Problems with the Perfect Science

Carl H. Flygt

February 2005


One problem with Searle’s perfect science of the brain is that in principle it constitutes an invasion of privacy. A perfect science of gravity is one thing, because in principle it invades no one’s consciousness. It is a third person science. With it, everyone remains free, regardless of how small or how distant the asteroid on which we land a spaceship. But a perfect science of the brain leaves no one free. The idea that anyone’s thoughts could be monitored, modified or even created by exogenous means represents a profound moral challenge, and a revolution in our political norms will be necessary to cope with it.


Searle’s attitude toward this invasion is paternalistic. Think of all the mental cases that will be eased or cured by the science. Think of all the psychosomatic disorders, all of the criminal impulses, all of the substandard academic performances. All these and more could be rectified by the perfect science. A perfect science in the hands of a perfect administration would produce a relatively perfect set of attitudes and dispositions, and perhaps even a relatively perfect society.


I have no problem with this sort of paternalism, and I endorse it as far as it goes. I believe in the hierarchy of function, and for scientific purposes, I support the invasion of privacy. I also can see many things getting better as a result of Searle’s social-scientific trajectory. But I do not believe Searle’s is an ontologically serious solution to the problem of consciousness. I do not believe a sincere and sober person could find it genuinely satisfying. It represents exploitation, not authenticity. It is ad hoc manipulation, not a priori self control. It is a sell-out to the simulacrum of human products, not an honest confrontation with cosmic reality.


The real science of consciousness will turn out to be spiritual. It will involve moral actions and the cosmic momenta of those actions. It will be the science of autonomous, not heteronomous, human energy. It will require a theory of actual freedom, not a description of vapor trials in the brain. It will be more profound and more satisfying by orders of magnitude than any a posteriori reconstruction of the human potential could ever be.


The real problem with Searle’s thinking is that the wrong institutional framework is being brought to bear on the problem of consciousness. In this social sense, brain science is studying consciousness at the wrong level. Searle’s appeal is to technocratic institutions divorced from occult experience. In these institutions, no framework for the investigator-subject has been worked out, at least not before the advent of my theory of conversation. The correct institutional framework for really studying consciousness is one in which the individual transforms and develops his (her) own consciousness along objectively valid guidelines from a disinterested third person point of view. The correct institutional framework for studying consciousness is spiritual initiation.


The point can be put in another way. Consciousness can’t be studied in ordinary people’s brains because ordinary people are not conscious. The intermediate level theory of neurobiological representation, to say nothing of the great idealists from Plato to Kant, or the great spiritual adepts of world history tells us that. Studying the brains of average people will get us not a rigorous theory of cosmic self-consciousness, but merely a description of average, self-possessed experience. How banal.


There is another problem with Searle’s approach, and this is a confusion of philosophical assertions and commitments. Searle thinks the pain I experience when my foot is caught by a punch press is in my brain, notwithstanding the obvious first person fact that that pain is in my foot. Searle is clearly advocating some sort of illusionism here. Presumably he thinks consciousness is some sort of multi-media show inside the brain, and that all appearances outside the brain are projected there by complex mechanisms. This is obviously an idealism, and Searle needs to reconcile it with his biological naturalism.


Nevertheless, all things considered, there is considerable hope and interest in Searle’s position. In one sense, the idealism implicit in Searle’s so-called naturalism provides a rigorous framework for administering my occult-leaning theory of conversation. That is on the one hand. On the other, it will occur to some that Searle’s perfect science could become misguided somehow, and that a perfect administration of that science may be a dangerous proposition. It may strike some as dehumanizing as well as fallacious to apply it to those who are charged with administering it, as well as to all others, leading to a positive feedback spiral from which there is no easy escape. In addition, some people may realize that the possibility of their natural and God-given capacity for self-realization will be systematically distorted by a culture of scientific technocrats, advertisers and security authorities, and find a way to practice the real science semi-publicly, in a manner that makes it appear just as impressive as the material sciences of life and the brain. In this way, the real science may emerge culturally as a kind of survival reaction against the false one.


The real science is freedom from tutelage and paternalism. It is the science of self-knowledge and moral self-consciousness. The theories here are actually well-developed. They are just not legitimate in the eyes of most materialistically minded people. On the theories of spiritual science, the human being has higher cosmic members, etheric and astral bodies. On these theories, the human being is clairvoyant and has lotus flowers in the chakras. On these theories, when the human being speaks, the cosmos itself speaks. On these theories, the human being, properly made up, is a cosmic law of nature. The challenge will be to put these theories into a modern and rigorous form.


Ultimately, I think people will be required to choose between a world like Searle’s, where third person science knows best, and a world like the one I advocate, where autonomous impulses materialize under social judgment. In my theory of conversation, I have gone to some considerable trouble to make such materialization into a technical possibility. I do indeed believe that people engaged in conversations of the kind I define theoretically will have brains worth studying. But I do not believe the data from their brains will help one iota in the formation, development and expression of their moral and autonomous impulses.