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

By Gerald M. Edelman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 16
Memory and the Individual Soul: Against Silly Reductionism

Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of Nature. And it is because in the last analysis we ourselves are part of the mystery we are trying to solve.

-- Max Planck

If I had to live over again, I'd live over a delicatessen.

-- Woody Allen

From the last quarter of the seventeenth century to the last decade of the eighteenth, an explosion of creativity called the Enlightenment changed the history of ideas. Its reigning views were many, but above all it was dedicated to reason, to science, and to human freedom and individuality. Its underlying science was physics, the system of Newton, and its philosophy of society was, in large measure, that of Locke. Yet the Enlightenmnent ideas of causality and determinism, along with its mechanistic view of science, undermined hopes for a theory of human action based on freedom. If we are determined by natural forces-- by mechanism--we cannot easily put together a consistent picture in which a free individual makes moral choices. Moreover, while the ideas of the Enlightenment paid much attention to the role of reason and culture in such choices, there was no general notion of how deeply the minds of all humans (including those of "reasonable" human beings--that is, the "cultured") were influenced by unconscious forces and by emotion.

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