The scientific study of consciousness
Acton Institute Powerblog

The scientific study of consciousness

An article posted today at LiveScience explores the problems facing scientists who attempt to explain human consciousness in terms of human disciplines like physics or biology.

According to the story, “Roger Penrose, a mathematical physicist at Oxford University, believes that if a ‘theory of everything’ is ever developed in physics to explain all the known phenomena in the universe, it should at least partially account for consciousness.”

Consciousness studies is become a hot topic, along with areas like string theory: “No longer the sole purview of philosophers and mystics, consciousness is now attracting the attention of scientists from across a variety of different fields, each, it seems, with their own theories about what consciousness is and how it arises from the brain.”

The narrow modern definition of science as referring only to the study those things occuring in the natural world limits the field of inquiry to an extent that makes spiritual or non-physical things necessarily inexplicable.

The premodern conception of theology as the queen of the sciences, with various ancillary philosophical sciences, is reversed in this modern view. This makes it impossible for a discipline like modern physics, bereft grounding in any explicit or corresponding metaphysical system, to explain “spiritual” realities. The Christian view of death, for example, holds that in spite of the close connection of body and soul in the human person, “consciousness” is not ultimately dependent on the physical body.

As modern scientists struggle to fit everything within a naturalistic worldview, we’re sure to see some very odd theories.

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is director of research at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy, an initiative of the First Liberty Institute. He has previously held research positions at the Acton Institute and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and has authored multiple books, including a forthcoming introduction to the public theology of Abraham Kuyper. Working with Lexham Press, he served as a general editor for the 12 volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series, and his research can be found in publications including Journal of Markets & Morality, Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Faith & Economics, and Calvin Theological Journal. He is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary and the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity & Politics at Calvin University.