Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On the Matter of the Mind

By Gerald M. Edelman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
The Problems Reconsidered

Man considering himself is the great prodigy of nature. For he cannot conceive what his body is, even less what his spirit is, and least of all how body can be united with spirit. That is the peak of his difficulty and yet it is his very being.

-- Blaise Pascal

Putting the mind back into nature has precipitated a series of scientific crises, for the data on the brain, mind, and behavior do not correspond to the pictures we have been using to explain them. Many people think this is an audacious conclusion--unwarranted, premature (more facts will clear things up!), or even downright unhealthy. I think, on the contrary, that the best time to be working in a science is when it is in a crisis state. It is then that one is prompted to think of a new way of looking at the data, or of a new theory, or of a new technique to resolve an apparent paradox. One of the most striking crises of modern science occurred, for example, when it was understood that the application of the classical laws of physics to a heated metal block with a cavity (a "black body radiator") led to an impossible situation at short wave lengths and high energies; in this so-called ultraviolet catastrophe, energy becomes infinite. The solution compelled by this situation was given by Max Planck, who suggested that energy was not radiated by a hot body continuously but rather in packets or quanta.

The crises in considering the matter of the mind are in no way as clear-cut, however. This should come as no surprise, given how subtle and multilayered the business of brain development, brain action, and mental

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