Cognitive dualism is puzzling, for it seems to be both affirming and denying the unity of reality, both affirming and denying that we human being are part of the natural order. Yet we can without contradiction accept it, provided we recognize the explanatory priority of science. To describe the “order of nature” in terms of some complete and unified science is to give a systematic answer to the question “what exists?” But the world can be known in another way. The world known in this other way will be an “emergent” world, represented in the cognitive apparatus of the perceiver, but emerging from the physical reality, as the face emerges from the pigments on the canvas, or the melody from the sequence of pitched sounds. The relation of emergence is nonsymmetrical. The order of nature does not emerge from the Lebenswelt; its existence is presupposed by the Lebenswelt, but not vice versa.
Someone who wished to design a machine capable of delivering a Beethoven’s concerto to the ear would be helped by an analysis of the pitches and their duration. He could transcribe this analysis into a suitable digital notation and use the result to program a device capable of producing pitched sounds in sequence. The reductivist would argue that therefore the music is nothing but the sequence of pitched sounds, since if you reproduce the sequence, you reproduce the music. Sure, the music depends upon, is emergent from, the sequence of sounds. The sounds are “ontologically prior.” But to hear the music it is not enough to notice the sounds. Music is inaudible, except to those with the cognitive capacity to hear movement in musical space, orientation, tension and release, the gravitational force of the bass notes, and so on. Music is certainly part of the real world. But it is perceivable only to those who are able to conceptualize and respond to sound in ways that have no part to play in the physical science of acoustics. Again we have a useful parallel in the study of pictures. There is no way in which we could, by peering hard at the face in Botticelli’s Venus, recuperate a chemical breakdown of the pigments used to compose it. Of course, if we peer hard at the canvas and the substances smeared on it, we can reach an understanding of its chemistry. But then we are not peering at the face – not even seeing it.
I don’t want to say that I am something other than this biological organism that stands before you. This here thing is what I am. Through cognitive dualism we can grasp the idea that there can be one reality, which is understood in more than one way. In describing a sequence of sounds as a melody, I am situating the sequence in the human world: the world of our responses, intentions, and self-knowledge. I am lifting the sounds out of the physical realm, and repositioning them in the Lebenswelt, which is a world of freedom, reason and interpersonal being. But I am not describing something other than the sounds, or implying that there is something hiding behind the sounds, some inner “self” or essence that reveals itself to itself in some way inaccessible to me. I am describing what I hear in the sounds, when I respond to them as music. I situate the human organism in the Lebenswelt; and in doing so I use another language, and with other intentions, than those that apply in the biological sciences.
[The Soul of the World (2014), Roger Scruton]