How to Make the Study of Consciousness Scientifically Tractable

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« on: March 01, 2020, 01:29:10 am »
How to Make the Study of Consciousness Scientifically Tractable

Strangely, modern science was long dominated by the idea that to be scientific means to remove consciousness from our explanations, in order to be “objective.” This was the rationale behind behaviorism, a now-dead theory of psychology that took this trend to a perverse extreme.

Behaviorists like John Watson and B.F. Skinner scrupulously avoided any discussion of what their human or animal subjects thought, intended or wanted, and focused instead entirely on behavior. They thought that because thoughts in other peoples’ heads, or in animals, are impossible to know with certainty, we should simply ignore them in our theories. We can only be truly scientific, they asserted, if we focus solely on what can be directly observed and measured: behavior.

Erwin Schrödinger, one of the key architects of quantum mechanics in the early part of the 20th century, labeled this approach in his philosophical 1958 book Mind and Matter, the “principle of objectivation” and expressed it clearly:

“By [the principle of objectivation] I mean … a certain simplification which we adopt in order to master the infinitely intricate problem of nature. Without being aware of it and without being rigorously systematic about it, we exclude the Subject of Cognizance from the domain of nature that we endeavor to understand. We step with our own person back into the part of an onlooker who does not belong to the world, which by this very procedure becomes an objective world.”

Schrödinger did, however, identify both the problem and the solution. He recognized that “objectivation” is just a simplification that is a temporary step in the progress of science in understanding nature.

He concludes: “Science must be made anew. Care is needed.”

We are now at the point, it seems to a growing number of thinkers who are finally listening to Schrödinger, where we must abandon, where appropriate, the principle of objectivation. It is time for us to employ a “principle of subjectivation” and in doing so understand not just half of reality—the objective world—but the whole, the external and internal worlds.