Scripta Varia

Brain Research and the Mind-Body Problem: Epistemological and Metaphysical Issues


Round Table 25 October 1988
G. Del Re (ed)
Scripta Varia 79
Vatican City, 1992
pp. XV-186
ISBN 88-7761-042-5

This volume is a report of the work of the Round Table Discussion on the mind-body problem held at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on 25 October 1988, with the participation of President Carlos Chagas as chairman, of Academicians Sir John C. Eccles, J. Szentagothai, J. Lejeune, E. di Rovasenda, and of several other distinguished scientists, philosophers, and theologians.
The special interest of the Discussion reported here is that it was a significant opportunity for the Academy to discuss explicitly the philosophical presuppositions and implications of science in a domain which is becoming of greater and greater actuality - suffice it to recall that the Congress of the USA has declared the years 1990-2000 “the decade of the brain”. As the Introductory Message explains, the Holy Father's indications are strongly in favour of a return to the integration of science within the greater body of culture. It is hoped that the work done at the Round Table of October 1988 will be a contribution towards that goal.
The numerous remarks and questions could not be reported without any editorial comment, because the variety of topics covered in the little time available caused the remarks to be extremely short and fragmentary and not ordered by subjects. A bare transcription of the interventions would not have done justice to the high level of the study carried out. The formula used in order to obviate these difficulties has been to provide an editorial report giving the necessary additional information and cross references to the main interventions. The actual time order of the interventions has been only partly respected, but some gain illogical sequence of arguments has hopefully been achieved.
More extensive covering of specialistic aspects of the neurosciences is to be found in the Proceedings of the Study Week on the Principles of Design and Operation of the Brain, which immediately preceded the Round Table Discussion. Topics which, in the Editor's opinion, required ad hoc reviews have been covered in the two appendices. The Article by P.A. Rossi gives the status quaestionis on the delicate problem of artificial intelligence; the Article by F. Calvo, which is a revised version of a paper published in the Proceedings of the 1983 Study Week on Pattern Recognition Mechanisms (Pont. Acad. Sci. 1985), provides a critical analysis of the epistemology of K. R. Popper. This is important because, although Sir John Eccles and Sir Karl Popper seem to agree on many points, on reading their joint book The Self and its Brain it appears that they have divergent views on such central topics as the nature of truth and the immortality of the soul. The reader may find it useful to know more about this question and related matters by reading Calvo's critical review of Popper's thought.