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Now you may see statements in the literature these days discouraging the hope that the mind is capable of explaining itself in terms of its own ideas based on an argument that no machine living or otherwise can logically and body within itself. A complete description of it self. When you read such however all was underlined that word complete. And consider then the extent of the explanatory possibilities that still remain. Just short of the complete description. Underline also that word itself and remember that this kind of logic does not exclude a man's mind from acquiring a complete description of his neighbor's mind nor from passing on this description to other neighbors excepting only the one described. For an outside second brain however to directly
experience these subjective qualities in an observed brain it would seem necessary in the proposed scheme that the detector brain in the Observer be coupled in parallel to the emitting brain and wired directly into the specialized cerebral circuitry involved. Now this doesn't look very feasible under ordinary conditions for the near future. However we seem to be getting rather close to exactly this situation experimentally. In recent studies in which the brain of cats and monkeys is bisected down the plane into right and left halves in the process of which we then leave a few cross connections coupling selected cerebral centers between mind right and mind. When the midline disconnection is completed it yields two separate mental entities that sense perceive and learn and
remember independently. Each separate have. Seems to have its own realm of conscious awareness and each one is as much out of contact apparently with the inner experience of the other as our two brains and separate skulls. But when a band of cross connections is left intact linking For example the right and left centers of vision are those serving touch sensibility of a hand. It's the inner mental subjective experience of the one brain would seem then to become available to the other. Something of the kind has been seen also in studies on human patients who have had a similar surgical disconnection of the hemispheres for medical therapeutic purposes and in whom only those lower brain centers that are involved in emotion and feeling retain cross
connections. Whereas the cognitive perceptual monic and related experiences of mind right in these people seem to be entirely out of touch with the experiences of mind let each mind seems to share the emotional experience of the other. For example. If the emotion in question is triggered through Vision say by the introduction among a sequence of ordinary geometric pattern stimuli of an unexpected and vivid playboy type stimulus. The entire series being projected into one brain half only. Then it is quite apparent in the verbal readout from the other half brain not directly excited that this second hemisphere also feels equally embarrassed.
Or as the case may be. This second hemisphere however doesn't have any idea and is unable to explain why it has these inner feelings. Because the necessary connections for the visual and cognitive information have been surgically severed. Looking back at this point you will know that the earlier basic distinction or dichotomy between mentalism and the Tarryall is and is resolved in this interpretation. And there are former polar differences with respect to human values. When recast in the present Skeen become mainly errors of reductionism. This you may better recognise as the old and nothing but fallacy the tendency in the present case for example to reduce mind to nothing but brain mechanism or thought to nothing but a flow of
nerve impulses. For those acquainted with theories of mind the new twist here if any is found in the combination of 118 the emergent properties of the inner experience conform to the inner brain co rather than to the outside world. Subjective impressions or sensory patterns. Plus of course the critical interjection of these mental qualities into the causal sequence. Now we have not rejected the object of approach in science remember it is an object of explanatory model. Our quarrel comes with the long accepted demand for exclusion of mental forces properties and qualities from the objective scientific explanation. The scheme would put mind back into the
brain of objective science and in a position of top command. If correct the scheme would eliminate all the old dualistic confusions of dichotomies in the paradoxes proposing a single unified system running from sub nuclear forces near the bottom up through ideas at the top. As a theory of mind it provides a long unifying view on which to base our conception of human nature. The lack of which was deplored only a few weeks ago some of you may have seen in the lead article in Science by Lord brain. It helps to understand not only the relation between mind and brain but also that between the outside real world and the inner cerebral representation and all philosophical conundrums since the days of Plato. Now when this scheme is used as a.
Conceptual skeleton on which to build a body of philosophy it tends to favor some one followed far in a single. This world the measuring stick for evaluating man and existence. As for the older materialistic doctrine one can say in summary that the denial and the downgrading of conscious forces in objective experimental psychology during the past half century has been tremendously valuable and successful. As a tactical expedient for a developing science serving to focus attention on phenomena that can now be treated directly it is hardly something. However on which to build. So societal philosophy and cultural values. Are.
