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Roger Wolcott Sperry

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One of the more important things to come out of the split-brain work, as an indirect spin-off, is a revised concept of the nature of consciousness and its fundamental relation to brain processing. The key development here is a switch from prior non-causal, parallelist views to a new causal, or "interactionist" interpretation that ascribes to inner experience an integral causal control role in brain function and behavior. In effect, and without resorting to dualist views, the mental forces and properties of the conscious mind are restored to the brain of objective science from which they had long been excluded on materialist-behaviorist principles.

 
Roger Wolcott Sperry

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I have a very one-track mind that needs to concentrate. I asked myself which issue is more important: whether mental states are more left- or right-hemispheric, or whether they are causal in brain function. From weighing the pros and cons, I decided that the left-brain, right-brain work was well in orbit and that it would be more important to shift my primary focus to consciousness.
The mind-brain issues are intrinsically more compelling. They carry strong humanistic as well as scientific implications. I could foresee changes in our world view, guiding beliefs, and social values. In the context of today's worsening world conditions and our imperiled future, this work seemed far more important than whether you can find a brain theory enabling people to learn faster, draw better, make better medical diagnoses, and so on.
We're beginning to learn the hard way that today's global ills are not cured by more and more science and technology.

 
Roger Wolcott Sperry
 

As a brain researcher, I'd started out simply accepting the strictly objective principles of the behaviorist position. In the 1950s and early 1960s, all respectable neuroscientists thought in these terms. In those days, we wouldn't have been caught dead implying that consciousness or subjective experience can affect physical brain processing.
My first break with this thinking although I certainly didn't see it that way at the time came in a 1952 discussion of mind-brain theory in which I proposed a fundamentally new way of looking at consciousness. In it, I suggested that when we focus consciously on an object and create a mental image for example it's not because the brain pattern is a copy or neural representation of the perceived object, but because the brain experiences a special kind of interaction with that object, preparing the brain to deal with it.
I maintained that an identical feeling or thought on two separate occasions did not necessarily involve the identical nerve cells each time. Instead, it is the operational impact of the neural activity pattern as a whole that counts, and this depends on context just as the word "lead" can mean different things, depending on the rest of the sentence.

 
Roger Wolcott Sperry
 

Instead of maintaining the traditional separation of science and values, cognitive theory says the two come together in brain function. If we are correct in saying that our conscious mental values not only arise from, but also influence brain processing, then it becomes possible to integrate values with the physical world on a scientific rather than supernatural basis. It's been the traditional role of religion to affirm the primary importance of our higher values in this world by invoking a supreme power. In cognitivism, it is science that affirms the powerful controlling role of higher values, and it is able to do so on grounds that are verifiable that is, testable against reality as it really is.
On these new terms, science no longer upholds a value-empty existence, in which everything, including the human mind, is driven entirely by strictly physical forces of the most elemental kind. We get a vastly revised answer to the old question "What does science leave to believe in?" that gives us a different image of science and the kind of truth science stands for. This new outlook leads to realistic, this world values that provide a strong moral basis for environmentalism and population controls and for policies that would protect the long-term evolving quality of the biosphere.

 
Roger Wolcott Sperry
 

Cognitive introspective psychology and related cognitive science can no longer be ignored experimentally, or written off as "a science of epiphenomena", nor either as something that must, in principle, reduce eventually to neurophysiology. The events of inner experience, as emergent properties of brain processes, become themselves explanatory causal constructs in their own right, interacting at their own level with their own laws and dynamics. The whole world of inner experience (the world of the humanities) long rejected by 20th century scientific materialism, thus becomes recognized and included within the domain of science.

 
Roger Wolcott Sperry
 

I have never been entirely satisfied with the materialistic or behavioristic thesis that a complete explanation of brain function is possible in purely objective terms with no reference whatever to subjective experience; i.e., that in scientific analysis we can confidently and advantageously disregard the subjective properties of the brain process. I do not mean we should abandon the objective approach or repeat the errors of the earlier introspective era. It is just that I find it difficult to believe that the sensations and other subjective experiences per se serve no function, have no operational value and no place in our working models of the brain.

 
Roger Wolcott Sperry
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