Commentary by Bernard J. Baars

It is remarkable how similar today's mind-body debates are to the philosophical critiques of biological science, such as Henri Bergson's Vitalism at the turn of the last century. Philosophers like Bergson became famous arguing that science could never account for life. One reason was that living creatures could not be decomposed into fundamental units, in spite of the empirical finding that all animate things consist of basic cells with remarkably general properties in a bewildering profusion of variation. Today we know that each of those cells has nearly identical DNA-RNA mechanisms, and that, to give one example, humans have about 50% of DNA in common with such creatures as yeast and C. elegans, the tiny worms that is now almost completely defined in genotype and phenotype. The cell and its genetic machinery can plausibly be called the atom of life. So Bergson's anti-atomism was wrong in large part. Indeed, had we followed his advice about 1900, we would still be living in the first great industrial age.
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