Roger Sperry's theory of consciousness

Main Article Content

Józef Bremer


Roger W. Sperry (1913–1994) received the Nobel Prize for Physiology in 1981 for his outstanding scientific achievements in connection with the study of people with severed brain commissures. Sperry linked the results of his research to philosophical considerations pertaining to the conscious mind of human beings and its place in the natural sciences. He was interested in the philosophical question of whether or not the severing of the cerebral hemispheres constituted a violation of the unity of consciousness. Sperry’s explanatory account of mind-body (mind-brain) interaction forms part of a broadly construed theory of emergent interactionism – one that also purports to guarantee the unity of consciousness. In this article, I first present an intellectual profile of Sperry, outlining the evolution of his philosophical-scientific analyses. I then outline the emergence and flourishing of theories of emergence, along with the elements essentially associated with them. Using this as a basis, I go on to consider Sperry’s account of emergent interaction more closely, focusing on his understanding of downward causation. In conclusion, I show how his theory corresponds to a version of emergent interactionism, and seek to address some criticisms leveled against it. I also aim to establish how far this theory can be said to answer the question of the conscious character of mental states.

Article Details

Proceedings on the PAU Commission on the Philosophy of Science


Bak, P., 2008. How Nature Works. W: R. Dawkins, red., The Oxford book of modern science writing. Oxford: Oxford University Press, ss. 273–276.

Blitz, D., 1992. Emergent evolution: qualitative novelty and the levels of reality. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic.

Bremer, J., 2001. Problem umysł-ciało: wprowadzenie. wyd. Wyd. 2 poszerz. Kraków: Wyższa Szkoła Filozoficzno-Pedagogiczna „Ignatianum” : WAM.

Bremer, J., 2005. Jak to jest być świadomym: analityczne teorie umysłu a problem neuronalnych podstaw świadomości. Umysł : prace z filozofii i kognitywistyki. Warszawa: Wydaw. Instytutu Filozofii i Socjologii Polskiej Akademii Nauk.

Bremer, J., 2006. Uwagi do uwag Pana dra Roberta Poczobuta. Diametros, [online] 7. Dostępne na: [ostatni dostęp 19.04.2017].

Bremer, J., 2014. Osoba - fikcja czy rzeczywistość?: tożsamość i jedność Ja w świetle badań neurologicznych. wyd. Wyd. 2. Kraków: Aureus.

Bremer, J., 2015a. Epistemologia naturalistyczna: Między filozofią a kognitywistyką. W: S. Janeczek i A. Starościc, red., Epistemologia, Dydaktyka Filozofii. Lublin: Wydawnictwo KUL, ss. 171–198.

Bremer, J., 2015b. Przyczynowość skierowana ku dołowi i jej rozumienie w biologii. Poznańskie Studia z Filozofii Nauki (Aktywność poznawcza podmiotu w perspektywie badań kognitywistycznych), [online] 24(1), ss. 93–115. Dostępne na: [ostatni dostęp 18.07.2017].

Broad, C.D., 1925. The mind and its place in nature. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Campbell, D.T., 1990. Levels of organization, downward causation, and the selection-theory approach to evolutionary epistemology. W: G. Greenberg i E. Tobach, red., Theories of the evolution of knowing. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, ss. 1–17.

Clayton, P., 2004. Mind and Emergence: From Quantum to Consciousness. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Duncan, R. i Weston-Smith, M., 1977. The encyclopaedia of ignorance. Pergamon Press Oxford.

Emmeche, C., Køppe, S. i Stjernfelt, F., 2000. Levels, emergence, and three versions of downward causation. W: Downward causation. Minds, bodies and matter, ss. 13–34.

Hasker, W., 2010. On Behalf of Emergent Dualism. W: J.B. Green, red., In Search of the Soul: Four views of the mind-body problem, 2. wyd. Eugene/OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, ss. 75–114.

Hergenhahn, B.R. i Henley, T.B., 2014. An introduction to the history of psychology. Wadsworth: Cengage Learning.

Kim, J., 1990. Supervenience as a Philosophical Concept. Metaphilosophy, 21(1–2), ss. 1–27.

Kim, J., 1999. Making sense of emergence. Philosophical Studies (An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition), 95(1), ss. 3–36.

Lewes, G.H., 1875. Problems of life and mind. 1st series, Vol.2 1st series, Vol.2. London: Trübner.

McLaughlin, B.P., 1992. The Rise and Fall of British Emergentism. W: A. Beckermann, H. Flohr i J. Kim, red., Emergence or reduction?: Essays on the prospects of nonreductive physicalism. Berlin: W. de Gruyter, ss. 49–93.

McLaughlin, B.P., 2001. Emergentism. W: F.C. Keil i R.A. Wilson, red., The MIT encyclopedia of the cognitive sciences. Cambridge, MA ; London: The MIT Press.

Mill, J.S., 1962. System logiki dedukcyjnej i indukcyjnej. T. 1. Biblioteka Klasyków Filozofii. tłum. C. Znamierowski. Warszawa: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe.

Niemann, H.-J., 2014. Karl Popper and the Two New Secrets of Life Including Karl Popper’s Medawar Lecture 1986 and Three Related Texts. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

O’Connor, T., 1994. Emergent properties. American Philosophical Quarterly, 31(2), ss. 91–104.

Pirolli, P. i Goel, V., 1990. You can’t get there from here: Comments on RW Sperry’s resolution of science and ethics. American Psychologist, 45, ss. 71–73.

Skirl, H., 2009. Emergenz als Phänomen der Semantik am Beispiel des Metaphernverstehens. Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag.

Sperry, R.W., 1964. Problems outstanding in the evolution of brain function (James Arthur lecture on the evolution of the human brain, no. 33, 1964). New York, NY: American Museum of Natural History.

Sperry, R.W., 1965. Mind, Brain, and Humanist Values. W: J.R. Platt, red., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, ss. 71–92.

Sperry, R.W., 1980. Mind-brain interaction: Mentalism, yes; dualism, no. Neuroscience, 5(2), ss. 195–206.

Sperry, R.W., 1991. In Defense of Mentalism and Emergent Interaction. Journal of Mind and Behavior, 12(2), ss. 221–245.

Sperry, R.W., 1993. A Mentalist View of Consciousness. Social Neuroscience Bulletin, 6(2), ss. 15–19.

Stephan, A., 1992. Emergence – A Systematic View on its Historical Facets. W: A. Beckermann, H. Flohr i J. Kim, red., Emergence or reduction?: Essays on the prospects of nonreductive physicalism. Berlin: W. de Gruyter, ss. 25–48.

Stover, D. i Erdmann, E., 2000. A mind for tomorrow: facts, values, and the future. Westport, Conn.: Praeger.

Wong, H.Y., 2010. The Secret Lives of Emergents. W: A. Corradini i T. O’Connor, red., Emergence in science and philosophy. New York; London: Routledge, ss. 7–24.

Wright, C., 2013. Notes of an underground humanist. Bradenton, Florida:, Inc.