We shift gears here a little now. Push your. Clear the brain buttons and refocus your mental sets. On to another outcome of the study of mind and brain. That in itself stands as a close second. In its threat to cherished images of human nature. Every advance in the science of behavior whether it is come from the psychiatry couch from micro electrode recording from the use of psychotropic drugs or brain splitting or Skinner boxes or the electron microscope seems only to reinforce that old suspicion that free will is just an illusion. Like most others in brain research I work on the assumption that every apparently free mental choice that I or any of the rest of us here
has ever made must in fact have been causally predetermined in the preceding brain state and related events. It means that we are now and always have been imprisoned as it were in the in the XOR of the onward march of causal determinism. Attempts to re store our free will to the human brain by recourse to various forms of indeterminacy physical logical emergent or otherwise have failed so far as I can see to do more than perhaps introduce a bit of unpredictable Caprice into our compartment that most of us would prefer to be without. Neither science nor philosophy seem able to refute that old admonition that the moving finger writes and having writ moves on. And piety wit and
tears still seem impotent to change this situation. Now I don't feel overly comfortable about this any more than you do. But as yet I haven't seen any way around it. But before we start drawing gloomy humanist deductions lifting moral responsibility or blindly rejecting science and determinism on emotional grounds. There are a few additional points that it is important to keep in mind. These additional points in our present scheme add up to the conclusion that if we really did have freedom of choice in this whole matter we might very likely prefer not to have. That is we'd probably prefer to leave determinism in control exactly as science postulates. We do provide
man in large measure with the mental forces and the mental ability to determine his own actions. This scheme allows a high degree of freedom from outside forces as well as mastery over the inner cellular molecular and atomic activity. And depending on the state of one's willpower the model allows also considerable freedom over lower level natural impulses. And even from occasional thoughts and beliefs and the like but not of course from the whole complex. In other words the kind of brain we visualize does indeed give man plenty of free will. Provided you think of free will as self-determination. To a very real and large extent a person does determine with his own mind what he's going to do. But this does not mean that he is free from the forces of
his own decision making machinery. What our current model does not do in particular is to free a person from the combined effects of his own thoughts his own reasoning his own feelings their own beliefs and ideals and hopes. Nor from his inherited makeup or his lifetime memories. All these and more including Yes unconscious desires exert in the brain there do causal influence upon any mental decision and the combined result determines the inevitable. But self determined and highly special and highly personal outcome. So in other words it comes to a question Do we really want free will if it means freeing ourselves from our own minds from our own selves. And hence from everything most precious that makes us us. Now there's a
bit more to the story here of how one may learn to stop worrying about freedom and come to love determinism. And I turned to an earlier quote here. You sense the underlying policy here. If you can't let them join or as Confucius might say if fate in evitable relax and enjoy it. Or there may be worse fates than causal determinism. Maybe after all it is better to be embedded firmly in the causal flow of cosmic forces as an integral part thereof than to be on the loose and out of contact with these forces. Free floating as it were with behavioral possibilities that have no antecedent cause and hence no
reason nor any reliability when it comes to future plans predictions or promises. On this same theme another final point if you were assigned the task of trying to design and build the perfect free will model let's say the perfect all wise decision making machine to top all competitors decision making machines. Consider the possibility that your name. Might not be so much to free the machinery from causal contact as the opposite. That is to try to incorporate into your model the potential value of universal causal contact. In other words contact with all related information in proper proportion. Past Present and Future. It's clear that the human brain has come a long way in evolution in exactly this direction. When you consider the amount and the kind of causal factors
that this multi-dimensional intracranial vortex draws into itself scans and brings to bear on the process of turning out one of its preordained a decision. Potentially included thanks to memory are the events and collected wisdom of most of the human life time. We can also include potentially given a trip to the library. The accumulated knowledge of all recorded history. And we must add to all the foregoing thanks to reason and logic. Much of the future forecast and predictive value extractable from all this data. So maybe therefore maybe the total falls a bit short of universal causal contact. Maybe it's not even quite up to the kind of thing that evolution has going for itself over on Galaxy 9.
