Walker Percy Wednesday 134

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The so-called détentes and reconciliations between “Science” and “Religion” are even more boring. What is more boring than hearing Heisenberg’s uncertainty relations enlisted in support of the freedom of the will? The traditional scientific model of man is clearly inadequate, for a man can go to heroic lengths to identify and satisfy his needs and end by being more miserable than a Calcuttan. As for the present religious view of man, it begs its own question, the question of God’s existence, which means that it is not only useless to the unbeliever but dispiriting. The latter is more depressed than ever at hearing the goods news of Christianity. From the scientific view at least, a new model of man is needed, something other than man conceived as a locus of bio-psycho-sociological needs and drives.

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Footnote:

My difficulty with the behaviorists is that they rule out mind, self, and consciousness as inaccessible either on the doctrinal grounds that they do not exist or on methodological grounds that they are beyond the reach of behavioral science.
It is not necessarily so. The value of Charles Peirce and social psychologists like George Mead is that they underwrite the reality of the self without getting trapped in the isolated autonomous consciousness of Descartes and Chomsky. They do this by showing that the self becomes itself only through a transaction of signs with other selves—and does so, moreover, without succumbing to the mindless mechanism of the behaviorists.

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Perhaps there was another cause. Perhaps God was the cause. We do not know. At any rate, a new kind of system came into being, the organism. It had the extraordinary property of maintaining its internal milieu, its homeostasis, and of reproducing itself.

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It is all very well to speak of the wonders of the Cosmos as testimony to the glory of God, and it may in fact be true, but it, the Cosmos, is hardly perceived as such in modern technological societies. For most scientists, it seems fair to say, these same wonders, including the behavior of organisms, can be explained as an interaction of elements. The wonder to the scientist is not that God made the world but that the works of God can be understood in terms of a mechanism without giving God a second thought. Is it not indeed more wonderful to understand the complex mechanisms (dyads) by which the DNA of a sperm joins with the DNA of an ovum to form a new organism than to have God snap his fingers and create an organism like a rabbit under a hat?

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It became useful to think of an organism as an open system which through the selective processes of evolution had developed a genetic code which enabled it to maintain an internal steady state (homeostasis) in a changing environment and to reproduce itself. Thus, all the elements and events in the Cosmos, including other organisms, could be thought of as the environment of the organism.

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An organism may also, either by being genetically coded or by learning—that is, by modifying certain neurones in its central nervous system—respond to certain signals in its environment by a behavior oriented toward other segments of the environment. Thus, a Texas leaf-cutting ant which discovers a food source too big to move will deposit a trail of pheromones on the ground, which other ants will follow for several hundred meters from the nest.

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The Texas leaf-cutting ant is genetically programmed so to respond. But Pavlov’s dog—or any other mammal exposed to certain changes in its environment—can learn to respond to a signal in an appropriate manner—by eating, fleeing, or fighting—through modification of cells in its central nervous system.

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