But when for the fourth time they had come around to the well springs
then the Father balanced his golden scales, and in them
he set two fateful portions of death, which lays men prostrate,
one for Achilleus, and one for Hector, breaker of horses,
and balanced it by the middle; and Hector's death-day was heavier
and dragged downward toward death, and Phoibos Apollo forsook him.

Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth
should that mean that it is not real?
JKRowling, Harry Potter and the deathly hallows

The mind - brain (fate - free will) problem

George W. Gray "The Great Ravelled Knot" Scientific American October 1948
(optimism to the study of the brain)

But consider how a "belief" in natural laws (e.g. conservation of momentum) can justify a "cosmic" determinism, and thus the mind-brain problem becomes a problem of fate vs. free will.
Me: "if you put the momentum of every particle in the universe into a big computer, you should be albe to predict all events"

But you cannot know all of that - Heisenberg uncertainty principle
(1932 Nobel Prize in Physics "creation of quantum mechanics, the application of which has, inter alia, led to the discovery of the allotropic forms of hydrogen")

Personal reflection. I know his son, Martin, who studies Drosophila, and I stayed at his castle in 1978 when I visited his lab. (see also Memoirs on this page)

Schrodinger "quantum physics has nothing to do with the free will problem"
(1933 Nobel Prize in Physics "new productive forms of atomic theory")

Sherrington "energy scheme brings us to the threshold of the act of perceiving and there bids us goodbye"
(1932 Nobel Prize "functions of neurons")

Lloyd Morgan's "cannon" was very influential and is often summarized as not to attribute anything to consciousness if a mechanistic explanation can be used instead (but some passages read differently).

Walter R. Hess, Causality, Consciousness, and Cerebral Organization, Science, 158, 1967, 1279-1283
(1949 Nobel Prize "functional organization of the interbrain as a coordinator of the activities of the internal organs")
"physiology must give up in the attempt to submit a comprehensive explanation"
"where do the activating forces come from?"
"display of behavior presupposes the action of forces...voluntary acts are no exception"
"possibility as yet undiscovered forces may be active which belong to none of the known categories, forces inherent in the living neuronal system of man and other higher animals"

Eccles - a "one quantum below threshold" theory
(1963 Nobel Prize "ionic mechanisms involved in excitation and inhibition in the peripheral and central portions of the nerve cell membrane")
"critically poised neurons" "fields of influence" "a shifting harmony of subpatterns"
which seems to indicate that a little variability in the EEG gives room for some input (from consciousness) to feed in and change things

Sperry, R.W.
(1981 Nobel Prize "functional specialization of the cerebral hemispheres")
Emergent properties
Mind-brain interaction: mentalism, yes; dualism, no Neuroscience 5, 195-206, 1980
Changing concepts of consciousness and free will Perspectives in Biology and
Medicine 20, 1976, 9-19
Changing priorities Ann Rev. Neurosci, 4, 1-15, 1981


A fundamental premise of materialistic science holds that a complete explanation of brain function is possible in purely objective physiological and biophysical terms.

In other words, in the world view of materialist science, real mental freedom to act and choose is only an illusion, and the whole value-rich world of inner subjective experience gets set aside as some kind of passive, impotent by-product, an epiphenomenal correlate, or just an interior aspect of the one prime material brain process.

The resultant view of human nature and the kinds of values that emerge are hardly uplifting.

All of us would prefer to think that we are more than mere puppets of environmental reinforcement and our brain's physiology and that the inner experience we live with most of our waking life is something real and of some material consequence.

At stake are central key concepts that directly involve fundamental convictions regarding the nature of man's inner being, physical reality, the meaning of existence, and related matters of ultimate concern.

...recall that a molecule in many respects is the master of its inner atoms and electrons. The latter are hauled and forced about in chemical interactions by the overall configurational properties of the whole molecule. At the same time, if our given molecule is itself part of a single-celled organism such as paramecium, it in turn is obliged, with all its parts and partners, to follow along a trail of events in time and space determined largely by the extrinsic overall dynamics of Paramecium caudatum. When it comes to brains, remember that the simpler electric, atomic, molecular, and cellular forces and laws, though still present and operating, have been superceded by the configurational forces of higher-level mechanisms. At the top, in the human brain, these include the powers of perception, cognition, reason, judgment, and the like, the operational, causal effects and forces of which are equally or more potentent in brain dynamics than are the outclassed inner chemical forces.

Evolution keeps complicating the universe by adding new phenomena that have new properties and new forces that are regulated by new scientific principles and new scientific laws--all for future scientists in their respective disciplines to discover and formulate. Note also that the old simple laws and primeval forces of the hydrogen age never get lost or cancelled in the process of compounding the compounds. They do, however, get superceded, overwhelmed, and outclassed by the higher-level forces as these successively appear at the atomic, the molecular and the cellular and higher levels.

Exam questions from 2005 - 2012 relating to this outline

In rationalizing free will, what relationship does Nobelist Sperry assign to physical laws vs emergent properties?

physical laws still operate, but emergent properties outclass (supercede) them

What issue in neuroscience was Sperry attempting to address with his notion of emergent properties?

meaningful considerations in the meaning of human life such as free will are impossible to reconcile with a materialist view

Nobelist Roger Sperry was optimistic that people have free will even though materialistic science should dictate determinism. How did he rationalize this optimism?
although physical laws still apply, emergent properties of assembled systems have awesome possibilities

How does Sperry rationalize his faith in "the powers of perception, cognition, reason, and judgment" in human action and free will?

while physical laws still apply, there are emergent properties when the parts are assembled to the whole

"Lloyd Morgan's canon" is a fundamental statement in comparative psychology applied to what aspect of animal behavior?

whether consciousness is needed to explain behavior

According to Sperry, "the simpler ... molecular ... forces ... have been superceded." How then does he rationalize free will even though "materialistic science" would explain brain function in "biophysical terms."

because there are emergent properties of higher level configurations

Return to Syllabus

Return to Stark home page

This page was last updated 5/22/22