Thursday, July 13, 2006

Küng and the reality of human freedom

Review of Hans Küng’s, Der Anfang aller Dinge, section E, Pt. 3 of 4.

4. The limits of brain science

The most recent research has shown that the closer neuroscientists analyse the functions of the brain, the less they actually understand, in light of the usual models, central aspects of the consciousness. So, the prophesied explanation of the relation between brain and consciousness is not, now many claim, to be expected at all (cf. 200-201). Indeed, ‘Brain research offers, at this time, no empirically provable theory about the coherence of spirit and brain, of consciousness and nervous system’ (202).

In terms of the ‘freedom’ debate, in certain situations the decision process of our whole brain enables one to even resist limbic reflexes. And in that, Küng insists, is freedom of will made clear: to set goals and values, and to follow them through, independently of external or internal foreign influences (cf. 204)

But does an ‘I’ exists to make these goals and follow them through?

Citing the words of the neuroscientist, Wolfgang Prinz, Küng maintains: ‘Biologists can explain how the chemistry and physics of the brain functions. But no one knows, up till now, how this becomes an “I” experience, nor how the brain creates meaning at all’ (204). Besides, the ‘spirit’ of a human hardly resides simply in the brain, but in the entire bodily life of a human. The ‘I’ is certainly a social construction, but precisely therefore it is no illusion.

Furthermore, freedom is complex. One could probe around in a brain and never find ‘freedom’. And this is freedom comes to us as an experience. However conditioned I am by my environment and the processes in my brain, whether I sit or stand, speak or remain silent, the person is always conscious that responsibility for such decisions lays in his or her hands. This is, then, an understanding of freedom that doesn’t simply focus on this or that brain function, but on the whole bodily life of the human, and in this context makes a good deal of sense.

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At 7/15/2006 2:08 PM, Anonymous ntWrong said...

Thanks for providing this summary, Chris, particularly the bits on human consciousness.

I have engaged in dialogue with another blogger who believes consciousness is co-equal to brain activity. I'm way out of my depth on the topic, but at least I was able to retroactively refer him to your summary of Kung's argument!

At 7/15/2006 3:40 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Glad it was useful, Q. I'm enjoying some Pauline Christology discussion on the net too!

At 7/18/2006 10:27 PM, Anonymous ntWrong said...

No doubt I'm way out of my depth on that topic, too!


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