To Mothermouse and her brood

Preface to the 1981 edition

UNTIL RATHER RECENTLY, a natural scientist could offer the public little more insight into the fundamental principles of the mind than could an ancient Greek philosopher or a present-day guru. For there had been a total absence of even the prospects of a general theory of biological memory. This situation has changed. For within comparatively recent years just such a theory is the subject of Shufflebrain.

I did not originate the theory. But I have been investigating, perfecting, and using it for well into a second decade. The theory has power. It has range and generality. It is consistent with every relevant fact I know about memory in living organisms. It relates mind-brain to non-living systems, and thereby suggests that the mind is not a supernatural entity but a part of Nature. The theory reconciles diverse bodies of previously equivocal evidence. And, without fail, it has predicted the results of all my experiments, some of which I still find hard to comprehend.

Yet the theory could be false, in the logician's sense of the word. And nowhere will I try to tell the reader that the theory is true. A scientific theory is a system of thought, a rational explanation of facts or events, and not really an assertion of truth. Strictly speaking, true scientific theories do not exist. Does a given theory work? Is it logical? Does it generate new understanding? Can it allow the human mind to fathom what has always seemed beyond the depths of reason? Does it allow the intellect and imagination to place the phrase "what if" at the front of new and novel questions about Nature? These are the important questions to ask about any scientific theory. And when the answers turn out to be yes, the theory's existence-its Existenz--rather than its proofs turns out to be what counts; and the existence of the theory may alter the future course of thought and change the destiny of civilization. The subject of this book has very suggestive historical markings. My hunch-and I carefully label it as hunch-is that the existence of a general theory of biological memory means that we, all of us, have entered into the early, uncertain cycles of the age when science began to penetrate the core of the subjective cosmos.

Shufflebrain is not written for a readership of technical specialists. It is for a general audience, for the cornfield philosophers of the world, the cab driver who packs works of Carl Sandburg along with the salami sandwich and the banana, the librarian who arrives extra early each morning to sample the infinity of treasures among the stacks; for the student who studies because of the hunger to know, and the teacher who teaches for the same reason; for the journalist whose curiosity becomes sharpened instead of dulled by the daily brush against new events and novel ideas; for the life scout who camps on a ridge overlooking a great meandering river and uses the day's last good light for reading; for the lovers of thought-the true keepers of civilization-whoever they are.

But in spite of its informal style, this book is not a popularization of a technical topic. It is a definitive statement of the subject, not a surrogate or a shadowy hint of it. My intent is to involve the reader intimately in the inner workings of the whole story. And when I resort to the generic we, I mean the reader and me, together, not a group of experts in armchairs dispensing wisdom.

I am not trying to snub or circumvent the scholar by using the writing style I have chosen. But I could not bring the elements of the story together in the impersonal, detached lingo of the bench scientist or formal philosopher. I really did not fully understand the dynamics of the message until I had finished. Without my realizing it, much of the actual investigation of the subject went on as I wrote the book. The subject was too global for the assumptions of any particular discipline. The story demanded a synoptic statement. I found that only using everyday language could I faithfully represent the meaning in the subject. I had to call heavily upon the ideas of science and philosophy of course. But without general language, given all its imperfections, Shufflebrain would not exist.

Paul Pietsch
Bloomington, Indiana