Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Empirical Idealism: A Modern Foundation for the Science of the Mind

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Empirical Idealism: A Modern Foundation for the Science of the Mind

Article excerpt

THIS PAPER SEEKS to unify neurological and psychological phenomena by questioning the methodological foundations of cognitive science. A quantum physical interpretation of neurological processes is capable of explaining phenomenological data better than the classical physics currently throwing the paradigm into crisis. What follows is: 1) the cognitive thesis and its anomalies; 2) the quantum model of mind; and 3) the quantum theory's correspondence to the phenomenological psychology of William James.


The Social Sciences are founded on the premise that human behavior adheres to mechanical laws. Since science studies the physical, material world and reduces physical processes to mechanical principles, then a science of man would require a mechanical man. However, this is an assumption. Modern physics has shown that the processes underlying nature are not mechanical at all. And, in fact, matter is not even the basic building block of nature. Nevertheless, the faith in mechanical laws of human behavior persists today, even as mechanistic materialism stymies progress.

Our current psychological paradigm was 300 years in the making, and it is not easily displaced. The theory began taking shape in the 1700s, when Julien Offray de La Mettrie published his book L 'Homme Machine, which sought to identify mechanical laws of human behavior based on the principles of Newtonian physics. La Mettrie wrote: "We therefore conclude courageously that man is a machine, and that in the entire universe there is only one substance [matter] which is modified in different fashions.< The theory I argue against (mechanistic materialism) began here and has continued virtually unmodified to this day.

The cognitive project offered the information-processing machine as model for the human mind. Cognitive psychology arose out of the tradition of cybernetics as an attempt to explain man's cognitive ability by importing concepts from computer science--the computational model of mind is essential to the pursuit of cognitive psychology. The computational model of mind states that "thought, mental activity, that has knowledge as its object, is in the last analysis nothing other than a rule-governed mechanical process, a 'blind'--one might go so far as to say 'stupid'?--automatism." (2) Thus, according to cognitive psychologists, we can have content-blind information processing because man is a biological Turing machine. It seems the "Turing thesis was what it took to rally the resources of energy and intelligence needed to bring about the birth of a mechanistic and materialistic science of mind." (3)

Unfortunately, thirty years of empirical research has shown the computational model of mind to be inadequate. The computer is defined as "a fixed-capacity device performing rule-governed manipulations on meaningless bits of data." The human mind, on the other hand, has no fixed capacity, requires meaning in order to process information, and is not terribly agile at performing rule-governed manipulations.

The cognitive revolution is said to have begun with George Miller's article "The Magical Number Seven Plus or Minus Two" (4) in which Miller showed that the human mind is only able to attend to seven objects at a time (plus or minus). This was the first indication that the mind had characteristics in common with the computer, that the mind, too, is a fixed capacity device. However, later research (5) undermined the computer metaphor by proving that some perceptual processes can become habituated, "and will thereafter exert no significant drain on the organism's ability to take in or filter novel stimuli." (6)

When a computer processes information, processing is purely syntactical. That is, manipulations are governed by the rules of language and logic; and semantics, the meaning conveyed through these rules, is completely ignored. Experiments have shown that humans, conversely, require meaning at every level of language processing: from the word, to the sentence, to the story. …

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