For once it’s not the blurriness of quantum physics to be the source of some metaphysical speculation. Nor I’m going to describe again some part of the Kabbalistic system, even if this thought came to me while considering spirituality as I was doing at the end of the previous post.

This speculative backdoor that could link physics to meta-physics comes from reading “about” a book (again through reviews and articles, I don’t have the book itself) written by Michael S. Gazzaniga, “Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain”. For me just one random name, nowadays there are hundreds of books on consciousness and there are plenty of theories that contradict each other. Picking the good one is a lottery. In this case, though, Scott Bakker tells me that this author isn’t one random name among many, but:

Everything Gazzaniga says should be taken very seriously. He truly is one of the founder fathers of cognitive neuroscience – whole literatures have cropped up around his split-brain studies.

So I’m looking more into it and I see that Scott preliminary comment is quite correct about what I was going to find:

There’s no shortage of serious supporters of free will, but I tend to find that the more I probe their positions (most recent Steve Wofram’s), the more clear it seems that most are trying to salvage the word, ‘free-will,’ and not the experience. To me that’s simply tendentious: why call it ‘free-will’ if the ‘feeling of willing’ isn’t what you’re talking about? Redefinitional apologia, I call it.

The problem is that the articles I read that summarize the book’s ideas, including this transcript with the author itself, leave me quite baffled. The logic of his theory not only isn’t convincing, but leaves open a crack that is potentially disastrous. That’s the “backdoor” of the title.

Gazzaniga believes that the brain, one day, will be explained completely in a mechanistic way. This means in a deterministic way. Everyone knows that this affirmation directly contradicts the possibility of “free will”, because free will implies the “ghost in the machine”, or the dualism of mind/body. The moment you declare the world (and the brain, or the reverse) deterministic, then you declare the absence of free will, of choice. And of responsibility.

Gazzaniga agrees with these premises, but disagrees with the conclusion. He says that “responsibility” belongs to a “social system”. The brain and the social systems don’t exist on the same level, social systems are… emergent. That’s a keyword that I’ve known and studied for a long while, years ago. But it’s a very tricky, slippery word that, especially when used within science, needs to be used prudently.

Michael Gazzaniga’s “Who’s in Charge?” suggests that we look elsewhere—outward, to the human world beyond the stand-alone brain. Mr. Gazzaniga is a towering figure in contemporary neurobiology. It was he who, back in the 1970s, coined the term “cognitive neuroscience”—with colleague George Miller—in the back seat of a New York taxi.

Unlike many in his profession, Mr. Gazzaniga is philosophically sophisticated. He believes that, while the brain “enables” the mind, mental activity is not reducible to neural events. While he states that thoughts, perceptions, memories, intentions and the exercise of the will are emergent phenomena, he adds that “calling a property emergent does not explain it or how it came to be.”

Crucially, the true locus of this activity is not in the isolated brain but “in the group interactions of many brains,” which is why “analyzing single brains in isolation cannot illuminate the capacity of responsibility.” This, the community of minds, is where our human consciousness is to be found, woven out of the innumerable interactions that our brains make possible. “Responsibility” (or lack of it), Mr. Gazzaniga says, “is not located in the brain.” It is “an interaction between people, a social contract”—an emergent phenomenon, irreducible to brain activity.

This is a very bold claim. The problem isn’t so much that it isn’t a very convincing argument, since it looks more like a way to dodge the issue, but that once you open this kind of “door” in the theory, then you can’t cherry-pick what passes through.

Think about this model: the mind in the center. We receive sensory perception from the world outside and organize it on top of a formal system. The rules that regulate the formal system are logic and mathematics, and what we obtain is “physics”, or science, a system of reality that is built by isomorphically associating sensory perception with theories that make sense of them. Then we verify through practice that these theories are correct: that their effect can be reproduced. This relationship is, back and forth, between the mind and the world outside. “Society” is also something that exists (and is emergent) on this level of relationship, between the mind and the world, the minds, outside. But, as in the Hermetic “as above, so below”, this is just one side of the model. The other side (of macrocosm) is what’s “below”, or inside (the microcosm). Consider spirituality as a very personal thing. Spirituality, like the soul, is “emergent” from the brain. In fact, because we feel the dualism, we believe that the mind can’t be wholly explained in a deterministic way. When we take spirituality and organize it in a formal system, we obtain metaphysics. That’s how I see it. Physics and metaphysics have in common the fact that they are organized as formal systems, and the difference that what they organize belongs to two opposite sides of the model: physics organize external reality (macrocosm), metaphysics organize mental space (microcosm).

Call it mental-physics.

The book “The Wayward Mind” shows how gods, mythologies and religion “emerge” from the depth of the soul. They don’t belong to sensory experience, they don’t come from outside, but they are outward projections (becoming part of society) for the part of the mind that consciousness is unaware of. But this “stuff” exists inside. So the origin of god (in whatever form you intend it) is within. Not outside, sitting beyond the fabric of the world. It’s a byproduct of your “soul”, where for soul I intend unknown mental space. This builds the other half of the model, and it’s a dimension that is as “emergent” as the idea of society. “Emergent” implying: a level that is irreducible to its parts, that is authoritative on itself, to consider independently.

If Gazzaniga gives legitimacy to society as a self-referential and autonomous form that should be trusted for how it APPEARS (or, to be as technically faithfully with terms as possible: how it self-describes), THEN he should accept the legitimacy of metaphysics and spirituality as well: as emergence of the human soul/mind.

The mechanistic view is either totalitarian or it isn’t (this is a tautology).

If “society” (which Gazzaniga uses to justify the idea of responsibility) is independent, and to be judged independently from the physical brain, then its “quality” is indistinguishable from spirituality and metaphysics. Which are even more OBVIOUSLY emergent (from consciousness and the various processes, maybe even non-conscious ones).

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