, is only half useful to consciousness studies. Perhaps when we approach the problem of consciousness from a psychopharmacological perspective, an objectivist research methodology is warranted when we study the chemical changes in the brain informing consciousness, for example. However, without obtaining and decoding data produced from a subjectivist account to altered states of consciousness for example, then one could argue there is little point in pursuing consciousness studies to begin with. It is the subjective experience, which produces the wonder, further interest and drive, in my opinion, to carry out consciousness studies. For example, there is hardly any wonder to be found in studying chemical changes within the brain, say from a medical perspective, unless we can see the increased quality of life, subjectively experienced in the patient. In my opinion, an intersubjectivist epistemlogical approach is needed to consciousness studies, as assuming a strictly objectivist or subjectivist approach, will produce data that has no contextual meaning. It is the yin-yang of consciousness studies, both are needed; both a meaningless without each other.

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