|Large Magellanic Cloud 30 billion stars, image 160, 000 years old|
Today, I discovered that a wandering mind can lead into all kinds of curious byways. In light of the Paris massacres, I found myself thinking about the existence of the ‘soul’. Specifically in respect of the fact that when one visits the dead, they look the same, but ‘they’ are clearly not present. That which is ‘them’ has, as they say, left the building. Consciousness has not only departed, apparently, but can be seen to have done so, with no seeming scientific justification, except that the defining functions denoting being alive are no longer operational.
I’ve also been reading the first few chapters of Revelation, and realize how very little I know about how first century apocalyptic literature carries meaning, in the sense that the words become consciously understood. Not least, because I consider it with the overlay of twenty centuries, scientifically adept and to some extent poetically aware, but its conscious messages frequently elude me and I still find myself asking childish questions which are bounded by a static space-time continuum; like, “where is Heaven or Hell?”, as if knowing would make any difference.
For centuries, starting with the Renaissance, a single mindset about the construct of the cosmos has dominated our scientific thought. We began to observe and make logical deductions about what we saw. Galileo’s muttered aside at his trial ‘yet, it doth move’ is distinct testimony to an emergent scientific mindset. The model which we call science has provided insights into the nature of the universe, and its countless applications that have transformed every aspect of our lives. But the new biology, leapfrogging physics is asking if perhaps it is reaching the end of its useful life.
The old model proposes that the universe is a collection of interacting particles obeying mysterious, predetermined rules. The universe is presented as a watch that somehow wound itself, and that, allowing for a degree of quantum randomness, will unwind or evolve as time passes in ways which we may, or may not, be able to predict. But the overarching problem involves life, since its initial arising is still an unknown process, even if the way it then changed forms can be apprehended using Darwinian mechanisms. The bigger problem is that life contains consciousness, and this is the part we don’t understand. There is nothing in modern physics that explains how a group of molecules in a brain creates consciousness. The beauty of a sunset, the appreciation of a flower, these are all mysteries. Tools exist to map the effect and the geography of the brain where the sensations arise, but not how and why there is any subjective personal experience to begin with. Also, nothing in science can explain how consciousness arose from matter. Our understanding of this basic phenomenon is virtually nil – most seem to hope that as processing power and speed increase, some semblance of a solution will be on offer to satisfy the scientific community. Most physicists, however see this as an irrelevance.
It is the biological creature that makes the observations and creates the theories. Our entire education system in all disciplines, the construction of our language, revolve around a bottom-line mindset that assumes a separate universe “out there” nearly fourteen billion years old and came into existence with a ‘big bang’ – and we still don’t know everything about that – into which we have each individually arrived on a very temporary basis. It is further assumed that we accurately perceive this external pre-existing reality and play little or no role in its appearance. However, experiments have shown just the opposite. The observer critically influences the outcome. An electron turns out to be both a particle and a wave but how and, more importantly, where such a particle will be located remains dependent upon the very act of observation. Nothing is real until we observe it. Thus, the observer may, in fact, create the reality. Science passes through the filter of consciousness in exactly the same way as an electron passes through one or other of two slits, and the outcomes may be equally unpredictable.