Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mind vs Matter?

What is a thought? What is consciousness? Where does meaning come from? How do you go from an electrical burst in a neural chain to a subjective sense of a thought? Science won't answer these. Every human, even the scientists, have emotions and thoughts, but of course, no one has ever seen them. At best they have seen readings on a chart during a brain scan, or maybe the neurotransmitters that supposedly cause them. If they were to watch a brain in action, somehow watching a thought course through the nerves, all they'd see is electricity. Because they cannot physically "see" the subjective part of thought (the meaning, the consciousness), they are forced to call it nonexistent. Seriously, in psychology, consciousness is considered a hallucination caused by the electrochemical reactions taking place within and between neurons. Ridiculous, right?

I had to stop studying psychology because of bullshit like that. I've always been interested in this stuff, and it's probably why I picked such an unlikely major for an eco-freak like me. But when I found such things as self, consciousness, and the nature of thought totally glossed over in a few sentences, I was aghast! This is the very foundation, ignored. These are the questions asked by mankind since the beginning, and it was swept under the rug, presumably because it's too hard to study.

It comes down to a split between mind and body. Descartes drew the line sharply, and shaped the philosophy of science ever since. He said that nothing of the mind is in matter, and nothing of matter is in the mind; they are completely seperate. This sort of split has defined scientific worldview, the division between subjective and objective reality. Science chose to study the "matter" end of things, leaving the Church "mind," (aka the soul) and thus today science is mired in "objective reality." It tries to be totally empirical, that is, limiting itself only to what can be preceived by the senses (and their technological extensions), and what can be repeatably tested. Its worldview now says that we are all physical machines, acting according to universal laws, in a universe that is stupid. Everything is deterministic, and they tack consciousness on at the end, as something that came somehow out of the material world at the last minute. But how does consciousness come from non-conscious matter? That would be getting something from nothing.

Now, things like ESP, precognition, out-of-body experiences, and spiritual healing (to say nothing of dream states, trances, and the placebo effect) keep coming along. And every time they do, they are ruled out of the discussion in the same dogmatic way that the Catholic Church did to science back when it was starting out. No one can question that these things are experienced. The data, the anecdotal evidence, just keeps coming in. We know from "the inside" that we are not mere machines, that thought, emotion, consciousness are more than molecular reactions, they in fact are the center of our existence. And while Quantum Physics itself has disproven the deterministic nature of the universe and the nonexistance of objectivity, the massive implications are not being followed through on. Science is being extremely remiss in not investigating it seriously. It claims an open mind, but that claim has become a lie.

The main point here is that there is a disconnect. Every scientist must realize that science only exists because we can think, and because there are meanings in those thoughts. Science is, after all, an intellectual activity. But they declare thought and meaning off-limits, or even call them delusions! They call it superstition, or junk data, or write it off as a hallucination (which is a very derrogatory word when used this way). How can science ever be a coherent worldview if it cuts off the very part of the world that gives it birth? Isn't it clear that we can be objective only because we are first and foremost subjective beings? Objectivity is a learned way of thinking.

As it stands, we are stuck between the religious and scientific worldviews. We must either choose the dogmatic religions, which often won't look beyond their scriptures to see the real world, or with fuzzy, nebulous spirituality that is lost with its head in the clouds; or we must choose a science that however throrough it seems, and however illuminating its theories are, still fails to be something to live by, and fails to recognize what makes us truly human. Here, instead of the clouds, science has its head in the sand. Now, I like science and feel it has gotten closer than any other system to a true understanding of the universe. To see it still fall so vastly short of that understanding is perhaps what drives me to write this.

A cohesive, accurate worldview, this is the goal. The gap between spirituality and science must be bridged. We can no longer compartmentalize morals, ethics, value, feeling, and intuition away from what science calls "the real world," which it claims to describe Science cannot make that claim until it accepts that compartment, that half of the human being, which everyone knows exists. No more amputated science, no more amputated spirituality.

Science must remove its blinders, and begin making an honest, unbiased study of inner space if we are to survive as a species. We've mastered the atom; but can we master the mind that has mastered that atom?

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