And maybe in spite of all any decision that comes out is still predetermined. Nevertheless it still represents a very long jump in the direction of freedom from the primeval slime mold the Jurassic sand dollar or even the latest 64 model rang a tank. To know quickly in passing that on the debit side of the ledger there is little in our proposed model for consciousness to bolster one's hopes either for extra sensory perception or for post-mortem perception. Similarly pre-party perception in the embryo would presumably not amount to very much until after the requisite cerebral machinery begins to attain functional maturity in the later months of fetal life and in subsequent post natal develops.
We run through briefly now before closing certain other advances in the brain behavior sciences that have brought important revisions during the past two decades into our general conception of human nature. We deal here with questions concerning the extent to which behavior traits can be inherited and the extent to which human nature is plastic and subject to shaping by experience and environment. Through most of the first part of this century anon up to about 20 years ago the view prevailed that the brain gets its start in fetal life as an essentially equipotential randomize network functionally unstructured a blank slate as it were. That is then gradually channelized. From early fetal movements onwards by functional trial and error practice conditioning learning and experience.
The object of the materialist movement in psychology that became established first in Russia under the influence largely of Pavlov. And that appeared soon afterward in this country pioneered by Watson under the name of behaviorism has been identified almost as much with the promotion and idolatry of a conditioned response as it has with the demotion and desecration of consciousness. The mind or psyche in this doctrine was believed to be developed gradually out of a life long chain of successive conditioned reflex associations starting in the infant from a few elementary reactions like love and hate fear and anger. The whole idea of the genetic inheritance of behavior patterns was forcibly remount until the term instinct became a
highly discredited word in professional circles. It's defamation equaling almost out of consciousness. The embryonic growth of brain pathways was believed to be by nature in those days nonselective and diffuse. The establishment of precise fiber connections was held to be an important anyway. For orderly function and the nerve connections once laid down were thought to be subject to radical wholesale rearrangement by surgery injury and regeneration without causing very much functional disturbance. In the scientific thinking of those times the brain was endowed with an almost mysteriously omnipotent plasticity and re adaptation capacity. In general science seemed to be telling us all through the 1920s 30s and into the early 40s
that the human brain and human nature in general is extreme in its malleability it seemed at that time a scientifically sound conclusion that it would be possible through an appropriate program of training and environmental conditioning to shape human nature and society within wide limits into a desired model. Much of the basic scientific thinking and evidence behind these views has since suffered a severe upset leading to current stands that are almost diametrically opposed to the earlier doctrines. Instead of a loose universal plasticity and brain hookups we see now a basic built in wiring diagram characteristic of the species and functionally rather rigid. Instead of diffuse nonselective growth of nerve connections and brain development we see
now a very precise and highly ordered patterning of the brain fiber pathways and connections. Strictly regulated by specific genetic effects and sight of chemical affinity. Where there used to be an outright denunciation of the whole instinct concept we now accept the idea that an entire evolutionary tree can be set up on the basis of inherited behavior patterns just as it can and morphological or Syrah logical ground. The conditioned response along with other forms of learning continues to be recognized of course as a highly powerful modeling influence especially in man but only within limits much narrower than previously believed. Within the specialized fields of scientific inquiry involved here the pendulum of opinion continues at this date to swing in
the direction of inheritance. How far it will go can only be yes it is still too soon for the implications to have fully permeated even the neighboring scientific disciplines. What implications these changes in basic behavioral and neuroscience may have if any. For more distant problems in the social sciences will take much longer to evaluate. In any case to return to our central theme it would seem that the evidence available today says that we must renounce along with other aspects of the behaviorist materialist approach discussed above the old Pavlovian what Soni and conditioned reflex theory of the psyche. With its radical environmentalism that used to tell us literally that 99 percent of human nature and mind is a product of experience and training.
