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Roger Penrose and the quest for the quantum soul

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[opening paragraph]: As some of us in the brain and cognitive sciences struggled in relative obscurity over the last two decades to gain some sound empirical understanding of conscious experience, a succession of celebrated philosophers and scientists told us that our work was doomed to failure. They expended extraordinary ingenuity trying to prove their case, at least as much as those of us toiling in the trenches devoted to the job of gaining a little bit of clarity. Fortunately, ‘impossibility proofs’ of this kind tend to have a short half-life. They succeed each other year after year; in the same way that impossibility proofs were flourished triumphantly by critics to demonstrate, once and forever, that we could never understand planetary motion, biological evolution, quantum mechanics -- or whatever next topic science, in its Brobdignagian march, was threatening to clarify. Arthur C. Clarke once proposed a law stating that for every major advance in knowledge one can find at least one celebrated scientist who was able to ‘prove’, shortly before it was achieved, that it could not be done. In the case of conscious experience the quest to prove impossibility is especially passionate, as if a reasonable scientific approach to human experience were the enemy of all that is good and decent.

Document Type: Review Article

Publication date: 1994-02-01

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