The impact and promise of the cognitive revolution

Roger W. Sperry
1993 American Psychologist  
Opening a new era in science, psychology's cognitive revolution contradicts traditional doctrine that science has no use for consciousness to explain brain function. Subjective mental states as emergent interactive properties of brain activity become irreducible and indispensable for explaining conscious behavior and its evolution and get primacy in determining what a person is and does. Dualistic unembodied consciousness is excluded. A modified two-way model ofinterlevel causal determinism
more » ... oduces new principles of downward holistic and subjective causation. Growing adoption in other disciplines suggests the two-way model may be replacing reductive physicalism as the basic explanatory paradigm of science. The practice, methods, and many proven potentials of science are little changed. However, the scientific worldview becomes radically revised in a new unifying vision of ourselves and the world with wide-ranging humanistic and ideologic as well as scientific implications. R eflecting on a century past, with an eye to the future, what I have to say is colored in no small part by a concern long shared with the late B.F. Skinner, namely, "Can APA, or any other organization, count on another hundred years?" Skinner's answer became increasingly less optimistic, especially in his last decade. He concluded, "The more we learn about human behavior, the less and less promising appear the prospects." Reflecting a similar vein of increasing concern, I see a possible ray of hope in psychology's cognitive revolution and what it could mean in bringing new perspectives, beliefs, and values-in short, new mind-sets and a new way of thinking-much needed if humanity is to survive the next century. During APA's first hundred years, psychology is said to have gone through three major revolutions. In addition to the recent shift to cognitivism, there were the two earlier revolts, which were associated with J. B. Watson and Sigmund Freud. I believe that, of the three, the current socalled cognitive, mentalist, or consciousness revolution is the most radical turnaround-the most revisionary and transformative. A main theme I want to stress concludes that in the cognitive revolution psychology is leading the way among the sciences to a new and improved, that is, a more comprehensive, adequate, and valid conceptual foundation for scientific as well as for all causal explanation and understanding. Any perceived irony here is indeed quite real. Psychology, after having been put down for decades by the so-called hard sciences as not being really a science, is now turning the tables-in effect, asserting that reduc-tive physicalism or microdeterminism, the traditional explanatory model of science (including behaviorism), has serious shortcomings and is no longer tenable. Other disciplines, even physics, are beginning to agree and join in, discovering and adopting the new antireductive and emergent insights, including, for example, computer science, neuroscience, biology, anthropology, evolutionary and hierarchy theory, general systems theory, and of course, quantum theory, among others (e.g.,
doi:10.1037/0003-066x.48.8.878 fatcat:i4iiql7pxngpdkph3o3wooktw4