Well this reexamination of materialism and so on could be followed further in the matters too far removed from more brain researchers can feel very comfortable. I'll only remind that the pecking order of causal entities does not stop within the individual brain but goes on up into higher levels involving society and culture. To various sub entities of which we must properly credit many of man's most remarkable and fantastic achievements. Reference to society meantime brings the inevitable reminder that from the practical standpoint any upgrading of human nature through a more idealistic conception of mind is by these days to be overwhelmingly counteracted by the cold and laws of mathematics and the devastating downgrading
influences of surplus numbers on the worth of the individual. We don't need the third law psychodynamics to tell us that the optimum carrying capacity of our globe has perhaps already exceeded from the specific standpoint of quality dignity meaning in value in the human individual. When one looks at the rising threat posed by the destructive degrading effects of human surplus and its by products upon the hard one painstaking achievement of evolution. It figures that we might as well just forget our little ideological skirmish with materialism just toss it in the pot so to speak along with most of the human betterment efforts of these days. As just another losing battle in the face of mounting and I mean
mounting humanity effort down the drain in the long run. Until some higher force in our mental hierarchy. Then that a natural impulse can be brought to bear. All of which reminds that the instructions for the night suggested a look at the future. Like what's the prognosis doctor for our sick society of the sixties. Or looking farther ahead. What is to be the philosophical substructure for the coming society that will emerge according to a recent prediction from the offspring of those 700 Western survivors of World War 3. But more seriously when it comes to making public predictions in regard to the mind and behavior of man behavioral science finds a technical difficulty in that
once the prediction is out and then becomes acquainted with what he's supposed to do he takes that prediction into account and is apt to be just perverse enough to deliberately reverse the prediction. With this in mind I'll make the forecast that we and future generations need not worry really about surplus numbers and who will outbreed whom are any of the other various problems we've touched on tonight. Because they should be neatly settled sharply in that final fatal flare of fission fireworks. And so much for little humanist levity to return and closing to our sober central concern. The impacts of creeping materialism as they emanate from the mind brain sciences. We can say in summary that it is
possible to see today an objectively explanatory model of brain function such that. Where someone over in humanities formally believed that he could see a man in his activities something of a noble or heroic exalted or sublime or vice versa because that is the way meanings get meaning. He may rest assured that in our growing brain model all these qualities are still very much there just as history and common experience always said they were. And finally for those who like a take home message. Never underestimate the power of an ideal. You have heard Roger W. Sperry Nixon professor of psycho biology at the California Institute of Technology. As he spoke on the topic brain mind and humanist values the speaker on our next program will be Clifford
garrets professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago. His subject will be the impact of the concept of culture on the concept of man. This was another in a series of lectures given at the University of Chicago to initiate a new discussion on the nature of man. The lectures will be available in book form under the title on the nature of man to be published in late fall by the University of Chicago Press. These lectures were recorded by the Office of radio and television at the University of Chicago. The programs are prepared and distributed for broadcast by national educational radio. This is the national educational radio network.
The Chicago lectures
Roger W. Sperry, part 2
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University of Chicago
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program presents the second part of a speech by Roger W. Sperry of the California Institute of Technology: "Brain, Mind and Humanist Values."
Series Description
This series presents lectures given at University of Chicago, focusing on the nature of human beings, their place in the universe, and their potentialities. The lectures were also published in The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, beginning in September 1965.
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Producing Organization: University of Chicago
Speaker: Sperry, Roger, 1913-1994
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 65-40-4 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:30:00
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Chicago: “The Chicago lectures; Roger W. Sperry, part 2,” 1965-10-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 21, 2024,
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APA: The Chicago lectures; Roger W. Sperry, part 2. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from